Marketers who want to achieve big goals with their content must first develop an overarching content strategy. Then, in order to hit those KPIs, metrics, and goals, they must answer the question, “What do I need to achieve success with my strategy?”
The answer is invariably: create a content plan.
A content marketing strategy can tell you where you want to go and how to measure your marketing efforts’ success, but it cannot tell you exactly what to do or what processes you’ll need to follow. That’s where the content plan comes in.
What is a content plan?
A content plan is a content management tool marketers use to determine what content to create, how it should be created, and what processes will support its creation.
At the end of the day, a content plan should define how you’ll reach the broader goals set by your content strategy.
A content plan defines:
- What content to create
- How to create the content
- Who will create the content
A content plan includes the types of content formats, the processes, the digital marketing channels, and other aspects of how you’ll create, publish, amplify, and manage content. The content marketing plan integrates with your marketing funnel and should cover the entire customer journey, from awareness to decision.
Content plans are generally developed by marketing department leads with input from team members, including feedback from operations and sales. For a content plan to function, your entire marketing team must be aligned with your content strategy as well as the content plan. A great plan is your path to strategic success, so everybody has to be on the same page.
Content plan vs content strategy
Outside of the marketing industry, you’d be forgiven for thinking that content planing and content strategy are synonymous. But as a marketer, and a good one at that, you know these two things are very different.
The content plan is made up of the assets and processes needed to satisfy your overall strategy. The content strategy, though, is the big picture and parent category. Everything else falls under the strategy, including the content plan, content production, content publishing, and content distribution.
To get started, download Terakeet’s Content Strategy Playbook for Fortune 500 brands.
Why you need a content plan
The ultimate goal of your content is to create exceptional engagement with your audience. This increases the likelihood of moving audience members down the funnel towards conversions and purchase decisions. This is the aim no matter where that audience member happens to land on the funnel — TOFU, MOFU, or BOFU.
A solid content plan defines everything you’ll need and lets you focus on creating the amazing content behind campaign success. With everything in place, your team can execute on individual assets, creating content that not only encourages sales, but can generate attention into the future.
In addition to the on-the-ground content production plan, a content plan defines much of the marketing channel priorities each quarter. You’ll be defining, in advance, how to amplify (social media posts, promos, bylines, etc.) the content you create. This means the content plan determines the availability of resources plus the marketing budget and its priorities.
Developing a plan for your content directly feeds the marketing dollar spend and helps the business manage costs and conduct budget planning. Without this vital puzzle piece, you can lose out on the ability to allocate spending accurately.
Before content planning begins
You can’t just jump right into content planning. Instead, you need to:
- Collect data and define your audience
- Determine what problem your content will solve
- Broadly determine how you will create your content
Below are three questions that will inform how you write your content marketing plan.
Some of these overlap with the content strategy template, but at a high level, you need to make sure you address these before content planning begins. You’ll be glad you did.
Who is your target audience?
Depending on your industry, there’s likely already an established audience for your brand. The question is how much you actually know about them. Understanding who already engages with your content determines your target demographics and how you’ll connect with them.
First, gather existing visitor information and as much data about your audience as possible. Taking this data and analyzing it will tell you much about your audience, including what pain points they’re trying to address, what they want from your content, and how to better engage them.
With detailed customer information in hand, it’s much easier to let that drive and inform your content plan. You’ll have a sense of what they are interested in, who they are, where they engage, and what types of content to plan for.
What problem does your content solve?
Returning to the problem (or “pain point”) your content, on the whole, is trying to solve, it’s important to have a mission that fuels your content ideas and campaigns. That mission can’t just be to capture leads at all content marketing funnel stages. Your content needs to consider the brand’s product or service offerings and translate that into actionable content.
Show them, through a variety of creative lenses and angles, all the things that they can achieve with a given offering.
For example, we worked for a large mobile food delivery brand. Up until that point, they were unsuccessful in capturing attention through content marketing. Terakeet’s teams took the data we had about the customers, created buyer personas, determined the goal of each persona, and created written content to help them achieve the hypothetical goal.
