How to Plan and Execute an Effective Content Strategy That Will Quadruple Your Results (Free Templates) - CoSchedule Blog

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How to Plan an Effective Content Strategy That Will Quadruple Your Results

I just read all the top-ranking web pages for the keyword content strategy so you don’t have to.

All of those pages will help you define the term, but not many of them dive deep enough to help you create a content strategy that will quadruple your results.

And let’s be honest: You don’t care about the definition of content strategy. You care about getting step-by-step, actionable advice to help you create effective content super efficiently.

So that’s what you’re going to get in this post.

Read on—and download your free content strategy template kit—to learn the complete 14-step process to create your own strategy to:

  1. Set aspirational goals based on your own data and actually measure them with Google Analytics.
  2. Use your time super effectively by analyzing your best- and worst-performing content to boost your results.
  3. Organize your entire creation process to develop content super efficiently.
  4. Improve your content strategy by analyzing your success and failure.

If you want to try a data-driven, agile marketing process to get massive results from your content marketing, this post is for you.

This is the exact process we’ve followed at CoSchedule to generate 434% more page views, 1,222% more email subscribers, and 9,360% more trial signups from our new blog posts.

No joke.

So when you follow this content strategy, quadrupling your results may even be understated.

Snag Your Free Content Strategy Templates

Content strategy is complex. You’ll need a handful of tools to plan, execute, and measure yours effectively. Fortunately, they’re all included in this post, which will even show you how to use them.

In this bundle, you’ll receive:

  • Content Strategy Template: Plan your high-level strategy and know exactly what you’ll create in advance.
  • Content Plan Template: Use this to plan each individual piece of content.
  • Content Strategy Guide (PDF): Set up your strategy in 14 clear and simple steps.
  • Content Goal Tracking Spreadsheet (Excel): Track performance for every piece you publish.
  • Marketing Workflow Process Checklist: Follow this checklist to develop effective content creation workflows.

Download them all now. Then, learn how to put them into action.

Get Your Free Content Strategy Templates

Get Your Free Content Strategy Templates

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Content Marketing Strategy Vs. Content Strategy: Does It Matter?

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."

That's good information. But, here's a short tangent.

When you focus on semantics like definitions, you focus your energy on internal processes that don't directly benefit your audience.

So what actually creates results for your business? Publishing effective content.

So let's get the definition of content strategy out of the way in regards to the process you'll learn throughout this post:

Content strategy is the efficient process that ends in publishing effective content.

So where the content strategy experts spend their time debating the definition, you can spend your time honing the process you use behind the scenes to create and publish the best content in your niche on the internet.

That's what will move the needle. And it's exactly what you're about to learn how to do.

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Define And Track Aspirational Goals That Focus On 10x Growth

You're doing content marketing for a reason. Let's find the best way to define your goal and track it.

1. Answer: Why Are You Creating Content? (Nope, I'm Not Kidding)

It might sound silly, but understanding the #1 reason why you're publishing content will help you focus your efforts on the right kinds of projects that will result in huge growth.

Planning to succeed wins. And you can use your data to help you get there.

But first, you need to know the #1 reason why you're doing this—forget about everything else for a moment:

Why are you creating content?

Answer This: Why are you creating content?

Example: I'm creating content to get customers for my software.

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2. Know How You'll Measure That Goal

Now that you know why you're publishing content, it's time to define how you'll measure your success. This involves defining the one metric to rule them all.

For example, if your #1 reason for publishing content is to get more traffic, you could look at specific metrics to measure that goal like page views, unique page views, or website users. Those are very specific metrics under the umbrella term of traffic.

Answer This: What one specific metric will you use to measure your success?

Example: I'm going to measure customer growth for my software with blog post to trial signups.

3. Find The Tool Where You'll Track Your Goal

You've got your goal and you know exactly what metric you'll use to define success. Now it's time to find the tool where you'll gather all the data on that metric.

Luckily for you as a marketer, Google Analytics is an especially powerful—and free—analytics program you can explore specifically for this purpose.

So let's set up goal tracking for your metric in Google Analytics.

You can use this same process to set up goals to track traffic to any specific page—which works especially well for email subscribers (directing to a "thank you" page), trial signups (directing to the first page in your app), and other similar use cases.

