Content Planning: How to Make Your Roadmap to Success (Template)
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What do content marketing and road trips have in common? They both need some kind of roadmap to become successful.
If you go on a road trip without a map on hand, you might see some interesting sights. But, you also have a higher chance of wasting time. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll catch yourself running out of gas with no station in sight.
The same rule goes for marketing content. Sometimes, you can get a lot of value out of being spontaneous! At the same time, if it’s all you count on, you’ll waste time on less valuable content and start running out of ideas.
You can keep your content road trip on track by crafting a strategic plan. This guide and our content planning template will help you get started.
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Take this spreadsheet template with you as you follow along with this blog post. It covers all of the factors you should consider when planning your content.
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Content Planning vs. Content Strategy: Does It Matter?
If you know common content marketing terms, you might be asking yourself: What’s the difference between a content plan and content strategy? Let’s look at the definitions we use at CoSchedule:
- Content strategy: The creation and oversight of useful content for marketing and non-marketing purposes
- Content planning: The process of choosing what content an organization will publish and when
The difference is subtle but important. Once you figure out your content strategy, you narrow it down with a content plan. While content strategy determines the “why” and “who” behind your content, content planning affects the “what” and “when.”
Benefits of Content Planning
Content planning has oodles of benefits, including:
- Better writing: When you have a content plan, you’ll know what you’ll write ahead of time, making that first draft easier. Plus, you’ll have more time to perform the in-depth research a good blog post needs.
- Easier team coordination: Your content plan will work as a touchpoint among all of your team members. Everyone will have a reference to look at when they have a question or idea.
- More consistent publishing: Every good content plan has a publishing schedule. No matter how often you can create content, you’ll be able to distribute it on a consistent schedule. This consistency is key to building a professional content presence.
- Better strategy execution: Good content involves tons of variables that go beyond words. You need to consider your content’s structure, distribution and optimization. A content plan will give you the time you need to give those elements the TLC they need.
Long story short, content planning leads to better content, period. Your processes will become more deliberate and consistent so you can create content that makes an impact.
Content Planning Tools
These four types of tools will help you create a specific and actionable content plan:
- Editorial calendars: In content marketing, an editorial calendar provides a timeline for the steps involved in a piece of content. Software like the CoSchedule Marketing Calendar lets you set deadlines for separate project stages and view them in a calendar. You can also make an editorial calendar with a spreadsheet, but it’ll take a little more work.
- Content intelligence tools: These tools use artificial intelligence and search engine data to help you find high-performing topics. Many of them have outline and brief tools so you can define topics and structure posts at the same time. Examples include Frase, MarketMuse and Clearscope.
- Topical research tools: A topical research tool offers insights into a topic’s social media and SEO performance and suggests related topics. It works similarly to a content intelligence tool but doesn’t use AI, briefs or outlines. BuzzSumo is the most famous example of this type of solution.
- SEO/keyword research tools: These platforms analyze SEO keywords’ performance, audit your content’s SEO and suggest high-performing keywords. Remember to use SEO as a supplement to your content planning — quality and customer preference always come first. You’ll find lots of SEO content tools out there, including Ahrefs, Moz and Semrush.
Many content experts mix and match their tools, so don’t be afraid to try out more than one software in the same category.
The Five Basic Elements of a Content Plan
A content plan has five core components:
- Content audience/persona: The intended reader or watcher of your content.
- Content types: The types of content you want to make
- Content topics: The topics you want to cover in your content.
- Content workflows: The steps you’ll take to create your content.
- Content schedule: When and how often you complete and publish content.
Let’s learn how to define each of these elements to make an actionable content plan.
Defining Your Audience/Persona
You should keep your audience in mind as you work on every aspect of your content plan. When you understand who’s going to consume your content, you’ll be better equipped to lead it with an angle that appeals to them.
If you don’t have much information on your audience yet, no worries — you have plenty of research methods to try. Consider learning more about your customers through:
- Surveys and interviews: No one can teach you more about your audience than your customers themselves. Try surveying them on their interests and demographics in exchange for an incentive like a discount. Or, you could reach out directly to customers for one-on-one interviews.
