You've heard it before: content is king. And there is some truth to that statement. Unique, high-quality content is virtually a prerequisite to successful marketing. But quality content can be ineffective without a digital content strategy. In reality, content is very important, but content strategy is king.
Kristina Halvorson has called content strategy the "creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content." I would add one more element, and define the concept as "the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content which will advance business requirements." Let's break down this definition into its individual parts.
Advancing Business Requirements
Before launching a digital content strategy, consider your business requirements. The best content in the world means nothing if it doesn't tend to induce your visitors to take certain action. Ask yourself what you want your visitor to do. If you're selling a product, your ultimate goal is to induce your visitor to purchase that product. If you're selling ad space, your ultimate goal is to increase traffic.
Think about how radically different these two goals are, and how they both affect content strategy. One hopes that the visitor will pull out his credit card, the other hopes that the visitor will bookmark or share the page.
Developing a content strategy which seeks to induce a sale must offer credible information about the relevant industry or product. It must walk a fine line between overt sales talk (which generally does not read as credible) and failing to adequately inform the reader about the product or service being sold. And while all content must consider search engine optimization (SEO) principles, content which seeks to induce a sale must favor SEO. There's no room for error; if the customer finds another site first with an acceptable product, there will be no reason to look for your product.
A digital content strategy which seeks increased traffic is in many ways more difficult. It must offer a recognizable theme, and one which appeals to a wide variety of potential visitors. It must offer some sort of non-pecuniary benefit to the visitor, such as new information or humor. Most importantly, it must be updated consistently, at intervals no less than once per week (and probably much more often).
Digital Content Creation
For many, content creation will be the most daunting aspect of an effective digital content strategy. But even if content isn't king, remember that it's still very important. At the very least, your strategy should include a recognizable theme. Some examples are humor, shock value, or a running thesis, but the possibilities are virtually endless. Remember that for sites which seek increased traffic, the theme is even more important. Visitors must like what they see, but they must also come to expect that they will like what they see in the future.
Ahava Leibtag offers a checklist for creating quality content. His checklist can and should be tailored to your needs, but the concept is invaluable. Although it requires significant foresight and up-front work, abiding by a good checklist in creating content will ensure that each piece of content fits within your content strategy. If you're having trouble getting started, check out Adam Falls' six questions to get you pointed in the right direction.
Web users expect user-friendly and visually appealing content. Attention spans are now shorter than the time it takes to read the first sentence of your content. A content strategy that does not include a plan for optimizing the presentation of the content is bound to lose visitors and readers who are unwilling to sift through ads, confusion, and broken links or visuals. If no one on your team has any familiarity with web publication, it may be worthwhile to outsource this aspect of your digital content strategy.
This may be the most overlooked aspect of digital content strategy. The job is not complete once content is published. It must be continually monitored. Two issues are particularly important. First, if comments to the content are allowed, you must respond to those comments when appropriate. This increases credibility and repeat traffic. Second, the content must be promoted, probably using an effective social media strategy.
In a classic give and take relationship, quality content is what you have to give. But content strategy is what allows you to take. It pushes your visitor to certain action, such as making a purchase, bookmarking your site, or sharing your site with friends. Make your content valuable, but don't give it away for free.
If you want to learn more about content marketing best practices, check out our white paper, "What is Digital Content Strategy? And Why You Need One!"