This post was originally written by Ian Lurie in 2016. It was recently edited by Portent content strategist Travis McKnight, to include new information and more current data.
This content marketing guide is enormous. There is no TL;DR version because creating a content strategy has a lot of steps. And they’re all necessary.
If you’re a writer and know your way around a computer or a marketing geek who knows how to write, after reading the guide, you should be well-prepared for the endeavors ahead.
Before you dive in, here’s an important caveat: this guide focuses on the “getting started” steps, best practices, and a few of our favorite tools. If you’re only looking for content strategy best practices, we recommend you read our blog. But if you want to learn the whole process, you’re in the right place.
Kicking off any content marketing process starts with the strategy. Afterward, some basic process planning happens. This is how we do it at Portent:
- Existing content inventory
- Competitive analysis
- Drawing conclusions
- Building the “machine” around best practices, tools, and people
In the first step, you grab a lot of data and mush it all together; this is the most mechanically involved task we’ll get into. Fortunately, the second step is fast and easy. The third and fourth steps are the most challenging and demanding. Both tasks require critical thinking skills, intuition, and industry knowledge that are impossible-to-automate.
Before You Start
Let’s establish common definitions and outline a few assumptions.
What You’re Doing
My definition of “content” is broad. Content is about a lot more than piles of blog posts. Content is everything you say, in any format.
Conversations are comprised of content. Content is how we converse.
Content drives every exchange you have with a potential customer. Product descriptions are content. So are photos, blog posts, podcasts, your company’s “About Us” page, those 40 ridiculous links you stuff at the bottom of your home page, and every other scrap of information you put—anywhere.
The Goal of Content Marketing
A content strategy has three objectives:
- Call out goals, how you’ll accomplish them, and what KPIs you’ll use to measure the accomplishments.
- Create a “profile” of particularly successful content types that others can apply for the foreseeable future.
- Persuade the reader—your client/boss—that they should believe you, stop barfing keyword essays out on their site, and become a true resource for potential customers.
Content marketing is how you deliver on those goals.
Trust me, none of these are easy. To get started, you must break the connection in your brain between SEO and content.
Forget About Rankings
Wait, what did you say?
I said: Forget about SEO and rankings. This is about content, which affects every inch of your marketing strategy. Content influences everything in marketing.
- Content = communications. It helps with inbound and outbound sales, as well as PR, by reinforcing messages and showing you can deliver on promises and create a connection with your customer.
- Content impacts how people perceive your brand, too. What you say, and how you say it, establishes this message.
- Content is a huge factor in customer retention. It provides information and knowledge that attaches value to you and your brand.
SEO is one reason to do a fantastic job on content. It’s certainly not the only one. I see SEO as 20 percent of the reason to create great content.
This whole step-by-step content strategy guide is meant to support all of your organization’s communications efforts. But it’ll only support those efforts if you use the data you collect to define “good” content for your site. That will only happen if you look at content as a marketing strategist, rather than an SEO.
Before You Do Anything, Create Personas
There are entire books about persona creation. I’m not going to write about the process here. What I recommend, though, is that each persona include:
- Search behavior, because no, you can’t escape search engines.
- Devices most often used, which drives content creation and technology.
- Fears, frustrations, and aspirations.
- Demographic targeting data you can get from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google. This piece is old but still a great overview.
- Content that “maps” from “I don’t care” to “I need this!!!” and then back around again.
If you can assemble this kind of information, you’ve got the basics. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
Step 1: Collect Your Content Inventory
You could go through your entire web site, by hand, and find every last piece of content. You could.
Or, you can automate the inventory. Which is what I strongly suggest. Here’s what I do, and how I do it:
The Site Crawl: Break It Up, Before You Go-go
Yikes. Awful. I know, but that’s the music I grew up with.
The first step in any inventory is getting a list of your stuff. Here, the first step is getting a list of site pages. All you need is a list of page URLs. If you have a large site (say, more than 1,000 pages), you should group those URLs by category.
Wait, what? Grouped by category? Ian, WTF?!!! I’ll have to do that by hand!!!
