How to Build a Digital Content Strategy on a Budget

Everyone knows how important it is for a brand to have a digital content strategy. Every year, business owners are fed stats making them believe they should start producing content yesterday. Here are some of the top ones we’ve been seeing in 2021:

  • Marketing spend is predicted to grow by 14% in 2021 – Deloitte
  • 79% of B2B content marketers have a digital content strategy in motion; 17% do not, but plan to create one; 4% have no strategy in place and have zero plans to implement one – Content Marketing Institute
  • 24% of marketers plan to increase their investment in content marketing over the next year – HubSpot

Most smaller business owners are aware they need a content marketing strategy, but lack the resources and/or know-how to do it. If this sounds familiar, I’ve got good news, bad news, and a little more good news for you.

The good news: You can get a digital content strategy started with little to no budget.

The bad news: You will need the know-how and a lot of time/dedication.

A little more good news:  Getting your feet on the ground with a digital content marketing strategy isn’t super complicated.

Now, before we dive any deeper, let’s cover some of the basics.

What is a Digital Content Strategy?

A digital content strategy is a marketing plan that serves as a vehicle to meet a plethora of goals, which may include:

  • Reaching a wider audience for brand awareness
  • Increasing web traffic
  • Boosting conversion rates
  • Improving clout in your industry
  • Networking with other industry experts
  • All of the above

As part of the vehicle, your digital content strategy is the GPS, steering wheel, and tires. The content you create/distribute is the engine. None of these components will work without the others.

The strategy gives your content a purpose, direction, and goals. Without a strategy in place, you’re essentially taking shots in the dark with content. Without content, your strategy is little more than fancy talk.

A content strategy plays a critical role in attracting potential customers and guiding them through the buyer’s journey. It’s about introducing people to your brand, earning their trust, and making it clear that you are the best solution to their problems.

Do You Really Need a Digital Content Marketing Strategy?

If you’ve read any content marketing-related blog, watched a video, listened to a podcast, etc., you know that the short answer to this question is yes.

But the real answer is not black and white.

What you really need to know is:

  • How badly you need a digital content strategy.
  • How in-depth it needs to be.
  • How much time, effort, and money you’ll need to invest in it.
  • What you stand to gain.

Every business on the planet provides answers to questions and solutions to problems. The first step in determining your need for a digital content marketing strategy is understanding how in-demand your answers/solutions are.

There are two easy ways to get a glimpse of this:

1. Look Into Search Trends

SEO – search engine optimization – is a core component in most digital content strategies. Looking at search trends and keyword research is a fantastic way to gauge the demand for what you provide. Even better, there are all kinds of FREE tools out there to use.

We love Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest as a free option here.

Say you sell screen printing services in Chicago. If we look at the search term “screen printing Chicago” – we can see there is a search volume of 720 with a moderate difficulty:

ubersuggest Keyword Ideas for Screen Printing Chicago
Ubersuggest Keyword Ideas for Screen Printing Chicago

So, if your goal is to raise awareness for your screen printing business in the Chicago area, your competition isn’t unfathomable. Generally speaking, the more competition you have for your primary search term, the more involved and robust your digital content strategy will need to be.

For instance, if you are looking for more exposure to a nationwide audience for the general term “screen printing”, you’ll have a much taller, wider mountain to climb with your digital content strategy:

Ubersuggest Keyword Ideas for Screen Printing
Ubersuggest Keyword Ideas for Screen Printing

Now, keyword and SEO trends are certainly not the ONLY factor to consider when gauging your need for a content marketing strategy. But it is a great measuring stick to start with.

2. Look Into The Competition

Competitive analysis should be routine – regardless of the circumstances.

When it comes to a digital content strategy, you need to have a strong feeling of what you’re going up against. Or for the sake of our mountain analogy, the other climbers on the slopes.

In the infancy stages of content marketing, there are many, many benefits to conducting competitive analysis. To name a few:

  • It helps you uncover industry trends.
  • It shows you what your target customers are looking for in content.
  • It shows how you are different than your competitors.
  • You get insight into what your competitors are doing right – and what they are doing
  • It gives you an idea of what is missing in your industry, and how you can fill the void.
  • It gives you a reference point to measure your own digital content strategy.

