Dissecting Content Strategy and Strategists

An ongoing guide to content strategy…

As surfers of the web, we rarely take a moment to stop and appreciate the user experience.

  • We expect search engines to solve all of our problems.
  • We expect content-heavy websites to load in the blink of an eye.
  • We expect every piece of content to be some epic goldmine of ideas and insights.
  • We expect action buttons to instantly transfer information without a chance to buffer.

And it’s not as if these expectations are wrong to be had. The standards have simply been set in place. Websites that do little to improve the user experience often fade away.

However, we, as users, rarely think of tiny details that make our experience enjoyable.

  • The unique angle to a controversial story shared respectfully
  • A timely and relevant video emailed right when we needed it
  • Convenient sequences of articles, images, and related information

So who are the people that iron out these tiny details? 

Content strategists.

Something as simple as employing an enthusiastic forum moderator could be considered a duty of a content strategist.

Before we get into the duties and elements of a strategist, let’s briefly go over the popularized term ‘content strategy.’

What is content strategy?

content strategy

Robert Pratten via Flickr: http://bit.ly/ICkSZ3

According to A List Apart content strategy is more than making bullet lists.

Yes, this may come as a shocker, but simply adding a number to an article headline is not the end-all be-all of content strategy.

Kristina Halvorson on content strategy

Kristina Halvorson via Flickr: http://bit.ly/ICkEkO

The author, Kristina Halvorson, challenges us to ask the difficult questions:

  • Who really cares about our content?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Who is going to promote it and make sure it appears in appropriate places?

Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.

—Kristina Halvorson

The most vital takeaway for me, is that content must promote interactivity. It must derive from a place that is well-researched, planned, and executed.

The strategy is quite similar to that of a public relations campaign. Content ideas and models should have a proven need that ultimately fulfills a communications or business goal. It’s the duty of a content strategist to model around these needs and fuel the campaign to reach these goals.

What is a content strategist?

content strategist

via Christopher Wink: http://bit.ly/ICl2Qi

The mastermind, the conductor, the captain.

While challenging and demanding, content strategists are best known for their meticulous nature – quite opposite of what many suggest to be more free-spirited and sparks of genius.

Content strategists must embed creativity into their workflow, but they prioritize fact digging, data mining, competitor research and analysis, careful planning, integrated tracking, and management.

The title “content strategist” is rather fluid, as it both encompasses and makes up related roles, such as element of search engine optimization, conversion optimization, marketing, advertising, and production.

Marketers are aligned a bit more strictly with product pushing, given their sales-driven nature, while content strategists have the flexibility of working towards things like captivation, inspiration, downloads, entertainment, and challenges, for example.

Is content strategy mainly for the web?

content strategy for the web

via Richard Ingram: http://bit.ly/ICldv3

Web properties seem to be the popular choice of employment for content strategists, although traditional offline strategists remain in demand, such as content models, testing, promotional strategy, tracking, and management.

Because of the goals tethered to marketing and communications positions, and the necessity of an online presence, the offline world of “content strategy” is commonly categorized by niche marketing terms.

So from a general perspective, the answer is yes, content strategy is mainly for the web; however, it’s important to understand the offline application of content strategy. For example, gathering results from a focus group to execute a “content” plan that increases the interactivity of store visitors with demo products. In this example, “content” refers to the items and media used in the store (ie; a visual banner, changing display colors and copy, or simply adding background music).

What are the elements of a proper content strategy?

elements of content strategy

via Brain Traffic: http://bit.ly/IClBtp

Again, the elements of content strategy closely resemble that of a public relations campaign.

“Developing The Public Relations Campaign – A Team-Based Approach” by Randy Bobbitt & Ruth Sullivan is an excellent piece for both PR and any related strategic communications campaign.

The basic elements are:

  1. Determine your business and/or communications goal
  2. Determine objectives to meet your goal
  3. Determine strategies and tactics to meet your objectives

A proper content strategy template

content strategy template

via Student Success: http://bit.ly/IClNJg

  1. Determine your business and/or communications goal
    1. First and foremost, pick one primary goal your content strategy will aim to achieve.
    2. Goals must be smart, realistic, and measurable (i.e; increase 6-month social share rates by 30%)
  2. Research Phase
    1. Before determining objectives and goals we must administer meticulous research and audience segmentation.
    2. This includes competitor research and analysis, planning focus groups/user testing/surveys, all possible secondary research, and
  3. Determine objectives to meet your goal
    1. Outline at least two objectives to fuel your goal (these objectives should be based on research).
    2. Objectives must follow the goal format (i.e; create 24 themed videos, 1 per week, to promote [site/campaign])
  4. Determine strategies and tactics to meet your objectives
    1. Outline at least two strategies and tactics to fuel each objective (these strategies and tactics should be based on research).
    2. These include network & prospect building, installing a new comment system, mini-promotion campaigns, integrating a new theme for content, responding to 50% more comments across all social networks, etc…

Collectively, these elements ensure content strategy meets a higher standard and separate you from the “one-trick ponies”.

Additionally, tracking and measurement should be set in place with tools to help us reach our benchmarks or adjust our targets in the next campaign.

Any good content strategy tools I should equip myself with?

content strategy tools

It’s been said throughout history:

A workman is only as good as his tools

This applies tenfold to workers in the online realm. Ask any full-time food, travel, mommy, or health blogger. I guarantee you they have Google Analytics, HootSuite, and custom spreadsheets running 24/7.

And these tools are just scratching the surface. There are thousands of possible content strategy tools. At the very least, we’ll want to have tools in the following areas:


  • Google Analytics
  • KISSmetrics
  • Crazy Egg


  • Visual Website Optimizer
  • User Testing (.com)
  • Optimizely
  • Google Content Experiments

Social Management

  • HootSuite
  • Buffer
  • MomentFeed
  • TweetDeck

Content Mining

  • BuzzBundle
  • Google AdWords & Keyword Planner
  • Quora, Subreddits, LinkedIn Groups, and niche forums

How does content management impact my strategy?

From multi-tiered folder directories to integrated content management systems, we need some way to keep everything organized.

Content management is really a subjective and contextual process. If you’re strictly running a video campaign you’ll most likely need a lot of memory, such as an external hard drive.

If you’re running a small trivia contest across social channels, you could set up custom spreadsheets that integrate with trivia software API or maybe the software already comes with an integrated management. You could let Google Forms handle all the dirty work.

If we don’t have content management set in place, our strategy becomes more difficult to execute. When a strategy devotes all its energy and resources to creation, its banking on “going viral” – which is a word we should all stop using. Using content management means we understand how a strategy is layered and how each piece of content fuels a realistic goal – not “landing on Mashable or TechCrunch”. These are not guaranteed and rarely realistic.

Should I worry about content strategy for mobile devices?

content strategy for mobile

Most web marketing articles over the past 3-4 years touche on the importance of mobile optimization.

However, if we’ve done proper research and realize 80% of our traffic is via desktop browsers, while 20% is scattered across mobile devices, it’s completely fine to disregard mobile. This is under the impression we have a limited budget and resources.

Responsive design helps separate many sites from their competitors. While going responsive does make the mobile experience “satisfactory” it doesn’t maximize any mobile opportunities. This includes anything from action buttons to mini-apps.

If research suggests, for example, that 50% of users are coming from mobile and are frustrated with their experience, we now have a clear pain point and goal for our strategy.

How important is the promotional strategy?

Promotion is not as intensive as the prior process, but it requires strategic implementation.

For example, if we’re promoting an infographic, is it worth our time reaching out to a site that has little thematic relation? What about sites that are strictly text-based?

Promotional strategy is generally executed in the following fashion, but should be modified to your situation:

  • Prospecting Phase
    • Recording all sites + contact information that are appropriate places to pitch your content
    • Developing relationships/networking with higher profile contacts, such as a Mashable writer in your niche.
  • Pitch Template
    • Write a pitch template for outreaching that can be easily altered for personalization.
  • Outreaching Phase
    • Personalize all pitches and reach out to everyone in your list.
    • Record the status of every pitch so you know when to to follow-up for unresponsive pitches
    • After a few days-week, send out follow-up emails (you can make a template for follow-ups as well).
  • Thank Yous
    • Lastly, send out a thank you (template) to everyone who shared/mentioned your content.
    • Record those who shared in a separate location (such as a spreadsheet) so in the future you have higher response rates :)

This is how a general promotional strategy will be executed. There is a lot of wiggle room for creativity, such as:

  • tweeting, facebook messaging, and LinkedIn messaging at prospects
  • building suspense with content, such as a “Can you guess what this is?” or leaving clues across social channels

Content is web food, but most of the food is stale

noisy world

via Trey Ratcliff: http://bit.ly/ICkKJ7

We know the internet is a noisy place and we know most of the content out there is sub-par to whatever our standards are. Maybe this reflects a majority preference or maybe this reflects laziness/lack of creativity.

One of my favorite places to find inspiration is a subreddit called: The internet is beautiful.

This features sites that exist primarily as one page, yet captivate you longer than some of the most popular sites. Maybe they’ll spark some ideas for your future content strategies.

Also, if you’re looking for additional content strategy resources, Jonathon Colman has a massive list that should hold you over this Winter.

And if you have any tips/suggestions just let me know and I’ll update this piece, cheers!

About author View all posts

Jesse Aaron

I'm a blogger, homebrewer, and community manager. Aside from writing, I have a passion for music and design.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

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