Developing Content Strategy: Where to Begin

“Scary.”

I guess that might be the first word that pops into your head when you think of developing a content strategy, right? After all, seeing so many companies successfully producing vast amounts of content every day can intimidate anyone. And certainly make you think twice about competing with them.

There is just no chance you could write so many articles. Not to mention record videos, run webinars, create podcasts and who knows what else.

And that’s leaving aside the fact that you are not a writer, video producer or a designer. It’s simply unachievable with all your other responsibilities. You have a business to run after all, you need to oversee it, deliver the work and look after your clients.

These things alone can take up most of the day.

At the same time though, these days it’s hard to market a business in any other way than through content. Whether you like it or not, content is something you need to consider for your new website.

So how do you come up with a plan that will make you competitive on the market while being achievable at the same time?

Well, I hope these 7 steps will set you on a right course.

Content Strategy for a New Site: Where to Begin

Let me tell you what is your real challenge – creating a strategy without having any historic data on your site. Let’s face it, you haven’t had any visitors to the site, you don’t know who they could be and thus, have no idea where to start.

Luckily, you can make up for that pretty quickly. Here’s how.

1. Define and Research Your Audience

If you did your business research right, this step should be easy. Your content audience are your customers, people with the very problem you have a solution to. There are however some additional information you need to find out about them.

What topics they are mostly interested in. This is actually quite easy to do. List all problems you are solving for your customers and build your topics around those. Also, find what other websites they are reading and what are the most popular topics there.

Their literacy level. Every audience has a different literacy levels. You need to learn this to know how to write and structure content for them. Again, the most effective way to do this is by visiting sites they commonly frequent.

Tone of voice that will suit them best. You also need to decide what tone of voice they will respond the best to. Should you sound casually, perhaps even like their friend, or will a more formal, business tone be in place?

2. Develop Content Personas

Next you need to build an actual image of a person you will be talking to. For a long time marketers have been creating a perfect image or representation of a typical target audience member to have a better understanding who exactly they are speaking to.

Having content personas will make it easier to pick topics and create a more engaging copy. I wrote a very detailed article on developing content personas here.

3. Choose Your Topics

Once you gained a good understanding of your audience, it is time to pick topics for your content. You need to discover what problems you can help your audience with but also, how you could entertain them.

But remember, you are only picking topics, not listing actual content ideas. A topic is a general area you will create content on and each topics can have an unlimited content ideas.

Here is a simple system to get you started:

  • If you deliver a service, map out all your services to customer problems they solve and see how many topics you could create from that.
  • If you sell a product, do the same with its features. Map them out against problems they solve and you will definitely find plenty of potential topics.

4. Select Content Types

Content marketing is not just about blogging. Naturally, writing blog posts is a major part of it, there are however other content types you could create:

  • videos
  • graphics
  • comic strips
  • infographics
  • memes
  • ebooks
  • white papers
  • reports
  • quizzes

and many others.

When picking your topics, think of:

  • which ones your audience will find attractive
  • which ones you are able to create (or have resources to do so)
  • and which ones will most effectively present your topics

5. Set Goals for Your Content

The next step in developing your strategy is to define what goals you have for your content. You may want your content to:

  • bring more traffic to the site
  • generate leads
  • raise awareness of your business
  • help to build your social media tribe

Those goals will determine the types of content you produce, how you are going to create them, how you will set your content on the site (or other sites), where and when you will post and how you are going to measure your progress.

6. Define Actions You Want Your Readers to Take

Together with your goals you need to specify actions you want your readers to make. Do you want them to share your content, inquire online, view your product page, download a report? These decisions will affect how your content is structured and presented.

For instance, if you want your audience to find out more about your product, you might decide to leave only one link in the main navigation of your blog, pointing to your product page for instance (f.i compare the menu on serps.com and on their blog). If however, you want readers to download a specific report, you might want to create an appropriate call to action button at the end of a post sending them to a dedicated landing page.

7. Set Your Schedule

And lastly, you need to realistically decide how much content you are able to produce. This is by far the most difficult aspect of the strategy, mainly because we tend to be over ambitious. You may think you can churn out those blog posts in an instant. In reality though, it takes time to create (and promote) every single piece of content. To do it well you have to spend time on research, production, networking and much more. Therefore, be realistic. Focus on creating one great piece of content a week and don’t burn yourself out. Content marketing is a long term strategy and no matter what you do, it will take time before it yields any results anyway.

