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13 Foundational Content Strategy Skills You Need for 2020

New year, new content strategy skills for 2020?

Well, not quite.

Teaching my Content Strategy & Marketing Course over the past few years has taught me something: Many emerging content strategists still need to learn the basics.

And not just learn the basics either.

They need to genuinely understand content strategy fundamentals AND how to apply them to specific situations.

Importantly, content strategy skills for 2020 are the same as they’ve always been.

That’s the thing about content strategy: Trends come and go, but these skills are forever.

13 Foundational Content Strategy Skills for 2020 – Table of Contents

What Content Strategy Skills Do You Need for 2020?

1. Focus on Platforms You Control: Thinking in Terms of Your Content House

2. Create Solid Goals for Your Content

3. Invite Authority Links with Authority Content

4. Know When to Do Some Content Planning and When to Get Spontaneous

5. Understand When to Emulate Vs. Distance Yourself from Competitors

6. Build Personas & Know Your Audience (Like, Really Get to Know Them)

7. Have a Solid Grasp of Search Intent

8. Have More Conversations and Build Real Relationships

9. Find the Right Influencers and Personalities

10. Optimize for Voice Search and Smart Devices

11. Invest in High-Quality Multimedia

12. Create Authoritative, Topic-Centric Content

13. Efficiently Repurpose and Revamp Content

13 foundational content strategy skills for 2020

What Content Strategy Skills Do You Need for 2020?

If you really want to drive traffic to your site, make an impact on visitors, and build trust, you absolutely must start with the basics.

Basics are good. Basics work.

Content strategy fundamentals are the reason Express Writers has achieved $4.4 million in sales and 5,000 clients. They’re the reason Orbit Media has managed to hit 1 million visits inside one year.

brand content strategy cores

These fundamentals are all covered in my Content Strategy & Marketing Course where you’ll learn how to practically apply them to your brand – or any brand – and deliver results.

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For now, let’s go over the mandatory content strategy skills for 2020.

1. Focus on Platforms You Control: Thinking in Terms of Your Content House

Unfortunately, some marketers still haven’t learned their lesson here.

Relying on social media apps or guest blogging sites for traffic is a dangerous game because you don’t own those platforms.

A few years ago, indie publishers and small businesses suffered a serious blow when Facebook announced it was switching its algorithm in favor of personal interactions and groups. Organic reach for pages plummeted and many brands saw their livelihood vanish with it. Yikes.

Facebook was just looking out for itself as an advertising platform by forcing pages to pay for access to the audience they built. Now, you can expect to reach about 1% to 3% of your total followers with each post.

I experienced a similar situation with Huffington Post when they announced they were eliminating their guest blogging feature for most authors. Good thing I hadn’t invested a lot of work and time into writing for HuffPost! (Because my guest contributor login vanished literally overnight.)

The point is you can’t put all your hopes into platforms you can’t control.

You can control your website and your email list – that’s it!

Instead, we should use platforms like social media and guest blogging strategically to reach the right people. We shouldn’t base our whole content strategy around them.

2. Create Solid Goals for Your Content

Run a Google search for your target keyword and you’ll notice you’re competing with millions of other websites. As of January 2020, there are over 1.74 billion websites across the entire internet.

That’s no small competition!

While writing for the sake of writing is nice, your content isn’t worth anything to your business if you aren’t structuring it for results from the very beginning.

And if you want to create results-driven content, you must nail down your goals.

Every website is different, and your content strategy can focus on a few different goals too, such as:

  • Encouraging visitors to sign up for your email list.
  • Converting leads into buyers.
  • Converting prospects into leads.
  • Convincing visitors to download a lead magnet.

Your goals will dictate how you write and plan your content to deliver results.

I have a 3-bucket goal mapping system I use (and teach step-by-step in the course!) for mapping your content right to goals. (Hello, ROI!)

Learn more about that here.

3. Invite Authority Links with Authority Content

content house diagram

In the Content Strategy & Marketing Course, I tell students to think of their content strategy like a house.

First, you need to build a supportive structure with authoritative content. Links are vital to help both people and search engine bots navigate your site.

Your internal links tell Google which pieces of content are the most important (because you link to them often). They also direct visitors to your best pieces of content.

Like Moz says:

“Links provide relevancy clues that are tremendously valuable for search engines. The anchor text used in links is usually written by humans (who can interpret web pages better than computers) and is usually highly reflective of the content of the page being linked to.”

External links carry a lot of weight as well.

Google looks for high quality links to authoritative sources as it scans your content. Ideally, you’ll want to link to sources with an Alexa ranking under 100,000. Examples of sites with a high Alexa rank include the New York Times, Wikipedia, the National Institute of Medicine, and other authoritative sources.