The result was a focus on demonstrating, through written content, all the ways this brand’s offering could empower the audience to aspire, actualize, and self-improve.
Terakeet translated the simple service of grocery delivery into a platform for personal growth.
How will you create content?
Another important consideration is how you will generate content.
- Responsible parties for content creation
- Creation methods
- Where it will live
Knowing the above will let you successfully develop processes and workflows across teams for your content plan.
Create a starter content calendar
While you may not have all the data and information about your plan yet, creating a content calendar or editorial calendar framework is a wise preparation step. We have a free content calendar template you can download below.
How to write a content plan (12 steps)
Your content production process drives everything from marketing profitability to your ability to scale. So this section explains exactly how to plan content efficiently at a Fortune 1000 company.
1. Determine your content planning process
The very first step in creating a well-developed content plan is to determine what your overall process should look like. In this article, our plan includes this first step plus twelve other steps, taking you from brainstorming to publishing, measuring, and improvement.
In order to develop our twelve steps, we determined our process by asking the following questions:
- What are your content creation steps?
- List all of the content creation steps from start to finish. Usually, you’d start with a team brainstorm to generate ideas. After you determine a set of topics, do keyword research using a tool like Ahrefs or Semrush. The process continues through writing, design, QC, publishing, distribution, measurement, and improvement.
- Who is responsible for each task?
- Now that you have the steps, figure out who will be responsible. In an established company, assignments would be set by discipline. Content writers write, editors edit, SEO strategists analyze, etc.
- How long does it take?
- Determine your content turnaround time requirements to meet your marketing goals. It’s wise to have an idea of time requirements and the resources you have available to execute on a given piece of content.
- When and where will you publish?
- Determine your ideal publishing frequency. This will depend on your brand awareness goals, audience behavior, and growth targets. Also decide what time you’ll publish based on audience data. Then decide where you’ll publish — WordPress blog, corporate site, etc.?
- What are your content categories?
- Determine what themes, topics, and broad categories your content needs to fit under. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here, as it will depend on your industry, current blog content, and unique business goals.
Answering all of these questions should get you an itemized list of steps that will dictate the entire process. Steps two through twelve are representative of most content plans for blog publishing.
2. Brainstorm topic ideas
Who: Your direct content team, team leads, cross-departmental folks as needed.
What: Before you can research and outline actual content pieces (blog posts, case studies, white papers, etc.), it is important to host a brainstorming session with your team. This will be an ongoing process as you will need to refill the idea list on a regular basis.
- Campaign ideas – Bigger ideas that can be used to generate smaller content components.
- Content ideas – Individual content pieces.
Refine and vet the ideas based on whether they fit your themes, topics, and categories and connect to your overall marketing goals.
3. Research keywords
Who: SEO analyst
What: Your SEO analysts or strategists can take the team’s best ideas from the brainstorm and conduct the keyword research required to identify more specific details. This step provides primary and secondary keyword focus, tags and meta elements, word count, competitor analysis, and more.
If you have an existing audience, your SEO team can review Google Analytics data. Not every great idea is going to pass the search engine viability test and may need adjustment to fit the strategy.
With the keyword analysis mapped out, the content idea can be outlined and proceed to the next step.
Note: Not all of your content needs to be backed up with search volume. Some can serve your messaging, provide added value, or help your audience with a pain point. The majority of your content should serve SEO goals.
4. Outline content
Who: Content creator
What: Once you have technical data behind your content idea, you can outline your content. Outlining provides the skeleton that you can then use to build out an article.
This stage includes determining what to cover, figuring out specific headings, imagery ideas, CTAs and campaign tie-ins, key takeaways, and anything else you need to draft.
Having an outline template to apply to all content outlines will help you speed up the process. It will also ensure that your finished product is consistent and follows a set of standards. Standardization, aside from speeding things up, will help your overall messaging stay on target.
Skipping the outlining stage will result in unfocused content and if you have multiple writers, far too much variance in style. Outline before you draft — every time.
