Content and content marketing: how to create an effective strategy

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Content is king is a mantra that has been repeated for years (decades) in the world of web communication. Yet for content to really succeed in taking the throne there is a need for it to be planned, reasoned and organized, as well as well written and functional. That is, we need to implement content strategy and content marketing tactics, because it is not enough to simply create content, but to do so by following a well-defined strategic plan that takes into account business objectives and the needs of the target audience. Only in this way can we succeed in standing out through informative, useful and engaging material, offering (at the right time and terget) content that can make the difference between a site that thrives and one that remains in the shadows.

What content strategy and content marketing are

We are generally accustomed to giving more weight to the practical aspect, but in reality strategy comes before “doing” and “publishing,” because it serves to plan, clarify, and link tactics to a meaningful purpose for our brand.

If you will, content marketing and content strategy are two sides of the same coin: to be effective, the former cannot exist without the latter, and together they form a holistic approach that can give the right boost to a site’s online visibility, turning visitors into customers or leads and driving them to ongoing interaction with our content.

With this in mind, content strategy is the pillar on which the entire edifice of content marketing is built: in short, we can consider it the action plan that guides the creation, publication and management of content. An effective content strategy requires a thorough analysis of business goals, an understanding of the target audience, and the establishment of editorial guidelines that ensure consistency and quality, with the aim of ensuring that each type of content, whether a blog article, a video, or a social media post, contributes to building brand authority and enhancing the relationship with users.

Content marketing is the practical implementation of the strategy: it is the process by which content is created, distributed and promoted with the goal of attracting, engaging and converting audiences. It makes use of different formats and channels, and its effectiveness lies in its ability to provide real value to users by answering their questions, solving problems or simply providing entertainment.

Content at the center

Before delving into what content strategy and content marketing actually are, however, it is important to clarify what we mean when we say “content,” a single word that nevertheless turns out to be loaded with different connotations and meanings that depend on its context.

Let’s start with a basic definition. A content in the Web context is any piece of information that is published on the Internet and can be consumed by a user.

This means that “content” products such as text, images, video, audio, and multimedia interactions are “content” that comes in many forms, such as blog articles, social media posts, product descriptions, reviews, tutorials, webinars, podcasts, and more. The key characteristic of a web content is its ability to be accessible online, shareable and, ideally, optimized to be easily found by search engines.

Again in a nutshell, quality content helps establish authority and credibility in an industry, improves online visibility, stimulates engagement, and promotes the conversion of users into customers; in addition, content is critical in supporting the customer journey, offering answers and solutions to users’ questions and problems at every stage of their purchase journey.

However, providing a single concise definition is elusive and, as MarketMuse experts note, we simply “know it’s content when we see it, whether it’s technical white papers, in-depth blog posts or TikTok videos and memes.”

In the field of digital marketing, content comprises four basic elements:

  • Information, which refers to the actual content of the message, which can be factual, practical, entertainment, informative or a combination of these.
  • Context, referring to the set goals for the brand, the intended target audience, the type of usefulness to readers, and, in general, the reasons for publishing it.
  • Medium, i.e., the type of channel hosting the content and how this choice may influence the overall message.
  • Form, that is, the appearance in which we offer the message-which can be text, graphic, audio, video, interactive, virtual/augmented reality.

It is important not to focus too much on just the information and not on the rest of the elements: without context, information is just noise, and if we do not present it with form and medium in mind, it risks being lost to the recipient. For example, a written guide with all the steps to change a tire can be useful, but including pictures or videos would make the process much clearer.

Similarly, the material included in a piece of content must reflect the medium and the form: we cannot expect to publish an in-depth guide on a complex topic in a thread on X, not least because we need to indulge the “meaning” in the context of the target audience we wish to reach.

In light of this complexity, the importance of content for online communication and for businesses is immense: it is the primary means by which a brand can communicate with its audience, share information, educate customers, promote products and services, and build its online and offline reputation.

