Use These 8 Content Creation Lanes to Flesh Out Your Strategy
Your business strategy informs your content strategy and your content strategy informs how, when, why and what you write.
The lanes below are ways that you can flesh out a content strategy, but make sure it aligns with your business strategy. If, for example, you are creating content for a self-serve SaaS company that relies heavily on free trials, you need volume. Consider a lane that helps you rank for important keywords. If, on the other hand, your company sells a high-priced tool and requires a demo, you need lanes that are closer to the middle and bottom of the funnel.
Don’t just pick a lane because it seems like the content would be fun to work on — choose the lane(s) that are closest to your product and core audience.
- 🔬 Teardowns
- ✂️ Cross-Cutting
- 📚 Template Library
- 📝 Meta Content
- 💻 Use-Case Content
- 💡 Thought Leadership
- 🔗 Hub and Spoke
- 📊 Data
A teardown is an analysis of someone else’s company, fundraising, onboarding, email strategy, etc. Content marketers gravitate towards teardowns because they are easy to write. Some are interesting and useful to readers, but many are writer-centric—i.e., the writer can come up with a template that they can use over and over again.
That’s not to say teardowns aren’t a potentially useful strategy. They certainly are. For one, you can put the brand names of well-known companies and people in your blog post titles. This is really helpful for gaining distribution, particularly for newer sites. Also, if you can find an interesting angle, you can create an entire series of great content relatively quickly.
Teardowns work best when the product itself provides data that can be used in the analysis. This is true in several of the examples below. You’ll notice that these are examples are really, really in-depth. This is key to making teardowns work. Here are a few examples:
- Nacho Analytics: Airbnb vs. VRBO: Why A Massive Organic Search Advantage Doesn’t Always Pay Off (uses their own data)
- CB Insights: We Analyzed 12 Of The Biggest Direct-to-Consumer Success Stories To Figure Out The Secrets To Their Growth — Here’s What We Learned (uses their own data)
- Slab: How Jeff Bezos Turned Narrative into Amazon’s Competitive Advantage
- Hiten Shah: How Sketch Took on Adobe by Making a Faster, Leaner, Cheaper Image Editor
There’s room in nearly every content strategy for teardowns — it’s also a great place to start — but your strategy should eventually evolve to include other lanes.
Cross-cutting is the process of creating content that aggregates threads or narratives from the content you already have on your site. If you notice that a topic, person, or company comes up often, dedicate an article to it.
While we do consider this a lane, it’s also just good content marketing hygiene. Any topic that comes up often deserves a deep dive. Content like this can be hard to identify, but here are a few good examples:
- Price Intelligently has a series of pricing teardowns where they compare the pricing strategy of two well-known companies. Annual recurring revenue is a topic that comes up in many of those teardowns, so they created a post dedicated to the topic (What is Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) and How To Calculate It).
- Invision publishes an excellent interview series on how popular brands approach design (Reddit, Barry’s Bootcamp, Calm). When topics like design friction come up often, the topic gets its own post.
- Perhaps the best example of this is Ben Thompson’s Stratechery. Ben writes daily and weekly posts and often references a handful of important business strategy concepts. He gave each concept its own article and even created a page to keep track of the concepts.
Cross-cutting isn’t very useful when you’re just starting, but becomes essential as you grow. Any blog with more than 100 posts should employ this tactic.
This is basically a way to curate resources for your readers. It can also be a great way to capitalize on search demand. It’s easiest to explain this via examples, so let’s look at a few.
- Tettra, Culture Codes: Tettra is a tool for internal documentation. Teams can use it for things like keeping track of processes and sharing company values. They created a library of culture decks and employee handbooks that other companies can draw inspiration from. They’ve also interviewed people from some of these companies so readers can learn more about how and why these resources were created.
- PandaDoc, Business document templates: PandaDoc is a SaaS tool that makes it easy to send and receive contracts, proposals and quotes. In case you need a template for one of these documents, they have a massive library of them. This is less of a content play and more of an SEO play, but it’s a great way to capture search traffic and product adoption without spending months or years building momentum through a blog.
- Piktochart, Pitch Decks: This is a slightly different approach. Instead of building out a full library, Piktochart curates inspiration on its blog. If you’re resource-constrained, start here. You can always build out your library later.
Template libraries work best when they inspire readers to create something of their own — using your product, of course.
Does reading about Buffer’s gender pay gap make you want to sign up for a social media scheduling tool?
No, probably not. But this is representative of an interesting trend in content marketing where people skip the keyword research and ultimate guides in favor of essays detailing the experience of doing their job. This takes shape in different ways. It’s often a founder sharing how they got the company its first $5,000 MRR or why those chose an alternative to venture capital. We recently read a great piece from Copper’s CMO that describes how and why they rebranded the company and another about what Intercom learned scaling a sales team.
These posts are all different, but share a common thread. Each one records an experience using a personal, humble tone and offers more lessons learned than it does congratulations.
This is meta content marketing. It’s when people at your company write about their experiences doing their jobs, regardless of whether that experience is relevant to your target reader. These posts tend to be transparent, are often loved by readers, and can be extremely cathartic for the writers.
Let’s state upfront that this style of content marketing isn’t for everyone. If your company doesn’t have a strong content culture — meaning that content buy-in comes from the top-down — it’s going to be nearly impossible to get leadership to sign off on this strategy. Imagine a marketing manager at an enterprise company writing about how they build onboarding emails, but with the numbers redacted. Yea … it wouldn’t work.
In order for meta content marketing to resonate, you need to be transparent about something. You don’t have to share revenue or salaries, but you do need, at the very least, to share some personal insights from your experience. It has to be revealing.
For flexible products with many use-cases, you can generate tons of content quickly by pairing use-cases with the target personas. This works best for:
- products with many use-cases (think Trello, Airtable, Evernote, etc.)
- products that are freemium or inexpensive
The formula is simple: [persona] + [use-case]. Just plug in various personas and use-cases. Let’s look at an example of how Trello might use this. First, start with a persona:
- project management for designers
- documentation for designers
- time tracking for designers
- account management for designers
Next, pick a use-case and swap out personas:
- time tracking for marketers
- time tracking for devs
- time tracking for sales
- time tracking for customer support
Each use-case is an axis that you can pivot from. Even with a handful of use-cases and personas, you can create dozens of combinations. You’ll still need to turn each into a great idea, then into a great article, but you’ll have a template to work from.
This is an SEO play. The idea isn’t to generate the world’s most interesting content. Rather, the goal is to quickly generate lots of pages that can help you rank for long-tail search terms.
Thought leadership means different things to different people. For some, it’s a CEO spouting off jargon on LinkedIn. To others, it’s the content marketing equivalent of an op-ed. Thought leadership can be a characteristic of your content, or it can be a tactic of its own. At its core, thought leadership content is an opportunity to share personal insights. It does not need to follow any particular formula, nor does it have to come from a higher-up.
The best thought leadership content draws a line around an abstract concept. It’s when a writer finally puts into words something they’ve known to be true, but never explicitly stated. This can take all kinds of forms, but here are a few examples that we find to be particularly intriguing:
- Sahil Lavingia, Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company
- Paul Adams, The End of Apps as We Know Them
- Chris Savage, When Your Competition Accelerates, Have the Courage to Go Slow
- Eugene Wei, Compress to Impress
- Claire Lew, The Power of Assuming Positive Intent
Thought leadership content is a good example of what we call movement-first content. The primary goal of movement-first content is to inspire, not necessarily to inform. These posts should spread via social media rather than search. They are optimized for impact, not distribution.
Let’s first explain how this works. A hub is a page designed to rank for a competitive keyword. Think of it as “landing content” — optimized to the “T” for search and built to drive readers deeper into your site. It’s similar to an index or table of contents. The spokes are posts created for long-tail variations of the hub target keyword. All spokes point readers back to the hub but have the ability to rank on their own as well. Together, the hub and its spokes create a hierarchy that is clear to both readers and search engines.
A hub and its spokes work best when they operate outside the constraints of a blog. Atlassian has several excellent examples of this. It has dedicated a section of the site to agile development. You can see how it’s structured by looking at some of the URLs:
- etc. (there are dozens)
You may choose to create a hub to compete for a competitive keyword. Hubs are great for earning search traffic, but don’t expect them to drive tons of subscribers or bring in social traffic. (Remember: one post, one channel.)
Data analysis for content creation is way underutilized. Using data as source material for content is powerful because it makes your site an alpha source. There are a few ways to go about this:
Analyze user data
If you work for a SaaS company, you are sitting on a goldmine of data. Yes, it can be difficult to get access to the data. It’s also difficult to get a data analyst to sift through it. (Ideally, you can do at least some of this on your own. If not, time to level-up your spreadsheet skills.) Make the case by planning out a content series with very specific signup goals. This justifies the dev time needed to get and analyze the data.
Example: The Wistia Guide to Calls to Action in Video Marketing. This post was created with anonymized user data from the product. This was the primary output, but Wistia also created some spinoff posts.
Analyze public data
It’s not hard to collect, clean and analyze publicly available data, particularly if you’re looking for performance data. Social influence, downloads, pageviews, followers, etc. are all metrics that can easily be tracked, captured and analyzed.
Example: How to design a SlideShare that pulls over 1 million views. SketchDeck, an on-demand design service, put together this piece about popular SlideShares using some very accessible data (views, downloads, comments, number of slides, etc).
Run an experiment
This is the easiest way to create new source material since you can create your own hypothesis and choose what data to track. There are all kinds of ways to do this.
Example: We Stopped Publishing New Blog Posts for One Month. Here’s What Happened. Buffer simply stopped publishing new posts, spent time refreshing old content and tracked the traffic. It’s a straightforward, but very useful post.
Write, Analyze, Repeat
Remember, none of these tactics represent a full content strategy. Each is a way to flesh out your editorial calendar, build momentum or address an underserved part of the funnel. Test them out, tweak to fit your own vision or try something else — but keep going. The best content strategy is the one that keeps evolving.