Nope. Assuming your site has any semblance of structure, you’ll have categories, and those categories will have a hub page, like this:
On this site, you’d probably create an “Outerwear” URL group that included everything in the Outerwear/ folder, including the outerwear page itself. Then you’d create another one for underwear, and so on. If there’s a blog, you break that up by category, too.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an e-commerce site, by the way. Most sites have category structures. If you don’t, look really carefully—you may have found the first step in your content strategy.
Here’s an easy way to see if you’ve got the right URL groups. Each URL group should:
- Share a common desired visitor emotional response, such as “I love this. I want it.” or “This guy totally answered my question. He rocks.” or even “Good god, what the hell were they thinking?!”
- Make sense. Are you pairing services information with today’s funny cartoon? Better be a good reason.
- Be manageable. The URL group has to be small enough that you can do reasonable measurement, and large enough to give you a decent sampling. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for this, I’m afraid. Usually, it’s obvious: On a 10,000-page site, for example, a 10-page URL group will have little value, but a 5,000-page group may be impossible to work with.
You can get these URL groups fairly easily using a standard site crawler. Keep reading, and I’ll show you how.
Running the Site Crawl
Crawl each category list of links separately. My favorite desktop tool for this is Screaming Frog. Go get it. I’ll wait.
Screaming Frog is so full of awesome; it’d take another 10,000 words to describe it. If you want to learn more about using it, check out SEER’s incredibly complete guide.
Second. If you’re lucky, and each URL group matches a folder on your site, you can enter your web address plus the folder, like this:
…and Screaming Frog will only crawl links within that folder. Easy-peasy.
If your site doesn’t use folders, try using the Include filter, instead:
- Click “Configuration > Include”
- Type in the URL Pattern you want to match. Don’t let the mention of regular expressions scare you. A plain old pattern like this works brilliantly. Just remember the ‘*’
- Start your crawl
You can also filter the URLs after the fact, using the Filter tool, or by getting creative with Excel. I’m not going to write about all that here, because frankly, this post is long enough, yes?
Third. Save your crawl to a CSV, so you can import it into a spreadsheet, like so:
But what about monster sites? 1 million+ pages? My favorite publicly-available tool is Deepcrawl.
Fourth. Finally, take each URL group crawl result and import them into Excel. Keep the Status Code, as well as the H1/H2s, Response Codes, Page Title and Meta Description, Word Count. That gives me a pretty complete list of URLs and basic data you’ll need for page quality.
Finally. Get rid of duplicate source URLs! Don’t forget!
You can use a different tool than Excel. When I do this myself, I dump the list of URLs into Sublime Text and filter for unique URLs, and then use a regular expression to dump any offsite stuff that somehow got into the crawl. But Excel is a great starting point.
Grab Your Performance Data
Now, you’ve got your list(s) of links—the “stuff” part of the inventory. Time to fetch your performance data—this is the “information about the stuff” part of the inventory. You’ll use this data as part of your strategy.
What I do not measure in a content audit (I use inventory and audit interchangeably):
- Pageviews: Too deceptive.
- Time on page: Panic-inducing, and may not indicate the real “quality” of the page.
- Bounce rate: See time on page. If folks read your site through feeds, bounce rate may be really high. But that means nothing.
- Visitors or unique visitors.
None of these stats show me whether the content had an impact. They show me whether someone came and looked at the page, and they show me if you left your browser open for 10 minutes. That’s about it.
What I do measure in a content audit:
- Facebook likes. If someone “likes” a page on Facebook, something about that page got their juices flowing.
- Facebook shares. Ditto.
- Facebook comments. Ditto, ditto.
- LinkedIn posts, if this is a business site.
- Reddit votes, if relevant.
- If the page has commenting, the number of comments.
- If the page has reviews, the number of reviews.
- Authority, based on a tool like Moz’s Link Explorer or Majestic SEO (or both). I don’t care whether you’re doing SEO or not—this is another good measure of audience response.
- Revenue/conversions generated by visitors to those pages. Only sometimes. Use with caution, because great content typically gets you conversions later, and attribution is nearly impossible.
