Does your content strategy need direction? Get the ball rolling with a content marketing plan.
Here, you’ll find:
- What a content marketing plan is
- How strategy informs your content marketing plan
- SaaS tools to keep brands competitive and efficient
- Content marketing templates for all your content creation and marketing tasks
Do you ever feel like content ideas, tasks, and strategies are seeping from your ears? Let’s put it this way: if content creation takes 33 hours per week, how do you fit in the research, strategy, performance measuring, and collaboration that keeps your content operations flowing?
You know your industry and target audience, but content marketing can feel like this untamable, never ending endeavor that stresses out even the most competent professionals.
You have editorial calendars to maintain, social media posts to brainstorm, influencer interviews, industry and competitor research, and back-to-back meetings with the rest of your team to share traffic specs from this last quarter.
And once you get home? You’re thinking about your biggest competitor’s latest campaign and how they executed it so perfectly.
How do we know this? Because most of our clients have the same story until we step in with expert knowledge, proven strategies, and brand-specific data insights to steer the boat to more revenue.
Your first order of business might be to take a vacation — you deserve it.
But if you’re saving that for the summertime, you need a content marketing plan to execute your strategy with finesse and confidence in the interim.
Today, planning means creating tactical templates and checklists to execute your content marketing strategy into an organized, informed content-churning machine that your audience will eat up.
We chatted with one of our talented content marketers, Josie Rojewski, for her tips on executing a solid content marketing plan.
Let’s dive in, but first:
What is a content marketing plan & why do you need one?
A content marketing plan is an organized play-by-play for your content strategy. It’s how you move every dollar, social media content idea, industry trend, and audience knowledge into logical workflows to meet your business goals.
We’re often asked if a content marketing plan is the same as a strategy. While the two feel similar, their purposes are different.
Your content strategy is the why — and your content marketing plan is the how.
“I always think of a plan as something more tactile, and a strategy as something more holistic,” says Rojewski.
A content strategy leverages your brand’s strengths, audience insights, and competitor analysis to dictate how you’ll use content to meet your business goals and appeal to your audience.
But your content marketing plan puts that strategy into action. Without it, you’ll risk creating redundant content and getting undesirable results.
“Having a clear goal to aim for/purpose behind the content you put out goes a long way toward driving long-term success,” says Rojewski.
For example, your content strategy could include appealing to a LinkedIn-active audience with professional infographics about your niche, serving them digestible industry info while building brand awareness.
- But how do you know your audience is on LinkedIn?
- How do you know where to post your content?
- Who’s posting it, and when?
- What’ll it cost you?
That’s where your content marketing plan comes in.
7 key elements of a content marketing plan
A thorough content marketing plan will include several templates and charts for different content tasks, from audience research and software automation to topic ideation and beyond.
To streamline the process, we’ve created comprehensive templates for you to apply to your content marketing plan to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
To kick things into high gear, let’s take a deep dive into your target audience.
1. Audience research
You can’t create content without knowing who you’re creating it for. And we don’t mean you need to know each customer by name, though personalization helps. Engaging, effective content is tailored to your target audience — taking their demographics, interests, and the specific problems your brand’s solving into account.
Your content marketing plan should include sources and methods for collecting audience data. Once you have it? You can create buyer personas to help your marketing team understand your audience more.
Here’s a great example from HubSpot:
This example just scratches the surface. Some brands build detailed buyer personas with political leanings, family relationship information, household income, and hobbies — all in the name of compelling content.
Buyer personas tell you who to write for, but how do you create them or update existing ones?
You have a few options.
You could engage with them on social media platforms and look closely at what they like, comment on, and share within their networks. Or, you could launch an email survey and offer incentives (like product discounts) for sharing feedback and information.
When it comes to understanding your audience’s pain points, keyword research is hard to beat. Understanding exactly what your readers plug into search engines helps you create content that truly addresses their needs.
So, how do you keep all this data organized? Here’s a template for keeping your buyer personas up to date.
Keep your buyer personas current by setting a schedule for regular updates. Consider creating new tables with each round of research or noting update dates directly within the persona boxes.
2. Content ideation
Now that you know who your audience is, how do you generate topic ideas for your content?
“The two big questions to answer here are where are people searching for this [content] (Google, Instagram, TikTok, etc.) and how are they searching for it (e.g. short-tail vs. long-tail keywords).
Your strategy might tell you which keywords you’d like to rank for — but how do you find those keywords and translate them into content ideas?
Think of this component of your content marketing plan like a research schedule. You’ll decide on the sources of your content ideas and populate your template with the topic, source, accompanying keywords, and regular schedule.
For instance, an ideation template for a sustainable fashion ecommerce site might look something like this:
3. Content outlines & creation
Before we dive into content creation, you’ll need some outlines to guide the writing process. Use the ideas in your ideation table to create content outlines for every channel you’re using. You could organize them into a template like the one below to streamline the ideation journey and manage proposed content ideas:
Have a few content outlines lined up? You’re all set to plan out content creation. As you get to work, remember to honor your brand voice, create branded images and infographics, write engaging copy, and adhere to your style guides. These are important elements of your content strategy that will ensure your content hits the mark for your target audience.
Now think about everything it takes to bring your approved outline to publication. Those details will inform your template.
