Content Strategy Planning: 16 Tactical Tips to Sharpen Your Content Plan and Performance Goals in 2021

The content marketing revolution is in full force, but content marketers on the front-lines need new marketing tactics and next-gen software tools to compete and win.

If your planning your content marketing strategy for 2021 and looking to get ahead of the pack, you’ve landed in a mini-bootcamp here at WriterAccess to help you grow your business or agency, pronto.

And if you need more content marketing tactics or know-how on the best techniques and tools the pros use for success, you should dive into WriterAccess Academy and surface with content strategy certification— FREE!

You’ll find some big-time content marketers in WriterAccess Academy leading the way, including Rand Fiskin, Ashley Faus, Andy Crestodina, Neal Schaffer, and WriterAccess founder Byron White that offer some comments below as well.

These content marketers are like superheroes to all of us, sharing all the secrets on how to win the war of words on the web, boost organic traffic, and transform more browsers into believers on your website.

And now the drum roll… for 16 hacks to master the content planning pillar that we pulled from our certification program. And yes, there will be a test, six of them actually, required for content strategy certification!

The Content Strategy Equation

Your site authority AND content quality – Your competition’s site authority AND content quality = Your ability to rank for a page

how to rank in organic search content quality and domain authority

Let’s go over how to understand site authority and a few of the factors that go into quality content.

1. Research Your Digital Marketing Competition

You can’t expect to beat your competition if you have no idea what they’re doing when they are blogging. So find out.

The first step of your long term content marketing plan is to look at how they’re using content marketing to their advantage, but not to simply duplicate what they have.

You instead want to know what they’re doing so you can:

  • Do it better, or with a new spin
  • Fill in the gaps on the things they’re missing
  • Know what you offer that they don’t
  • Determine their expertise so you know the keywords or topics to go for, and which to avoid
Comparing keyword gaps using SEMrush for content planning

Competitive research starts with a slate of surface knowledge. Look at how you and your top two competitors compare on things like traffic volume, backlinks, number of white papers, publishing frequency, and SEO strength. Semrush is a helpful tool to use look at these types of metrics.

Then go deeper into their buyer’s journey, engaging with them as if you were a potential customer. 

  • Sign up to check out their onboarding process. 
  • Attend their webinars. 
  • Sign up for their email list.

How to Find Your Site Authority for Free

A quick way to see your website’s domain authority is through Moz. They have a free domain SEO analysis tool where you can put in your domain and your competitor’s domain too. 

How to find domain authority for free

Note: if your competitors have a higher domain authority, and you are writing content on the same topic, you are going to have to hustle to rank with them.

Keyword research is the next step in your content marketing efforts, a big enough step to merit its own entry on the must-do list.

2. Research Keywords

The goal of keyword research is to determine which keywords are worth pursuing – and which would be a waste of time. Those worth pursuing typically have:

  • A meaty search volume per month
  • A moderate to low ranking difficulty

Keep in mind that ranking difficulty is presented as if you were a brand new website with no established content. The ranking difficulty, in reality, may be a bit lower if you’ve already amassed substantial content related to a specific keyword.

Checking out what your competitors are ranking for in search engines is definitely part of your keyword research for successful content. 

You want to determine where you rank compared to your competitors when it comes to prime keywords in your industry or niche.

3. Select and Organize Keywords

Your keyword research is likely to leave you with hundreds, or even thousands, of possible keywords you could use. Don’t go nuts trying to rank for all of them. Narrow down the keywords that make the most sense to you, based on your keyword research and what you offer.

Go for keywords that:

  • Have a sizable search volume per month
  • You can actually rank for based on your site authority
  • Align with what you offer
  • Align with what your audience wants to know

Your next step is to organize your keywords into different categories:

  • Primary keywords: Keywords hand-selected for their business impact, reader engagement and lead generation. They are the highest-priority keywords that will form your content silos, or categories. These are the words you want to build up your website’s traffic.
  • Secondary keywords: Long tail keywords connected to topics. These are going to be related to your blog or video titles and subtitles.  These are the words you’ll use to build your content’s traffic witch also helps your website’s traffic.
  • Low-hanging fruit: Keywords for which you currently rank between 11 and 50 on Google. Each of these gives you the opportunity to rank in the top 10 on Google if you keep them going strong.

