Empire Building 101: Designing a Custom Content Strategy

There’s been a lot of talk about empire building lately.

Conquer this . . . . Rule that . . .

It’s enough to make me wonder what color cape I should wear.

Seriously, I deeply admire the passion of the digital crusaders and wish them well in their online quests. Still, I can’t help but notice that most of their castles are built in the air rather than being fashioned with rock-solid materials arranged to endure the tests of time and the winds of change.

Unfortunately, that’s how it is for a lot of us.

Convinced we’re doing things right, we keep our noses to the grindstone, posting and promoting, then posting and promoting some more until at long last our number of followers swells to empire-like proportions.

But do we ever stop to think just exactly where we’re taking all of these followers? Have we prepared a place for them to live happily every after, or will they soon grow bored and restless, eventually rising up in a bitter revolt, drawing their swords and . . .

Ouch! Let’s not go there . . .

Instead, let’s talk about how we can create a custom content strategy to design blogs that will delight readers while fulfilling empire-sized dreams.

First, a definition: A custom content strategy is a structured plan that ensures each written post, video, podcast, free report, ebook, etc., plays a role in creating a desired long-term outcome.

Here’s how it works:

When you start your blog, you have an end-result in mind. Maybe your goal is to promote your offline business, attract consulting clients, publish a book, or teach courses. Or, maybe you want to use your blog as the main hub for an affiliate marketing business or a place to promote your own digital products or membership site. With a custom content strategy, everything you write and promote strategically links together to bring you closer to your goal, one step at at time.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say your goal for your blog is to have it become the authority, “go-to” site in your niche, ultimately allowing you to command a high price for your own ebooks and courses. In this case, a custom content strategy might include creating twice weekly “authority content pieces, such as “how-to” articles or video tutorials. Post-by-post, you’d slowly build a large body of quality work, organizing your content for maximum effectiveness, like those empire builders at Copyblogger do with their cornerstone content. As your content amasses, other bloggers routinely link to your articles, boosting your search engine rankings, and bringing more readers your way. Because of the volume of helpful content on your site, visitors linger, delving deep into your archives, sharing and bookmarking older posts. Because of your reputation for quality over time, your ebooks and courses are eagerly anticipated by readers and successfully promoted by an army of affiliates.

Now that’s what a real empire looks like.

Here’s how to create it:

Step into the future. Using your long-term goals or business plan as a guide, get a clear vision of yourself living your future dreams. Are you speaking or teaching? Selling products? Writing books? Consulting? Now, how does your future blog support you in this? Does it have a vast library of content? What sorts of products are you promoting on the blog? Can you see the titles of your ebooks or your membership site? Spend some time in this future vision until you have a crystal clear image of your own activities and the role your blog has played and continues to play.

Break it down. Keeping your vision in mind, consider the amount and type of content you need to build that future blog. For example, if you want a large library of helpful content, what categories make up that library? What types of posts will be as timely for tomorrow’s readers as today’s? What sort of tone and style will play
well with future clients and customers? What content can you create now to make writing future ebooks and courses easier?

Plot it out. When you’ve determined the type and amount of content you’ll need to make that future vision a physical reality, it’s time to plot out the details. Break things down even further by imagining the individual pieces of content that will be layered to create your vision. When you’re ready, record your plan in an editorial calendar. Consider which forms of content (written, video, etc.) and which styles of posts will bring the best long-term results. As you plan and record, think of all types of content you’ll create, such as guest posts on other blogs, newsletters, ebooks, and interviews so that everything works together over time. More than likely you’ll only work things out a month or two in advance, and that’s fine, as this will allow you to re-examine and alter your strategy as you get closer to your goal.

Customize your content. As you create individual pieces of content, follow your custom content strategy as a whole, but do stay open to inspirational sparks and creative flashes, and change things out if it makes sense. Just stay mindful of the quality and tone and the overall impact on your future vision.

Promote with passion. Zealous promotion is essential to the success of a customized content strategy. When you create a piece of work, be mindful of the best promotional methods and places for that content. Now is not the time to shrink back but rather to boldly point readers towards your valuable content while
conducting yourself in a manner fitting of your future stature.

