How to Create a Content Strategy

When I think of content strategy, I imagine a cohesive structure of blog posts that work together in different ways to achieve a united goal.  Every blog post has its purpose, and the different types shouldn't be judged against each other on the same scale.

I assumed all people thought this way about content strategy until I started working for websites that placed ads on each blog post. All of a sudden a blog post was called a "landing page," and each one was rigorously put through the same metric ringer. It wouldn't matter if a particular blog post or type of blog posts might garner a great deal of engagement, it wouldn't be approved unless there was a good chance it would hit the bar for page views or potential SEO gains.

I can see the logic in this if you're working on a site that intends to make as much money on ads as possible. However, I wouldn't quite call that "content strategy" as much as I'd call it a monetization strategy, and using SEO to win it. If you're trying to build a blog or website that has SEO on the mind but cares more about driving people to your site and getting product or newsletter signups, then this won't work. Rather, you need to go back to the basics of what content strategy really is: an ecosystem.

How to Create a Content Ecosystem

There are many parts that have to be played to keep an ecosystem thriving. Some parts we can see, and even seem like they are the ecosystem. But there are many parts that we can't see and that play a pivotal role of their own. A solid content strategy recognizes the value of all of these parts.

Here's a breakdown.

Content Strategy Breakdown

  • Core Posts

Core posts talk about the things your readers need to know about regarding the subject at hand if they're going to have any reasonable understanding of it. These are also called pillar posts, and are often what would be included in a more established website's "start here" section. Core posts are most likely going to perform best from an SEO standpoint.

  • Detailed Posts

Where the core posts give a high-level overview of each topic they cover, detailed posts are more in-depth looks at pieces of those topics. An easy way to think about it is to say that every subhead you have in a core post could likely be expanded upon later as a detailed post of its own.

This is where you can get into the nitty-gritty of a topic since your reader has already had the opportunity to learn the basics. Detailed posts also enable you to tackle long-tail SEO keywords.

  • Special Posts

Special posts will vary based on what you like or think your audience will respond to. You could do interview posts, timely stories, series, newsjacking articles, and so on. Many people use the special posts for their weekly musings. The musings don't necessarily have a predetermined goal in your calendar except for a chance for you to be a thought leader and to connect on a deeper level with your readers. Special posts are often the best posts for engagement.

  • Put It All Together

Putting it all together, this is the content ecosystem. It would be ideal to do all of these things and then build a solid interlinking process as well. The result? The kind of engagement in which someone lands on your site and doesn't leave for hours because they keep finding more they want to read.

Another Analogy

If the ecosystem analogy doesn't resonate well with you, here's another one: a recipe. The core posts are the base ingredients you need to make a specific meal, the detailed posts are the additional ingredients you could use to bring out the flavor of certain ingredients, and the special posts are your finishing touch. The special posts are like your secret sauce — the thing that makes your recipe something uniquely you, and which others couldn't imitate if they tried.

Why Building a Sustainable Content Ecosystem Is NOT the Antithesis to SEO

When I describe this to people who are entirely focused on SEO, they assume I'm saying SEO doesn't matter. That couldn't be further from the truth. I just view SEO a little differently than they do.

To me, SEO is a vital part of the framework of how to write content. It determines which headlines I choose, which keywords I focus on, and how I structure each post. I do this for every single post I write, even if there isn't likely to be a great deal of SEO gain for that topic. The benefit is that SEO done well also makes it easier to read and digest the content, so this framework can be a win either way in my book.

Where I differ from staunch SEOs is the idea that SEO should drive every content decision. When I decide on the core topics for a blog or website, I go through the user journey first and then do SEO research to find keywords to match the topics. In order to go through the user journey, I find answers to the following questions:

  • What does someone reading the website (or a potential user of the product) need or want to understand?

  • How do they feel about the topic?

  • What keeps them up at night; what frustrations do they endure?

  • What’s their ultimate goal?

  • What’s missing from the content already out there? How is the topic usually treated? Does that treatment get the job done (and how), or does it leave the reader out to sea?

  • What do I need to write about to empathize with the reader, educate them on what they need to know, and empower them to move forward to their goals?

In the end, I believe in building an SEO structure for how to write about each topic — and then making decisions on what to write based on what the ecosystem needs.

Above All Else, Focus on Quality

As you think about the fact that the ecosystem is made up of different posts, understand that there should still be consistency in the quality of the writing. I've heard many people say that the quality doesn't matter on SEO posts, since "no one reads them anyway."

What's the point of writing if we think no one reads?

Here's what I think. I think SEO works because people are typing in search terms to get answers to their questions. And I believe we can answer their questions in a way that is informative, empathetic, and engaging. And if we do, we've not just answered their questions and helped them out; we've also gained readers for life.

No matter what kind of post you're writing at the moment, give it your all. You'll easily stand out among the competition — and your readers will love you for it.

Interested in learning more? Check out my presentation on how to create a content strategy here.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash