How effective is your content marketing strategy? If you’re among the majority of brands, your content marketing efforts aren’t as effective as you’d like. Despite feeling at least somewhat ineffective, most companies are planning to create more content year over year. According to CMI, the top priority for 72% of marketers is to produce more engaging content.
If producing more engaging content is your priority, do you have a plan to improve content engagement in the future? If you don’t, or even if you do, we’ve identified five questions to ask and resolve before you start writing to ensure you’re producing content your audiences will love.

What determines the style, tone, and voice for your content?

If your brand doesn’t have a style guide that includes tone and voice, you may have an audience that’s confused and content that only engages some of the time. Not having a guide for style, tone, and voice is particularly problematic for brands that have teams of content creators that span a variety of mediums and distribution methods. If you’ve attracted someone to your brand on Twitter, that person shouldn’t get to your website and wonder where the brand they engaged with has gone.
Although there are some differences in the way you deliver content on various channels and on your website, there shouldn’t be any confusion about the personality of your brand. Determining a consistent voice and tone over all your communications will help to synthesize your messaging and strengthen your brand by creating messaging that resonates with audiences wherever they find you.
Having a documented style guide makes transitions and changes in staff or the additional of a freelance writer or outside agency easier and less time consuming. You may also find that giving content creators a style guide reduces the need for multiple editing and revisions.
Here are some things to include in your style guide:

  • Voice – what is your brand’s personality?
    • Playful and fun
    • Humorous and entertaining
    • Serious and authoritative
    • Helpful and instructive
    • Inspiring and creative
    • Straight forward

Determine your voice based on your audience preferences and how your brand fits into the industry ecosystem. Your voice may be a combination of things that go well together. For example, you may want to be helpful and instructive while maintaining a sense of humor where appropriate. Determine your voice based on audience research to make sure your tone resonates with your target audience.

  • Tone – what is your brand’s attitude toward the subject matter or audience? The types of words you use, your point of view, and the level of formality in your writing determine tone. Some things to include in your tone guide include:
    • Formal or informal syntax
    • Relationship to your audience
      • Example: “We’re in this together” or “We understand your problem”
    • Casual or formal tone

Choosing a tone can be critical to your acceptance by your audience. For instance, if you’re in the financial markets, you may not want to take an ominous tone when discussing retirement options.

  • Style – your brand’s preferences for how to abbreviate, capitalize, use contractions, vocabulary preferences, etc. If you haven’t determined any preferences of your own, you can always refer to the AP Style guide as a place to start.

Instead of creating your style guide in a vacuum, collect data on your target audiences and let their preferences help you determine yours. Use search data to find out whom your audiences are, where they’re looking for information, what words they’re using when they do look, and who else they’re finding to help solve their problems.

How do you determine future content topics?

If inspiration for content creation is coming from every person in the organization who gives you input on what content they think you should be creating, you might want to step back and think about why you’re creating content and who you’re creating it for.
Although sales and support teams are good sources to discover the questions customers and prospects are asking, you should also be looking outside your organization to find your audiences and identify their needs.
A good place to start is with your own content and keywords. Identify the keywords you’re already tracking that are growing in popularity and match the ones that are improving in rank to existing content. You may find that the content that’s driving traffic to your site is older, outdated content that you want to refresh. You may also find that there is room to create new content to expand your content offerings for those topics and keywords.
If you’re getting a lot of interest from a particular topic and you only have a blog post written about it, try creating other types of content such as videos or slide shares. You may even decide that the topic is worth spending a little extra time to create a larger eBook or white paper.
Besides the keywords you’re already tracking, there may be associated keywords your audiences are using, but that you don’t have any content created for, yet. Keyword discovery is a gold mine of next content ideas. Be sure to address the discovered topics using the language your audiences is already using and match your titles and meta tags to the exact keywords and phrases you’ve discovered.
Who already has your audiences’ attention? What content is ranking in the SERPs for keywords and topics you care about? You should know exactly who is stealing your audience and exactly what content is taking their attention away from you. Get competitive by discovering all the content that is gaining audience attention and win back your audiences by creating unique content around the same topics.
Your social media channels are a treasure trove of content ideas. Use your keyword discovery tools to find new topics and search for questions about them on Quora, Twitter, and other social channels. Setting Google alerts for your highest priority keywords will keep you in the loop over time.
The best new content ideas are generated by listening first. Listen to your audiences, and their search queries, their conversations on social media. Listen to your competitors and the things they’re saying that are engaging your audiences. Finally, listen to discussions and keep track of topics that are popular at conferences. In short, listen more than you speak and then when you speak, tell your audiences what they want to hear.

