What is content strategy? Content strategy is defined as a high-level plan which guides content development and content marketing, often against specific goals. This is a perfect definition for our goals as business-first bloggers.
Content strategy is the foundation, the building blocks, of any successful blog. Learning how to start a blog without developing a comprehensive strategy is a bad plan. Blogging with a business-mindset is all about sustained, focused effort, and following a well-crafted content roadmap.
The Cornerstone Strategy Process
It’s vital to understand the elements of cornerstone content strategy for any blogger. This is especially true for you! After all, you’re only going to be writing 4-5 cornerstone blog posts before you start to hire other people to do that for you. Let’s not look that far ahead, yet.
First, let’s take a look at the cornerstone elements broken into three groupings:
- Planning Your Content
- Protecting Content Quality
- Cultivating the Customer Journey
Deadlines drive content planning, and there are several systems which make up a thorough content plan. Time isn’t on your side, but you can make it your ally.
Content Planning & Content Strategy
The foundation of content development is the content calendar and a workflow which address deadlines. Beyond being timely, it’s essential your content has great visual appeal. It should be testable. Being able to leverage it across several mediums is also very important.
Let’s take a look at each of these pieces in detail.
Building out a content calendar is not just about planning for future articles, videos and other content you’ll create. It’s also about tweaking content you’ve already published to make it better.
In our case, however, the content calendar should primarily lay out a timeline for your four or five cornerstone blog posts. Think about how long it will reasonably take to write those posts given the time you have available. Also, consider how you’ll acquire more content for the blog from guest writers once the cornerstone articles have been published and you’ve spent some time developing a content marketing strategy.
Most importantly, make sure the content will be attractive to your reader personas (as we covered previously in the article How to Start a Blog). Are the topics positioned correctly for the age, gender, income level and psychographic elements you’ve determined? Does your tone and voice match what these folks would like to read?
It’s a good idea to use a free online tool like Google Docs, Kapost or CoSchedule to organize the timeline for the outlining, writing, publishing and marketing of your cornerstone articles. You can also go the old-school route and write things down on a notepad or in a journal, and mark off your tasks one-by-one as you’re writing and marketing your articles.
No matter how you choose to build your content calendar, make one that’s easy for you to understand and use! It’ll quickly become your best friend in the blogging journey.
SEO Best Practices
It’s no mystery SEO is the backbone of any well-crafted piece of content. There are a handful of SEO best practices worth applying to your cornerstone content, and also to content your guest writers compose.
One of the best ways to test the SEO quality of your article is to use the Yoast SEO plugin once you have installed WordPress. If you’re not using WordPress (which we highly recommend), below are the highlights of an on-page SEO checklist from Backlinko for easy reference.
- Start your title with your primary SEO keyword.
- Make sure your title ends with your primary SEO keyword (for this article that’s content strategy, so the link is blogtoscale.com/content-strategy.)
- Use qualifiers like best, guide, review or the year you’re in to add to the descriptive nature of your title.
- Make sure to use your primary keyword as fast as possible. Preferably to start the article. At a minimum, within the first 100 words.
- Add an infographic prior to each section highlighting the section’s main points to add some visual appeal.
- Make sure your second-level headings have H2 tags. Make sure your primary keyword is in at least one of those H2 tags.
- Research the semantic keywords for your primary keywords. Make sure your H3 tags for sub-sections are these semantic keywords. (Makes things nice and easy for Google search.)
- Make sure that image file names include your target keyword, and your keyword is part of the image’s alt text.
- Make sure to use social sharing buttons in all of your posts. If possible, those social sharing buttons should be in the body of your posts to grab reader attention.
- Make sure all articles are at least 2,500 words. This shouldn’t be a problem for your cornerstone articles. This length is rewarded by Google, along with the engagement of your article. Don’t just write long articles for their own sake. Also, make sure articles are engaging, and hold your readers’ attention throughout.
Internal and External Linking
Internal linking helps keywords to rank well in Google, and generally shows how the article you are writing is relevant for that keyword or keyword phrase. Always make sure when linking from one article to another than you highlight and link the relevant keyword.
