The Easy 5-Step Content Plan Template That Will Make Every Piece Amazing

Marketing strategy, content strategy, content plans, oh my!

In the plethora of marketing jargon, what is your content plan and where does it fit among everything else?

According to Content Marketing Institute:

  • Marketing strategy is the why. “Why you are creating content, who you are helping, and how you will help them in a way no one else can.”
  • Content strategy is the “‘creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content,'” as cited via Kristina Halvorson.
  • And your content plan “documents the specifics of how you will execute your strategy, and who on your team will be handling each task.”

Content Marketing Institute goes on to elaborate your content plan contains “details such as the key topic areas you will cover, what content you will create, when and how to share your content, and specific calls to action you will include.”

With this in mind, you’re about to learn how to:

  • Proactively lay out your game plan for creating a single piece of content extremely well. You can then use this guideline to plan the details behind all of the content you will execute as part of your marketing strategy.
  • Not only feel more organized, but truly be more organized throughout your content creation process. You’ll be able to answer every question about your content including the goals, purpose, audience, team roles, responsibilities, and more behind each piece.
  • Create content more efficiently than ever by planning your work, then working your plan. You’ll lay out the details for every piece you publish to collaborate effectively, work quickly, and publish on time.

If you opened this blog post to learn about high-level strategy (the why that ultimately drives your content plan), check out these strategy deep dives first, then read these blog posts:

  1. The 1-Day Marketing Planning Process To Organize Your Next 6 Months
  2. The Complete 14-Step Content Strategy That Will Boost Your Results By 434%
  3. How To Create A Social Media Strategy (With 3 Steps And A Template)
  4. How To Create A Killer Content Strategy For Your New Blog
  5. How To Make A Video Content Marketing Strategy To Boost Your New Series

Again, the definition of content plan involves knowing:

  • The topic behind a specific piece
  • How you will create it
  • Who will complete the work
  • When they will complete their tasks

You can use this content plan template to help you think through these details.

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Get Your Free Content Plan Template Excel Spreadsheet

Don’t just read! Put what you’re learning into action IMMEDIATELY. Download the free templates that complement this blog post:

  1. Content plan creative brief template Word doc: Write your creative brief as you read through the process.
  2. Content creation workflow process checklist: Brainstorm your content plan workflow to delegate effectively + plan your content development timeline.
  3. Content plan template goal tracking spreadsheet: Measure your contents’ success and predict your future growth toward the goal outlined in your marketing strategy.

Step #1: Choose The Best Topic Ideas For 10x Growth

Your marketing strategy gives you the goal.

Your content plan helps you execute upon that goal.

So, you will want to plan on publishing content that is most likely to help you reach that goal as effectively as possible.

The best way to reach your goal is by understanding how what you’ve already done has impacted the goal. This includes:

  • Knowing what worked extremely well so you can replicate the topics and qualities from this successful content in the new pieces you create.
  • Knowing what tanked so you can avoid replicating these topics or qualities in your new content.

It sounds simple, and it is.

For example, let’s say your marketing strategy positions growing your email list as your #1 marketing goal. You can connect the free Google Analytics system to your website to understand what content is generating the most email subscribers. Afterward, you can analyze the top-performing pieces and ask yourself…

Was this successful because of:

  • The subject matter? If yes, brainstorm new content ideas that cover a similar topic. For example, we discovered our blog post about using Instagram for business performed well. So we wrote blog posts about increasing your following and engagement on Instagram, too. All of these blog posts still perform well to this day.
  • The research presented? If yes, your new content ideas are likely to be successful when you reflect those similar qualities (data, research, quotes, etc.). For example, our blog post about the best times to post on social media was a hit. So we applied the same research process to finding the best times to send email. That blog post was also a success.
  • The keywords? If yes, continue researching and applying keywords in your content with the same process.
  • The angle? If yes, position new content ideas with a similar voice or tone.
  • The author? If yes, ask that author to write for you again in the future.
  • …you get the idea here.

Which variable made it successful?

So the question becomes: How can you know what has been successful to understand what to replicate?

Enter: Google Analytics (which CoSchedule nicely integrates with, btw).

For the example of you wanting to increase your email subscribers from the content you publish, let’s set up a goal in Google Analytics and the Custom Report where you will view the content that is generating those leads.

Go to Google Analytics and hit Admin.

Google Analytics Admin - first step for goal tracking

From there, hit Goals.

Marketing campaign goals in Google Analytics

Create a + New Goal.

marketing campaign - new Google Analytics goal

Name your goal, choose Destination, then click Continue.

