Content Strategy Goals: Why and How to Set Content Goals That Make Sense for Your Business
I’m sure you’ve heard the cliche phrase – content is king.
As a marketing professional, you may even be guilty of using this phrase to explain the value of what you do. (I, myself, have uttered this once or twice. 🤭)
But the truth is that content isn’t “king” in and of itself.
In order for content to be valuable, necessary, and dare I say, “kingly,” it needs to be supported with a strategy that aligns with your company’s overall business goals.
Even if you create the best piece of content the world has ever seen, it won’t move the needle for your business if it doesn’t serve your business goals.
But making sure that all the moving pieces of your content strategy are fitting into the bigger picture can be difficult.
That’s why setting goals for your content strategy is such a vital part of creating better content that helps your business make meaningful connections and build stronger relationships with your customers and prospects.
The Importance of Setting Goals for Your Content Strategy
We set goals for everything important in our lives. (Whether or not we write those goals down and actually work toward them is another story. #newyearnewme)
The appeal of setting goals is that it allows us to aim for a certain destination and helps us think about the bigger picture.
But for some reason, many of us just skip this important step when it comes to our content marketing. And the reality is that without defined goals, it is difficult to tell if you are moving forward or going in circles.
A recent survey from CoSchedule confirms my suspicions about the importance of setting goals for your content strategy.
Marketers who set goals are 376% more likely to report success. And 89% of goal-setting marketers achieve their goals some or most of the time, while 3% always achieve them.
So what happened to that other 8%? Well, maybe they weren’t writing their goals down.
This same survey showed that marketers who actually had a documented strategy were 313% more likely to report success.
And these numbers should come as no surprise to most of us. Establishing a strategy with documented and defined goals helps get your team organized and on the same page. And organized teams that are all working toward the same goal are more likely to achieve that goal than teams that don’t know what ethereal goal they are working toward.
Creating SMART, measurable goals gives content marketers a roadmap for their marketing campaigns and the content they are creating to support them. And if these content marketing goals are aligned with your company’s overall business goals, then you’re not just creating content, you’re creating content that serves your business.
Goals Give Your Content Marketing Strategy Direction
How do you determine what content gets created? Or where you spend your content marketing budget?
Maybe your content marketing strategy is defined by the platforms you know best and feel most comfortable with.
Maybe your content strategy is crammed into the space between other budgets and tasks that feel more pressing to you.
Maybe you create content about whatever you want, whenever you feel like it.
While all of these are certainly approaches to content marketing, I would not say they are the most effective approaches.
A path forged without a plan is sure to be the longest way to any destination.
And if you aren’t making informed decisions based on a well-defined content strategy, then you, my friend, are taking the looooooong way.
With so many different content marketing tactics available to you, determining the best path for your business will come down to identifying which tactics will help you meet your company’s goals.
Each piece of content you create should help your company take another step toward achieving its larger business goals. And if you don’t clearly define goals for your content, you won’t know if your content is helping you head in the right direction or spiral far left.
Content Marketing Goals Support Your Company Goals
Your key stakeholders need to be on board with your content marketing goals. A sure-fire way to make your marketing goals successful is to carefully align them with the overarching company goals.
For example, let’s say that your company sets the following goal:
Increase sales by 5% over the next 3 months.
When developing your content strategy goals, you’ll want to consider which goals will help you get closer to that 5% sales increase. Maybe your content goal is tied to lead generation or maybe it’s tied to conversions. As long as your content strategy goals help serve the overall business objectives, you’ll be heading on the right path.
According to HubSpot, the most common form of measurement for content success in 2020 is the growth of total sales. While sales are certainly important and a good indication of quality content, they shouldn’t be the only goal.
Let me say it again for the people in the back:
Generating sales shouldn’t be your only content goal!
It’s less expensive to keep a good customer than acquire a new one. And word-of-mouth, social recommendations, or personal referrals are still the most effective way to get leads to convert. While sales are a good determinate of business health, customer delight and retention are vital for business growth and longevity.
Measuring Content Goals Helps You Determine Success (And Failure)
Failure is a heavy, emotionally-charged word. But what’s scarier than failing is failing and not even knowing you are failing. It somehow stings worse when it’s a total surprise.
It is important to set goals and have methods for measuring them to know if you are really achieving the results you wanted. The point of setting goals is to establish a path towards success, but recognizing failure is just as important as recognizing success.
