Creating an Amazing Content Marketing Plan

Monday, April 01st
Content Manager

Mark Wilson

As the content manager here at Leadflask, a lot of what I do for our clients (and Leadflask itself) involves content plans. I create them, adjust them, and then help to execute them, either internally with our team members or with the content teams of our clients.

Regardless of the industry, regardless of the resources available for content marketing, many of the steps in the process remain the same.

So do the results, fortunately. If you want to be Buzzfeed with its millions of daily visitors, you’re going to need dozens of pieces of content per day. I’m guessing you don’t have the resources to do that, but that’s ok! Smaller versions of the same principles can still be used to achieve results.

That’s what this article is about. Whether you’re one person or have a team of content creators, you can increase your website’s traffic, leads, sales and revenue through content marketing. This article covers the steps we believe everyone should follow when creating a content plan.

What’s a Content Marketing Plan?

A content marketing plan is a document or series of documents that outlines ongoing plans for content creation. We traditionally think of articles or blogs as content creation, but a good content plan should include any media channel your brand has a presence on. This could include:

  • Videos
  • Emails
  • Social media posts
  • Press releases
  • Podcasts
  • Infographics
  • Webinars or demos

Depending on how much you flesh those out, you may need to have multiple content plans, one for each different media type. For instance, if a large portion of your audience is on social media, you’ll likely want a separate plan specifically for social media posting.

We’re not going to try to sell you on one particular template for your plan. Use whatever documentation works best for you. However, a good plan will have several key features. We’ve listed them below, and go into detail in the sections below:

  1. Customer Personas - Who is your ideal customer, and what kind of messaging resonates with them?
  2. Brand Characteristics - Having consistency between pieces of content is important for building brand equity among your audience. What’s the tone of your writing or delivery? What visual elements should be standardized? Larger brands will often have entire manuals devoted to brand standards, and adhering to them is important in content creation.
  3. Competitors - Who are your main competitors? More importantly, what separates you from them? This can help to differentiate your brand in content, highlighting differences in ways that help you to stand out.
  4. Important Industry Topics - The topics you’ll want to focus on may seem obvious, and some will be, but others that can lead to sales will require more research.
  5. Keyword Analysis - Analyzing keyword trends will help you to understand how people talk about and search for your services, which will help you to frame your content in ways that respond better to your audience.
  6. Content Ideas - This is where you’ll have a huge list of topics for content creation, ones that leverage the information you’ve gathered on broader industry topics and keyword research.
  7. Content Calendar - Consistency in creation is the key to sustained success, and having a calendar for releases is one of the easiest ways to ensure that consistency.
  8. SEO Software & Reporting Tools - How will you track and report on results of your content marketing? This may require separate professionals whose job is analysis and optimization of content.

For clarity, each of these areas can require a lot of work. Identifying core customer persona traits, for instance, can require a lot of research and analysis. Or if you have offices in numerous countries, standardizing brand characteristics to account for those different markets can be a huge challenge.

This is why entire teams exist at larger brands to manage a company’s content. You don’t need to feel intimidated if you lack these resources, but understand that portions of these processes will need to be truncated to allow for expedited execution of a plan.

Identifying Topic Priorities

You know what your business sells, be it a product or service. So you should just create content about that, right?

Not necessarily. Yes, on the surface, you don’t want to ignore talking about products or services that your business offers. That’s just the start, though.

A more holistic understanding of your industry is something you might take for granted, but chances are your audience doesn’t know as much as you do about it. So invite them in.

This means educating them on every phase of the product or service’s lifecycle. This could even take you into areas such as logistics and manufacturing, but all with the end goal of showing how you provide value for the customer through your processes.

You might be thinking, “How would we ever make that content interesting?” And it’s a challenge, certainly. But that’s where your creative team comes in, to find interesting angles that will invite customers into the journey your business is on.

This also means creating content for every stage of the buyer’s journey. Not everyone who visits your site is ready to make a purchase right away. But they are still after information that you can deliver to them.

RELATED: Creating Content for the Buyer's Journey

That includes content after the purchase, to show the benefits and real customers who you’ve helped. Your content should tell a story, and you’ll only achieve this by approaching topic research holistically.

Keyword Research

Keywords are words or phrases as they appear in search queries, on search engines such as Google, Bing and Youtube (yes, Youtube is a search engine as well as a video platform).

Paid tools such as SEMRush or Moz can help greatly with identifying keywords that are worth pursuing in your content, which will help you rank for these terms in search queries.

Even if you don’t have access to paid SEO tools such as those, you can set up Google’s tracker on your site, which will give you access to Google Analytics (GA4) and Google Search Console. The latter of those can provide keyword research that shows how people are discovering your site.

There are also free tools such as Google Trends and Answer the Public that can give you insights into what people are searching for related to your business, products, services or related industry topics.

Lastly, just observing your customers and the language they use to discuss your brand online can be useful data to pull into keyword research.

The other mistake many make is, once they have keywords to focus on, they stuff those keywords into their content without regard for the quality of the content.

This is known as “keyword stuffing” and is a quick way to tank your reputation with both search algorithms and any potential customers who happen to find your content.

