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How to Create a Digital Content Strategy

If you’ve been working in marketing for long, you’ve probably created all kinds of plans and strategy documents. The complexity and thoroughness of these plans varies widely depending on the maturity of your company and size of your team, but as with any major business initiative, having a good plan is generally better than having no plan.

One of the marketing artifacts I ask my clients about most often at Draft.dev is their digital content strategy. A digital content strategy describes the methods your team will use to reach customers online through content. Content can be written, visual, or mixed media, and it can be distributed through internally (i.e., your blog) or externally (i.e., social media) owned channels.

Why Develop a Digital Content Strategy?

A digital content strategy is important because it helps ensure your content aligns with your company’s broader marketing goals.

A lot of companies waste resources creating content that does not move the business forward. For example, you see a lot of companies use social media merely as a press release channel: companies post announcements, but little truly valuable content for their customers. This comes from either failing to develop a digital content strategy or just being behind on the way customers now expect companies to use content channels today.

Good Strategies Serve Your Business at Any Stage

In the early days of your business, a good digital content strategy will help you gauge whether your assumptions about your target market are correct. Even before you release your product, you can create content that speaks to your target customers’ pain points, desires, and aspirations. By distributing this content, you can hear what people think about your problem space and refine your offering and messaging before launch.

For more mature companies, a digital content strategy might be focused on bringing prospects further down the digital marketing funnel.

For example, you might create content designed to entice people who are aware of your product but not yet buyers to make their first purchase, or you might encourage existing customers to renew or upgrade.

No matter where your business is at, a good digital content strategy should lead to measurable marketing results whether those are quantified by conversations with customers or better qualified prospects for your sales team. Producing high-quality content is expensive and time-consuming, so it’s important to have a good strategy to back it up.

What to Include in Your Digital Content Strategy

You might hear the phrase digital content and assume I’m just talking about blog posts, but a digital content strategy is more than just a publishing calendar. It should include information about the why behind your content and link together the various channels you plan to use.

While the format and depth of your strategy may vary, there are five key questions it should answer:

1. What Are Your Content Goals?

A good digital content strategy should start with your business goals. Some possible goals include:

  • Increase marketing qualified leads
  • Drive more free trials
  • Convert more free trial users to paid users
  • Improve awareness in the community
  • Improve perception among target buyers
  • Increase organic traffic to your site
  • Increase the number of social media followers you have
  • Grow your email list

Having predetermined goals will help you decide which direction your content should go and dictate the primary distribution channels. For example, when we started creating content for Draft.dev’s blog, our initial goal was to increase organic traffic and grow our email list. So, we came up with a digital content strategy centered around relevant keywords and created a lead magnet to entice email signups. We will likely shift this goal over time, and our digital content strategy will shift with it.

Lead magnet

2. What Kind of Content Will You Create?

Next, you have to decide what kind of content will best serve your goals given your target audience. If you know your customers read blog posts, then long-form content is a great investment, but don’t assume that blogging is the right move for every business.

Younger buyers might prefer short video content, busy travelers might like audio content (e.g., podcasts), and older buyers might trust traditional print publications more. You can’t expect every kind of content to work for every demographic; you have to meet your audience where they are.

3. What Channels Will You Use to Distribute Content?

Similarly, different target markets prefer different channels to consume content. I tend to use Linkedin and Twitter for discovery, but read a lot of individual blogs and newsletters, too. On the other hand, my partner finds lots of content on Instagram and listens to many podcasts.

As you build your digital content strategy, think about the channels you will use to host your content (e.g., your blog, website, YouTube) and the channels you will use to distribute your content (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, paid advertisements). While some hosting channels provide distribution by default (when you publish a video on YouTube, it will automatically be distributed to subscribers), others require you to push your content out to get readers.

Promotion is one of the most important and underutilized aspects of content marketing, but I’ve got a checklist here that I use to help get our content in front of more people.

4. Who Will Create This Content?

Coming up with ideas for content is only half of the challenge. Finding people who can create the content is a whole new challenge.

Your digital content strategy should offer some guidance on who will create which pieces of content for you. Some content should almost always be created in-house (like thought leadership and point of view content), but other content can be outsourced to a trusted partner.

In working with dozens of startups at Draft.dev, I’ve found that we do best with technical content that marketing teams struggle to produce in-house or with traditional freelancers. For example, if you’re a startup that sells to software developers, your marketing team isn’t going to have the expertise to write tutorials in ten different programming languages. That’s where working with a specialized content marketing company can be really helpful.

5. How Will You Know It’s Working?

Finally, your digital content strategy should provide a plan for tracking the results of your efforts based on your goals. Google Analytics will get you things like pageviews, but you’ll need other tooling to capture leads, qualify prospects, and measure social media engagement.

With so many marketing data tools out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out which are the best to use. My suggestion is to start simple: use spreadsheets and hire a virtual assistant to help you collect data. As your business grows, talk to others in your industry to learn what they use and adopt tools accordingly.

Executing Your Digital Content Strategy

Now that you understand the basic elements of a successful digital content strategy and why each is important, it’s time to go out and create your own. It’s hard to give generalized advice on the finer details of content marketing because it’s really a case-by-case problem, but there are a few things I often see clients struggle with.

1. Coming Up With Topics

I’ve been collecting ideas for blog posts for a while now because this is the most challenging thing for new content marketers to wrap their heads around. While there are specific strategies for this (e.g., SEO audits, copy competitors), the best advice is to talk to customers. Understand their struggles and create content that is genuinely helpful.

2. Standardizing Processes

Most marketing teams start creating content in-house with just a couple of contributors, so it’s tempting to skip creating a style guide or publishing calendar. That’s fine for a while, but eventually, you’ll need standardized processes to help maintain consistency and drive results.

3. Finding Writers

There are generally three ways to recruit content creators to help execute your digital content strategy:

  • You can hire writers in-house. This is expensive, but you will get the most consistent and committed writers when you go this route.
  • You can hire individual freelancers. The challenge here is the variable quality and reliability of freelancers, but if you find a good one, I highly recommend sticking with them as long as you can.
  • You can work with a content agency. They will find and manage writers for you and have editors on staff to ensure each piece is polished.

If you’re going to pursue content marketing as a growth channel, creating a digital content strategy is a worthwhile investment. Creating content without an underlying strategy is like hopping on a plane without knowing your destination: it’s fun to do sometimes, but not a great way to accomplish anything.

Karl Hughes

By Karl Hughes

Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.