The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing Strategy

Kelly Lyons

Dec 12, 202222 min read
The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing Strategy

Content marketing is the creation and distribution of valuable, relevant content. The goal is to grow, engage, and retain your audience.

A well-executed content marketing strategy is a great way to promote your brand. And, ideally, make your business stand out when it’s time for consumers to make a purchase.

Let’s dive into what a content marketing strategy is and how to build one (with some examples).

What Is a Content Marketing Strategy?

Content marketing strategy is your high-level plan for creating and distributing content to grow your audience and reach various business goals. Some content marketing examples include:

  • Blog posts
  • Emails
  • Newsletters
  • Social media posts
  • Podcasts
  • Ebooks
  • Videos

The goal is to send the right message to current and potential customers.

A content plan—sometimes referred to as a “content calendar”—is a written plan to help you manage your distribution schedule.

Now that we’ve gotten the content marketing definitions out of the way, let’s talk about why it’s important to have a content marketing plan in the first place.

Why Have a Content Marketing Strategy?

A content marketing strategy helps you achieve specific goals, define clear success metrics, and create processes for specific improvement.

This is more effective than haphazardly producing content and hoping it does the job.

In fact, 78% of marketers who felt their content marketing strategy was exceptionally effective in 2021 had documented their strategy. 

why do you need content marketing strategy

Other benefits of a content marketing plan include:

  • More online visibility: The more consistently you post, the more customers you can attract. Provide educational, useful content that addresses users’ pain points.
  • More leads: Because a good content marketing strategy drives traffic, it can also drive leads 
  • More authority: The more useful content you share over time, the more people in your niche will see you as an authority figure
  • More customer engagement: Loyal customers are often repeat customers. Engage with those who comment or respond to what you share.
  • More budget: If you can prove your marketing success, it will likely be easier to ask for a bigger marketing budget in the future
benefits of content marketing strategy

Clearly, it’s a good idea to come up with a plan before creating and sharing content.

Wondering how to develop a content marketing strategy? Let’s discuss five key elements you need to know first.

5 Elements of a Powerful Content Marketing Strategy

An effective content marketing strategy should have these five core elements to be successful: 

  1. Audience personas
  2. Brand story
  3. Content marketing mission
  4. Business case
  5. An action plan

Let’s see why these elements are essential and how you can start implementing each of them.

content strategy elements

1. Audience Personas

It’s difficult to tell your brand’s story if you don’t know who’s listening. That’s why the first step is to identify the audience you’d like to target.

Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Survey your existing customers
  • Research industry trends
  • Identify who you don’t want to target
  • Keep tabs on who your competitors target

Once you have your audience in mind, you can use our free Personas tool to put them into writing.

personas tool example

A formalized persona will help you clearly and succinctly communicate your audience to your stakeholders. And anyone involved in brand messaging.

Start by exploring these persona examples for inspiration. 

2. Brand Story and Positioning

A brand story is a summary of your company’s history, mission, purpose, and values. 

Defining your brand story can help you identify the right messages and topics to address with your content. That helps you choose the right direction in your content marketing strategy.

Your story should focus on:

  • The hero of your story (your customer) and their goals and challenges
  • Your brand’s personality
  • The purpose of your brand and key brand values
  • The way your product and your content can help reinforce all the above and empower your hero 

Keeping your brand’s story in mind when making content will create a consistent experience for your audience and build the right image on all your content marketing channels.

Here are some questions to help you brainstorm your brand story and positioning in the market:

  • Who are my existing and potential customers? What are their goals?
  • Who are my top competitors? How do they market their brands?
  • What is my brand’s unique value?
  • What problems does my product solve?
  • What makes my product a better choice over my competitors?

Use your answers to shape the main pillars of your brand story.

anatomy of brand story

You can also use this free brand storytelling template to complete this step and document your efforts. 

This step can be especially beneficial for small businesses and startups that can leverage their unique backgrounds and identities.

3. Content Marketing Mission Statement and Owned Media Value Proposition

Owned media refers to any digital marketing channels that you have control over. Like your website or social media.

To establish your brand as a credible content publisher, define your owned media value proposition. 