Read on if you want some tips on grabbing all of this data without going insane.
Performance data tells you how a specific piece of content helps your overall strategy. Language & quality data provides a snapshot of subject matter and best practices:
- (Required) Words/page. You already have this from your Screaming Frog crawl, remember?
- Paragraph tags. Clearly, you should have them. But do you?
- (Required) Title tag. Because it’s important. You already have this. This is not for SEO evaluation, although you can certainly do that. You’ll examine titles to see if one style of title tag gets more shares/authority/good stuff than another. Forget the rankings.
- (Required) Meta description tag. You have this already, too. Again, this is not an SEO thing! It’s about looking at trends: On your site, do pages with good description tags get more shares/authority than those that do not? You want to know.
- (Optional) Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency (TF-IDF). The top five or so terms by document and group, based on a score that combines the term frequency of a phrase within a document, and the inverse document frequency of the term within the entire URL group (aka, the corpus, in natural language processing-speak). If the idea of calculating TF-IDF makes your eyes roll back in your head, then show the top five terms per document, based on frequency. Again, NOT SEO. This is to help you figure out what each page/section is about, without requiring you to read every one. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.
- (Optional) Flesch-Kincaid grade level and reading ease. These numbers give you a basic look (very basic) at writing complexity.
- (Optional) Heading element usage. Track how many elements each page has. To a point, more headings may show a well-thought-out document structure.
- (Optional) OGP markup. OGP markup enhances Facebook sharing. If some pages have it and some don’t, you can track the impact.
- (Optional) Twitter markup. Same as OGP markup, but for Twitter.
- (Optional) Count of possible spelling errors. Tragic that we have to test for this, but there you have it. If you’d like to automate this part of the process, you can copy-paste the content into Grammarly for an in-depth look at its editorial quality.
There is no ideal number of words per page, by the way. Or reading ease. Or anything else. You’re looking at this data to build a profile of particularly successful content within this one category on your site. In one URL group, that may mean 500 words/page and a reading grade level 12. In another, that may mean 100 words and reading grade level 7. It’s up to you to look at the data and draw conclusions.
But still—how do you grab all of this data?! There’s the rub. Keep reading.
Mechanize Data Collection
Collecting all of this by hand could take weeks. Or you can automate it. You’ve got a few options, from super-technical to most accessible:
- You can write your own data grabbing script. To me, all marketers should be programmers. If you believe that, writing a little script to fetch this data, page by page, isn’t that hard. I did it, and I code about as well as I dance. Use this option if you’ll be doing repeated audits.
- Fancier tools like Content Insight appear to fetch all the data you want and then some. I haven’t tried any of them yet, so I can’t say for sure. If you’ve tried them, let me know.
- Use a service like Smartsheet. Set up a blank spreadsheet with all the columns you want, and paste in all the URLs. Write instructions on how to grab each metric. Then use Smartsheet to set up Amazon Mechanical Turk jobs for each URL. Poof. You’re done. Great if you’re only doing occasional content audits.
More likely, you’ll use a mix of tools and manual labor. Here’s how you pull it all together.
Aggregate Your Data
Tools like Moz’s Link Explorer will let you pull a lot of the content performance numbers. Add SEMRush to that, and you have a lot of great information. If you can’t collect every datapoint, work with what you can. In spite of the numbers, this is more art than science.
But data like authority numbers and revenue/conversions require logins, and you don’t want to share those on AMT or Smartsheet. Use Excel VLOOKUP, instead:
- Add three tabs to your content data spreadsheet.
- In your web analytics software, set up a content report that includes page URLs and revenue or conversions. Download a CSV export of that report.
- For Majestic and Moz’s Link Explorer, get Builtvisible’s link API Excel plugin. Paste your URLs into one of the spreadsheet tabs you just created. That’ll give you a bulk lookup of all of your URLs.
- For SEMRush data, export the data from SEMRush. Paste that data into another tab.
- Paste the web analytics content report into the other tab.
- Use VLOOKUP to grab relevant data.
