Create a Sustainable Content Strategy [Free Worksheet]

Posted by in Content Strategy, Digital Marketing, Sustainability tagged with ,

Understanding your business goals, target audience, capacity, and expertise are core components of a sustainable content strategy. In this post, we’ll help you cut through the noise to create a content strategy that produces great results.

Good content can be one of your organization’s strongest business assets. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 96% of the most successful B2B content marketers say their audience view their company as a trusted resource. In order to build trust, you need to provide well-written content based on your expertise and experience that addresses people’s specific pain points and answers their questions. A great content strategy can help you do this.

However, a sustainable content strategy also prioritizes good governance practices in order to improve efficiency and ensure long-term success over time. Sustainable content strategy also means aligning your content with sustainability goals to drive results. It requires us to enlist systems thinking and ask ourselves big picture questions alongside those that are specific to target users.

What Makes a Content Strategy ‘Sustainable’?

A content marketer wants lots of visits, and we want those visitors to stay as long as possible. We want low bounce rates and long visits. Those are considered success metrics. But in the long run, we need to think about the desired outcome for us and for our visitors, and look for ways to meet those goals as efficiently as possible.

— Andy Crestodina in Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services

The internet has a massive environmental impact. From a content perspective, there are billions of outdated, underperforming, or otherwise irrelevant posts cluttering the web, wasting energy, and driving up emissions. To improve sustainability—and better support your readers!—make sure your posts remain timely, relevant, efficient, and aligned with specific business goals.

Plus, it’s not enough to create a good content strategy if you can’t maintain it. Effective content governance supports improved sustainability. Good governance helps you build capacity and prepare for the future while remaining flexible enough to shift your focus as you learn new things. This applies to team dynamics, scalability, and a world of other issues that arise as you execute a long-term content strategy.

Putting systems and resources in place that allow you to smoothly execute and measure content marketing efforts over time will help you improve content sustainability. To do this, consider the following:

  • Regular team content check-ins to track progress and identify hurdles.
  • Consistent performance reports to understand how you’re doing over time.
  • Regular content audits to prune or improve underperforming or outdated content.
  • Create and use a content calendar to balance content goals with capacity and resources.

These efforts will help you quickly identify areas for improvement and build capacity over time. For instance, sometimes content updates can significantly improve performance, so be sure to identify posts that could benefit from this.

The big picture questions: Can your team keep up with your process and build capacity over time? How are you aligning content strategy with sustainability goals?

What are the Steps in Creating a Sustainable Content Strategy?

Every organization is unique. However, below are nine steps that have helped our clients design impactful content strategies that stand the test of time. Need help? Download our content strategy worksheet at the end of this post.

1. Clearly State Your Goals

Content strategy helps organizations achieve their business goals while also answering key customer questions whenever they interact with your brand. So, naturally, the first step is to state your organization’s goals and create consensus on how to achieve them:

  • What goals are you trying to reach? Be specific.
  • What does success look like in a month? Six months? A year or more?
  • Which key performance indicators will you need to measure this success?
  • Do you use content to provide customer support, as with a knowledge base or community forum?
  • Are there areas where content could support stakeholders beyond marketing or customer support? If so, what might those be?

Answers to these questions will guide your content strategy. Measuring progress will help you achieve these goals. More on this below.

For example, Modcloth has a great fashion and lifestyle blog. It gives their audience entertaining and informative content. But Modcloth’s content strategy wouldn’t be great if the blog wasn’t also used to promote their products. It’s great content that meets both business goals and user needs.

The big picture question: How might you find synergy between your organization’s mission, desired outcomes, and the content you want to produce?

User research graphic showing two man and two woman figures with questions marks over their heads.
User research and testing can help you understand which content resonates best with your audience.

2. Define Your Audience

The second question you need to answer is: who are you trying to reach? To identify your audience and their needs as accurately as possible, start with user research.

Also, stakeholder mapping can not only help you better understand the players in your business ecosystem, but also help you apply systems thinking to your overall content strategy. This is key for sustainability.

The big picture questions: Who are you trying to reach with your content? How do they engage with content?

3. Where Will Your Content Live?

There are many ways to publish and distribute content. Each platform has strengths and weaknesses. Take time to identify your audience’s most commonly used communication channels. What do they use each channel for? Consider their customer journey not only during the buying process but throughout their relationship with your organization.

For example, YouTube is great if your audience prefers video. If they would rather read, perhaps a blog on your website or a Medium publication would serve you better. Pick the communication channels that make it easy for you to find and engage with target users.

This big picture question: Which platforms give you the highest possibility to solve someone’s problem?

image of brand deck cards on a table
Words matter. Which ones define your organization’s voice and tone? Brand and editorial guidelines define this.