Here we go:

Log in to Google Analytics, then click on Admin and then Goals.

Start a + New Goal.

Name the goal the #1 reason why you're publishing content, then Continue.

Flesh out your goal details with the Destination as the slug of your URL your users see immediately after they convert.

Alternatively, you can include the app page name your users see immediately following a conversion. Select Begins with and hit Save to start tracking.

Since you just set up your goal, you'll see a big fat goose egg for your most recent conversions. Don't worry. Google needs 24–48 hours to process your new goal.

Pro Tip: If you're not set up with Google Analytics yet, get started now with this handy guide. You might be surprised at all the lessons you can learn even with an informal website audit.

4. Understand How To Analyze Your Data

Now it's time to understand which specific pieces of content are contributing the most (and least) to your goal. This will help you understand what types of content to replicate in the future and which to avoid.

You're going to track this by setting up a custom report in Google Analytics. Get started by cruising to the Customization tab and selecting + New Custom Report.

Fill in the Title, then in Metric Groups, select the name of your goal followed by (Goal # Completions). In Dimension Drilldowns, select Goal Previous Step - 1. Then hit Save.

Now you can view the exact pieces of content that are contributing to your goals. And you can easily search for specific URLs to drill deeper into your content.


Create The Plan To Achieve Your Goal

This process focuses on analyzing data from your existing content to help you improve the results from the future content you'll publish.

It's like a website audit specifically targeted at helping you set achievable, aspirational goals for your content marketing.

Even if you've only published a few pieces so far, you can use this content strategy to agilely boost your results. Here's how:

5. Grade Your Content According To Your Gut

The purpose of this process is to help you understand how you feel about your content's performance.

Afterward, you'll reveal the data and compare it to your gut instinct to help you understand where you were off and on. And that will help you pick new content to create based on boosting your results.

Start by making a list of the URLs from the last 30 pieces of content you published. There's a spreadsheet to get you started in your content strategy template kit.

Now brainstorm the top four traits that are present in your top-performing content. For example, at CoSchedule, we grade our content based on questions for four traits:

  1. Topic: Is this topic something our readers find extremely useful for solving a problem they're experiencing?
  2. Research: Is this content deeply researched, backed with facts and examples?
  3. Comprehensiveness: Does this content tell the full story with step-by-step, actionable advice—regardless of word count?
  4. Keyword-driven: Was the keyword for this content well chosen to help our audience find it precisely when they need it?

You can use those same four traits to grade your own content—or you might know of other traits that are extremely important for your brand. At any rate, choose at least four traits of your successful content and grade each piece from 1–3 with 1 being not so good and a 3 being awesome.

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6. Discover Your Content's Average Contribution Toward Your Goal

This is an extremely important part of your content strategy to help you understand the specific pieces of content that are super successful versus those that aren't. The data may surprise you—which will teach you how to generate bigger results from everything you publish moving forward.

To do this, you're going to analyze the data from your Google Analytics custom report for your goal according to each piece of content you've published. And to make sure every piece has a similar opportunity to be successful, you're going to measure the results for the first 30 days after you published them.

If that sounds scary, trust me—it's not!

Begin by opening your Google Analytics custom report. Search for each individual URL from the list you started in your grading process in the spreadsheet, and set the dates to the first 30 days after you published it.

Then enter the data for each of your URLs into the spreadsheet in your content strategy template kit.

Note: Your Google Analytics goal will start tracking after you set it up—it will not track data that happened before you set up your goal.

You could ease into this process by first tracking page views (if that's not your goal already) because that data will already be available in Google Analytics if you had it set up before starting this content strategy process.

After you find the data for each piece of content, you can understand how well your gut translates into results. Sort your data from your best performers to the duds. From here, you can scrutinize which types of content to replicate in the future and which to avoid.

For example, your top piece of content should receive a 12 score, while your worst-performing content should receive a 4 score. If that's not the case, you learned something that will help you think critically about the upcoming content you'll publish.

