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10 Content Strategy Practices That Will Make You a Better Marketer

Last summer we published a popular post about three content strategy practices that will make you a better content marketer. Over the past several months, we have talked about these topics as well as several others in more depth.

Why are we so passionate about content strategy in the marketing world? As I mentioned in the original post, marketers have a lot to learn from content strategists. Our intent is not to turn you, dear marketer, into a content strategist; rather, we want to help you understand how to take what content strategists have been doing for years and apply it to your marketing. (You may want to hire a content strategist, and, if so, there are two primary types to consider.)

In general, understanding content strategy practices – and, where possible, adopting them – will help you in one or both of these ways:

  • You’ll have a happier audience because they can find what they need and they have a better experience with your brand.
  • You’ll have a happier team that is more efficient, that is producing content at scale, and that is helping the business meet its goals.
Understanding #contentstrategy practices will help you have a happier audience & team says @michelelinn Click To Tweet

The post below looks at some of these areas, as well as a few others that I think are most pertinent to marketers in 2016. At the very least you need to familiarize yourself with these topics as they relate to marketing.

Content inventory and audits

Post to Get You Started: How to Stop Worrying and Love Content Inventories and Audits by Marcia Riefer Johnston (based on an interview with Paula Land)

Is your content full of ROT: redundant, outdated, or trivial information? Do you even know? ROT hurts content performance. An inventory and audit can help.

Are your eyes already rolling in the back of your head at the thought of doing a content inventory and audit? Is it really necessary to go through all of this content you have published? If you want to provide a great experience for your users and help your business meet its goals, the answer is a resounding yes.

This example from Gerry McGovern, which I shared in my original post, is worth retelling. Gerry worked with Columbia College in Chicago to reduce the number of pages on its website: from 36,000 to 944. The result: 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 enter the website on pages that are current, relevant, and organized.

The only way to reduce your pages effectively, getting your audience what they need – and getting everything else out of the way – is to understand what you have.

Here is a quick rundown:

  • Your content inventory lists each piece of content across all of your channels. Why bother? Seeing your content ecosystem, you can decide what to keep, update, or remove.
  • The content audit takes your inventory a step further and analyzes which content is working (and which isn’t) so you can create more of what works. The audit may surface patterns that lead to opportunities (for example, “We’ve published a dozen articles on a single topic; let’s assemble those into a more comprehensive guide.”)

Marcia’s post with Paula goes into more detail about both inventories and audits, including the kinds of information you may want to track and the kinds of tools you may want to use to automate the menial tasks.


Post to Get You Started: Metadata 101 for Content Marketers: Your Questions Answered by Michele Linn (based on an interview with Rachel Lovinger)

If you want your content to get to the right place at the right time – or you want readers to discover related content and become more engrossed in content on your site – your metadata is key. I don’t know of a way to have organized content without metadata.

Blog categories and tags are two types of metadata that you can probably easily visualize. Among other benefits, categories and tags give people – both within and outside the business – an easy way to surface related content by topic (for example, measurement) or by content type (for example, templates). In some cases, this surfacing is built into the interface so that related topics appear automatically. In other cases, people bring up related topics themselves by clicking a category name or tag name.

Of course, these examples only scratch the surface of the types and uses of metadata. Read my interview with Rachel Lovinger to learn more about metadata and why you need to care.

Digital governance framework

Post to Get You Started: The Basics of Digital Governance: What Content Marketers Need to Know by Marcia Riefer Johnston

Digital governance formalizes which members of your digital content team are responsible for all the various aspects of content creation, production, distribution, and maintenance – and creating, maintaining, and communicating those content standards across the organization.

Think of it as a way of assigning roles and responsibilities for making decisions about your company’s digital presence – particularly important for behind-the-scenes responsibilities, such as procedures for revisiting and refreshing older content.

It’s tempting to think that it’s OK for your team to be in chaos if you are “getting the job done.” However, teams in chaos aren’t really getting the job done from the customer’s point of view.

One of my favorite insights from Lisa Welchman during Intelligent Content Conference 2016 is that you can typically look at a company’s website and tell how aligned its teams are. If your information is siloed, chances are, so are your teams. On the other hand, if your information is focused on the customer, chances are your teams are as well.

Governance is key to well-managed content. As Lisa says, “Most digital governance challenges come from not knowing who’s supposed to decide things.”

Read Marcia’s post to learn more about how to think about and set up digital governance in your organization. (You can also download a detailed guide based on Lisa’s session and get this template to help you make governance decisions.)


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Agile marketing

Post to Get You Started: Your Content Team Can Sprint with Agile Marketing by Andrea Fryrear

On a personal note, Agile marketing is of keen interest to me as I am trying to organize and prioritize our content ideas and activities at CMI. It’s so easy for the team to become overwhelmed with where to start or jump from one shiny idea to the next.

In general, an Agile process helps teams prioritize – and do – what is most critical for the business. Agile marketing gives marketers a way to focus on appropriate activities within our sphere of responsibility. Not only does it make us more accountable, but it also gives us the much-needed ability to say no – or not yet – to certain requests.

