Actually, you don’t. Was that title misleading? I apologize, but leading you on was my goal, so that puts me in a sorry-not-sorry situation. So… sorry? I don’t think it’s honest to claim that you nor anyone needs a content strategy. Like most things, a content strategy is not something the human body depends on such as air, water, and a steady stream of Netflix. But a content strategy can help prevent you from creating meaningless content.
Content Strategies Prevent Meaningless Content
By meaningless, I’m referring to blogs, social media posts, infographics, ebooks, podcasts, and whatever else that fails to serve a business function or provide a value to your target audience. A lot of content finds itself in this category because the marketing teams that produce it often experience external pressures that impose overburdening requirements on their work. Requirements such as, “publish at least 3 blog posts this week,” “our content calendar is empty, please fill it up at the content gas station,” or “we’re being out-blogged by Microsoft, they’re blogging so hard right now. Blog harder!” What do they even mean by blog harder? That’s not a thing you can do.
Rather than sit down and form a coherent strategy with measurable outcomes, teams scramble tirelessly to satisfy an escalating list of hostage-level demands. Demands like those led me to write dozens of useless blogs early in my content career, of which some I was exceedingly proud. For example, I wrote a piece that retold the story of a client’s employee that created an LED ceiling for his home. His roof had collapsed due to a severe storm and his fascination with DIY culture inspired him to construct a multi-panel light fixture that behaved much like the trippy music visualizers of the late 90s and early 2000s.
I interviewed my subject, molded his retelling into a captivating story, filled the content with relevant images, and sprinkled a tolerable number of dad jokes on top. My client was happy with the post, and I was excited to see it perform well on their blog. We published the piece and it took the content marketing world by storm, and by storm I mean a category zero: on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, it barely registered as a fart. What happened?
Great Content is Not Great Enough
The post I wrote was published to a blog for a major B2B software company that sold an application development platform as a service. Where exactly did an LED ceiling fit into their bigger mission? Looking back on this now, the answer was clearly, shrug emoji. It was a cool story, but irrelevant to both their new and existing audiences. In fact, the impetus for crafting the piece was something my client referred to as, ‘thought leadership.’ They wanted to appear well-versed in the area of IoT (Internet of Things) by producing content that suggested as much.
The result was a piece of writing that, while fun and well-executed, had no demonstrable goals and therefore its success was immeasurable in the literal sense; we could not measure it. Nearly all content strategies define metrics by which the marketing team can evaluate the success of each piece, metrics such as:
Did the piece drive traffic?
Did the piece contribute to conversions?
Did the piece bring new or returning visitors to the site?
Did the piece inspire readers to go to another page?
If you want each piece of content to serve a purpose, or to be able to say at the end of your week, “blog post X is bringing new leads in like hot-cakes,” then you should consider a content strategy. Let’s look at a few examples.
Popular Content Strategies
It’s easy enough to find ready-made content strategies in the wild. Two popular strategies include HubSpot’s Hub and Spoke model (aka Topic Clusters), and Brian Dean’s Skyscraper technique (or the ‘Less is More’ strategy)–naming things twice by the way, is a content marketing tactic known as keyword hedge-betting, that’s where you keep renaming something until it ranks number one on Google.
Content Strategy 1: The Hub and Spoke Model
HubSpot, known throughout the content marketing world as giants in their field, are so well-known for content marketing that I tend to forget what it is they actually do… maybe they spot hubs? That can’t be right. I don’t know, but I do know that their content strategy is heavily imported throughout the marketing world and it’s worth your consideration.
To paraphrase, the hub, or ‘pillar content’ acts as a large giveaway that cannot be ignored. For example, an online education company may produce a free course as a piece of pillar content. As you can imagine, these pillars go beyond a blog post or infographic, they ascend to the level of product. And surrounding these pillars are smaller pieces of related content that find natural segues to introduce and link to the pillar. Ultimately, the pillar is what sells the brand, leaves a lasting impression, and ideally converts the customer by first earning their trust.
This model is great for businesses that have the resources capable of producing the content. As you’ve probably guessed, this strategy requires an immense effort and focus from a dedicated team of cross-functional professionals. Under the Hub-and-Spoke strategy, marketers cannot always do the heavy lifting alone. However, Brian Dean’s strategy is perfect for smaller organizations that lack those kinds of resources.
Content Strategy 2: The Skyscraper
Rather than producing epic product-like hubs and the dozens of spokes that surround them, Dean recommends businesses focus on being the best in a handful of topic areas. The skyscraper strategy is about standing out from the crowd by being better than the other options available when your potential customer hits that search button. If their query is, “marketing tips for local businesses,” then your result is 180+ Tested and Proven Marketing Tips for Mom & Pop Shops.
The skyscraper is a piece of content that fully satisfies the request and beyond. These pieces require significant research and dedication, but when done properly, they are at the top of their game and attract eyeballs to your brand in droves. Moreover, they will naturally grow in popularity over time as others link to them as authoritative pieces useful to anyone actively researching the subject.
As for cadence, a small business could foreseeably produce one piece of new skyscraper content per year as well as update their previous pieces to continue building on top of them.
Do You Want a Content Strategy?
If you’re ready to commit to a strategy, both Hub-and-Spoke and Skyscraper are great starting points; I took inspiration from both when I designed my own content strategy, so you too might end up with something in-between that happens to suit your needs and budget. Ultimately what I want, what marketers want, and what you want is content that attracts customers to your business, educates them on what you do, and helps inspire repeat commitments and a deepening of their relationship with your brand.
To publish content that achieves your business goals and delights your readers, I can’t think of a better starting point than to form a content strategy.