If you need to learn VLOOKUP, check out this excellent tutorial from Distilled.
One Last Bit For Data: Any Disasters?
Record any catastrophic events: a major PR gaffe, or a governance failure, or something similar. These kinds of events may point out the need for a stricter content policy. Or, they may point out how well a particular style of response worked to correct the problem and move on. Either way, there are lessons to be learned.
Step 2: Spy On the Competition
To be honest, I rarely do a deep competitive analysis. We’re not going to imitate the competition, because that probably won’t work. And being a copycat is really, really bad for your brand, as Adecco found out. And we’re not going to learn much from them, because we have no information about their process/challenges/resources.
However, there are times when competitive research and comparisons make sense:
- Prompt a response. Nothing gets a team motivated faster than “our biggest competitor is using this strategy, and they’re kicking our butt.” This works well when you’re justifying everything from fully descriptive title tags to content that’s not marketing-focused.
- Give you a goal. If you have no idea what to set as a goal, you might check share data for competitor content. That assumes the competitor is doing well, of course.
And, since you’ve already automated so much of the data collection process, it’s easy enough to run the process above for a few dozen pages on your top competitors. So you may want to take a look.
For Portent, that means the following:
- Use a tool like Buzzsumo to find the highest-performing sites around a topic and/or,
- Go to SEMRush or Ahrefs. Pull up competitors’ sites. Look at the highest-performing content on those sites.
- Feed those sites and pages into SEMRush/Ahrefs. Look at the topics they cover.
- Use Majestic, too. It shows you “topic flow,” which is a good way to judge overall subject of a site or group of pages using links and content.
- Look at the highest-performing pages on those sites. Compare them to the topics. See the kinds of content they produce and the cadence at which they produce it.
- Find the weak points: Does the competition fail to update their stuff? If so, consider how you might provide more up-to-date information.
- Find the gaps: In your industry, are there topics the competition simply ignores? If possible, target those areas.
- Look for other things that stand out.
- Put all of that together. There’s no easy if/then, but this thought process usually gives us a reasonably good look at the competitive landscape.
In our case, pretend we discovered that our competition hasn’t written that much about overall Internet marketing. They’re remarkably strong for individual topics, but haven’t pulled it all together. That gives us an opportunity.
Step 3: Draw Conclusions
You now have scads of data on every page in each URL group. Maybe you grabbed every possible data point. Maybe you didn’t. It doesn’t matter. This is the part that matters most. You need to look at all of this data and start to build a profile for “great” content in each URL group.
You could try to use a formula or a statistical technique like Pearson Correlation, but I don’t recommend it. Content is largely about emotional response:
- Sense of security/lack thereof
You can’t calculate that.
You can, however, look at each URL group, determine what emotional response each group was trying to obtain, and then use the data to see whether you succeeded. Here’s an example.
Portent’s Content Report
I ran a small report—about 150 pages—on the Portent blog using our Content Inventory Analysis tool, which collects most of the data I’ve recommended you analyze. You can view the report here to follow along if you want.
I need to see if any content “sticks out” as particularly successful. The easiest way? Just sort by various columns, looking for pages with the best citation flow, most tweets or Facebook shares, etc. If I find something significant, I’ll create a separate report for it later.
In our report, the top three articles are either super-specific “how-tos” or educational “you should know” content that rambles on about digital marketing best practices. In general, our most successful posts in this report are also more than 2,000 words long, with two of them surpassing 5,000 words. In fact, just about all blog content that got tweeted falls into those two categories, and have more than 1,500 words.
If one of my strategic goals is to build share of voice through social shares (not the best goal on its own, but a decent start), then I can safely assume that:
- Longer articles are at least OK, and may be an excellent idea to generate user engagement.
- We need to either offer hard-hitting analysis of major, current issues, or truly useful how-tos.
- Titles with “why” or “how” at the beginning may somehow get more sharing and authority, which means folks are engaging a bit better. Make a note to test this.
These may seem like “well, duh” discoveries. But now you can back them up with data. Plus, I’m not sure the newsworthy part would’ve jumped out at me without looking at these top 10 pages.