The life cycle of a content, the process to implement

Content has the power to make or break the user experience, and it is impossible (as well as useless) to design a site that is perfect in structure, navigability, and usability if we then come up with poor content.

To produce engaging and sustainable content, however, we must learn to understand and follow the content lifecycle, following, for example, the process identified by Erin Scime now more than 10 years ago, broken down into five stages.

Il modello di Erin Scime

  1. Monitoring and analysis. The first step is to investigate and assess the environment in which the content is to fit, through interviews with stakeholders, stakeholders, objective analysis of our site, and competitive analysis.
  2. Strategy. Means knowing and “leveraging” current areas of ownership, the process/workflow for content production, the voice and definition of the brand we want to communicate.
  3. Plan. This is the last “theoretical” step and involves determining how we will carry out the content launch: we need to identify the professional figures to be involved and the CMS to be used (and possibly customized), set the metadata to be used, manage the communications plan, and possibly even provide for migration options to aim at maximizing the effectiveness of the content.
  4. Creation. This is the time to write, produce assets and adopt a governance model that also considers SEO optimization aspects and monitoring of results, from a “quality control” perspective.
  5. Maintenance. The work proceeds even after publication, through data analysis, a periodic audit plan, advising the client, and identifying goals for measures of success.

This cycle is not static and can vary depending on the specific communication needs and context in which the business operates, and effective management of the content lifecycle is crucial to maximizing the return on investment in terms of time, resources and budget devoted to communication.

What content strategy means

It seems clear, then, that content-any content-can only make sense if it is embedded in a broader strategy and not as a separate and stand-alone element, the result only of improvisation or need of the moment.

This is where what is precisely called content strategy comes in, which is the ongoing process of translating business goals into a plan that uses content as the primary means of achieving these goals and meeting user needs. In other words, it is the planning of all the steps along the path that must guide us toward achieving the goals of our site and our business.

Taking Kristina Halvorson’s classic theorization in Content Strategy for the Web from 2009, content strategy is “the ongoing practice of planning for the creation, distribution, and management of useful, usable, and effective content on a particular topic or set of topics.” The goal of this process is to create and publish content that is meaningful, cohesive, engaging and sustainable, and it all starts with identifying what already exists, what should be created and, most importantly, why it should be created, i.e., what purpose a piece of content serves and what need (business or target user) it addresses.

In summary, an effective content strategy clearly and in detail outlines the operational framework for managing digital content: first, it defines the purpose of the content, establishing the goals we intend to achieve and the value we wish to deliver to users; next, it identifies responsibilities by assigning who will be in charge of owning, creating, evaluating, and updating the information. The strategy also determines the most effective ways to meet users’ needs by choosing appropriate formats, optimal distribution channels, and outlining the style, tone, and vocabulary to be used. It also provides guidance on how content should be structured, labeled, and organized to ensure that it is easily found and visible in relevant contexts. Finally, it describes the process of publishing content and how it will integrate into the overall user experience, ensuring consistent communication and smooth, intuitive navigation across different digital touchpoints.

How to make content strategy effective

Content strategy guides the creation, distribution, and governance of useful and usable content by consciously reasoning about the choice of topics to be covered, setting the tone of voice, planning publication frequency, and selecting the most appropriate formats and channels.

However, without having a clear idea of what business objectives to associate with that content, there is no point in talking about verification, governance, plan, production, and editorial calendar, because the strategy does not exist if it remains unconnected and isolated. It is not just about building an editorial calendar, writing content and publishing it; it’s not about having a blog, even if it’s full of great content; it’s not about publishing a one-off piece of content here and there, based on requests from sales or product teams or trends of the moment.

Without setting (at least) a business goal, we do not apply a content strategy, but simply release content relying on good fortune; on the contrary, the real strategy must reflect not only the publishing milestones, but also how we intend to measure the success and impact of our content and techniques to remain consistent with our brand identity. Specifically, we can start precisely by identifying the business goals that the content will help achieve, and then move on to define the key performance metrics (KPIs) specific to each type of content, without neglecting the importance of knowing the target audience and responding appropriately to their needs and interests.

