Create the ultimate content plan – a 10 step guide

By Steph Von der Heyde | Content Marketing

Aug 06

In order to produce great content you need a content plan. It’s not just ‘advantageous’ or ‘good practice’, having a content plan is absolutely imperative if you want to regularly produce content of any kind.

But you know that already. And now you want to create the best and brightest content plan, like, ever. Well you’ve come to the right place. Below are 10 steps to creating the content plan to end all content plans. Let’s jump right in.

Step 1: Decide on your audience

Image courtesy of "marfis75 on flickr"

Hopefully you already have this sorted, but if not, now would be the time.

Producing quality content depends on how well you know your audience and whether or not you’re able to write stuff that resonates with them.

That’s why, before you do anything, you’ve got to decide on your target market and the buyer personas you want your content to reach. Once you know who you’re writing for, every step of content creation becomes a lot easier.

If you don’t already have a buyer persona or are unsure of the term, have a look at this article.

Step 2: Set your content plan parameters

Artondra Hall

Good content plans are specific, so you need to decide how far ahead you can plan your content rollout in detail.

The length of time that your content plan will run for will, of course, depend on the type of industry you’re in. If it’s something like search marketing or design you shouldn’t really be planning more than a month ahead as you’ll want the content you’re creating to keep up with the trends. Other industries might be slightly more forgiving.

If this saddens the OCD in you and you like the idea of planning further ahead you can always draw up a skeleton plan for the next 6 months, but only populate it with details month by month. For example, your content for June will be specific:

21 June 2015 News Flash: Apple announces release date of iPhone7
22 June 2015 Review: Windows 10 updates
23 June 2015 How to format your external hard drive without uninstalling meta drivers

But your content for July will still be in skeleton form:

21 July 2015 News Flash: TBD
22 July 2015 Review: TBD – latest update
23 July 2015 How-to guide

 

This allows you to have an idea of the content you’re going to be producing monthly, but provides flexibility so that your content always stays relevant.

Step 3: Analyze your competitors

Courtesy of willgrant on Flickr

Unless you’re the only business of your kind, there will be others out there who are producing content with the same theme as you. It’s a good idea to get an idea of the lay of the land before you begin.

  • Start by looking at your closest industry competitors. Do they have blogs? What type of content are they producing and how well are people responding to it? How could you do it better?
  • Now do a broad Google search. Which blogs are the most popular in your field and why do you think they are succeeding? Take a look at the comments sections of these blogs too – if people are giving positive or negative feedback you can learn from it.
  • You can then use a tool like Buzzsumo or Ahrefs to help you analyse the most popular content on social media in your particular field.  Doing this will give you an idea of which articles are currently trending based on the amount of social media shares and links they’re receiving. Pay close attention to things like the day of the week and the time that these articles are being shared most.
  • Using Buzzsumo you can also see the types of content – such as videos, articles or infographics – that have been trending in your field. This way you can get an idea of what works for your topics and what your audience enjoys.
  • With your research in mind, start thinking about how you are going to differentiate yourself, how you could do it better and what kind of content will get you the best response from around the web.

Step 4: Decide on content type

Courtesy of markus spiske on Flickr

Content doesn’t just mean blog posts and website copy. You should also aim to mix it up a bit with videos, webinars, infographics, white papers, podcasts and other interesting content formats.

Below is a useful list of content formats compiled by Hubspot:

types-of-content_(1)

Some helpful resources:

Your research would have shown you the types of content which is getting the most attention in your field. Decide what you’d like to do and think about whether you have the resources to do it. Videos, tutorials and infographics are very popular and almost always worth the effort. Have a look at the links above and decide whether you think you’d be able to have a crack at it.

With such a variety of channels and mediums at your disposal it’s usually a good idea to mix it up. Not only does this keep your audience interested, it also exposes your content to more viewers.

Step 5: Conduct a team brainstorm

By Joe Goldberg on Flickr

This is the fun part. Get your team together and start brainstorming content ideas. Your content will, presumably, be focused on topics which are related to your business, so make sure you have the experts in your office present with you when you brainstorm. For example, if you are a cleaning company, ensure that the actual cleaning team (not just the content department) is present. That way you’ll get the best ideas out of everyone.

It’s usually easiest to begin with the broad concepts like ‘closets’ then brainstorm the specific angles for this concept like ‘how to declutter your closet’ and then think about the format you’re going to use, for example: ‘how to organise and declutter your closet – a 10 step video guide’.

During a creative brainstorming session it’s also important to remember that there are no bad ideas. Cheesy, we know, but even concepts which won’t work have the potential to spark ideas for ones which will. Encourage people to share everything they think of and not to be afraid to bounce ideas off one another.

