Content Strategy Best Practices
Most businesses recognize that content needs to be a major part of their marketing strategy, but there’s much more involved with content strategy than writing, designing and publishing. Here are some best practices to help your team maximize the impact of your content marketing investment.
1. Align Content with Your Business Goals
Before you develop content, create a plan with the end in mind. What goals are you trying to achieve? Ideally, you want your content to work double-duty to achieve two or more goals. Here are some examples:
- Develop brand awareness. If your target audience isn’t aware of you, you’ll need content that puts you in front of them.
- Establish need. If prospects don’t believe they need what you offer, they won’t engage.
- Build an emotional connection. People don’t usually buy based on facts alone.
- Increase or maintain search engine optimization. This goal is ever-present for most organizations. It’s never done because when you stop adding new content to your website, you give competitors the opportunity to pull ahead.
- Engage visitors at the top of your funnel. When visitors arrive at your site for the first time, how will you draw them in? Will you let them leave empty-handed?
- Develop buying knowledge. Help your prospects know what to look for and how to compare their options.
- Generate website leads. To generate leads, you’ll need some gated content. If all your content is ungated, you won’t know who is consuming it. If you don’t capture their contact data, you won’t have the opportunity to nurture them.
- Nurture those who have shown interest. How will you stay in touch and top of mind, so when they’re ready to buy, they think of you first?
- Develop brand preference. How will you equip your sales team to differentiate your company as the best choice?
- Build credibility. How will prospects know they can trust you?
- Create urgency. Why should they buy now?
This is not a comprehensive list. Your company may have many different business goals. When making your list, assess each step of your buyer’s journey to identify key challenges that content can help you solve.
2. Establish Your Baseline and Metrics to Measure Progress
In addition to identifying the goals you want to achieve, establish your baseline performance and some metrics for measuring your future progress. One way to manage progress is by tracking the sources of your website traffic. The Acquisition area of Google Analytics breaks out traffic by Direct, Organic, Paid, Social and Referral. This data can inform some of your content metrics.
Content marketing metrics to consider include:
- Direct traffic includes visitors that find you by typing in your web URL or clicking on an email link. So, this is one way to measure brand awareness. Are direct visits increasing?
- Social traffic includes visitors who navigated to your website by clicking a social post. This is another way of measuring awareness – are visits from socially-sourced traffic increasing?
- Organic traffic includes visitors who find you online by searching terms related to your business. This is another way of measuring an increase in brand awareness. It’s also a way of measuring the effectiveness of your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. However, it’s important to note that organic results are driven by more than just content. To perform well, your website needs good speed, mobile-friendliness, proper metadata and backlinks. Your site’s age and authority also matter. All of these factors must be addressed to maximize SEO results.
- Referral traffic includes visitors who click to you from other websites. This is a measure of how many backlinks you have.
- Paid traffic is generated by online ads. While these can be used to generate brand awareness, paid traffic is generally less valuable than organic traffic. Watch bounce and conversion rates.
- Blog article and web page visitors. Look at the top-performing articles and pages each month.
- Pages/time per visit. How long do visitors spend on your website? Do they visit one page and leave or do they browse for a while? Just keep in mind that if you’re driving traffic to a landing page with a form, they will leave upon form completion, so that can lower your pages/time per visit.
- Search engine results page (SERP). On which page and in which position do you appear when someone searches a targeted keyword phrase? How many of your targeted phrases are on page 1? How about the top three or top 10 pages?
- Inbound links. How many external websites are linking back to yours? This is a reflection of how well you’re promoting your own content.
- Form conversions. How many people download content or complete a form to schedule an appointment or demo each month? This is a measure of middle of funnel engagement. You can classify forms for certain purposes to count how many downloads are related to brand preference versus knowledge development to help track your progress toward those goals.
- Repeat form conversions. A prospect that converts on multiple forms is even more engaged and likely to buy. This is another way of tracking progress through your funnel.
- Closed business. Of course, the ultimate measure of marketing success is closed business, but this is not the job of content marketing alone. Content can support the sales team’s efforts, but it usually cannot create a sale without the help of other areas.