If you find that you are not on track to meet your goals, you can take action in-the-moment to adjust your strategy for improvement.
And if you achieve your goals, you can then learn something to help you plan, create, and adjust future campaigns.
Examples of Content Strategy Goals
Now that you understand the importance of setting content goals, let’s take a look at some examples of possible content marketing strategy goals.
Although overall goals for your business and marketing may be to attract prospects, increase business from current customers, and create sales, there are many factors that go into that equation. You might need to gain the attention of your prospective target audience, remind customers of your company’s strengths, or provide detailed product usage instructions.
This can all be accomplished in various ways through a goal-based content marketing strategy. Whether your content is educational or entertaining, short-form or long-form, basic or in-depth, potential goals for content creation might include:
Build brand awareness.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “brand awareness?”
It probably sounds like a vague concept because, well, it is.
Brand awareness is often difficult to nail down and measure because there is no one and simple metric that helps you understand how aware your target audience is of your brand.
With that being said, building brand awareness is still an incredibly important goal for content marketers. When leads remember hearing about or seeing your brand, whether through content or conversation with a peer, they are more likely to trust your brand than that of a company they’ve never heard of.
Educate your target audience.
While “education” may not be sexy or lead directly to sales, it can go a long way in building relationships with your leads and customers, which may later lead to making the big bucks.
And by education, I don’t just mean product education. (Though that is important for current customers and those at the bottom of the funnel.)
You also need to educate your customers about their problems and pain points. Help them understand the potential solutions and how to choose the solution that is right for them.
Not only does education help you lead consumers through the buyer’s journey and closer to conversion, but it helps establish your brand as an expert in your industry.
Deepen relationships and loyalty with customers.
There is an often-repeated adage that the best source of referrals is a satisfied customer. A client or customer who willingly touts the benefits of your product or service is more believable than any form of content marketing message that you put out there.
And yet, one thing that many companies forget about when creating their content strategy is serving their existing customers. Often, the focus is on generating more leads and conversions. But what about those who already know, like, and trust your brand?
Building stronger relationships with your existing customer base is the only way to encourage repeat business and referrals. And repeat business and referrals are the keys to sustaining a thriving business.
Create great content for those who have already bought from you. Help them get more out of your products or services by developing complementary or additional content that’s helpful, informative, and actionable with the aim of helping your customers succeed.
Improve your reputation with search engines.
“Improve SEO” is a top goal for many content marketers. But this goal can only really be achieved if you take the right approach to search engine optimized content.
In the past, content marketers would focus heavily on finding and using the right keywords and keyword phrases in their content so that they’d have a better chance of ranking on the first page of the SERP.
However, creating optimized content is now about a lot more than just using the right keywords in the right places. Above all else, you need to focus on creating quality content that others find valuable.
In the end, search engines are going to serve users the most valuable content that matches their search query. If your content doesn’t address the needs or interests of your audience, then it may easily get lost in the sea of other content on Google.
7 Steps to Setting Your Content Strategy Goals
You know by now that goal-setting isn’t easy. And setting marketing goals or content strategy goals can be especially challenging for many businesses who don’t know where to start.
To take some of the mystery out of the content marketing goal-setting process, follow these steps below:
1. Use SMART Methodology for Setting Content Strategy Goals
Personally, I (along with thousands of other content marketing professionals who are much smarter than me) recommend using SMART content marketing goals.
You may have seen SMART goals used in other disciplines. The principles here are just as important in content marketing strategy as they are in general business or even personal development because they ensure that people set effective goals.
SMART is an acronym, outlining five attributes that good goals possess.
- Specific: SMART goals aren’t vague. They are precise. They use real data, like “5% higher engagement” or “2-day delivery”, not vague, qualitative language like “more engagement,” “faster delivery” or “better content.”
- Measurable: SMART goals can be measured in such a way that it’s clear whether you have achieved them. Creating brand awareness is probably a good idea, but unless you can measure it, it’s not a SMART goal. Something like “increase monthly web traffic by 5% within three months” is better as it gives you a clear metric by which you can tell whether you’ve met the goal.
- Attainable: SMART goals aren’t meant to be moonshots or pie in the sky. While it’s great to have goals that stretch and challenge your team, they still need to be realistic. Creating a goal that’s too big or drastic can leave your team feeling discouraged and lacking motivation. On the other hand, your goals should be a bit aspirational as you don’t want the goal to be so easily achieved that it’s just business as usual.