External links are a great way of sharing the wealth. When you link externally to another website, within your article, you are signaling to Google that site is valuable, and has some authority. Accordingly, the notion is that when sites link externally to one another they begin to share authority, helping everyone earn more authority.
Don’t let SEO become overwhelming. Take control of it instead, and make it an ally!
Ability to Conduct A/B Testing
The goal of the content you’ll be creating for your blog is to increase conversion. This conversion could be selling an informational product, convincing someone to sign up for your consulting services, or click on an affiliate link. No matter what the conversion action may be, you should always be optimizing content to increase it.
This is where AB testing comes in. In an AB test, one version of your landing page or blog post serves as the control. A second version is the variation – the piece of content that has been changed as part of the test. Traffic is split so some of your website visitors are show one version of the content, and others, the variation, in a typical A/B test.
Tools like VWO facilitate A/B testing extremely well and are worth considering.
After a set period of time, the tester views the statistical data recorded by an analytics tool like Google Analytics, to determine which version “won” the test.
There’s no reason to continue to run the variation if the control wins the test. If the variation wins the test, it may be worth considering what insights that provides. How do those insights inform future articles you’ll publish, or articles your guest writers will produce? There’s always something there to be learned!
Content Design: Add Some Visual Appeal
No matter what type of content you are producing it’s very important it has some impactful visual appeal. This is particularly true when an article is a longer-form piece (like this one – wink). It’s nice to for your content design to have some visual elements that break up longer chunks of text and keep your reader engaged throughout. Engaged readers act in the way you’d like for them to act.
Disengaged readers leave an article or other piece of content long before they have enough information to act on what they are reading.
A Visual Appeal Checklist
A few easy items to include for visual appeal are the following:
- A Table of Contents that outlines what the reader will encounter in the article.
- Consistent H2, H3 and H4 subheadings with different font sizes and weights to separate the sections of the article. We mentioned that previously, but it’s always worth mentioning again. It’s one of the core concepts of solid on-site SEO.
- Bullet-pointed lists when several items related to a topic need to be mentioned.
- Imagery. Use as many infographics, memes, GIFs and pictures as possible. Anything that adds some style to the article and catches the reader’s eye.
In summary, whatever you can do to improve the reader’s visual experience is worth it. Experiment. Try different things.
Finally, use tools like CrazyEgg or HotJar to develop heatmaps that show how readers interact with your content. Is there a particular place that they tend to drop off from your articles? Why? What can you change to keep that from happening?
Visual design of content is about tweaking, and tweaking some more until you find a style that works for not only the reader experience, but in moving readers down the funnel toward conversion.
Take An Omni-Channel Approach
A quality piece of content shouldn’t just die on the vine after it’s published to your website. Even though you’ll only be writing a few cornerstone pieces yourself, those pieces can have a very powerful impact on the growth of your blog. This is especially true if you take an omni-channel approach to your content.
Taking an omni-channel approach means considering all potential options for how a high-performing piece of content can be used.
As an example, let’s say one of your cornerstone pieces performs much better than the other 3 or 4. It drives more traffic to the blog. When people visit the article, they read several other articles, or spend a long time perusing your site. The more time they spend, the greater their conversion rate.
How to Add New Life to High-Performing Articles
This is a piece of content that you want to give a new life through fresh content development. There are several questions to ask yourself along these lines:
- Can the article be turned into an engaging video?
- Could you host a podcast around the subject with guests that are subject matter experts on the topic?
- Would developing a long-form piece of content like an eBook around the topic that you could potentially sell on your blog be a good idea?
Be creative! Think of all the ways you can extend a piece of content that’s successful, because the reality is that they won’t all be. It’s vital to take advantage of those which are successful and give them the longest-life possible.
This is why an omni-channel mindset is a key building block of any content strategy.
Ensuring Content Quality
Content quality is a somewhat nebulous concept. Creating quality content is not a highly technical process. It’s more about gut instinct and understanding your audience. It’s about how your blog can solve the audience’s primary problem.
Sure, we all know a quality piece of content when we encounter it. Sometimes, something just feels right about an article. It flows really smoothly. It’s an enjoyable read you take something away from, and maybe even share with your friends.