Here are several things you can analyze from both your best- and worst-performing content to help you get bigger results from your future content:

  1. Who wrote the content? Some of your producers may be particularly skilled at certain topics, or could have brought an established audience to your content. You could invite those rock stars to work with you even more in the future.
  2. What type of content was it? Was it a how-to, list, or question blog post? What about e-book, landing page, or online tool? Replicate the same approach in future content.
  3. What was the tone of the content? Some websites do particularly well with thought leadership, controversial, humorous, or entertaining content whereas others find better success with straightforward how-to and step-by-step content. Find what works for you and repeat it.
  4. What additional media was in the content? Did infographics, videos, surveys, e-books, or images help influence your success? Repeat what works next time, too.

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7. Define The Goal For Each New Piece Of Content You'll Publish

This is when you'll plan on quadrupling your results by creating more content that is similar to your most successful content.

If you haven't done it already, sort your data from best to worst. Then, find the overall average for all of your content, then the average top 15, 13, 11, 9, 7, and 5 pieces of content.

If this sounds scary, don't worries—your spreadsheet in the content strategy template kit has the formulas built right into it to do this automagically:

Your plan will be to replicate the success from your top-performing content. The purpose of grabbing six ranges of top-performers is to help you incrementally improve the content you're publishing over the next six months.

By the end of this process, you'll be creating content that consistently reaches similar results to your top 5 pieces of content.

So, by incremental improvements, your game plan for the next half year looks like this:

Set Realistic Yet Aspirational Goals For Your Content Strategy

  1. Next month: Publish content that's on par with your top 15 pieces of content.
  2. Month 2: Publish content that results in similar success to your top 13 pieces of content.
  3. Month 3: Publish content that reaches similar results to your top 11 pieces of content.
  4. Month 4: Publish content that results in the same success as your top 9 pieces of content.
  5. Month 5: Publish content that reaches similar results to your top 7 pieces of content.
  6. Month 6: Publish content that stands among your best-performers—your top 5 pieces of content.

This plan gives you the opportunity to build up the stamina needed to produce better content every time you publish. It's realistically achievable yet still focused on huge growth.

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8. Define Your Monthly Goals For The Next Six Months

You know how each individual piece of content will influence your goals for the next six months. So let's roll up that data into understanding what your overarching monthly goals should be.

This will help you understand the larger impact of publishing effective content. And if these predictions are less than you were hoping to see, you can use your data to increase your publishing frequency to generate even bigger results.

Open your Google Analytics custom report for your goal, and find the data from an average month's performance. An easy way to do this is by adding together the data from the last three months then dividing it by three to find your monthly average performance.

Next, determine how many times you'll publish your improved content every month. This is how publishing consistent content will help you boost your results.

From here, use your average top 15, 13, 11, 9, 7, and 5 data to understand how much higher to make your goals. Subtract your normal average number from your top number, multiply that by your monthly publishing frequency, then add the difference on top of an average month's performance.

Now, all of that is super nerdy. So the spreadsheet in your content strategy template kit has formulas built into it so you don't have to figure it out yourself. ;)

If you find that the predicted results aren't as big as you were hoping to see, now is the time to plan for publishing more content into your schedule throughout the following six months.

Super Nerdy Note: This process doesn't take long-tail return into account.

However, you can track your recurring contribution from each piece of content by adding another column into your spreadsheet and tracking the following two months' worth of data for each piece of content. That will bring your total data to a full three month's worth of metrics per piece.

From there, you can divide the following two months' of data by the first 30 days to find your return on investment. This is especially handy as you get bigger results from your content since your returns will also boost your performance.

Execute Your Plan With A Solid Content Development Process

Your goal is set, and your plan is in place to produce big results. Now it's time to determine how you'll create the content.

9. Determine Who'll Be Involved In Your Editorial Process

In order to create content efficiently, you need fewer people involved in the content creation process. And you need the right people.

Jay Acunzo is a marketer and former Googler who saw how agile pods work for Google's sales team. When he took to his blog to expand the pod analogy for content marketing teams, Jay boiled the process down to a few key roles:

Determine Who Will Be Involved In Your Editorial Process

  1. Producer: These are your artists—the writers and designers who produce your content. They're creative, and absolutely necessary to help you share your story.
  2. Marketer: This is the person who makes sure the producer's content ends up in your audience's hands. She distributes your content and creates demand for your content and product offering.
  3. Strategist: This is who you are. Jay explains that strategists are a servant leader role, specifically for people who "love doing things like advanced analytics and strategy planning, as well as allotting resources, liaising with management teams to keep the other two freed to do meaningful work, and so forth. This person doesn't manage people so much as they manage resources, time, and results."