- Relevant: Your content goals also need to align with your overall business goals. Ask yourself, “why is this goal important? How does it contribute to the company’s bottom line?”
- Time-bound: SMART goals must have a time component. An open-ended goal with no definitive cut-off point becomes impossible to measure. Craft your goal in terms of days, weeks, months, quarters, or year-over-year. This timeline helps you determine whether the work you are doing during that time is helping you progress.
Let’s workshop this quickly.
Let’s say your overall goal is to increase sales. That’s a good goal, but it fails on all five points.
“Increase sales by 10%” is a start: it’s measurable, and depending on the nature of your business it may well be attainable and relevant too.
But we’re still missing two points. In order to be specific, this goal needs narrowing.
“Increase sales of the Widget Pro Max by 10%” adds the missing specificity, so we’re at four out of five points. (Another example: “Increase average sales across the entire catalog by 10%.”)
To fully qualify as a SMART goal, you need to add time limiters. This is the only way to make a goal “stick”. Without a time component, you’ll quickly find that your team is always progressing but never arriving.
Here’s our finalized SMART goal example, with a time limiter added in:
In the upcoming fiscal year, increase sales of the Widget Pro Max by 10% compared to the previous fiscal year.
Now that you know about SMART goals, it’s time to start applying what you’ve learned to your content marketing strategy goals.
2. Understand Where You Are Right Now
Goal setting must be realistic. If you’re going to set realistic content strategy goals, you first have to take stock of where you are right now in terms of content strategy.
If you don’t have a real content strategy in place, that’s okay. There is no time like the present to start. (And hey, by the way, if you need help with content creation or content strategy, WriterAccess can help!)
But it’s important to acknowledge where you’re starting because your realistic goals will be smaller and simpler than those of businesses that are already doing this stuff.
If you do have existing content, spend some time analyzing it by conducting a content audit. First, understand what content you already have published. If you’ve been doing content marketing for many years, your existing catalog of content should be quite robust.
The next step is to analyze engagement. Which pieces are getting traffic? Which ones aren’t? Identify trends or weaknesses in the content that’s not getting seen. Note those observations; you’ll use them in a later step.
Next, take a look at conversion. Are you turning visitors into leads at a rate that’s competitive for your industry?
And the same question goes for converting leads to customers. If you’re not pleased with your conversion rates, you’ve already identified a potential area for growth. If your overall rates are okay, drill down deeper into the content, looking at what’s converting well and what isn’t. Just like before, look for trends or weaknesses in the underperforming content.
3. Analyze Your Current Needs
The next step is to analyze your current needs. Your content marketing goals shouldn’t be created out of thin air; make sure they are always tied to your current business objectives instead.
So what are those current needs? HubSpot observes that most marketers’ needs follow the same three trajectories: You either need to generate more website traffic to bring in more visitors, convert more visitors to leads, or convert more leads into customers.
There are, of course, exceptions to this. But if you’re an exception, you probably already know it.
Before you go any further in the goal-setting process, determine which of these categories is most pressing for you right now. Yes, every business wants to do better in all three areas. But narrower, realistic goals are smarter than “make everything better all at once” type of goals.
4. It’s Time to Talk Numbers
Specific, measurable goals will have some kind of numeric component. Once you’ve identified your target area (for our purposes, let’s pick bringing in more visitors), it’s time to talk numbers.
These can vary pretty widely, and they can be expressed in multiple ways. You can talk in terms of real numbers: let’s aim to bring in 1,000 new visitors each month. Or you can deal in percentages: let’s increase our new visitor count by 5% each month. Lastly, you can express your goal in terms of exponential growth, aiming for 5x or even 10x growth.
There are pros and cons to each approach, and what’s right for you depends on the nature of your business as well as your growth stage. Startups likely want exponential growth, while established players in crowded retail markets aren’t going to talk in that language.
✅ SMART Check ✅
At this point, you’ve already got the what and the how much, meaning you’ve knocked out Smart and Measurable. There’s no magic step or formula for making a goal both Attainable and Relevant, so we’re leaving that up to you. At this point in the process, you’ve covered four of the five elements of a SMART goal. All that’s left is time.
5. Commit to a Date
Now that you’ve selected an area for growth and set a numerical target for that growth and you’ve made sure it’s got the right balance of attainable and relevant, it’s time to put some skin in the game.