Each of these quality pieces of content were carefully crafted, with four key concepts in mind:
Find Your Overarching Theme
This one’s fairly straight-forward. All of the content that’s produced for your blog – both articles you write yourself and those your contracted writers write – should be geared toward your overarching them.
The overarching them of Blog to Scale is to help readers like you build blogs with a business mindset and scale traffic rapidly to make money blogging. What is the core theme of your blog?
Are the articles you’re writing staying true to this them? If you answered yes, you’re on the right track. Stay the course. If you answered no, or maybe are a little unsure, it may be time to review what the problem is you’re trying to solve, and make sure the articles you publish are solving that problem for your target readers.
When you solve reader problems they’re more likely to trust you, and therefor be interested in what you have to offer as time goes on.
Write With a Consistent Voice
Writing with a consistent voice is harder than it may seem. Regardless, it’s one of the most important elements of any content strategy.
If your voice is casual, and readers feel like they could be your friend after reading a few articles, stay casual. If the tone is informative and readers always feel like they walk away from your blog having learned something, stay informative. Do readers see you as helpful and selfless, giving away great tips and tricks for free? Be selfless.
You get the point. No matter how the approach you take, make sure the approach is something your can reproduce across cornerstone content. More importantly, however, make sure the voice is also something your guest writers can replicate. If they can’t, you could be in for a world of hurt editing their work to make it so.
Be careful here, and take the time to really determine what you want the voice of your blog to be. Then stick to it with all you’ve got!
Write With Your Reader Personas In Mind
While it’s important to write to your blog’s theme and write with a consistent voice, it’s most important to write with your reader personas in mind. An easy way to visualize this is to act like they’re sitting right across from you at the table where you are. What would you say to them face to face if you were talking instead of writing?
This is exactly how the tone and voice of your content should come across. If you’re writing about landscape gardening for seniors your reader persona is probably a female in her 60-70s, not a teenage boy. In the same way, if you’re writing about video games then the inverse is true.
Take the time to pause and evaluate the tone and voice of your writing as you compose each article to make sure it aligns with the persona you are targeting. This fluidity across your blog will be recognized, and provide some natural authority to the information you’re looking to share with your blog’s audience.
Approach Every Article as a Solution to a Problem
As you perform research into content strategy, the problem you’re looking to solve is at the front of your mind. In our case, the problem is people being attached to the notion of writing about their “passions” when starting a blog instead of writing with an end goal in mind to make money.
Each article you’ll read on Blog to Scale is a solution to a particular problem. Learning how to start a blog the right way. Developing a strong content strategy that mirrors your goals. Using the right content marketing tools and services. Learning how to make money blogging.
Every single article published solves a problem. People not knowing where to start. Struggling with how to develop content. Having trouble finding the right tools to use. Not knowing how to monetize the traffic that starts to roll into their site.
What are the problems your blog will solve? Whatever they are, they are the backbone of your cornerstone content, and the content your contracted writers will produce in the future.
If nothing else, be helpful. Just be helpful. It’s a great way to earn trust and build relationships, and making money blogging is about relationships, not just adding “clients”.
Cultivating the Reader Journey Within Your Content Strategy
The end of goal of blogging with a business-mindset is to lead your readers toward a desired action in the content marketing funnel. While it’s important to know what that action is, the end of the trail is useless if there isn’t a trail.
Therefore, your content should always cultivate the reader’s journey on your blog. It all starts with getting your reader be aware that you exist. This may seem silly, but just getting that initial traffic to your blog is half the battle.
Here’s a visual depiction of the content marketing funnel:
Once a reader is aware of who you are and what you offer, the next step is to cultivate that interest through other means of communication. Maybe that’s a sequence of emails or a highly-visible offer in your cornerstone content or elsewhere on your website.
If you reader has interacted with each of these types of content, they are showing buyer intent. Once you recognize this intent, it’s time to bring out the big guns and heavily promote what you’re selling and drive toward conversion.
It’s that simple – well, not really – but you get the idea!
While all of this might seem a little overwhelming, with some time, due diligence and perseverance you can put together an award-winning content strategy that will get your blog off to a blazing start!
Click here to schedule a free, one-on-one consultation and learn more about our Blog to Scale Training Academy where we help take concepts into action!