The Way We Work
May 3, 2012 by Jenna Weiner

“Content strategy is a beast with many heads, names and trajectories. To approach it is to be sucked in full force.”

- Allie Gray, Smashing Magazine

A content strategy guides and governs any content produced or shared by an organization — online or offline — so creating one for a client is no quick or easy endeavor, even for seasoned writers with extensive experience in a given industry. Each content strategy is its own unique entity, best assembled with a thorough understanding of the client’s goals, strengths and weaknesses.

So where do you start?

The most successful content strategy initiatives start with a roadmap, according to oDesk’s very own Senior Copywriter Laura LeBleu. “Know where you’re going, where your ultimate goal is, and map out the content from there,” she said. “Create a roadmap for the whole process.”

Here are four steps for building your own content strategy roadmap for a client's website or blog:

1. Start with the creative brief

Just as with your own content strategy, the first phase of your efforts should focus around the creative brief. To begin, outline each section of your creative brief ahead of time, so you know what information you need. (Take a look at last week’s oDesk blog post to see what types of sections are typically included.)

2. Interview key stakeholders

It is critical that you set up some dedicated time with the key stakeholders for this project, to understand their ultimate vision for the content. While you likely have already been in close contact with many of the main stakeholders, do not overlook others who may have valuable input. This can include thought leaders at the firm, as well as those who contribute content and those who lead the social media marketing efforts.

When developing your interview questions beforehand, focus on understanding the following:

  • What goals do they want their blog or website to accomplish? Is it primarily for acquisition, brand perception or something else?
  • What is their target audience? The most likely suspects are existing users, prospects, thought leaders or influencers. While they may want to target more than one category, be very clear about which group is the primary audience and which ones are secondary.
  • What action do you want people to take after reading the content? Is it sharing, commenting, or taking the next step to become a customer? Do they want to encourage stickiness within the blog itself, or drive readers to the main website?

3. Audit existing content

To know where you are going, you have to know where you came from, LeBleu added. “Make sure to do a clear and concise assessment of the current situation, to understand the pain points,” she said.

Additionally, you may be able to complete some parts of the creative brief based on pre-existing information and content. Take a look at the client’s current website or blog — where does most of the traffic come from? What type of blog posts have gotten the most shares on social media channels? Which posts have received the most comments?

While this information will not necessarily inform what kind of content the client should publish — they may be looking to attract a different kind of audience or to move into another type of content — it will give you an idea of the client’s current strengths or weaknesses, and will give you a sense of how much work a directional shift will require.

4. Research competitors and peers

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so identify other companies that successfully reach similar target audiences and goals. Make sure to observe elements such as:

  • The distribution of their content types. Do they publish mostly long thought-leadership pieces, or short summaries of industry news? Do they feature profiles of their customers, or recaps of their events?
  • The tone of their posts. Is their language friendly and conversational, or professional? Do individual writers have different voices, or is it more or less uniform across all authors?
  • Their bylines. Do they have the same contributors rotating through, or do they feature guest writers? If it is the latter, what kind of guest writers do they typically use (customers, executives, industry analysts, etc.)?
  • Their frequency. Do they subscribe to a “less is more” mentality, or do they publish frequently?

When observing what competitors are doing, it helps to keep in mind that your client should borrow from the most successful elements of competitors’ content strategies, while still offering valuable points of differentiation.

All together now

Once you have covered those four bases, you can put together a creative brief that outlines the goals for the content strategy, as well as a plan for how to execute on those goals. Don’t forget to include clear action items for next steps, so the client can pick up where you left off.

Do you have any advice to share from creating content strategies for clients? We would love to hear it! Please add your thoughts in the comments section below.


Jenna Weiner

Content Marketer

Jenna Weiner is the former content marketing manager at oDesk and was the editor-in-chief of the oDesk blog. With a background in business and technology writing, she specializes in content marketing and strategy, public relations, and branding. Before joining oDesk, Jenna was a writer and editor for Monitor Group’s marketing department (now Monitor Deloitte) and was the Business & Technology Section Editor for Brafton Inc.… read more