By Michele Linn published July 2, 2015

3 Content Strategy Practices That Will Make You a Better Content Marketer

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My recent revelation: When I write, my audience is always top of mind. However, when I look across all of CMI’s websites and channels, I worry that we’re not providing an exceptional experience for our community at all points. For instance, we may have answers to people’s questions, but can people find what they need? Is every point in their experience a good one?

While I continue to refine my content marketing skills, I also am turning more of my attention to content strategy.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe in the power of (good) content marketing. I believe that marketers must create and promote content that educates. But, if we truly are to put customers at the center of our marketing – and get the most possible value from our efforts – we need to look beyond conversions and measurements and apply the kind of strategic thinking that can transform our organizations’ content into well-managed business assets.

Content marketers have a lot to learn from content strategists. Here are the strategy-related topics I will be prioritizing over the coming months. These topics aren’t traditionally considered part of content marketing, but we need to consider them if we want our content – and the experiences it offers – to be as exceptional as possible.

Have a plan to manage your content after it is published

I’m guessing you have a plan to publish and promote your content, but do you have a plan for what you’ll do with all that content once it’s out there? Do you want it to exist indefinitely? If not, when will it be deleted and by whom? As for the content you want to keep, how do you envision it serving as an ongoing asset? In other words, how will it be kept current and relevant? How will it be reused over time, across various deliverables, and throughout your organization’s departments?

Consider every page on your website as a potential landing page. You don’t want people entering where your best foot is not forward – where information is redundant, outdated, or trivial (ROT).

Consider this story Gerry McGovern told at Confab. When Columbia College in Chicago drastically reduced the number of pages on its website – 36,000 to 944 – student inquiries rose from 477 per month to 855. Think of it! They deleted 35,000 web pages, and the response rate doubled. Why? Chances are visitors now are entering the website on pages that are current, relevant, and organized.

As we heard often at the Intelligent Content Conference, content needs to be managed as a product, not a project. In short, you need a plan to manage all of the content after it’s published, which is part of digital governance.

Something to try: Track the pages that get the most traffic on your website, and make a plan for their governance.

To find your high-traffic pages, open Google Analytics for your site, and go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. (If you publish a blog, ignore the newer posts, which are likely getting traffic because they are recent.)

After you identify the high-traffic pages, review them for accuracy and currency. While I’ve done this sporadically in the past, I recently asked Jodi Harris, CMI’s director of curation, to review all of our high-traffic pages and then develop a plan for how we want to manage them.

We list those pages in Trello and track which ones have been updated and which we want to update next. We also have a checklist for each page or post to check for this.

Trello-screenshot

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Consider the tone across all of your content

I’m guessing you have the tone you want your editorial content to have nailed down, but do you have a plan on what tone your content should have across your site? Does your audience read one tone on your blog and in your e-books, then get hit with corporate speak on the rest of your website?

It’s time to start thinking about your tone and style across all of your content. Yes, this is a mammoth challenge, as different people own different content and you only have so much control, but think about the impact it has when you start to think about all of your content as supporting the customer experience.

Something to try: Look at your website from the perspective of a new visitor. Is it approachable? Is it clear how you help people or do you sound like the competition? Would you want  to read this?

If you don’t love what you see, study brands that have exceptional tone. For instance, I’m a big fan of MailChimp’s tone and style guide – and its content across the board.

mailchimp-screenshot

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Bookmark the brands whose tone you admire and study them – and start to update your pages to have the tone you desire. (HINT: Focus on the high-traffic pages you’ve identified.)

Design your website so users can find what they need

Sure, you create a lot of content, but can your readers find what is going to help them?

If your site is like many, people are stumbling across what’s recent – or the top pages that get the bulk of your traffic. (Are you seeing the importance of these pages?)

What can you do to help the right person get the right content at the right place, at the right time, in the right format, in the right language, on the right device? This is the kind of thing content marketers are aspiring to do, but to get there we need the help of content strategists – or at least strategic thinking. As Rahel Anne Bailie explains:

The reason people hire content strategists is that people can’t find anything.

I have studied the website for This American Life, as it excels at providing an experience that helps readers or listeners find the “right” content or discover something they didn’t even know they wanted. Learn more with Put Users at the Center of Your Content Strategy: A Look at This American Life.

Something to try: One of the keys to findability is having the right categories/taxonomy in place. In two recent articles, Marcia Riefer Johnston, managing editor for Intelligent Content, explains what semantic categories are and why marketers should care, and follows up with some specifics on how to use semantic categories for your blog.

Where we go from here

I am not suggesting that you become an expert on all of these practices, but rather I encourage you to start learning about these things – and find the right content strategist to help if you are struggling in any of these places.

I’d love to hear from you: Are you considering these types of things in your content marketing plan? If so, how are you making progress? If not, what’s stopping you?

To learn more about content strategy – as it applies to content marketing – visit our Intelligent Content blog and sign up for our weekly email newsletter. Not only will you get an exclusive article from our Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose, but you’ll also learn about content strategy, which, I guarantee you, will help you think about your content in a more customer-centric way.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute. She is one of those people who truly loves what she does and who she works with. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Other posts by Michele Linn

  • Daz Housego

    Great post! I can’t believe they had 36,000 web pages!

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      And I can’t believe they whittled it down to 944. That is a crazy reduction with such great results. Thanks for reading and commenting, Daz.