Set a target date for the completion of the goal. Just like the other steps in the process, setting a target date requires careful planning. Don’t shoot from the hip or choose something arbitrary.
You want to find a date that is itself attainable: something challenging, but not impossible. To do this, first estimate what your goal should take as far as hours worked. Spend time thinking about what sorts of obstacles you’ll face in achieving the goal, and factor those into your timeframe.
During this process, you may discover that the other components of the goal need to change. If you’re trying to measure short-term gains, but your goal can’t realistically be achieved for several years, then the goal needs adjusting.
Similarly, if you’re out to set five-year goals, but your best estimates say you’ll meet this goal in three months, it’s not sufficiently aspirational.
6. Devote the Appropriate Resources
When you complete step 5, you have a SMART marketing goal in hand.
Congratulations. 🎉 That’s an achievement!
However, creating one (or several) SMART content marketing goals is not the end of the journey. To succeed in your goal, you must devote the appropriate resources.
This may sound painfully obvious, too obvious to include as a step in the plan. But it’s not. Far too many marketing teams create strong goals without ever creating a cohesive plan to meet those goals. Then, when the month, quarter, or year has passed and the goal remains unreached, they wring their hands and wonder why.
If you followed earlier steps correctly, you should have a good estimate of what kind of resource allocation your goal demands. Now is the time to allocate real people and real hours to the completion of the goal.
If you find you don’t have the resources needed to meet all the goals you set, it’s back to the drawing board, because your goals aren’t realistic.
And this isn’t bad: many teams must iterate their goal-setting process. It’s rare to land on perfect goals the first time through.
Take what you’ve learned from round one of goal-setting and start again. Your next round of goals will be stronger for it.
7. Follow Up With Your Team
Unless you’re a very small business or solopreneur, you probably aren’t accomplishing your content marketing goals alone. You likely have a team of people involved. That team might well involve both internal and external members as well. Perhaps you outsource your graphic design or your content writing to freelancers.
Whatever the makeup of your team — even if it’s full of self-starters who take initiative — the crucial final step in your content strategy process is follow-up. Check in regularly with every member of your team and make sure to inspect their work at some level. You likely aren’t doing all the work, but you must keep your hands in the process if you want to see it succeed.
We’ve walked you through the process of setting content strategy goals. Next up: how do you know whether you’re making progress toward your goals, or whether your goals are working for you?
How to Measure Content Strategy Goals
Now, you’ve considered whether you want your content marketing to increase brand awareness, website traffic, and lead generation, to focus on conversions and customer retention, or all of the above – and that’s a great first start.
But we’re not done…
Setting content marketing goals isn’t very valuable if you don’t know how or have no way to measure the actual performance of your content strategy. If you don’t measure or track your progress toward meeting content strategy goals, you have no way of knowing where you are in the process or whether or not you need to intervene to improve performance.
So, How Do You Measure Your Content Strategy Goals?
The best way to measure content marketing strategy goals is by using key performance indicators (KPIs). You might be most familiar with financial KPIs like gross profit and profit margins, but they are used for marketing purposes too.
Content marketing KPIs like conversion rates, newsletter open rates, audience reach, and customer engagement use data collected from your company, sales sheets, website, social media channels, customer surveys, and more to create valuable, meaningful metrics that allow you to measure and track your content strategy performance.
How to Choose the Most Insightful KPIs for Your Content Strategy
Sure, you can spend loads of time – time you probably don’t have – keeping track of ALL the KPIs, but the most efficient way to measure and track content marketing metrics is by choosing KPIs based on your goals and types of content. You’ll find that narrowing down your list to a few KPIs selected based on specific goals and marketing assets is the best way to make sense of the data and the most efficient use of your time.
Which KPIs Align with Which Goals?
