If you are a regular internet user, you deal with content on a daily basis. You read, watch, and listen to content on social media, various blogs, news portals, podcasts, and so on.

Even through this passive contact with content, we tend to learn a lot about it. For example, we tend to expect image-based content on Instagram, quick and useful information from infographics, snappy and entertaining content from Vloggers and so on.

Still, when you start working on your content strategy for the first time, you might feel overwhelmed with all the options at your disposal. It’s also difficult to determine the exact steps that need to be taken to create an effective content marketing strategy.

Before you can make any decisions related to content, you need to gather some important information which will help you find a good direction for your content strategy.

Target audience

The first thing you need to know is who you are trying to reach with the content you are going to create. Depending on which social groups you are trying to reach, you might change the language or style you use to reach them, the content format, the subject matter you are going to focus on, the length of the content, and so on.

One of the most popular ways to outline the target audience is to create personas. They are semi-fictional characters that stand as a representation of the ideal audience you intend to reach.

The more details you add to your persona, the better the chances of you finding a unique angle to spark their interest. You can also create more than one persona if you feel that your audience is dispersed and that one persona can’t possibly encompass all the relevant aspects without creating contradictory ideas about it.

Having more than one persona might mean that you have to modify your approach to content so that you can engage each particular group that is relevant to your work. Still, even if the scope of your campaign is broadened by this preliminary attempt to identify the target audience, it’s far better than trying to reach an audience with content that doesn’t cater to their interests.

Here’s a list of tools to help you discover your target audience:

  • Google Analytics (Audience & Acquisition)
  • Facebook Business Page Insights
  • Google’s Consumer Barometer
  • Good Old-fashioned Social Media Stalking

Competitive research

Another good way to get a better idea about who your audience is and how to reach them with your content is to take a look at the competition. You are not doing competitive research to identify your competition’s strategy and copy it exactly – we’re gathering information to help us build our own.

We’re actually looking at content to avoid making something that is too similar to the existing material, but we’ll address this point in more detail in one of the following subheadings.

We can spread this research task out into three distinct phases which are designed to gather information and reverse engineer the process of content creation that your competition took.

a) Content Inventory

The first step is to find the content that your competition is pushing out. There are a lot of tools out there that can help you with this but we’re going to go with BuzzSumo mainly because it can manage more than one thing relevant to our situation.

With BuzzSumo you can find out which of your competitions’ content performs the best, who is linking to them, and see who most commonly shares their content. You can also use websites like SEMRush, Moz, Majestic, SpyFu, and others to dig up all the backlinks that lead to their website.

b) Categorization

The second step in this is to quantify and categorize the content you dug up. There are really a lot of ways to do this and it will mostly depend on what information you’re after. Some things to consider should be content type, publications, quantity, quality, etc.

Still, try not to overdo it, as adding more categories and not actually needing them is basically increasing your workload and decreasing the clarity of the list you are getting.

c) Content Analysis

The final step is to actually go through the content and attempt to identify the things that make it good. Sure, this can take some time, especially considering that your top competitors are going to be very good at content marketing and you’ll have a lot of things to take a look at.
Devise some kind of system of tagging content when you see things that you like so you can go through it again and find what you need very fast. If there is too much for you to go through, then you should focus on the most popular pieces, as you’ll have the highest probability to learn useful things from it.

Problem solving

When we’re talking about business content, we are always attempting to make that content interesting and engaging for our audience. Unlike traditional online content that is mostly there to entertain – think funny videos, snappy vlog posts, entertainment blogs like Cracked and so on, business content can’t really be all about humor. Why? Well, it really doesn’t match the brand image of most businesses out there.

Furthermore, this isn’t what their audience wants to hear from them. Nobody cares about a law company that’s constantly cracking jokes on their social media channels, but they would care about a company that gives out free and useful legal advice through their blog – for example.

Content, if we want it to be good, needs to provide some value to the audience that is supposed to consume it. This is probably one of the most difficult things to figure out, but it usually has to do with familiarizing yourself with your niche. Depending on what product or service you are trying to sell, there are really a lot of directions you can take this.

For example, a company that offers B2B software might focus on creating content that shows off how the software is intended to solve business issues and why it’s worth the investment. A company that sells clothes might be focused on the latest fashion trends, dress combinations that include their pieces, and a more image-centric content strategy.

A digital marketing company might want to educate their clients and help them get a better understanding of the online environment so as to help them make better decisions and find their voice – like we are doing right here.

Unique edge

Of course, your content isn’t going to do you much good if the web is already filled with content that deals with similar subject matter, in a similar manner.

There are quite a few limiting factors when it comes to this. Chances are you are not the first in your niche to reach for content marketing to improve your online presence. This means that the basic, most obvious content ideas have long been covered, published, ranked and, in some cases, even grown old.

Furthermore, the SEO aspect of content marketing tends to get in the way. All the rules about creating easily crawled content, about creating well-made SEO titles and so on, may have a limiting effect on how you construct your content in the first place.

Well, while SEO may be causing issues here, it can also help you out. Most content will have a keyword (or a few keywords) at its core. Before you start working on your piece, you might want to take a look at the content that is ranking for this particular keyword.

This way, you are going to get an idea of what’s already been done, what pieces are ranking better and what you can do to add to the subject discussion.

Define your goal

Finally, you want to create content that helps you achieve a goal. Are you after SEO and better rankings? Maybe you want more leads? Improved conversion? Maybe it’s improved brand awareness? Whatever your goal is, you need to be careful not to lose track of it throughout your content creation process.

There are a lot of things to consider when creating content and if the goal you want to achieve gets lost along the way, ultimately, it will do you no good.

Establishing a good content strategy isn’t something that can be done in a day’s worth of work. You’ll first have to ensure that you have enough information to go on. Don’t let your content be based entirely on vague ideas of how content should work.

Content marketing campaigns are long and expensive investments, which means that if you get things wrong in the planning phase, your entire investment is compromised. If you are not sure how to do it on your own, consult a professional, just don’t run into it blindfolded.