Your 6-Step Guide to Building a Content Strategy in 2023 | Semrush
GoodContent by Semrush

Your 6-Step Guide to Building a Content Strategy in 2023

Margarita LoktionovaMar 20, 202316 min read

An exciting aspect of content strategy is that if it’s executed well, you’ll achieve everything you set out to do with your business. And just about anyone can create one and be successful.

Whether you’re heading up a multinational enterprise or you’re the owner of a local beauty salon, content strategy is your road map to marketing success. It outlines the fastest and most efficient route to get to your desired destination.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about content strategy, no matter the size of your business or level of experience.

What Is Content Strategy?

What Is Content Strategy?

A content strategy is a road map you follow to reach your business goals using content marketing. It helps you decide on and plan for engaging, valuable content at each stage of the buyer’s journey—from awareness of your solution to becoming a client and beyond with retention and advocacy.

Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing: What’s the Difference?

While content strategy is a road map for creating and managing content, content marketing is a specific tactic or approach within that larger content strategy.

Content marketing is the process of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content. The aim is usually to connect with an audience and drive profits.

Why Do You Need a Content Strategy?

Why Do You Need a Content Strategy?

Here are some additional reasons you should have a content strategy in place:

  1. A content strategy helps you create content with purpose and stay in line with your business goals and target audience needs. Documenting this strategy is important: According to our 2023 State of Content Marketing Report, 80% of respondents who consider their content marketing efforts to be very successful have a documented strategy.
  2. It’s more effective and efficient than creating content on the fly. By planning out what you need for the month, quarter, and year, you can divide your budget and designate resources in the best ways possible.
  3. With a data-driven approach to content marketing, you’ll understand which types of content are most important for your business. That way, you’ll be creating the most valuable and impactful content for your audience.
  4. Finally, a content strategy helps you understand what works, what doesn’t, and what you need to improve.
What Are the 4 Key Components of Content Strategy?

What Are the 4 Key Components of Content Strategy?

With a solid content creation strategy in place, you’ll be connecting with your audience and aligning with your business goals.

Here are four key components of a content strategy framework and why each one is important:

1. Business goals and metrics

A successful content strategy plan doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s important to understand the bottom line: What does your company need to achieve in the next 6 to 12 months? And how can content marketing help you do that?

Your content strategy should be pushing all your marketing efforts along in the same direction and staying aligned with these goals.

Once you know your key goals, it’s key to also think about content marketing metrics that will help you assess performance.

2. Audience profile

Understanding your target audience is essential to succeed in content marketing.

Beyond knowing their demographic information and buying behavior patterns, you should have deep knowledge of their goals and pain points.

You also need to understand the context in which they exist and the questions they need answering.

This will help you create a content strategy and content plans tailored to your customers’ needs. Eventually, it’ll ensure that your content resonates and that your budgets don’t go to waste.

3. Production and content management plans

Content management will form part of the strategy picture. It entails a lot of the production process, including:

  • Content creation: How will you create it? Who will write and design it?
  • Editing: Who will ensure it’s of the highest quality, well optimized, and ready for publishing?
  • Organizing: Who’s responsible for creating an editorial calendar and getting things done and on time?
  • Distributing: Where will your content be published and in what formats?
  • Promoting: How will you make sure your content reaches the right audiences?

4. Budget and team

Finally, it’s important to consider your budget and human resources—the factors that will ultimately determine the successful execution of your strategy.

If you have very limited resources, it will be more important to focus on the few key channels that are most effective for your business instead of trying to “boil the ocean” and do everything at once.

It’s better to create a few pieces of great content rather than a bunch of mediocre pieces, after all.

You will need to set a budget for content strategy, production, and promotion. So be sure to think about these elements before going full steam ahead.

Once you’ve put your content strategy together, you can move toward putting together your action plan and tactics. Your tactics are the tools and methods you will use to execute your strategy effectively. In content marketing, some typical tactics might be:

  • Sponsoring quality content on social media to generate followers or traffic
  • Producing gated content to build a mailing list and generate leads
  • Creating blog posts optimized for search to generate organic traffic
Step-by-Step: How Do You Create an Effective Content Strategy?

Step-by-Step: How Do You Create an Effective Content Strategy?

We’ve explored the components of a successful content strategy. Now we’ll go through the process of building one in six straightforward steps.

By considering these factors, a small- or medium-sized business can create content that is tailored to its target audience, business goals, and resources.

At the same time, it can ensure that it maximizes the reach and impact of its message.

Watch this video to get the top tips for making your content marketing more effective:

Now, let’s summarize the key steps you need to take when building your content strategy.

