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May 2, 2013

10 Steps to Improve Your Content Strategy (and Your Marriage, If You’re Into That)

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It’s a very, say… interesting… point in your career as a search marketer when you begin to draw parallels between the optimization you do for websites, and the (potential or actual) “optimization” you do for your own personal growth purposes. And I don’t mean “myself as a brand” personal growth purposes — I mean straight-up “improve my relationship with that grouchy lady who lives next door, and while I am at it probably my husband, too” personal growth purposes.

Guy smiling with girl

Hand check! Improve your content marketing and get your relationship on the right track in ten steps. This guy did.

As you may recall, earlier this week I wrote a blog post called How to Save Your Marriage with Content Marketing Strategy and officially crossed over into “that point” in my career.

This week’s post takes last week’s concept to the next level with 10 actionable agenda items that, if approached with thought and care, can help you improve your content strategy, optimization, and — if you choose to drink the Kool-Aid —  interpersonal relationships.

It should be noted that along with not actually being married, I am also not a doctor, so please take the “marriage advice” (should we venture to call it that) offered in this article with a grain of salt.

10 Steps to Improve Your Content Strategy and Your Marriage

I recommend writing your responses to each of these action items down. It’s easier to make decisions with all the information laid out in front of you. If you are a business your responses to these action items could influence your brand style guide and communication guidelines (two integral documents necessary to keep your writing and optimization teams on the same page and consistent).

1) Establish Your Brand Voice, Style, and Goals

Word cloud centered around "brand"

Clarify who you are, who you want to be, and what you want to accomplish. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and get everyone on the same page with a brand style-guide.

Establishing your brand voice and style starts by clarifying who you are, who you want to be, and what you want to accomplish. Are you the green M&M or the yellow one? How do you think people perceive you? Do you like how (you think) people perceive you? If not, brainstorm small ways you might be able to represent your true self more accurately.

With a firm grip on who you are, and who you want to be, consider writing a brand or department mission statement.

Helpful link: Building a Brand With Your Online Voice

How This Exercise Can Help You Save Your Marriage:
Many conflicts are rooted in miscommunication. If you don’t know who you are there’s a good chance your communication and the way you present yourself is all over the place, which means you’re on a dead-end road straight to misunderstanding and relationship conflictville. Also, it’s invaluable to learn how to identify and express what you want/expect out of a relationship. Getting everyone on the same page, saying what you mean, and meaning what you say can get you far. It’s a little clinical, but if your relationship feels like a mess you may find it useful to write a mission statement that clearly identifies the reason for the relationship — why you’re both there — and what you want to get out of it.

2) Set Some Goals 

Broad over-arching statements like “I want to fix everything” never get anyone anywhere. Be specific. “I want my website to be within the top five search results for [x] search term” or “I want to fight less with my wife about money.” Goals give you an actionable place to start and help you to focus, prioritize, and identify success.

Helpful link: Using Web Analytics to Measure Internet Marketing Goals

3) Take a Baseline Analysis

Rating check list with Excellent checked

What are you doing well? What are you doing not so well? Document where you’re starting from so that you can identify progress and success.

Take an analysis of where you’re at. You can’t just jump in and start trying to fix things if you don’t know exactly what is wrong.

Consider what am I doing well? What am I doing really, really bad? What am I doing in a half-hearted, contrived, or unethical way? If you have Google Analytics installed, create a spreadsheet to document some baseline figures. These figures might include time on site, conversion rate, pages visited, organic traffic, bounce rate, and exit page. You might also consider including social media baseline metrics like number of Likes or social reach. It all depends on what your goals are.

For the items on your list that you identify as not so hot, you’ll have to decide in the planning stage (step 6) whether you want to work on making your flops function better, or scrap them all together.

Helpful Link(s): Introduction to Analytics and What SEO Metrics Are Truly Important

4) Competitive Analysis

Look at other brands and individuals in your industry. What are they doing? How are they succeeding? How does their brand presence/experience differ from yours? What can you learn from them?

Helpful link: Spy vs. Spy: Competitive Analysis

How This Exercise Can Help You Save Your Marriage:
First, when approaching this as a relationship improvement, it might be best to not think of it as competitive analysis as it may not be healthy to consider other people and outside relationships as “competitors.” (Yikes.) It is, on the other hand, worthwhile to consider taking some time to honestly observe how other individuals and couples function. What can you learn from the way they don’t lose their temper over jelly in grocery stores? How about the way they interact? What are they doing that is working, and what are they doing that is really, really not working? Unlike search marketing where you can’t ask your competitors how they optimize their website to get better SERP results, you actually can ask your friends what they do and how they deal with X problem. Take advantage of this open communication and make an effort to learn from others.

