Developing a blog content strategy: A step-by-step guide

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Blogs are so central to digital marketing that it’s kind of hard to imagine a world without them. They drive potential customers to your website, build brand awareness, demonstrate industry authority and act as launch pads for further engagement.

But if you approach blogging without a well-thought-out content plan, you might as well be shouting into the ether. Let’s take a look at what it takes to create a successful blog content strategy.

  1. Document everything about your content strategy
  2. Give your blog a clear objective
  3. Decide what content will live on your blog
  4. Define your blog audience
  5. Research the market and competition
  6. Conduct keyword research
  7. Establish your blog’s voice
  8. Build out your content calendar
  9. Start writing blog content
  10. Promote your blog
  11. Measure your blog’s performance

Step 1: Document everything about your content strategy

“Wait a minute,” you may be asking, “how can I document a content strategy that doesn’t exist yet?” Fair question. OK, so this isn’t exactly the first step in the process. But from the outset, you need to be sure that you’re creating a complete record of your strategy to follow and refer back to.

Even if you regularly hold stakeholder discussions with content creators, strategists, marketers, analysts and other team members, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t document your content strategy. According to the Content Marketing Institute, roughly one-third (32%) of B2B marketers who rely on a content strategy that’s only been shared verbally believe their content marketing efforts are effective. On the other hand, 60% who have a documented content strategy can say the same.

So, what should you document? Everything. Seriously, write down as much as you can so everyone is on the same page and has a detailed history of what steps your marketing team’s taken.

Here are a few major items to keep track of:

  • Content marketing goals.
  • Past, current and planned campaigns.
  • Editorial calendar.
  • Metrics for campaigns, promotions and individual blog posts.
  • A/B testing results.

Documenting your blog content strategy should become second nature, like muscle memory. Want to see which types of headlines and topics resonate with your target audience or drive the most traffic to your website? Or investigate why some campaigns flourished while others landed flat? You have the records and data to figure that out.

Content marketing is a constantly shifting undertaking, and combining historical results with current data will help you stay ahead of trends and maintain success down the road.

Step 2: Give your blog a clear objective

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of creating a blog content strategy, you need to nail down precisely what you hope to achieve with your website’s blog. This type of content can serve a variety of purposes and goals, from boosting brand awareness to nurturing leads. Having a clear sense of your marketing objectives before you start building out a blog content strategy will help you make the best decisions for both overarching campaigns and individual blog posts.

Consider these possible uses for blog content:

  • Driving more traffic to your site.
  • Converting site visitors to qualified leads.
  • Updating existing customers about company news and product releases.
  • Teaching prospective customers about your product offerings and services.
  • Telling your brand story.

A blog can do one or all of those things, and it’s important to have a plan of action from the outset.

Your content objectives will also inform what metrics you should be tracking and prioritizing. If you simply want to get more eyeballs on your site, then measuring organic traffic and page views will tell you if you’re hitting the mark. Of course, you have to dig deeper to get a more nuanced understanding of the way site visitors are responding to your content. For instance, comparing raw page views with bounce rates and click-through rates (CTRs) will show you how many people leave your site immediately after viewing your blog and how many stick around to check out other pages on your site.

Step 3: Decide what content will live on your blog

Obviously, you’re going to populate your blog page with blog posts, but what about other types of content? Many brands use their blog pages as catch-all content repositories, mixing news articles with case studies, customer testimonials, press releases and other posts. This approach isn’t always advisable since visitors need to take extra steps to find the content they are interested in (for instance, filtering out company updates and promotional content). You want to make it as easy as possible for audience members to find the content they want.

A more structured approach that devotes dedicated pages to blogs, case studies and downloadable assets, among other types of content, will also make it easier for your marketing team to track their performance. You can better understand the user journey and what steps people take on their way to generating a conversion — say, downloading a white paper or signing up for an email newsletter — or even completing a sale.

Step 4: Define your blog audience

Writing blogs without a clearly defined audience is like going for a drive without a destination. You may get where you need to go, but it will be purely by accident, and you’ll waste a lot of time, energy and money in the meantime.

Every blog you post should target a specific subset of your audience, covering the subjects that matter most to those individuals and sharing meaningful insights and guidance that will leave the biggest impact. Hopefully, you already have a list of detailed buyer personas, influencers and other key audience segments. If not, then put your blog writing on hold until you have those audience profiles fleshed out.

We’ve got a few detailed persona guides to help you define your different audience profiles, but here’s a quick primer to get you started:

  1. Gather data about your audience using Google Analytics, your customer relationship management (CRM) platform and other data sources.
  2. Figure out your audience’s major needs, challenges and pain points.
  3. Identify what different customer segments prefer to read about, so you can tailor your messaging and content to fit their preferences.
  4. Compile audience profiles according to different demographics, psychographics (e.g., likes, dislikes and core values), pain points, preferred channels and ideal content types.

With this info in hand, you can tailor every blog to a particular audience segment and give that content a specific purpose.

