Content Marketing 101 (Creating a Content Plan in 10 Steps)

Content Marketing, Social Strategy, Blogging

There’s never a bad time to think about your content marketing strategy. Even if you’ve been at it for a while, you may be able to supercharge your efforts by going back to the drawing board. Wherever you are with your current content marketing, just don't start a blog without doing the work first. Let’s look into some background about content marketing strategies, then walk through a step by step guide to creating digital marketing plans.

What Is a Content Marketing Strategy?

Simply put, your content strategy is a plan you use to manage all of your digital assets: photos, articles, videos, and more. Coming up with great blog post ideas is only half the battle– you also need to know how to leverage them. As you start developing your content, you can refine your plan by thinking about the following:

  • Who are you creating content for?
  • How does this content help your target audience?
  • Which topics will you cover?
  • Why would people look at your content instead of everything else on the internet?
  • Which forms of content (e.g. photos, videos, articles) will be your bread and butter?
  • How will you come up with ideas and create new content?
  • Where will you publish your content?
content marketing strategy components wordcloud
There's a lot that goes into a digital marketing content strategy, so preparation and organization are key.

Why Is Content Strategy Important?

It’s important to define your content marketing plan because it’s hard to achieve success if you haven’t defined it. Start by thinking about what you want to gain from your digital marketing efforts. Are you looking to spread awareness, educate your audience, attract new leads? Once you have goals, you can build your content marketing strategy around them. Always think about what you want from your audience, and what they’d want in return. Put the visitor first by delivering the type of materials your target audience is looking for, and they’ll reward you with their attention.

Content Marketing Strategy Guide

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your content marketing strategy probably shouldn’t be either. Each one of the steps in this guide is likely to take time, and that’s ok. It’s better to put in the effort now than to eventually find yourself several months into a half-baked content strategy. Even if you have to bookmark this list and come back to it, don’t be afraid to take your time. With that said, you can generally break your content marketing strategy into 10 steps. Knock these out one at a time to make things easier on yourself, and you’ll end up with an organized digital marketing strategy.

1 – Define Goals and How You’ll Measure Content Marketing Success

Your content marketing strategy should begin with a mission statement of sort. Come up with a brief paragraph to state who your target audience is, the type of content you’ll use to reach them, and the benefit they’ll receive. Next, try to define your goals as specifically as you can. If you’re having a hard time thinking of anything beyond “growing the business,” you can think of things in these terms:

  • Get more traffic to the site
  • Generate more sales and increase revenue
  • Gain influence and authority by becoming a thought leader
  • Improved SEO, like ranking higher in local search results
  • Getting more engagement on your social media platforms
  • Improving organic reach to reduce ad spending
  • Earn backlinks by publishing superior content
checklist of KPIs
List your KPIs, and make sure you have the tools to measure each of them.

Try to refine your goals until they’re SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based). Once you do, you can establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that will show you whether or not you’re on track.

  • If your goal is to generate more leads, your amount of form submissions or email subscribers could be a KPI.
  • If SEO is your goal, you can watch search rankings to determine if you’re getting higher in search engine results.
  • Average length of page visit, unique visitors, and similar stats can be good measuring sticks when you’re going for more traffic on your site.

Make sure you’re prepared to track whichever KPIs you’ll need to measure success. Tools like Google Analytics can make things easier for you, and you may also need additional ways to log stats. For every goal, you should be able to say which tool you’ll use to measure it and what counts as success.

2 – Understand Your Audience

Know who you’re aiming for, then create content that will appeal to them. Use the analysis tools at your disposal to determine basic demographics about your normal audience: age gender, location, family, income, etc. You can find that kind of information through social media insight tools and web analytics tools. Next, go a step further to determine which type of interests your audience has.

Finally, create buyer personas, which are essentially prototypes of your ideal customer or visitor. Start each buyer persona by filling out their demographic information– it may even be helpful to name each persona and associate a photo or avatar of a person. From there, flesh out more psychological aspects like the following:

  • Where this person gets information
  • What kinds of problems or challenges they have
  • How they solve those problems
  • What motivates them

This exercise can be challenging, and it may even feel silly at times, but it’s worth it. As you start to develop a few personas, it will give you a deeper understanding of who you’re trying to reach. You’ll also get ideas for how you can reach them and form valuable connections.

people in a meeting developing buyer personas
It may be helpful to use sticky notes or flash cards as you build out lists of characteristics for each of your buyer personas.

3 – Take Inventory of Your Current Content

Unless you’re a brand new company, there’s a good chance you already have a good amount of content at your disposal. Comb through your website, blog, social media channels, and anywhere else you might have published something. You may even have great assets in your business plan or pitch deck. Catalog everything as well as you can so you can take a high-level look at all the assets at your disposal, then keep track of your content over time.

Doing this accomplishes a few things:

  • gets you organized so you don’t become repetitive or do unnecessary work
  • helps you see gaps in your content marketing approach, so you’ll get ideas about what to do next
  • allows you to assess the effects of your previous efforts by reviewing what’s worked well
  • exposes efforts you’ve made that were ineffective and shouldn’t be repeated
  • gives you ideas for how to repackage or combine previous content into something newer, bigger, and better (e.g. combining several blog posts into a whitepaper or e-book)

4 – Choose Your Content Marketing Weapon

animated person choosing a direction
You can take your content strategy in several different directions, so it's important to pick the one that will get you where you want to go.