5) Think About Your Target Demographic and Develop Personas

Woman with her face covered by a question mark

Think about who you want to connect with. The goal is to get as much of a 360-degree understanding of who your current and potential clients/members/readers are.

Think about the people who you want to connect with. Ask yourself: who do I need to connect with in order to make my goal(s) happen and how do I need to connect with them? What mediums do they use to communicate with their peers? What activities are they receptive to and what really rubs them the wrong way? The goal is to get as much of a 360-degree understanding of who your current and potential clients/members/readers are. (You should decide what you want to call them internally as part of the style-guide you started in action item number one.)

Do you and your clients talk the same? If not, is there a happy place in the middle where your two styles overlap? Can you find keyword phrases that tell you exactly how they enter search queries and work that exact language into your content? Try to find that sweet spot that allows you to stay true to yourself while also communicating in a way that resonates with your receiver.

Helpful link: Web Personas: Creating Jane

How This Exercise Can Help You Save Your Marriage:
Getting to know your mate’s personality and preferences is invaluable. If he doesn’t drive, putting a note on the steering wheel of a car for him to see won’t work. If he’s hard of hearing, speaking really softly isn’t going to work. If he doesn’t know what “new digs” are you’re headed face-first into another miscommunication dead end. Listen to him. Take cues from how he talks to other people and how he talks to you and learn to use language that resonates with both of you. Be observant enough to notice when he responds in a negative way or not at all to your communication efforts, and then be agile enough to apply more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

6) Make a Plan

Checklist with pencil checking a box

Make a plan, set priorities, and decide which initiatives will help you reach your goals more efficiently.

With your responses to the above introspections written down you can start to make a plan.

You have a lot of good ideas, now it’s time to decide what your priorities are. What do you work on first, second, third? What is going to make the most impact? What resources do you have? How do you define success? Do you need outside help from a contractor or a tool, or can you do it all yourself?

Take this time to make sure you’ve clearly defined in as much detail as possible what it is that you want to accomplish and how you’ll know when you succeed.

7) Get Your Ducks in a Row: Do You Have What You Need to Start?

Remember, if your goals are to connect with humans and soar in the SERPs it’s critical to make sure that your communication is accessible to both humans and search spiders.

Make sure the technical side of your blog or website is up to par. If all of your content is inside of a giant .JPG image, it’s equal to using black ink on black paper in Google’s eyes. If you don’t know anything about search spiders or technical SEO, consider hiring a consultant to make sure your website is working with you not against you.

Are you talking to MySpace when all of your consumers are on Facebook? Use your persona research to make sure you are using the social networks your clients and potential clients are using.

Helpful links: Get some technical SEO tips, or learn how search spiders work.

How This Exercise Can Help You Save Your Marriage:
In any relationship it’s important to figure out what your listener needs. Are they hearing you? Do they need you to communicate with them in sign language? Do you need to write it down? It’s very possible that you may think you’ve been communicating loud and clear this whole time and they’ve never heard a word. To make sure the lines of communication are open, this may be a good time to seek outside help. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a consultant — or in this case, a therapist — to help guide your communication strategy with some unbiased professional insights.

8) Improve Communication and Apply What You’ve Learned

Word written that say "Use Your Words"

You have to use words, and you’re going to get a lot farther if you put time and thought into using the right words.

Now that you know where you stand, it’s time to start working on actual communication. What is your audience interested in? What would help them? What problems do they have? All those questions you asked yourself above are now more relevant than ever. Take that information and create a content strategy that helps solidify your brand as an industry expert who not only cares about what they’re doing but actually enjoys it. Create content that helps solve problems, build relationships, and answer questions.

Content is King, and truly the heart of solid search engine optimization (SEO) in 2013. You have to use words, and you’re going to get a lot farther if you put time and thought into using the right words. What defines the “right” words? Again, the “right” words are the words that resonate with your target market and accurately describe you, your products, and your content topics in a way that is informative, engaging, helpful, or otherwise worth sharing. Always keep in mind that you want to help in a balanced way that is genuine and not salesey.

Helpful link: Writing Great Content for Websites and Spiders

How This Exercise Can Help You Save Your Marriage:
I think it’s pretty obvious how clear, focused, communication founded on giving a hoot can help your marriage. In a sentence, all of our relationships could benefit from a bit more time spent thinking about what we’re going to say and how we’re going to say it before we open our mouths.

Oh, and I hope this goes without saying but please try to talk in a way that resonates with your wife… don’t try to talk like your wife. This is one distinct area where the worlds of relationship communication and optimization communication diverge paths. If you’re stalking the Internet for things your wife might say so that you can say them back to her, you’ve gone too far.

9) Be Ethical

Be ethical and don’t try to cut corners or you may risk experiencing the wrath of the Google Penguin or Panda penalties. In a sentence: just do what is right and don’t try to cheat the system. Take the time to implement a strong content strategy that helps people, perform persona and keyword research to dial your language in just right, and work on bridging gaps between you and your target market. If you build it, they will come.