Now, there are books written about conducting competitive analysis. For our purposes, I’m going to provide some easy ways to get a feel for what your competitors are doing.

For starters, you need to identify your direct competitors and your indirect competitors.

A direct competitor is another brand that offers the same or similar product/service that you do.

An indirect competitor doesn’t offer the exact same product/service you do, but their solution provides an answer to the same general need.

For example, Pizza Hut and Domino’s are direct competitors; they both solve the same problem for customers (hunger) with the same type of product (cheap, fast pizza). On the other hand, Pizza Hut and McDonalds are indirect competitors; they both provide a cheap and quick solution to their customers’ hunger, but one sells pizzas and the other sells burgers.

What Are Your Content Marketing Goals?

A digital content strategy without goals is like a ship without a compass or a map.

Any content you create without established goals is more than likely a waste of time. Before you do any sort of ideation, creation, or distribution, you need to know what the objectives are. More importantly, you need to have key performance indicators (KPIs) in place to gauge how well you’re reaching those goals.

The goals you set need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely). For example, maybe the goal of your digital content strategy is to boost brand awareness. How will you measure this?

Does boosting brand awareness mean more:

  • Impressions?
  • Branded searches?
  • Website traffic?
  • Social media followers?
  • Engagements?
  • Email newsletter signups?
  • All of the above?

To dive deeper into this, you need to set up some parameters for these goals. These could be:

  • Growth of 1,000 impressions every month.
  • 5% increase in branded searches after three months.
  • 30% boost in website traffic after three months.
  • 50 new social media followers each month.
  • 10% boost in engagement after two months.
  • 5 new email newsletter signups every month.

Setting up KPIs is the only way to truly measure the success of your efforts against the objectives you set up. If this is your first digital content marketing strategy, start low and get a feel for your abilities. Setting KPIs too high in the early stages (and not hitting them) can be very discouraging.

What Makes You Special?

This is the cornerstone of any marketing strategy – your X factor.

Every business has one, no matter how boring their product/service is or how saturated the marketing is. Dunder Mifflin had outstanding customer service (for all you Office fans out there); Apple products have amazing user-friendliness; Amazon has free two-day shipping; Southwest Airlines has “bags fly free”; and so on.

Getting to the root of what makes you special is the key to creating extraordinary content.

In our content marketing process at E2M, one of the first questions we ask new clients is who their competitors are. Then, we ask why they are better than them.

We need to know how the solution they provide uniquely solves their customers’ problem(s) in a way that no one else does. In many cases, this involves solving the primary problem, as well as a handful of secondary problems.

I’ll give you an example.

A client of ours is a custom cabinet maker.

When a homeowner needs new kitchen cabinets, they need to work with a designer and a builder. Generally, the designer is the one who goes into the kitchen, takes measurements of the space, and develops a blueprint. This blueprint is then finalized and passed off to the builder. The builder then manufacturers the cabinets and installs them in the kitchen.

Disconnects between the designer and the builder are common. Most designers have little knowledge of the building/installation process, and most builders aren’t familiar with the super design process. Disconnects between the two almost always result in delays and extra costs for the client.

Our client’s X factor is that he is both a designer AND a builder with nearly 40 years of experience. He knows all the obstacles in the building process and creates designs accordingly. For the homeowner, this solves two huge problems:

  1. They only have to hire one person.
  2. The likelihood of disconnects (delays and extra costs) is minimal.

Now, this is the primary X factor – but there are secondary ones that differentiate our client.

For one, contractors tend to have an unfortunate reputation for leaving job sites untidy. As our client works directly in people’s homes, he makes it a point to clean up the job site as much as possible each day before he leaves.

Second, there is a stereotype that many contractors will go days without showing up to the job site. This is mainly because they are juggling several jobs at once. Our client has a rule that when he takes a project, it is his full-time job until it’s done. That means showing up every day and working all day to meet the timeline proposed.

These two X factors are secondary, but they do wonders to improve the homeowners’ experience with his company – and are gold mines for the digital content strategy.

Identifying your X factors will take some critical reflection. Keep in mind, there are more than likely a few things that make you special – you just have to find them and put them in writing.