What the distribution channels are

Equally relevant is the selection of channels for content distribution, to maximize the chances that each specific medium-email, influencer marketing, social media, blogs, and so on-can amplify our efforts and support our overall vision of content marketing.

Any site or project that intends to communicate online, regardless of size or industry, should therefore take this approach: whether it is a small personal blog, a nonprofit organization, a tech startup, or a multinational corporation, a content strategy can provide the structure needed to communicate effectively with its audience.

The channels used can vary widely, but among the most common are:

  • Website. Trivially, the Web site is often the heart of the content strategy, where–depending on the type of site and industry–information pages, product descriptions, blog posts, case studies, and testimonials can be found. Content strategy helps determine which pages to create and how to structure them to guide users through a logical and persuasive path.
  • Blog. More specifically, the blog is the ideal place to share in-depth articles, guides, news and case studies.
  • Social Media. The content strategy defines which social platforms are best suited to the target audience and establishes an editorial calendar for publishing content that can range from status updates to images, videos and stories, via interactive posts and themed campaigns, all designed to stimulate interaction and sharing.
  • Email. A content strategy can include creating a series of automated emails for lead nurturing or periodic newsletters to keep subscribers informed of news and offers.
  • Downloadable resources. E-books, white papers and guides are often used to delve into specific topics and can be a great tool for generating leads by requiring users to leave their information in exchange for downloading.
  • Video Marketing. Video is a particularly engaging format and can significantly increase users’ time on the site.In addition, platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo are perfect for sharing video tutorials, product reviews, interviews and more.
  • Podcasts.On the rise in recent years, podcasts offer a way to reach audiences through audio content that can be consumed on the go.
  • Online events. Webinars, live Q&As and virtual conferences can be planned as part of a content strategy to educate audiences and create engagement.

Ultimately, every aspect of our content marketing strategy must be aligned with our broader brand vision, marketing goals, and business objectives-this integrated approach ensures that every piece of content we produce is a step toward achieving our long-term goals.

The basics of content strategy

Publishing only content or doing only content marketing is like embarking on a journey without a set destination: it is not enough to create a powerful brand and bring a real ROI, because we have to work rationally and strategically beforehand to take advantage of the features of this tactic and stand out in our field.

Without the right strategy, we will waste valuable time and energy writing content that will almost inevitably bring mediocre ROI. Instead, we can make each of our content a well-shaped puzzle piece that will help us create our brand’s story and message.

It is a guide from SearchEngineJournal that clarifies how content strategy works and how it can make our content marketing campaign more effective, outlining the five main points we need to focus on.

Identify the reason for publishing and the target audience

Every piece of content we publish should be focused on achieving a goal, and an effective strategy helps us determine exactly that. For example, lead magnets expand our mailing, emails bring clicks to the site, blog posts allow us to reinforce authority in an industry.

But all of this content should be created at the right time, put in front of the right audience and measured to see if it worked. We cannot expect to create and publish “randomly” because this non-strategy will never get us closer to our marketing goals.

Part of content strategy is finding out exactly who our audience is by answering questions like:

  • What are their main pain points?
  • Why are they reading our content?
  • How can our product or service help them improve their lives?

If we write in a generalized way, without having any particular target audience, our piece will lack real feeling and substance despite its beauty and formal correctness. In contrast, if we write a message to someone we know deeply we will generally succeed in making the words and sentences more vivid. Moreover, because we know this person well, we know what they want or need to hear.

To improve our content strategy, then, we can apply some tips to help us speak to our audience. First, applying what we usually do for buyer personas, we can create content personas, i.e., reference “fictional personas” to whom we target our content, based on the specific information we have gathered about our audience.

No less important is understanding the customer journey, the buyer’s journey, to know where they are at when they read our content: they may be at the moment of awareness, consideration or decision, and we should then know what might drive their actions at each of these stages.

Choosing the type of content

Content strategy is also about determining what is the best type of content to publish from those available, their length, the medium in which we publish, and so on. Therefore, we need to thoroughly examine the needs and goals of our site and brand, find out what type of content best meets our needs need, where we should promote it, and what is the right schedule for creating and publishing it.

Initially, especially if we have small businesses, we might think about writing all the content ourselves, but this choice cannot last forever nor is it the absolute best one. Experts recommend setting a budget to outsource the creation of high-quality content to professional copywriters, involving other copywriters in the project to maintain the steady flow of publications, possibly hiring a content manager to set up the editorial calendar, and so on.

Strategy is also being aware of how each piece of content we publish is performing, evaluating the effects of publications and knowing whether we are achieving content marketing goals. That is, we need to ask ourselves and check whether blog posts are attracting readers’ attention, whether emails are bringing clicks to the site, whether case studies are converting into customers from potential to actual, and so on.

Content strategy is therefore also the ability to read and interpret the metrics that determine the success of content-so-called content KPIs, such as bounce rate, time on page, and scroll depth.

The meaning of content marketing: definition, value and techniques

And so let’s talk about the practical aspect of strategic writing, namely content marketing.

This is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience and, in this way, to generate profitable customer action. This process uses valuable and relevant digital resources such as text, images, and video to attract users, who are engaged through the proposition of valuable content that provides real benefit to recipients.

Content marketing usually takes four basic forms: written, audio, video and image. Most companies use the different types to interact with their audiences on platforms such as social media, Web sites and ads. This form of marketing places the customer at the center of a brand’s message: instead of inundating customers with ad-laden messages or trivially presenting a product or service, content marketing provides them with valuable content, makes relevant information available, and engages them throughout the customer funnel from awareness to decision-making.

What content marketing is for

Simplifying and summarizing, content marketing is believed to be one of the most practical ways to increase a site’s authority over the long term, and it is certainly one of the most widely used tactics: according to some research, more than 70 percent of companies actively invest in this strategy, which for 86 percent of professionals actually serves to increase brand awareness, one of the levers for achieving lasting success.

This set of techniques thus work as an engine that fuels the visibility and engagement of a website through the creation and distribution of valuable content, starting, of course, with the definition of a proper strategy and the development of an editorial plan that includes the production of targeted, useful and interesting content for the defined audience.

In addition, content marketing helps to build and maintain a solid relationship with its users, who can be educated, informed and entertained, reinforcing the perception of the brand as a reference point in its field: this approach helps to improve precisely brand awareness, increase organic traffic to the site and, ultimately, generate leads and conversions.

How and why content marketing works

Content marketing is the implementation of strategy and thus involves the creation, publication and distribution of quality, valuable content to acquire customers in order to bring revenue to a website. It works because it does not directly sell a product or service and can be considered as organic marketing: it means offering valuable resources to people so that they recognize our brand as a reliable solution for their needs and desires.

This form of marketing involves creating and sharing media resources and editorial content of various types, such as articles, news, videos, guides, infographics, photographs, ebooks, as well as webinars, seminars, podcasts, social media posts, and so on.

The goal is to capture the attention of the end user through the free offer of interesting content that does not necessarily have an advertising character, but is informative or illustrative, and yet can create interest in the product or service we offer, attracting potential customers.

Through this content we can reach new people and users, gaining their attention and conveying something about us, our brand and the company’s distinctive competencies. In this way, we can increase our web reputation and fortify brand awareness, improving the public’s perception and consideration of our capabilities and services.

Other general goals that can be achieved with content marketing include precisely the acquisition of new customers, the activation of lead generation, and customer retention.

The data of content marketing

The statistics confirm what we have just described, and more importantly they highlight even more how and how much content continues to “reign” in most marketing strategies, making content marketing a crucial aspect of any digital marketing strategy, whether for those running a small local business or for those operating on behalf of a large multinational corporation.

