Content strategy came about in the late noughties when a few clever folk realised that the internet had become a bit of a dumping ground, and lots of content was just being left to “rot away”. The need for some sort of order became further apparent when Google announced its Freshness, Penguin, and Panda updates which pushed for regularly-updated content targeted at users rather than search engines.
Hence, content strategy is now intrinsic to all Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) campaigns. Only quality content can result in the all important social shares and backlinks which Google and other search engines see as votes of confidence in your website.
Borrowing techniques from the print media industry, content strategy strives to put a mechanism in place to ensure outdated content is retired and new content is produced in a regular and organised manner. It introduces the concept of a content life cycle illustrated below.
Existing Onsite Content
It used to be and sadly still is common for content to be left on a site forever with new content just being added to the mix from time to time. This approach can soon lead to losing track of the many pages on a site with valuable content getting buried and users getting confused.
Content audits reveal issues which affect the overall performance of your site and often result in customer dissatisfaction. Some common issues are:
- content is no longer valid – an event has passed, seasons have changed, a product is no longer in stock
- copy isn't reader-friendly – it lacks structure, information is hard to absorb, keyword stuffing is noticeable
- content is irrelevant to the brand or overarching theme of the site
- the wrong tone of voice is used
- duplicate content
- thin content (less than ~200 words) which dilutes domain value, making all pages on the domain slightly weaker in performance. This content is almost certainly viewed as low-value by Google.
A content audit is a retrospective analysis of page performance. It considers factors such as bounce rates, pageviews, time spent on site, search terms used, and the number of social shares. Google Analytics is your go-to for this information. Common conclusions drawn include:
- a gradually declining number of pageviews shows content is losing relevance
- high bounce rates (over 35%) can indicate that users aren't engaging with pages of the site
- a low number of pageviews indicates that a page isn't performing
Google Analytics really is a content strategist's best friend. Data acquired from this tool forms the backbone of further strategy work: content retirement, putting together page tables, and developing an editorial calendar.
Each page should also be read and assessed objectively to pick up on onpage issues such as lack of structure and excessive keyphrase usage. For this, an understanding of the intended user is vital. Getting to know a client and their target audience prior to launching a content strategy is paramount to its success.
Dealing With Outdated Content
To preserve domain value and avoid broken backlinks, it's recommended you 301 redirect outdated pages to their respective top level category pages or the homepage.
If QueryClick were to retire this blog post, for example:
It would be redirected to:
To save time and money, recycling or repurposing content is an option. Internal documents can form the backbone of onsite content, for example, and vice versa. Video and podcast technology should also be embraced as this provides new opportunities for social sharing.
Once any outdated content has been dealt with or upon the launch of a brand new site, new content needs to be produced. Content strategy arms production teams with a few tools to ensure this is as smooth a process as possible.
The editorial calendar is a tool which helps schedule content production in advance. It's used to identify seasons, trends, and important dates which provide opportunities for existing content to be updated or new content to be produced.
In addition to content which can be planned in advance, it's important to continue monitoring news and trends on an ongoing basis to identify sudden and unexpected opportunities which can be great for driving traffic. Aptly-timed content can go viral. Traffic at the right time of year can also be a real boost to sales or subscriptions.
Content teams should therefore be able to cope with quick turnarounds and work well under pressure.
For a project to be successful, team work is crucial. Each task should have an owner who's responsible for its completion in line with set deadlines.
An average project is likely to involve a:
- Project manager
- Topic expert/consultant
- Content creator (e.g. copywriter, designer, photographer)
- Brand manager/PR coordinator
- SEO consultant
- Community manager
In many cases, one person is likely to take on more than one role. This shouldn't be used as an excuse for missing deadlines. For a content strategy to be successful, it's vital to respect the editorial calendar.
A page table is used to ensure each piece of content serves a purpose and is well structured. It's completed prior to the production of any content to ensure all parties involved are working towards the same goals.
The page table sets out a page's type, structure, purpose, aim, message, and target audience. It also details what research needs to be carried out before the content can be produced.
By now we've established that no content should be left on site eternally, never to be revisited. Whether it's due a simple refresh or retirement, this should be carried out in a timely manner.
A straightforward means to ensure this is done is assigning an expiry date to each piece of content uploaded to the site. This should appear in your editorial calendar, giving you advance warning and time to apply any necessary changes or create something fresh.
If you're keen for your site to perform well on search engine results pages, gain social shares and backlinks, it's time to jump on the content strategy bandwagon. Whether you're launching a new site or struggling to get an existing site to rank highly, it's always the right time to put a strategy in place.
The keys to success are carrying out a content audit, putting together page tables and an editorial calendar, ensuring each action is carried out on time. Nailing these could result in higher rankings, more relevant traffic to your site, and a healthy return on investment.
Content strategy is neither a short term fix, nor an easy route - it's an ongoing tactic which should be approached with this mindset.