3. Use a Variety of Content Types
Different people prefer to learn and consume content in different ways, so it’s important that you don’t place all your content eggs in one basket. Be mindful of the generations and personas that you serve and provide the content types most likely to engage them.
Some content formats you may want to consider include:
- Blog posts. The great thing about blog articles is they’re one of the main contributors of SEO — both on-page SEO (from tactics like keyword optimization) and off-page SEO (as you can generate backlinks). Plus, there’s no shortage of topics you can cover in your blog posts. Blog articles are ungated (more on this below) so they are effective in engaging top of funnel visitors. Blog article content can be repurposed to drive your newsletter and social media platforms. Links are also great to use in prospect nurturing campaigns. Blog articles provide enough information to whet a prospect’s appetite, so they’re willing to provide information for a gated piece, such as a white paper, guide or case study to learn more.
- Infographics. If you have statistics or complex processes you want to communicate to your audience, an infographic can make the information easier to digest. It’s also great for flow charts and guiding users through decisions.
- White papers. When there’s too much information to fit into a single blog post, a white paper can be more appropriate. You should include plenty of images to break up the text and illustrate points.
- Videos. Although you may feel intimidated about making videos, it’s easier today than ever before. There’s no need for it to be anything complicated — you can use simple animations to tell a story, film interviews, or present key facts in a visual format.
- Case studies. There’s no better way to demonstrate why someone may need insurance products than with case studies. This is an ideal option for early in the buyer’s journey when users may be figuring out if a particular product is necessary or if they could risk going without.
- Testimonials. You may not think of testimonials as part of your content — in fact, they’re one of the most important content strategy best practices. Few things give users more confidence in your company than reviews from satisfied customers. According to Vendasta, half of all consumers are even more motivated by testimonials than discounts. Choose the best testimonials you receive from clients and feature them in a prominent place on your website.
4. Publish Both Gated and Ungated Content
In addition to using different types of content, you’ll want some pieces to be freely available and others to require contact information to access. Whether content is gated or ungated will depend upon the goals the content supports. If the content is being used for lead generation or middle of the funnel purposes, you’ll probably want to gate it (protect it with a form). If the content is used for top of funnel engagement or for brand awareness, it probably should not be gated.
- Ungated content should target visitors at the beginning of the buyer’s journey. It should be high-level, educational and easy to digest. You want to spark further thought and to inspire them to dig deeper. Ungated content usually includes articles, videos and some infographics. A lot of companies also leave their introductory PDF sales sheets ungated.
- Gated content targets visitors in the middle of the buyer’s journey. These prospects are more seriously considering potential solutions and starting to develop brand preference. Gated content often includes infographics, white papers, webinars, case studies, buying guides and decision trees. Most companies gate detailed sales sheets and brochures. Gating is a way of gauging intent – it’s a “give to get” dance. If someone is willing to provide their contact information, there is often a higher degree of interest.
When you offer gated content, make sure to showcase it on a landing page with a form. Your goal is to share all the reasons that your prospect will benefit from gaining this information. Make them feel like they can’t live without it. Don’t make the mistake of selling your company on a content landing page. Keep the landing page short and singularly focused on the content download to generate a lead. Getting their information is the first step in building the relationship.
5. Know Your Audience
The more personalized and specific your content is, the more effective it will be. Take the time to develop full buyer personas. Engage your entire team (including sales and customer service) to help you understand the specific challenges they face and the problems they need to solve. Find out the questions prospects ask in sales conversations. Know the key reasons to close or lose sales. Speak in their terms and with their level of formality.
You can find out more about your audience by talking to your current clients and turning to any data you’ve collected. As well as demographics, consider things like lifestyle (especially factors that put clients at a higher risk of claims), their goals, the problems they face, how they spend time online, and their experience purchasing insurance. Evaluating the characteristics of your best clients can help paint a picture of your ideal prospects.
Once you know who makes up your audience, you need to ensure you’re providing users with the content they need and want. Keyword research is ideal for this, as it shows you what your audience is searching for. Another tactic is to check what your competitors are doing. You can create the same types of content and cover similar topics — making sure to give your content a unique angle, of course.
