Content planning guide

A Complete Guide on How to Plan Content

Planning content and rolling out your content marketing strategy is critical to ranking organically on Google. Put simply, it’s not possible to create and publish great content consistently if you don’t plan it out well. Here’s a detailed guide on how you can plan content better.

Great content is the lifeblood of every successful digital marketing strategy. Whether you want to build a strong online reputation or increase reach on social media, you need insightful content to achieve your goals. Irrespective of the size and nature of your business, you need high-quality content to attract your target audience and convert them into loyal customers.

However, consistently creating and publishing high-quality content is easier said than done. This is particularly crucial considering that more businesses are taking the plunge towards content marketing. Consequently, there’s a plethora of mediocre, generic, and promotional content floating around on the internet. How can you ensure that your content cuts through this clutter and reaches your audience at the right time?

The key is to provide your audience with fresh and valuable content that addresses their pain points and resolves their problems. Moreover, you have to constantly churn out meaningful content across various channels to accomplish your goals. That’s why you need a concrete strategy and an actionable plan to guide content creation and scheduling. Otherwise, you’ll just randomly create content once in a while without yielding the desired results.

In this blog, we’ll outline a detailed plan to help you publish amazing content. However, before delving deeper, let’s understand why it’s so crucial to focus on content creation and marketing.

Why Does Planning Content Matter?

According to HubSpot, nearly 70% of businesses are actively investing in content marketing in 2020. Having a content plan is a key part of your media mix. There is literally zero chance your website will rank organically for your desired keywords without a content plan. That’s how important a content plan and content strategy is to your business. Let’s take a look at other benefits:

Enhanced Brand Awareness & Authority

Original, insightful, and relevant content helps you grab the attention of your potential customers. If the content strikes a chord with your audience, they’ll likely share it in their networks. This, in turn, helps you reach a wide audience that would’ve remained inaccessible otherwise.

Moreover, when you regularly publish valuable content, your audience perceives you as a reliable source of information. It strengthens your online reputation and establishes your brand as an authority in your niche. This, in turn, instills trust in your audience and makes them perceive your product/service as the right solution to their problems.

Effective Lead Generation

You need qualified leads to sustain and grow your business. Content assets such as e-books, checklists, whitepapers, etc. are great tools for converting website visitors into email subscribers. This, in turn, helps you build your mailing list. You can nurture active leads by providing them with more valuable content such as case studies, webinars, video tutorials, etc.

Improved Customer Retention & Loyalty

Content marketing isn’t just about grabbing the attention of your potential customers. When implemented correctly, it helps you build an enduring relationship with your existing customers. If you provide them with helpful content even after they’ve purchased your product, it makes them feel valued.

You can even create specialized content that helps them use your product and harness all its features. It ensures that your customers achieve their desired goals using your product. This, in turn, helps retain existing customers and convert them into loyal advocates of your brand.

Plan Content to Increase Conversions

You can leverage useful and relevant content to convince your target audience to purchase your products or avail of your services. For instance, you can send a series of newsletters educating your subscribers about various product features and how it can help them. This makes it easier to position your product/service as the most effective solution to their problems/queries. Since you’ve already earned their trust and established your authority, they’ll likely purchase from you.

Long-Term Results with Your Content Plan

An insightful, relevant, and valuable content asset is often timeless. For instance, a comprehensive and groundbreaking e-book will continue to generate leads even years after you’ve published it on your website. Likewise, an eye-catching infographic will be shared on various social media platforms as long as it’s relevant. A well-researched and informative blog post will continue to attract website visitors months after you’ve published it.

Once you’ve created a valuable content asset, you can also repurpose it in different formats. For instance, you can collate your top-performing blog posts into an e-book or ultimate guide. It improves the ROI of your content marketing campaign and ultimately, makes it more cost-effective.

Content Marketing Strategy vs. Content Plan

If you’re a digital marketer or business owner, you’re likely already familiar with the significance of developing a content marketing strategy. It gives an overview of the type of content you’ll create and the marketing channels you’ll use to achieve your end goals. Publishing content without a well-defined strategy is like aiming in the dark. That’s why 69% of the most successful B2B marketers have a well-documented content marketing strategy.