Identify The Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How

Building the foundation of a digital content strategy involves answering a long series of questions. Without proper answers to these questions, the goals, challenges, logistics, and measurement of the strategy will get muddled.

So without further ado, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this guide.

#1. The Who

a) Who Is Your Target Audience?

Identifying your target audience is probably the most cliché, overused tip in every piece produced about content marketing – and for very good reason. Now, it’s one thing to know who your target audience is; actually creating content for them is something else.

All too often, brands make the mistake of creating content that appeals to themselves, not their target audience. Apple didn’t become a trillion-dollar company droning on about gigahertz, RAM, and processing power. Apple’s target audience is everyone. And their content marketing is famous for being easy for everyone to understand.

Promotional content about the iPhone deals with features like camera resolution, end-to-end screen display, privacy, facial recognition unlocking features, etc. It doesn’t take a tech wizard to know those things are awesome.

Finding your target audience isn’t super complicated. Chances are, you probably have this mapped out in your business plan. For our purposes, let’s say you’re taking a completely new direction with this digital content strategy and need to start from scratch.

There are a series of questions you need to answer.

  • What job title(s) does your target customer(s) hold?
  • What age range would your ideal customer fall into?
  • What would be their income and/or revenue?
  • Where do they usually consume your industry’s content online?
  • What are some of their psychological traits?
    • Behaviors
    • Lifestyle choices
    • Personality type
  • Why would they need your product/service?

Let’s do a hypothetical example here; say you’re an IT company serving SMBs.

  • Job title: Business owner, CEO, CFO.
  • Age range: 30-50+
  • Revenue: $100,000 – $1 million+
  • Where do they consume content: Primarily LinkedIn
  • Psychological traits
    • Entrepreneur mindset
    • Hard-working
    • Always looking for ways to make daily tasks more manageable
  • The need: They need a reliable IT infrastructure and IT pros to accommodate their growing business. Hiring IT professionals in-house is very expensive – and this shouldn’t limit the company’s ability to scale. They’re not concerned with all the little technical details of running an IT infrastructure. They just need their IT to work with little to no downtime – and justify their investment in IT.

b) Who Are You?

Now that you have identified who your digital content strategy is geared toward, you need to identify yourself.

This might sound silly, but you’d be surprised how many businesses go into a content marketing strategy without a clear picture of who they are. You (your brand) need to be something your target audience can resonate with.

Using the IT company example again, you need to appeal to business owners. That said, you probably wouldn’t want your content to sound like it’s coming from a cute, playful personality. Business owners want to see that you know your stuff and can help them improve their processes.

If you’ve never thought about your brand persona before, let me help you get the ball rolling. At E2M, we start every digital content strategy by having the client fill out a content brief. The first question on the brief deals with the brand archetype.

We use the 12 common archetypes.

12 Classic Brand Archetypes
12 Classic Brand Archetypes
12 Classic Brand Archetypes
12 Classic Brand Archetypes
12 Classic Brand Archetypes

Choosing a brand archetype is not always easy. In many cases, you can identify with one – and have shades of another.

When picking archetypes, try to identify with one, maybe two. Trying to identify with three or more archetypes is too many. More often than not, juggling several personas in a content strategy ends up with the content having no distinct voice whatsoever.

This is another instance in which looking at your competitors will be helpful. See what personality shines through in their content.

  • What content do their customers respond best to?
  • What kind of personality does it reflect?
  • Can you keep a similar vibe – only making it better?

Choosing your brand archetype will take some critical thinking. A good trick to start with is imagining a celebrity/movie character as the face of your company. Use their personality to jumpstart the process.

#2. The What

a) What Type(s) of Content Will You Create?

This is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle when formulating a digital content strategy. The content itself is the backbone. Understanding which type of content(s) you will produce is how you’ll relate to potential customers. There is no one-size-fits-all content mix for everyone – this will vary based on the industry.

The good news is there are a few easy ways to figure out which types of content you should be creating.

Start by going to Google.

Type in some of your most popular keywords. Say your company is a project management software targeting website designers.

When we Google “website project management”, we’re met with a bunch of guides, step-by-step articles, and process pieces.