The bad news in all this is that building a lasting empire with a custom content strategy isn’t an overnight process. It takes serious thought, creative effort, and patience.

The good news is, you can still wear a cape :)

Your turn: When you picture your blog of the future, what do you see? Do you have a plan to create it or maybe a plan to make a plan???

Related Posts:  Empire Building 101: The Power of Pillar Content

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50 Responses to Empire Building 101: Designing a Custom Content Strategy

  1. James Tayo May 17, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    I like the idea of building an empire gradually with cornerstone content. it does take time and we all have to be patient. Thanks Jean..

  2. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

    I really liked that Copyblogger post on cornerstone content. It really got me thinking about how to write and arrange things best over the long term.

  3. Ms. Freeman May 17, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    Excellent Blue print or Mind Map. It easy to lose sight of goals along the way, future vision and planning does help one stay on course.

  4. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    I find having a plan is a good motivational tool for me too. It takes away that “endless treadmill” feeling of posting and promoting.

  5. BrandonBurgh May 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    I agree that having a plan and end goal is paramount. I struggled with exactly what take and angle I needed. I just finally decided to settle in on what I was comfortable with and chose to stay the course on it.
    I do need to find my cape though. 😉

    Brandon

  6. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    I think people who blog about something they know and are comfortable with do better long term. It sure does make it easier to write when there's some passion (or at least a strong interest) behind the topic. With all you've been accomplishing, I'm thinking you have been making good use of that crusader's cape!

  7. John Sherry May 17, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

    I catch your drift on this Jean. It reads well. You ask how do I see my blog in the future? I don't! The future will shape up as it will. My personal commitment to myself is in making the blog today look, talk and share the ethos I believe in. Day after day of doing that will take it somewhere but I'm happy to float and see where and respond to what comes up on my horizon. Sure I have the odd intention to make it pay for itself but I'm not going to worry about that right at this minute. We all seem to love the future these days rather than today. I just don't want to wish my life away. Keep up the excellent thought provoking posts.

  8. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

    I hear you on living in the now, John. I'm big on both presence and enjoying process in my daily life, and that awareness has actually led me into being more intentional about what I create. My creative connection with my work was typically short-lived because I mainly wrote an article, got paid, and moved on to the next one. Blogging is so different because the individual pieces create a larger structure, and there's a lot of creative satisfaction for me in working with that.

  9. sheberight May 17, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    Wow, your a legend! I will definately be reading each post of yours and sifting through with a fine comb. I would say I am still planning to plan but am getting more focused with each and every post i write. I am going to take your quote from above “First, a definition: A custom content strategy is a structured plan that ensures each written post, video, podcast, free report, ebook, etc., plays a role in creating a desired long-term outcome.” I definitely have not been doing this as well as I could. Thanks for the pearls of wisdom – keep em coming!
    Cheers.

  10. Katie Tallo May 17, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

    Lots to ponder and I am the kind of person who likes this sort of structured, future-thinking, cape-wearing talk! I like it a whole lot. I'm going to have to revisit this again and again to keep me on track and start asking some serious questions. I'm at the beginning of my journey so I want it to evolve both organically and with clear purpose. This would make a great workshop, Jean. But I bet that's your plan already, somewhere down the line!

  11. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    Well, I've been called a lot of things in my day, but never a legend :) You haven't already started that beer tour of yours have you? Haha. Sometimes just out of the gate it takes awhile to get a feel for the direction you want to go, so being in the “planning to plan” phase makes good sense.

  12. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

    See, now you've got me pondering a good cape color again :) It took me some time to get a feel for where I wanted to go with my blogging too, and my plan will always be a work in progress. I just love (LOVE!) this medium so much because of the writing, the interaction, and the power to create good things.

  13. Karen May 17, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    Hi Jean,

    Love this: 'I can’t help but notice that most of their castles are built in the air rather than being fashioned with rock-solid materials arranged to endure the tests of time and the winds of change.” So very true.