Your aim should always be to give people a ‘take-away’. People love to learn, laugh and have their questions answered – your content should aim to do all three. Not only will it encourage readership and shares, it will also increase the number of visitors to your site and boost your brand’s image.

Additional Resource:

Here is an excellent lecture on brainstorming and how to hone your creative process, by none other than John Cleese.

Step 6: Decide on the frequency of posts

Image by Maythee Anegboonlap

Now that you’ve got your list of topics you can decide how many posts you want to put out per week. This decision should take into account your audience, your content and your resources – it’s no use planning to do 7 a week if you don’t have the writers or the time to post that often.

That being said, two posts per week is generally considered the minimum. Research conducted by Hubspot has shown that the amount of content on your website is directly related to the amount of traffic you get, so it’s really worthwhile to get posting! As for the maximum – that’s up to you to decide. How many quality posts do you think you can realistically put out?

The only hard and fast rule when it comes to frequency is that all your content should be good. Never post something substandard just for the sake of frequency, rather post less but post well.

Step 7:  Draw up a content calendar

Pen and paper by Guudmorning! on Flickr

A content calendar is an actual calendar with the times and dates of your upcoming publications written in.

Creating a content calendar helps you to plan what type of content you’re going to publish on which days. There are some great tools available which will help you do this.

This is an important step as it ensures that you balance your content nicely and have an even spread of the various types.

Creating a content calendar also helps you plan your content around events. You may, for example, want to post special content around events like holidays, national days or product launches.

Step 8: Research

Photo by Matheus Almeida

Now that you’ve got your content calendar set out you should do a bit of research for your first or upcoming post. This not only includes sourcing any expert opinions or sources, but also the following:

  • Keyword research

Use a keyword planning tool to help you discover the search demand around your chosen topic’s related keywords, long-tail keywords and related themes. This will help you fine-tune your keyword and phrase selection so that you can write content which is in line with your SEO strategy.

  • Topic analysis

Do a quick search and have a look at what recent posts have covered on that exact topic. Note what works and see if you can find a better angle.

  • Trend analysis

Have a look at the type of content similar to yours that has been the most shared on social media recently. Again, using Buzzsumo will help with this. You should get an idea of the most popular posts and what you can do to make yours more shareable.

  • Image sourcing

Research has shown time and time again that posts with good pictures get the most shares. Take a bit of time to find the right images – and be sure to keep copyright and image royalties in mind.

Step 9: Create

Photo by John Morgan on Flickr

This is when the real work starts, but if you have done the planning beforehand it makes the process of creating a lot easier. Everyone has a different creative process, so don’t be too rigid or feel that you have to follow others’ suggestions – once you’ve been through it a couple of times you’ll find the one that works best for you.

Just as a side note: don’t forget to edit what you’ve written, or, better yet, get someone else to do it for you. Research has shown that seeing your own typos is much more difficult than seeing others’. It may make you feel better to know that, apparently, the better you are at reading the worse you are at spotting mistakes.

Step 10: Scheduling

By INPIVIC Family on Flickr

Once you’ve written a few posts you can start scheduling them for publication in accordance with your content calendar.

Most publishing platforms will have a scheduling tool and you can link the publication of each post to your social media channels with tools like Hootsuite, Doodle and a myriad others.

However, it’s important to note that using a scheduling tool does not mean you can just ‘set it and forget it’. You need to be ready to respond to comments and be involved in the conversations surrounding your new posts. Fostering engagement is one of the reasons that content is such a powerful marketing tool – make sure you’re ready and able to capitalize on that.

Bonus Step: Promote your content

Photo by Alan Reeves via Flickr

You’ve done all the hard work, now make sure your content gets seen. The best way to do this is to make sure people can find it and to share it across as many platforms as you can.

  • Share it via social media
  • Make sure you’ve optimised it for search
  • Share it with your email list
  • Get involved in blogging communities and let others share it for you
  • Include a link in your social media profiles
  • Include a link in your email signature
  • Publish it on knowledge sharing sites

Doing the above will really help you get eyes on your post and, more importantly, it will get you shares and feedback. The more likes, shares and comments you get the more you’ll get to know about your audience.

Summary:

So, in a nutshell:

  1. Find your target audience
  2. Set your planning parameters
  3. Analyze your competitors
  4. Decide on the type of content you want to produce

5. Brainstorm new topics

6. Populate your content calendar

7. Do research for your upcoming posts

8. Create your content

9. Schedule your content

10. Promote your content

 

Repeat steps 5 – 10, and, voila!

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