Once you have a list of target keywords, check in every quarter to see if you’re gaining, holding or losing ground. Then adjust as needed make sure you’re at least holding.

“Remember, Google ranks web pages, not websites. And every page has the chance to indicate relevance, rank for a keyphrase and attract a visitor with that intent.”

Andy Crestodina | Orbit Media Studios

4. Develop a Keyword Map

A keyword map lets you see, at a glance, what keywords you’re targeting, and where. A standard Excel spreadsheet will to do the trick, with columns for each designated keyword that include:

  • What sites rank for the word, including your own
  • If the keyword is worthy of pursing
  • The keyword group into which it falls (Primary, Secondary, Low-Hanging)
  • The silos, or content categories, into which the keyword fits

Developing a keyword map lets you quickly and easily eliminate the keywords that won’t work for you. 

5. Create Buyer Personas

Before you can successfully determine what type of content to create, you need to have a good idea of who the content is for. That’s where buyer personas come in. Buyer personas are fictional profiles based on audience research that give you a better idea of what your readers are all about.

The traditional method of creating buyer personas involves a very detailed outline of a very specific persona type. Examples include personas such as:

  • Sophisticated Sally
  • AD Andy
  • Deep Research Debra

You want to create content that resonates with your personas, showcasing the tone, style and sophistication that speaks directly to them

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What are the influencers they follow?
  • What are the podcasts they listen to?
  • What are their pain points?

6. Do Your Topic Research

While the traditional method of creating buyer personas can be helpful, there’s an even more accurate way to really pinpoint them high-quality content topics your audience wants and needs. WriterAccess Founder Byron White recommends asking existing customers a single question:

Bring me back to the day that you decided to purchase our product/service. What were you thinking, and why did you choose to buy from us?

Byron White | WriterAccess

This single question really delivers insight into what motivated their purchase, the itchy problem that was under their skin. Ask the question to as many people as possible, and you’ll have an instant list of possible topics to use moving forward.

Using Quora to find questions when content planning

Additional ways to determine what interests your audience includes:

  • Heading to discussion sites like Quora to check out common questions (and their answers)
  • Using a tool like BuzzSumo that shows you topics people are already talking about, and how frequently and vehemently
  • Going to Google to research what’s going on with the promising topics you’ve culled from Quora and BuzzSumo
  • Looking at what influential authors your competitors are writing about so you can create a new spin, take the opposite point of view, fill information gaps or use it as inspiration and a jumping off point for your own content

7. Perform a Content Audit

The word “audit” alone is typically enough to make anyone groan, and with good reason. Audits tend to be lengthy and involve tons of work – but well worth it in the end. 

The goal of a content audit is to review your content to ensure it will come up in organic search. 

conducting a content audit when content planning

While you want to keep an eye out for content that can be consolidated, updated and improved, you also want to look for content you can altogether eliminate. 

After all, what good are 100 blogs if they’re all poorly written and don’t provide value? Some content can be kept on your site, but just eliminated from your index.

For search engine optimization, you want to show to Google that you have:

  • solid, beefy site 
  • Relevant, substantial and valuable content
  • Content people want to read

Slice off any excess that doesn’t fit the criteria.

The fact of the matter is that your content becomes your digital gateway to the world through search engines, so every company needs to build up what I like to refer to as a library of content.

Neil Schaffer | nealschaffer.com

8. Appeal to All Stages of the Customer Journey

The customer journey refers to the path customer’s take from first-time visitor to loyal customer – and many companies get the content all wrong in this regard for two reasons:

  • They focus too much on customer acquisition and not enough on retention and betterment.
    • They end up with: a ton of content designed to attract and sell but not enough to continue to inform and delight.
  • They use the old-school concept of the customer journey.
    • They end up with: a linear funnel and not the way most people end up engaging with a website.

Take it from Ashley Faus, content strategy lead at Atlassian:

“People can enter and exit as they desire, they can go in any order, and they can engage with content the “wrong way.”

Ashley Faus | Atlassian

Tips for building a content playground include:

  • Delighting your audience with quality measurable content that engages at every touch-point
  • Building the relationship by focusing on long-term brand affinity over transactional landing page conversions
  • Influencing at every touch point, educating and empowering your audience rather than rushing them forward into purchase
  • Making it possible for people to interact with all types of content at any time

The stages of a customer's journey when content planning

A prime case in point is the pricing, which companies have been taught to “hide” near the bottom of the funnel when people are ready to buy. 