This is quite intuitive, if we stop to reflect on the fact that content is unquestionably the lifeblood upon which the web and social media are based, and that, as Jeff Riddall also reminds us, modern SEO “has effectively become optimized content marketing, as Google requires and rewards companies that create content that demonstrates experience, expertise, authority and reliability for the benefit of their customers.”

So here are some interesting numbers on the effectiveness of this approach.

  • 73 percent of B2B marketers and 70 percent of B2C marketers employ content marketing as part of their overall marketing strategy.
  • Content marketing generates three times more leads than traditional outbound marketing and costs 62 percent less.
  • The top three types of content created by marketing teams in 2022 include video, blogs and images.
  • 91% of businesses employ video as a marketing tool.
  • 56% of marketers who use blogging say it is an effective tactic and 10% say it generates the greatest ROI.
  • Instagram is used by 65% of marketers on social media, just behind Facebook at 67%.
  • Generation Z rated Instagram as their favorite social media app in 2022.
  • Fifty percent of Millennials trust product recommendations made by influencers.
  • Half of all marketers say they outsource some content marketing activities.
  • Pandemic has increased content usage by 207%.

Recognizing and analyzing errors with content marketing

If these are the positive notes, it is inevitable to talk about the downside as well, because it often happens that we run into problems or errors that compromise the final result and thwart our efforts.

It is therefore important to learn how to analyze critical areas and resolve them as quickly as possible: there are countless guides on how to create and apply a content marketing strategy, but inevitably they discount the problem of being generic, while business needs are very concrete. Often, when you put in place an intervention in this sector, you risk having to wait several months before a concrete return – if, of course, you know how to measure the content marketing ROI, as we were saying in another insight! – and that means a waste of time and investments.

So we need to be able to understand why your strategy did not work even though we followed all the directions, and then be able to improve it – maybe without looking for another guide – knowing what didn’t work in our effort.

So here are four areas, highlighted by an article by Michael Doer on Search Engine Watch, where we usually find the biggest obstacles in content marketing campaigns and the indications to analyze the weak and critical points and overcome them.

  1. Problems with workflow structure
  2. Problems of content quality
  3. Problems of content distribution
  4. Problems with content conversion

Issues with the content marketing workflow

One of the most common problems in beginners’ content marketing efforts is inconsistency: we have “set the right targets, started measuring Kpis, but the team seems unable to manage the load, often deadlines are not met, the quality of content is poor and you get little feedbacks“.

To improve, it is not enough just to get the content team back on track: it is more useful to understand what went wrong and why it happened, so you can really solve the problem.

The advice is to examine the content marketing workflow through value stream management or workflow mapping, the value flow management strategy originally developed by Toyota engineers to make car production more effective and then applied in every other industry.

How to create a workflow mapping

To create a workflow map you need to follow a few steps:

  • Get your content marketing team together.
  • Select a target, such as creating a single article.
  • Understand who is involved in the process.
  • Gather feedbacks on all steps of the process.
  • Display it in a map (in the image, from Tallify, the example of a workflow for the management of a support ticket).

Esempio di workflow mapping

It is not that important how to draw the map – there are several specially designed softwares, but you can also do a simple hand diagram – but be able to locate and really insert what happens in the workflow, not what should be in theory.

Once you get the map, you have to look for the inefficiency points: it is possible that copywriters do not get the tasks in advance or that there is no quality control in the content pipeline. Whatever the reason for the criticality, the workflow mapping allows you to understand what is going wrong and, after identifying the reason, you can test different ways to solve the problem and then measure the result and the effects of this kind of work.

Overcoming criticalities with content quality

According to Worldometers.com, every day more than five million blog posts are published: to overcome all this noise, you need a quality post.

As we know, however, judging the quality of writing is highly subjective, but we can use some metrics to reduce the inevitable bias, as James Parsons, founder of Content Powered, suggests, which invites to examine four statistics which might indicate that a poor quality of content.

  • Average time on the page.
  • Social sharings (provided there are easy ways to share).
  • Click percentage for other blog articles.
  • Average time on the site.

