When you present yourself on the web, you inevitably produce content – it doesn't matter if you're a freelancer, company or agency. This content determines whether interested parties become leads. And whether leads turn into customers. Unfortunately, quite often content is created without any concept behind it. In this article, I'd like to explain how a well-planned content strategy will make your content more effective.
Let's get one point cleared up straight away: when someone talks about content strategy, you need to find out what they mean by it. As so often is the case in the digital world, this term is still relatively new. It changes dynamically over time, is misunderstood or consciously reinterpreted.
Content for content marketing
The following is my approach, which is largely based on Kristina Halvorson. With her book "Content Strategy for the Web", she has contributed significantly to the foundation of this topic. "Content" is therefore a very broad term. It's not just about traditional content like blogposts, articles, photos, graphics, audio or video. But also about how you
- Naming your navigation menu
- How error messages are written
- How to design and namea form
- What your Facebook ad looks like
- How your mails are written etc.
All this is content. And it doesn't stop there. The structure of the content, its networking and how you make it accessible also comes under this umbrella! So remember, it's not just about writing content. Users must also be able to find it, understand it and ultimately feel well looked after. More on that in a moment.
Tip: A content strategy increases your productivity at the same time. The chaos on your desk becomes less. And you learn to prioritize content properly. See my post Productivity Hacks - Get more done with less stress.
The content strategy
A strategy revolves around long-term objectives. So the question is: where do you actually want to go as a freelancer, company or agency? The ways and means to achieve this goal are then the "tactics".
To clear up a typical misunderstanding: Content strategy is not the same as content marketing. Content marketing is merely one possible topic of many within an overarching content strategy. Miriam Löffler and Irene Michl come to the following definition in their book Think Content! (Rheinwerk Verlag) come to the following definition:
"Content strategy is the responsible, well thought-out, economic, data-based, customer-oriented, analytical and professional handling of content - from planning to operative handling in daily business".
Content strategy is a whole professional field where you're at interface between marketing, content management, information architecture and user experience. I'd like to explain what you can learn from this for yourself and for your company.
Why do you need a content strategy?
In short, a well thought-out and well-formulated content strategy is an essential basis for making minor and major decisions about content. After all, you probably ask yourself questions like:
- Do I need a blog? And if yes: What do I write about there?
- How should I write? Do I want to come across as casual and easy going or serious and earnest?
- What do my (future) customers expect? How do I gain their trust? How can I stand out positively from the competition?
- Which social networks are important? Do I have to be on TikTok now? Should I post stories? How do I win customers?
- How important is a newsletter? How often should it appear? What should it be about?
Or how about:
- What about downloads like white papers and e-books? Is it worth the effort?
- Is messenger marketing something for me?
- Where, when and how might my target group come across me? Do they search for information via Google or YouTube? Do they mainly sit at the computer in the office or do they have their smartphone in their hand when they are out and about?
- What terms do my prospects and customers use? How do I present myself in such a way that my services and offers are understood?
- And who actually takes care of all this content? How do we plan, curate, publish and maintain it? What do we already have and how successful is it?
- Who ensures all my content is coherent and makes sense?
With the help of a content strategy, you can answer these and other questions. Another important advantage: It is also the basis for measuring your success. It can help you find the right metrics and make the right decisions for you, your company or your agency.
And last but not least: a content strategy that is written down helps make your company recognizable everywhere. Sometimes content comes from very different departments and employees: marketing, sales or even IT. A content strategy can give guidance on how the content should look. This way, new employees or external service providers can always check what's expected of them.
Why this is a big deal: every interaction is important and its importance is increasing continually. A single moment of irritation can be enough to lose a potential customer to a competitor.
Steps towards a content strategy
What's the best way to proceed? The starting point of a content strategy is to identify you or your company's fundamental, overarching goals. This in turn should already result in the hoped-for target groups. Freelancers and small companies have an advantage here compared to larger organizations in that they're closer to their customers. Without putting in much extra effort they know much more about what their target group is interested in and how to reach them.
Tip: Are you self-employed or a freelancer? Then read my blog post about typical freelancer mistakes - and how to avoid them.