Content Marketing Strategy

Image via Content Marketing Institute

Developing a content marketing strategy involves a series of steps, from goal setting and keyword research to monitoring and measurement. However, many marketers don’t end up achieving their goals despite building a robust strategy. This is because they dive right into content creation after outlining their content marketing strategy.

It’s worth mentioning here that you need an actionable content plan to implement your content marketing strategy. Unlike the strategy, a content plan outlines what content you’ll create and when and where you’ll publish it. It gets into granular details of the themes, ideas, and topics you’ll be working with to achieve your marketing objectives. It also specifies a publishing schedule to streamline your content strategy and maintain consistency.

Elements of a Content Plan
Content Plan

Image via DIVVYHQ

A detailed content plan is essential for maintaining coordination and communication within your content team. Moreover, it helps you build a backlog of useful and valuable content and ensures that you never miss a deadline. It also steers your efforts in the right direction by ensuring that every content asset focuses on your goals. According to CoSchedule, marketers who proactively plan their campaigns are 356% more likely to become successful.

So, if you’ve already built your content marketing strategy, it’s time to start outlining your content plan. However, there are a few things you should take care of before you build your content plan.

Prerequisites of a Content Plan

Typically, content planning involves various stages such as audience research, competitor analysis, keyword research, etc. It also requires you to brainstorm various ideas and create a content calendar. However, if you want to accomplish your goals, you must ensure that you’re ready to build a rock-solid content plan.

Define Your Content Plan Goals

You can’t outline an effective content plan without knowing why you’re doing it. Do you want to increase brand awareness? Alternatively, perhaps you’d like to improve customer retention? Or maybe you want to increase audience engagement on social media?

Your goals influence the content formats and promotion channels you use. They also influence the themes and topics you work with. They also help you monitor the performance of your content assets and measure the overall success of your strategy. In the absence of well-defined goals, your content plan will fail to yield the desired results.

Avoid setting vague or immeasurable goals such as “build brand awareness”, “expand reach”, “boost audience engagement”, etc. Instead, you should define specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) goals. Here are a few examples:

  • Increase website conversion rate by 25% in the next quarter
  • Boost email opt-ins by 50% in the next six months
  • Increase monthly recurring revenue by 25% in the next six months
  • Get 50,000 Instagram followers in the next quarter

It’s also essential to assign relevant measurable metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) to each goal. For instance, if you want to grow your mailing list, the number of subscribers is a suitable KPI. KPIs are instrumental in monitoring your content marketing campaign and calculating its return on investment (ROI).

Build Your Team

You can’t execute a successful content marketing campaign without a dedicated team. You need skilled writers and designers to create attractive content. Likewise, you need experienced marketers and data analysts to promote your content and measure its performance. Depending on your content plan, you might also need musicians, video producers, animators, photographers, website developers, etc.

If you still don’t have a team, it’s high time you start building one. However, you don’t have to recruit full-time employees for each task. You can use platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, Dribbble, DesignCrowd, etc. to hire freelancers at affordable rates. Alternatively, you can outsource certain tasks to third-party agencies.

Allocate Your Budget in Your Content Plan

Every marketing campaign needs a dedicated budget. Content marketing isn’t an exception. Your marketing budget influences the content formats and promotion channels you’ll use. For instance, you can’t produce narrative-based videos or brand films on a shoestring budget. Likewise, if you don’t have adequate funds, you likely can’t use Facebook ads or Google Ads to promote your content.

That’s why you must define your marketing budget before you start building a content plan. Otherwise, you might have to abandon certain topics or projects mid-way due to insufficient funds. While allocating your budget, make sure you consider all the tools, software, marketing channels, personnel, etc. you’ll likely need.

Prepare Your Toolbox

Developing and executing an effective content plan requires you to use various tools at different stages. To begin with, you need to select the right content management system (CMS) to create your blog. Most content creators and marketers use WordPress for this purpose.

Additionally, you’ll need keyword research tools to identify your target keywords. You’ll also need tools to validate content ideas, create your content calendar, and monitor content assets. Make sure you select simple, user-friendly, and affordable tools. We’ll discuss more about these tools later in this blog.

Conduct a Content Audit

Even if you’re building a content plan from scratch, you’ve likely already published content across various platforms. For instance, you may have uploaded infographics, customer testimonials, memes, photographs, etc. on social media platforms. Likewise, you may have published a few blog posts on your website.

