A Branch of Holly has grown so much recently.
Over the past six months, readers of my blog have increased by 53%. That means an increase from 7,000 to 12,000 readers a month - thanks everyone!
This hasn’t happened out of the blue. Nope. I haven’t conducted a magic spell to try and boost my readership. But I have been working on creating something else. A content strategy. Content that you believe in. Content that you can relate to. Content that will take you one step further in building your online presence.
When I was off for two weeks during December, I took time to focus on developing a brand new content strategy. It involved two things in particular. One was cutting my publishing schedule down. Two was including more content that I was good at writing. Plenty of words, plenty of advice and plenty of actionable tips.
I also narrowed my focus down to just two umbrella categories (blogging and productivity). This meant I was concentrating on the kinds of topics that you wanted helped with the most.
Before this, I wrote about anything I felt like and what my competitors were writing about. It was only after doing some more research that I realised I needed to redirect my focus. Instead of thinking I knew what you wanted and needed, I had to be sure.
Since then? It’s been all about you. And it still is. Your tweets, comments, newsletter replies and questions form the foundation of every piece of content on A Branch of Holly. Even if you might not realise it.
The results? It’s been SO successful. Since implementing this content strategy, I’ve doubled my social media following and massively increased my engagement. (Not to mention being shortlisted to be a finalist in the UK Blog Awards).
It was a simple change, really. Instead of writing about MY interests and concerns, I started writing about YOURS.
And the best thing of all?
You can do exactly the same thing for your own blog. No matter what your niche is.
If you take a bit of time now to craft your content strategy, it will benefit you for the rest of your blogging career. So today, I’m going to show you exactly how to do that, including:
How to create a content strategy that gets readers excited about what you do
How to create one that gets people to share more of your content
How to create one that turns one-time users into regular readers and loyal subscribers
WHY DO YOU NEED A CONTENT STRATEGY?
I spent three years blogging without a content strategy. That’s a REALLY long time to publish content week after week without having any real clue of what you’re doing or who you’re targeting.
It effected my readership. I was stuck on the same lousy numbers for what felt like a lifetime and I couldn’t seem to generate any engagement at all. No newsletter replies, barely any social media conversations and hardly any mailing list sign-ups. Cringy, right?
My content strategy changed all that. Here’s what else it can do:
Make it quicker to plan your editorial calendar
Before my content strategy, I found it so difficult to come up with blog post ideas. Every week, I’d get so anxious about planning my content. And each time a post was published, I was always disappointed with the results.
After my content strategy, I’ve now got an endless list of ideas in Evernote. I get excited about planning my content each month, because each post relates to one another. No more lunch breaks spent wasting time thinking of what to write about. No more late nights trying to force the words out.
Make sure you attract the right audience
When my numbers were so low, I wasn’t thinking about specifically WHO I wanted to read my content. I just wanted anyone to come and read it. I felt like I was spending so much time coming up with ideas that just didn’t seem to be worth it.
I wrote about dealing with stress. I wrote about growing your Instagram. I wrote about about having a motivational outlook. I was all over the place and so were my readers. Narrowing down the focus in your content strategy will make sure that your content actually attracts the right people. These people will matter the most to your online presence (more on that later).
Make sure you’re showing off your knowledge
By honing in on your content with a specific strategy, you can be seen as a real leader within the industry. This is because you’ll be talking about the topics you’ve got the most expertise in time and time again.
So let’s crack on then, shall we?
#1 | WHO ARE YOUR READERS AND WHAT DO THEY WANT TO KNOW?
It’s super helpful to know exactly who your ideal reader is - the people you’re targeting with your content. Regina wrote a great post on how to figure this out.
Knowing who your readers are is one thing. Knowing what they want to read is another. What problems do they have? What do they need help with? What are they one step away from mastering? What frustrates them?
Let’s take my readers, for instance. A lot of them really struggle with time management and growing their online presence alongside everything else they’ve got going on. This is something they want to know how to fix.
So how you can you find out what your readers want?
You could start off with just GUESSING what your readers might want to know, based on a few of your ideas. But you know what’s even better? Doing the research and finding out FOR REAL. Getting actual feedback from the people that read each and every post you publish.
What can you do?
You’ve got to be proactive. Run a survey (there’s a whole lesson on this in the Blogging breakthrough challenge). Join Twitter chats. Join Facebook groups. Read the comments section of other blogs in your niche. What questions are people asking again and again?
The two best methods for me having been stalking Facebook groups (yep, we all do it!) And asking my readers directly in the form of a survey or email. There’s no harm in asking the question. But the most important thing for you to do is not just read their responses. Make a note of them, because they’ll really help you as you create your strategy.