Still, I won’t want to base all of my assumptions on one statistic. And there’s probably more to learn. If I dig deeper, I find:
- Majestic SEO’s Citation and Trust Flow seem to back up the social media numbers. So these posts aren’t just social media boosters. They’re getting shared via blogs too.
- No one topic is the big driver. Everything from responsive design to PPC to SEO generates attention. That’s good—part of our strategy is to emphasize we’re a full-service agency.
- But we lack content about general Internet marketing. Oops.
Here’s the warning about all this: It’s just numbers, and you’re dealing with people. It may be that the top two posts performed so well because we used the word “flibbergibbet” in our tweets, or we tweeted on a Saturday (I checked the tweets we sent, and when we sent them, and didn’t see any huge differences).
So yes, you need to think it through, and explore other information as necessary. That’s research. It’s also why we all still have a job, and aren’t likely to be replaced any time soon by Python scripts that fetch numbers from 10 different APIs.
In our case, if I think it through and compare goals, audit results, and competitive analysis, I can conclude that:
- We want to be known as an all-around internet marketing agency.
- Our content covers all topics, but I can’t find much about marketing in general.
- Our competitors lack overall marketing content, too.
- Therefore, we should probably increase emphasis on general, “pulling it all together” content.
Step 4: Build the Content Strategy
Use “plan” or “strategy.” Regardless, this is the part that brings everything together: Your data, conclusions, competitive analysis, all of it.
Here’s what I put into a strategy.
The Role of Content in the Marketing Plan
First thing’s first. What’s the content supposed to do?
You may know. I may know. But I guarantee at least one critical decision-maker who reads your strategy will not. This is not something most people spend a lot of time thinking about—we’re kind of weird. So no matter how repetitive it feels, write out exactly what you hope content will accomplish. Expectation-setting is critical.
This is yet another place to emphasize that adding keywords to the website so Google will rank your website is not part of the strategy. It’s also a good place to point out content’s vast impact on the entire marketing plan. Get buy-in on these concepts here, and opportunities for great, creative, useful stuff start popping up like sun-starved Seattlites on a clear day.
What You Did
Where did you get your data? How did you draw your conclusions? Again, someone’s going to ask. Nothing fancy—a simple list of sources and methods will do.
Carefully and diplomatically list tools, resources, or other things that may limit capabilities. You have to talk about this before you talk about goals and metrics! This is all about setting expectations. If your site lacks a content management system, you can’t publish as often. If you lack writers, you can’t produce as much. If you need photography and don’t have a photographer, well…you see where this is going.
You need to clearly state constraints, from day one. That’s how you manage expectations.
Say what you need! Don’t write: “Our resources are limited. We will not be able to meet these goals.” For the person reviewing the plan, that’s extremely frustrating. They know you do not have enough resources. You’ve told them that. But what do you need? What will let you get the job done?
You have to provide solutions: “We will need to add two people to meet these goals.” Trust me; nothing drives a boss more insane than a problem presented without a solution. Tell them what’s necessary for you to meet your goals. They may say no. But it’s better than grumbling.
Goals and Metrics
What should we measure going forward?
The Goals and Analysis plan below talks about how often to measure your content. But you also need to set out the metrics, and the goals, right away. Check out our guide to content KPIs if you want inspiration.
Like the role of content, putting this into writing really gets folks on the right track.
For Portent, the goal is more shareable content and ultimately, reaching beyond the search community into the marketing community as a whole. We’ll measure that by watching:
- Content consumption. Visits plus shares plus links and mentions.
- Topics. We want to make sure we don’t over-focus in one area, and we want to talk more about marketing as a whole.
- Interaction. Comments generated per page.
- Leads. You can connect content to conversions!!! For an intro, read my piece about marketing strategy.
Here’s an example: “I’d like to see comments per page increase by 25 percent, and see an even topic distribution between PPC, SEO, social media, analytics, development, and overall strategy.”
Ideating Essential Topics
The two or three guiding principles behind the organization, translated into central themes for every piece of content you write. This is one of the critical bits that, if you get it right, causes the rest of the audit to fall nicely into place.
