Do you ever find yourself looking at an article on a business website and wondering why they bothered to publish it? I’m not talking about the moment or horror of finding something entirely inappropriate on a company website. I just mean that vague “Well yes, but what was the point?” feeling . I do. A lot. Sometimes several times a day. Occasionally several times on a single blog index page. It’s like website owners have had so many years of being told that blogging is good (which it is), that many have forgotten the point. There is a vague notion by many that “It’s good for SEO”, but what does that even mean?

Writing well takes time, which means that it isn’t cheap. It’s important then that we get return on that investment, which is rarely the case when a business just blogs because they read online that they should blog X times a month and end up blogging for the sake or blogging. I encourage having a clear purpose for each piece of content published and defining that purpose through some simple questions:

  1. Who is this content targeting?
  2. How will they find it?
  3. What outcome do you want?
  4. What do you want them to do next?
  5. How will you measure success?

Q1 Who is this content aimed at?

Not all content is aimed as prospective customers. Content can target recruitment candidates, journalists, existing customers, other bloggers/influencers or even investors. In fact any groups that you wish to influence in some way. Most content though is written with prospective customers in mind. In those cases I encourage you to narrow that audience down further by which stage in the buyer journey they prospect is: Awareness, Consideration or Decision-making.

Deciding the intended audience for each piece of content before you even choose a title is vital. A piece might touch multiple audiences, but having one defined audience in mind will help keep it focused and maximise its value.

Example: This article has been written with prospective clients in the awareness stage in mind. More specifically, those in charge of a business website who were probably already aware that I exist, but maybe not how I help businesses with challenges like content marketing. If that isn’t you, please do stick around for the rest of the article, but that will describe the majority of people who read this piece.

Q2 How will they find it?

Once you know who you are targeting with a specific piece of content, consider how you will reach them. Content built for social media will differ for that built with organic search in mind so considering the primary way it will be pushed will influence the content. Social media content can encourage discussion, organic search content may include more questions being answered and be more keyword focused. Content can still, of course, be promoted through multiple channels, but favouring one channel per article allows for better targeting.

The most common answers to this question I see are: Organic search, Social Media, Discovery through website, Email newsletters, and Direct email.

Example: This piece will mostly be discovered by users who I have directed to the website by other means who later discover it. I will though also be posting it to LinkedIn where I have a small, established audience. It’ll probably pick up a little search traffic, but that isn’t the aim and I am not targeting specific phrases in the content.

Q3 What outcome do you want?

This possibly the most important question, but probably also the one least often considered. To put it another way, “Why are you writing this piece?”.  Much web content seems to have the only goal of having the reader land on the website. That might be a legitimate aim if the plan is to build an audience for retargeting, but that doesn’t often seem to be the case and mostly seems to be the result of bad SEO focused on the wrong KPIs. A better goal for that type of content would be “Make new potential customers aware of what we do”. That slight shift instantly reminds us that we actually need to include something about what we do. For example, I’ve already woven into this article the fact that I help businesses with content marketing. Twice now, in fact.

The possible answers to this question are almost endless, and closely tied to the intended audience. Below are some example using some of the target audiences previously described:

Recruitment candidates :  Communicate values, Demonstrate culture, Communicate a benefit

Existing customers : Build rapport/loyalty, Demonstrate a beneficial feature, Educate about an upsell, Fix a frequent problem

Awareness stage customers : Introduce offering, demonstrate needs you solve, build trust, Generate interest

Example: Although I have made sure I am communicating the offering I have most closely related to this article, that isn’t the main purpose of this piece. The outcome I am hoping for is that readers just come away understanding that there is more to content marketing than just blogging about whatever comes to mind. This is an audience I intend to have multiple contacts with, so I’m very happy with that slow educational approach.

Q4 What do you want them to do next?

Most users won’t do the thing you want them to do of course, but more will if you consider what that it and encourage it. What is the ideal next step having read you content? Sign up to a newsletter? Check out a whitepaper? Give you a call? Read another piece of content? Knowing what that next step is means that you can have a clear call to action that encourages it. Almost as importantly is that you can prime the user for that through the content itself.

Example: The ideal next step for an article like this would be for a prospect to sign up for a tips email or similar. I don’t have one though. Likewise, I have only recently started blogging here again so don’t have a obvious piece of follow-up content. Instead I will be using the goal of having you, the reader, check out my Work with me page, just to build on that awareness of my offering.

Q5 How will you measure success?

Once you have a next step defined, you will often have the opportunity to measure that success. Goals in analytics will cover this in many cases, the solution will really depend on what your defined next step is.

Example: I’ll spot check the results of this article in Analytics when it has been up a while. I’ll simply look at the Navigation Summary for this URL for how many people click through to the work with me page having read this.

How I use this approach with clients

When helping clients with their content marketing, this frameworks comes in useful in two different ways:  The first is simply to coach the companies I work with to be deliberate in asking these questions when planning content. Building that discipline keeps content more focused on business goals and brings more results for the investment made.

The second way is to reverse the process: Answer these questions for past content to inform what content we need to be producing next. Doing this helps ensure that the overall body of content serves all of our needs and audiences proportionally.

I advocate for including columns for each of these question in the website content plan. That keeps the answers in mind when the content is being produced, but also gives a quick visual reference of how frequently each audience, goal and channel is being served. You can learn more about how I work with different organisation to help them achieve more through their digital presence on my Work with me page.