Inbound Success Playbook

Optimize the Performance of Your Content

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At this point, your company is aligned, and your team understands The Big 5 content and The Selling 7 videos you need to create to be successful with inbound. But what comes next?

To achieve the results you are looking for with inbound through your content, you must understand the following:

  • Even the most committed companies still sometimes struggle to produce the quality content they need consistently. However, your team can easily overcome these challenges -- as many others have -- if you are willing to honestly assess the current state of affairs of your content publishing and take action.

  • Though the principles behind The Big 5 and The Selling 7 are timeless, online search technology will continue to evolve in ways that will require you to adapt how you create content strategies. But new content strategy tactics (such as topic clusters and pillar content) will not only bring more visibility to what you create, they will also make creating focused content strategies much easier.

  • If you take a "set-it-and-forget-it" approach to content you've already published, the performance of your content will diminish over time. That said, if you commit to continuous cycles of historic optimization, you'll keep your content fresh and up-to-date, and you'll be able to rescue under-performing content. 

This playbook will show you how your company can overcome these challenges, while also leveling-up the performance of the content you're creating. 

Step 1: Complete a Content Publishing Retrospective

What Is a Content Publishing Retrospective?

A content publishing retrospective is a meeting, during which you discuss the state of your current content publishing (cadence and performance), any issues contributing to content underperformance, and what actions need to be taken. 

When Should You Hold a Content Publishing Retrospective?

If you are having trouble publishing content consistently for whatever reason -- time, lack of commitment, and so on -- you should hold a content publishing retrospective. You should also consider having a retrospective once a quarter or biannually, even if there are no issues to address -- given the framework below, it can be a great opportunity for you to celebrate wins and provide an opportunity for people to share ideas.

How Does a Content Publishing Retrospective Work?

Your content retrospective should have four parts:

  • A review of metrics and key takeaways from that data on how often you're publishing content, how the content you are publishing is performing, and whether those two metrics are falling short of your goals or agreed upon commitments. (Even if you're going to focus on what needs to be fixed or changed, do not forget to recognize team accomplishments and content milestones.)
  • Honest and solutions-focused discussion around why you are either not meeting your goals or are not meeting your content publishing commitments, on the whole, depending on what issues you've identified. This would also be a good opportunity to call back to what your team discussed during your workshop about what would keep your company from being successful (principle eight), and how you will all work together to avoid those things from coming to pass.
  • An opportunity to share ideas by every member with the rest of the group. Yes, often these retrospectives are necessary due to challenges within your content publication process, but you should also make room for this type of positive and innovative discussion, which may yield great results as you move forward. 
  • Summary of next steps and your action plan going forward as a company. Think of this step not just as a recitation of a to-do list, but also as an opportunity to make a recommitment together, as a team, to what you're working on and the goals you're working toward. 

Yes, these conversations can be challenging, depending on what issues you uncover.

But we've seen first-hand (with ourselves and with clients) how immensely rewarding and transformative they can be if you are willing to be honest about where you stand right now, and what you need to do differently going forward.

Step 2: Topic Clusters, Pillar Content, & Advanced Keyword Research

The Principles of Online Search Haven't Changed, but the Technology Has 

Although the primary objective of search engines -- to deliver the most relevant content results as quickly as possible, in response to online search queries -- hasn't changed, much of how those search engines (Google, in particular) evaluate the "relevance" of content and use technology to map and crawl content online has changed. 

In response to voice search, the rise of mobile devices, and how much more conversational and complex our search queries as buyers have become, a new content strategy framework involving topic clusters and pillar content has emerged, and the old ways of doing keyword research no longer apply. 

In the following video (length, 12:30) from IMPACT Live '18, IMPACT Director of Web and Interactive Content Liz Murphy explains how exactly search has changed in recent years, why our old ways of doing keyword research are broken, what topic clusters and content pillars are, and why this new framework is the future of building content strategies:

Watching this video will be critical to your understanding of what's to follow. Do not skip over it.

How to Implement a Topic Cluster & Pillar Content Strategy

  • Select the broad keywords you will target for your topic clusters, with the understanding that it will be the focus keyword for your content pillar. Your selections should be guided by the most important products and services you sell -- for example, our first topic cluster was centered around "website redesign." (You can build them one at a time, but at least begin the planning for between three and five clusters.)
  • For each cluster, you will need to select between eight and 22 related subtopics that will be bidirectionally linked to your content pillar. Audit the content you've already created first to see if any can be connected. From there, if you still have gaps, use The Big 5 as a guiding principle when brainstorming new subtopics. (While the HubSpot SEO Tool can be helpful for planning, you can also use our Pillar Content Workbook to complete these initial steps.)
  • Write your content pillar, using the process outlined in this article -- How to Write a Content Pillar Page. (This article not only covers how to develop a pillar strategy, how to create the perfect outline, and guidance on word count, it also provides more insight on how to pick your core keyword for your content pillar/topic cluster.)
  • Track the performance of your new content strategy. Note that there is no single metric that will tell you the success of your new pillar strategy -- much of it will depend on the goals you set for each, and there are numerous ways to track how much traffic your strategy is attracting to your website and how much revenue you're generating from it.
  • Continuously improve your content pillars with new information and updates over time. We recommend an agile approach in which, once a quarter, you review a select number of your pillars to see what changes need to be made, and how you can improve the content, design, or user experience.

Also, we've mentioned a few times in this playbook step that we need to rethink how we perform keyword research. But what's actually changed?

Keword Research: Then vs. Now

It used to be that we would create content strategies from a list of arbitrary long-tail keywords we thought search engines would like. Then we'd retrofit content topics to those keywords. It was a robots first, people second approach. 

That no longer works.

Whether we're talking about The Big 5 or the topics you choose for your topic clusters and content pillars, marketers must now embrace a people first, robots second approach to keyword research. 

Using your products, services, and business goals as context, your keyword strategies need to be hyper-focused on the needs of your buyers first -- the questions they're asking, the topics they care about the most, and so on. 

For example, going back to our pillar on website redesign for businesses, we knew we wanted to focus on that as a business, because we sell website redesign services. However, from there, our attention turned to our audience. Before touching any keyword research tools, we brainstormed the most important questions our buyers have about that service for subtopic content in our topic cluster, as well as the base content for the pillar itself. 

Only then, with that understanding, did we turn to keyword research to validate and optimize those topics for search. (We highly recommend SEMrush for keyword research.)

For more information on how to do keyword research the right way, read our How to Do Keyword Research guide, which outlines what's changed and how you need to adapt your processes. 

Step 3: Continuous Historic Optimization of Old Content

Why Historic Optimization Is Important

No matter how evergreen or insightful an article or video might be, at some point, you will need to update content you've already published. Either because the content is no longer accurate or up-to-date, or its performance is unexpectedly lackluster. 

You address these shortfalls through historic optimization of your content.

Additionally, historic optimization is a process you should use to further amplify the reach of an already powerful article. For example, you may rank second for an article in search engine results, and a few tweaks could bring you into that first place spot.

That said, be aware that this is not a step you complete once and check the box. Your content manager will need to integrate the tactics described below as part of their monthly content publishing processes. 

How to Historically Optimize Your Content

After three to six months of producing content, integrate the following historic optimization steps into your processes:

  • On a monthly basis, identify between five and 10 pieces of content for content optimization. That number will vary depending on the size of your organization and the time you have available -- either due to performance or it being outdated.
  • In addition to updating the content for each, review and revise the internal links, calls-to-action, page title, and meta description, as necessary. For articles that rank very high for particular keywords, add in featured snippets. (ClickFlow is a great tool for testing search-related changes to your content.)
  • Thirty days after changes have been implemented, track the performance of your content to see if it improves. If not, put it back in the queue for optimization. 

Again, historic optimization of your content is an ongoing process. At IMPACT, we have a Slack channel just for our editorial team, where we all share articles that should be put in the pipeline for historic optimization.