Notice something here? The strategist sets the plan in motion and helps the pod take ownership of the goals. These people jump into both the marketer and producer roles when necessary, and ultimately help the team produce effective content.

The thing is, there is no upper management involvement and no lengthy approval processes. Resource management is dedicated to creating content that focuses on results instead of getting swept up in menial tasks that don't really matter.

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So how can you narrow the amount of people in your pod to the three roles that really matter? Seth Godin has some good advice from his book Linch Pin:

  1. Set a due date of when you'll launch this new process and stick to it.
  2. Gather everyone's ideas for the content you'll create. As Seth says, "This is their big chance."
  3. Ask them to review the ideas. After this, there's no going back to make changes.
  4. Create a project outline of all the ideas. This is your content strategy you and your pod will execute moving forward.
  5. Get final sign-off control from the big wigs so that you, as the strategist, have total publishing authority. Seth even suggests getting your upper management to sign documents saying they won't change your course after you get started.
  6. Ask them, “If I deliver what you approved, on budget and on time, will you ship it?”
  7. Don't move forward until you get your yes.

When you follow this content strategy template, you'll have everything you need to manage this process with your pod. You'll be able to clearly spell out exactly how you're going to do this work, complete with goals.

Anyway, it's going to be hard for your big guns to say no to real data.

10. Host A Content Planning Meeting To Discover 10x Content Ideas

Your next step is to find awesome content ideas to flesh out your editorial calendar.

Remember, when you set your goals, you committed to publishing a specific amount of content each month. Now is the time when you'll figure out what you'll create specifically.

And the best way to come up with lots of awesome ideas fast—and make sure your team feels ownership for the success you'll experience together—is by hosting a content planning meeting.

There are three phases to your 30-minute meeting:

Host a Content Planning Meeting to Discover 10X Content Ideas

  1. 10 minutes: Individual brainstorm frenzy. Ask each person on your team to type out a list of their ideas. This is especially doable when you ask your team to come to your meeting prepared with ideas, giving them the chance to thoroughly think through what they'll suggest.
  2. 10 minutes: Group grading. Create one list of everyone's ideas, then ask your team to grade the ideas on a 1–3 scale. Explain to them that a 3 grade means the content idea will definitely help you achieve your goals and is in line with your top content—the kind you want to replicate to produce bigger results. A 1 grade means the idea won't likely help you achieve your goals. Then simply recite each idea to your team, and have them instant message you their grades. The lowest grade you get from your team is the score the idea will receive because at least one person doubts the idea will be successful (you need skepticism to eliminate sub-par ideas from your workload).
  3. 10 minutes: Narrow your best ideas. As a team, review all of your 3 grade ideas for uniqueness, your audience's interests, your expertise, and similarity to your top-performing content. The goal is to find the absolute best ways to create that content to be the best source of information on a particular topic on the entire interwebs.

11. Define Your Editorial Workflow Checklist

Your team is ready, and they've come up with the content ideas that will produce 10x results.

Now it's time to understand how you'll work together to actually produce that content.

First, brainstorm everything you need to do to create and publish from beginning to end. A solid way to start is by analyzing the success of the older content you're going to replicate. Every detail matters, so write it all down.

For example, this is where you'll map out when you'll do SEO, web writing, design, promotion, and repurposing.

Pull together a rough plan at first that you'll continue to refine:

Then organize your process from the very first step to the last.

At this point, you likely have a lot of steps, so group the details into a single task. Those details are now the definition of what done means for that task—meaning, if someone checks that task off your shared workflow for creating a piece of content, that person has done all the work to complete those details.

Next, determine who on your team will be responsible for each task, and approximately when they should complete their tasks to help you publish on time.

From here, you can enter that consolidated task list into your project management system where you'll execute your content strategy.

12. Choose The Tools You'll Use To Manage Your Content Creation Process

All that's left to do is to find the right tools that will help you create your content and manage the process behind the scenes.