    It's almost as if they think that they can scream loud enough about how they are building their empire that it will happen overnight or something. I'm beginning to think that there are too many 'kings' our there and not enough villagers. :-)

    I absolutely believe that you have to have a plan for your site and work it. Yes, allow for life's random happenings to affect it, but you still have to have a plan. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of those who do have a plan and are acting up on it.

    Karen

  14. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    It's challenging sometimes to find the right mix of creativity and structure, but it's worth the effort. There aren't too many businesses in this world that succeed without planning and review, yet bloggers and internet marketers often have the notion that we're above that sort of thing and hundred dollar bills will simply sprout out of our monitors. I'm still waiting on that to happen :)

  15. JillianMcCoy May 17, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    Loved this post, Jean. I'm sure it's one I'll refer to again and again. :)

  16. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    Thank you, Jillian. Maybe I should make myself a note so I remember to refer to it again, too :) Do you ever read something you wrote a few months ago and think, “Gee, I should have followed my own advice?” Happens to me all the time!

  17. mark May 17, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Hey Jean,

    This is a great post! I have moved my plan around a bit lately, so it is not very solid. It takes quite a bit of work to have a plan that is (a) desirable, and (b) realistic. Finding that takes a ton of work and a bunch of luck. I look at what I am doing as building a foundation for what is yet to come.

    Your opening made me think of Hendrix – “Castles made of sand, go back to the sea, eventually” or something like that. Have a good day!

  18. Hulbert Lee May 17, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    Hi Jean, it's nice to land on your blog. :) Thanks for sharing this strategy for building an empire. Doing proper planning and having a vision in mind is important for creating a successful blog. I like how you say we should record our plan on an editorial calendar. In fact, I have a calendar right in front of my face but it mostly just shows the dates. I need to start planning out my content since I usually just come up with posts for my blog as the days come by. I'll keep these tips in mind. Nice post Jean!

  19. Angela Artemis May 17, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    Jean, This was an excellent post – very helpful! I'd say it was the most thorough and well laid out article I've read on this topic. It's really made me think of the future of my blog and I thank you for that.

    By the way, I also enjoyed Coppyblogger's article on Cornerstone Content – I just wish I could figure out how to do it.

  20. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

    That's a beautiful quote, Mark. Strong visual image. I'm at the foundation-building stage too and still very flexible with things as I learn new things and discover my strengths and weaknesses. You are doing such a great job with your blog!

  21. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 10:12 pm #

    Thank you, Hulbert. I'm glad you landed here and hope you land here again :) If you start doing some planning, even a little bit at a time, you'll likely find that it really starts to feel like you're building something solid and lasting.

  22. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    Thank you, Angela. There is a lot to absorb in that article. I can see quite a few uses for cornerstone content on your blog and in your niche. For example, you could run a series on mediumship and use that as a base for a free report or set that up on an separate page on your blog. If you decide you want to go that route down the line with things, let me know and I'll help you brainstorm.

  23. pjbess May 17, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    Hello Jean,

    This is the first time I been to this blog and boy have I been missing out. Great post! As I learn the internet marketing craft I want my content to get richer and richer. Ideally, my blog will grow as I grow in this business. Thanks again!

  24. pjbess May 17, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    Hello Jean,

    This is the first time I been to this blog and boy have I been missing out. Great post! As I learn the internet marketing craft I want my content to get richer and richer. Ideally, my blog will grow as I grow in this business. Thanks again!

  25. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    I'm glad you found your way here, and thanks for taking the time to say hello. I am still new to internet marketing myself, so you can hurry up and learn it all and then teach me :)

  26. Scott Brooks - Write an Ebook May 17, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    Very interesting, well-written post. I love the part about having an “end result” in mind. I try to have this mindset whenever I begin a new endeavor. It's helps me create a good strategy.

  27. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 11:42 pm #

    Thanks, Scott. Knowing where I want to go makes everything easier for me too. I stay flexible and open to other options, but I like the feeling of today's work building on yesterday's work to create a particular result.

  28. alexwhalley May 18, 2010 at 4:12 am #

    Inspirational Jean! Wow. (sorry, not the best comment but I cant really think of anything more to say that has not already been said)
    I got a lot out of this, and it was well timed too. I stick to a routine and plan until I read something like this and realise I have NOT been sticking to my plan or routine … D'OH!