- Data tools: Many marketers use data platforms like Google Analytics to look for trends in their customers’ traits and behavior. You can learn a lot from your visitors’ online habits and backgrounds.
- Social media: Social media platforms have tons of audience research opportunities. Platform-specific tools like Facebook Audience Insights analyze your followers’ interests. If you don’t have much data from your social media audiences, you can also see who follows pages for brands like yours.
Once you have some insights into your audience, consider making marketing personas based on that data. Personas help you visualize the different segments of your audience so you can make hyper-focused content for them.
Here’s an example of a focused marketing persona:
Your job isn’t done after you finish your research and craft your personas. Since audiences constantly change, you’ll need to make customer research a habit. Add these routines to your marketing workflow:
- Social media listening and monitoring: Keep an eye on your audience’s current preferences with social listening — the practice of monitoring online conversations about certain topics. You should also keep tabs on your social media metrics and activity from competing brands.
- Talking to your sales and customer support teams: Your coworkers in sales and customer support have a goldmine of customer info to share. Remember to ask them what customers tell them they like and dislike.
- Keeping tabs on industry news and research: Look out for any updates in your niche, including news, research and competitor activity. Google Alerts will notify you when new content related to your chosen topic comes out. You can also follow important publications and figures in your industry on social media.
You’ll add information about your audience and goals in the very last section of your content planning template. Note the persona your piece of content caters to, the goal you want to direct them to and the call-to-action you’ll use to point them to that goal.
Defining Your Content Types
Create your initial content plan with a few content types in mind, then change or expand them as you figure out what works.
The different types of marketing content fall broadly into these four categories:
Articles and blog posts are the first things that come to mind when many folks think of content. They have a low barrier to entry and tons of creative potential. Popular article types for marketing include:
- How-to blog posts and guides: These articles teach someone how to do something relevant to your audience and brand.
- Q&As and interviews: Considering interviewing a subject matter expert in your industry about a topic your audience cares about. For example, 360Learning, a collaborative learning platform, regularly interviews business leaders about their learning and development processes.
- Opinion pieces: Don’t be afraid to share your opinions about your niche — as long as you have the reasoning to back it up. Check out how this article from Hypercontext provides a solid argument on the benefits of mentorship programs and transitions into a guide to starting one.
Depending on your organization’s structure, your content team might also write your website pages. You could also partner with your website team to add more content to your pages. Consider spiffing up your website with pages such as:
- Product pages: The type of product pages you’ll write will depend on your business model. You might add some sales copy to an ecommerce page or do a deep dive into a product’s features.
- FAQ pages: An FAQ page presents customers’ frequently asked questions and answers them.
- Support/help pages: Some organizations have a single support page, while others have bonafide libraries. Since YouTube has so many elements to its service, it has a full directory of help pages.
Some marketers include video in their content strategy. Thanks to modern technology, even small businesses can try their hand at marketing videos with smartphones, screen recording software and video creation platforms.
- How-to videos: These videos show customers how to do something with your product or an activity related to your niche. Trudell Medical International has a demonstration video showing how to use their AeroKat product to give a cat an inhaler — not something most folks know how to do.
- Explainer videos: As their name implies, explainer videos explain what something is, like a product, process or concept. Notarize, Inc. explains how remote notarization works in this lighthearted explainer video.
Repurposed and Refreshed Content
Don’t forget to make content repurposing and refreshing a regular part of your content plans. Think of ways that you can repurpose your existing content into new content, such as making a blog post based on a video. You should also keep an eye on older and lower-performing content to find opportunities for refreshing.
Defining Your Content Topics
You’ll find the right topics for your content in your content core — the intersection between your audience’s interests and the problems your product or service solves. In other words, you want your content to be relevant to both your audience and your product.
