Monday, March 24, 2014

Digital Content Strategy -- What's Your Story?

Digital content strategy is the third leg of the digital marketing table, along with search and social. Content quality is the key to the success of a business in the online space. This has been said countless times and by now, pretty much everyone has heard it. But the question do you define quality? And what is the strategy for creating quality content?

The first is really a user experience question and the short answer is:
Digital Content Strategy
Quality content is content that meets the needs of your audience in the way they expect it to.  That is -- content that provides the answers that they are seeking with their search queries -- in concise, scannable, honest and easily understood language. This is content that is VALUABLE to your audience. 

So, how do you create content that meets that high standard? Simple. Understand your audience and their needs! OK, maybe it's not so simple, it requires some work. But it is pretty straightforward process.

Keywords First
93% of online experiences start with a search engine. So the ideal content creation process starts with keyword discovery. The details are in the link, but in short, keyword discovery is a research project where you learn...
1. What relevant words and phrases actual people are actually typing into search engines 
2. How often each of these keystrings are searched and 
3. How much competition there is for them among other Web sites

For your content to be effective...

1. It should be based on these words and phrases from this list that have a good balance of high relevance and low competition
2. It should effectively answer the question posed by the search
3. It should include a registrable offer or other call to action to allow the visitor to engage with you

Keyword discovery and social listening insights are a sound basis for high-quality content.
Listen and Learn
If you build your content strategy based on the keywords people are searching for, you're off to a good start. But if you have time, there's another key source of insight you should tap before you start writing. That's social listening. Again, you can learn the details in the blog post behind that link, but basically, you query the vast social mediasphere to discover how the potential customers and influencers in your market talk about the challenges that your products and services solve...

1. The words they use to describe the issues, products and features in the competitive space -- perhaps even new keywords that you weren't aware of
2. How you measure up to the competition and 
3. What kinds of information they need to help them make their decisions and even
4. Needs they have that no products or services are addressing yet

You can easily see how this kind of insight would be valuable to the creation of quality content.

Keyword discovery and social listening insights are a sound basis for high-quality content. These practices allow you to build a page of content around each keyword, and deliver the answers the market is looking for. By building pages around the keywords your audience is searching for, you'll draw more organic search traffic. If you couple that with an effective call to action, on each page, which offers the visitor a next step in their learning or engagement that promises value to them, you'll start to generate responses that can turn into leads. 

The knowledge you've gained through listening tells you where relevant conversations are taking place in the social space, and who leads those conversations. You can use your social media presence to syndicate your socially-influenced content into these conversations to build your brand's social reputation and credibility.

Nothing Engages Like a Good Story
OK, but there's one more element that really puts the icing on the cake. That element is storytelling.
If you can weave your content into a compelling storyline, where your audience can see themselves as the hero, your content will be all the more effective. Humans are wired to remember and pass on stories. So if your story is good enough, your content will be memorable and will be shared.

How do you tell a story? The best way is to start with your customer. Talk about them rather than talking about you. Only talk about yourself (your company) in the context of how you help your customers solve their problems. Let them see themselves in your Web site.

Talk about why you do what you do, about how your customers inspired you to create your company or your product. Give your customers the credit for your success.

Metrics, Audience, Voice and Freshness
Content is King! Content is Key! Content is the Killer App! But there's more to content strategy than just the content. Like any strategy, it starts with your business goals. What are you expecting of your content? How will your content get you there and what does success look like? What will you measure? Be sure you start with a baseline as soon as you launch your site or before you redesign it.

For instance, if your goal is simply awareness of your company, products and services, then you will be measuring simple things like page views and visitors, time on site, social likes and mentions. You'll want to track how many times each piece of content is reused and shared, how many people it touches throughout it's lifecycle.

There's more to content strategy than just the content. Like any strategy, it starts with your business goals.
your goal is to generate demand, then in addition to the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) above, which are the top of the marketing funnel, you'll also want to add downloads, subscriptions, responses, leads and probably lead revenue.

Of course, you'll want to grow each of these metrics, but also accelerate their growth over time. You'll want to know which pieces of content are most effective for which audiences for each metric, so that you can create more successful content.

Speaking of audiences, an effective content strategy consider the key audiences to target and tailor content to each. Different roles, different demographics, different locations, even different points in the buying cycle will have different needs. (often, the keywords used in a search can convey quite a bit of information about these characteristics of the searcher, this is called Consumer Intent Modeling and it can be a very powerful tool in content strategy).

In order to allow the audience to connect with the brand, the content strategy must set and monitor the voice of the brand. Voice should be consistent across all channels and includes elements such as style (serious vs. witty, cool vs. warm, lyrical vs. punchy), tone (colloquial vs. formal, technical vs. non-tech), and word choices (short vs. long, familiar vs. esoteric)

Finally, there must be a strategy in place to keep the content fresh. What discovery cadence should be followed to identify new keywords, add new pages, sunset unpopular pages and refresh popular ones?
An editorial calendar that outlines weekly or monthly themes for the next 3-6 months is crucial. Will there be a blog or content curation and aggregation so that there's always something new on the site? How will content be syndicated, repurposed as Social Media, as downloadable offers or emails to subscribers.

At its core, effective content strategy is mostly about putting yourself in the visitors' shoes, using search and social insights to build a content strategy that meets and exceeds the visitors needs, and storytelling to help them relate to your content, remember it and pass it along.

Content that attracts search queries is good. Content that answers the visitors' questions and engages is better. Content that is memorable and sharable is best. Content that is all of these is Quality.

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Next week: Information Architecture

Ken Godfrey

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