But the truth is, many people want pricing info from the get-go to see if the solution is even within their budget. The solution to this, and similar “hidden” content, is to make all types of content easily accessible to anyone, in any order.

Focusing too much on customer acquisition is a costly mistake made by 44 percent of companies out there. It’s costly because:

  • It costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one
  • It turns off existing customers when they’re bombarded with irrelevant content
  • It can disgust existing customers enough to abandon you altogether
focus on acquisition versus retention when content planning

In addition to content that attracts and sells, you want content that helps your target audience truly make life better. This typically extends beyond the products and services and into the realm of solving their daily problems and enhancing their overall lives.

One way to discover these topics is through direct quotes from customers. 

  • Ask customerswhat they were thinking and feeling at each stage of their interaction withyou. 
  • Bring back those customer quotes to create meaningful content.

9. Make Sure Your Content Covers all Bases

For content that appeals to all stages of the customer journey, you need to ensure it covers all bases. We’re not just talking about creating a variety of compelling topics, but creating three different types of content as described by Faus:

  • Conceptual: Philosophical or theoretical in nature, focus on the “what” and “why” of the idea
  • Strategic: Focus on the processes, tools and key knowledge components that must be in place to make the conceptual ideas reality
  • Tactical: Prescriptive, step-by-step instructions, and specific exercises to help the audience implement conceptual and strategic ideas

The 3 types of content to cover on the customer journey when content planning.

As an example, your content marketing agency may write about:

  • Conceptual: What content marketing is, and why it matters
  • Strategic: Things you need to know to make content marketing work
  • Tactical: How to create a content calendar to boost your content marketing

Covering all bases again means creating content that truly makes your customers’ lives better, not just content that tries to sell them whatever you’re offering. 

You also want to encourage readers to do their own research surrounding a topic or solution to decide for themselves if what you offer is indeed a good fit.

You don’t want to sell people something they don’t need. Unless, of course, you’re a big fan of creating disgruntled customers who feel like they’ve been cheated.

10. Create Pillar Content Topics and Subtopics

Now that you have content research coming out the ears, it’s time to actually create the content topics and subtopics you want to cover. WriterAccess Senior Content Strategist Sarah Burt uses an Excel spreadsheet she calls a “parking lot,” where she parks all her topic ideas.

Pillar topics cover the big, broad topics. They’re typically presented as comprehensive guides or even microsites on a specific topic. 

Subtopics are individual pieces of content that fall within each inbound marketing pillar.

Your spreadsheet needs to include things like:

  • The topic
  • Type of content (pillar page, blog post, video, etc.)
  • When it will be published
creating-topics-sub-topics-content-planning

11. Create Your Content Calendar

Your content calendar is where all the details of all your upcoming content reside. Take the topics and subtopics from your spreadsheet, and expand on the details. For each piece of content, your content calendar needs to show:

  • Topic and type of content
  • Publishing date, and where
  • Title
  • Details expanding on topic
  • Writer and writer due date
  • Keywords
  • Target persona
  • How you’ll promote the content (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Any other info you want to have handy for each piece of content you create
using-coschedule-when-content-planning

CoSchedule is a handy content calendar tool that gives you a larger overview of all outgoing content. This includes blogs, social media posts, emails, and anything else on your docket.

12. Create Content Briefs

Content briefs provide all the necessary details your writer needs to ensure the piece meets its goals. They save a lot of time, headaches and grief, ensuring your content creator has the rundown on what the final results need to look like.

Your briefs should include the important information writers need to know before they begin, and this especially holds true for freelance writers you may not have worked with before. 

If you’re an agency creating content for a client, interview them or send them questionnaires to gather the info before content creation begins.

Content briefs include information such as:

  • Title
  • Target audience
  • Purpose of content
  • Formatting
  • SEO: Number of internal and external links, keywords and their desired frequency
  • Description of content
  • Resources to use for info/inspiration

13. Find Ways to Manage the Workflow

With so many moving parts already starting to move in your content creation process, it’s essential to find an efficient way to manage the workflow. 