Website Project management - Google Search Result Page
Website Project management – Google SERP

If we look at the Video tab, we’re seeing a lot of introductory videos on managing a website design/development project.

Website Project management - Google Video SERP
Website Project management – Google Video SERP

This is a fantastic inspiration for educational, top-of-the-funnel content.

Let’s see what we get when we go to the Shopping tab.

Website Project management - Google Shopping SERP
Website Project management – Google Shopping SERP

In addition to PM software, we’re seeing a lot of books and other resources on project management for websites.

These content pieces are produced by either web design agencies or other project management software providers. To come full circle, this is one of the first steps of competitive analysis – and gives you a good idea of the type of content you should start with.

#3. The Why

Why Do People Need Your Product/Service – And Why Should They Choose You Over Everyone Else?

Answering the “why” is arguably the most important part of a digital content strategy. The “why” is all about understanding customer pain points.

Pain points are the reason(s) why a consumer seeks out a solution. Someone breaks their arm and they need a cast. The broken arm is the pain point – and the cast is the solution.

Getting to the root of your customers’ pain points is the key to producing content that resonates – and shows why you are special. You need to think below the surface and get into the day-to-day struggles that would drive people to your product/service.

Your digital content strategy should convince potential clients that you understand their pain points on a granular level. In many ways, marketing is about showcasing your knowledge of the problem. The better you are at doing this, the easier it will be to sell the solution.

For example, say you are producing content to raise awareness for your project management software. The general pain points would be – likely for a CEO – that project deadlines are getting missed and tasks are falling through the cracks.

Keep in mind, EVERY other project management brand is addressing these pain points in their content marketing strategy.

What are the ways your program will ensure that deadlines never get missed?

  • Easy-to-use & interpret Gannt charts?
  • Robust alert system when deadlines are getting close?
  • Daily rundowns of every task still active?
  • A preview of the day’s work every morning?

The goal here is to make the customer think “oh, that would make my life way easier!”

If this can shine through in the content marketing strategy in a unique way, you’ve got your X-factor!

#4. The Where

Where Will Your Digital Content Live?

This is one of the most important questions you’ll need to answer as you plan out your digital content strategy. You can have the most valuable, insightful piece of content your industry has ever seen. If it’s not distributed on the right platform, it may never see the light of day.

For example, say you’re creating content with the end goal of selling tickets to a music festival. Promoting your content on business-related websites or a platform like LinkedIn probably won’t get you the traction you need. In this situation, you’d need to target leisure-related publications and/or social platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Fortunately, it’s super easy to find out the best place to publish your content. Using BuzzSumo, you can simply enter in the keyword or topic your content will cover – then see where the most popular related content lives.

#5. The When

When Are The Best Times To Distribute Content?

Timing is very important when it comes to marketing/advertising.

Think about the commercials you see on TV.

If you’re watching TV past 11 pm or so, you may notice a lot of commercials for online colleges. This is because most people who already have a college degree and have work the next morning at 9-5 – and are likely in bed at this hour.

The same concept applies to a digital content strategy.

Say you are a B2B company selling office furniture. If you publish a post on LinkedIn about the “best strategies for organizing an office” at 9 pm on a Saturday, there is a good chance it will be buried in the stream of content by the time a potential customer checks LinkedIn on Monday morning.

So how do you find the best days/times to post your content?

You want to share your content at the day/time when a) people are most likely to consume it, and b) most likely to share it. Let’s take blog posts for example. TrackMaven conducted a study on when blog posts were published versus when they got the most shares:

Best Time to Publish A Blog Post to Receive The Highest Number of Social Shares
Best Time to Publish A Blog Post to Receive The Highest Number of Social Shares. Source: TrackMaven.com

Some takeaways:

  • Peak blogging hours are between 9 am-5 pm – when most publishers are working.
  • Posts published at 3 pm EST tend to get shared the most on social.
  • Share-ability tends to last into non-peak hours, even after the number of posts published decreases.

Pros to publishing at peak hours:

  • You get more views.
  • You get more social shares.
  • There is usually higher engagement.