However, if you create useful and interesting content that’s focused on your keywords, you’re on the right track.

Generating Content Ideas

From here, you take the topic research you’ve done and the keyword research you’ve done and turn it into specific content ideas.

This is still about the “planning” of a content plan, not the execution, so this isn’t the stage at which you’ll create the content. But you should have a gigantic list of potential topics for blogs, videos, social posts, podcasts and more.

It’s not uncommon for us here at Leadflask to have repositories of hundreds of potential topics for ourselves and our clients. Not each of these will be created, but it provides a base of ideas from which content creators can work.

Creating a Content Calendar

Next, you need to set a release schedule. Where are you uploading your content? Who’s in charge of laying it out properly for each platform? How often is content being sent?

Content calendars aren’t meant to be static resources that never change. Businesses have to pivot with new developments, and your content has to adapt to this reality.

However, starting with a calendar will make it easier to pivot when that time comes.

Project management software such as Atlassian’s suite can help with this, or you could keep it low-fi on a personal spreadsheet or app-based calendar.

Tools & Resources for Content Marketing

If you have a website or an account on a hosting platform such as Youtube, you technically have everything you need to get started. However, it’s pretty clear that most businesses will want more in the way of tools and resources.

While a complete list of content marketing tools would take up several more articles of this size, we can talk about the types of tools you might look for and give some examples:

  • Writing Aids - Here at Leadflask, we’re fans of the Hemingway App for looking at tone and text difficulty, and Grammarly for editing.
  • Keyword Research Tools - We mentioned a couple of these (SEMRush and Moz) earlier, and these can help you with analysis and keyword research, as well as monitoring your site’s keyword health.
  • Distribution and Automation Tools - Your website needs a content management system and you need social accounts to post to, but there are also services that will help you to schedule and automate content uploads to streamline your content marketing workflow.
  • Project Management Software - If you have multiple people working on content and longer, more involved campaigns that include departments outside the marketing team, you may want to invest in project management software. This can keep your teams on the same page and encourage collaboration that will enhance your efforts.
  • Reporting Tools - How will you track the results of your content marketing? What metrics are important to you, and how will you adjust to optimize them?

We talked more about such tools in our article on marketing analytics, which overlaps significantly with analysis for content marketing.

What About AI for Content Marketing?

Some of the tools we mentioned above use AI in small ways, such as Grammarly with its grammatical suggestions or SEMRush/Moz with its keyword analysis. However, should you actually be creating content using AI?

Neil Patel is one of the world’s foremost experts on content marketing. His recent conclusion on artificial intelligence in content creation? You are wasting your time using AI to create content. Is this sensationalistic? Probably a bit, but it's also a reminder that careful planning and execution is needed even in the era of AI.

He backs this up with statistical analysis showing that good human writers generate more traffic per minute of work they put in vs. AI tools. There are a host of reasons for this, but in brief, AI writing still has a long way to go to be as coherent, consistent and compelling as good human writing.

The longer version of this discussion involves when you might want to use AI to help in your efforts. But even there, Neil’s recommendation involves a lot of manual effort to adapt what you get from AI tools.

It’s also important to note that AI is pulling from existing digital sources. Google has cracked down on scaled content in recent times, again putting a premium on original, authoritative content.

Our recommendation? Use AI tools to generate ideas or outlines if it helps you, to rewrite passages of your work that you aren’t fully happy with, or to help with keyword analysis as you optimize your content. We use AI tools here at Leadflask to help in ideation, outlining, reorganizing writing, and data analysis, the last of which gives us a ton of information that informs our content strategy and article optimization. However, the writing is still generated by humans. The AI tools support these efforts, but don't replace them. Thus far, this is what we've discovered works best.

So it's not that AI is bad. Far from it! Though it could be a waste of time unless you’re being extremely mindful about how you're utilizing it.

Cross-Purposing Content

We discussed a content calendar earlier, and you should be considering all of your potential content channels when you create it.

More than a release schedule, though, you should be thinking about how to cross-purpose the content that’s being released. If you upload a podcast, great! But that podcast should likely then be adapted into a blog post for your website, a series of video clips of major sections of the podcast, and should be posted to video sites, social media channels and more.

Basically, if a piece of content is released and forgotten forever, it’s not living up to its full potential.

If you have a team working on this, you can make their jobs more collaborative by encouraging this as well. It will get them thinking about how their content will be used across all media channels that your brand curates.

Executing a Great Content Plan

You’ll notice one thing we haven’t talked about so far: actually making the content. That’s a bit outside the scope of this article, but will of course be the next step in the process once you have a great content plan.

Most importantly, your ability to consistently create valuable content is the key to sustained growth.

A lot of companies that generate leads through their content marketing aim for three articles per week and two videos per week. This will require someone dedicated specifically to those tasks.

You may not have the ability to release so frequently, but as mentioned at the start of this article, the benefits of great content marketing can be realized at any scale. Not as quickly if you aren’t releasing as much, granted, but that’s different than saying there will be no benefit whatsoever. There will be, so long as you plan and execute your plan consistently, and learn from mistakes as you move forward.

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