Conclusion

Developing content strategy for a new website can be scary. There are a lot of variables to consider, many affecting one another and it can be easy to get lost in all this. However, the most important things to consider are your audience, topics they are interested in and what content formats you can create.

image via handsonwp.com

10 Essential Components of a Killer Blog Post

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Do you sometimes wonder what makes one blog post tick with its audience and the other one sink deep never to be remembered again?

Great ideas, sure. But that’s not all. Ideas on their own don’t make great posts. They are important, but they’re not everything.

Emotional connection with a reader. Yes, that too. After all, your blog post must somehow speak to the people in the way they want to hear. But that’s still not all.

The final element is form. Even the greatest idea won’t catch if it’s not dressed in a way a reader expects and understands. Below is a list of essential components making that form.

Essential Elements of a Killer Blog Post

The Obvious Stuff

1. A Solid and Original Idea

This may sound like a no brainer but I am often amazed by the amount of content that lacks original ideas.

But here’s the brutal truth. The number of ideas you can come up for your content is limited – by your knowledge of the subject, experience, involvement, motivation to learn new things or creativity. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to at least present the topic in a completely new light, through your personal experience.

2. A Catching Headline

According to Copyblogger

“Without a headline or post title that turns a browser into a reader, the rest of your words may as well not even exist”

A headline is what your readers will see first, be it on social media, in their RSS readers or Google search results.

A good headline’s job is to grab the readers attention and make them desire to click on the post to find out more. Ultimately, your headline makes a promise of what the post is going to deliver.

There is a lot of advice for writing catchy headlines on the web. Personally I have found Jeff Groins formula or these ideas from Copyblogger to be bang on.

3. A Mesmerizing Introduction

A headline is a promise of value you aim to deliver in the post. Those first few sentences after it are supposed to reassure your reader that she made a good call by clicking on your headline.

But a good introduction plays one more role in your post than just reaffirming the readers choice. It also pushes them to read more. It introduces the problem you write about and glides the reader to start reading about solutions you prescribe.

Introduction is also one of those elements readers carefully read. Don’t take my word for it. Just look at this typical reader behavior. The image below shows how we read. Notice that the top of the post is read in full but then readers start to skim the copy, almost fly through the middle bit only to regain their concentration closer to the conclusion.

web reading pattern

(source)

And here is the trick. Unless you grab your readers attention with your opening statement, they won’t go any further.

And for more information on how to start your post with a bang, check out this short guide.

4. Subheadings

When skimming your copy, your readers need a road map. They need to know where they are at all times, if only to know whether they should stop and focus a bit more on a particular passage.

Subheadings create those road signs marketing the readers journey through the post. They make the post much more pleasurable to read. Just compare two versions of this very post. One written without any subheadings, the other properly formatted. Which one looks more inviting to read?

blog post formatting

(Image from Rob Cubbon’s great post on blog post formatting. Seriously, read it!)

5. A Strong Conclusion

Conclusion is one of the most commonly ommited elements of a blog post. I think I can understand why so many writers decide not to write it though. It’s hard to summarize a post into one or two paragraphs once all points have been made.

Yet, your users will be looking for a form of conclusion. It gives them a chance to get a quick summary of your ideas and discover if there isn’t anything they’ve missed while skimming your copy.

The Not-So Obvious Stuff

The above is what your reader would immediately notice if missing. But that’s not all when it comes to creating a killer blog post.

Here are few other things you should remember about:

1. Proper Research & References

Facts, figures, references – they are what make a solid post today. They also show that you have made your homework, researched the topic thoroughly instead of just writing a very shallow advice. And they give a visual clue too. Just check how this post by Dan Shure uses images to introduce complex ideas.

2. Solid Formatting

I already spoke about a reader behavior. You know that your readers won’t read every word of your post. Therefore, in order to communicate all your ideas you should format the post to make it as easy to skim as possible. Elements such as:

  • bulleted lists
  • text in bold
  • italics
  • images
  • graphs
  • banners

will make it much faster for your reader to absorb information.