Helpful link(s): Learn more about keyword research, or check out Penguins and Pandas: A Black and White Issue to learn more about what might be considered unethical or spammy activity to Google.

How This Exercise Can Help You Save Your Marriage:
I assume this goes without saying, but, if you want to improve your relationship acting in a transparent way that both parties consider ethical is a must. Don’t lie, cheat, misrepresent information, or otherwise try to trick your partner. Even if it’s working right now they are going to find out and then you’re going to be much, much worse off (usually the result of unethical behavior in a relationship is far more severe than a “penalty”).

10) Observe, Analyze, Learn, Grow, Repeat

Woman in hat with tiny trophy

Observe, analyze, and grow to reap the rewards. Two steps forward is (almost) always better than two steps back, and even small achievements are better than net loss.

Keep learning and growing. The industry changes, your goals change, and people change, so your strategy should change and grow too. Stay observant. If things are going well, don’t check out. Learn from what is going well and do more of it, or figure out ways to integrate what is successful about campaign A into not-so-successful campaign B.

If things aren’t going well, really, really don’t check out. Keep track of the data, stay in tune with your demographic, and communicate internally about your goals both month-over-month and year-over-year.

Be agile, learn from your mistakes, and remember what works for “everyone else” might not necessarily work for you.

Helpful link: Learn to prioritize, analyze, refresh, and optimize your strategy with this 16-step content audit.

How This Exercise Can Help You Save Your Marriage:
Since there are no line graphs pointing to the right and down to indicate when a relationship is failing it takes a bit more conscious effort to recognize when things aren’t going so well, and, actually, when things are going well (ah, isn’t the grass always greener on the other side?). People grow and change and it is important that your relationship also grows and changes. Don’t check out. Stay in-tuned to how you feel and the ebb and flow of the day to day. Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t and don’t be afraid to step totally out of your comfort zone to explore new territory in your relationship — just keep the communication open, and keep it ethical.

What content strategy, optimization, or interpersonal relationship best practices would you add to this list?

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8 responses to “10 Steps to Improve Your Content Strategy (and Your Marriage, If You’re Into That)”

  1. Ted Jones writes:

    Marriage has certainly given me chance to learn how to improve all my relationships.

    Recently, I’ve been creating a lot of content. I never used to do it, but I started creating personas of the people I’m writing the articles for. It is such a simple thing to do, but it makes a huge difference. The article goes from me just spilling words on the screen to me having a conversation with the persona I created. I find writing is much more fun this way.

  2. Ryan Kettler writes:

    Good stuff Chelsea! As a married man and a SEO pro, I find your advice quite fitting. :)

    Funny, I never realized how much the 2 had in common.

    As we know, Content Marketing is a way of being, a mindset, not just a one or two-time process. Same as a healthy marriage!

  3. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Glad to hear you’ve been digging into more persona development, Ted. I think it makes a drastic difference when you write visualizing who you are actually talking to rather than, as you put it, spilling words on the screen. And you’re right– it is SO much more fun!

    I knew a hyper-active fellow once who had a hard time focusing on one topic when he spoke. He was all over the place talking about this and then about that and then about some other thing. Not only was he not talking about one thing at a time, but he didn’t care much about what I was interested in hearing about and just rambled on in a way that pleased him with no regard for me, his poor trapped benchmate. It made it hard to endure spending time with him, I didn’t really know how to respond to what he was saying, and generally, I just didn’t really look forward to trying to unpack our one-sided conversations. If he were a blog article, I would have bounced for sure. That said, generally, I try to keep my end user in mind and not write like that guy talks as much as possible…

    Thanks for reading!

  4. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Hi, Ryan! So glad my debut as a closet-Dear Abby is striking the right cord with the happily married folk.

    I love the way you put that– “content marketing is a way of being, a mindset.” I couldn’t agree more.

  5. Kris K. writes:

    Great list of tips! I strongly recommend #8 since communication is one of the essential things for both marketing and marriage so things will flow smoother and longer-lasting, so to say.

  6. Spot a Leopard writes:

    What a creative and funny article title you have there!

    Learning and growing are very important in content strategy. I mean, we can’t keep on committing the same mistake over and over again. I believe that quality is King when it comes to article presentation. This SEO guru once said the way to garnering great SEO results is, “great quality content and constant promotion.”

  7. Boney writes:

    Wow, Great Tips…..I like the way you combined content marketing with marriage. The catchy title was the main reason for me to read this post, and I must say, you explained it pretty well

  8. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Thanks, Boney! Glad the self-help approach to content marketing strategy worked for you.

    I post every Tuesday and Thursday — hope to see you around the Bruce Clay blog again sometime!



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