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How to create and write a content marketing strategy (with template)

A complete guide to developing a content strategy, plus a content strategy template to help you get started.

By Lane Scott Jones · August 9, 2021
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Content is like the duct tape of business: every marketer has this idea that content is the quick fix for all their problems. With the right content, we can get more leads. With the right content, we can send customers down our funnel. With the right content, we can eliminate poverty, stop climate change, and end the possibility of impending nuclear war.

And yes, that's all true (ok, maybe not those last few), but what's often missing is one key word: strategy. Without a strategy behind your content, you're diluting what could be an incredibly valuable resource. Content becomes just another deliverable instead of the strategic powerhouse it has the potential to be.

I've created content strategies for a variety of businesses, so I know what works—and what doesn't. Here are my tips for how to put together a content strategy, including a content strategy template to get you started.

Content strategy template

When I started at Zapier as the Head of Content Marketing, one of my first tasks was to turn our excellent content into excellent content with a strategy behind it. Here's the template I used to communicate the strategy to stakeholders and executives.

Make a copy of this content strategy template, and then adapt it to your needs. Below, I'll walk you through what goes into each section.

Zapier's content marketing strategy template

How to write a content marketing strategy

One important caveat: writing the content strategy is the easy part. Creating the content strategy is a different beast. 

The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to start with a listening tour. Before putting Zapier's content strategy together, I met 1:1 with stakeholders across the company (including the content team) to learn how our content strategy would affect the business as a whole.

Here are some questions I asked:

  • What role does content play in your work?

  • What existing content is the most helpful for your team?

  • How do you use or distribute our existing content? How would you like to use or distribute our existing content?

  • What gaps do you see in our existing content?

  • Where do you think content could have the biggest impact?

I took more notes than I've ever taken before (and that's saying something), and then I pulled out the important themes. I thought about how those themes fit into the company strategy—the big picture goals we're trying to achieve—and that's where the content strategy started to emerge.

Problem statement

Your problem statement is the spot to talk about where you are now and why that's not enough. Tell the reader what's going well with your existing content, but focus on what's not going well. Historically, what have you done? Why is now the time to change that?

Here are the kinds of statements you might see in this section:

  • We're already doing X, but our approach has been Y, so we struggle to Z.

  • By doing X, we limit our ability to Y.

  • If we stick to our current approach, our impact on X will be incremental.

  • To unlock content's full potential, we need to shift our focus to X.

Back up all your assertions with data. This is a great spot to drop in a few screenshots of (or links to) metrics to show how content has performed historically.

Opportunity

You've talked about the problem; now it's time to cast the vision for what's possible. This section isn't for your actual strategy (that's later), but it's where you show how much opportunity there is. What's the room for growth? What areas of the business could content impact that it's not currently impacting? What could your content program achieve in the long-term?

Here are the kinds of statements you might see in this section:

  • We have an opportunity to expand our content program beyond X to become Y.  

  • Content can become one of the driving forces behind X, contributing to Y business goal.

  • We can help move the needle on X metric.

Audience

Knowing your audience is key to having a solid content strategy. You can't be everything to everyone (unless you're Netflix—but even then, some people inexplicably don't watch TV), so you need to be sure you're targeting the right people. Focus is key to creating a targeted and incisive content strategy.

Depending on the size of your company, you might already have marketing personas and a target audience for the company. But even so, you need to hone that to become a target audience for your content—it's not always identical. 

Here are the kinds of statements you might see in this section:

  • Our content has historically catered to X audience, and we've seen Y results.

  • By creating content campaigns targeted to X audience, we can Y.

  • X audience represents Y% of our current revenue from content, and we believe we have the ability to expand that by Z%.

Strategy overview

Here's the TLDR: what's the plan?

This section might feel a little repetitive from what's above and below it—that's ok. The goal is to synthesize as much of the information as possible without it being overwhelming. If someone skims this doc, they'll likely focus on this section. 

For that reason, I'd suggest using lots of bolded keywords and easy-to-read formatting here. This strategy statement should capture what you're going to do, what you're trying to achieve, and how you'll know when you've achieved it. Keep it under 300 words.

