When you’ve been working in marketing for a few years (or indeed any job or industry) a lot of what you do becomes second nature. For that reason, it’s easy to think that what you do is obvious. Either to clients and bosses or subordinates and peers who may want to learn.
Lately, I’ve realised two things:
1. It often isn’t obvious, especially if you work remotely like I do.
2. Because it isn’t obvious, it can be difficult to justify what you need to charge or the scope of information/resources you need to be able to do your job effectively.
Content Strategy vs Blog Writing
Here’s where I tell you what made me think this post was important. Lately, I’ve spoken to three different B2B companies who have asked for a “content strategy”. After digging a little deeper, what I’ve actually determined they want, is a writer. A writer will create you weekly posts for your blog. Using a writer is a great way to keep your blog up to date, help raise your SEO a little over time and give you more content to share on your social channels or email campaigns, particularly if you aren’t a writer yourself.
In the past, I’ve done this for clients and would have been paid anything from £20-£150 per post. Nowadays, due to the rise of sites such as Upwork, you’ll be lucky as a writer, to get paid more than £50 per post. Many B2B marketing agencies will also hire writers for around the £20 per post mark to write on their behalf for their clients’ sites.
Personally, I don’t do this role any longer and will pass anyone who needs this level of service onto other writers who are much faster and cheaper than I am at one off pieces.
What a writer won’t do, is look at your content strategy framework as a way to acquire leads and get noticed as a serious player and thought leader in your industry. A writer won’t think about long-term topic authority, audience personas, site hierarchy, subject hierarchy, content seeding and distribution, customer research, reader UX and audience verticals.
As you can see, there’s a big difference between the two roles and the results you get from each.
In this article, I’ll talk you through how I create a B2B content strategy framework for clients, execute and measure it and hopefully explain why this isn’t a service that can be done or done well, on £50 per month. I’ll also explain how a proper content framework can result in real, trackable business returns such as customer acquisition, product sales and increased brand awareness.
Phase one: Top line content strategy framework
The first phase is crucial to a content strategy that aligns with key business goals. This is where we ask the question: why content?
Let me say this outright; an in-depth content strategy is not for everyone. Sometimes a client is better off putting their efforts into PR, email marketing, customer onboarding, paid acquisition and any number of other strategies.
A content strategy is usually worthwhile if you can answer yes to more than one of these questions:
- Is your audience struggling with an area in your product/service that could use explaining?
- Is there a fair amount of search queries in Google, or on sites such as Quora, Reddit or Twitter, around subjects you are an expert on?
- Do you have clear customer personas you are trying to reach? (If not, these can be developed as part of the content strategy process).
- Do you have an owned blog or website that can easily publish content? If not, are you willing to invest in one?
- Are your audience likely to find you online? Do they use Google, social media sites and forums to find your service or product? (As opposed to offline sources- word of mouth, events, referrals etc.)
Once we have established that there is a clear reason to create a content strategy the next step is to create the content strategy itself.
Here, you can see an outline of the process that goes into creating a content strategy:
At this stage it is all about asking the right questions and finding the right answers. The more questions you ask in this stage, the more you set yourself up for success and create a content strategy that will deliver excellent results.
Here are some of the exercises I will also do in this stage:
- Full competitor research – see an example of this below
- Topic research – ideally looking at customer interactions, support queries, forums such as Quora, Reddit, Twitter etc.
- SEO analysis – where does the site currently sit and where should it be?
- Personas and audience verticals – creating these if not already present.
- What are the content drivers, keywords, topics and verticals the content strategy could cover? (These will be developed more at a later date).
- A review of any previous content via Google Analytics – what performed well and what didn’t?
Once complete, all of this goes into a Google Spreadsheet so that it can be referred back to at each stage.
Phase two: Editorial calendars and individual post writing
Once all of the research is in place it’s time to move onto the editorial calendar. This is where I determine:
- What resource do we have for producing content?
- How many blogposts/pieces of content will we write per day/week or month?
- What is the approval process to get these live? (To help determine the gap between creation and publication).
- What are the basic guidelines for each post? Tone of voice for a B2B audience, length, graphics, headings, SEO input etc.
All of this input goes into creating an editorial calendar. Without one, it’s very easy to go off track or end up producing content ‘as and when’ without much future planning.
I like to work on an editorial calendar one month in advance. The content strategy should give you the long-term plan (6 months – a year), then the editorial calendar breaks this down month-by-month. You can plan further ahead if you so wish, but I find a monthly calendar allows you to adapt to changes in the market and come up with fresh content ideas on a more regular basis.
Here’s what a basic editorial calendar setup in a Google Spreadsheet could look like:
I’ve also worked with calendars in the past using tools like Trello, Asana or CoSchedule – the format really isn’t important. The important thing is to find one that works for you and your clients.
Individual post writing
Once you have your editorial calendar, it’s time to consider the individual posts and how these will be written. Personally, I like to write in Google Docs as they can be shared as a file with any clients or editors and they automatically save changes as you go along.