5. Draft your article
Who: Content creator
What: With a defined idea, SEO research and keywords, plus a solid article outline, it’s time to sit down and draft great content. At this stage you should have a sense of important keywords, co-occurring terms, target word count, competitor articles to reference, and your goals for the piece.
You can begin the writing process, following whatever your typical process entails. Make sure to review all the data you collected and don’t hesitate to take inspiration from existing articles from competitors. These are incredibly useful for figuring out ways to outdo your competitors.
Mark areas where design elements could be useful in illustrating any article points or sections.
When complete, be sure to conduct a thorough proofreading session. You can then pass it off to the editor(s).
Before editing, mark up your draft to indicate areas that you can repurpose into smaller items like infographics, social media content, and other new content.
6. Edit the copy
Who: Content creator peer, manager, editor
What: So, the full draft is done. Congrats! Another successful draft down. Now it’s time to edit.
Typically, a combination of peer reviews, manager reviews, and content editors would be pulled into the process of editing. The editing should be broken into approval stages, where each editor takes an editing pass, with the writer addressing each set of edits and changes.
By the end of the editing process, you should have a highly refined draft. That’s the benefit of having multiple sets of eyes on your work. If you can get a professional editor, that’s even better.
This content plan stage should not only detect errors, tone issues, and provide other fixes, but it should also help the writer improve his or her fundamental content creation skills.
7. Design supporting images
Who: Graphic designer
What: Now that the draft copy has been edited, it’s time to add in any graphics or visuals. It’s always best to note areas that could benefit from imagery when you’re drafting but you can also ask your editors for suggestions.
Typically, a designer would step in here to discuss requirements and get an idea of the graphic design direction. The best way to handle this is to find images on Google and from competitor articles to act as design inspiration. Dropping these in and tagging the designer in the draft with some written context around what is needed is ideal.
- A compelling reason for inclusion of the graphic
- A concrete concept that’s easily communicated to the designer
- Examples from other sites
- Time for a quick face-to-face with designer
- Lead time so the designer can execute in time
Get those items right and this step can be stress-free for everyone involved. Being prepared will also result in a great design on schedule.
8. Execute quality control (QC)
Who: Content creator, content manager, SEO analyst, account manager (or similar)
What: Quality control, or QC, is highly dependent on the company type but there are general rules that can be applied. QC will always be unique to the situation. If it’s an internal marketing process, the QC may be less stringent than if the work is for a major client.
Technically, editing an article could fall under quality control, but in this case, we’re talking about a set of final checks before the content goes live. Editing should start earlier.
QC is a multi-stage process where the chain of contributors each conduct a final inspection of the piece of content. The author, content lead, SEO analyst, and an AM (or other higher level decision-maker) will each have a unique set of checks to do.
Upon running through these stages and making any needed, last-minute adjustments, the decision to slate it for publishing can be made.
9. Publish the content
Who: Content creator (most likely)
What: The content is good to go and you can now publish it. But not so fast. There are a few last things to do.
Many companies use staging sites for WordPress. The team can use the staging site to build out the article content, place images, place plugins and CTAs, find interlinking opportunities, and finalize the article before pushing it to the live version of the website.
This precaution ensures the article is completely ready, catches any potential site errors, and provides more time for last-minute tweaks. Once complete, the new article can be pushed to the live site where your audience can read it.
10. Share and distribute your content
Who: Social media management staff, content creator
What: Your site may have regular visitors but sharing the new article through social media platforms and other channels broadens your reach. Use your social and email audiences to drive readers.
Social media marketing
- Write up unique content for posts across your social channels that briefly deliver value contained in the article.
- Link to the article in all posts.
- Schedule the post to fit with your social post calendar.
- In addition to your own articles, curate different content types from other publishers that support your social media strategy. Consider interactive graphics, podcasts, and even TikTok videos.
- Create unique content for a single email or part of a larger newsletter promoting your article.
- Link to the article in the email with a simple call-to-action.
- Provide value: include a number of key takeaways from the article, include statistics about your topic, or other content that’s actually useful.
- Get in the habit of trying punchy subject lines that use emotion to drive email opens by your audience.