3. Videos

Videos are very helpful to gaining the users attention to a particlular idea you try to convey in a section of your post. Being very visual they are also great at helping them to regain their focus. Here’s an example, notice how the video is strategically placed in the middle of the post.

4. Quotes

Quotes from industry leaders make up for quite an interesting content. And regardless of whether you are one too, they add a seal of approval to your writing.

There is also one more aspect of them – posts including quotes get shared more than ordinary posts.

5. Citations and References

Pointing your readers to more advanced resources is a surefire way to increase the value you deliver. But, a common mistake is to simply link to popular blogs in your area. What if you’d put some effort into this and referenced academic writing, research papers and findings, reports or whitepapers instead? Especially if you want your post to build your image of authority, such references can only increase your perception as an expert in your field.

Conclusion

Not every blog post reads well. Similarly, even those that do rarely leave an impact on you. Ideas and emotional connection play a significant role in making a post memorable. However, the final, equally important element is form a reader understands and expects.

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A Super Simple 5-Day Plan to Creating Remarkable Content

There are plenty of great reasons to write a blog post.

Aside from having something interesting to say (which should be a given), you may want to convince readers to take action. Present your point of view on a current event. Or show off your writing skills. Or …. nevermind. It’s all rubbish anyway.

What you really want is attention.

You want others to notice, discuss, share and remember your ideas. Full stop.

But it takes a remarkable content to achieve this.

Everyday thousands of writers publish their carefully crafted words. All in hope for gaining attention. But the amount of content produced gets to a point where readers can no longer keep up with it. After all, there is only so much information an average reader can absorb.

To combat this, they develop skills to select only the remarkable content and ignore the rest. Your only way to get noticed is to create content that will pass that criteria.

Quality vs. Quantity

There is an ongoing discussion in writing circles. What’s better – posting one killer post a week or three average ones.

It is however pointless as with the flood of content today, it’s almost impossible to keep up the remarkable quality over many posts a week anyway.

Therefore, posting one smashing post a week is a much better strategy long term. This way you will attract attention, establish your authority. Not to mention encourage people to share your information.

And this is what I am going to show you:

Day 1: Find Your Unique Take

Here’s the secret of a remarkable content, it’s unique.

And no, it does not mean that it covers a completely new topic. In fact, it often focuses on well know ideas but presents them in a completely new light.

And finding that unique take is the first step in creating it. Here are some ways you can try to achieve this:

Create a Mind Map

Mind maps are great ways to throw outlines of ideas on the paper. They are also easy to use. You can start by listing the most general aspects of your topic and move deeper into each branch from there. Don’t try to be original, just write down everything you know about the subject. Expand on each section, splitting it into its most generic elements.

Soon you will realize that the deeper into the subject you go, the more new elements of it you discover. What’s more, you may also discover connections between various aspects of it you have never thought of before.

Employ Lateral Thinking Methods to Generate Fresh Ideas

Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono is, in my humble opinion a book every writer should read and learn by heart. It presents a system of techniques to generate new and unique ideas. Of course, explaining the whole system would take too long. But here are some of the tools de Bono advocates to use to generate ideas:

Random Entry Idea Generating Tool: The premise is simple – choose an object at random, or a noun from a dictionary and associate it with the subject you are thinking about. The idea is that such unthinkable connection might spun a new wave of ideas about your subject.

Provocation Idea Generating Tool: This method involves using techniques such as wishful thinking, exaggeration, reversal, distortion to provocate a completely new way of thinking of a subject.

The key to success in this exercise is to think in general terms. Don’t focus too much on details, rather on the idea you want to explore.

Day 2: Create an Outline

Finding a unique take is an exhaustive exercise, I agree. It is still only the start of the process. Next step is to turn your idea into a roadmap for your post.

Start by opening that mind map or a list of ideas you created. Go through your notes once again. Highlight all elements you think should form individual sections of the article. Next, delete those you think are irrelevant or add nothing new to the topic.

What you should end up with is a list of your all sections in your article.

Write them all down as a list and reorder to form a logical story. Remember, your article should flow from introduction through different aspects of the problem. It should introduce solutions to it and end with a conclusion. It has to read naturally, even if you only skim the headlines.

Day 3: Write an Initial Draft

The last two days were all about slowly analyzing your topic and generating ideas.

