Benjamin Franklin once said,
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Mr. Franklin was a smart man.
In the world of content marketing, attempting to move forward without a plan is a recipe for disaster.
There are tens of thousands of stories about businesses that have heard content marketing works and decided to give it a try.
They create one or two 500-word blog posts a week, post them to their blog and social media pages for a few months, and hope for the best.
And then, after a little while, nothing happens. So they give up. They stop creating. They stop posting.
Why didn’t it work? Well, to use a metaphor, because they were shooting at a forest instead of a target.
To avoid falling into this trap, you need to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
But how do you do this?
You do it by creating a bulletproof content marketing plan.
And this guide is going to help you do just that.
Let’s get started.
Interested in a fuller training course on content strategy? Check out my Content Strategy Certification course, launching soon!
Why Do You Need a Content Marketing Plan?
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Take a look at this infographic from the team at Impact:
As you can see, 89% of B2B marketers and 86% of B2C marketers are using content marketing.
But only 37% of B2B marketers and 40% of B2C marketers have a documented content marketing strategy.
Not surprisingly, the percentage of B2B and B2C marketers that have documented strategies is almost identical to the percentage of marketers that say their strategy is extremely or very effective.
This isn’t a coincidence.
Having a documented plan is crucial to content marketing success.
The 6 Steps to Developing a Rock Solid Content Marketing Plan
You know you need a plan.
Now we’re going to show you how to develop one.
1. Know Your Goals and How to Measure Them
One of the most important aspects of developing a content marketing plan is to determine the actual goals that you’re trying to achieve through your efforts.
There are essentially five goals that content marketing can help you achieve:
- Develop Brand Awareness
- Drive Traffic to Your Website
- Generating Sales Leads
- Converting Leads into Customers
- Improving Customer Retention and Driving Upsells
But knowing your goals isn’t enough.
You also need to know if what you’re doing is helping you get closer to reaching them.
Curata contributor Pawan Deshpande recently wrote a tremendous guide on content marketing analytics and metrics that can help you with this.
Deshpande uses a four-part framework, developed by Convince and Convert founder Jay Baer, for measurement.
Measuring content marketing success, as one would imagine, can be difficult.
In most cases, it will require a fair amount of tools to cover the measurement of all of your identified goals.
For example, measuring website and blog metrics requires the use of Google Analytics.
For measuring downloads and form completions, you’d likely use a tool like HubSpot or Marketo.
For link clickthroughs on social media, Bitly is a popular tool.
Due to the comprehensive nature of content marketing measurement, it’d be silly to try to cover everything here.
Instead, I encourage you to check out Deshpande’s guide for more information.
2. Identify Your 1 Reader and Where You’ll Find Them
As you probably already know, marketing doesn’t work very well if you attempt to target several different audiences.
Instead, you need to identify exactly who you’re targeting and then find out the best place to target them with your content.
As CoSchedule contributor Ben Sailer mentions, there are three main reasons to define your target audience. They include:
So you know you should target a specific audience with your content.
But how do you do it?
Daily Egg contributor Tommy Walker suggests that it includes two parts:
- Basic Demographics
Walker recommends that you always start with basic demographics.
Age, location, gender, income, education, occupation, ethnicity, and marital status can all be valuable information here.
As you begin to identify these things, Walker suggests that you hone in on:
As he goes on to say,
“When deconstructing the market, focusing on a small core allows you to see what’s important to them, where they hang out – both offline and off – and what they’re exposed to. With that understanding, you can build a basic picture of their life, and flesh out content from there.”
Once you’ve deconstructed your core and secondary markers, psychographics helps give you an understanding of how to talk to your target market.
Personality, attitudes, values, interests, hobbies, lifestyle, and behavior are all important things to identify here.
The easiest way to do this is by taking a look at the social behavior of people that fit your basic demographics.
What do they share, tweet, pin, and like?
As you generate this information, you can begin to shape your content messaging in a way that resonates with the audience that you’ve identified.
Once you know the demographics and psychographics of your target audience, simply find out where those people are spending their time. And then publish your content there.
Avalaunch Media put together a fun infographic that identifies the personalities of users on different social media platforms that can help with this:
3. Perform a Content Audit
Content audits are important for many reasons. They help determine a variety of things about your website, including:
Moz contributor Everett Sizemore says that performing a thorough content audit of your website involves quite a few steps:
- Crawling all indexable URLs. Screaming Frog’s free SEO Spider Tool is a great way to do this.
- Gathering additional metrics. In addition to URL and on-page metrics, you’ll want to gather info on things like internal and external links, traffic, content uniqueness, etc.
- Putting your information into an easily digestible dashboard. The optimal option for this step is Excel.
- Understand your dashboard. Sizemore mentions that, “a good place to start would be to look for any content-related issues that might cause an algorithmic filter or manual penalty to be applied.”
- Write up a report. This report should summarize the findings, provide recommendations, and examine next steps for improving the site’s search rankings.
While this process may seem a bit intensive, it’s necessary to ensure that your new content marketing plan is put together in a way that it can be successful.