Several tools and platforms are at the ready, eager to give you a quick glance at what’s going on with all your content at any given time.

manage-workflow-writeraccess-platform

If you need to hire writers for your content, WriterAccess is an ideal solution with built-in workflow management tools. You get:

  • Interactive content briefs you can fill out and deliver with each order
  • Rundown on all your in-progress and completed assignments
  • Ability to find and select writers aligned with your projects, and add them to a Love List
  • Managed service options that do all the heavy lifting for you
  • A chance to try it out with a 14-day free trial

If you already have writers and teams but still need to manage the workflow among them, tools like Confluence and Trello can help you keep everything moving forward in a highly organized manner.

14. Determine Where to Distribute Your Content

Blog posts work well on your website, but other types of content may do better in other distribution channels. In fact, they most certainly will. 

Your website is a fine place to publish a variety of content, but you’re missing out if it’s the only way you get your content out there.

Determining where to distribute your content depends on several factors. These include:

  • Content type, whether it’s written, visual, audio and/or interactive; long-form or short-form; live or recorded 
  • Distribution strategy, with a mix of paid, owned and earned channels; places to host content, such as your website or blog, and places to share content, such as other websites and social media channels
  • Content purpose, with the goal of the content playing a role in where it should be distributed; are you going for reach, engagement, website traffic?

My best advice for standing out and earning content subscribers, engagement streaks, clickthroughs (not just rankings), is to focus on three things: An outstanding headline—the kind that gets people scrolling back up their feeds to click it, a truly unusual take on a topic that will surprise and engage your audience, and list of people + publications that will help you amplify your message, and reasons why they’ll do so.

Rand Fishkin | Spartoro

No matter how compelling your content, keep in mind that all assets and channels do not need to accomplish all things at all times. Determine the goals you want to reach, then create and distribute content designed to meet them.

For instance:

If you want to boost your net promoter score (NPS), you want to create helpful content and distribute it freely across social media channels. 

If your goal is to increase organic traffic, you’ll want to create optimized content on your website.

15. Get the Biggest Content Bang for Your Buck

No matter if you have a single writer, teams of writers or write the content yourself, you can make the most of your efforts with three savvy practices:

  • Content repurposing
  • Content pairing
  • Content republishing
repurpose-content-planning-writeraccess-academy

Content repurposing breathes new life into your content by taking your existing content and using it for something else.

  • Transform the most popular blog post on your site into a video.
  • Use your webinar content to create an e-book, or your e-book content to create a webinar or series of webinars.
  • Chop up a long-form blog post into a series of social media posts.

Content pairing expands the depth of your content by combining one or more content forms into a content package.

  • Publish a video demo with a community Q&A.
  • Combine long-form content with a series of useful videos.
  • Pair an informational article with an e-book that covers the topic in greater depth

Content republishing extends the life of your content by republishing it in different channels.

  • Publish an article about a problem in one outlet, link to a piece that details the solution in another outlet.
  • Publish articles about problems or solutions, then cross-link to case studies that showcase proof-points on how the problem was solved.
  • Republish existing long-form content on another site, with a call-out to the original piece. This can be done on LinkedIn as well as with syndication partners. Make sure to wait at least a week or two before republishing articles verbatim.

16. Use Social Media to Engage

Social media is part of most company’s content strategies, and it can be an amazing tool to boost engagement and build relationships—or not. It all depends on how you use it.

what-helps-enagement-social-media

You want to use it to engage your audience, not promote yourself. Instead of viewing yourself as the star of the social media show, view yourself as a nexus. Your job is to connect people to:

  • Useful or amusing content
  • Things to think about
  • Engaging questions to answer
  • Each other
  • Your community as a whole

It’s been said that incessantly talking only about yourself on social media is akin to running up to someone’s house and dumping a box of flyers on their porch. They’re not going to read them. 

In fact, the only reason they’d look at them is to see who would bother them with such an annoyance.  

Make your social media feed a place to engage your audience, regardless of whether or not the engagement leads to a website click.

Ashley Faus| Atlassian

Summing Up Your Content Marketing Strategy

With these content marketing best practices under your belt, 2021 is poised to be a profitable year for content indeed. 

Now you’ll really be armed with everything you need to:

  • Create content that boosts your business
  • Engage your audience 
  • Keep you top of mind as a go-to source for valuable information

To keep the tactics coming and the ideas humming for even greater success, master the six pillars of content marketing at WriterAccess Academy.

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