  • Jen McGahan

    Michele, maintaining a consistent tone is easy when you’re the sole content creator for your blog. :) Still these tips are eye-opening. I’ve neglected cleanup of old, outdated posts and offers for too long. I’m inspired to clarify navigation and the reader’s experience over the next month or two. Thanks!

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      We’ll be working on similar things the next few months as well, Jen :) Best of luck — and thanks for the comment.

  • Mike Myers

    Great tips, Michele…and not daunting at all :)

    Not to add to the daunting-ness here, but one of my consistent struggles is trying to go beyond the standard default that is a company’s website. Sure, most interaction happens digitally now, but what about the content that isn’t? Not just the printed material (brochures, one-pagers, etc.), but what about the tone on your product packaging, your corporate signage, the voice people hear on the phone? An overall brand experience is everything; and brands that do all of that well (thinking Disney, maybe Nike, others?) will win.

    Piece of cake, right? Thanks for the thought provoking piece.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Mike. Ideally, we should be looking at the experience across everything the brand does, not just the website. Your customers are coming from all over and want a goo experience regardless of their point of interaction — and your content marketing will work so much better if you are delivering those pleasant experiences. SO tough, but also a HUGE opportunity. Personally, I’m excited by this challenge although it overwhelms me, too.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • Afryrear

    Good suggestions all around, Michele!

    We do a similar thing with our content via Trello, and we also have a “To review” column for recent articles. Four weeks after they’re published we take a look at their performance – rankings, click through rate, time on page, etc. – and decide if they need some additional tweaks.

    It’s tempting to leave newer content alone, but it’s worth the time it takes to give it a second look. We’ve had a couple of articles jump 20-30 spots in search results just by giving their meta titles/descriptions a face lift.

    Thanks again for the great article! Looking forward to seeing what you guys do with your content :)

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      I love that suggestion, Andrea!

    • Laura Landoll

      This sounds so simple, yet something I haven’t thought of. I like the idea of revisiting a few weeks later. I usually wait and do it annually.

  • Vee Modha

    Great article Michele – insightful, helpful and useful.
    As most Content Marketers would agree that we’re faced with several challenges on a daily basis. I find (or what I do) is get an understanding from the entire team of what they believe the brand stands for and what it means to them. We all need to be on the same page so that we can construct consistent messages across our online/offline channels. It’s also useful to sit with documentation/sales/management/senior teams to understand the brand/products from their perspective – especially sales because they talk and engage with the customer the most.

    I maintain an inventory of published content so that I can keep track of new/old content. Sometimes you just have to let content go (and that’s hard for some companies to do)… I know as I’ve worked on migration projects that contain thousands of pages. I think it’s a good idea to sit down every few weeks and look over your published content and clean it up – reuse/refresh or bin. It’s a tough task which requires a lot of tough questioning too – but someone has to do it.

    Just my take…

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      As marketers / writers, I think it’s easy to get too tied to some of our content. We know all of the work that was put into something — and we can see the value — but content often does need to be removed or refreshed/replaced. I like your approach to this, Vee; thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

    Hi Joshua,
    I do know Scott — really smart guy! Thanks for sharing your tool as well. I’ll definitely be at CMW and would be happy to connect!

    • http://ContentMutual.com Joshua D. Tobkin

      Great, Scott set us up with a booth so do come on by. You’ll really like what we’re up to.

  • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

    Hi Nikhil,
    Anything you can do to make the experience better for your users — and help them find what they need — is a good thing. Best of luck to you on your new blog!

  • venkatesh

    Hi Michele,
    Great article. Content strategy is very important to our business success. And also tone and voice of our company is a must thing for growth. Thank you very much.

  • http://www.semgeeks.com/ John Albin

    Content marketing may be designed to increase customer recognition and foster direct relations with your reader. But is that all it should do? The role of content is to educate the reader while subtly promoting your services or brand. Hence, companies should update their content marketing strategy on a regular basis, and manage content not as a project but as a product of the company.

  • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

    Hi Jeff,
    There are definitely two schools of thought on this (some very passionate). As a reader, I always like having dates, and, as such, I am a fan of including them for posts as well.

  • jane_mckinnon
  • Allen Graves

    Thanks Michele, this post is a breath of fresh air for me.

    I have a question for you or anyone else – have you been in the position of trying to change ALL the content on your site to a similar tone? If so, how did you go about approaching the “other side’s” content owners? Were you successful?

    Thanks!
    Allen

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Hi Allen,

      Indeed, this is not an easy task. My suggestions:

      * Like anything, it helps to have buy-in from the top as well as all of the groups that are involved on what you are trying to accomplish.

      * Have (or create) a style guide that addresses tone. My go-to example is Mail Chimp: http://mailchimp.com/about/style-guide/.

      * Prioritize the pages you want to start with, likely starting with the pages that get the most traffic. (This is where we use the Trello board called CMI Hits mentioned above.)

      * As you update pages, share them as examples. Also, share any feedback / results from the updates. Maybe time on site is longer? Or more people are converting?

      Does this help?

  • http://pitechnologies.org/ Web Development Indore

    This is a really nice post. great insight on content marketing. As we know content is the king we need to deal our content with care. Thank you so much for this wonderful information

  • Daniel Taibleson

    Great article…the only question I have is why don’t your hyperlinks open in a new tab…

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Hi Daniel,
      As as general style, we open a new tab when links are outside of CMI, but we open links in the same tab when they are on CMI.

      • Daniel Taibleson

        Awesome – Thanks for responding :)