The “essential topics” might be “keywords” for some folks. I don’t think keywords are very strategic, and I know what my writing looks like if someone tells me, “Hey, can you write a blog post about bicycle tires?” So I’d rather stick to topics.
A good place to start is with the organization’s “why.” Not sure what your company’s “why” is? Check out Simon Sinek’s masterful book, Start With Why to learn how to develop and use “why” as a motivating force.
For me, the “why” is “help everyone communicate better, because great communications will save the world.”
That doesn’t mean every blog post we write has to talk about communications and a world-ending lack thereof. Instead, break the “why” up into essential topics like this. Every post we write should probably touch on one of these points:
- Learn to be a better marketing communicator
- Be heard
- What’s good, what’s bad
- Linking marketing to communications
We don’t have to literally write about each of these topics, either. But any content we create should probably somehow support one of the essential topics. For example:
- How to write clearly
- Choosing the right images for your blog post
- Great communications can save the world (it’s OK to write the why now and then)
- Using Python for sentiment analysis
- Machine learning and spam link detection
- Adecco: anatomy of a social media meltdown
Every one of those posts either offers advice on better communications, calls out great or awful communications, or otherwise trots alongside the communications bandwagon.
Essential topics are a “soft” concept. This makes it even more critical that you make it as concrete as possible, with lots of examples and crystal clear topics. Still, anything this touchy-feely in a world of “give me my ROI now, dammit,” spells nightmare. Here are the properties of a good essential topic:
- It works for a how-to, a rant and a philosophical discussion. aka:?WTF*. Any essential topic should be at least that flexible. So “how to program Python” won’t work. But “program Python better” might, and “programming to learn better” is perfect.
- It travels on its own: seeing this essential topic, anyone will understand what it means. “Writing Python list iterators” is a total fail. It’s fine as a blog post. It’s just not an essential topic. A better one might be “process data faster” or “do more with data.”
- It lets you be funny, serious, or mad. Similar to: ?WTF*, but this is more about pure tone. “Taking better photographs” probably doesn’t work. I can’t get terribly angry about that. “Better visual storytelling” works.
Some of these look like narrow semantic distinctions, right? You probably rolled your eyes at “better visual storytelling.” It’s ok, you can admit it. I backspaced over it three times myself. But it’s not just me making up fancy phrases. Two years from now, someone’s going to have to look at this essential topic and be able to apply it to whatever content they’re dreaming up.
Tone and Audience
If you’re going to write personas, this is not the place to do it. You should have gotten everyone’s buy-in regarding personas way at the start of this article, long before you started writing strategy. If you didn’t, no big deal. Just don’t create the gigantic kerfuffle that’ll result if you throw personas into the mix now. Skip ‘em.
Instead, in this section, write little two-sentence descriptions of each audience type and do the same for a few different tones you think are appropriate.
Easiest section in the whole audit. Just explain the kinds of content you think can work. If video and text are the only types, explain why. If an audio podcast makes sense, go with that. Just think it through, so that this is a plan the reader can stick to.
Now, explain how you’re going to rank content. I don’t mean good to bad—I mean, “stuff we should write a lot” versus “stuff we should write a little,” or “stuff that scales” and “stuff that doesn’t.” For Portent, that’s the 70/20/10 rubric. I won’t bother going into it here—you can read about it in this post.
You can’t just cut-and-paste a standard description, though. You have to make this hierarchy make sense for the client. I usually do that by:
- Showing content they’ve already done that fits each position in the hierarchy
- Showing examples of content others produced that fits
- Providing lots of example titles and content types
Don’t write out a list of titles. This is a strategic document, remember. Instead, create a calendar showing how often to produce content that fits each position in the hierarchy. For example:
- Write 70 percent content seven times per month
- Write 20 percent content two times per month
- Write 10 percent content once per month
I’d use an actual calendar format if I were you, though. People seem to absorb the information more easily that way.
This is much more tactical. Take a look at the content inventory report you created. If there are any mistakes/omissions/great things that happen more than 20 percent of the time, write a best practice to address it.
