The most important part of content strategy

Helloooo content connoisseurs.

It’s Perrin from Content Bites.

Not to be dramatic, but I think marketers might be killing their content strategies with convoluted jargon and nonsensical theory. I think it should be simple. Today, I’d like to share what I use as my absolute north star when building content strategies. I haven’t heard many people talk about it, so let me know if you agree.

  • Appetizers: Links from CMI, Copyblogger, Sprout Social, and more…

  • Main Course: The #1 most important part of content strategy

Let’s dig in.

Appetizers: Content about content 🤯

  • How To Survive 3 New Threats to Your SEO Strategy (link)

  • 50+ Social Media Video Marketing Statistics for 2024 (link)

  • 10 Email Marketing Tips That Drive 80% of Email Revenue (link)

  • 6 SEO Experiments That Help Reveal How Google Works (link)

  • Welcome to the Distribution-First Era, Where Strategy Starts With Channels and Ends With ROI (link)

Main Course: The most important part of content strategy

This might be an unpopular opinion, but most of the content strategy “wisdom” you find if you search for content strategy is just so… goofy

A massive portion of it is just jargony, corporate noise. 

Example: I’m a Hubspot-certified content marketer. I took their course. I passed the quiz. I got the little badge. I could not tell you a single thing they said in that course because virtually none of it meant anything. 

Hubspot’s content marketing course is just an exercise in attaching useless terminology to things that aren’t actual marketing. 

I have a different stance.

I think content marketing is simple. 

In fact, I think content marketing basically only has 2 steps: (1) figure out who your customers are, and (2) create content they actually want. 

It’s not MQLs and TAMs and KPIs and ROI and all the other static.

None of that is all that important.

Today, I want to talk about what I think is the single most important thing when you’re building a content marketing strategy. 

And then I want to show you a few different ways to do it. 

This is the most important thing in content strategy.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently.

I’ve been building a service where I do white-glove content strategy for businesses, and to create a polished service, I’ve been reevaluating the best, most effective, most concentrated ways to do content strategy. 

During that process, this is what I landed on. 

I think the most important thing in content strategy is: finding and understanding the content your customers actually like to consume. 

Most content marketers do not do this. 

Lots of us start with all the jargon: buyer journeys and funnels and all that. 

That stuff isn’t useless, but the reason I always felt like it was kind of silly is that it assumes you already know what kind of content your customers like to consume.

But usually, we don’t. 

And if we don’t know what kind of content our customers actually like, it will not matter if we show them something at the dead-on right time in the funnel or the buyer’s journey or whatever. 

Because they won’t like the content. 

And I think a lot of us for that for content marketing to work at all… the absolute first thing that has to happen is for people to like the content. 

In other words, most of us play the content marketing game with our gut. 

I think it's much better to play the game with evidence.

So how do we get that evidence? How do we find the types of content our customers ACTUALLY like to consume? 

I’m going to talk about specific methods below.

But to do any of them, there’s a concept to understand.

Step #0: Understanding content sources

This is the foundation to finding your customer’s favorite content.

Before we can find individual pieces of content to draw inspiration from, we have to find what I call “content sources.”

Content sources are anywhere your customers go to consume content.

It can be anything, but it usually means:

  • Their favorite podcasts

  • Their favorite websites

  • Their favorite YouTube channels

  • Their favorite influencers

  • Their favorite subreddits

    … and so on

Basically, we want to find our customer’s watering holes. 

If we can find the watering holes, we can have a never-ending supply of inspiration for content topics that our customers have proven they like to consume

Not only that, but we can find formats they like. 

We can find the tones that work. We can learn references and inside jokes. We can (gasp) interact with those communities.

We might even find a competitor or two that’s already having success there who we can emulate and compete with. 

But in my experience, it’s much more important to find content sources than it is to cobble together spreadsheets of single pieces of content. 

It’s how we teach ourselves to fish, so to speak.

In other words, the #1 most important thing is finding content your customers actually like to consume. But to do that… you have to first find content sources. 

K. Let’s talk about the “HOW.” 

Here are 3 methods (#3 is the one I personally use most often).

Method #1: Survey your customers (don’t skip the detail in this one)

This is by far the easiest way to find content sources. 

It’s also the messiest, so it’s not necessarily my favorite. 

But the basic idea is:

  • Create a survey

  • Send it to your customers

  • Filter the data to find the most common stuff

This works best with email lists, but you can also do it on socials, communities, etc. 

And it works best with existing customers, because we’re trying to profile people most likely to buy, and the best signal for that is people who have already bought.

But wherever you have a group of existing customers you want to contact directly will work. If you’ve got an email list, I’d start with that. 

Then, create some sort of survey. 

Lots of email marketing software has built in surveys/polls. The software I use to send this newsletter (Beehiiv) has a native tool I use to poll this community from time to time. Convertkit has something similar. 

If you don’t have something like that, there are lots of survey tools out there (SurveyMonkey, etc.), but because fast is way, way better than perfect, a simple Google form works just fine. 

I’d keep it super simple. 

Feel free to steal the example I created, but it’s also so simple it’d probably take like 30 seconds to make your own lol. 

Point is: quick and dirty works fine here.

When you get responses, look for content sources that come up with more frequency than others. 

Here’s why it’s messy: you’re going to get a bunch of random-ass responses, and if you don’t have a big enough cohort of customers, you may not be able to identify any real patterns. 

You may also have to sift through data manually to account for misspellings, people calling things different things, etc. 

It’s messy, but it’s a super efficient way to get the info straight from the horse’s mouth.

If you have 1,000+ existing customers you can contact, this is where I’d start. 

Method #2: Use a tool like SparkToro

Otherwise, this is where you should start. 

I am not affiliated with SparkToro in any financial sense. 

For transparency’s sake, I am very loose acquaintances with their founder, Rand Fishkin, and I do pay for the software. 

If you want to look at it as you read this, here’s the homepage (not an affiliate link). 

But the tool is sick. SparkToro does exactly what I just described.

Type in parameters that mirror your customer avatar, and the software gives you content sources organized by channel (podcasts, subreddits, etc.). 

The way the search works is super clever, but it’s also one of its limitations: you can’t build overly complex customer avatars, but the tool will let you put in parameters that target people who use specific words in their profiles, who talk about topics frequently, or who interact with other content sources. 

For example, here’s a screenshot of podcasts listened to by people who use “product manager” in their profiles. 

It’s not a detailed customer avatar, but you can imagine that if your customers were product managers, this would probably be a very, very close approximation to that audience. 

When I’ve used SparkToro, I’ve found that I generally need to run 3-4 main searches to adequately cover the ground for all permutations of an audience. 

For instance, I was building a content strategy for Freshbooks for the content strategy service I’m building. 

Freshbooks sells to in-house finance professionals, independent accountants, and entrepreneurs. 

I ended up running the following searches to cover what I thought was the 80/20 of the customer base:

  • People who used “CFO” in their profile

  • People who used “accounting” in their profile

  • People who used “accountant” in their profile

  • People who used “of finance” in their profile (targets “VP of finance,” “head of finance,” “director of finance,” etc.)

  • People who frequently talked about “accounting”

With all of these, it was no trouble at all to compile 10-30 content sources across all channels. 

That would give Freshbooks around 100+ content sources to draw inspiration from. 

If anything, it’s too much

Here’s the hidden gem in SparkToro: you’ll often find where interest overlap is with your audience.

I found, for example, that CFOs were often also super interested in venture capital content. Accountants were consuming lots of crypto content. 

THIS kind of insight is usually really, really difficult to uncover in any other way. 

And those Venn diagrams your competitors may not know about make it really easy to create unique, creative content your audience can’t get anywhere else. 

Method #3: Find existing high-engagement audiences

Methods #1 and #2 are about extract information from your customers, which I think is best. 

But we can also find existing audiences that have high-engagement.

And as long as they’re relevant to our industry… and as long as the engagement is super high… we can be reasonably certain that the best content would probably resonate with our customers. 

There are three ways to find these big pockets of engaged audiences:

  • Use competitive analysis tools

  • Manually search platforms

  • Look for curated lists of these kinds of sources

Re: competitive analysis tools: 

Surveying competitive analysis tools could be a 2,000-word post of its own. So I’m not going to go into much detail here. 

But to really do it well, you usually need platform-specific tools. 

If you were going to try to find the websites with the largest organic audiences for accountants, for example, I’d recommend Ahrefs or SEM Rush (not affiliate links). 

If you were looking for competitive analysis for YouTube, I might recommend TubeBuddy (not affiliated).

Then, we’d start with either a search inside those tools or with a single competitor we know has a good audience, and then find competitors of that competitor.

And we’d search until we found audiences that were big, relevant, and engaged. Then, we’d note those. 

Re: manually searching platforms:

If you have more time than money, you can always just search platforms for big accounts. 

There are methods to search efficiently on basically every platform, but most of them boil down to: 

  • Using the native search function

  • Searching for a few big topics

  • Looking for content with lots of views/engagement

  • Seeing if the accounts that posted are big, quality accounts

  • Documenting them somewhere

Because this is the most time-intensive way of doing it, I’d probably start with platforms I’m either already active on or platforms I know I want to be active on. 

Re: curated lists:

This is still one of the best ways to find anything, as hard as it is to believe… and it’s so simple it’s silly.

It’s literally just: heading to Google and searching for “best [account type] for [customer avatar].”

An example I used when building a content strategy for FreshBooks was “best instagram accounts for accountants.” 

Pretty easily found 3 big listicles, and on those listicles, there were like 10 of the same accounts. So I documented those in my strategy to be able to use them later. 

This is how I document & use all this data. 

Before signing off today, I want to show you how I use this stuff. 

Of course, you can do this any way you want, but this is how ol’ Perrin does it. 

I’ve found it most useful to find as many good content sources as I can, and then to break them out by:

  • Platform

  • How I found them 

Breaking them out by platform just means that I’m grouping all the website, YouTube channels, etc. 

Then, I group them by how I found them.

For me that means research that comes from actual customer activity – e.g., via SparkToro or directly from customers – OR by competitive research (e.g., competitive analysis tools or curated lists). 

This is what it looks like when grouped by customer activity (screenshot). 

And this is what it looks like grouped by competitive research (screenshot). 

Again, there are 1,000 ways to pet a cat. So do it however you like. But I like this particular organizational method because it allows you to pull from very similar sources as you’re building channel-specific strategies. 

I ALMOST thought it was a good idea to pull the top content from every content source.

That ended up being dumb.

Because: it’s way way waaaaay too much work. And top content for these sources changes from month to month, week to week, or even day to day. So the best way to build a strategy is usually to pull from them at the same time you’re building your strategy. 

So I just make sure my database of sources is chef’s kiss, and then I use it as a living, fluid well of inspiration. 

I build strategies monthly, so I usually dig in in earnest about once a month and try to match the hottest topics to whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish with my content. 

Summary of how to put this in play

If you agree with my thesis that the most important part of content strategy is finding and understanding the content your customers actually like to consume, then you can put it into play in your own strategies with something like this: 

  • Survey your existing customers to ask them directly where they get content

  • Use a tool like SparkToro to find other content sources based on customer data + “hidden gem”-style topical overlap

  • Do competitive analysis to find existing, large, engaged audiences elsewhere

  • Compile them into a database

  • Use them as ongoing inspiration

That’s the issue. If you missed last week’s issue, you can read it here.

Go forth & conquer.



or to participate.