Google Analytics goal setup

Choose Begins With as your Destination, then type the slug of the URL of the page you direct your visitors to after they convert into email subscribers. Then select Save.

Google Analytics goal details

Google Analytics needs a couple days before it starts showing the data. But in anticipation of everything being set up correctly, you can set up the Custom Report that will show you what content your subscribers saw before converting onto your email list.

Cruise over to Customization, then hit Custom Reports.

Google Analytics custom report

Create a + New Custom Report.

Google Analytics new custom report

Title your Custom Report. Then search for your goal name in Metric Groups. Select the goal’s Goal Completion option in the Metric Groups dropdown.

Search for and select your Goal Previous Step – 1 in Dimension Drilldowns. Click Save.

Google Analytics custom report metric groups and dimension drilldowns

Now you can use the Custom Report to view the content your website visitors see immediately before converting onto your email list.

Google Analytics Custom Reports top performers example

Now you can dissect those pieces that are among your top performers for the qualities that make them successful. If you’d like to see your underperforming content, you simply need to filter by Goal Completions.

Use this knowledge to come up with great ideas that share similar qualities to your existing top-performers.

Note: You can use this method to literally quadruple your results.Content is data.

However, if you don’t have existing content, use this three-step method to generate amazing content ideas.

I’ll leave you with one final framework here: 10x versus 10%.

What ideas will help you grow your results ten times over instead of just making a ten percent improvement?

The difference between 10% and 10X goals

The more you understand the results your content produces, the more effective content you will create. AKA: You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you just need to make it better. Keep doing what you know works extremely well until the fuel runs dry.

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Action item: Choose your 10x content idea.

Step #2: Write Your Content’s Creative Brief To Get Everyone On The Same Page

In a way, your creative brief is the content plan for a single piece you will create collaboratively with your team.

The purpose of the creative brief is to get everyone on the same page before you begin executing.

It helps you plan your work, then work your plan.

There are four elements to your content’s creative brief:

WIIFM

^^^ I bet that looks weird. It’s fun to say, though, so it’s sticky. You just need to remember WIIFM stands for, “What’s in it for me?”

WIIFM: What's In It For Me?

That’s the question your readers, listeners, or watchers ask every time you publish a piece of content.

Is it worth my valuable time to check this out?

If you don’t nail your WIIFM in your creative brief, I GUARANTEE your audience will NOT think your piece is worth their time.

And they won’t read, listen, or watch.

You can get this right by understanding the words your audience uses when asking questions and searching for solutions to their problems. Gather this information from monitoring your social media mentions, blog post comments, customer support inboxes, and new user surveys.

Ask your existing customers:

  • What prompted you to start looking for a solution like {insert your product or service}?
  • Why did you choose {insert your product or service}?
  • What is the most significant difference {insert your product or service} is making in your business today?
  • How would you (briefly) describe {insert your product or service} to someone else?
  • What is the single greatest benefit {insert your product or service} provides?

From here, use the verbiage from your customers’ answers to write “talking points” for the piece of content you are creating. These points essentially highlight the benefits your readers, listeners, or viewers will receive when they consume your content. Using the language from other folks like them will help you attract the right audience toward your content, and thusly, to the product or service your company offers.

(I’m pretty excited I had the chance to use the word thusly here.)

Here are examples of talking points for the Marketing Strategy Certification Course we launched last month:

  • Get 10x growth for your business. Learn how to create 10x goals for your overall marketing strategy and prioritize the stuff that CONVERTS and drive more sales, engagement, traffic back to your content.
  • Own your marketing strategy! Build out a six-month marketing strategy in ADVANCE. Stop letting your content control you. Take control of your marketing strategy and start seeing the results of your hard work.
  • Never run out of ideas for TOP-NOTCH content. Generate dozens of ideas for your marketing strategy with repeatable tactics AND never run out of content to fill your marketing calendar – ever again.
  • Eliminate manual guessing and tedious data digging! Quickly learn the mechanics of promoting your content at the most optimal times for increased engagement AND traffic back to your content!
  • Get insanely organized. Plan your work, then work your plan—by March 24—you’ll have a marketing calendar full of content, ideas, and a game plan to rock the rest of 2017!

As you draft your talking points, stay away from generic benefits like saving time. Everyone lays claim to benefits like that. How does your content, product, or service differ?

Keywords

Choose the keywords you will target before you start creating the content.

When we doubled down on researching keywords with our content plans, we grew our traffic by 594%.

Here is what to do, in a nutshell:

  1. Find a core keyword using Keyword Explorer by Moz or Google Keyword Planner. This is the term you will use in your page title, meta description, URL slug, H1 headline, image file names and alt tags, and several times within the body copy.Optimal places for your primary keyword
  2. Find related keywords as you search for your core keyword. Let’s say you are planning content to target the core keyword mortgage calculator and you are offering a spreadsheet your audience can download for free. As you use Keyword Explorer or Keyword Planner, you will stumble across similar keywords like mortgage calculator Excel, spreadsheet mortgage calculator, mortgage calculator download, free mortgage calculator, and others. These are what the search engine optimization industry calls latent semantic indexing terms. They are opportunities for you to include them in your content to help your audience find the mortgage calculator you are giving away.

Make a bulleted list of your keywords in your creative brief to help your content creator know what words to use throughout the piece.

Outline

An outline is essentially a list of bullet points. It’s a skeleton your content creator fleshes out with the actual content later on:

  • Large Concept
    • Idea
    • Idea
    • Idea
  • Large Concept
    • Idea
    • Idea
    • Idea
    • Idea
  • Large Concept
    • Idea
    • Idea

Doing this before executing is important because you make sure your content creator focuses on the right project from the get-go. Outlines prevent thrashing at the end—you won’t need to ask your content creators to change the context, story, etc. because it is clearly defined before your idea becomes a polished piece.

Here’s how to do it:

Angle:

Let’s say your content idea is Instagram marketing. The angle changes with the benefits your content will provide. For example, here are some headlines that clearly promise a different benefit with a similar topic:

  • How To Market On Instagram To Grow Your Business
  • How To Get More Instagram Followers To Boost Your Reach
  • How To Get More Engagement On Instagram To Build A Loyal Fan Base
  • How To Use Instagram Albums To Connect With Your Audience

^^^ You get the idea. The angle is the promise. Choose your angle first to make sure your outline delivers on that promise.

List what your audience would like to know:

At this point, you are creating a bulleted list of the concepts you will include in the piece.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to fill in the gaps or how to answer these questions right now. The point is to serve your audience first by defining what points you should cover in your piece.

Research what others have already published on the topic + angle:

Enter your core keyword into Google and read the first 10 search results. Take note of the concepts nearly all of those pieces cover: You will also want to cover those ideas within your piece to make it comprehensive.

Add the common concepts from your research into your outline:

You have a bulleted list started with the concepts you believe your audience would like to know. Add in the new concepts from your competitive research.

At this point, sort your bulleted list into the best “chronological” order: Order the list according to concept you’ll cover first, second, third, and so forth.

It may also help to think of concepts as sections to cover your related (or latent semantic indexing) terms.

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For example, if you write a blog post centered around the core keyword best times to send email, you may have found related search terms for best time to send sales email, best times to send personal email, and best time to send marketing emails. Each of these three related terms may be a good concept to flesh out within your outline.

Add in ideas under each concept:

If concepts help you understand what you’ll cover in general, the idea sub-bullets flesh out the step-by-step, how-to, advice, etc.

For example, let’s say your content covers choosing the right running shoes. A concept could be about sole materials. The ideas, then, would flesh out the specifics of choosing the right running shoes based on sole materials:

  • Concept: Choose the best running shoe for your needs based on sole materials:
    • Idea: What materials last the longest?
    • Idea: What materials provide the most comfort?
    • Idea: What materials work best for in town (pavement) or cross country (dirt)?

^^^ Weird example, but you get the gist. Ideas help you flesh out what you will cover.

Generally speaking, if you have questions like this example in your outline, you will also research + find the answers now before you begin writing (and include them in the outline). This way, you have everything ready to rock when your content creator gets to it.

Step #3: Define Who Does What (And When They’ll Do It)

It’s time to break your content into a task workflow. This process will help you:

  1. Understand everything you and your team need to do to complete the content.
  2. Break up the content into tasks you can delegate to various team members to complete the content quickly and efficiently.
  3. Assign due dates to each task to realistically understand when to start working on the project to hit your deadline.

Andrew S. Grove wrote a really great book not only about this topic, but about management in general that you may find useful as you develop your content plans. It’s called High Output Management, and I highly recommend the read.

1-2DxhxfwFnJ1ZIiFsz-HgHA

Image by Ian Tien

In that book, Andrew, who is the former Chairman and CEO of Intel, suggests that a process much like the one you’re going to learn now can reduce work by 30-50%.

Note: I’ve written about this topic before in extreme detail. So if you want to learn more, check out this marketing workflow process. As a preview, here is a quick rundown of what to do at this point:

  1. Write down every step in chronological order (what needs to be done first, second, third, etc.).
  2. Dissect which steps you can remove from your process. Look for steps that could go into other processes, things that just don’t need to be done, and tasks that used to be helpful but are outdated now.
  3. Group similar steps into single tasks. For example, if you have two different steps involving graphic design, could you group those into one task? Maybe the task could be “Design blog post and social media graphics”.
  4. Define what done means for each task. For example, if you have a task to “Find the keywords”, your definition of done could be “Use Moz to find the core keyword at at least three related keywords with a difficult of 50% or less and average monthly search volume of 50 or more”.
  5. Select the team member who will complete each task. This way, one person (and only one person) has entire ownership of completing the work.
  6. Figure out how long it will take to complete each task. Simply ask the team member who will be completing the work, “How long will it take you to do this?” From there, you have a general understanding of how much time to allocate to specific “phases” of content creation.
  7. Map out how far before publish each task needs to be complete. Starting with the last task in the workflow, how many days before publish will it need to be complete? From there, work your way up the task list. For example, if your last task needs to be checked off 14 days before publish, the second to last task should be done 15 days before publish, and the third to last task needs to be complete 16 days before publish, etc.

Let’s say, for the sake of example, you map out your process and find the first task in the workflow needs to be complete 22 days before publish.

That’s great!

Now you know in order to publish on time, your team needs to start working on that content 22 days before publish.

This gives you the opportunity to REALISTICALLY plan a publish date on your marketing calendar.

So if your workflow looks like this:

Workflow template for a blog post in CoSchedule

 

The first task is due 22 days before publish.

Therefore, if you assign this content to your team to complete, and today is the first of the month, you know the earliest you can set the publish date is the 23rd of the month.

In this example, your team will start working on the content today to publish on time on the 23rd (with your 14-day complete period):

content plan template workflow example

You can take what you’ve learned and build your workflow process into CoSchedule’s task templates.

From there, you can easily reuse your workflows for the content you publish repeatedly like blog posts, social media campaigns, landing pages, brochures, and any other content you create.

Step #4: Get Approval (To Publish On Time)

Now you have a completed content plan. The next step is to get approval.

Set up a 30-minute meeting with your stakeholders with the following itinerary:

  • 10 minutes | Idea review: Show your Google Analytics Custom Report to demonstrate trends among your highest-performing content according to the goal outlined in your marketing strategy. Show them how and why you selected the best idea based on your own data.
  • 10 minutes | Creative brief review: Walk through your WIIFM (why your audience will care), keywords (how your audience will find it), and your outline (what you will actually create).
  • 10 minutes | Team workload review: Walk through who you will need to create the content (your team), how much time you expect each team member to contribute (your budget), when you expect them to complete the work (your timeline), and the day you will publish the content (your deadline).

Seth Godin has worked with many businesses that have rather bureaucratic approval processes. In his book, Linch Pin, he suggests the best way to get approval is to:

  1. Write down the day you will publish. Seth recommends setting your deadline first so once you gather all the ideas, you can sift out what doesn’t need to be done while still publishing an exceptional piece. You did this realistically in step #3.
  2. Gather ideas from everyone. Instead of basing this upon feelings, you chose the data-driven method by following step #1. This is arguably the best method for focusing your efforts on the most effective work (something the stakeholders should appreciate).
  3. Show everyone the ideas. This gives you the opportunity to show every stakeholder what you’re planning to create before you start executing.
  4. Create a project outline. If you’re working on a marketing project or campaign, this includes content plans for each piece. This way, you know the entire project scope and timeline.
  5. Show your stakeholders the outline. The ideas are approved. At this point with a campaign or project, you show the entire timeline of content creation, team task management, and publish dates.
  6. Get approval to move forward. Show your stakeholders the project outline (which essentially is multiple content plans rolled up into a single campaign). You simply apply the process you’ve followed through steps #1-3 once for every piece of content and get all of them approved in one meeting in bulk.

The main themes here are involving the stakeholders early on and getting approval before you begin executing your content plan(s).

Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz suggest involving stakeholders earlier in the process prevents thrashing later. In this sense, thrashing is when you begin executing a piece of content (or even finish it), only to have your stakeholders pick apart the details and cause unnecessary rework.

Jake and Co. write about this in their book, Sprint: How To Solve Big Ideas And Test New Ideas In Just Five Days:

By asking people for their input early in the process, you help them feel invested in the outcome. Later, when you begin executing your successful solutions, the experts you brought in will probably be among your biggest supporters.

By asking people for their input early in the process, you help them feel invested in the outcome.