With that rule of thumb in mind, run a planning meeting with everyone involved in your content. The length of your meeting will depend on the number of topics you’ll need, but here’s an example agenda for an hour-long meeting:
This meeting format breaks the planning session down into three sections:
- Content brainstorming: The first part of the meeting focuses on generating new content ideas as a group. Everyone should come prepared with a set of ideas to share with the group. As you discuss each potential topic, consider what purpose it would serve and what angle you would use.
- Theme discovery: After you make a list of approved ideas, you’ll need to put those ideas in the context of your themes. A lot of editorial calendars have overarching themes in their topics. For example, if you’re currently creating a lot of content on lawn care, you’ll want to run a lawnmower-related topic sooner rather than later.
- Scheduling: During the last part of the meeting, you’ll assign authors and deadlines. Divvy up your topics among your writers and establish draft deadlines.
You might come out of your content planning meeting with good ideas that you can’t fit on your calendar yet. If this happens, create a backlog with CoSchedule’s Idea Board or a spreadsheet.
When you fill out your content planning template, remember to fill out the topic column so you can link your content back to the topics you planned. When you add an angle to a topic, it might not have an obvious link to the final headline and article content.
With your topics in hand, start conducting keyword research on them. Start with words related to your topic, then use SEO tools to refine them into relevant and meaningful keywords. Google Keyword Planner is a great free option.
You have room to track your content’s specs in your planning spreadsheet’s “SEO Considerations” section.
Defining Your Content Workflows
You should put processes in place for creating every piece of content. By establishing these workflows in advance, it’ll be a snap to bring on new writers. (As a freelancer, I can vouch for the benefits of having an organized content workflow to dive into.)
One of the easiest and most impactful ways to streamline your content workflow is to make a creative brief for every piece of content. Most briefs cover these elements:
- Topic: The topic of your content. A great content brief will also explain why the topic is important to cover.
- Keywords: The SEO keywords you want your content to include. Some folks sort them by volume and difficulty.
- Audience: A description of your content’s audience. Remember to include any details relevant to the topic.
- Outline: An outline of the ideas you want to cover in your piece of content. Consider including headers and subheaders in your outlines for written content.
- Technical requirements: Any technical details that provide better context for people working on the piece of content. Examples include word count for written content and video length for video content.
You should also list every step involved in creating your content and match each step to the person responsible for it. Even small organizations can have multiple people involved in their editorial workflow, so you’ll want to establish who’s doing what as soon as possible.
A project management software like CoSchedule makes this process easier. CoSchedule has assignable Tasks that you can link to your content projects. It also has Task Templates that you can set up to add Tasks to new projects.
You can also handle some of your workflows in your content planning template, especially if you share the document across your team. The “Team + Production Status” section lets you track who’s responsible for each piece of content and when.
Defining Your Content Schedule
If you’re just getting started in content marketing, remember this: Aim for schedule consistency before frequency. We recommend scheduling content at a pace that’s comfortable for you, then increasing your publishing frequency as you become more experienced.
You’ll have an easier time building a manageable blog schedule with this approach over forcing yourself to meet a high quota right away.
With this tip in mind, establish your content schedule with these three steps:
- Set your publishing cadence: Consider the maximum resources and time you can dedicate to your content per month, then create a publishing cadence goal based on them. Once you have an ideal schedule, start with a less intense rhythm and build up to it. For example, if you want to end up publishing four blog posts a month, you could start with two per month and add more later.
- Determine your deadlines: Use your new publishing pattern to choose deadlines for your drafts and release dates. For instance, you could set two publishing dates for the 10th and the 24th in a schedule with two blog posts a month. Then, break those project schedules down by deadlines for each task, including writing/recording, editing and publishing.
- Map it all out on your content calendar: Now that you have a full list of deadlines, plug it all into your content calendar. The CoSchedule Marketing Calendar works well for this step since it lets you break a project’s deadlines down by task.
Your Destination: Impactful Marketing
Just as a quality itinerary makes a memorable road trip, an in-depth plan will help you create content that knocks your customers’ socks off. The time you’ll spend making your plan will pay off in content specially tailored to you and your audience.
Crack open that spreadsheet and start planning your journey to kick-butt content!
September 23, 2021