How to create a content strategy (with a realistic schedule)
Over the past few years, I’ve grown my blog from a small side project into a profitable website that now generate millions of readers and well into the six-figures of revenue each year.
I’ll be the first to tell you though, that just because you went through the work of learning how to start a blog or devising a fool-proof plan for using content to generate leads for your business—doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed any readers.
Content success doesn’t happen by accident. I’ve been fortunate to work with a few great companies where I’ve learned the importance of having a content strategy for your blog. And I’ve successfully applied those same lessons to my own blog as well.
First off, why even have a content strategy?
Creating a content strategy might sound like a complex, time-consuming, buzzword-laden process requiring an MBA and a keg filled with coffee. But it’s really not.
A content strategy is really just an actionable plan for all the things you’ve already figured out about your business.
- If you know your niche and understand your why…
- If you know your ideal reader and what they’re looking for…
- If you know the value you want to give them and your unique angle…
Then creating a content strategy is as easy as solving the most pressing challenges your readers have (as it relates back to the core of your product or service).
Better yet, having a content strategy will help you when you’re feeling a lack of motivation, when you don’t know what to blog about, or when you’re thinking about giving up on attracting readers to your website.
4 essential components of a successful content strategy
Before writing a single piece of content, you need to have a clear reason why you’re writing.
1. Define your content goals
What do you want to achieve by publishing content on your blog? Is it to drive traffic and get readers? To get people to sign up for your email newsletter? To get them to download a book or make a purchase?
This goal might change as your business grows and evolves, but it’s still important to know why you’re choosing to produce content early on—it’ll set the tone for who you bring to your blog and the opportunities that come your way.
As famed marketing guru Seth Godin adds:
“You have the freedom to make these choices at the beginning when they’re free, fast, and easy. Not later on when you’ve made commitments.”
Once you understand your greater goal for creating content in the first place, you can start to define the mini-wins that’ll help you actually get there.
2. Know and understand your readers
Your readers determine whether or not your blog will be successful. And to write for them, you need to really understand them—which is why it helps if you’re also writing for yourself. This guarantees at least an audience of one.
Who you write for is equally as important as what you write.
In a lot of cases, you’re going to be your own ideal reader, which makes this entire process easier. But in almost every case, it’s useful to do a bit of research on the audience you’re writing for (you might even learn something about yourself).
To start, think about the demographics and psychographics of your ideal audience:
- Demographics: The quantitative traits of your readers (age, gender, location, job title)
- Psychographics: The more “unmeasurable” traits like values, interests, attitude, and belief systems
Once you’ve written down these qualities, you can start to come up with an audience persona—a fictionalized version of your ideal reader. So, you might say that you’re starting a cooking blog for Ryan, a 30–40-year-old stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon who values organic ingredients and isn’t too worried about food costs.
Now, the next question is: Where does Ryan hang out online?
- Is he searching for recipes on Google or Pinterest?
- Is he a heavy Facebook user or does he prefer niche community sites and forums?
- Does he comment on other cooking sites or is he consuming content just to read?
The goal of publishing content is to create value for your Ryan.
But, you can’t do that until you know who your ideal reader is and where they spend their time. If you’re not totally sure, it’s fine if you have more than one ideal reader. However, it’s important to make sure that your personas aren’t too broad either (as your readers might not detect that you’re writing for them).
3. Decide on your core content pillars
When it comes to actually deciding what you’re going to write about, it’s good to have a few guiding topics that you refer back to. I like to call these content pillars as they’re the foundation that holds up the rest of your blog.
Having a few set pillars like this helps keep your content focused. It also gives you a lens and a voice that you can write from. For example, if you’re starting a personal finance blog, your pillars might be:
- Personal finance tips and tricks
- Interviews and stories from people who’ve found financial independence
- Your take on important financial industry news
- The basics of personal finance
- How to pay off your debt quickly
Each of these pillars can have 10s or even 100s of articles that can be written under them. But they also all work together to show that you’re a thought leader in your industry.
4. Create a clear content roadmap
Before launching a new content campaign, you may want to have a bit of content already geared up and ready to publish.
If you have a decent sized audience on a social network that you plan on alerting once your launch, it’s possible your first post could blow up and drive a ton of traffic to your blog. In that case, you’ll want to have at least a game plan to engage the new readers you get.
Even just an article or two under each of your major content pillars is enough to signal to readers what your blog is all about. You’ll learn more about your audience, your process, and what works well as you write and publish more.
Filling your content calendar
While it can be tempting to write about every idea that pops into your head, that’s not a strategy that’ll bring you a targeted stream of regular readers.
I recommend starting with keyword research—to determine not only which terms & phrases your audience is searching for online, but also how many of them are conducting those searches on sites like Google.
By using a tool like Ahrefs or Moz to determine these two key variables before beginning your writing process, you’ll be ensuring that your content solves a real need for your readers—and that there is indeed a market of people searching for your solutions.
Once an article topic is approved (based on demand), then it can be added to your content calendar, assigned a priority and corresponding publish date.
You can see there are various columns, indicating the stage each blog post is currently in, and which to-do’s have been checked off during the editing process.
From brainstorming, to in-progress, scheduled and published, this structure works so well because it gives you a quick visual snapshot of your content pipeline without having to wade deep into the depths of a Google Sheet.
Now, you’re ready to dive into the more granular management of writing a description of what your approach will be for tackling each topic, confirming keyword research and starting to write.
The importance of publishing consistently
If you want readers to come back to your blog, you need to give them a reason to.
Consistency is one of the least celebrated, yet most important aspects of growing a successful blog. Even more, research supports this claim.
There are a couple of reasons why consistency is key. Writing consistently:
- Sets expectations with your readers: People know when to come back and check out your blog and will check in regularly for new content.
- Sets expectations with yourself: It can be easy to get out of the habit of publishing regularly if you miss a couple days. However, if you decide on and commit to a schedule, you know when you have to publish. We all do better with a few deadlines in our lives.
Not only this, but publishing consistently helps you test and understand what types of content work with your readers. As Grace Moser of Chasing Foxes shared with me during an interview on my podcast, they grew their blog to millions of monthly readers by putting out 4–6 pieces of content a week for several months in a row before getting real traction:
“Even if the majority of your posts don’t go viral, the more you publish, the better the odds that one will send a lot of traffic your way.”
The more often you publish on your blog, the better the odds of one post going viral.
Now, there’s a fine line to walk when you first start publishing and want to set a rigorous content schedule.
You might have a ton of ideas and enthusiasm, but over-committing is the easiest way to kill both of those. Instead, you should commit to the minimum amount you want to publish—say once or twice a week—and try to stick to that religiously.
As author and blogger James Clear said in an interview on my podcast, “Sacrifice the scope, not the schedule.” If you can’t write a 1000-word post every week then write a 500-word post instead. Just make sure you’re consistent.
Perfectionism is a deadly killer when it comes to projects like this. So remember, done is better than perfect.
This is where having a clear content calendar becomes so important. If you can spend a couple hours each month mapping out all the posts you want to write, you’ll always know what you should be working on—and when it’s due.
This can be in something as simple as a Google Doc like what I recommend most newbies begin with when learning how to start a blog, or by using a more comprehensive tool like Monday.com that lets you track posts through your entire editorial process from idea to writing, collaborating, publishing and promoting.
Just like when you’re working out or investing money, the more consistent you are with investing time into your blog, the bigger returns you’ll get.