Here are the kinds of statements you might see in this section:

  • Our long-term goal is [company strategy], and to achieve that, we need a content strategy focused on X, Y, and Z. 

  • Our top priority will be X.

  • We will focus on reaching our primary and secondary audiences through things like X, Y, and Z.

  • We believe we can impact X by investing in Y and Z.

  • By investing in X, we will increase Y.

  • By developing X, we will capture and nurture leads, ultimately leading to Y.

Key areas of investment

Here, you'll call out the biggest time- and resource-heavy projects to support your strategy. While you'll include anything that you're continuing from previous work, this section should also highlight any important changes in your content strategy (so it's clear where resources will have to shift).

Think of this as a spot to showcase your best ideas for achieving your strategic goals. Describe each one, and then include a bullet point list of how it will contribute to the strategy.

If you'll need more budget or headcount, this is a good spot to call that out.

Supporting initiatives

Here, you'll list and briefly describe other projects (content creation, nurture campaigns, and other assets) that you plan to tackle in addition to the key areas of investment.

Goals & KPIs

This should be short and sweet. Start with this:

By focusing on the objectives outlined in this strategy, we believe we will be able to X, ultimately impacting the following KPIs:

And then list your KPIs (e.g., increase traffic by X% or increase conversions by Y%).

Dependencies

A great content strategy should be cross-functional. Some of your plans will require support from other teams, both within the Marketing team and from the broader company. Think about these questions:

  • Where will your content live, and how will it be delivered to the user? Will you need product/engineering support to make that happen?

  • What will your content look like? Will you need design resources to get there?

  • How will you distribute your content? Will you need help from anyone in sending email nurtures or running paid advertising campaigns?

  • How much will your content cost to produce? Do you have the budget to support that? (Or, if you're working only internally, do you have the headcount to support the amount of content you want to produce?)

Appendix

Our template includes these sections as an appendix, but you can move them wherever you think they're the most helpful. In some cases, they might be core parts of your strategy—for example, if changing your distribution channels is part of your strategy—while in other cases, they'll be used more as reference.

Distribution channels

Here, you'll talk about how you plan to drive traffic to your content. This might include things like SEO, email, social media, content syndication, and paid advertising, but try to be specific. For example, instead of just saying "paid advertising," say "sponsored Instagram posts targeting X audience" or "Facebook lead ads to drive traffic to Y page."

Content funnel

Creating brand awareness content that attracts a lot of readers isn't enough—you need to nurture readers through the content funnel, helping drive conversion, expansion, and advocacy. Here, you'll talk about how you plan to get people from the top of the content funnel (e.g., they found a blog article on Google) to the bottom of the funnel, and how to support them throughout that journey.

If you have a documented content funnel, you can link to it or copy it here.

Future projects

Here, you'll list any future projects that are part of a longer-term strategy. This is so you don't end up with execs asking a lot of "but what about that thing we discussed?" type questions. Drop any ideas here that you might pursue down the road but that don't make sense in the shorter-term. It's also worth including a sentence or two for each addressing why it's not an urgent project.

Other resources & references

You've probably linked out a bunch within your strategy, but here's a spot to link to any important documentation that can help contextualize or that readers might find value in.

Get feedback

You can't create your content strategy in a silo. Just as you did a listening tour before writing out your strategy, make sure you get feedback after the fact from all those same stakeholders. The main areas you'll be asking about are:

  • Are there any key content development areas missing from this strategy?

  • Are there any missing dependencies?

  • Will this strategy benefit the rest of the company as intended?

And remember: even once you've incorporated feedback and feel like your strategy is final, it's ok to veer from the path a little. This document should be considered a guide—it should be inspiring, not constricting—so remember to make some big bets. If your final content strategy feels super exciting and just a little bit scary, congratulations! You've done it right.

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Lane Scott Jones picture

Lane Scott Jones

Lane Scott Jones is Head of Content Marketing at Zapier, where she leads a talented team of writers and editors on a mission to help people work smarter, not harder.

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