Read any popular digital marketing thought leadership blog and you'd be bombarded with the notion that "big" content is the future of search and social success.
And while that is true to some degree, it is also a view that is dangerously one-dimensional and lacking in real strategic content knowledge.
Content strategy is all about variation to ensure the reader stays engaged, and by creating major pieces consistently you lose that critical impact by "shouting" all the time.
Small Is Good
Creating "big" is also expensive, and for the majority of businesses it is simply not possible to push out massive content campaigns one after the next.
From an audience perspective, we've already discussed why that isn't a good thing, but there is now another key reason for focusing as much on the "little things" as those big-hitting campaigns – and it's all about traffic opportunity.
The Changing Face of Google
Regular readers of this site will be very aware of how Google is changing the game when it comes to surfacing sites it deems are authoritative in any one niche.
The search giant's replacement of its "engine," which we have all come to know as Hummingbird, is beginning to change the way it surfaces content, specifically for more detailed searches.
And given that user behaviors are also changing with regard to how we use search engines generally, it results in much larger search volumes for longer tail terms.
Think about it. When was the last time you used a single-word search term to find what you were looking for? As we get more experience in using search engines, we refine how we use them and begin typing in much longer phrases to find what we are looking for.
Hummingbird was designed to help Google deliver, at speed and scale, more specific content to match that behavior.
Regular Content ROI
All of this adds up to more potential audience for your content, and with social distribution thrown into the mix, too, there has never been a more rewarding time to invest in regular content as well as bigger, campaign-led pieces.
So, how do you go about ensuring you have a strategy filled to the brim not just with content that "fills the gaps" but also with strategic pieces that make the most of the opportunity?
Ideas Are the Lifeblood...
Like any content strategy piece, its success hinges on your ability to create creative, aligned ideas consistently over the long term. To do this requires not just an eye for creativity but a tried and tested process to extract those ideas regularly from collective minds.
And when looking specifically at how to ensure those ideas match the opportunity presented by search, that process needs to really focus in on the data.
The best way to surface these ideas is as part of a larger brainstorming process that will take in all areas of your content strategy and include work on defining the audience first.
Before you even begin to look at what data may be out there from a search perspective, it's important you get inside the head of those you wish to attract with the content in the first place.
Understanding what makes them happy, sad, angry, and enlightened will ensure you are positioning your content to answer those burning questions they'll be searching for later on. If those two things are not aligned, you've lost before you even start.
To understand that in greater detail, one of the very best ways of getting a view of exactly which subjects your audience gets most excited about is to look at interest data from the social graph – or from Facebook's treasure trove to be more exact.
Extracting social data is relatively straightforward and will help you paint a true picture of your audience. One of the most popular posts of the year here on SEW focused on the increasing importance of this kind of data in informing marketing plans.
Complete the process and you will be left with a much clearer understanding of the people that will be consuming your content and, with it, you amplify your chances of getting it shared.
Content Is Critical
Creating a site that is brimming with relevant content is critically important. We've already discussed how changing search behavior is pushing traffic further down the long tail, but there is another key reason for creating decent volumes of quality content, and that's Google Panda.
Early research on the sites to have benefitted from Panda 4.0 suggests that those brands investing in creating immersive content experiences won, and won big. Those that relied on syndicated content had the rug ripped right from under them.
It has, therefore, amplified the argument that "brand as publisher" is the way to win online and thinking in that way will certainly help you get your head around how you should now view your marketing strategy.
If Your Brand Were a Magazine
The best way of repositioning your own thinking is to ask the following question of your domain: "What content would we create if we were the leading magazine for our industry?"
It's also possible to glean a lot of strategic and tactical ideas from a good magazine. One of the best ways to start the process of pulling together your regular strategy is to reverse engineer the "flat plan" of your favorite magazine!
What is a "flat plan"? In simple terms, it is the document used to schematically plan out the layout of a magazine on day one to ensure it contains the right flow and variation.
Below you can see an example of one I made earlier and have started reverse engineering. The idea is you open your favorite magazine (in my case "Men's Health") and record in top-level detail the key content on pages.
You can clearly see here how a double page spread is made up and it is this detail that you translate into the flat plan above.
For the majority of magazines, the small, regular ideas (such as things like "5 Mins With..." interviews, top 10s, etc.) will be found in the front section of the magazine before the features really begin. It's here that you'll be able to borrow dozens of top ideas that work brilliantly as regular content.
And by recording each of these ideas within your "reverse engineered flat plan," it makes it is then easy to extract them into a list of regular article ideas for your main strategy.
Tying It to Search Opportunity
Having great, creative, ideas is very important for your content plan. You need to ensure you're entertaining your audience but there is also another critical element to include in any strategy designed to win traffic from search.
We know Google is trying to surface content that precisely answers specific questions and in doing so is getting much more granular with the way it serves up rankings. To ensure you're part of the mix, you mustensure you have a content plan that includes articles, videos, and other content designed to answer the very things your audience is already searching for.
This is where tools such as Ubersuggest and Soovle and platforms such as Quora and Yahoo Answers come in. The former "feed" off Google's suggest feature, which is, in turn, based on what people search for, while Quora and Yahoo's platforms are bursting with questions relating to every subject matter imaginable.
By typing in a number of key phrases into the tools, you can quickly extract large number of longer-tail content questions to answer. List these out and order them by relevance or even throw them into a keyword volume tool like Google's own Planner and create a priority list based on traffic opportunity.
Translate Into a Plan
The final stage is to work out how and when you should create that content and how it fits into your overall strategy.
Getting it right is all about experience and testing in reality, but there are rules to go by.
Ultimately, you're looking to create a flow of content that has peaks and troughs and it is the small, regular content ideas that will give you those important "low points." You may only create three or four big content pieces a year and so the rest of your calendar should be filled with these ideas.
A content calendar like this one will help you organize those ideas into something resembling a quality strategy and from there, test and test again to see how much content you should produce and when you should publish. The better engagement each piece gets, the closer you are to strategy perfection!