4. Know When to Do Some Content Planning and When to Get Spontaneous

Results don’t happen spontaneously – you need a comprehensive plan!

Every student that takes my Content Strategy & Marketing Course learns how to plan out an editorial content calendar.

On average, I’m ahead by 3+ months in planning our content, using my favorite tool, Airtable.

airtable julia mccoy

Your content calendar should include well-researched long-tail keywords and optimized headlines with a high AMI score (using this tool). I also suggest using tools like Buzzsumo to explore your content topics and see what’s trending so you can stand out.

At the same time, trending topics can spring up out of nowhere! They may not fit into your calendar, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable.

When it comes to content strategy skills for 2020, a strategist should have a solid grasp of when to plan and when to jump into action with hot topics.

5. Understand When to Emulate Vs. Distance Yourself from Competitors

Figuring out what separates you from competitors – I call this your content differentiation factor (CDF) in the Content Strategy & Marketing Course – is critical for creating content that leaves an impression on your readers.

It keeps them coming back week after week.

content differentiation factor

Here’s the catch:

Anyone can offer stellar customer service, affordable products, or really any offerings. If you use those to stand out, competitors can easily swoop in and steal them out from under you.

That’s why important skills for content strategy in 2020 include creating content that sets your business apart. For instance, maybe you cover industry tips others don’t. Perhaps you have an expert on your team to run regular Q&As.

Figure out what makes YOU unique and how to incorporate it into your content strategy.

BUT (and this is a big but), important content strategy skills for 2020 include the ability to pick out when your brand should emulate the competition. No, NOT copy – emulate.

For example, if your competitors write blog posts and eBooks but not podcasts and video, is this because they don’t have the resources, or because their audience doesn’t care for audio-visual content? Hm.

Your competitors are successful because they’re doing SOMETHING right. What is it, and how can you leverage that knowledge in your content strategy?

6. Build Personas & Know Your Audience (Like, Really Get to Know Them)

Learning how to develop personas is one of the crucial skills for content strategy in 2020.

If you want your content to genuinely resonate with your audience, it needs to be super relevant – personalized even. The only way to do that is by learning about your audience and developing individual personas.

But personas alone aren’t enough for the simple reason that people change. Plus, they aren’t robots you can easily pack into little boxes.

As Michelle Linn, head of Mantis Research, says,

“At the surface level, many marketers I know approach their content with an audience-first mentality and arm themselves with personas. While this is a good first step, how well do marketers really know those they want to serve with their content. Are they having phone conversations or meeting people for coffee to see how people’s perceptions are evolving or do they rely on perceptions from years ago? Understanding your audience is a never-ending exercise that requires marketers to get out of their comfort zone and talk to those they want to help.”

A great content strategist knows how to connect with their audience on a deeper level through methods like:

  • Surveys and polls
  • Email responses
  • Facebook groups
  • Conversations on social media

LinkedIn has found that the most lucrative companies across all industries have a comprehensive social selling strategy. I’m willing to bet that’s because they know more about their audience than their competitors do.

7. Have a Solid Grasp of Search Intent

Let’s talk keywords!

Many strategists don’t realize that, with keywords, search volume is the least important metric.

Yep, you read that right.

Quality always beats quantity. So, how do you define keyword quality?

  • Relevant to your business
  • Low competition
  • Long-tail (phrases of three words or more – the more, the better)
keyword sweet spot

That said, if a long-tail keyword shows up in SEMrush with zero searches a month, it’s not the best choice. But long-tail keywords with 40-90 searches per month are way better than broad keywords with 3,000 monthly searches.

Long-tail keywords are naturally easier to rank for AND easier to write relevant content for.

Plus, long-tail keywords tend to contain at least one broad keyword – sometimes more.

In other words, you can still try to rank for that broad high-volume “dome umbrellas” keyword by targeting “cute dome umbrellas for sale in Detroit.”

That brings us to searcher intent.

It’s much easier to identify searcher intent from long-tail keywords.

Someone searching for “cute dome umbrellas for sale in Detroit” clearly wants to buy an umbrella right now.

Meanwhile, with a keyword like “dome umbrellas,” you can’t be sure. Are they looking for ideas to design their own umbrella? Searching for gift ideas?  Or did they just overhear the term and want to know what the heck a dome umbrella is?

Understanding the searcher’s intent behind the keyword can also help you create the most relevant content. Think with Google has managed to nail down six different emotions behind each type of search query:

emotions behind search intent

In terms of basic content strategy skills for 2020, I still see plenty of strategists who need to improve their keyword research and searcher intent.

8. Have More Conversations and Build Real Relationships

A content strategy shouldn’t be static or one-sided. It’s all about demonstrating your authority in your field and building relationships with your audience.

They say that an average person spends the equivalent of an entire day online each week. Wow! That represents lots of opportunities to connect with them.

When someone finds your blog from a Google search or social media link, do they feel warm and fuzzy like they’re having a conversation with you? Or, do they feel like they’re just staring at a computer screen?

Research from Salesforce shows a whopping 83% of B2Bs and 84% of consumers want brands to treat them like human beings. When it comes to content strategy skills for 2020, developing a plan to build relationships instead of simply winning sales is key to success.

9. Find the Right Influencers and Personalities

I don’t like the word “influencer” because it makes most people think of massive numbers that are simply put, vanity metrics — and don’t equate at all to real wealth.

So, for our purposes here with content strategy skills for 2020, let’s use the word “personalities.”

Connecting with the right personalities to promote your content, brand, and ideas is the secret sauce to a successful content strategy.

Remember when I mentioned that people spend 24-hours a week online and they want to be treated like a human? Well, they want to connect with other humans – not necessarily brands.

That’s why you might notice individual people at your company get more engagement than your brand’s Twitter account or Facebook page.

10. Optimize for Voice Search and Smart Devices

As of 2018, Think with Google reported 27% of the global online population used voice search on their mobile devices. Not only that, but an estimated 50% of all homes contained a voice assistant like Alexa or Google Home.

Voice search is growing and it’s not going to get any less important. That’s why optimizing for voice search remains one of the most important content strategy skills for 2020.

Google also estimates that 72% of people who own a home voice assistant use it as part of their daily routine – for everything from shopping and creating grocery lists to learning about the weather and different products.

Again, this is why long-tail keywords in natural language are important: People ask their Alexa long-tail questions.

The type of question can also tell you a lot about searcher intent. For example, a “what” question tells you that someone is trying to do some research while a “where” voice search lets you know someone is prepared to take action (ding, ding, ding).

search intent related to question phrases

Source: Campaign

11. Invest in High-Quality Multimedia

My favorite types of multimedia are podcasts, infographics, and videos.

In terms of content strategy skills for 2020, an expert strategist should understand how high-quality media fits into your brand’s content.

Here’s a little-known fact: Live video isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Research from Boxcast found the average retention rate for a 35-minute Facebook livestream was just 26 seconds. Ouch!

If you want engaged viewers, you’ll have much more success producing a series of impressive YouTube videos.

My Facebook lives, for example, might get about 160 engagements. A strategic YouTube video, however? Well, now my viewers climb past the 17 thousand threshold. Now THAT’S something!

Brian Dean of Backlinko is with me here. He noticed picking some super relevant keywords and properly structuring his YouTube video to optimize watch time earned him almost 3x more viewers.

12. Create Authoritative, Topic-Centric Content

I’m not sure what’s worse: creating clickbait or creating content just for the sake of publishing content.

They’re pretty similar in my book because, in both cases, you aren’t creating content with the purpose of building authority and educating your audience – you’re just trying to game the system for traffic.

Google doesn’t want that, and your visitors definitely don’t want that.

When Google’s algorithms (and visitors for that matter) scan your post, they take everything on your website into context – not just the copy on one specific page.

As you write about the same topics repeatedly for years, Google notices. The algorithms will identify you as an expert in your industry and you’ll show up in more search results.

That’s why I talk about the importance of topic-centric content in my Content Strategy & Marketing Course.

key topic area for content

When it comes to basic content strategy skills for 2020, a strategist should know how to develop content that fits your expertise AND what your audience wants to consume.

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13. Efficiently Repurpose and Revamp Content

Trust me, this is one of the most efficient content strategy skills for 2020 (and forever) you can learn.

Once you learn how to repurpose content, it will feel like a weight has lifted off your shoulders.

Here’s the secret: You don’t have to create a bunch of fresh content for every platform. You can take that high-ranking long-form blog that earned you 50k visitors last week and repurpose it into six shorter blogs, a YouTube video, infographic, AND podcast.

Boom, now you’ve got over a month of content ready to share on every platform!

Beyond repurposing content, an expert content strategist should know when to give old content a makeover.

Google changes its algorithm all the time. New posts are published every day. Your content naturally becomes outdated.

(Don’t beat yourself up – it happens to everyone.)

In terms of skills for content strategy in 2020, however, your content strategist should look for dips in rankings, outdated facts, and new research so they can update your awesome posts.

Start Improving Your Content Strategy Skills for 2020

I know that digital marketing is all about the latest and greatest trends. Everyone wants to capitalize on the new big thing, A.S.A.P.

But the truth is, you can’t play with current trends and ideas until you get the basic content strategy skills for 2020 locked down.

Learning basic skills for content strategy in 2020 helps you stay consistent in your approach, gradually build authority in your field, and win hearts.

How do I know these skills work? I use them myself building Express Writers.

Go deep with content strategy skills for 2020 and learn how to apply them to your brand. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more.

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