6. Audit, Refresh and Repurpose Content Frequently
Your content is a living asset that can help generate revenue for your firm. When you develop a piece, it should be designed to serve your company for years to come – and it should be properly maintained and updated – just like you maintain your vehicle, real estate and other assets.
Your content strategy should involve regular audits to ensure all the content you’ve already published is still relevant. Content that is now outdated, is uninteresting, or repeats information you have elsewhere could be hurting your performance. For instance, visitors may be finding this old content instead of fresh pieces, resulting in a higher bounce rate.
- Use Google Analytics to monitor the pages on your website that receive the most traffic. Be sure to proactively maintain those URLs while updating the page content and any statistics with current data, keeping the pages highly relevant even as time goes on.
- Pay attention to which pages are ranking for key search phrases. If you have a page that’s ranking but not highly enough, add an FAQ section, a video, an infographic or more information to it and see if you can help it move up.
- Carefully delete old articles that are irrelevant, don’t rank at all and don’t have any inbound links. However, just because you decide to delete an old article from your website, doesn’t mean the content doesn’t have a purpose. Look for opportunities to combine and update related topics to create one new article that has more SEO power.
- Take time to build internal content links – especially between pages that share a related topic. This will help you build a content cluster.
- Look for opportunities to combine related online content into a meaty white paper or guide – the ultimate source of information on a particular topic.
- Repurpose top-performing articles into designed PDFs for use as client handouts.
- If you have a great piece of content that was particularly popular when you first published it, promote it again. We have clients that are still promoting sales guides that were developed in 2010. If content is evergreen, it can be effective for many years.
- Eliminate duplicate content. Don’t repeat identical content in multiple places on your website and avoid republishing content that is already posted on other websites.
7. Leverage Strengths: Content Strategy vs. Content Creation
Many marketing teams find that creating an effective content strategy is something that is largely done in-house. That’s because knowing the specific audiences and aligning content with the goals of each target market requires collaboration with many different areas of your company. If you’re actively executing on the points above, content strategy is a full-time job in and of itself.
If you also task your in-house team with content creation, there’s a risk that your team will lose sight of the big-picture goals. Their focus can shift to the daily grind of content completion instead of making sure content achieves the big-picture goals.
We encourage our partners to manage the strategy in-house while outsourcing the majority of content creation. Professional writers and designers tend to be exponentially more efficient than in-house talent. You may pay your in-house writer a low hourly rate, but if it takes that writer two weeks to create one article, have you really saved any money compared to paying a professional?
Also, it’s difficult to hire in-house talent that actually knows your industry. In the insurance industry, for example, you typically have marketing professionals who don’t have a lot of insurance knowledge or insurance professionals who don’t have top-notch writing and design skills. Occasionally, you find someone with strengths in both areas, but it’s rare.
If you outsource content to a premier industry partner, it never gets put on the back burner. Your content machine keeps producing even when the marketing team is managing a crisis or responding to other urgent requests.
Here's a proven marketing strategy job description for success:
- Collaborates with other departments to identify and fully scope out targeted personas.
- Works with other company leaders to identify how and why content is needed to support marketing, sales and service delivery.
- Determines which topics are needed, and which types of pieces are needed – both ungated and gated.
- Creates a quarterly or semi-annual editorial calendar so you know what content is needed and when.
- Shares your editorial calendar with Inbound Insurance Marketing, and we handle content creation for you – that includes research and copywriting and design if desired. If needed, we can schedule an interview with an internal subject matter expert to understand key talking points. If it’s a case study, you can schedule us to interview clients or team members involved with the account.
- Performs quality control and manages the process of identifying how content can be repurposed or updated so that your content assets perform for many years.
- Measures the success of the content marketing strategy and refines the strategy as needed.
Whatever you do, don’t confuse content strategy with content creation. These are two different objectives that require two different skill sets. When internal marketing teams are tasked with content development, they can lose their ability to manage content strategy objectively and systematically.
Why get bogged down? Outsource your insurance and B2B copywriting and design to Inbound Insurance Marketing. Consider us your expert, experienced and ever-reliable content engine. Contact us to start a conversation.