11. Measure content success
Who: SEO analyst, content creator
What: It can take several weeks to a few months for new content to settle in, rank, and start generating traffic. Measuring the success of your content isn’t a one-time thing and should be approached as an ongoing process. Your team will most likely be checking up on overall content success often.
First, define what success looks like. This means breaking results down into categories. Some examples of “success” could be:
- Organic search performance – Overall, how did the article settle out in rankings?
- Conversions or sales – Overall, did the content result in an action (or actions) by your target audience?
- Audience engagement – Overall, did your audience engage with your content and receive value?
Those are just a few high-level ways to define and assess content marketing ROI. Getting into the specifics, there are also telltale signs — SEO metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) — that tell the complete story.
Content performance metrics and KPIs
- Organic traffic – The total non-paid traffic you earned from search engines.
- Keyword rankings – Rank for your target keyword, secondary keywords, and related long-tail keywords.
- Impressions – The number of times your content has been seen in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Bounce rate – Bounce rate refers to the percentage of single page sessions on your website.
- Conversion rate – Percentage of visitors who clicked ads, CTAs, downloads, or other lead generation assets.
- Click-through rate (CTR) – The ratio of users who saw your content and then clicked the link to read it.
If you aren’t hitting your content goals, then analyze the metrics above to uncover the problem. Based on these metrics, your team can then iterate and optimize the content.
12. Iterate and optimize content performance
Who: Content creator, SEO analyst
What: Closing the loop on the content plan, the last step is to take your content success assessment, turn it into actionable content improvements, then implement the optimizations. This process can be led by the writer and double-checked by an analyst.
Your team spent countless hours developing just the right content, so it’s a must to return after a few months to make sure the post is in the best possible shape to rank in organic search. It’s easy to miss the small things that optimize for rank, and over time the SERPs will change.
Here are some of the most important on-page SEO best practices to apply to your landing pages:
- Add both internal and outbound links
- Add image alt tags
- Create content that satisfies user intent
- Ensure substantial and competitive word count
- Implement SEO copywriting best practices
- Implement structured data
- Instances of related keywords
- Maintain an appropriate keyword density
- Optimize for Google images
- Optimize headers
- Optimize title tags
- Use short, descriptive page URLs
- Use the target keyword within the first 100 words
- Write compelling meta descriptions
- Write readable text
Bonus step: Assess your content plan and adjust accordingly
Let’s jump back to the macro view. We covered each step of a content plan and how to create it but there’s more to think about. It’s time to assess the success of the plan itself. This is when you ask tough questions and surgically optimize the content planning process to ensure it’s actually working.
Obviously, you’ll need to have your content plan up and running for a few quarters to even make an assessment. Give it time, stick to the process, and pay attention to the end results. Look for weaknesses and be honest about its performance.
- Reviews of each step – For each individual content plan step, assess effectiveness, roadblocks, and check for redundancy across steps.
- Team feedback – Lean on your direct team for critique and honest feedback of each step and the plan as a whole. After all, these are the folks who know best.
- Quality – Is each step crafted in a way that empowers your team to produce good content?
- Collaboration – Is the content plan encouraging teamwork and collaboration, or is it siloing team members?
- Deadlines – Are you hitting the deadlines for the work being produced? Is the plan agile enough?
- Trim what isn’t working – Steps or parts of a step failing? Are some steps turning out to be redundant? Consult with your team and consider cutting non-functional aspects of the plan.
- Develop iterations – Finally, take your content plan review findings and work with your team to implement any improvements. Content plans are “living processes” and should evolve as needed.
The importance of a great content plan cannot be overstated. It drives all of a team’s content processes, carves out a path to achieving your content strategy goals, and formalizes what can become a complicated mess. Setting out into the world of content marketing requires rigor, constant evolution, and a high degree of efficiency.
From the very first consideration stages, to the creation and optimization of a content plan, our goal is to show you just how much detail goes into content marketing and how you can stay on track. As industry experts, we highly recommend planning content before you tackle execution. The steps covered here should get you started.