  29. Kaizenvision May 18, 2010 at 7:01 am #

    Ahhh, reality talk! Jean you are so fabulously skilled at talking in terms of reality in away that is not daunting but exciting. Very often those who speak of building an empire and having a vision – use words that may life the spirit with excitement but they lack the reality part.
    Today, shall be red cape for me.
    & my vision – it's still in development.
    :)

  30. Linda May 18, 2010 at 8:08 am #

    This is so helpful. As a new blogger I am determined to succeed. I know I mustn't try to run before I can walk but in the future I would like to publish my e:book.
    Plotting out an overall plan is something I always advise my readers to do but …oooops!… what about me?
    Thanks for drawing my attention to the importance of quality, tone and overall impact. I do try but need to practise and practise.
    Please let me know if you can help me promote and develop my blog. I am so keen to succeed and provide what my readers want in as enticing and interesting a way as possible.
    Now I need to re-read your post many times and make notes!

  31. virginbloggernotes May 18, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    You made me laugh, Alex, with your comment about how you stick to plan until you realize you haven't been sticking to it :) That happens to me a lot too. We should get extra points for our good intentions though, right?

  32. virginbloggernotes May 18, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    Yes, sometimes one would think that reality is an obscene word when reading blogs :) I've spending time lately looking at the blogs that have been around for a long time (relatively speaking), and I'm noticing the common element is lots and lots of helpful, well-organized content. I guess that slow and steady really does win the race! But red capes do help!

  33. virginbloggernotes May 18, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    Hi, Linda. I think most of us get a tug inside to run before walking in the early days of blogging. In some ways, blogging mirrors life. We can have everything – but there is a season for everything and we must prepare for that season today and enjoy the place we're at. You have a beautiful blog, and it will grow and draw readers a few at a time. Commenting on blogs will be a great help to you, and you'll find the blog owners and their readers will slowly find you too. It takes patience, but it happens. Do let me know if you have specific questions via the contact form – I'm always glad to help!

  34. Nathan Hangen May 18, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    Jean, I'm curious where the inspiration for this post came from?

  35. virginbloggernotes May 18, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Hi, Nathan. Thanks for dropping by. I've been hearing a lot of empire-building talk as I visit start-up blogs. Sometimes there aren't even five posts up yet, but the bloggers are going on about how they're basically going to kick ass and rule the world. Well . . . maybe. But it got me to thinking that their odds would be greatly improved if they included planning and strategizing along with the saber rattling. Sabers (and capes!) are cool, but so are basic business practices.

  36. Trece May 18, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

    I can see why he called you a legend, Jean. Your posts seem to invariably hit the mark. I'm going to print this one and maybe put a copy under my pillow (to be absorbed by osmosis, of course).
    I really hadn't thought much about 10 years from now, I've just been chasing my tail to figure out how to make money. Exactly how long have you been blogging? I have viewed you as an authority since I found you.

  37. virginbloggernotes May 18, 2010 at 11:40 pm #

    Let me know how that whole osmosis thing works out for you, Trece :) I just peeked in the archives to see when I started, and my welcome post was on February 20 (2010). I was shaking in my boots, let me assure you. I thought the world would explode if I pushed the wrong key. I really am just a virgin blogger who just studies a lot, takes notes, and shares my thoughts. I've had an online writing business with private clients for a few years now, so I must confess to not being a virgin writer or business person. Just don't tell anyone.:)

  38. scottbarron1 May 19, 2010 at 3:18 am #

    Hi Jean,

    This is my first post on your blog, but I have been reading! I see you at Mike, Mark & Alex's “homes” so I was encouraged to stop by. Hello :-)

    By the way – Awesome post – and I have a question. Above you briefly mentioned to Linda about commenting on other blogs and it takes patience. Is there a “rule of thumb” when it comes to posting on other peoples blogs and they never post on yours?

    Kind of like your unsubscribe post. Is there a time when we should stop posting on someones blog who doesn't reciprocate? (No I don't mean you)
    I like your advice and you think of things from a different angle, like the post you wrote, “Nancy Drew and the Case of the Missing Bloggers!!

    Thanks in advance for your advice. P.S. Will you be my personal Dear Abby? :-) :-)

  39. scottbarron1 May 19, 2010 at 3:19 am #

    Hi Jean,

    This is my first post on your blog, but I have been reading! I see you at Mike, Mark & Alex's “homes” so I was encouraged to stop by. Hello :-)

    By the way – Awesome post – and I have a question. Above you briefly mentioned to Linda about commenting on other blogs and it takes patience. Is there a “rule of thumb” when it comes to posting on other peoples blogs and they never post on yours?

    Kind of like your unsubscribe post. Is there a time when we should stop posting on someones blog who doesn't reciprocate? (No I don't mean you)
    I like your advice and you think of things from a different angle, like the post you wrote, “Nancy Drew and the Case of the Missing Bloggers!!

    Thanks in advance for your advice. P.S. Will you be my personal Dear Abby? :-) :-)

  40. virginbloggernotes May 19, 2010 at 3:47 am #

    Welcome, Scott. Glad you found your way here :)

    Good question about the rule of thumb. I don't have a guideline, but here's how it works. First attention always goes to the people who comment here. I reply to every comment, and unless I get distracted or the person is trying to pick a fight, I visit their blogs and comment on something that interests me. If I don't, it's an oversight on my part. My second priority for commenting are the blogs in my Google Reader. I have relationships with a lot of these folks or sometimes just love their writing/contribution and want to be a part of their community too. So, I think what happens is that over time I likely wouldn't be commenting on someone else's blog if they never comment here because it would be sort of an “out of sight, out of mind,” thing. The relationship just naturally fades like it would offline if I kept visiting someone and they never visited me.

    I love that Nancy Drew title by the way :)

  41. k0zm0zs0ul May 23, 2010 at 2:14 am #

    Love this post! I really enjoy your style and humor. :) I found you via Infopreneur btw. And I agree.. always have a destination in mind when you start something. And with a blog especially, as you'll be taking others along for the ride with you!

  42. virginbloggernotes May 23, 2010 at 4:04 am #

    I'm glad you found your way here :) I tend to hang out over at the Infopreneur quite a bit. Love that site. And speaking of sites I love, I was just over to yours and subscribed, darn it. I wasn't going to subscribe to any more blogs. I really wasn't. I meant it this time. And then I saw how funny you were and that pretty much doomed me.

  43. custom-web-design May 27, 2010 at 7:36 am #

    hmmm……this post made me feel bad ….:( coz i have been copying content and wasnt working that efficiently..but on the other hand now i m inspired from this article, taking it positively to earn more …:) thanks bro

  44. virginbloggernotes May 29, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    Well, no more of that copying stuff and slacking off for you! That's finished. Finito! Over! Now, you behave yourself, keep working hard, and you'll do just fine :)

  45. shirls June 12, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

    Jean, this is the most delightfully unthreatening post I've seen about beginning to blog. What's more it makes me want to sit down and seriously plan. Thanks so much.

  46. virginbloggernotes June 12, 2010 at 6:32 pm #

    Hi Shirls. So glad you found the post helpful. Lord knows there are enough threatening things about blogging without having to read threatening posts :) Thanks for stopping in, and good luck with your content planning. And remember, you can always tweak things as you go along so there's no need to stress over getting things perfect now.

  47. Henway September 17, 2010 at 2:15 am #

    Great tips here. It takes planning and strategizing to create unique, magnetic content that will generate loyal followers that will buy your products. Personally, I am struggling with this. It’s so hard to convince your readers to buy a product/book when you’re dishing out advice already in your blog, especially when it comes in the fickle area of internet marketing where people expect everything to be free.
    Henway recently posted..My Colonix Experience

    • Jean Sarauer September 17, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

      It’s a challenge to be sure, Henway. One effective way to handle things is to offer things in a fashion known as ‘the bikini principle.’ Reveal 80% of your knowledge but hold back 20% and present that for sale in an enticing way.

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