Sara Zailskas, a content strategist with Realtors.org, tells us why it takes more than intuition or seriousness of purpose to consistently deliver engaging content.

I recently took a job as a Web content strategist for an association’s Web site after four years in editorial with a group of housing industry trade publications.

When I shared my new-job news with colleagues in the publishing world, 99 percent of the time I had to explain what content strategy is.

And fair enough! I had only discovered the term a little over a year ago, which is shocking because it’s essential. Content strategy is important, and if we all employed it, we’d be more efficient and more successful.

What is content strategy?

Content strategy is determining the best way to present information to your audience so that it’s valuable and makes them want to come back for more.

Sounds like what you do, right? Probably to a degree. But as an editor, my team and I got so caught up producing and editing copy it was easy to forget to plan for it beyond the basics.

As a content strategist, I ask our content producers (read: writers and editors) questions like these:

• What’s the goal of publishing this? What are you trying to accomplish?
• Who are your trying to reach?
• Is this the best format (Q&A? List? Video interview?) for this information?
• What related content is in the pipeline?

I take a look at the content and ask myself how Joe User would react to the information. I consider where Joe would expect to find it. I think about whether Joe would find it useful. And I assess the likelihood Joe would return to – or better yet, refer to — us as a resource.

In the middle of discussions or debates, my supervisors will always come back to our guiding questions: what’s best for our audience and what makes the most sense. And isn’t that what all businesses want for their customers?

Why you should care

If you give people useful information, they’ll come back for more. And if they’re coming back from more, that means your traffic, audience feedback and audience loyalty are going up – which hopefully means more money in the bank.

Of course, caring isn’t enough: you need to back up your strategy with metrics. Start with one piece of content. Come up with strategy, employ it, track the numbers, tweak what’s necessary, and keep that top of mind for the future.

Hiccups and how to get rid of them

Content strategy can be tricky. Here are just a few challenges you might face and solutions:

  • Time to plan. You’ll have to make it part of your planning routine. If you need to post a list of content strategy questions next to your computer to ask yourself, do it.
  • Resources. You likely don’t have a content strategy team to turn to for help and thus are your own content strategist. This isn’t a bad thing! Consider the payoff for your business and for your career.
  • Team or management buy in. The fact you’ll have to do a lot of educating about the topic means it’ll take longer for folks to wrap their heads around the concept – and devote money to it. Have patience.
  • Silo’ed thinking. Cross-promotion is a buzzword among us content strategists, but that’s difficult to grasp if you have a specific beat or focus to your work. Keep Joe User’s perspective in mind throughout.
  • Knee-Jerk publishing. The urge to “file away” information or “just get it out there” as opposed to optimizing it. Don’t stop at the first answer you think of.

If you have a content strategist, have discussions with him or her. And if you don’t, I challenge you to become one to elevate your content. Hopefully your traffic, audience loyalty, advertising and other important measures of success will rise too.

Sara Zailskas loves her job the National Association of Realtors as a content strategist for Realtor.org and relies on her editorial background every day.