#2 | WHAT ARE THE MAIN MESSAGES YOU CAN TAKE FROM THEIR FEEDBACK?
We’ll stick with my readers as an example for now. I create content for bloggers, creative entrepreneurs and small business owners who want to be more productive and get real results whilst working IN their online presence, not just on it.
What do they want to know?
Effective methods to work smarter not harder, whilst still getting noticeable results
The platforms to use that will be most beneficial to their own presence (+ how to use them)
Having enough time to run a fulfilling blog and online presence (and create decent enough content)
Maximising their time to get the most tasks done
So from these few points (and bear in mind, there will be more), we could say these are the main things they need help with:
Managing an online presence
Using the right methods/strategies
These translate directly into my main categories:
With these topics, I should be able to cover a range of things that my ideal reader wants to know.
When you’re looking at the main messages your readers are giving you, really get deep into the *why*. What’s the foundation for them? Why do they want to be more productive? What would creating kick-ass content mean to them? How would managing their online presence effectively change them?
#3 | WHAT IDEAS CAN YOU COME UP WITH BASED ON YOUR FINDINGS?
So, now you’ve got some messages that cover the main things your readers want to know. But not only that, you’ve also got some pretty solid content categories too. Plus all your research from discovering your ideal reader.
Now, it’s time to pull all these together and come up with some headline ideas. Use everything you’ve found from your research (social media, emails, surveys) and create some potential ideas for your blog. Use your categories to keep things in line.
For instance, a lot of my readers always ask me how I manage my online presence alongside a full-time job.
From this one question, I can come up with plenty of ideas that can be turned into different types of content. Here’s a list:
I publish a productivity post once a week. That’s half a month’s worth of content right there, just from those four ideas.
And I went on to publish all of them on my blog. (Just click each of the links above if you want to read them!)
The best thing to do is set a timer for ten minutes for each of your categories. See how many different ideas you can come up with in that time. Then, go back through, cross out the irrelevant ones, narrow them down and improve the ones that could be really really good.
#4 | WHICH IDEA DO YOU WANT TO CREATE FIRST?
You saw this coming, right? It’s content creation time! Now when you’re at this stage, it can be pretty overwhelming. You’ve got this big list of ideas - so where do you start?
There are two ways you can do it:
Start from the top and work down
Pick the one you’re most excited to write about
I usually pick the latter. Pick one of your ideas for each theme and plan them. This essentially means detailing exactly what the post is going to include. Section themes, introduction, conclusion, plus any screenshots, lists and actionable steps.
There’s a few questions I like to ask myself when I’m planning a piece of content:
What’s the one thing I want my reader to get out of this post?
What will be the key action step they can work on once they’ve finished reading it?
How will it change what they do with their online presence?
How do you want them to feel or what do you want them to think when they’re reading it?
And last but not least, your call to action. This is a crucial part of any blog post and your overall content strategy.
Do you want them to leave a comment? Follow you on a particular social media channel? Sign up to something? Get in touch with you? Do another action?
Every idea you write needs to have a call to action. Make sure you take this into account when planning your blog posts.
#5 | HOW DO I CREATE AN EDITORIAL CALENDAR TO SUPPORT MY STRATEGY?
In January, I published a post about how to get consistent readers to your blog. I talked about how you can under promise and over deliver, format your content effectively and engage.
But the best way to get consistent readers to your blog? Be consistent yourself.
Now I know some bloggers choose to just post content as and when - that’s fine. But for me, creating and sticking to a monthly editorial calendar has been key to the success of A Branch of Holly.
You know exactly what you’re writing about and when
Readers will learn when to expect content from you
They’ll also learn to trust you, because you’re consistently delivering content that helps them
As I’ve mentioned before, I use a Google Doc to create my content strategy and I plan it a month in advance.
You can do this in whatever way works best for you - pen and paper, Excel spreadsheet, a big folder with lots of paper in. It doesn’t matter as long as you have one.
This is where your categories are super important. You can make sure you’re spreading them out equally, flowing one post on from another so each piece of your content links together.
A lot of people see the word “strategy” and start shaking in their boots. But it’s actually not that difficult if you’re following the right steps and asking the right questions. I don’t know about you, but it’s actually one of my favourite parts of running an online presence. That’s exactly why I offer content creation as a service.
The hard work doesn’t end there. After a content strategy comes a content marketing strategy, which basically means how you’re going to get your content out there. But’s that’s another topic for another day 😉
So now, I want to hear from you! Do you have a content strategy? Are you tempted to create one after reading this post? I’d love to know your thoughts.
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