This is where your persona research comes in. Where do those people go on the internet, and which types of content do they like? If your target audience scrolls through pictures all day, it’s time to learn how to market on Instagram. If they’re voracious readers, choose a content management system and that revolves around blog posts. If you’re struggling with this step, you have a few options for tools that can help:

  • Google Analytics has a free social acquisition overview that will show you where your content is being shared. Unfortunately, you already need a solid online presence for this tool to work.
  • You can find similar data on Buzzsumo if you’re willing to pay for a subscription. You may be able to use a free trial period to conduct some quick research if you’re in a pinch.

Once you know where your audience lives online and which types of media they consume, consider which asset types to include in your digital marketing approach. Don’t spread yourself too thin, but don’t be afraid to branch out either. Content marketers have all of the following and more at their disposal:

  • Blog Posts
  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Case Studies
  • Infographics
  • Social Media Posts
  • E-Books
  • Templates
  • Slide Decks
  • Testimonials
lightbulb inside of a thought bubble
Sometimes ideas will just come to you, but other times you'll have to go out and find them.

5 – Find Inspiration

Once you know generally where your audience goes and which kinds of content they’re looking for, deliver it to them. Start preparing your list of blog post ideas, come up with a visually striking Instagram strategy, and look at the content from other leaders in your industry. Follow influential accounts on social media, identify key hashtags, and generally keep an eye on trending topics. It’s also a good idea to read articles that rank high for your keywords, and you may want to bookmark a couple of blogs that you can go back to.

6 – Establish a Workflow

Now that you know what to do, how will you do it? Who is responsible for your digital marketing? Executing a content marketing plan can feel like a full-time job, so you may not have time if you’re busy running a business. Freelance writers, marketing contractors, or ad agencies may be good resources to help you carry the burden.

If you have someone on staff who can manage your content plan, which resources and tools will they need to get the job done? This really comes down to three things that you need to define:

  1. People
  2. Tools/ resources
  3. Workflow from ideation to publication
whiteboard with workflow for content calendar
It will take a while to streamline your process, but following the plan can turn you into a well-oiled content marketing machine.

7 – Create Your Content Schedule

You’re getting close. Now it’s time to establish an outline of the content you’ll actually publish. Decide how often you want to publish on each of your platforms. Just for example, let’s say you’re going with the following frequency for your content marketing plan:

  • Blog posts every four days
  • Facebook posts twice weekly
  • Instagram posts daily
  • Tweets once per week

Make a calendar (Google Calendar, Asana, CoSchedule, etc.) and start adding content to it at appropriate intervals. You don’t have to create the content yet, but it’s best to at least come up with a topic. Your topics can be as specific as a blog post title, or as general as one of the basic categories of information you talk about. If you’ve already thought of more detail than that, you can add notes that will help when you go through to complete the content.

8 – Create and Publish

After all that planning, you’re ready to get down to business. It’s generally best to work on the earliest part of your content calendar first, but it’s also ok to work ahead. You may feel inspired about something that’s scheduled for a couple of months out, and you might as well get it done while the creative juices are flowing. You’ll have more freedom to pick and choose if you work ahead of your deadlines.

As you create content, start by taking a look at what’s already out there. You’ll be more informed after doing your research, and it also helps you spot opportunities to say something new. Look for ways your content can be different from what’s already available, because this is how you add value for your audience. A quick Google search can work wonders, and original research is especially great.

Once you’ve done the legwork, it’s time to produce the final content. This could mean writing a blog post, creating an infographic, or recording a new YouTube video. As you create, do so with your brand standards and your customer personas in mind. Be consistent with your voice, and make sure the content is something people can understand and use.

Finally, think about how you can get exposure for your content once it’s been published. That means including your keywords, targeted Instagram hashtags, and other relevant optimization techniques. You can use your social channels, email newsletter, and other existing audience bases to promote new content. After all, it doesn’t do anyone (including you) any good if people don’t see what you created.

google analytics reports on ipad and paper
Keep track of your performance against KPIs over time to inform your future efforts.

9 – Measure Results

This step shouldn’t be too difficult if you’re properly prepared. You should have already defined KPIs and set up analysis tools all the way back at the beginning of this episode. Now all you have to do is check your stats and see how you’re doing.

Don’t be too quick to make massive changes based on your results from the first few days. Content marketing is a long game, and it takes time to get results. Over the course of months, though, you’ll start to see clear trends about what’s working well for you and what isn’t. Use your new insights to make adjustments on the fly. You can refine and edit your plan over time, even as you execute.

10 – Rinse and Repeat

Steps 7-9 are ongoing. You can decide how often you want to create your content schedule, but taking it one to three months at a time seems like a sweet spot. If you want to plan further in advance, that’s great too, but you’ll also have to add things in on the fly to stay relevant as new trends emerge. When you have an idea that doesn’t fit into your current content schedule, save that asset for the future.

These 10 steps will give you a great start on your content marketing strategy. It’s not always an easy process, but almost anyone can master it with enough time, effort, and patience. That said, maybe you’re not feeling very creative, or maybe you just don’t feel like doing all of this work. In either case, that’s a sure sign that it’s time to outsource your digital marketing.

At any step along the way, from research to writing, you can contact a digital marketing agency and take the content marketing strategy off of your to-do list.

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