In other words: 

What unique value does your brand’s content provide? (This should be unique from your competitors’ content.)

This will help you create a content marketing strategy that sets you apart from your competitors.

Another important item to include in your strategy is your content marketing mission statement. It should summarize why you are creating content and provide information on who can benefit from it.

Make sure your content marketing mission statement includes the following elements:

  • Your audience: Who are you creating content for?
  • The benefit: What information or answers will you provide?
  • The outcome: How will your content help your audience achieve their goals?

Here’s an example:

“Our content is where digital marketing managers find multimedia information about SEO and content marketing so they can help their companies grow via organic channels.”

create your content marketing mission statement

4. Business Case and Content Marketing Goals

Providing value to your audience is an integral part of a successful content marketing plan. But in addition to attracting new readers and followers, content marketing should drive your business forward.

Creating a documented business case will help you or your team better understand the benefits, costs, and risks of implementing a content marketing strategy in your company.

A business case is a project management document that outlines why particular tasks should be executed and how their benefits outweigh their costs.

To get started, identify the business goals your company needs to achieve and figure out how content marketing will bring your company closer to those goals. 

Additionally, what resources do you need to invest in your content strategy? And what results do you want to generate?

This will allow you to come up with a firm budget for content creation and marketing.

You can track approved tasks in a project management software like Asana:

asana kanban

5. Action Plan

Finally, add your main content marketing campaigns and projects to your content plan.

Using a formal content plan will help you think through each content marketing strategy step individually.

Make sure to cover the following while content planning:

  • Choose content topics for each campaign
  • Determine which content formats you will produce
  • Pick the channels for content distribution

Key elements to include in your calendar are: 

  • Topics or keywords
  • Target dates
  • Headlines
  • Categories or clusters
  • Content formats
  • Target personas
  • Success metrics

To decide on your optimal content formats and channels, you’ll need to look at your historical content performance and further analyze your audience. (We’ll discuss that in-depth later.)

Download our free Content Calendar Template Kit to complete this step.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into how to create a content marketing strategy and develop effective content step by step.

7 Steps to Creating a Complete Content Strategy 

Long-term planning allows you to anticipate challenges and allocate resources effectively. 

Follow these seven steps to develop and implement your content marketing strategy in order to meet your business goals.

Document your plan and any important notes so you can share with important stakeholders. This could be on a slide deck, Google document, spreadsheet, or another format that works well for your business model. 

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Determine Your Audience

The best starting point for any content marketing plan is to determine your target audience.

Buyer personas will form the base of your strategy. But keep in mind that your audience isn't only made up of buyers.

Your audience will also include people who begin interacting with your brand long before they make a purchase. So it’s essential to distribute content that will attract potential customers before they begin the buyer journey.

First, draw them into your brand’s universe with helpful content that educates or entertains. 

Next, follow up with content that illuminates how you can be of assistance when they’re ready to take action.

To get data on your audience, you can use a tool like Market Explorer.

Analyze your market category. Or “Find Competitors” by analyzing your own domain. Then, set your location and click “Research a market.”

semrush market explorer

Find the “Audience” report to see your market audience in detail. Such as their demographics, socioeconomics, and social media preferences.

market explorer audience report

Becoming a valuable source of information can help you build a community of brand advocates who will boost your brand awareness.

brand advocates overview

Red Bull is an excellent example of a brand that creates content for audiences, not buyers. 

redbull campaign

Red Bull’s owned media doesn’t focus on its product. It covers topics the audience is interested in, like extreme sports and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

You can easily identify the target audience—young, adventurous people with an active lifestyle.

This content helps the audience identify with the brand and encourages loyalty that stretches far beyond buying their drinks.

Red Bull showcases the importance of integrating your brand story into every content piece and every message sent to your audience. 

Remember your mission, where you stand, and why you are sharing content in the first place.

Now let’s discuss how you can get to know your audience better once you’ve determined who they are.

The Empathy Map

An empathy map is a collaborative tool used to visualize what you know about a particular user or persona.

Its goal is to create a shared understanding of user’s needs and aid in decision-making.