Today is quite the opposite. Today I want you to feel as if you were in a race. You need to write, as fast as you can in fact.

Writing a first draft is a tough job. You want your words to make the most impact. But you can’t achieve it with the first version of your article. Trying to do so, might get you to end up like Joseph Grand, a character from Albert Camus’ novel “The Plague”. Although he claims to be writing a book, in reality continuously rewrites the first sentence and can’t go any further.

Don’t be like Joseph Grand. Don’t be obsessed with your first draft. Rememeber, writing a first draft is not about quality. It’s about getting words on a page.

Once your draft is over, leave it. Your work for today is done. Don’t read through it, as tempting it might be to do so. Don’t try to rewrite anything, change order of paragraphs, nothing. You need to clear your mind from those words. Otherwise editing them will be a nightmare.

Day 4: First Revisions

With your first draft done you are ready for the second secret of remarkable content-form.

Your first draft is awful. In fairness, reading it a day after writing can be a painful exercise. Poor structure, grammar, no style, it’s all there. That’s OK though. Your ideas are on a paper, that’s what counts. Now you can turn them into a great copy.

Editing Plan to Follow

  1. Start off by going through the entire draft. Check if you included everything you wanted. If not, add that stuff in.
  2. Work on your lead. That’s what you should focus the most. The opening sentence and following 2 paragraphs are what’s going to hook the reader to your copy. There are some things you should rememebr:
    1. You should open with a bang. Check this article for some proven ways how to do so.
    2. It should also match the headline. Remember, headline is the first thing your reader is going to see. It is what will make them to start reading the copy. Your first few lines of text should reassure them that they made the right choice.
  3. Edit one section at a time. Never go through the entire copy at once. Working in small chunks will ensure you won’t get a copy fatigue. Work through each section, edit, re-write and move copy around as needed. Keep tweaking until it’s just right.
  4. Read each section aloud while editing. Hearing how your words sound makes you see then in a new light. You can also use a dedicated software or if you are on a Mac, the built in text to speech functionality .
  5. Don’t be afraid to cut out entire paragraphs or even sections. If something doesn’t read right or doesn’t add any value to the story, cut it out. Sometimes it’s easier to do so than to try and fix it.

Editing is a lengthy process. It can take up to few hours to go through the entire copy. On average it takes me few times longer to edit a post than to write its first draft. Block at least couple of hours for editing. Don’t just skim through text looking for typos. Make sure that every sentence pushes your reader to the next one.

Day 5: Final Edits and Headline

Let’s be honest, one day of edits isn’t enough to create a remarkable content. You need to step away from your copy once more and come back with fresh mind to it. That’s the aim of this last day, to go through the copy one last time. You will still find sentences to improve or thoughts that aren’t clearly defined.

Once again, spend a great deal of time working on your copy. Once done, run it through software like Hemingwayapp to see if you haven’t missed anything.

After that, move to the headline.

25 Headlines

Many writers prefer to write the headline first. I believe this is counter productive. At this stage your ideas aren’t fully defined and nothing is set on paper. Writing a headline at that point limits your options to pivot with your topic.

Instead, I prefer to write my headlines once all edits are done. Naturally, I have a working title in my head all the time. It is far from the final one anyway.

When doing so, I use the 25 headlines formula I learned from Gareth Moon’s post here. It is based on Tim Hurson’s idea of third thirds. It says that if you are are looking to generate 100 different ideas, they will generally fall into three different groups.

The first third(up to idea 33): a group of most obvious picks. These will be quite typical and not that creative ideas.

The second third (idea 34 to 67): In the second third, your ideas will start to gain some momentum. This is where you start thinking more creatively.

The third third (ideas 68 – 100): Since you have used the most obvious picks and already started thinking more creatively, this approach will flourish in this group. This is where the most unique and innovative ideas happen.

Of course writing 100 headline ideas to a post would be time consuming. That’s why Gareth suggests going for 25. This way you can generate enough ideas to cover all groups and have enough material to choose from.

At the end of this entire process you should have a beautifully crafted post with a unique take on a topic – a truly remarkable content.

Conclusion

There are many reasons to write a blog post. From communicating great ideas to the most important one, gaining readers attention and building an audience. For that however you need nothing less but content that’s truly remarkable. Anything else won’t work.

