3 Steps to a Better Content Marketing Strategy

The most effective content marketing has a strong foundation. Distilled’s Adria Saracino details how to master the basics that will carry you through.

When it comes to content strategy, there tends to be three distinct areas of epic fails: tactical, strategical and internal. This post will talk you through these three pillars and is largely taken from my session at Distilled’s SearchLove San Diego conference (yes, that’s search in the sunshine!) Let’s take a look at these three cornerstones in a bit more detail and share some ideas on how you can better your content marketing strategy with these simple steps.


1. Don’t confuse content marketing with link building

When we’re thinking of making content, we shouldn’t just be serving up something simply because it works to hit those “viral” topics in some vague hope of “winning the internet” – build content instead to address your users and audience’s needs throughout the user experience on your site.

So where does link building fit into the scope then?

Content marketing should affect every part of your brand, both online (on your website) and offline (in your other marketing initiatives).

Basically, you need to take some time to understand what type of content your audience wants to help drive them through to a conversion and become brand loyalists. Whilst you can try to do all activities throughout the different areas of the funnel, these are the channels we’ve found best for each stage.

To illustrate where link building fits into the promotional landscape, take a look at this image that shows the different types of promotions mapped to the customer funnel. And yes, we’ve included link building under the vast umbrella of outreach, as while outreach doesn’t strictly revolve around this, this is where that tactic typically falls.


The main takeaway? Match what stage of the funnel your content is working towards to the appropriate promotional activity to get the best results. It’s not about promoting your content harder but smarter.

2. Work out your goals in advance

There’s no point churning out all this top content if you don’t have any real goals in place. You need to be looking at the results of your content marketing efforts to see if it’s honestly making the business money. In a similar vein, there’s no point only tracking short term goals. A lot of brands will make the decision to focus on monitoring metrics like links, social shares and mentions and whilst this is a good place to start, this is only the first step to making money. These things won’t result in direct sales, particularly with top funnel content. SO in this case, these companies haven’t worked to align their content marketing efforts with the appropriate goals.

The different types of goals and metrics for tracking

All (content) marketing goals and their relative success tracking can be put into four sections and these also happen to fall rather nicely into the different stages of the customer purchasing funnel we talked about above.


But this isn’t the best (or indeed only) way to look at it. Mapping our goals to a funnel seems to create this very concrete start and end point and, in fact, you want to create this content cycle with your audience rather than some faceless consumer conveyer belt. With that in mind, something along these lines might be a better illustration of this process.


Let’s think about it. We want to get our audience engaged and interested in our content but we also hope that this might lead them to a sale – if they should make a purchase, we then hope we can create relationships with these customers and, ideally, turn them into our brand evangelists – hopefully bringing along new customers via word of mouth and all that social sharing of our stuff.

Community is the new content

The consume section of this graphic is highlighted as being within the marketing industry.  These short term measurements are often the ones that tend to be concentrated on – and yes, new customer acquisition is important but there’s a real opportunity to increase your revenue by investing in your community and building that retention. (The lovely Mack Fogelson knows a lot on the subject which she fleshes out over here on a pretty exhaustive Moz post.)

3. Do your research

A lot of people are asking: “What is the difference between content marketing and content strategy?”. To that I’d say, content marketing is the general umbrella term used when you’re talking about any sort of marketing activity that includes generating content whilst content strategy weaves into these efforts and helps shape the output towards a specific end goal (at least so it’s more measurable for you!).

There’s no point creating stellar content when there is no strategy to get it out to your community. So it’s super important to take the time to do the research required around a particular project or campaign and then come up with a suitable strategy.

As Montell Jordan once said, this is how we do it.


This process can be divided into four pretty clear areas. Once this research is carried out, you can then go ahead and start shaping that strategy. But remember, although strategy is an intrinsic part of this process, you are also going to have to work on that sticky brand message (both internally and externally) as well as some strong editorial standards.

First up, benchmark audit.

This is a great way to really get your head around your current brand performance.

Points to consider:

  • How are you currently performing?
  • Are there areas in which you are underperfoming or places you might be able to improve?
  • Are you measuring the right things?
  • What is your USP?