It’s crucial to analyze your existing content before you implement a fresh content plan. This helps you identify top-performing and non-performing content assets. This, in turn, helps you determine what topics, formats, and marketing channels have garnered maximum traction. Additionally, you can identify gaps in your existing content strategy.

You can use the analytics section of your social media profiles to check out how your content is performing on each platform. Likewise, you can use Google Analytics to identify your top-performing blog posts. At this stage, it’s crucial to analyze whether your existing content assets and themes align with your new goals.

Let us now look at the steps to build a powerful and effective content plan.

Content Planning: A Closer Look

If you want to successfully execute your content marketing campaign, you need a content plan. While a content marketing strategy lays the foundation of your campaign, a content plan dictates its implementation. It helps you create relevant and useful content that solves your audience’s problems or addresses their pain points. This, in turn, takes you a step closer to achieving your end goals.

Here’s a detailed step-wise outline for content planning:

1. Define Your Target Audience

If you want to achieve your marketing objectives, you must create content that educates, inspires, or entertains your audience. However, you can’t develop engaging content without knowing who you’re creating it for. If you don’t have a deep understanding of your audience’s needs and pain points, your content won’t resonate with them. And, you won’t be able to reach them using the right channels at the right time.

That’s why it is essential to delve deeper into your target audience’s mind and identify who they are.

Start by identifying demographic parameters such as age group, gender, ethnicity, location, relationship status, profession, academic background, etc. You should also find out their preferred social media platforms and communication channels. You can use social media analytics and Google analytics for this purpose.

The next step is to learn more about your audience’s aspirations, ambitions, struggles, and pain points. It’s also essential to identify the events or triggers that compel them to search for information related to your brand, product, or niche. You can host social media polls, AMAs, and live sessions to get all this information.

Building your profile in your content plan
Media Polls

Image via Elise Derma

You can also conduct an online survey among your mailing list to learn more about your subscribers. Here’s a sample template:

Content Plan Questionnaire
Online Survey Template

Image via Ronan Wilson

It’s equally crucial to monitor the comments on your social media posts and blog posts. Your audience will often express their needs and preferences in their comments. It’ll also give you an insight into the type of content they expect from you.

Next, segment their needs and pain points according to different stages of the buyer’s journey. This is particularly important because you’ll need a specific type of content for each stage. For instance, someone in the awareness stage is likely looking for generic information about your product or niche. Blog posts, infographics, podcasts, etc. are suitable for grabbing their attention.

The buyer's journey in your content plan
Buyer’s Journey

Image via Aira

Once you’ve identified your target audience, it’s time to define individual buyer personas. It is a detailed but fictional representation of your ideal customer based on audience research. It’s important because your audience includes different types of consumers. For instance, if you own a brand of home decor products, your audience likely comprises the following:

  • Interior designers
  • Architects
  • Homeowners

Each segment will have a unique set of pain points and queries. Defining a distinct persona for each segment will help you effectively address their needs. Assign age, gender, name, profession, hobbies, interests, etc. to make your buyer personas realistic. It’s also recommended that you define buyer personas for each stage of the buyer’s journey.

Here’s an example of a buyer persona:

Buyer persona for your content plan
Buyer’s Persona

Image via 99designs

2. Identify Relevant Keywords in Your Content Plan

Keywords are the terms or phrases your potential customers use in their search queries when looking for information about your brand, product, or niche. They help you identify the topics and themes that will attract your audience. Moreover, when you optimize your blog posts using the right keywords, it’s likely to climb to the top of relevant search results. These keywords also help you identify popular and relevant hashtags to increase the reach of your social media posts.

That’s why keyword research is one of the most crucial steps in content planning. The first step is to list the core terms that represent your brand or niche. For instance, if you own a travel blog, you can use the following core terms:

  • Solo travel
  • Backpacking
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Adventure travel

Next, expand these core terms by entering each term into Google and looking at the keyword suggestions. It’s also recommended that you run a Google search and check out the “Searches related to section”. It’ll help you identify long-tail keywords related to your core terms. You can also add modifiers such as “best”, “top”, etc. to expand your core terms.