Empathy maps are split into four quadrants: Says, Thinks, Does, and Feels. Like this:

empathy map

Empathy maps work best when you have real data from users. Read your reviews, look up tags related to your brand on social media, search for your brand name on forums, etc.

Here’s how to fill in each quadrant:

  • “Says” quadrant: Should include verbatim user quotes from reviews, interviews, forums, etc.
  • “Thinks” quadrant: Infer what the user thinks but isn’t vocalizing based on research from filling out the “Says” column. Are they annoyed by their experience? Or confused by a product?
  • “Does” quadrant: The actions a user takes (leaves a site because of poor user experience, shops around to compare prices, etc.)
  • “Feels” quadrant: A user’s emotional state. For example, if they leave your site because of poor user experience, they’re probably frustrated.

Once you fill out your empathy map, use your inferences to come up with specific goals.

Say your customers are largely frustrated that they can’t find specific information on your website. That should inform your future content strategy.

By adopting your customers’ perspective, you can step back and improve their experiences based on what they say, think, do, or feel.

Step 2: Analyze Historical Content Performance and Establish Your Content Marketing Goals

Before creating content, it’s important to establish your content marketing goals. 

Here’s how to start:

  1. Consider your company’s high-level business and marketing objectives. For example, you may want to become the No. 1 solution for improving time management and have a specific marketing revenue goal for this year.
  2. Consider how content can contribute to these bigger goals. In this case, what type of content will bring new users?
  3. Identify the content marketing metrics that matter to you. What will success look like in numbers? Define success metrics for each piece of content you plan to create and share.

You may come up with primary metrics and secondary metrics for each goal: 

  • Your primary metrics might be the revenue generated by content marketing, organic traffic, and number of leads
  • Your secondary metrics could be rankings and shares

To establish a benchmark, analyze your Google Analytics dashboards and examine how your content has been performing against these goals. 

If you haven’t set up your account yet, read our guide to setting up Google Analytics.

Pro tip: You can even integrate Google Analytics with some Semrush tools to help you analyze your keyword performance.

When setting goals, remember that your goals and plans are closely tied to the available budget and capacity of your team. 

So, make sure to take this into account when setting your targets. 

According to our research, brand awareness, attracting traffic, and generating leads remain the key content marketing goals in 2022.

key content marketing goals

But your goals may differ, depending on your business size, industry, and more.

An example of an overarching goal could be: 

“In 2022, we want to achieve a 20% increase in revenue created by organic content and generate 15,000 qualified leads with a budget of $30,000.”

Pro tip: Take the buyer’s journey into account when setting content strategy goals. 

For example, in B2B (business to business), the sales cycle tends to be much longer than in B2C (business to consumer). So multi-touch attribution would be more optimal when analyzing your content performance and defining your KPIs (key performance indicators).

Keep reading to discover some goal-setting frameworks that can help you complete this step.

Goal-Setting Frameworks

Let’s look at a couple of goal-setting frameworks that can help you set your content marketing goals:

  • SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) 
  • CLEAR goals (Collaborative, Limited in volume and duration, Emotional, Appreciable, Refinable)
smart vs clear goals

SMART goals are great for keeping you on track and measuring success because they are more rigid.

But if you need more flexibility or are in an agile/fast-changing environment, the CLEAR framework may make more sense.

CLEAR objectives are evaluated like so:

  • Collaborative: Your goals encourage teamwork
  • Limited: They are limited in scope and duration
  • Emotional: They inspire and motivate your team
  • Appreciable: They are broken down into smaller micro-objectives
  • Refinable: They can be redefined as needed

Step 3: Audit Your Existing Content

A content audit is the process of organizing, analyzing, and improving your existing content. 

It can help you get the most out of your existing pages—which means you could save resources on creating new content.

Some benefits of updating content include generating more organic traffic, ranking higher in search engines, and boosting engagement.

updating content results

Performing a content audit also allows you to better understand what kinds of content formats and topics resonate with your audience.

In fact, 65% of companies with very successful content marketing strategies run content audits at least twice a year.

Keep these questions in mind while auditing your content:

  • Which content topics and keywords are performing the best?
  • Which content formats generate the most engagement and conversions?
  • Which channels drive the most traffic?

