Content Marketing Strategy: how to start (and finish) in 4 clear stages

Content Marketing Strategy: how to start (and finish) in 4 clear stages

Content Marketing as a concept becomes a Content Marketing Strategy when you:

  1. Set a goal: what exactly do you want your content to acheive for you?
  2. Research: personas, key phrases (micro-level), competitors, market or industry health (macro level)
  3. Plan: ideally 1 year in advance, translating your insights from research into a content calendar to provide structure
  4. Measure: choose your tool and your metric(s)

Keep all 4 stages in mind at the same time, as formulating a goal needs thought as to how you’ll measure it before you set it in concrete and when you set a goal, you’ll already be thinking through the strategy even before your research.  It is the research that may require you to modify your strategy and perhaps even adjust your goals. The planning part is the detail; the actual day to day that will help you realise your goals.

Being practical

All businesses will be different, which is why the stages need to be simple.  For example (and what typically happens at the research stage) – persona work may be, for one company, very easy but for another, perhaps a more multi faceted, complex organisation, this will be much more difficult, even impractical.    While the whole content marketing concept makes logical sense, it is not a guaranteed silver bullet to boost your business.  Not every business owner, boss or director feels it’s a natural fit for their business.  Don’t force a fit, read on and see if you could apply it to your own unique situation.

The buyer journey

So let us just consider what Content Marketing is.  It’s the business of or the process of attracting visitors to your website at 3 distinct stages of their buying journey – awareness, consideration and decision.  This is how Hubspot sees it; previously it was Google who coined the phrase ‘zero moment of truth’ (‘a stranger’ to your company), ‘first moment of truth’ etc to define touchpoints and a growing awareness of your company.  Hubspot have taken the buyer journey on a huge step forward by seeking to empathise so much more with the individual (by going through the process of developing personas) and also by aligning much more carefully with your mission and vision – what you stand for, do you resonate to the very core with your ultimate core.

Content Marketing Strategy stages 1 – 4

Goal Setting: step 1

Keep it simple, keep it structured.  Break it down:

  1. Do you want to ATTRACT more ‘strangers’ to your website?
  2.  Do you want to CONVERT those repeat visitors to your website?
  3. Do you want to RETAIN your hard earned exisitng customers?

Do you want to do A. and B. ?  Or do you find you have plenty of traffic but you’re lacking conversions to your product/service/company/ideology?

Perhaps you want to feed that top end of the funnel A. but also focus on retaining your customers C. 

Make a choice – keep it simple otherwise you will overthink it and you’ll never get off the ground.   Bear in mind that content marketing is a longer term process, so set your goal for 12 months time with quarterly monitoring. Here are some examples:

Goal: I want to see a new visitors increase by 50% by the end of the financial year.

How: By generating content that has identified and empathises with their pain points and early quest for knowledge.  It is not specific or detailed and it most certainly does not ‘sell product’.

Goal: I want more conversions (we define these below) on the website which shows that visitors are staying and engaging with my website.  (Set a benchmark using Google Analytics and then state a target to aim for making it quantitative) – I want to see a conversion rate increase of 20% from benchmark date to 6 months later.

How: By generating content that will appeal to someone who now knows of you but is still comparing and considering.  The content is likely to go into more depth now, perhaps more technical if it is that type of product – how does it work, how will it impact the way I work or for a consumer product – the content could really hone in on company values, lifestyle, peer or influencer review.

Goal: I want to lose less customers.  I want to reduce churn rate of existing customers by x, conciously turning customers into advocates

How: By generating content that firstly eliminates any ‘post purchase disonance’ i.e those feelings of regret and guilt following (typically) an expensive purchase. And secondly, content that is personal, that asks for their help and guidance or input into future developments.  Anything that makes your customer feel special – previews, VIP introductory offers.  

Research: step 2

Having sketched out your goals and your how’s (your content direction; deployment of it is covered in step 4), you now need to add some backbone to your Content Marketing Strategy and you can only do this by research and insight gathering.  Break this stage down into easy stages:

#Persona development

Hubspot are the kings of this (make my persona template link).  Start with the basic socio economic factors – age, gender, disposable income (typical job) just to get a handle on it, then focus on how your individual feels about the problem which is leading him/her (potentially) to your offering.  You may even understand it first hand hence you being in the business you’re in.  Storytell.  That’s the stuff that will really bring your content alive and make it resonate.