What If You Don’t Already Have Content on Your Site?
If you don’t already have content to audit, you can perform a content audit of your competitors.
And while doing this is important, you don’t want to get caught up spending hours and hours mulling over every single detail of a competitor’s website and content.
Michael Ferrari of Rival IQ recommends that you use a few tools to make this process faster. They include:
- Screaming Frog’s Free SEO Spider Tool. This will give you the same information it would as if it was your own site.
- BuzzSumo. This tool will give you information about your competitor’s main content and how they’re performing on social platforms.
- Rival IQ. This tool allows you to view the top engaging content of multiple competitors at one time.
The goal of completing a content audit for your own website and those of your competitors is to be able to answer three main questions. They include:
When you’re able to answer these questions, you’ll be much better prepared to determine the type of content to include in your content marketing plan moving forward.
4. Generate Content Ideas
Coming up with content ideas is a major source of frustration for many marketers.
But it doesn’t have to be that difficult.
KissMetrics put together a list of 101 ways to source content ideas that should give you plenty of ammunition to get started.
If you’re looking for tools to aid you in the process, Moz’s Keyword Explorer, Answer the Public, and BloomBerry are all great resources.
Moz’s Keyword Explorer
The Keyword Explorer from Moz is an amazing tool as it gives you up to 1,000 keyword suggestions based around a specific term or phrase.
Here’s a sneak peek of how it works if I was to type in the term ‘content marketing plan’:
Answer the Public
Answer the Public is a fun tool to use and can be an amazing resource for generating targeted topics for your content.
Here’s a look at the massive amount of topics generated from typing in a simple term like ‘baseball’:
Bloomberry is a tool developed by BuzzSumo that generates questions based on the keywords you type in.
The best part about this tool is that it scours the web for questions that people are already asking on social platforms like Quora.
Here’s an example of how it would work if I typed in the keyword ‘content marketing strategy’:
With these tools and the resources that KissMetrics presents at your disposal, you shouldn’t have any problem coming up with plenty of topics for your content.
5. Know What Type of Content You Want to Create
Now that you’ve got a solid base for the topics and keywords you’re going to target, you’ll need to identify the type of content you want to create.
There are dozens of content formats to choose from:
Now it obviously wouldn’t be wise or even possible to create content in each and every format on this list.
Instead, you should utilize the information gathered from your target audience research and content audits to determine what will work best for you.
But what about making sure that the type of content you’re creating is actually accomplishing the goals you’ve laid out for your content marketing plan?
The One Home Run Per Quarter Strategy
If your goals are built around developing brand awareness, driving traffic to your website, generating sales leads, converting leads into customers, and improving customer retention, it goes without saying that you’ll need to create content that allows you to accomplish all of these things.
To do this, Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners advises that you go with the one home run per quarter strategy.
For Kessler, a home run can mean anything from a 65-page ebook to a 30-page white paper.
So long as it’s extremely useful and relevant to your target audience, and something that they actually want, you’re good to go.
As Kessler goes on to mention, home run content does three things:
Once you’ve created this content, you can gate it by asking interested readers to provide their email address, and potentially other relevant information, in exchange for a free download.
Jason Miller, a senior manager of marketing at LinkedIn, did this with his massive ebook titled The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn.
To download the ebook, potential readers had to provide a ton information that was then used to turn them into leads.
And judging by the fact that the ebook has been shared over 3,000 times and downloaded many more, potential readers had no problem making this exchange.
Repurposing Your Home Run Piece
The best part about creating home run content is that it can be repurposed in dozens of different ways and then used to fill out the rest of your content calendar.
Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at the Altimeter Group, uses the turkey slice analogy for this process. As she says,
“I love using the turkey analogy…you start out with the turkey at Thanksgiving and that’s the main event, and then everybody knows that after Thanksgiving you’re eating turkey sandwiches, you have turkey on your salad, and maybe a little turkey hash. Journalists (and content creators) very quickly learn how to treat their stories and their sources like that turkey.”
So you’ve got your home run piece (which is the turkey served on Thanksgiving).
Now you can repurpose that home run piece into smaller pieces of content (using the leftover turkey for sandwiches, salads, and hash).
From the LinkedIn marketer’s guide, for example, Miller and his team were able to generate 50-60 smaller pieces of content that included everything from webinars and infographics to SlideShare decks and blog posts.
6. Create a Content Calendar
Now that you understand your target audience, have performed a content audit, and have plenty of ideas for content, creating an editorial calendar is the easy part.
HubSpot offers a few easy-to-follow templates that look like this:
The only downside is that you’ll have to fill out some information about yourself in order to get the free download.
Go Create Your Content Marketing Plan
You’ve got everything you need at this point.
Make the decision that this is going to be the year that your business dominates with content marketing.
Take action and get started with your content marketing plan today.
If you’d like some help with your content planning, our awesome team at Express Writers can point you in the right direction. We’re always happy to help businesses just like yours get on the right path to dominating with content.