There’s a great Quora thread detailing the content process Neil Patel (a B2B content guru) uses which is certainly worth a read. How I write content is much of the same and allows me to produce a high volume week in, week out:
“Once you know what you are going to write on, create an outline. The outline should contain an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Typically, when you are creating an outline, I recommend that you actually write your introduction and conclusion.
As for the body, list the main points you want to cover in a bullet format. When you are writing, don’t worry about fixing errors. You can always re-read your post and make changes later. Your goal for this step is to just write.”
There are also a few general rules I follow when writing copy, particularly for a B2B audience which is often more product or advice focused rather than being for pure entertainment purposes. Each piece of content I write must have seven things:
- Be optimised for questions people are asking in Google and SEO on-page requirements
- Be written so that it could directly answer at least one customer question/Twitter question/Quora thread
- Fit the tone of voice and brand guidelines
- Be easy to read and digest – actionable tips
- Use headings to help the text flow
- Use images, quotes and diagrams to break up text
- Fit at least one (if not both) verticals of subject and audience
Phase three: Proofing, design, upload and content distribution
Once I have written a post I move on to the next stage. This is the time consuming one! First, I leave the post at least two days before I return to it for a proofread. This helps give perspective and spot any errors or typos you may have missed through over exposure.
I also do a ‘sense check’, ensuring the content is SEO optimised and is something that would surface during a search. It should also be on brand and easy to read, with a call to action at the end.
I should also probably mention that when I plan each stage of the content calendar I also pre-empt what assets I will need and pass these onto design. This gives them a nice lead time and ensures that once your content is approved it has everything it needs to go live.
During these proofing and editing stages I will sometimes employ help from a source like Upwork, where you can get a 2000-word post proofread for about $10-$15. Often, there aren’t many edits made at this stage but it helps me to feel 100% confident that I’m submitting or publishing content without errors – particularly important for a B2B audience.
Once the post is approved, uploaded to your CMS and sent live that’s it right? Wrong.
Content distribution is the next key stage in any B2B content framework and here’s the thing – it’s almost twice as important as writing the content in the first place.
The internet is stuffed full of drivel and any number of articles that could be surfaced. How do you ensure yours gets seen?
This is where you need to find a way of seeding your content across a number of channels in order to help get in front of your audience. One of the ways I do this is through sites such as Quora. For example, say I had written a post called “Best Practices When Using Twitter Video.” I would take the focus keyword or keywords (in this case, “Twitter Video”) and search them in Quora:
Here, you can see that there are at least three questions out of the top five that my post could help answer. Next, I would write a short response or top tip and link to the full article under each question.
Here’s an example where I wrote an answer to the question “What is the best social media management service you’ve used?” linking to one of my clients:
Without a stellar content distribution strategy it’s going to be much harder for your content to get seen. Choose the right channels, spend time seeding content and watch your Google Analytics figures rocket as a result.
Phase four: Reviewing, analysing and adaptation of strategy
Once you’ve written the content, posted it and distributed it, THEN you might think that’s it. Nope, then you have to review it too.
Reviewing, analysing and adapting content strategy is where many fall down in the process. You can get the best strategist but if they don’t regularly review and adapt your content then really, you’ve just got a good writer.
When you’re writing for an online audience, things change all of the time. Twitter may bring in a new algorithm which means your primary means of distribution drops. Google may release a Panda update which renders your on-page SEO useless.
If you aren’t tracking your content each and every month (or more frequently) how will you know what works?
So phase four is about reviewing the content posted, analysing what the data means and adapting the next month’s strategy as a result.
Here, you’re looking for a few basic things, namely:
- What content did well? Ideally you would have pre-determined metrics for this but you could measure page views, time on page, shareability and so on.
- What content didn’t do so well?
- How have people found your content? What were your primary methods of reader acquisition?
- What subject areas are you beginning to rank on? What ones do you need to cover in more depth?
- Has there been any customer or staff response? (Qualitative feedback).
All of these factors can be reviewed using basic Google Analytics reports which compare page views month-on-month, acquisition channels and keyword analysis.
The sites I use often in phase four are:
- Google Analytics
- Neil Patel’s SEO Site Analyser
- Buffer (for social stats, clicks and shares)
- Bit.Ly (for analysing any short links used across channels such as Instagram)
- UberSuggest (to get more keyword suggestions around topics which proved popular)
I then keep a running Google Spreadsheet which compares metrics month-by-month as well as year-by-year and use the recommendations as the basis for a monthly report to key stakeholders.
This will contribute to a content strategy which grows and develops over time.
In conclusion – creating a content strategy framework that works
If you’ve made it this far – good job! Through four actionable steps you should be able to now make (or at least understand) the framework for creating, using and executing a content strategy in B2B. I could have written all day and much of what you read here is but a top line overview so if you have any feedback or a question you want to expand on please send me a tweet @bethgladstone.
If you’re interested in talking more about a content strategy for your business, please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d love to help.