An Agile process helps #content teams prioritize what is most critical for the business says @michelelinn Click To Tweet

Agile processes help marketers get things done: the right things.

If you are new to Agile, think about it like this: You have a list of priorities that your team has identified to be most pressing, and you have committed your next “sprint” (set periods during which team members aim to complete a set amount of work that’s connected to a long-term plan). Sprints typically last from one week to one month. When a new request comes in, you do one of two things:

  • You stop and address it if it is more important than what you were working on.
  • You record it as something to address in a future sprint – and you return to your priorities.

Of course, there is more to Agile than that, but can you envision what an improvement even these basics could make with your process? Andrea’s post includes answers to some common questions.

 Core content strategy statement

Post to Get You Started: Keep Your Content On-Strategy With This Single Statement by Meghan Casey

Meghan is an advocate for what she calls the core content strategy statement, which is a single statement that includes business goals, target audience, and audience needs. This statement can then be used to brainstorm and prioritize topic ideas.

Are you picking up on the theme of prioritization?

Meghan talks about the value of a core content strategy statement:

When everyone on your content team works from the same core content strategy statement, your organization has the best possible chance of getting the results you seek.

Meghan goes on to explain that a core content strategy statement is different than an editorial mission statement or vision statement because it is not something that is crafted once that applies to everything you do. Rather, she writes, it’s “more flexible and more performance-oriented, and you can create as many as you want. You might create one for a given content marketing initiative or for a specific audience. You can make it broad or narrow.”

One way to create this statement is to use a Mad Libs®-type exercise, such as the one Meghan uses in her workshops:


Data asset management

Post to Get You Started: The DAM Truth: All You Need to Know About Digital Asset Management by Jill Talvensaari

Digital asset management (DAM) solutions can store – and retrieve – all kinds of digital assets, including text, images, videos, etc. With all of your content in one place, your team can use and reuse content more efficiently.

A DAM also helps with version control and consistency.

DAMs are much more robust than cloud-based storage systems, such as Dropbox and Box. Jill’s post goes in depth about the benefits of a DAM, how to calculate your ROI, and questions to ask when considering a DAM.

Brand guidelines

Are you struggling to speak in a consistent voice? Do you want your audience to know that your content is yours simply by the way it sounds? If so, you need brand guidelines.

If you want to improve your brand guidelines, there is no better organization to study than Cleveland Clinic. Its content team created a website called OnBrand (shown in this screenshot) that includes guidelines, assets, and other materials that anyone writing about the Cleveland Clinic can use. (It’s available for internal and external writers.)

To improve brand guidelines, there is no better organization to study than @ClevelandClinic by @hejhejnatalya Click To Tweet
Cleveland Clinic-OnBrand

Natalya explains why these guidelines are so unique:

Far from a simple resource center to download logos or presentation templates, OnBrand answers the strategic “why” for those telling the Cleveland Clinic story or speaking for the brand.

And, as Joe Pulizzi has talked about, your why is critical to the success of your content marketing.

Customer journey map

Post to Get You Started: Wonder What Content to Create? Try a Customer-Journey Map [Template] by Marcia Riefer Johnston

One of our most popular content strategy posts from this past year focused on the customer journey map, which, as Marcia explains, looks at various things people want to accomplish as they interact with a brand. The post walks you through a template developed by Paula Land and Kevin Nichols.

This tool gives content planners – the strategists among us (or the strategist within you) – a handy way to brainstorm what content to create, what formats to use, and what channels will best meet the needs of our audiences.


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Personas are nothing new – they are a staple in the marketing world – but they definitely are used by content strategists as well. They are so critical that I can’t help but mention them here.

During ICC this year, Ardath Albee detailed nine components a buyer persona should include. She explained how you approach your research to get this information (hint: You don’t gather your team for a working lunch and guess). Even better, she mapped all the research sources and interview questions back to the nine persona components.

You’ll find this set of posts an easy-to-follow, yet thorough read on how to create those personas that you may have been putting off for far too long – personas that your team will want to use and that will help your business build sales.

Message architecture

Post to Get You Started: Align All your Messaging With This Simple (& Fun) Tool by Marcia Riefer Johnston

As Marcia explains in this post, a message architecture is a small set of words or statements that helps identify what messages should be conveyed and, even more importantly, their order of priority. She explains:

When marketers say ‘messages’ or ‘messaging,’ they aren’t talking about customer-facing content; they’re talking about the general impression they want customers to take away from the content.

Here is one example from that post:


Adapted from Margot Bloomstein, Term of the Week: Message Architecture

See the post for other examples and details on how to create your own message architecture, a simple yet powerful tool used by many content strategists to help organizations bring their messaging into alignment.


Getting your content to the right person at the right time and having teams that work efficiently don’t need to be “someday” ideas. If you educate yourself on the topics discussed here – and partner with one or more content strategists – you can work toward those goals today, transforming not only your audience’s experience of your content but your team’s experience as well.

Are these topics of interest to you? If so, sign up for our Content Strategy for Marketers weekly email newsletter, which features exclusive insights from CMI’s Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose. If you’re like many other marketers we meet, you’ll come to look forward to his thoughts every Saturday.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute