In my previous article on Keyword Research I referred to the shift from link building to link earning, while this approach isn’t new (we were following this strategy in 2000), SEO’s certainly focused on link building up to 2013, but Google’s algorithm updates have done a very good job of reminding and pushing the industry’s focus back to building great websites, with great content.
Build Great Websites and They Will Come
This used to be a myth but now it holds true, there are of course many factors to ranking in the search engines but one of the key factors in 2014 is to build websites that offer my first two recommendations:
“Create original high quality & engaging content”
“Offer a great user experience”
The trick to this is the engagement aspect, high quality is not always engaging, it could be highly researched and very informative but website owners would do well to remember that the web is a medium of short attention spans and easy channel hopping. The next website is just a click away, so my third recommendation is
“Keep content focused on users and solving their problems”
You want to hold your users attention but not for too long or they will get bored and move on to the next website, only publish content that has a purpose for your users - keep the content short unless the subject matter requires greater depth.
Remember that if you own a website you’re now a publisher even though you might not realise it you are. So think like a publisher plan, execute and audit your content - in short you need a content strategy.
A good strategy takes time and energy to implement, we’re in this for the long haul and we want users to come back for more. A solid strategy will make this happen but only if you allocate time, resource and budget to it.
Creating a Content Strategy - the Specifics
Right, we’re all fired up about creating content that our customers will love, we know we’re now in the publishing business... but where do we start?
We’ve outlined a few steps to help you get your content (back) on track:
We’re now in the publishing business so we need to think like one, you need to outline your team, whether your business is large or small, define your team, the roles required will vary from business to business but here is a brief outline of the roles required:
A Content Strategist (your Editor) - Responsible for delivering the strategy that you will outline as a team. In small teams the editor might also need to perform some or all of the other roles.
- Content Creators - (your Journalists) - Those responsible for creating individual pieces of content. For small teams, creators will be involved throughout the process of creating a content strategy. In larger teams they may not be part of the team outlining the strategy.
- Information Architect - For websites its vital to have a clear information architecture, usually recommended to have a separate person doing the IA and the content strategist roles - even for small teams. The IA may not be involved in the project long term.
- SEO Specialist - Advises on the content required for search engine optimisation and on how to get the content out to the target audience
- Social Media Specialist - It’s likely that some content will be created exclusively for social media, and if it isn’t a core part of your strategy will be using social media to connect with your target audience.
- Email Marketing Specialist - Advises on what content is required for email and how email will be used to publicise content.
- CMS / Platform Specialist - Advises on any CMS / Platform requirements, may not be involved in every meeting but available to answer any questions.
In most cases you will not be starting from scratch, either you will have an existing website or existing content. In both cases an audit will help you understand what you have, where it lives, and who created it. For a basic audit we’d create a spreadsheet with the following columns:
- Navigation Label
- Page Title
- Meta Description
- Meta Keywords
- Page Type / Layout
This can be done in two ways; first manually, by following links in a website, starting with the main navigation and working your way down to deeper content. Keep going until you have followed every link on a website.
Secondly, you can use a website crawler like Screaming Frog, which will automatically crawl every page on a given website. The advantage of this approach is that every page will be included - usually there are few deep pages that are hard to get to and might be missed using the manual method.
With the automated approach you will than need to review the spreadsheet and complete the Page Type / Layout and Author columns, I also like to add indents to the Navigation Label column to show hierarchy and blank lines between the main sections to make the spreadsheet easier to read.
For ecommerce websites we tend to cover the main navigation first and then list all the products and blog posts, my me this makes the spreadsheet easier to read and digest.
Depending on time and resource you may want to go deeper into the content and analyse how useful the content is, add to your spreadsheet the following columns:
- Accuracy - Is the content accurate / useful / represent your organisation well?
- Well Written - Is the content well written?
- Action - What needs to be done, does the content need to be removed, re-written, or is it OK as it is?
- Interaction - Are users interacting with this content, you could pull in a few columns from Google Analytics for this (over a given timeframe - eg the last year):
- Time on Page
- Page Value
- Social Referral - how many social referrals does the URL have
These metrics can be pulled in by exporting two reports from Google Analytics and doing a VLOOKUP on the URL in excel:
- Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages
- Acquisition > Social > Landing Pages
The deeper content audit might also cover content that lives outside of your website, specifically on social media, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest are common but this could also cover industry specific websites, directories etc...
The planning covers two parts, first analyse the content audit and see what you have, what needs to change and where your gaps are.
At this stage it’s very important to understand who your target market is, this is usually done by developing User Personas to represent your audience, I’m not going to go into this now, but if you want to find out more check out Web Design Personas by Dave Chaffey.
First we outline the content required for launch, content for homepage, category pages, landing pages, products, blog posts, about us etc. We would usually do this using a copy of the content audit spreadsheet, we review this make the changes and use it to manage the creation of the core content.
It’s vital that you view content as an ongoing task, it never ends, so the next part is to outline our plan for creating content so at this point we would create a content plan spreadsheet, this is usually a Google Doc that can be accessed by everyone involved, its purpose is to outline what content needs to be created and when.
At this point, use your keyword research, user personas and other material to outline what content you’re going to create, typically for us this means Landing Pages, Blog Posts, Product Pages, Email Marketing and Social Media.
It also allows all parties to see what’s going on across the company, for example the content plan might include worksheets on:
- New products
- Events (both internal and external)
- Marketing Activities
- Trade Shows
- Anything that is relevant to your business
It will also include details of where content is to be created (new landing pages, blog posts, facebook pages etc) and how it will be promoted (Email, Twitter, Facebook etc).
The plan is a living thing and will take time and effort to keep up-to-date and on track - the content strategist’s main role is to make sure this happens.
If you’ve followed the previous 3 steps this step is just about getting your head down and doing the work!
For me there are few things that I’ve learnt:
- Be realistic about what you can get done - this means understanding how long it takes you to write. It always takes me longer than I expect to write, I’m slow at writing- are you?
- Don’t try to do more than one thing at a time, you’re human - you can’t multi-task - deal with it.
- Block off time to focus on writing, I try to block off between 10am and 2pm every day and focus on one thing during this time. I don’t have my email open, try not to take calls or arrange meetings. Its hard to stick to but worth it.
I’ve digressed into how to get things done, apologies for that, but if you want to read a little more on the subject I suggest a book called The One Thing by Gary Keller.
A Final Note
Would be great to know how other people implement their content strategies, if you have the time or the inclination please leave a comment below... and if you go tthis far - thanks for reading!
Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson