Plan Your Website Content Strategy Before Making Design Decisions

Plan your website around your conversion strategy

In my firm, we launch new websites at a pace of about one every ten days. The actual build cycle is longer, more like 30-60 days, which is still pretty amazing considering the quality and complexity of those websites. They’re beautiful, but probably 90% could have a stronger launch, and begin producing results weeks or months sooner. How? Content planning and strategy.

You hear it every day.

“Content is king.” (I really don’t like that cliche, but it’s true.)

“The most important thing about your website is content.”

“Your website has to have lots of great content.”

Variations of that statement are everywhere. Even Google makes it clear that the number one ranking factor is a high volume of relevant, useful, high quality content. I’ve never met anyone that doesn’t agree, yet virtually every business owner/manager/marketing head I work with puts design ahead of everything else.

Of course, design is a big part of the content mix, but text is what drives online visibility, especially in search. So, what’s the best approach to developing your website content strategy? It starts with a goal.

Goal setting for your website content strategy

Successful businesses make a big deal about goals. Goals give us something tangible to strive for. They provide the means to gauge our progress, and highlight when corrections might be necessary. Most business owners are familiar with “SMART” goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound. Often, these are seen as big-picture goals like revenue targets, product releases, client acquisition numbers, etc. Intermediate goals are sometimes viewed as key performance indicators, or KPI’s.

In the context of your website, a typical SMART goal might be to increase online sales by 10% over the next 90 days without affecting profit margins. That type of goal can apply to sales overall, or just a single product or category. KPI’s tell you how you’re doing along the way. The obvious is some incremental sales gain tracked weekly or monthly during that 90 day period. We can do even better.

Online, you can measure everything

As you begin your website content planning, decide what your main business objectives are. Assess them individually, and decide which of those can best be achieved, or supported by your website. Focus on that.

For example, your business goals might be to increase margins, engage you customers better and attract more qualified leads. Let’s rate them based on how well your website might be able to contribute to achieving each particular objective.

  1. Attract more qualified leads: The Internet might as well have been invented for online lead generation, so we’ll start by making this website goal #1.
  2. Engage your customers better: As a goal, this isn’t very measurable, but your website can do a very good job bolstering relationships with real human customers. Let’s make this #2.
  3. Increase margins: In some cases, the Internet actually can be used to increase profit margins, but how to do so isn’t as easy to define, so we’ll leave this one alone for the moment.

Business goals drive strategy

Having established lead generation as the primary website goal, the underlying content strategy should revolve around that. By nature, lead generation is a top of the funnel activity, usually at the “awareness” stage of the buyer’s journey. Lead generation is also a central goal of the “attract” and “convert” stages of the ‘Inbound Marketing Methodology.’

In Internet terms, “awareness”, “attract” and related concepts almost always involve search engines, specifically SEO, frequently PPC (AdWords, etc.) and usually social media. Effective online lead generation requires a strategy for each.

My preference is to address organic SEO before anything else. Content and organic search go hand in hand. Your planning should focus on building a sufficiently high volume of helpful, well-written content, aimed at providing solutions or answers for visitors that would also make ideal customers.

Start with the things your customers ask you every day. Be specific, because each of these topics represents an opportunity to target specific keywords focused on user intent. Remember, this is a planning exercise. For now, don’t worry about what your actual content will look like. Later you’ll decide what to publish and when.

Plan your categories and tags

If your website is on WordPress (about 30,000,000 business websites are), a keyword-focused, category and tagging strategy is essential. In WordPress, categories and tags only apply to posts. Since posts can be structured to look and behave like any other page, it is often worthwhile to use posts for content whenever possible. You can use custom menus to make your posts even more “page-like.” I’ll get into this more in a future post.

Tags and categories both create additional URLs. These URLs automatically include the tag or category in the path name. From an SEO standpoint, this goes a long way to add keyword focus, but there’s an additional benefit. Those URLs link to an article listing of all your blog posts using that tag or category. Very often, tag or category links index sooner and achieve higher rankings than individual articles. Sometimes, both will appear on the same page of the SERP, giving your website even more visibility.

Many other platforms provide similar functionality, so take advantage of it.

Regardless of the mechanics, you should know what your particular content management system is capable of and how it publishes content. Your keyword and content strategy need to take advantage of that.

Content blueprint, not ‘sitemap’

If you’ve done sufficient keyword research, you should be able to organize target keywords by topic. As mentioned, most CMS platforms utilize some variation of page/category/tag structure. Your content ‘blueprint’ should be built around it.

Let’s assume you came up with 8 groups with an average of 10 keywords or target phrases. A very simple approach to content planning would be to create a category for each group and a few tags using the top keywords in that group.

Notice, I haven’t touched on pages at all. This is because website pages tend to be much more static, and limiting than other forms of content. The typical practice is to create a “sitemap” listing all the pages the website should include. The trouble with building around a sitemap is it is extremely difficult to make changes as tracking and visitor data become available.

My preference is to use pages for relatively static content and boilerplate stuff like your homepage, contact us, about us, products, services. This has the benefit of keeping the navigation simple, which is especially important for mobile devices. Everything else can be better managed following your content blueprint, using the post functionality for your particular CMS platform.

Content editorial calendar

Following the outline above, you’ll have a handful of pages, several post categories, and a good number of keywords grouped by category. Using those numbers, there will be about 6 webpages, plus 8 categories with 10 keywords. That’s content for 86 pages and posts! If your CRM automatically creates URLs for categories and tags, those 86 pages and posts will result in 130 to 180 URLs.

To get there, the bottom line is you’ll need at least one post targeted to each of your selected keywords. 10 keywords, times 8 groups = 80 posts.

Unless you have a lot of staff, or tons of time to write, chances are 80 posts is going to be a burden. The best way to deal with this is to plan a realistic rollout schedule and stick to it. At a rate of one article per week, 80 posts represents a year and a half commitment.

Content writing for web: Doing the actual work

A lot of business owners, and even digital agencies deal with this by hiring freelance bloggers through UpWork or a similar website. Almost always, the result is a series of poorly researched, keyword-stuffed articles. It’s cheap and easy, but you won’t be doing anything to build your business by publishing a bunch of crap out on the Internet.

Have you ever watched in horror as an employee said all the wrong things to one of your best customers? Most likely you stepped in and took over the conversation, and probably made it a learning experience afterward. But what if you weren’t there? The wrong message would likely have cost you business, and maybe lost a good customer for good.

Bad web content is no different than a misinformed employee making stuff up, or destroying a presentation while representing you. You must either write your own content, or work with a pro that will take the time to understand your business, industry, consumer base, and goals.

Putting it all together

Website content strategy is a lot of work. However, it isn’t any more work than most of your other critical business activities when you put it in perspective. Moreover, your online content is relatively permanent. Once published, every page and post will be available 24/7 attracting new customers to your business.

I’ll leave you with a final thought. Many business owners pay thousands of dollars for a TV or radio commercial to run maybe a week or two leading up a sale or other promotion. By nature, broadcast media is nearly impossible to measure, and frustratingly temporary. That same investment in online content can attract new customers for many years. Commercials exist in isolation, while your website content is additive. The effort you put in today will lay the foundation for content you publish weeks, months or even years form now.

The critical element is reaching the right audience and getting the messaging right. That starts with content strategy and a plan.

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