Use our Content Audit Tool to run automated content audits on your website.

Once you run the audit, you can track your content’s performance.

content audit recommendations

And when you toggle to the “Table” view you can see Google Search Console data for that page (to help you make editing decisions).

content audit table view

To get started, read our Step-by-Step Guide to Conducting a Content Audit.

Pro tip: You can also use ImpactHero to get more detailed insights on individual content pages.

content performance insights

Step 4: Develop a High-Level Editorial Plan and Content Calendar

Planning your content schedule allows you to allocate your resources appropriately and ensure you have time for all of your upcoming tasks. 

Here’s how to get started:

Prioritize Your Actions

Prioritization is an essential element of content planning. 

The first thing you should do after selecting content topics is identify the most critical tasks. Or the things that you can easily test.

You can prioritize in multiple ways, including the following:

  • Potential traffic gains
  • Which campaigns you’re focusing on first
  • What resources you’ll need to create your campaigns
  • When products or services are launching

Based on this information, decide which campaigns, topics, and formats should come first in your plan.

Find Relevant Topics

When choosing content topics, consider the big picture. 

For example, what big themes do you want to cover this year?

Let’s say you run a company offering a time-management app. Your content marketing strategy might focus on high-level topics like productivity and work-life balance.

This information should come from your audience research insights, as well as competitive research.

Pro TipUse Semrush’s Keyword Gap tool to see what keywords your competitor ranks for but you don’t. This can help you target content topics that are already working for your competitors.

Try generating a list of themes that are likely to stay relevant long-term. 

When deciding whether a topic is worth pursuing, assess the following two things:

  1. Its usefulness to your target audience
  2. Its ability to impact the bottom line

You can use Semrush’s Topic Research tool to find topic ideas to cover. Enter the broad subject matter of your business:

topic research tool

And you’ll see a list of related topics:

topic research results

The tool also provides related questions, possible subtopics, and headers.

topic research related questions

You can use the Topic Research tool to find ideas for evergreen content, build topic clusters (more on that next), or take a look at recent related headlines. 

topic research ideas

Once you’ve created a list of topics, start some deeper keyword research for each topic.

The Keyword Magic Tool is a great place to start. All you need to do is enter a seed keyword, and you’ll get a full list of related keywords:

keyword magic tool example results

This tool is especially helpful when you’re searching for long-tail keywords to cover in your content.

You can also use this data to start building your topic clusters.

Build Topic Clusters

A topic cluster is a group of pieces of content that falls under the same overarching theme covered on a pillar page.

Building topic clusters in one of the most effective ways to organize your content. It’s also an SEO best practice.

This organized approach is especially helpful if you have lots of content and want to build authority on a certain topic.

Let’s say your company offers SEO services. You could devote a pillar page to SEO, then come up with related cluster pages about topics like “local SEO,” “technical SEO,” “backlinks,” etc.

pillar pages and clusters

Competitive Research

It’s also important to find out what your competitors are doing. Find the topics, keywords, and content formats that work well for them and try to replicate that success.

Use our free Competitive Content Analysis Template to discover:

  • Positioning of your competitors
  • Their tone of voice and target audience
  • The main content formats they use (e.g., blogs, podcasts, video)
  • The main content categories they cover
  • Primary keywords they target (using the Keyword Gap tool)
  • Their top-performing content (using the Organic Research tool)

Pro tip: Brands often focus only on their market rivals and don’t pay attention to other content creators. When researching competitors, include all publishers in your area of expertise. Even if you don’t compete with them in the actual market.

For example, unbranded media (like industry blogs or influencers’ video channels) should also be a part of your competitor research. 

This will help you see the bigger picture of what’s trending in your niche.

To get an idea of how competitors are outperforming you, head to the Keyword Gap tool.

keyword gap tool

You can see how you rank for keywords compared to your competitor. If your competitor ranks higher for keywords in your strategy, this could be an opportunity to refine your content.

keyword gap example results

Not sure which websites to analyze? Type your domain in the Organic Research tool for a list of websites competing in your niche.

organic research example

Design Your Content Funnel

Before you begin the content creation process, think about the purpose of each piece of content you plan to produce.

