5 Ways to Create A Better Content Strategy in 2014

By , December 4th, 2013 in Content Marketing | 20 comments
New Year, New Content Marketing Strategy

Okay content marketers, I have a serious question for you…

Of all the content you created in 2013, how much did you plan strategically?

I’m not talking about writing a few blog post titles in a calendar a week in advance, but actually planning – who the content is for, where it will be seen, how it will be received. Style, format, tone, how everything works together – you know, strategic content.

Content marketers get so caught up in production, that we forget there’s a reason it’s called “content strategy”.

Before you know it, 2014 will be here. Don’t end up in the same production hamster wheel you’ve been on since 2009.

If you’ll humor me, I’d like to share the 5-step process I’ve developed for my clients that makes content more strategic, efficient and powerful.

Step 1: Sourcing Topics – Pick a Handful of Online Communities Base Your Content Strategy On What They Need.

When you create content, who are you creating it for?

I can’t explain it, but when something is created for you, it just feels different.

Ask any online writer that “speaks to you” how they do it, and they’ll likely tell you they read lots of comment threads, forums or social media groups about their particular subject.

As a writer, it’s much easier to create content for a small group of real people than it is to write for the abstract and faceless “audience” we talk so much about.

Google+ communities are a great starting point for your content strategy
Click for full-size image

Seriously, check out Quora or use your main keywords in Google+ Communities or Linkedin Groups. There’s no shortage of real people asking questions that can be answered in an in-depth piece of content.

Content marketing with weird memes

This weird meme, like so much viral content, originated on Reddit.

The best part is that with this methodology, sourcing topics and sourcing audience are one and the same.

When you consider that most mainstream memes are created by regular people sharing things with each other on Reddit, 4chan, 9gag & other forums, creating content for small groups can bring in very big audiences (even when the content is a little weird).

Matthew Woodward used a similar methodology to become a Technorati top 100 blog in less than a year by creating in-depth content for a handful of online communities.

Here’s what he had to say about it:

“I saw the same common problems coming up over and over. With my notes in hand I created possible tutorial titles and then bullet pointed the areas each tutorial should include. So I knew what my audience wanted and how I could help them. No PPC, no link building, no SEO, no media buys, no spending money – just good old fashioned human interaction.”

The people in those communities loved what he created so much, they don’t just share his content – they connect him with other influential people that help him take his career to the next level.

Step 2: Plan Your Content Themes By Month

Ever walk into a major retail store only to realize it was “that time of year?”

This month, in the U.S. at least, the theme will be feast and family (Thanksgiving). Next month it will be about the holidays. January will be about starting anew, and so on.

Themes are everywhere in our physical lives, but for some reason those themes rarely translate to online content.

Content marketing by theme
It’s beginning to look a lot like content marketing (image source)

While theming might seem like a minor detail, consider the sheer volume of disjointed information being broadcast this very second. With a monthly theme, you provide a much-needed anchor for readers that compel them to either:

  • Stay tuned for the next article; or
  • “Binge read” every article from a specific month

In either case, themes give you an entire month to build toward something bigger like a live webinar (more on that in the next section). With that built-in sense of anticipation and urgency, your visitors become more in tune and the path to conversion becomes more linear.

You could adopt themes of major industry events happening in a month, tie in national awareness months (like cancer awareness), or even create an awareness month of your own (Landing page awareness month anyone?)

Step 3: Determine How Your Content Works Toward A Larger Goal

After you select your monthly themes, it’s time to determine how the individual pieces of your content strategy will work together to drive people toward a larger monthly goal.

In this method of content planning, you’re not really relying on how headlines are ordered on the calendar. Instead, you’re planning content based on the smaller actions you’d like people to take, then gradually upping the commitment so they’ll take a larger action like becoming a lead or buying something.

This is why I suggest developing a content strategy where the individual pieces have 1 of 4 goals:

  • Get Shared
  • Drive Comments
  • Attract Leads
  • Make Sales

With your monthly calendar open, mark the days you plan to publish not by post title, but by the desired actions you’d like your readers to take.

That would look something like this:

Content marketing editorial calendar
Click for full-size image

Use these goals to guide you in measuring what works and creating individual pieces of content that serve a larger purpose.

Step 4: Select Media Formats & Styles That Suit Your Audience

Going back to the communities you’re following from Step 1, ask yourself what media formats they share the most? What drives the most responses?

Video?
Podcasts?
Ebooks?
Blog posts?
Infographics?
Slideshows?

If you’re not creating content in a format the community likes, you’re adding unnecessary friction to delivering your message.

Take it a step further and analyze the style and tone that generates the most response.

Are they sharing funny stuff, or are their tastes more serious? Long articles or short & pithy? Data-driven or conversational? Argumentative or relaxed? Hip and trendy or wise and authoritative?

9 times out of 10 content fails because it’s in front of the wrong people or delivered in a format your readers just don’t care for.

Step 5: Fleshing Out the Content Calendar

You’re finally ready to start creating an actual content calendar, with post titles and everything.

Using what we’ve gathered from before – common queries within groups, monthly themes, media formats & styles – open up the calendar with the content goals from Step 3, and start assigning potential titles and media formats to each publication date.

An example might look like:

January – Theme: Renewal

Monday
Goal: Viral Post
Format: Video
Topic: 15 Simple Things To Do To Get More Clients
Style: Short, hip, Buzzfeed-esque (No more than 1:30 runtime)
Distribution: Funky Freelancers (Facebook), Freelancing Freedom (Reddit), FreelanceFolder.com (blog)

——————————————

Wednesday
Goal: Discussion
Format: Blog
Topic: What I Learned From The Deals I DIDN’T close in 2013
Style: Conversational, Storytelling, Personal
Distribution: #FreelanceChat (Twitter), Freelanceswitch.com (blog), popularblogger@RelationshipYouveBuiltOverTime.com (email)

——————————————–

Friday
Goal: Viral Post
Format: Slideshow
Topic: 15 Freelancers Who Are Pushing the Boundaries in 2014
Style: Hip, bright colors, short actionable bites
Distribution: Slideshare, Funky Freelancers (Facebook), etc

(note – Add music and a few animations to redistribute to YouTube later)

—————————————————————

As you can see, this structure adds a lot more depth and sense of direction to the overall content calendar – providing you with a few key benefits:

Knowing media formats ahead of time helps you manage & prioritize your production schedule

Let’s say you know you want to create 24 slideshows, 12 videos, and 48 graphic quotes by the end of the year. That may seem like a lot, but that’s only 2 slideshows, 1 video, and 4 infographics a month.

Knowing that, it’ll be very easy to outsource those pieces that don’t require a lot of work from you or demand your full attention to create.

Sites like Odesk or Mturk are great low-cost resources for finding freelancers to do things like sourcing quotes, emailing pre-written interview questions or other important but otherwise time-sucking tasks that distract you from doing what you do best.

Having goals & style established in advance gives multi-author blogs a tactical advantage

Let’s say you’re the editor of a multi-author blog like Unbounce.

After a little research you find Stefanie’s content gets shared like wildfire, Oli drives the most comments, Georgiana typically gets more email subscriptions and Ryan generates the most sales.

By aligning your creator’s strengths with one of the four content goals, you empower the individual author to become an expert in serving that particular audience.

From a tactical standpoint, you’re always using “the best tool for the job.”

If you grow your team, or you work with guest bloggers, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of content to assign them, and how they’ll fit into your overall production calendar.

Picking distribution channels gives you time to work on outreach messages

Let’s not forget getting all of this content distributed. For a lot of us, the current outreach system looks like this:

  1. Create
  2. Publish
  3. Reach out

Problem is, this system doesn’t give any consideration to the content calendar of the person you’re reaching out to.

When you know what sort of content you’ll be creating months in advance and whom you’ll want to send it to, you can “seed” the idea with others and work your way more naturally into their content and curation rotation.

For example, let’s say I know I want to create that Buzzfeed-style video on getting more clients and I want to send it out to several freelancer communities.

I would get in touch with the different community and content managers a month or two in advance, let them know I was creating a video and maybe ask them for a tip I should include.

After the video is created, but before it’s made public, I would send them a private link, thank them for their input and let them know when it’s going live.

You could even use a tool like Boomerang – a “write an email now, send it later” app – to schedule the initial outreach messages. That way, when it gets closer to publishing time, you’re mobilizing the people who want to help, without wasting time emailing those who don’t care.

Discussion

Well, there you have it: 5 steps to improving your content marketing strategy in 2014.

How does that stack up against what you’re currently doing? Anything you can add to make it better?

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

– Tommy Walker

About The Author

Photo of Tommy Walker

Tommy Walker is an online marketing strategist, show host, and prolific guest blogger for sites like Unbounce, ConversionXL, Smashing Magazine & more. He specializes in highly effective, counter-intuitive approaches to online marketing, and seeks to expand your thinking on what's possible with online content. Check out his approach on guest post landing pages, and get a free copy of The Top Ten Content Marketing Strategy Mistakes by clicking here.
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Comments

  1. This is simply one of the best and most well illustrated artucles I’ve read all year. I have been looking for a spark to re – energize my site. This post really did it. Thank you!

    • Tommy Walker says:

      Hey no problem Daniel!

      I’m really hoping this article can help more people hone their focus on content in the upcoming year. There’s so much disjointedness out there, it becomes extremely difficult to even want to pay attention.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of this too. I haven’t written for my own blog since February, mostly because of the lack of cohesion. (and writing for everyone else)

      But I truly believe if we start thinking more like TV programmers, and less like “bloggers” we’re going to have a much easier time creating & distributing content.

  2. Sheri says:

    Thanks for this great timely article! My goal for today was to take time to figure out a strategy for my fairly new e-commerce business. These are great points that will help me to clearly focus on creating a strategic path to follow. A double thumbs up!

    • Tommy Walker says:

      Happy to help Sheri!

      If you don’t mind my asking, what kind of e-commerce business are you running?

      There is a very specific application of this technique that can be used for e-commerce, and I’d love to share it with you once I know what you’re doing!

      • Sheri says:

        Hi Tommy! Thanks for your reply and your interest in helping. My website is an annual subscription site for elementary school worksheets and other educational resources similar to what you might find on TeachersPayTeachers.

        I have a monthly themed schedule for the school year already written out and a plan to create worksheets and other materials for those themes three months in advance. I also have several blogs I’ve prepared ahead of time so I’m ahead of the game.

        The only problem is I encountered problems with my website development and spent nearly six months trying to find the right web developer to fix the problems I had with the site. That has thrown all my scheduling and goals off by months. I have at least one to two months of work still ahead of me to get my content in the right order on the site. The good news is the site is live and I’m getting a steady stream of memberships.

        I’d love to hear your thoughts about how the specific application for e-commerce might be applicable to my business!!!

        Looking forward to your reply. : )

        • Tommy Walker says:

          That’s awesome, and your site is fun too. I like it!

          The first thing of course is make sure that your themes are align ed with the right months, so if that means playing a little catch up, sadly, you’re just going to have to put the time in.

          But the second part, the more fun part, is once you have your stuff ready to go, you can network with other teachers through the online groups you establish earlier, set up an affiliate program (I like shareasale) and have them sell your stuff for you too.

          If you’re able to teach them the learni g curve on setting up affiliate links, and you keep them notified about your upcoming content, the can share your blog content with an aff link, and if someone decides to buy within the timeframe you specify, they get a cut just for sharing something they probably would have already shared.

          See the cool part about having a calendar set uo like this, is that it frees up time to set up your own content distribution network. If you teach those people how to also (potentially) make money off of sharing your free stuff, it’s a win win for everyone.

          • Sheri says:

            Thanks Tommy for your reply and for the nice compliment about my site.

            I’ve heard about affiliate marketing but have not looked into it…I guess I’ve had other things about the site on my mind. But I’m definitely going to put it on my list of things to seriously look into after I put in the time getting things straightened out. There are so many things out there to promote a business it sometimes seems overwhelming!

            Thanks again for the tip. I appreciate you taking the time to help! : )

  3. Amandah says:

    Great post Tommy!

    Thanks for the reminder of Quora. I haven’t checked it out lately because I’ve been focused on other networks, e.g., Twitter and Google Plus. I also like the idea of choosing a “theme” and creating a blog series around it.

    I would add that it’s a good idea to cut out distractions, i.e., spending too much time on social media. Become laser focused on your content writing and provide the best content you can.

    • Tommy Walker says:

      That’s the hardest part isn’t it? Cutting out the distractions?!

      It’s amazing how much you can actually get done once you have a few systems in place for sourcing and creating content.

  4. Kris says:

    Great articel! From my own experience I need to admit that Video works wery well!! Even a simple film attrtact attention and engagement on my website.

  5. Thank you for the post. I normally create my content using the Google Keyword planner but your idea is worth trying for 2014.

  6. Awesome post – I’ll definitely be using your calendar for inspiration :)

  7. Great post! You had me at the first paragraph. I will make sure to incorporate these 5 tips starting tomorrow, I can’t wait until 2014. It was a nice post to read between creating landing pages. Thanks Tommy!

  8. Ayelet says:

    Great post, Tommy. I’d say that for Step 1 social media channels (if they are segmented so you can follow just that particular audience) can work well for gathering ideas about content needs. Some audience groups (especially for certain B2B companies) don’t have active online communities other than those on social media. Great steps – will be taking on a few of these to try.

  9. Juliana says:

    Great Post! I think the big question for most of us what to do once you create amazing content, how to get the kick start for all that buzz.

  10. Prageeth says:

    Just check your banner image. 2014 january 1 is Wednesday. Not Saturday. Lol.
    http://unbounce.com/photos/content-marketing-strategy-2014-header.jpg

  11. Ryan Briggs says:

    Great post! I really like step 2, it seems like I bounce all over the place in regards to topics. Focusing on one topic for the month will be beneficial for both my readers and my own personal sanity.

  12. GlenRoy says:

    Great article with some actions which I can implement immediately thank you Tommy

  13. Steph Riggs says:

    Content is the king and key to success for getting top position in search engines. In 2014, it is very necessary to think about content creation and submission. Those people who are still using duplicated contents are just trying to penalize their websites. Its time to give up all the old techniques and be natural and stay superior. Your five ways are pretty helpful to create quality contents which is the basic requirement of SEO in 2014.