Cons to publishing at peak hours:

  • Your content may get buried in all the other content being produced at peak hours.
  • Readers are busy during peak hours, and may not be thorough in consuming your content.
  • Content published at peak hours can have higher bounce rates.

Pros to publishing in off-hours:

  • There is little competition and a better chance for more exposure.
  • It’s easier to promote.
  • People may not be working, and have more time to consume the content in detail.

Cons to publishing in off-hours:

  • There are fewer visitors.
  • Engagement may be lower.
  • Increasing exposure is tough.

Timing is very important in a digital content marketing strategy – and the sweet spot can be different based on the industry. Play around with different days/times and track the data to see what works best.

#6. The How

How Will You Put Your Plans in Motion?

Now that you’ve got all the pieces in place, you need to figure out how exactly you’ll make it all happen. If you can’t figure out the “how”, your digital content strategy is just talk.

Your first step is to figure out the logistics of the research.

  • When will competitive analysis and keyword research be completed by?
  • When will the content calendar be planned out?
  • How often will you be producing new content?
  • How will you block off hours of your day to focus on content creation, management, and tracking?

These are just a few questions to answer as you figure out the “how”. More important than answering these questions is following through on the plans you create. As a small operation – or a one-person show – this can be extremely difficult.

A digital content strategy requires a great deal of dedication. If you’re struggling to keep your own promises, it may be time to consider outsourcing certain tasks.

The Core Dependencies of A Digital Content Strategy

Any digital content strategy will require a great deal of man/woman power. Campaigns can involve one person or upwards of 100 – depending on the size/complexity of the plan. To reiterate, if you don’t have a budget, you will need a lot of time and dedication.

These are the main elements you’ll need to account for in a basic digital content strategy

#1. Creative Talent

Creative talent is the driving force behind your strategy – the engine of the vehicle.

Say that in your research you’ve determined you will be creating blog posts, whitepapers, how-to videos, and infographics. There are several skillsets and software programs you’ll need. Fortunately, there are plenty of free, open-source content programs out there – SEO, video editing, graphic design, etc.

Content creation skills, on the other hand, do not have any shortcuts.

For blogging, you’ll need:

  • A basic understanding of keyword research and SEO content writing.
  • Time/ability to write 1,000 – 1,500 words of unique content (about 3-5 hours per post).
  • Ability to write content that is practical, timely, authoritative, and relatable.

For whitepapers, you’ll need:

  • In-depth technical knowledge of the niche.
  • Time/ability to write 2,000 – 3,000 words of highly technical, educational content valuable to the target audience (about 8-10 hours).
  • Basic graphic design skills for images and formatting.

For videos, you’ll need:

  • Basic understanding of video production.
  • A well-lit space to record videos.
  • A decent camera & microphone.
  • Basic video editing skills – and a video editing program.
  • Basic knowledge of YouTube SEO.
  • Charisma

For infographics, you’ll need:

Creating content will eat up the bulk of your time. Be sure to plan your and/or your team’s schedule accordingly.

#2. Project Management

Project managers – or content managers – wear many hats throughout a campaign. They oversee all the planning, organization, creation, and distribution of the content. Before we get into any of the key responsibilities, the most important skills in a project manager are good time management and a SUPER close attention to detail.

Here are just a couple of bases project managers must cover.

For the content itself: You’ll need to make sure the messaging is created in line with the goals, technical specs, and is distributed properly. This will require a very critical eye, editing skills, and a basic understanding of SEO for the written content.

Most importantly, you will need to know the target audience personas backward and forwards to make sure the content falls in line.

For planning: You’ll need to create a content calendar – showing what content needs to be created and when it needs to be published. If you are outsourcing content creation, it’s your job to make sure deadlines are met. Once you have the content ready, the next step will be publishing it.

Depending on the complexity of your digital content strategy, the project management tasks may get pretty rigorous. Think of the project manager as the driver steering the vehicle.

#3. Tracking/Analytics

A digital content strategy is nothing without analytics.

On a foundational level, you’ll need to interpret the data tied to your content – and how it attributes to the goals you set up.

For written content, this will require a basic understanding of Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and a content research tool like Buzzsumo or Ahrefs Content Explorer. If video is playing a role in your content strategy for the web, you will need to get a feel for YouTube Studio.

