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How Does The Content Strategy Process Work?

Ahh, the euphoric feeling of waking up to strategic documents and planning sheets first thing in the morning, am I right?

Said no one ever.

It takes all our energy to suppress the eyerolls and groans when we even hear the term “strategy” in business.

So, when someone mentions content strategy in a meeting, you might really be ready to hit the roof.

Now you need a strategy for your content? Honestly, who cares? Just get the freaking work done and get it posted!

I wish it were that easy, my friends. But it’s not. 

Why content strategy matters

As I explained in detail in my other post, every organization needs a content strategy to effectively engage their audience and drive them to act.

There’s no getting around it.

That’s because content strategy doesn’t just inform the content your clients see.

Content strategy also guides your internal processes: it clarifies your mission and vision, and aligns your organization’s goals throughout all departments.

Kristina Halvorson, one of the world’s content strategy gurus, describes content strategy as the “creation, publication and governance of useful, usable content” specific to your organization’s goals, vision and objectives.

Sounds straightforward enough, right?

But here’s the problem: Many organizations’ goals, vision and objectives aren’t clearly defined at all, despite what they may believe.

When I work with clients in the very initial stages of the content strategy process, it’s often revealed that stakeholders don’t know exactly what they’re trying to achieve, or why.

Knowing the answer to these questions matters. If you don’t have a clear framework to inform your content, you’re really in a bind.

Think about it. if you don’t know what you’re doing and why, your audience certainly isn’t going to know. And they’ll have no reason to engage with you.

But don’t fear! The content strategy process isn’t as scary as you think, I promise.

How long does the content strategy process take? 

There’s one thing you should know, straight-up.

Creating a content strategy doesn’t happen overnight.

It doesn’t even happen over the course of a few weeks.

From start to finish, the content strategy process typically takes several months, depending on the size of your organization and your goals.

Even if you only have a handful of employees, the content strategy process takes plenty of time, input and thought on their behalf. They must be active participants through all the steps of the process (which I’ll get to in a second). 

I know. I can hear you letting out a big sigh right now.

Because everyone in your organization — especially if you’re a non-profit or social enterprise — has endless time on their hands to take on yet another project.

But I’ll bet you anything that the projects you already have lined up are directly related to your brand’s messaging, rallying support for your cause and communicating effectively with your audience to make them take action.

So it makes sense that before you do any of that, your very first project should be developing a kick-ass content strategy that will make sure all your other projects succeed.

What the content strategy process looks like 

There are 5 main phases in a content strategy. Each step builds on the one before it to develop the clear, meaningful story that your organization will tell across all of its channels.  

Here’s a detailed look into what all the phases of the content strategy process look like, and most importantly, the value you get from each one. 

1) Establishing your goals, vision, mission and objectives 

What it is: The content strategy process begins here, with the discovery phase.

By conducting in-depth interviews with all of your stakeholders, we work to clearly define your organization’s purpose. This answers the question of “what are we doing, again?” by establishing your:

  • Short-term goals – Focus on the highest priority, top-level measurable (aka, SMART) goals that you want to achieve in the next 1-3 years. Some people say 3-5 years, but I disagree, given the current speed at which business and technology are advancing
  • Vision – Where you want to be in the long-run. An aspirational statement about the substantial, long-term change that you hope to see as a result of your existence
  • Mission – What your purpose is, and what you exist to do. It captures the overarching actions you’re taking to eventually reach your vision
  • Objectives – Key, short-term outcomes you expect to see from your goals
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – Measurable values that demonstrate how effectively you’re achieving your objectives 

What you get: A clear, documented roadmap of your organization’s “why,” which will inform every intentional action you take. No more confusion about what you should be doing, or prioritizing.

2) User Personas / Target Audience Research

What it is: Now that you have your roadmap with a clear picture of what you’re doing and why, you need to know who you’re doing it for. 

Enter user personas.

Creating user personas gives you a comprehensive understanding of your audience’s needs and desires, and how your content can serve them. 

User personas are carefully-crafted, “stalker level” (without the creepiness or threat of murder, of course) profiles of who your target audience members are. 

User personas discover:

  • The times of day they’re online and the types of content they want to consume at those specific times
  • The platforms they’re using to browse (tablet, laptop, phone, etc.) at specific times of day
  • The types of media they prefer (video, text, image, etc.), and how that changes throughout the course of the day
  • What emotional triggers (pain points) will drive them to act on/share your content, and how to access those triggers in a nuanced way
  • What subject matter and tone they want to consume at different points in the day

What you get: A total understanding of your current and prospective users and all of the ways to effectively engage them and drive them to act. Knowing this also establishes your brand’s style and voice that you’ll use to create every piece of content going forward. 

3) Competitive Analysis / Keyword Research

What it is: A competitive analysis ensures that although you may be offering similar products/services as your competitors, you’re not offering it in the same exact way. 

We learned back in second grade that being a copy-cat isn’t cool — and your online presence is no exception.

By researching your competitors’ messaging, branding and content, you’ll learn:

  • What your point of differentiation should be (your a unique “take” on what you do to make your audience sit up and take notice)
  • Your competition’s strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities they present for you
  • The keywords they’re ranking for
  • The keywords you’re ranking for
  • Which keywords you should try to rank for (based on your findings in steps 1 and 2), and why
  • How SEO works, why it still matters and how it fits into the way you’ll create content

What you get: Concrete information about what your competition is doing well, not so well, and not at all. This gives you tons of opportunities to create awesome, effective content that speaks directly to your audience. And choosing targeted keywords will help drive more organic traffic to your site. 

4 ) Content Audit

What it is: Now that we know what you’re doing, for whom and how you should be doing it, we need to take an inventory of your existing content to see how well it fits.

Content audits begin by taking an inventory of all content available for indexation by search engines. In other words, all the content that people see online: each one of your website’s URLs, pages, documents, PDFs, etc. 

This content is then analyzed against the metrics we’ve established in steps 1-3 to determine its usefulness. Each piece of content is assigned one of three “Action” determinations — “keep,” “revise” or “delete.”

This allows us to decide important information about your existing content, such as: 

  • Does it speak to your target audience?
  • Does it represent your organization’s vision and goals?
  • Is it well-written?
  • Is it SEO-optimized for what you’re trying to accomplish?
  • What content is missing that should be there (Gap Analysis)?

What you get: A detailed, organized and comprehensive list of all your current website’s content with corresponding recommendations for what to do with it. You’ll also learn what critical content is missing. You can move forward with your content, confident that all of it will share the same cohesive brand messaging and intention.

5) Recommendations, Analytics and Maintenance

What it is: Hang in there, we’re almost done (whew!!!). This is the final stage of the content strategy process. It tells you how to put ALL of the above steps into practice, how to see what’s working and how to tweak what’s not.

This includes things like: 

  • Who in your organization will “own” the content creation process (or be responsible for outsourcing it)
  • Who will “own” the internal governance of content
  • Creating an editorial calendar, which recommends how often to post content, where and when to post it and in what formats
  • Measuring your progress with KPIs
  • Regular content performance measurement with Google Analytics
  • Implementing tactics for improving content that may not be getting as much attention as you’d like
  • How to test your content for maximum success (A/B testing of headlines, creating landing pages, etc.)
  • How to maintain success with your content when your organizational goals shift

You have taken a giant leap forward by doing the content strategy process. You rock!

But remember that your website and its content is a living, breathing entity. You can’t just “set it and forget it.”

That’s why this fifth and final stage of the content strategy process is possibly the most difficult. It requires patience, regular monitoring and a willingness to be open to change in order to find exactly what works best for your organization.

What you get: A digital, “living” Content Strategy Master Handbook that clearly documents all of the findings in each of your five content strategy phases. It’s your organization’s heart and soul; its hopes and dreams. It is your documented path to successful messaging, branding and building clients’ trust and loyalty.

Don’t forget: Your content is one of your organization’s most valuable assets. Content strategy teaches you how to manage your content as the worthy, strategic asset it is across the entirety of your organization.

Ready to begin building your own content strategy? Fantastic! You can so do this. Schedule a free consultation with me today and I’ll get started on a creating a content strategy that’s perfectly tailored to your organization.