If one of these metrics does not show any sign of increase, it is an indicative sign that readers are not finding the content good enough.

Analyzing and improving the content

Once the problem is identified, it is time to understand how to intervene, first of all trying to analyze the content to assess whether it is informative and readable. Again, there are various tools that verify the readability of a text, but these are always mechanical evaluations that may not have concrete evidence in reality. The same complexities are found to judge whether a content is informative, because one returns to the field of subjectivity.

One solution would be to make an analysis of the competition that is getting the best results to find out what kind of narrative elements it uses in its strategy – e.g., infographics, statistics, interviews with industry influencers, quotes – and try to insert them within their content, obviously adapting them to their communicative style.

How to detect content distribution issues

A frequent mistake, especially for beginners in the field, is to focus only on content creation and neglect the other key aspect of this work, marketing: even the best of the texts is likely to remain without readers and not produce the desired effect, if it is not properly promoted and distributed.

It is therefore important to work to attract readers and make effective the efforts made so far, starting by understanding whether there is actually a problem with the distribution of texts that blocks its spreading.

The main statistic that can serve as a compass is the number of backlinks and their growth, but it can also be useful to monitor the content’s position in SERPs and the organic growth of site traffic from target pages. However, to get “the full picture, you should also consider keyword coverage,” all of which can be done with SEOZoom’s tools.

If the content is not getting enough backlinks, you need to reset the outreach activity and try to make the email copy better or find websites that might be more interested in the proposed content. It’s important to get measurable results, so remember to do a split test of the email awareness campaign.

If organic traffic growth is poor, there are several ways to improve the content: try to better focus on search intent, update the content to make it more current and incisive, optimize the title and the meta description (which can play a crucial role in attracting visitors to the site from organic search results), add related keywords and so on. One method of saving time and effort is to try to improve just one aspect of those listed on a content that does not work, and verify which surgery produces the best effects.

Content and conversions, optimization tips

Once understood how to identify the issues related to problems with site traffic, backlinks and the quality of content, we must finally focus on a KPI decisive for content marketing campaigns, the conversions, identifying any blocks and working to remove them.

As in previous cases, the first step is to understand where the problem is and then to intervene to solve it, analyzing everything that is not related to the content.

For example, writes Michael Doer, “suppose you aim to make soft conversions such as subscribing users to a subscriber list or downloading a white paper leaving an email address”: if they do not work, it might be useful to do an A/B test to check if the change of CTA affects the conversion rate.

If this does not happen, some qualitative analysis must be done, because the problem could be elsewhere: for example, the content and the conversion target may have a different intent. Or, the lead-generation article attracts an audience that is at the top levels in the conversion funnel, and therefore it is difficult or almost impossible to achieve the sales goal.

Applying the customer journey mapping

Assessing how content contributes to actual sales is a very difficult task and, to begin with, we can analyze metrics related to lead generation, such as the growth of organic traffic and the time spent on the website. There are also more direct approaches, using multi-channel attribution reports and customer journey mapping.

In the first case, you use Google Analytics and the Indirect Conversions tool, which shows the contribution made by each marketing channel in a conversion. For the second aspect, we must first analyze two crucial relationships, the Flow of Behavior and Reverse Goal Path.

The Behavior Stream shows how users interact with the site and tracks their navigation and exit points (with the ability to see how different types of traffic behave)while the other report indicates the most common paths to a set goal.

We can use these tools to create a customer journey map, a flow chart that shows how a customer moves through a website, from the first interaction to the conversion (in the example in the picture, the model set by the United States Government), to find out how they interact with content and look for exit points.

La customer journey map degli USA

Overcoming errors and obstacles with content conversion

If the problem of strategy lurks in this area, it will be inevitable to make profound structural changes to the approach itself to content marketing: the article suggests to try to incorporate the following steps in the strategy to get better lead generation rates.

  • Lead-magnet content.
  • Focus on high-intent keywords.
  • Better entertainment of the reader.
  • Moving readers along the content pipeline.
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