To figure out the answers to these questions, taking a look in your Google Analytics is a good starting point to gauge the company’s performance over the last year or so (at the very minimum). Go in with some questions in mind that you are hoping to answer as these will really help you get a better idea of your online performance and relationship with your visitors. These could be: What is traffic like to your site and which pages are visited most? Do these pages drive conversions and where are your customers spending the most time? Can you identify the top referring keywords for your brand?

Competitor Research

When making an informed content plan, this type of context is going to be hugely invaluable to you. There is a ton of great resources on how to carry this out, everything from the more traditional route to an analysis viewed through a content marketing lens. Some questions you might want to start with are as follows:

  • What products/services are they providing? How are they different from yours?
  • What type of content do they create?
  • How does that content perform?
  • Do they have a community? How engaged is it?
  • How are competitors performing in the SERPs?

It’s also worth checking out Annie Cushing’s article on mining competitors’ backlinks.

(Online) Market Research

The online is in parenthesis here as market research can take a number of forms, both online and offline – through focus groups or direct mailers – but I’m going to give you an insight into the more online focuses.

Carry out keyword research throughout the funnel

Keyword research is a great way to really understand users’ intent when they are searching for something online. There are many exhaustive resources out there already on this but I will say, it is important to get creative and conduct keyword research for opportunities throughout your customers’ potential purchasing path. Think bigger and further removed than simply the purchase.

Check out Google Trends

Again my colleague Mike Tek has beat me to it and offered up insight into some unappreciated marketing resources out there which is where Google Trends comes in. You can use this to look up historical search volumes from a bunch of different keywords which will then give you a much clearer picture on popularity.

Find out what’s trending socially

What are people online engaging with? Finding out social trends is a great way to answer this. What social platform works for you will depend on your industry. There’s a list of 69 social media tools you can use for a better grasp on what works well socially.

Customer research

Last but by no means least – the daddy of the research process would be the customer research portion. This is definitely an area that you can keep thinking on and adapting but here are just some of the ways I have been trying out as of late:

  • Surveys: Send these to your current customers and non-customers using Google Consumer Surveys. You can also try surveying users directly on your site with tools like Quaraloo.
  • Real-people studies: Not the best description admittedly but what I mean here is using tools that allow non-customers to test out different portions of your site and then give you feedback. I’d suggest things like Mechanical Turk, UserTesting.com and Crazy Egg.
  • Scrape forums or communities: Places like Quora or LinkedIn groups will give you a sense of what questions are being asked related to your product/services in the industry.
  • Using big-data APIs to mine social insight from your users: This is a great article on how to mine FullContact to get a better understanding of your customers.

Once you have all of these elements working together, you can start to shape your content strategy a bit better. For a truly awesome content marketing strategy, you need to be looking for opportunities to grow (based on your benchmark audit), gaps in the market (are there things your competitors aren’t doing that you could be?), and what your target customers want and need to make that purchasing decision online.


You can learn more on the subject by taking a look at the video of my session at SearchLove San Diego which we’re giving away to the lovely iAcquire community entirely for free (saving you a tidy $55!)

Simply head over to the store here and input your details to gain access to the free video.

If you’re keen to learn more, I’d really recommend joining Distilled for our next conference in Boston this April; we’ve already confirmed some pretty awesome speakers with Google’s Justin Cutroni and TED’s Aaron Weyenberg both gracing the stage next month.

Hope to see you there!

responses to “3 Steps to a Better Content Marketing Strategy”

  1. Jim Thornton says:

    Thanxxx good takeaway on where in the sales funnel requires what kind of outreach. I’d be excited to see something going deeper into cross referencing those related concepts with commonalities for psychographics for search intent.

  2. Good tips Adria! The research note is uber key 😉

  3. Adria Saracino says:

    Thanks Ryan! Agree, research is so important because it minimizes risk. It’s super risky to take a shot in the dark and say “this is what we’ll do” – I much prefer having some context in order to develop better strategies!

  4. […] of your audience on the platform. These insights can help provide a strong foundation for your content marketing strategy on […]

  5. […] of your audience on the platform. These insights can help provide a strong foundation for your content marketing strategy on […]