It's important that you a service provider or manufacturer literally speak the language of your customers. This is crucial when they compare what you and the competition are offering. Is it clear that you can solve their most urgent problem in that moment?
With this information, you can answer many of the questions I listed above. For example, as a B2B company, it will most likely make more sense to have a presence on LinkedIn than on TikTok. That's an extreme example, of course. It works the same way with the question: would you rather have LinkedIn or Xing or both? TikTok and Snapchat and Instagram and Pinterest or just one of those?
In short: if you know your target groups well, you can classify and evaluate new trends and hypes very well. For example, you see a new social network or app everyone is talking about and ask yourself: would I find my customers here? Does it fit to the way I want to present myself?
And yes: you can and should also step outside the box and try something new occasionally. Such experiments are even important to build personal experience. But that's something you do on the side. When building a house, the foundation and the floor plan need to be dealt with before you start looking at wall colors.
Components of your content strategy
So in your content strategy, you record what you know about your target audience in as much detail as possible. The concept of personas is often recommended here, as target groups are usually not uniform: Instead, in this case, you're using fictional personas based on real information. You'll probably need multiple personas, because your customers may include both store owners and managers of a B2B company. Both have very different perspectives and needs. The respective persona reflects this as accurately as possible.
The tone of your content is an important issue. Should it be young and dynamic? Or earnest and credible? In some companies there's a separate document for this purpose. Because every piece of content is based on this tone, from the error message to the white paper to the social media ad.
When it comes to content, the customer journey also plays an important role. The basic idea here: Before making any purchase decision, prospects go through different stages. You ideally want to have content that fits each point of that journey. At the beginning, for example, this can be introductory, useful, non-promotional content (there we go with content marketing again). Later, product pages will follow. Finally, right after the purchase, you want to make sure the customer is comfortable with their decision - that's a very important point. And don't forget your existing customers! They tend to be forgotten in the heat of the moment.
The content audit
As part of your content strategy, you should also do a content audit. How high quality and target-oriented is each content piece or subpage? What are the success rates you achieve with each of these? In this content audit, you can determine where you're already present with content and who is actually responsible for it, from your own website to things like newsletters and social media profiles.
Tip: An SEO audit as preparation is also very helpful here. It shows you how your websites are positioned on Google & Co. And what you can improve. See our guide 8 steps for the SEO audit.
This will result in a content overview and an editorial plan for the future. Do not question critically at this point:
- What current activities should remain?
- Which areas need to be updated and how urgently?
- Where do you need a new concept? What should be completely done away with?
Up to now, you've probably been making decisions based on instinct. Now is the chance to change that. The editorial plan also serves to keep the work on your content running. For each channel, it should be clear what content is to be posted, when and where it should happen and by whom. Updating, improving or deleting content is also a continuous task.
Also, note how and by what the success of the content will be measured. This will only work if you pursue a clearly formulated objective in the first place.
If you're wise, you won't just see the digital world as an opportunity for marketing and sales and will plant the seed much earlier. Content marketing is the modern equivalent to a tool no longer available to corporations, namely corporate publishing. Anyone can, with the appropriate effort and expense, reach their customers directly. And that offers great potential.
Speaking of effort and trouble, my personal credo is "less is more". In today's digital landscape, it applies more than ever. We're constantly bombarded with information and content. We don't notice interchangeable everyday content anymore. It doesn't stand out and simply passes us by.
Therefore, it's perfectly fine if you only have a little time for this topic. Concentrate your resources on a few, but particularly well-made contents. Make sure that even seemingly mundane things like order confirmations are clearly worded, fit you and your customers, and ideally stand out in a positive way. In all of this, make sure you know where you're going. And how to get there. Review your content strategy regularly: Are you still on the right track?
Once you've written down your content strategy, you're already one step ahead of many other companies and agencies. Most still haven't internalized the fact that, in this day and age, they're also media companies.
How do you build your content strategy? What questions do you have for Jan? Feel free to use the comment function. Want to get more content tips for freelancers and agencies? Then follow us on Twitter, Facebook or via our newsletter.