Step One: Audience Research

Step One: Audience Research

Let’s start with your audience and current customers.

Once you know who your audience is, each piece of content you create later on will be much more authentic and useful for them. It will also be more likely to drive results for your business.

Remember that your content marketing audience can be wider since you’ll want to attract people at different stages of their journey. Hence, zoom out of a product-centric vision and focus on a broader set of pain points and topics.

It’s also important to:

  • Develop a good understanding of the different types of customers you are targeting (audience segments) and content they might be interested in
  • Compile a list of their goals, challenges, and doubts
  • Find out where they consume content: Which social media platforms are they using? What blogs do they read? How do they search online?
  • Explore their preferred content formats

So, how can you go about this research?

You’ll need to carry out market research and speak to members of your own team (especially if you have a sales or customer care department).

You can research your customers in many different ways, including surveys, focus groups, keyword research, and website and social media analytics.

You can also analyze Facebook and LinkedIn groups and Quora and Reddit threads to understand what topics your audience cares about.

For example, imagine you are targeting social media managers. Head to Reddit, type “social media” and explore communities that pop up.

How to analyze Reddit to understand your content marketing audience

Each of those communities will be full of questions asked by real people. You can use those to discover your customers’ pain points and come up with relevant content ideas.

How to analyze Reddit to understand your content marketing audience
Step Two: Research the Competition

Step Two: Research the Competition

Like it or not, there are lots of other companies vying for the attention of your audience.

Thus, you need to know who they are, what they are trying to do, and where they are putting out their content.

That’s where competitor content strategy research comes in. You can start by googling topics relevant to your business and analyzing websites appearing high in search.

Try answering the following questions:

  • Which topics do they cover with their content? Which content formats do they opt for? For example, do they have many blog posts, videos, templates, or something else?
  • Which channels are they distributing their content on? For example, most websites have outbound links to their social media profiles, which can help you analyze their social presence.
  • Where do they get the most engagement? For instance, you can see likes, shares, and comments on their social posts to get an idea.
  • What keywords do they rank for? And which of their pages generate the most traffic and rank highest? For this, you can use the Organic Research tool.

To do this, simply type your competitor’s domain in the tool and check out the “Positions” and “Pages” reports to see their top-performing keywords and content.

How to analyze your competitors' content
Step Three: Define Your Objectives

Step Three: Define Your Objectives

At this point you should be well-informed and able to put together your high-level content marketing goals.

These goals should be aligned with what your business hopes to achieve in the near future (e.g., increased revenue, customer numbers, more brand awareness, etc.).

Ultimately, such goals give you a benchmark and show whether your content is successful or not. From there you can work on optimizing and improving what you produce.

Ideally, your goals should follow the SMART framework: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Here are some content strategy example goals:

  1. Brand awareness: You want to create content that connects with a new audience.

    SMART format: By the end of the first quarter, we will achieve a 10% increase in website visitors. We’ll also see a 15% increase in social media followers through our new content campaign.
  2. Lead generation: You want to build a list of potential clients. That means your content should be oriented toward getting your website or social media visitors to sign up for your mailing list, download an ebook, or book a call. These leads can become paying customers down the line.

    SMART format: By December, we will have curated a mailing list of 250 new qualified leads. They will be interested in purchasing items from our home technology product range.
  3. Increase engagement: You want your audience to interact with your business through comments, likes, and shares to reach new audiences. You also want to build trust and a positive brand image because this can help your audience choose your product or service over those of a competitor.

    SMART format: By the end of Q3, our social media engagement rate will have increased by 25%. We will achieve this through interactive quiz content on our Instagram and LinkedIn channels.
  4. Client retention: You want your customers to come back again and again. You can do this when you produce valuable, actionable, or practical content. You can integrate sales-focused calls to action here or include discounts and referral codes to keep things aligned with your other marketing tactics.

    SMART format: We will increase our client retention by 40% through actionable content, upsells, and exclusive deals on our new product ranges. This will all be delivered through our segmented newsletters on a weekly basis.
  5. Lower customer acquisition costs: You want to drive more qualified leads to your website. SEO content in particular has a long life span and encourages organic traffic (website visitors you don’t pay for). As a result, you can lower your ad spend and convert more customers simply by being a valuable resource for them.
Step Four: Establish Message and Voice

Step Four: Establish Message and Voice

Content strategy also takes into account what you want to say and how you want to say it. In marketing terms, that’s your message and brand voice.

When it comes to messaging, there are two main factors:

  1. What you want to achieve (e.g., your eco-friendly interior design firm wants to sell more sustainable products)
  2. What your audience needs (e.g., your audience wants to know about home decorations)

When you can marry these two, you’ll know what you need to say.