Relevant keywords can help your content plan
Google- Related Search Options

Image via Google

Additionally, you can use Google Keyword Planner to identify relevant and popular keywords in your niche. It gives you a list of potential keywords along with the associated search volume, cost, and level of competition. You can also use tools like SEMrush, Keyword Explorer by Ahrefs, and Keyword Explorer by Moz for this purpose. It’s also essential to identify the keywords you already rank for using Google Search Console.

Once you’ve built a list of target keywords, it’s crucial to analyze and validate them. Check out the search volume associated with a keyword to determine whether it’s worth targeting. Additionally, run a Google search for each keyword and check whether the topmost search results include any established brands.

3. Check Your Competitors

When it comes to content planning, your competitors hold a plethora of clues. If a particular topic, keyword, or content format has worked for a competitor, it’ll likely work for you as well. Start by running a quick Google search for one of your target keywords. The topmost organic listings deserve your attention.

Check out their websites and blogs to identify the topics and themes they work with. Look for gaps in their content strategy. It’s also recommended that you analyze their social media profile to understand how they’re repurposing content across various channels. It’ll also give you an idea of what topics and formats have garnered maximum traction. You can also use tools such as SpyFu and Site Explorer by Ahrefs to identify the keywords your competitors are targeting.

4. Brainstorm Content Ideas as You’re Planning Content

The purpose of building a content plan is to consistently create content that hits the right chord with your audience. You must ensure that your content fulfills their expectations, answers their questions, or solves their problems. Moreover, you need to create different types of content for each stage of the buyer’s journey.

It is, therefore, crucial to identify topics that’ll immediately resonate with your audience. Use your buyer personas, focus keywords, and goals to build a list of potential topics. The key is to ensure that these topics address your audience’s needs and pain points at different stages of the buyer’s journey. Moreover, every topic should take you closer to achieving your end goal.

At this stage, it’s also crucial to check out your top-performing content assets. Analyze whether these assets are still relevant to your goals and how you can repurpose them. You can also use Answer The Public to find the most common questions your target audience asks. Take a look at the results for the term “backpacking”:

Topics that can support your content plan
Answer The Public

Image via Answer The Public

Likewise, you can use BuzzSumo to identify the top-performing content in your niche. All you have to do is enter a target keyword. It gives you a list of the most popular blog posts accompanied by engagement metrics such as Facebook Shares, Number of Links, etc. Take a look at the following screenshot:

Relevant articles that are shared can help your content plan
Buzzsumo

Image via BuzzSumo

Additionally, you can use Google Trends and Google Alerts to identify popular and trending topics. When you have a substantial number of topics and ideas, it’s time to create a list using Google Sheets. Fill the sheet with additional columns such as Author, Category, Format, Status, etc. You should also use a “Rating” column to denote if a topic is ready to go into production or if it needs more brainstorming.

An Editorial Calendar is a key part of your content plan
Editorial Calendar

Image via Google

5. Create an Overarching Content Plan

This is the step where you have to decide the broad themes and subjects you’ll work on. You’ll also have to decide an optimal publishing frequency. Analyze your audience’s online behavior to determine when they’re most likely to be online. This, in turn, helps you determine when and how often you should publish fresh content.

Next, identify the themes and topic categories that’ll attract your audience. Let’s say you’re running a digital marketing agency. Here are a few relevant subjects for your audience:

  • Blogging
  • SEO
  • Influencer marketing
  • Podcasting
  • Instagram marketing

Next, create a tentative long-term content schedule that frequently touches upon each subject and add it to Google Calendar. You can even repeat a specific content format or type every week. This step is crucial for building a robust content calendar.

Content Calendars help you plan content roll out
Google Calendar

Image via Google

6. Outline a Short-Term Plan

Now that you’ve prepared an overarching plan, it’s time to identify the specific topics you’ll work on. The idea is to create a content calendar that showcases your content publishing timeline and assigns various responsibilities to team members. Go back to the spreadsheet you’d created in step 4 and see how each topic fits into the long-term schedule. Next, identify the topics that are ready to go into production and assign individual publishing dates to each.

At this stage, it’s also crucial to select the right format for each topic. Firstly, identify the most engaging formats based on your buyer personas and objectives. Next, make sure that the format suits the given topic. This is also a great time to identify topics that can be repurposed in various formats.