7 Things You Must Do Before Writing a First Draft

“Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost.”

I love this quote. In a single sentence William Zinsser managed to capture the definition of what writing truly is.

But I also have a problem with it. To me, it omits an important aspect of writing, one you figure out only after wasting a lot of time getting your copy right.

Because, you see, you rewrite well only if you have a solid base material. Otherwise, you end up starting all over, often many times at that, figuring out what you want to say instead of focusing on your original message.

A message that in fact often gets lost in the process.

Unfortunately, it is quite common for writers, beginner and experienced ones alike to struggle with rewriting. I have been there myself many times too. Even now, with my experience there are days when I struggle with focus on ideas instead of perfecting my copy.

Can something be done about it? Yes. Is it easy? It actually is. The key to it lies in how well you are prepared to writing your first draft.

How to Prepare to Write a First Draft

Write Down Your Goal

Start by clearly formulating what you want to achieve. Are you writing to inform a reader about something? Perhaps you want to offer advice or teach them something new? If so, what is it? Also, why you are doing this, what’s the purpose for the copy? What should be the final outcome of it?

Include answers to all these questions in your goal, but do it in no more than 25 words. Be concise. Once you are done, rewrite it until you manage to distil it into a single sentence.

What’s the point in doing this, you ask, especially that you are supposed to have all those ideas in your head anyway?

Writing helps you to formulate your thoughts. Once put in writing, your goal is no longer an abstract concept in your head but a concrete and defined idea you can refer to. Having it in front of you will help you stay in check while writing your draft but also, establish if you met your objective during editing.

Describe Who You Are Writing For

I accept that you might not have a specific content persona worked out for your article but even knowing who your audience is in general (i.e. “graphic designers straight out of college trying to find their first design job“) will instantly push you to write in a specific way, use language and tone that will appeal to them.

Research How Your Ideas Differ From What Others Are Saying

There is more content being published today than ever before. In order to stand out from that noise of articles, blog posts, videos, graphics and who knows what else, you need to present at least a unique take on a topic, if not a completely new approach to it. Therefore, research what others are saying to ensure that you do not double the advice but also, to find out what unique angle you could take with your piece. It will help you later on, during rewriting when you won’t have to focus on ideas but rather on the form of your article.

List Sections You Intend to Write and Create An Outline

First drafts are chaotic, I accept that. Their role after all is to first and foremost allow you to pour your thoughts on paper.

And while your first draft doesn’t have to be organized, having some sort of order of arguments will help you stay in check while writing. You will most likely change things around during rewriting, and that’s fine. With an outline, however, you won’t have to spend too much time figuring out what you really wanted to say in the first place.

Decide Which Person You Want To Write In

Some writers don’t find working out the person they will be writing in that important. For me however, it is one of the most important aspects of preparing myself to write. For you see, it is so easy to get confused and start jumping from a person to person while writing, speaking in first person in certain sections and jumping to dry, brochure style in others only because it sounded better while you were writing. By doing so however, you double your work later on, having to clear all that up while rewriting.

Decide What Tense You Will Be Using

Tense is not something you would normally think about before writing, I admit. You just want to sit down in front of your computer and type, working out the tense as you go along. Or even later on, when you rewrite.

But having the tense decided earlier on is another thing that will keep your copy in check, keeping you from drifting away while drafting your piece.

Specify How Are You Going To Approach The Reader

Lastly, decide how you are going to approach your readers. Will you be a reporter, stating facts or telling them about what happened? Or perhaps you want to speak to them like an average person, offering advice from experience, almost like having a peer to peer discussion?

Having this decided will also help you to formulate your style, language and tone of the piece.

When Is It OK To Rush Unprepared Into First Draft

I know, I have spent a considerable part of the article discussing the flaws of rushing into writing and now this? Well, don’t worry, everything’s OK. I haven’t changed my mind. I am still against rushing into writing.

With one exception however. You see, writing unprepared is how I get out of the writers block.

There days when words just don’t want to come out. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t formulate a single sentence on a topic. No research and preparation will help on days like this. The only thing you can do to overcome this is, well, write. Write anything on the subject, regardless of how good or bad it is (and most likely it will be really bad). Most likely the next day you will have to star over but that’s OK. At that point the writers block will be a distant memory and you will be able to write the new version more clearly.