Your brand voice is akin to your personality. A brand voice will help convey your brand and values. You can learn more about how to define it in our dedicated guide to defining a brand voice.

So, think about the sort of company you have. Are you a go-getter like Red Bull, an inspiring innovator like Apple, or a soothing guide like Headspace?

Red Bull tone of voice example

Use of superlative adjectives (“fastest”) and sport-focused vocabulary makes Red Bull’s tone of voice feel fast-paced, fun, and exciting:

tone of voice example - Red Bull

Headspace tone of voice example

Headspace takes a more circumspect approach, using “we” a lot to involve the audience. It is also far less direct, using “might,” “don’t seem,” and “likely to.” It doesn’t make assumptions about the audience and it’s a far gentler (even meditative) tone, which reflects the purpose of the brand:

tone of voice example - Headspace
Step Five: Build a High-Level Plan

Step Five: Build a High-Level Plan

A content marketing plan helps you see what you need to execute your strategy. When creating it, consider the following:

  • Content topics you are going to cover
  • The content formats you will create
  • Any tools you will need to use for content production or management (e.g., Canva for design, Semrush for SEO, Trello for project management, Google Analytics for tracking, etc.)
  • The human resources you will need to produce, edit, and publish the content
  • The budget you will need
  • Your metrics and key performance indicators
  • Promotion channels you will use to distribute your content

You can then go on to create a content calendar to organize your efforts and be sure that you stay on track. Here’s a simple content calendar example:

ChannelPost typeCreatorCostKPIDeadline
InstagramStoryConnie€225No. of swipe-upsJune 20

If you’re not sure where to start or need inspiration, use our free Title Generator tool.

It will suggest multiple headline ideas for your content plan, come up with related topics, and generate a quick summary for each idea you've selected.

Enter a topic to collect.

For example: how to create good content

Enter a topic to collect. For example: how to create good content

Choose the Relevant Types of Content Marketing

1. Social media marketing

Brands use platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Telegram, Facebook, WeChat, Twitter—and any of the hundreds of other social media platforms out there.

These channels are used to connect to an audience via their interests, through groups and pages they follow.

It’s common to use a mix of organic (not paid for) content and sponsored content to build their communities.

Generally speaking, customer-facing brands like a social presence because they can interact with their customer base. Doing so, they can easily get feedback, share news, and promote new products.

Here’s an example:

Ecommerce brand JustPaddles has a strong social media strategy, focusing its efforts on offering tips for its sport-enthusiast customers:

social media content marketing example

2. Email marketing

Email marketing is another effective communication channel for content strategists. There are several ways to use it:

  • Regular newsletters to maintain contact with an engaged mailing list, sharing news, updates, and practical tips
  • One-off or seasonal emails to share targeted offers, discounts, or other more promotional content
  • Course content: interactive content that people have signed up for, for professional development reasons
  • Onboarding/training reasons: “drip” email campaigns are a set series of emails delivered at a predetermined cadence; often, the person receiving these types of mails has tasks to complete

Here’s a simple example of a newsletter from automation platform Zapier. It speaks to a customer pain point: the need to automate processes across the entire company. It’s also very short and has a very simple call to action:

email content example

3. Video content marketing

Video content is popular, effective (our research shows that 41% of survey respondents say video made their 2021 content strategy successful), and easy to consume.

Even better, it is suitable for a variety of channels—think YouTube, Instagram Reels, TikTok, etc.

Videos can be used to build awareness of a product, solve customer problems, highlight benefits, use cases, features, or simply share customer stories.

In the example below, we see low-cost airline Ryanair's irreverent approach to video content marketing is paying off (they often make fun of their customer complaints: a risky tactic!).

Ryanair video content marketing example

4. Blog posts and in-depth guides

Blog articles and guides are also very versatile content formats. They allow you to write content for different buyer personas, with different needs and different stages of the buying cycle.

When blogs are optimized for search engines, they also drive organic traffic for longer than social media posts and paid content.

5. Gated content

Website visitors access gated content by supplying an email address or other information (name, phone number, etc.) to download a resource.

This content should offer added value to readers, making sure it’s worth sharing their personal information.

While this content has no SEO value (you can’t access it directly from the search results), there are several reasons you might want to use it. It lets you:

  • Collect emails and build a mailing list
  • Generate marketing-qualified leads (MQLs)
  • Increase engagement and funnel people toward conversion

Here’s an example from Mindfulness Exercises:

Mindfulness Exercises content marketing example

6. Free tools

Content marketers often use free tools that are related to their target audience’s needs and their own service offering. They are designed to attract visitors, generate backlinks, encourage users to share the service, and provide additional value for free.