And Seth further suggests you get approval for the idea, content plan, and project timeline before you begin executing. In your meeting, you ask a simple question:

If I deliver what you approved, on budget and on time, will you ship it? Once you get your yes, go away and build your project, thrash-free. Ship on time, because that’s what a linch pin does.

Show your stakeholders your content plan. Get approval before you begin executing. Publish on time.

Step #5: Review Your Success To Continually Improve Your Content Plan Process

At this point, you need to deliver upon two promises you’ve made to your stakeholders:

  1. Publish your content on schedule
  2. Measure its results alongside your top-performing content

So how can you turn your content plan into successfully published content?

Keep The Content On Track

In agile product management terminology, sprint reviews help you understand the progress you’re making toward project close-out or completion.

Essentially, sprint reviews are a quick meeting with all of the team members executing a project. The itinerary involves you reading off one piece of content at a time (campaigns often involve creating multiple pieces), and asking your content creators:

Where are we at with this?

^^^ This method works well for keeping the entire team in the loop. If you the team is behind schedule, you now have the opportunity to change things up.

If the progress is slow, ask the team these questions to get the content back on track:

  1. Why did this happen?
  2. How can we get this content back on track?
  3. How can we make sure something like this doesn’t happen again?

But… sometimes it’s nice to cut unnecessary meetings from your workload to keep your team executing.

Plus, you’ll want to be as proactive as possible to avoid any last-minute fire drills.

Since your content plan exists to help you successfully execute a single piece of content—and you’ve already mapped out your realistically achievable workflow in step #3—you can simply monitor your content checklist to understand progress toward completion.

Let’s go back to that blog post example you learned about in step #3:

Content workflow example on the calendar

If, for example, it is November 2 today. If Ben hasn’t completed his task to “Find the keyword” yesterday, November 1, I can now have a conversation with him, asking the same questions from before:

  1. Why did this happen?
  2. How can we get this content back on track?
  3. How can we make sure something like this doesn’t happen again?

CoSchedule makes this easy with its marketing calendar view. However, you can do this with simple tools like checklists in Evernote. You simply need to know when every team member needs to complete every task so you can track their progress.

Back to that example, the conversation with Ben may uncover that he has too much to do on certain days. That gives me, as the marketing project manager, the opportunity to review all of the tasks I’ve assigned to Ben and rethink the workflow.

Compare The Content To Your Best Performers

Let’s say you’ve shipped on time (because, let’s face it, you’re a rock star).

At this point, you can review your newly published content in the Google Analytics Custom Report you created in step #1.

You will:

  1. Review the content’s success over the course of its first 30 days after publish. This gives you the opportunity to compare every piece with a similar timeline (which is helpful because it removes some bias from comparing brand new content to content that has been successfully published for months or even years).
  2. Track the content’s performance in a spreadsheet. Over time, as you create many content plans and publish more pieces, you will use this single spreadsheet to compare average content performance. This will help you even more accurately identify trends and report to your stakeholders on your entire marketing strategy success.

Content is data.

So let’s say your piece has been published for 30 days, and you are looking to measure its success.

Open Google Analytics. Then click Customization and hit Custom Reports.

Google Analytics Custom Report

Select the Custom Report you created in step #1 from the list (you may only have the one custom report if you’ve never built one for a different purpose before).

select the custom report name for your goal

Select your date range for 30 days (day 1 being the day you published your piece and the last day being 30 days later). Then search for the URL slug of the piece.

track your performance for a single piece of content

Now you will see the actual number that specific piece of content has contributed to your goal.

see how much a single piece contributes to your goal

Download your free content plan template goal tracking spreadsheet from this blog post. Then use it to track every piece you publish.

content plan template goal tracking spreadsheet screenshot

As you add all of the content you publish into this spreadsheet, the template will calculate your strategy’s overall average performance by piece (column C, rows 35-41 in this example). In order for this to work, you simply need to sort your data from greatest to least, with your top-performing content in C2, and your lowest performers at the bottom of the list.

This will help you understand what to expect from future content performance as you replicate the qualities within your top-performers so your content performs better than average.

You can also use column H to track how much content you’ve published in the past three months and column I to track your overarching success in those months. From there, the template will calculate what you can expect for your next six months, assuming the new content you are publishing will perform better than average over time (see C35-C41).

Enjoy! :)

How Will You Plan Your Content?

CoSchedule makes it easy to turn your content plans into published pieces. You’ll collaborate more effectively, work more efficiently, and hit every deadline.

Get started now with your 14-day free trial of the #1 best-selling marketing calendar in the world.

It’s built for marketing teams to get you completely organized. So start boosting your team’s productivity now!

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