Then, picture a content team sitting in your spot, six months from now. What insights might those people miss? Write best practices for each of those realizations, too.
These are often little things, like writing fully-descriptive titles. But sometimes big stuff ends up here. For example:
- Don’t copy content from your other sites. Seems obvious to me, maybe, but put yourself in the team’s shoes. Six months from now, under deadline pressure, with a VP telling them she just spent 50 percent of the year’s budget on that research piece for the other web site, is there any chance the team might forget? Or be pressured into duplicating? Yes.
- Write a fully-descriptive article title. Again, it seems obvious, but will it be obvious in six months?
- Put links where they matter, not in a list at the end of an article. Reason: no one clicks the links at the end. Links in the article have higher utility.
- Make sure no image is larger than 500kb in size. Reason: faster content page load times. Use a free tool like Squoosh to compress images without losing perceptible quality.
- Always use the singular form of taxonomical tags. Reason: it avoids a common form of tag duplication.
- Place a full transcription of all videos on the video page. Place all videos on their own, independent pages within the site. Reason: content discoverability, search, and skim-able versions for people in a hurry.
- All pages should be Google AMP and Facebook Instant Articles-ready.
- All pages should be responsive.
Our Favorite Content Strategy Tools
When you’re making best practice guidelines, we also recommend listing the tools you use. Some of ours are:
- Grammarly, which has saved us many misspellings, grammatical cringing, and lives (maybe).
- Hemingway for grade-level analysis and recommendations for simpler, easier-to-read writing.
- Coschedule for editorial calendar and production management.
Understand that these are not laws. Sometimes the team has to bypass a best practice. Your job here is to provide the information they need to make an intelligent, informed decision when they do. If they decide to place an image that’s larger than 500kb, fine, just understand that it increases article load time. If they skip the transcript, they may get fewer video views because people can’t get a quick preview, and because search engines may not properly categorize the page.
Lots and lots of examples. Good, bad, edits you’d make, edits you wouldn’t. The more examples you provide, the easier it is for the reader to figure out best practices and essential topics. We often provide marked-up screen captures showing what we’d change and how.
Depending on the reader, I might write out basic guidelines for outreach: how much to do and when, who to reach, and how.
In case you’re not familiar with outreach, it is among the best strategies to proactively drive organic and referral traffic to your website. A long-term outreach campaign also builds domain authority, bolsters brand awareness, and engages your audience where they congregate on the web. For more, check out our Outreach 101 guide. It has everything you need to get started.
Some clients really want governance to be part of their strategy and audit. To me, it’s a whole different thing. I know that’s not the norm, so I’ll explain:
- A content strategy is about what you create, when you create it, and how.
- Governance is about who’s allowed to create it and what they need to do to get it approved. It’s also about what you can and cannot do. So it actually needs to be in place before the strategy and audit, or you need to do it based on the strategy and audit findings. You can’t do it at the same time.
- I can count the number of organizations that have stuck to a content governance framework on one pseudopod, and despite Dr. Pete’s claims to the contrary, I do not have any pseudopods. Unless there was a major governance catastrophe, focus on strategy, first.
Review and Analysis Plan
Write down your plan for measuring and tracking content performance over time. Be really, really specific. Exactly what would you do every time you publish a new piece of content? Exactly what would you regularly check, and exactly how often? And if you aren’t sure what the appropriate cadence is for auditing your content, you can read more about that here.
You might even want to provide basic guidelines for interpreting data: if the numbers go up, do X. If they go down, do Y. But I’m really cautious with this kind of information in a strategy. It’s bound to get transformed from strategic advice to tactical musts. Next thing you know, every time a post gets three Facebook likes, the entire content team has to write on the same topic for three months.
This sounds really hard. And really complicated. That’s because it is. Content strategies drive communications policy, which, ironically, is really hard to communicate. But it’s priceless information for your organization. A good strategy forms a long-term framework for content, and it keeps everyone honest. It guides more than content marketing. It drives an organization’s entire marketing plan. So it’s well worth the effort.