What steps do you take to optimize your content?

We often think of content optimization as something that happens once content is published. With some good pre-planning and a system for creating content, optimizing content at every stage of its creation can save a lot of time and resources.
Before you start writing, make sure the content you’re creating will resonate with your audiences. Discover the topics and keywords your audiences are using to determine what content to create. Then, use those exact keywords in the H1, H2, and H3 titles.
If you’ve decided on a blog post, the first 100 words of the post may determine its ultimate success or failure. Take the time to hook your reader with an interesting or unusual introduction. Ask a question using the audience’s own search queries or make a statement that addresses the topic in a new or interesting way. While you’re writing your content, be mindful of the topic and keywords. Deliver on the promise of your headlines and make sure your content matches your titles and your audience’s intent.
Each piece of content should be part of the customer journey and create a natural flow for your audience. Use it to keep your audiences engaged by including links to other, related content on your site. Don’t wait until the end to include CTAs. Put them on every page of an Ebook or slide share and in prominent places in blogs or videos. Optimize written content for mobile users by including interesting visuals.
Are you leaving SEO optimizations for sometime after your content is published? Although it’s sometimes necessary to skip these last steps to get your content published on schedule, if you have a few minutes before pushing “publish” take the time to optimize for SEO by adding in meta tags and meta descriptions. If you just don’t have the bandwidth, get back to your content as soon as possible to optimize it for audiences and search engines.
After you publish, get SEO recommendations for keywords and content, page structure, and crawlability to make sure your content is optimized for your audiences and for findability on the web.
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How will you promote your content?

Sharing your content and having others share it will increase content effectiveness and brand authority. Before you publish your post, have a plan for sharing and promoting.
Start with a subscription strategy on your website and make your content easy for subscribers to share with their own networks. Once you’ve established a base of subscribers, continue to provide them with the same quality of content that persuaded them to subscribe in the first place.
Create snippets to use in various social channels. Be sure to tailor your social shares to the style and tone of other posts on the channel. Decide on sharing frequency for each channel and once your content has been published, begin your sharing campaign. Your sharing campaign should include a plan to repromote older content and keep engagement high for a variety of content, not just your newest release.
Email is still one of the most popular channels for marketers. There are a couple of ways to use your email base to promote content. One of the most popular and common is to send groups of content to email subscribers on a regular basis in a newsletter format. Whether you decide to send a weekly, bi weekly, or monthly newsletter make sure you deliver on your promise and distribute your content on time every time. Besides a newsletter format, content can be used as links in emails addressing popular topics and delivered separately from newsletters.
Get your employees involved in your content promotion and send them suggested snippets and links to the content you think they might want to share with their audiences. Your sales force is one group of employees who may have particular interest in sharing interesting content with their contacts on social sites like LinkedIn.
If you’ve created a blog post that’s gained a lot of popularity, you may consider developing other types of content around the same topic – such as videos, slide decks, and podcasts. Once created, promote your various mediums on the channels where those types of content reside – such as YouTube, SlideShare, iTunes, SoundCloud, and others.

How will you measure the success of your content?

Typically, content is scored and its effectiveness is determined by a number of metrics associated with the content as a discrete event, including:

  • Traffic
  • Time on page
  • Page views
  • Bounce rate
  • Social signals
    • Shares
    • Mentions
    • Likes
  • Conversions (from CTAs of individual assets)

In actuality, every content asset is part of a larger content ecosystem. Although it’s helpful to know which pieces of content are engaging audiences and which keywords are resonating, it’s often difficult to track each piece of content separately.
Instead, try creating content and keyword groups based on campaigns, types of content, audience personas, or any other group that makes sense for your brand. Then, track content and keywords by group to determine what’s working and what’s not.
In addition to tracking content by topic, create groups for types of content to determine the mediums your audiences prefer for content consumption. For instance, if you have a large mobile following, you may find that videos and infographics are the preferred medium among those audiences.
To get the whole picture, you’ll want to track your findability score versus your competitors. When you see a rise or fall in content ranking, take a deeper dive into the data to discover why some content is not performing as planned or why it’s suddenly gaining traction. Content insights that include what else is ranking on the search engine results page above organic content will help you to make strategic decisions about how to leverage content to meet KPIs.
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Before you start creating content, decide you’ll measure it and how it will contribute to your marketing goals as well as overall corporate goals. Set KPIs based on corporate goals and keep an eye on the medium, method, and message to decide what’s working and what’s not.
If you’re ready to move your content marketing to the next level, we can help you answer some of your most strategic questions. Give us a shout and we’ll show you how to create and measure more engaging content.