#Key phrases.  Having worked out what your potential customer’s pain points are, why he/she wants/needs your offering, consider how they translate this to a website search.  Keyword tools (easily found by a search) can often be a disappointment, particularly when you’re looking for ‘longer tail’ keywords ie 3 or more words that often constitute a question (even the LSI graph doesn’t always deliver).  Instead, use Google, who, by their domination of the search results page, have also been quite useful for this type of research.  If you figure out some potential questions based on empathy with your prospect, type them in Google’s search – slowly – and notice:

  • – autocomplete functionality (the drop-down as you type)
  • – related searches section (the Q&A boxes on the results page)
  • – ‘people also search for’ box (bottom of page)

#Competitor and other macro research

If you put your general marketing hat on, think outside of the detail discussed and be aware of external factors that might be affecting both your business and the potential customer’s environment.  Depending on what you find, you may need to step up the activity.  If there is a general air of uncertainty (as we live in periodic recessional times), see it as an opportunity to emerge while others may be battening down the hatches.

Plan: stage 3

Try to anticipate the level of content that you need to generate to meet your goals.  There is no easy way to do this apart from common sense, trial and error and an appreciation of how you will market your content.  In stage 1 (goals), we considered content direction (type of/pitch of the content); now we consider how that content is deployed as part of the Content Marketing Strategy and in order to contibute to those goals. 

Example: a simple model is to take care with and optimise your blog posts (using the Hubspot pillar technique or Yoast cornerstone technique, where one post carries the master topic (like this blog post) and other sub posts that relate to the topic point to the master post).  Such structure in your website and good quality posts will attract Google indexing, a better serving on the search engine results pages (SERPs) and more ‘organic’ visitors off the back of it.  If you have a goal of increasing new visitors (strangers) ie generating increased awareness, then your strategy is to pitch your content to that phase of the buying journey, using your blog as the only deployment method – simple.

Here’s another example:

You need much more leverage than what the above offers.  So, you have the same goal but it’s more ambitious.  Just blogging and perhaps posting to social media will not cut it.  So you need to take it up a notch – by guest posting on other sites that would find your content useful and interesting for their visitors.  This act increases your ‘authority’ because your content is effectively endorsed by someone other than yourself. How do you guest blog – you identify a good quality relevant site and you write and ask.  This guest post becomes a useful ‘back link’ for you. 

So you have your goals, your research summary and the strategy, in other words, the buying journey stage you’re pitching at and to what extent you will ‘market’ your content.  Now for the operational planning part.  All of the content ideas need plotting into a calendar.  Kick start it by adding in important dates – whether new product launch, exhibitions or other events to see if you could leverage these in any way (particularly for later stages of the buying journey).  Then add in your blog titles for the year.  Sometimes it helps to use or even just look at a content calendar template (you may need to ‘sign up’  

Measure: goal 4

Choose your tools and metrics for the measurement part of a Content Marketing Strategy.  Google Analytics is a good place to start.  Keep it simple to begin with.  Let’s take the goal examples in turn:

% of new visitors

To attract new visitors – In Google Analytics – look at % new visitors or the ratio of new to repeat visitors.  Keep an eye on All Traffic because if you’re deploying your content in a conscious way, you will notice visits from social media (Aquisition>All Traffic>Social),  a guest post or publishing site may show up as a Referral (Aquisition>All Traffic>Referral), email marketing will likely show up in Campaigns (Aquisition>All Traffic>campaigns).

Organic traffic

When looking at new visitor action, and when you’re measuring your content marketing or SEO activity, it is commonplace to view Organic Traffic (Aquisition>All Traffic>Organic).  The advantage is that this cuts out any spam or other noise.  It is indicative of visitors who have arrived on your site using a key phrase which is relevant to you.  So while many companies notice a company name as a key phrase (rather than bookmarked or used as a URL), this too has value.  A lot of value.  It indicates that the visitor recalls you somehow, so while they may be categorised as ‘a stranger’, they’re more likely to be transitioning from the Awareness to the Consideration stage. 

Using segmentation

Google Analytics offers much more complexity than that though.  Using the segmentation tool on the dashboard or the dimensions option in any search means you could examine those visitors who either use or do not use your brand name as a keyphrase.  You may also want to filter out ‘bounces’ (be careful here though – a bounce may have been a valid and useful visitor but something may have put them off once they’d landed on your website).  It is better to start simple before diving into the detail.  Experiment but data can be as misleading as it can be useful.  


To put this article into context, it is assumed that content marketing is being considered or is the chosen path for your business.  Don’t try to make it fit because the amount of time and commitment it takes is immense.  You have to be sure you can follow through which is why i’ve described the formulation of a content marketing strategy, from start to finish.  Of course, it never finishes, it’s a continuous cycle BUT you get better at it and it gets faster as you learn and become more adept.