This cost of living calculator from financial education company NerdWallet, for example, helps you compare two cities.

content marketing example - free tools

Determine How You Will Share Your Content

You need to think about how to get your content in front of as many people as possible.

Which social media channels are they on? Do they prefer using a smartphone, desktop computer, or other devices? Do they like to read blogs, or are they more about podcasts or Pinterest?

These are all points you will have defined in your audience and market research.

Ultimately, these questions will help you decide where to put and promote your content. The channels will also dictate the content formats you go for.

Pro tip:

You will also be able to repurpose the content you have created for maximum visibility.

For example, a blog post could become an infographic. A podcast could be repurposed and turned into a blog.

This way you get as much from your content as possible, reaching your audience in different ways on their preferred channels.

For some inspiration, here are some popular content formats.

Step Six: Have a Clear Way To Track Content Performance

Step Six: Have a Clear Way To Track Content Performance

It’s no good having a content strategy if you can’t track your results. As we hinted at in step five, you’ll need a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

These are metrics that tie directly in with your objectives. That means they will always vary depending on what you want to achieve in the short, medium, and long term.

Some common content marketing KPIs include:

  1. Traffic: This refers to the number of people visiting your website or blog as a result of your content marketing efforts.

    You can track other related metrics, such as referral source (where the traffic came from), whether it was paid or organic traffic, which campaign led the visitor to your website, etc.
  2. Leads: These are your potential customers; visitors tend to become leads when they sign up for a mailing list, provide their email address in exchange for a download, fill in a form, use a chat box, etc.

    Your content tactics will determine how people become leads, and your metrics will show you what’s working and what’s not.
  3. Conversion rates: This is the percentage of visitors who become clients (or convert in some other way). It’s sometimes more interesting to know this than simply the number of leads you get.

    A conversion rate can tell you which types of content get lots of traffic (and no clients) and, in contrast, the types of content that convert at a higher rate.
  4. Social media engagement rates: This shows the number or percentage of comments, likes, and shares on social media. You can use it to determine which type of content performs best—and on which channel.
  5. Onsite engagement: Here you look at how visitors engage with your website, the pathways they take from page to page, and the links they click. Understanding this can help you optimize your website and digital sales funnels.
  6. Cost per lead: This answers the big question: How much money are you spending to generate each lead through your content marketing efforts? You can find it by dividing content marketing spend by the number of leads generated.
  7. Return on investment (ROI): Finally, we have ROI. Simply put, it measures the profitability of your content marketing efforts. It takes into account the costs of creating and distributing your content as compared to the revenue it generates.

    Some argue that ROI is too difficult to measure because the benefits of content marketing are compounding and related not only to revenue but also to market share and brand awareness. This guide will help you better track your content marketing ROI.

Pro tip:

Perform regular content audits to ensure that your content is on track and performing as it should.

Step Seven: Use Specialized Content Tools 

Step Seven: Use Specialized Content Tools 

With the rise of AI content, you can now access specialized writing tools to save time and create high-quality content.

For example, ContentShake AI seamlessly integrates ChatGPT's AI capabilities and Semrush's real-time SEO insights. 

It's not just a tool—it's your digital content strategist ready to elevate your brand's voice.

Here’s how it works:

  • Enter details about your business
  • Get relevant and trending content ideas
  • Create ready-to-rank content in one click
  • Generate social media posts to promote it
  • Publish directly to your blog
Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

Now you should have a firm understanding of what it takes to create a content strategy. You’ve looked at the audience and competitive research.

You know how important it is to set goals and document a strategy. You’re also ready to define a brand tone of voice and build out an impactful content marketing plan, full of tactics that will get you results.

Once you’ve completed all steps, you can create a slide deck or a document with your content strategy, covering the following items:

  • Goals and metrics
  • Your audience
  • The content marketing mission statement
  • Budget and resources
  • The high-level content plan with topics, formats, promo channels

If this is your first stab at a content strategy, remember—your tactics can shift, but make sure to keep steering toward your end goals.

Good luck!

Create ready-to-rank content in one click!

Try ContentShake AI-a smart writing tool for small teams with big content marketing goals. Save time, see results.

Click, publish, rank!

Try ContentShake AI—instantly create content that brings organic traffic and leads.

GoodContent by Semrush is your ultimate resource for small business content marketing. Discover valuable guides, templates, research, and free AI-driven tools to support you at every step of your journey.

Free resources

More from Semrush

Follow us

  • X (Twitter)
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest

© 2008 - 2024 Semrush. All rights reserved.