You should have a piece of content for every part of the customer journey. This is important because your audience will differ significantly in each stage.

customer journey

Ready to start mapping out your content marketing funnel? Here’s a description of each stage of the marketing journey and what kind of content would work:

  • Awareness: Content at this stage should tell your brand story, educate, inform, or entertain your audience. Thought leadership, blog posts, social media, and advertisements are some good options.
  • Consideration: Answer users’ questions and solve their problems at this stage. Ideal formats for this stage are blog posts, social posts, newsletters, how-to guides, and instructional videos.
  • Decision: Content at this stage should help leads determine why you are the best choice. Think case studies, client reviews, and other content showcasing your past work and successes. 
  • Retention: Highlight ways to get the most out of your product or service, new features, and how to solve common issues. Create more in-depth content, like knowledge base articles and ebooks. 
  • Advocacy: Form an emotional connection with your customers to establish loyalty. You can do so by interacting with them on social media or highlighting customer success stories.

For further guidance on creating content for specific customer journey stages, download this free Content Mapping Template Kit.

Plan Content Production

Next, come up with ways to make content production more effective upfront. This way, you can focus more on creating better content. And less on organization and time management.

At the content strategy planning stage, think about some high-level solutions that can improve your content production cycle and save you resources.

Start by:

  • Examining your available resources. This includes budgets, number of available team members, etc.
  • Determining whether you need design, development, or any other teams to be involved. Find out who you’ll need help from before starting a project, as this could impact your timeline.
  • Mapping out the approximate timeline and cadence. What content do you plan to produce monthly, and how long will each project take?
  • Finding potential bottlenecks and optimization opportunities. For example, would working with internal subject matter experts speed up content research?
  • Assessing the budget and time needed to produce your content goals. This will help you determine what you can accomplish and when.
  • Deciding whether you will outsource content production or keep it in-house. Weigh the pros and cons to see what is best for your business.

Your timeline should depend on specific KPIs and expectations. 

For example, you should estimate the number of keywords you need your website to rank for this year to achieve your organic traffic goals. That will help you determine how many blog posts to publish.

Step 5: Develop Your Content

Now it’s time to create your content (finally). 

Use these strategies to help you create effective, memorable content that resonates with your audience.

Focus on Originality 

Original content can capture the attention of your audience. Because it allows you to stand out from your competition.

Take this example from Travel Oregon. Tourism pages and blogs often appear as listicles. But this site takes a more interactive approach to highlight their state’s best features.

They highlight fun facts and things to do with anime-style images and videos. Like so:

travel oregon video example

It’s almost a given that someone else on the internet has published content on the topic you want to cover. 

But you can take it one step further. Include your unique experiences, data, research, and opinion.

This will help build credibility and trust with your audience, creating a foundation for your organic growth.

To check your written content’s originality, run your text through Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant

It will rate your content’s originality and suggest overall improvements:

seo writing assistant

If necessary, you can use the “Rephraser” feature to rewrite sections of text. Like this:

seo writing assistant rephraser

Diversify Your Content

Some content types work better at specific stages of the funnel. Others work better for a specific audience. 

The ideal solution is to include a diverse mix of content formats to appeal to every member of your audience. Your selection will depend on your customers’ preferences and your analysis of content performance. 

This graphic breaks down a few options you might want to include in your content strategy:

content types

But you don’t need to produce every type of content possible. Instead, we recommend you only focus on formats that resonate with your audience and make sense for your content funnel.

Video and blog posts were the top two content formats in 2021, based on 1,500 survey responses.

content types by format

Repurpose Your Content

Repurpose content once it’s published to appeal to new readers who may prefer a different format.

This is a great way to save time and resources and maximize results.

Here are a few ways to repurpose content:

  • Turn an article into an infographic, slideshow, podcast, or video
  • Segment a long article or video into shorter pieces or social posts that you can publish as a series
  • Combine short content pieces to create a white paper or a long-form article
  • Use blog posts to create usable snippets and informative images for social media
repurpose content suggestion

Take Advantage of User-Generated Content

Include user-generated content (UGC) in your plan to help grow your reputation with your audience. Reviews, comments, photos, and videos add legitimacy to your claims. 