On a very basic level, you’ll need to gauge:

  • Web traffic by source/medium (Google Analytics)
  • Impressions and click-through rate (Google Search Console)
  • User behavior (Google Analytics)
  • Shares and backlinks (BuzzSumo, Ahrefs)
  • Keyword data – your most valuable keywords (Ahrefs, Google Search Console)
  • Lead gen (Google Analytics)
  • Conversion rate (HubSpot)

Now, tracking & analytics is about more than just reading data; it’s about finding the insights and measuring success. More importantly, it’s about using the insights to continuously improve.

For example, say you have one piece of content that is getting tons of views and driving a great deal of traffic to your website. Of those website visitors:

  • How many of them convert into leads?
  • Where are most of the visitors coming from? (Search engines, social media, direct, etc.)
  • What is the conversion rate of that piece of content (conversion/total visits)
  • What is the ROI for that particular piece of content?

From here, you’ll need to get a little more critical.

  • Why is this piece of content so successful?
  • What about it makes people convert?
  • How can you apply this to other pieces of content?

This is just the tip of the spear in discussing analytics for a digital content strategy. There are books written on the topic. As your content strategy evolves, your expertise in tracking and analytics will need to follow suit.

This is why many companies turn to a content strategy consultant.

Which leads to….

#4. Outsourcing Content Strategy Services

As you can see, running a digital content strategy is a full-time job.

While you may be able to handle a smaller campaign single-handedly, a day will come when you need to outsource some of the tasks. The good news is you can find talent these days from all over the world – bloggers, video producers, copywriters, graphic designers, photographers, etc.

The first thing businesses tend to outsource in a content strategy is content creation. Now, you are probably well aware that you get what you pay for when outsourcing. But sometimes, your budget is essentially non-existent – we get it.

The important thing to keep in mind when outsourcing content creation for cheap is you’ll need to dedicate a lot of time to overseeing the quality.

For instance, say you’re paying a freelancer $20 to write a 1200-word blog post. They probably won’t bother to align their work perfectly with your goals. Chances are, you’ll need to do a fair amount of editing.

When you’re outsourcing content creation, think about how much time you’ll have to spend making sure the work is up to par. You’re outsourcing to save your precious time – and it may be worth it to go with a proven white label agency with a defined process and reputation for content.

The most successful digital content strategies have one thing in common: cohesion.

If you’re looking to outsource EVERY task in your content marketing strategy, it’s strongly recommended to go with a single agency that does it all – content creation, project management, tracking, etc. This is because you’ll be working with a unified team that has a process down pact. Outsourcing content jobs to a bunch of random freelancers can easily create miscommunications and hiccups.

When you outsource your content work, you need to see hardline results to justify your investment – and that all comes down to who you work with.

There are a lot of fulfillment agencies out there that push their clients to sign long-term contracts off the bat. Simply put, not all partnerships for content work are a fit. After all, content is subjective. It’s best to test out the waters to make sure your visions are aligned.

Our advice is to look for a provider that operates on a project-by-project basis and start small. As you gain confidence in the partnership, you can gradually pass off bigger tasks.

What’s The Next Step?

The bottom line is that you need one of two things to create a successful digital content strategy: a great deal of time or a good team of experts.

Content strategies have many layers. As you get your feet on the ground and start to gain traction, the day-to-day tasks will pile up. Sooner or later, you will need to pass some of these tasks off your plate – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

Outsourcing content work doesn’t have to be an intimidating process.

At E2M Solutions, we’ve been helping brands and agencies take their operations to the next level with white label content strategy services – creation, copywriting, marketing, SEO, web design, and web development – for more than nine years.

If you are looking to test the waters of outsourcing, send us a message or reach out to Kevin, Chief Content Strategist at kevins@e2msolutions.com.

Let’s create something awesome together!

  • Kevin Svec is a chief content strategist at E2M. He spends his days researching and helping businesses produce compelling content that resonates with audiences of all interest levels. When he’s not rock climbing or hanging out at one of San Diego’s many beaches, Kevin is writing for Impulsive Wanderlust, a travel and leisure website he founded.
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