Not sure which KPIs you can use to track your goals? Here are a few examples:
As we discussed earlier, increasing brand awareness or the positive perception of your brand is essential to keeping your business top of mind in your target audience. To measure your strategy’s effect on brand awareness, track the following KPIs:
- Website traffic
- Page, video, and document views
- Referral links
- Social chatter/share of voice/mentions
Whether you’re hoping to make sales or gain subscribers, you’ll want to create content that drives traffic to your website. To measure the success of your content, track these key content marketing metrics:
- Website/blog visitors per period of time
- Returning reader rate
- Time on site
- Bounce rate
- Call-to-action content conversion rate
Your brand is more likely to retain customers if you keep them engaged with your content. You can measure engagement and the quality of your content by tracking the following metrics for each piece of content you distribute:
- Inbound links
- Click-through rate
Many marketers consider lead generation to be the most important goal of marketing. With improved lead generation, you’ll have potential customers pouring into your brand’s marketing funnel. Measure your success with the following KPIs:
- Click-through rate
- Email/blog subscriptions
- Social media follows
- Form completions
- Conversion rate
Lead generation is useless if you can’t convert leads to sales. Keep track of the effect your content marketing has on sales by comparing customers (and their metrics) who have been exposed to your content with those who never saw your content. Track the following KPIs for both groups:
- Online and offline sales conversion rates
- Trends in sales cycle length
- Sale/contract size with and without content
You get the most bang for your marketing buck when you earn customer loyalty and retain your customers. To evaluate how well your content helps you hold onto the customers you’ve already drawn in, keep tabs on these handy KPIs:
- Percentage of content viewed by existing customers
- Percentage of repeat sales to returning customers
- Renewal rates
Cross-selling and up-selling customers is a wonderful way to increase your profit margins and return on your content marketing dollars. If you can get a new customer to opt for a slightly bigger spend, a premium subscription, or an additional product, you’ve succeeded.
Track these metrics to see if your content is a cross-selling superstar:
- Sales and conversion rates on new products and services
- Customer engagement and click-through rates for content on new products and services
Which KPIs Align with Which Content Marketing Assets?
You can also use content marketing metrics to evaluate the success and quality of specific content asset types included in your content strategy. Here are some examples of KPIs that you can use for each type of content asset:
Social Media Posts
- Fans and followers
- Post reach
- Engagement and return on engagement
- Click-through rate
- Conversion rate
- Opt-out rate
- Open rate
- Click-through rate
- Churn rate
- Delivery rate
Articles and Blog Posts
- Website traffic
- Traffic sources
- Geographical trends
- Unique visitors
- New visitors vs. returning visitors
- Average time spent on site, time spent on each page, and bounce rate
- Average number of page views and page views per visit
- Exit rate
- Mobile and desktop visitors
- Views and average view duration
- Unique viewers
- Traffic sources
- Click-through rates
- Likes, shares, and comments
- Ratings and reviews
Pay Per Click Campaigns
- Impressions and cost per impression
- Click-through rate
- Cost per click
- Conversions, conversion rate, cost per conversion
- Cost per sale
- Return on total campaign cost
As you can see, there are plenty of marketing metrics and KPIs you can use to measure the progress you make toward your content marketing goals. While the list seems overwhelming, remember to choose the few that align with your content strategy’s specific goals. For easy viewing and analysis, you can organize the most important KPIs on a spreadsheet.
The Best Tools for Tracking Content Marketing KPIs and Measuring Performance
At first glance, gathering and tracking all of this data might seem like a huge, impossible task, and this is why automating your data collection is a must. Luckily, there are plenty of tools available online that simplify the process of collecting and analyzing online data. For example, Facebook and Instagram have analytical insights built into the platforms for businesses.
One of the most useful, versatile, and cost-effective (It’s free!) tools is Google Analytics. Google’s website analysis tools offer powerful insights into the ins and outs of your website’s metrics. Once again, it’s best to narrow your focus to a few critical reports that offer the information that’s most useful to marketing research such as the navigation summary, traffic reports, conversion data, and organic search analysis.
If you’d prefer to use more streamlined, user-friendly content marketing analysis software, you can always pay for a subscription to a customer relationship management tool like HubSpot (or make use of some of the tools they offer for free).
If you have a brick-and-mortar location, you’ll also want to consider ways to build data collection into your business’s daily workflow such as customer surveys designed to gather information about marketing campaign effectiveness, employee sales, and customer retention. Including your in-person traffic and sales in your content marketing metrics will ensure you’re able to see the whole picture of your content marketing strategy’s success.
Let’s Set Some Content Goals!
I could spend another 5,000 words talking about content marketing goals (and I probably will at some point), but now you’ve got what you need to get started.
So what are you waiting for?
Sarah Jane Burt is Sr. Content Strategist at WriterAccess. For the past decade, she’s helped brands big and small, from tech giant IBM to the local plumber, tell their stories and create strategies for customer-driven content. When she’s not working on developing and implementing our content strategy, she’s writing blog posts that help demystify content marketing and strategy for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and enterprise content teams.