Like a recovering addict’s 12-step program, a sustainable content strategy needs to be constantly re-evaluated and re-assessed. You never leave the program—you’re an addict for life.

These 12 steps for content marketers are intended to be applied and re-applied, with adjustments made as you go. It’s a never-ending wheel of content creation that will roll your company to more and more success, building momentum along the way.

You won’t have to seek amends with the people you’ve wronged (although that never hurts), but you will need to maintain an unflinching eye fixated on the needs of the content marketing gods: your customers.

Let’s begin. My name is Adam, and I have a content abuse problem.

  1. Assess your content assets

First, you need to know what you’re working with. Look around and take stock of your content assets. What are the videos, infographics, blog posts, product pages, landing pages, whitepapers and case studies that populate your website?

  1. Prune unhelpful, redundant, or otherwise worthless content

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to content marketing. Unless a piece of content directly addresses a customer’s need or helps them along with a specific step in the buying cycle, then it must go.

  1. Identify content gaps

Content gaps are the areas where you could be serving your customers, but aren’t.

If you take a look at the complete buying cycle of your customers, you may notice that most of the time they’re not actively looking to buy your product (although you need to be prepared for the times when they are). You need unique, customized content for when they are in the initial awareness and information-gathering portions of the buying cycle, as well.

  1. Conduct keyword research

Keyword research is really about getting to know your customers even more. The words that they plug into Google are a window to their psyche—they paint a picture of trends, problems, whims, and fancies. When you can tap into the collective psyche of your customers, then you’re on your way to creating a genuine connection that can only result in more sales for you.

Keywords often come in the form of questions. These questions give you an excellent opportunity to provide your customers with answers. Those answers can take the shape of blog posts, landing pages, product pages, etc.

Some excellent tools for keyword research include:

  1. Use research as inspiration for headlines

Headlines are a pretty big deal. They carry a ton of SEO weight, and they are the first entryway to your piece of content.

Effective headlines are an integral part of any content marketing strategy, and there’s a definite art to crafting the perfect headline. They need to be intriguing (in other words, “clickable”) and they need to be relevant to the things your customers are searching for.

  1. Write a bunch more headlines

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’ve assigned headlines two steps in our 12-step program. That’s because without an effective headline, your excellent content isn’t ever going to be read. It’s as if it doesn’t exist.

Great headlines aren’t just for blogs, either. While every page doesn’t need a clever headline (which can get distracting) each heading on each page should be carefully thought out and optimized for search engines. It should describe perfectly the content of the landing page, product page, white paper, etc., and entice your customers to read more and dig deeper into your website.

  1. Write and produce content that solves problems

Now you’re deep in the content creation process—you probably knew some writing had to get done sooner or later.

When you’re writing the content that will fill your website and blog, ask yourself how your product, service, or idea benefits the reader, and then focus on that. Remember to emphasize benefits over features—this has been the mantra of advertising agencies for decades, and it remains true today.

Your content shouldn’t be all about you, or even your product. It should always be about your customers.

  1. Let the content determine the word-length and formatting

Don’t worry about word count. Sure, your website needs words, but there is no hard and fast minimum number for getting noticed on Google.

Instead, let the content determine word length. Let your content fulfill its purpose (how it’s addressing your customer’s spot on the buying cycle) and then be done with it. Sometimes that means writing 250 words for a landing page, or 2,500 words for a blog post.

In addition to word length, design the formatting and layout to serve your customers. Make it easy for them to skim and browse by incorporating plenty of subheadings and bullet points. Use bold and italics to your advantage—but don’t do anything to get in the way of clarity. Long paragraphs and rambling sentences get in the way of understanding; so do any formatting tools if overused.

  1. Make every piece of content actionable

Every page needs a call to action.

Calls to action take many shapes, but the one thing they all hold in common is they ask your reader to do something. It could be to “like” you on Facebook, post in the comments, read another blog article, watch a movie, fill out a survey, or even buy your product.

Your call to action needs to be tailored to where you think your customer is on the buying cycle when they reach that particular page. If they’re not ready to make a purchase, then don’t ask them to buy your product. If they got to your landing page by searching for your specific product, you’d better be ready to ask them for their money!

  1. Get as many eyeballs as possible to look over your content

Behind every great writer is a great editor. Even the best of us need an extra set of eyeballs to look over our writing—a different perspective can sometimes point out weaknesses or errors that we are unable to see ourselves (since we’re too close to the work to have an unbiased view).

If you’re not a particularly strong writer, then having a trusted friend or colleague edit your content could be just what you need to take it to the next level. It could also potentially save you from posting content with embarrassing typos.

  1. Promote and share

Even the greatest content needs help reaching the masses. In fact, you should be shouting your best work from the rooftops!

If your content answers questions, solves problems, and provides solutions, then it can generate a life of its own as more people find it and link to it. But it needs that initial push; that first launch before it can soar miles above the ground.

So how do you promote your new content? It depends on the content and its context within your website.

On-site content is naturally promoted when it is linked to, optimized, and placed in the ideal section of your website. When it’s customized to be user-friendly, your onsite content will function intuitively and your customers will click deep into the site. It will also be easier for search engines to find and “crawl” your website, ultimately boosting your search rankings (the infamous SERP results).

Other ways to promote your content include:

  • Paid search: great for product pages and landing pages
  • Sharing on social media: great for blog posts, videos, and infographics
  • Email campaigns: great for promotions or to offer free gifts
  • Telling all your friends to read it and comment on it
  1. Track, Analyze, Re-assess, Adjust (TARA)

Finally, the last step is often the most difficult to get a handle on. You’ve got to track, analyze, re-assess, and re-adjust (forming the handy acronym TARA). But how is it possible to track the success of a content marketing campaign? Can you really show a definitive ROI with something as slippery as content marketing?

The first part of TARA, track, is a mystery to many content marketers, but it really shouldn’t be. There are vast metrics you can turn to in order to track the success of a particular piece of content: social media shares, blog comments, SERP results, page rank, and site visits, just to name a few.

Once you’ve tracked the success (or lack thereof) of your content, you’ve got to interpret the results through analysis. Did the content do what it was intended to do? Did it exceed expectations, or fall short?

In order to re-assess, you have to go all the way back to the first step of our 12-step program—assessing all your content assets. An effective content marketing campaign should be circular; it rolls forward, smoothing the rough edges as it goes, eventually building up speed and momentum. Every little blog post, landing page, and web page is a piece of the larger wheel of content that is your marketing campaign. And if any piece sticks out or doesn’t quite fit, then you’re in for one bumpy ride.

Which brings us to adjust, the final piece of our puzzle. When you adjust, you make efforts to acknowledge when a particular strategy isn’t working, and then take the steps to fix it. Be sure to revisit every step of the program, including pruning, research, and creating more custom content designed to fit your evolving needs.

After all, when you’re a content marketing addict, you’re an addict for life!

Adam Fifield
Adam Fifield is the Content Marketing Manager at Big Leap. His background is in journalism, and you'll find him playing jazz piano in various Salt Lake City saloons and speakeasies until closing time. Connect with Adam on Twitter: @adamonthekeys