Start by finding a content planning tool that will help you collaborate efficiently with everyone on your team. You're looking for a tool that offers:

  1. A task-based workflow: As much as you'd love to follow the perfect content checklist you just defined, there may be times when certain tasks will be completed out of order. Choose a collaboration tool that allows this to happen.
  2. Communication without endless emails: Being carbon copied too many times on emails makes them easy to ignore. Find a tool that makes collaboration easy and commit as a team to use that tool.
  3. Notifications for new assignments and due dates: Your team is full of rock stars—but they're also human. Find a tool that lets them know of new tasks they need to complete and reminds them of approaching deadlines. That will keep them accountable for completing their work without you breathing down their necks.

A tool that has always worked incredibly well for content marketers is an editorial calendar designed to be a marketing project management tool.

Editorial calendars work well because you can visually see when a project needs to publish so you can easily work backward with your workflow to start a project far enough in advance to meet your deadlines every time.

Organize Your Marketing With Clear Publish Dates

You'll also need tools for creating your content.

Now, there are a ton of choices for this, including WordPress, Google Docs, Evernote, and the list goes on. There are just a couple things to think about as you get started:

  1. Choose tools that mesh well with your team's working styles. If you're constantly on-the-go, you might need to consider tools that are mobile-friendly and don't require an internet connection like Evernote or Google Docs instead of creating content natively inside of WordPress.
  2. Narrow your list of tools you'll use to as few as possible. The fewer the tools, the easier it will be to get everyone to use them.
  3. Define how you'll use each tool. It sounds simple, and it is. Set aside a little time to help everyone on your team understand the process behind why you use each tool and how you want to use them.
  4. Agree as a team to commit to using the tools. It's easy to retrogress into doing things the way you've always done them. Don't let your lizard brain win—break status quo to improve.

Improve Your Content Strategy By Analyzing Your Success And Failure

Awesome! You've built a data-driven content strategy! I think you deserve this:

There's just one more thing to do for every piece of content you publish: Learn from your success and failure. There are two sides of this to review:

13. Boost Your Team's Efficiency By Reviewing Your Content Development Process

To review your editorial process, set up a touch point with your team to ask them three very simple questions:

  1. What went well?
  2. What went wrong?
  3. What should we improve next time?

This will help you find and fix the snags in your current creation process to help you improve your efficiency moving forward. I've found this is a helpful exercise to run through at the end of every week—especially as you work on implementing a brand new content strategy.

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14. Analyze Your Content's Data To Generate Bigger Results

In the end, it all comes back to publishing effective content. So, take some time to review each piece of content to make sure it fits the standards you set in step 7 of this content strategy process.

As a reminder, your content should perform on par with your best-performing content for the next six months:

  1. Month 1: Your new content will be as successful as your top 15 pieces of content.
  2. Month 2: Your new content will be as successful as your top 13 pieces of content.
  3. Month 3: Your new content will be as successful as your top 11 pieces of content.
  4. Month 4: Your new content will be as successful as your top 9 pieces of content.
  5. Month 5: Your new content will be as successful as your top 7 pieces of content.
  6. Month 6: Your new content will be as successful as your top 5 pieces of content.

Once you start making this analysis a cyclical part of your content strategy, you'll be constantly improving your work to produce better results nearly immediately. It makes the entire marketing process you just learned extremely agile to help you consistently break away from status quo.

And the best part? You're basing this all on your own data that your audience and customers provide.

We've used this exact agile marketing process at CoSchedule to build a blog that generates 1 million page views a month.

After we saw it work, we applied it to growing our email subscribers and saw that number jump by thousands. Then we did it again for trial signups and grew trial signups from new content by more than 9,000%.

Follow this advice, and I guarantee you'll see better results.

How Will You Execute Content Projects?

Now, let's look at a process you can use to execute each individual piece of content you'll create. 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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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 the email 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.

From there, hit Goals.

Create a + New Goal.

Name your goal, choose Destination, then click Continue.

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 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.

Create a + 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.

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

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 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.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

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?"

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 a course we launched some time ago:

  • 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, Keywords Explorer by Ahrefs, 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.Primary keyword placement
  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.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

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.

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:

 

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):

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.

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:

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.

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 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.

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

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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