In any other situation, prepare for writing your first draft. It will save you time and stress later on.

Closing Thoughts

Your first draft will never be amazing, that’s a fact. Even with all this preparation it will still suck bad. The difference, however, is that while editing it you will no longer have to chase your ideas but focus on getting the form right. And, that’s a huge benefit if you ask me.

4 Ingredients of a Killer Marketing Story

OK, I get it. Your industry is boring.

Your products are dull, people are unmotivated, customers don’t interact with brands and there is hardly any innovation going on. Everyone’s bored.

That’s the realm you have to promote your company in, and do it with words.

But how many times can you write lists of features or product descriptions? And, make them interesting enough for customers to choose your products over the others?

It’s impossible.

Or is it?

Sometimes we, writers forget about the most natural way of connecting with others – through storytelling.

And no matter what you might think, you are a storyteller too. You use stories all the time. You tell a story whenever you try to convince someone about something. Every time you need to justify yourself, you do it with a story too. Or when you pick up the phone, there is usually a story told then as well.

Stories are at the very base of human communication. They resonate with us, captivate our imagination, give us hope, push us to take action.

They are what we remember.

No product description or a list of features can ever achieve that. Tell your customers a good story though and they will recall it for years.

But that’s exactly my problem, you say. I write about soldering rods (or electronic cigarettes, or anything else at that), there’s hardly any story there!

Well, you would be surprised. You can construct a story out of anything. There are only few things you need for that.

You Need Your Customer

Every story has a protagonist. But in spite of how much you might want to write about yourself or your company (that’s quite a common mistake in fact) the truth is, no customer is interested in that.

Customers are interested in stories about themselves. They want to read about their transformation.  They want to find out how they overcame a problem and came out victorious on the other side. Or at least get a glimpse of a promise of how it’s going to be if that happens (and that sometimes makes for even a better story).

But in order to include your customers, you need to know everything about them. You need to know their problems, needs and wants, pain points, desires, what makes them lose sleep at night and what makes them get up in the morning. It is only then you are able to write a story that truly resonates with them.

A protagonist is not enough to make your story stick though.

You Also Need a Problem

There is also no story without a problem that your protagonist, the customer has. It usually is something they have a strong emotional connection with. Luckily, that part is quite easy to figure out.

Their problem is the reason they sought out your product in the first place. By including that problem in the story you will make it relevant to them.

Are your customers trying to quit smoking? Make that the premise of the story. Do they want to change careers? Let your story be about their journey towards that.

Thanks to a problem, your customers will be able to identify themselves with the protagonist and your story will resonate with them.

Next, You Need an Obstacle

Face it, if the problem was easy to overcome, it wouldn’t really be a problem, right? The reason why your customer came to you in the first place is because he or she can’t solve it on their own. There is an obstacle in front of them and they need help with overcoming it.

These obstacles are either psychological or emotional, like fear of consequences of actions, for instance. A potential roadblock to quitting smoking might be social acceptance. Everyone knows the benefits of quitting smoking. But, regardless of how much your customer cares about her health, if all her friends smoke, she might find herself cast out from the pack if she quits.

Luckily, you are the one who might provide a solution for that.

And, You Also Need a Solution

And, that is nothing else but your product. What you sell is an integrated part of the story. It’s what helps the protagonist overcome the obstacle and achieve their goal, solving a problem they originally had.

If your protagonist is afraid of not being accepted among her friends anymore once she quits smoking and you happen to you sell electronic cigarettes – you hold the key to our protagonists problem – a cigarette that won’t damage her health but will still allow her to be accepted amongst the circle of smokers.

That’s a great material for a story, one that will deeply resonate with her, building a strong connection between her and your brand.

Conclusion

Lists of features or product descriptions provide information but hardly anything else. It’s stories that sell.

You can construct a good story out of everything. It doesn’t matter what your product is for as long as there is a protagonist, a problem he or she has, an obstacle on their way to overcome it and your solution, you have your story.

That story is what makes you unique in the marketplace. It is what makes customers believe you, trust you and eventually buy from you. It is your gateway to success.

So, what’s your story?