Take this article, for example. Would a content creator or CEO need to know about creating a blog content strategy? Probably not. But for all the digital marketers out there, this guide should be extremely helpful (fingers crossed). This one’s for you.

Step 5: Research the market and competition

With your audience personas defined, you can start sorting through the type of content they’ll find most valuable. It never hurts to look at your competitors to see what’s working for them and what you can replicate on your own site.

Just as importantly, where are there gaps in the competition’s blog content strategy? There could be key topics or content pieces your business rivals have neglected, giving you a perfect opportunity to gain an edge in the ongoing digital marketing battle.

Want to stand out from the pack? Then tackle the subjects competitors haven’t touched yet or put your own brand’s spin on well-trodden topics.

Not sure where to start? There are plenty of content marketing platforms out there to help you conduct market and competitor research, identify potential keywords and brainstorm specific topics. SEMRush, for example, offers a number of competitor analysis tools to help you figure out what pages are drawing in the most traffic to your rivals’ sites, what keywords they’re ranking for and where you can fill in the gaps.

Via SEMrush

Even if you’re not 100% sure who all of your main competitors are beyond the top few, conducting market research with the help of these types of tools should clear things up for you.

Step 6: Conduct keyword research

Now that you have your audience personas, competitor analysis and market research, you can really dig into the search engine optimization (SEO) component of your content marketing strategy. Using those same content marketing tools, begin sketching out keywords you want to target in your blog content strategy. Whether or not generating organic traffic is a primary goal for your site’s blog, you still need your pages to rank high on search engine results pages (SERPs) so people can actually find your content.

Just landing on the first page of search results is no guarantee that people will make their way to your site these days. As of 2019, the top 3 search results account for 75% of all clicks on Google SERPs. With the 3 highest-ranking spots taking up so much attention — and leaving the bottom 7 to duke it out over the 25% of users who are left — it’s simply not good enough anymore to just reach the first page.

A closer look at Page 1 SERP trends highlights a clear case of the haves vs. the have nots. A July 2020 study found that 28.5% of Google searches end with the user clicking on the very first link they see. Click-through rates drop off from there, with the No. 2 spot accounting for 15.7% of clicks and the No. 10 spot bringing in just 2.5%.

Building out a list of targeted keywords gives you plenty of inspiration for blog content, especially if you ever experience writer’s block or feel like the creative well has run dry. SEMRush, Moz, Ahrefs and other content marketing tools can also point you toward relevant search queries related to your primary keywords so you can expand the scope of your blog content strategy or hit multiple high-priority phrases in the same blog post.

Be realistic about your keyword prospects

In a perfect world, every search query would be up for grabs, with quality content separating the top performers from other results. The reality is there are keywords brands will never rank for, including phrases that closely align with their services and offerings. The competition is just too fierce to break through with keywords dominated by market leaders.

When conducting keyword research, always keep the level of competition in mind so you can devote your time and resources to queries for which you have a real shot at reaching the top few SERP positions. Effective keyword analysis requires a constant balance between search phrases that are relevant to your business, meaningful to your audience and attainable as ranking targets.

Increasingly, content marketers need to account for on-SERP SEO when building out their keyword lists and devising blog strategies to target those search queries. With above-the-fold results like featured snippets, image carousels and answer boxes gobbling up impressions, brands have to contend with even more competition for search engine users’ attention.

Your content marketing team should look beyond the raw data provided by SEO and keyword analysis tools and review SERPs for each keyword you have in your sights. Assess the layout of those SERPs, using heat maps if possible, to set realistic expectations. Do the featured snippets, answer boxes, knowledge graphs or other above-the-fold results provide the information users want? Are they likely to even look beyond that content at the top few organic search results?

Take these extra steps up front to avoid wasting time writing blogs and chasing keywords that will never deliver the results you want.

Step 7: Establish your blog’s voice

Every blog needs a strong point of view, especially when commenting on industry trends and developments. It’s just as important to create a distinct voice for your blog so every post reflects your brand and messaging.

Your blog’s voice is an extension of your brand, so take the time to define what exactly that entails. It’s important that you tailor your style and tone to your target audience’s expectations and preferences. A light and irreverent tone might resonate with some consumer audiences but it could come across as glib if you’re speaking to the financial services crowd about year-end audits or SEC regulations.

Here are a few different approaches to brand voice:

  • Empowering and uplifting.
  • Friendly and informative.
  • Professional and ambitious.
  • Goofy and even downright weird.

Regardless of which path you choose, you don’t want your blog to be too stuffy or dense. Blogs need to be readable, after all. If you bog people down in a lot of jargon and endless walls of text, they’re going to tune you out.

Step 8: Build out your content calendar

You’ve got your target audience fleshed out, keywords prioritized and brand voice fully defined — now you’re ready to start mapping out your content calendar. An editorial calendar is one of the best tools available to digital B2B marketers, providing a complete visualization of every blog, white paper, infographic, social media post, marketing email and video you have in the works.

Content calendars are essential for coordinating marketing efforts across different teams and stakeholders. For instance, you need to schedule blog posts far enough out that content creators can research, write and edit articles with enough lead time to hit your email marketing timelines. The same goes for blogs supporting other content types, including gated assets like white papers and eBooks. You’ll want associated blog content to direct visitors to more in-depth pieces. With a content calendar, you have a single view of every campaign and content piece in the pipeline.

Use your keyword list, buyer personas and competitor analysis to start laying out content ideas and potential blog topics. Take a look at similar pieces that have performed well to get a sense of the type of headline that will grab people’s attention as well as what subheadings and related subjects to hit upon. And always keep those blogging strategy goals in mind when laying the groundwork for your upcoming content. If your top priority is increasing organic traffic, for instance, then be sure you have some flashy headlines in the hopper.

Don’t just plan out the next couple of weeks. Try to build out your editorial calendar with blog post ideas at least 3 months in advance. That way, you can give writers ample time to produce great content and coordinate your content planning with other creative teams. At the same time, be sure to leave in some flexibility so you can tackle trending topics, comment on industry news and shift things around as needed.

Step 9: Start writing blog content

It’s been a long journey up to this point, but you’re finally ready to start putting pen to paper and writing blog posts. Every step you’ve taken will help inform the creative process, determining what subjects to cover and how to write about them. Content creation is just a matter of putting those ideas together in a way that will land with your readers.

Your writing team should have enough research materials and subject matter expertise to create valuable content that resonates with your core audience, but there are still a few practical matters to keep in mind as you begin content production in earnest:

  • Formatting and layout: Format your blog to help readers move through the page and absorb content as easily as possible. Avoid giant blocks of text while using subheadings, bulleted or numbered lists, custom graphics, images and other media to break up longer content. Put yourself in your target audience’s shows. Would you keep reading?
  • Length: What exactly is the ideal length of a blog post? It depends. Depending on the depth of the topic, blog posts may run longer or shorter. A good rule of thumb is to give your content creators enough space to fully explore and flesh out the subject at hand without padding things out with extraneous information.
  • Call to action: Blogs are not the end destination for site visitors — if anything, they’re the starting point for the buyer journey. A call to action (CTA) gives readers next steps to keep engaging your brand, exploring content and learning more about what you stand for and how you can help.

Step 10: Promote your blog

Once your blog is live on your site, you can either sit back and hope people find it or you can get to work spreading the word on other digital channels. Good content promotions can make all the difference between a successful blog and one that never truly finds a loyal audience.

A successful content strategy takes advantage of the strengths of various channels to drive visitors to your website and get your message out to as many prospective customers as possible.

Focus your content promotion efforts on these areas:

  • Social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
  • Email marketing campaigns, including newsletters and lead-nurturing emails.
  • Link-building strategies with external media outlets and relevant articles already published on your website.

Organic traffic continues to be the most reliable way to drive traffic to blog pages, but be sure to cover all of your bases to get as many eyeballs as possible on your content.

Step 11: Measure your blog’s performance

A content marketer’s job is never finished, and complacency is your worst enemy when it comes to managing a successful blog page. After you have posted a new blog to your site, you need to continually monitor its performance to ensure it’s delivering real results and business value. Make it a point to schedule regular content audits so you can gauge the performance of each article as well as your overarching blogging strategy and content marketing plan.

Run a content audit at least once a year, but ideally more often than that to ensure you’re not losing ground to the competition when it comes to search engine rankings. Check that different pieces fulfilled their intended purpose and hit the benchmarks you set out for your most important metrics. Try to align your blogging strategy with commercial goals whenever it makes sense. How many readers visited other pages, entered the sales funnel and ultimately converted into qualified leads?

Analyzing blog performance will also help you refresh high-performing articles so they continue to deliver huge results. Re-optimizing old content is one of the easiest ways to jumpstart your SEO and content marketing strategy. A thorough content audit will show you where individual blog posts are coming up short and how you can expand their scope to resonate with your target audience and rank higher in search.

Good blogging starts with a solid plan

Content marketing leaders put a lot of legwork into their blogging strategies. It’s virtually unheard of for the folks who excel at this kind of work to just sit down and start churning out content. You need a blog content strategy that factors in your audience, your goals and your brand, among other things, to deliver the best results.

It’s worth the effort, though. Many of the steps we’ve covered above, including keyword analysis, customer persona development and brand voice, are essential to any content marketing plan, so this is all work you should be doing anyway. Once you have a foundation for blogging in place, you’ll probably find that consistently creating quality content is easier than you originally thought.

Creating valuable blog content isn’t some big mystery. You just need a plan. Devise a detailed blog content strategy, and you should start seeing a massive improvement in the performance metrics you value most. Keep in mind that it can take time to generate those results — you’re likely looking at several months, if not more. So, be patient, but diligent. If you’ve taken the time to prep your blog content creation, you’ll do just fine.