Typically, you can use the following formats:

  • Blog posts
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Memes
  • Images
  • Animations
  • Videos
  • E-books
  • Case studies
  • Whitepapers
  • Checklists
  • Newsletters

Blog posts, podcasts, and infographics help you attract people in the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey. Newsletters and case studies can help convert leads in the decision stage. Likewise, videos can be used across different stages of the buyer’s journey to attract, engage, and delight your audience.

7. Identify Topic Clusters in Your Content Plan

The topic cluster model, introduced by HubSpot in 2017, can be instrumental in streamlining your content plan. It’s particularly crucial if you’re planning to publish several blog posts. Typically, you create a pillar page that covers a broad topic and various cluster pages that cover individual aspects or subtopics. Thereafter, you link the cluster pages to the pillar page and vice versa.

The biggest benefit of the topic cluster model is that it helps organize your website architecture. It also improves internal linking and helps search engine spiders index key web pages. Additionally, it helps you build authority around a specific topic.

Here’s how your site structure will look like after implementing topic clusters:

Align topics with your buyer personas
Topic Clusters

Image via HubSpot

If you’ve done extensive keyword research, you’ve already laid the groundwork for implementing topic clusters. Analyze the search intent behind each keyword and group keywords with similar search intent into a cluster. This, in turn, helps you simultaneously target multiple keywords. Here’s an example:

Topic clusters help you claim the higher ground in your SEO strategy
Topics over Keyword

Image via HubSpot

Once you identify a cluster, select specific topics that represent various aspects of the cluster. Next, choose an overarching topic for the pillar page. Now, go back to the content calendar and check how the cluster fits into your short-term schedule. It’ll let you devise an optimal publishing schedule. When you’re ready for publishing, make sure you create the cluster pages before the pillar content.

8. Outline a Distribution Schedule

It’s pointless to create amazing content and expect it to find a way to reach your audience. If you don’t promote your content using the right channels, it’ll lose its voice amidst the chaos of mediocre content. That’s why it’s crucial to develop a plan to distribute and promote your content assets.

The first step is to identify the communication channels where your audience is most active. These include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Spotify, email, push notifications, search engines, etc. Next, identify the formats that’ll find traction on each channel. For instance, images and short videos work well on Instagram. However, blog posts and checklists will get more engagement on LinkedIn.

Thereafter, find out when your audience is most likely to use the selected channels during the day. Next, select a topic that has been scheduled for publishing and identify the most suitable channels to distribute it. Finally, look out for opportunities to repurpose a content asset in various formats across multiple channels.

9. Start Production

Now that your content plan is ready, it’s almost time to create content. Start by assigning a topic to a team member and set a deadline before your intended publishing date. It’s worth mentioning here that each topic goes through multiple stages before it’s ready for publishing.

For instance, a blog post needs to be checked for spelling and grammatical errors. The writer may have to revise it a few times before it can be approved for publishing. Likewise, a podcast episode needs to be scripted, recorded, and edited before it can be uploaded. Moreover, once you’ve published the episode, you may want to repurpose it as a blog post or infographic.

That’s why you should use a project management tool like Trello to track the progress of various content assets and topics. You can create individual cards for each topic and move them across different stages. It keeps your team members on the same page and ensures that your content is always ready before the publishing date.

Trello

Image via Neil Patel

Conclusion

In the absence of adequate planning, even the most powerful content marketing strategy won’t yield the desired results. If you want to create content that helps you achieve your goals, you must outline a content plan. Start with identifying your target audience and defining distinct buyer personas for each stage of the buyer’s journey.

Next, conduct extensive keyword research and identify the topics that’ll resonate with your audience. It’s also crucial to identify and implement topic clusters. Lastly, create a content calendar that outlines your publishing and distribution schedule. You can contact us for more tips on content planning or reach out to our team at [email protected] if you have any doubts or queries that we can help you with.

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Andy Steuer

Andy Steuer is the Chief Marketing Officer at WriteForMe. Andy has been CEO, CMO, VP of Product for 8 fast-growing companies in his career. 3 of those companies became Top 10 Internet companies. Content Marketing has always been at the core to differentiate these companies from their competition. You can always schedule a 1 on 1 meeting with Andy by grabbing some time on his calendar here. List articles below that have Andy on the byline on the rest of the page. Here’s my calendar link:https://meetings.hubspot.com/andysteuer » More blog posts by Andy Steuer

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