Plus, gathering and sharing this content is easy and saves you plenty of resources. 

Here’s one of our favorite content marketing examples that employs UGC.

Taylor Swift partnered with YouTube Shorts to form the #TSAntiHeroChallenge that encouraged YouTube users to create their own short videos in reaction to the lead single.

ugc campaign example

Step 6: Plan Content Distribution

To succeed in content marketing, you need to make sure your content reaches the right audience at the right time.

This is where the content distribution strategy comes into play. 

To begin, visualize the media mix. See below how owned, earned, and paid media can work together:

key types of content distribution channels

Content distribution is all about using various paid, organic, and earned channels to publish and promote your content.

So when designing your strategy, list the core channels you will target, analyze their historical performance, and develop ideas on what you can improve. 

Your knowledge of your customers should determine which channels should be in your mix.

But exploring new channels can also be a good idea. For instance, could you better leverage influencer marketing opportunities and partnerships? 

However, ensure the bulk of your resources go to channels you know your audience prefers. This gives you content the best chance of being seen. 

Based on our research, the most popular content distribution channels in 2021 included social media (organic and paid), email marketing, and organic search.

promote content on channels

In our recent analysis of 10 niche industries, organic traffic accounted for 70 to 80% of total website traffic in each sector. 

Ranking can take time and effort. But organic search should still be a crucial part of your content strategy.

For optimal results, prepare to double down on improving content quality and optimizing your content.

Content optimization is the process of improving content so it has the best chance of achieving its intended goal. Whether that’s to rank in the search results or turn existing leads into conversions.

Focus heavily on user experience during this process. So, think about things like:

  • Readability 
  • Structure
  • Effectiveness of visual content
  • Tone of voice

Also keep SEO basics in mind. Like keyword strategy, internal linking, meta tags, etc.

To automate this process, use SEO Writing Assistant. It can help you optimize your content for readers and search engines. 

Start by entering a URL or pasting the text you wish to analyze.

seo writing assistant setup

Then import recommended keywords to analyze for.

seo writing assistant keywords

Select “Get recommendations.” The tool assesses the copy across four main pillars: 

  1. Readability
  2. SEO
  3. Originality
  4. Tone of voice 

The recommendations are based on top-ranking content on Google’s SERP (search engine results page) for the target keyword.

It will also highlight any elements that may need improvement.

seo writing assistant improvements

Consider Using Paid Channels

We found out that 46% of companies that are highly successful in content marketing increased their paid content promo budget in 2021. 

And for good reason—organic content strategies are especially powerful when paired with paid marketing strategies.

Let’s say you see content on a certain topic perform well in organic search. It might make sense to repurpose it into a lead generation piece and run LinkedIn ads.

You can choose from many types of content formats to promote via paid channels. Like influencer-driven campaigns, sponsored content, lead-generating ads, and more.

Step 7: Continuously Analyze Your Content Performance

Analyzing your content performance is the best way to understand what content resonates with your audience.

It also helps you see whether your content marketing efforts are paying off. And helping you meet your marketing goals.

But only 66% of marketers analyzed their content’s performance regularly in 2022.

Here’s how you can start:

Below are the four essential groups of content marketing metrics you can track:

  1. User behavior
  2. Engagement
  3. SEO outcomes
  4. Company revenue
content marketing groups and metrics

Perfect Your Content Marketing Strategy with Semrush

While the methods used to deliver content to prospects are continually changing, the core principles remain the same: 

Developing a top-notch content marketing strategy based on customer personas and reliable data. 

Just starting out? Take a look at our definitive guide to content marketing for startups.

But whether you’re a team of one or part of a larger content marketing team, you will find that automating different parts of your content marketing workflow and using data to make decisions will help you outperform the competition.

You can use Semrush’s Content Marketing Platform to sustain and accelerate your company’s organic growth.

Author Photo
Writer, editor, SEO strategist, and supporter of the Oxford comma. There‘s little I enjoy more than lounging on my couch playing video games and snuggling with my dog.