4. Define Editorial Standards

How will you communicate with your audience in ways they understand and relate to? Put it in concrete terms by creating editorial guidelines your entire organization can follow:

  • How formal will you be?
  • Will you use an academic or casual voice?
  • Will you use contractions, semicolons, or the Oxford comma?
  • What is grammatically appropriate (or inappropriate)?

Be as specific as possible so you can maintain consistency across all communication channels. Most importantly, be sure to include accessibility and sustainability as part of these efforts.

The big picture question: What is the professional standard your content should be held to?

5. Define Visual Standards

Similar to editorial standards, visual aesthetics are a vital part of your content strategy as well:

  • How will you use visuals to make your stories more easily understandable?
  • Will you use photographs, illustrations, or both?
  • How will you tie your content strategy to your organization’s overall visual branding to ensure consistency?

Also, make sure to maintain content accessibility standards by including alt text with every image while also optimizing each for quality and file size.

The big picture question: How will you keep your content visually appealing, accessible, and optimized for speedy delivery over any connection?

Graphic of icons informing of the content and editing process for the web
The seemingly simple act of publishing a blog post can have 10 or more steps and use significant resources.

6. Detail Your Content Process

The process itself shouldn’t have a lot of waste and the results should be actionable and clear to users. First, the workflow for creating content should be efficient and collaborative in a way that gets to desired outcomes quickly. The content created should be easily found, organized clearly, tell a compelling story, and most importantly, motivate users to take action of some sort. It should also display in ways that are relevant to the devices and platforms upon which it is being viewed. Finally, the road to more sustainable content begins with measuring the important stuff. Doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t is the quickest way to green up your content’s ‘supply chain’.

Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services, O’Reilly Meida

Think through the process of bringing your content to life:

  • How many steps will it take?
  • From conception to publication and promotion, whose hands will each post pass through?
  • What approvals are needed?
  • How will it be formatted and distributed in a way that is inclusive and accessible?
  • Will you use structured data to support your content? If so, how will this affect your process?
  • Are you trying to rank in search engines? If so, how will this change your process?
  • What challenges will distribution platforms present to that goal?
  • Are there ways to make this process more efficient?

Detail a step-by-step content workflow and involve your team in its creation. Answering these questions ahead of time will save time, energy, and money down the line.

The big picture question: Is your process easy to follow and quick to execute?

7. Define a Distribution Strategy

You will need to distribute content across the channels defined earlier to reach and engage your audience in meaningful ways. Some questions to consider:

  • Will you pay for promotional posts?
  • Create an email newsletter?
  • If so, what’s your monthly budget for these efforts?
  • How might user interactions such as comments and mentions widen your potential reach organically?
  • And most importantly, how often will you need to push out new content?

Defining good practices around post frequency and traffic generation will be vital to your success. As your content strategy evolves, distribution methods will change. Make sure you can adjust accordingly.

The big picture question: What are the best ways to ensure our content reaches people in the decision-making process?

Image showing Google Analytics logo alongside a computer screen with a magnifying glass in front of it, denoting performance measurement.
Google Analytics is just one of many tools you can use to measure content performance.

8. Get Specific About Measuring Success

You’ll need a clear way to measure progress. Otherwise, how will you know if your content strategy efforts succeed? This is key to implementing a sustainable data strategy that you can improve upon over time:

By periodically revisiting content strategy performance, you can realign or pivot your strategy quickly to stay focused on continuous improvement and efficiency.

The big picture questions: What result would make your content campaign successful? How do you measure that?

9. Define Content Topics and Clusters

Finally, once you have a clear framework with which to execute your content strategy, gather your team and define the content topics and clusters you plan to create. Be sure to:

The big picture question: How will you balance content topics that are meaningful to both your users and your business goals with ongoing performance and sustainability efforts?

Sustainable Content Strategy: Closing Thoughts

A sustainable content strategy uses the least amount of material resources to meet business goals and user needs. Impactful content strategy also evolves over time based on continuous measurement and improvement. Incidentally, this is also a key component to a more more sustainable website too.

Hopefully, the steps above give you some good ideas for how this might apply to your own content marketing efforts. Still have questions? We’re always happy to chat. Feel free to reach out.

Download Our Content Strategy Worksheet

We created a short worksheet based on the process above. It can help you and your team jumpstart content strategy efforts or refresh an existing strategy.

Use it in a workshop or as a standalone exercise to create a roadmap for continued success. Just fill out the form below and we’ll send it over. Thanks!

Content Strategy Worksheet Download
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Note: This post was originally published in 2014 and has been significantly updated to match current content strategy practices.

Nicole Hunter is a project manager at Mightybytes. She is passionate about learning how information is spread on the internet, from search engines to social media, and using that knowledge to create marketing solutions that serve her clients.