Remember, hitting “publish” is only the beginning. Google’s crawlers look for relevant, updated content — which means 2020 isn’t the best “last reviewed” date. Still, it’s easy to get lost in all your new content initiatives and forget your published pieces. That’s why we added a “last updated” column to help you catch any old pieces that need some TLC.
Whenever you notice an older piece of content, carve out time for a content audit. Content audits help you catch outdated stats or info, and improve thin ideas, duplicate content, or poor search engine optimization.
4. Budget & labor
Content marketing takes up a pretty big chunk of your overall marketing budget.
WebFX found that the average small to medium business spends a minimum of $2,000 on marketing per month. Some even spend as much as $10,000+. Of course, if those dollars translate to conversions and revenue, it’s a wise investment.
But that doesn’t mean you want to throw around hard-earned marketing dollars haphazardly. Your budget is vital in your content marketing plan because it helps you calculate ROI and other key metrics.
So, how can you make the most of your marketing budget?
Here’s a sample budget template with a mix of in-house and outsourced support:
Our advice? Review your budget quarterly and note any cost increases. Then, assess those categories and expenses based on ROI. Are those expenses worth it? Your budget keeps you on track and helps you eliminate ineffective spending.
Want to make the most out of your content marketing budget?
Avoid these common budgeting pitfalls:
- Focusing only on attracting new customers: Appealing to existing customers offers more ROI. Of course, expanding brand awareness is important. But so is catering to readers who are further along in the buyer’s journey.
- Switching talent too often: The Content Marketing Institute found that the average salary for content marketers is about $82,000. But turnover is even more expensive. Keep in mind that training a writer to master your style guide and target audience takes time. Neglecting employee retention leads to additional expenses that can eat away at your budget.
- Creating and publishing content without content marketing goals: Every piece of content should align with one or more business goals. Otherwise, you risk wasting resources on content creation that doesn’t contribute to your overall strategy or deliver ROI.
- Creating budgets at the last minute: We recommend working with a dedicated financial strategist to create your budget. Rushing through or creating one without financial expertise could cause you to overlook exorbitant service pricing, market demand trends, and business goals.
Notice any SaaS tools on the budget template? Most content teams have one or more to boost performance and metrics. But most importantly, to stay ahead of competitors.
Even with decades of combined SEO and advertising experience, our team knows the value of technology to help optimize our process and, ultimately, our clients’ ROI.
Take our proprietary tech, ConversionIQ, for example. Sure, our marketing team is perfectly capable of collecting and analyzing thousands of customer behavior and conversion data points.
But we know their time is better spent interpreting and communicating that data to our clients and acting as a strategist for what comes next.
That’s why we harness ConversionIQ to analyze high- and low-performing keywords, content, and conversions at every step of the marketing funnel. It speeds up our process and therefore, your results.
Bottom line? Content automation tools help you reach your goals faster.
Here are some examples on our roster:
- Social media scheduling: Hubspot, Meta Business
- Quality control: Grammarly
- Workflow automation: Zapier
- Audience insights: Callrail, Hotjar
- Competitive analysis: Spyfu
- Performance metrics: ConversionIQ
- Keyword research: Semrush, Ahrefs
- Content management system: WordPress, Asana
“Both [Wordpress or Drupal]…are fairly intuitive and have lots of how-to guides available for newbies,” says Rojewski. “I really like both Meta Business and Hubspot for social content, as you can schedule out posts on multiple platforms and visualize your content calendar really easily.”
Of course, SaaS marketing tools might become more or less useful as your strategy evolves. That’s why you should keep track of its pricing, number of users, and reasons for including it in your content strategy.
To help you keep track, you could use a template like this one:
6. Calendar & content distribution
Content creation gets your brand’s value and authority in front of your audience.
But how do you stay on their radar?
Short answer: consistency. This is where your content calendar comes in.
Let’s say you plan a few social outings, professional meetings, or client outreach events in your Google calendar.
You’d probably label each category by color and schedule each meeting on a specific date. Similarly, content calendars display every type of content (perhaps color-coded), the specific post topic, channel, and publishing date.
- Monday and Wednesday mornings are for posting Instagram Stories.
- On Tuesdays you interview industry experts for your podcasts.
- Friday is your weekly blog post and accompanying email newsletter.
You get the gist.
But the best content calendars go beyond outlining content types and publishing dates. They also include links, mentions, and other results stemming from the posting.
Following a content calendar fosters consistent messaging and conversation with your audience, while providing structure and cohesion for your marketing employees and contractors.
But how far in advance should you plan your calendar? It depends. For SEO, you need to plan months ahead so you have adequate time to track results. For social content, a two- to four-week calendar may be sufficient.
“Timelines change all the time,” says Rojewski. “I always like to have a clear live date in mind to help flesh out timelines and plan out when each piece should be written.”
The oeuvre of your content marketing plan comes next…
7. Key performance indicators (KPIs)
What are the business goals behind your content? You might strive for:
- Brand authority
- Audience engagement
- Landing page conversions
- Lead generation
But how do you know you’re meeting those goals? KPIs give you data you can visualize and link to overall business goals. For example, say you want to build brand authority and awareness.
You might examine your progress with these KPIs:
- Blog post shares: Your readers might share your blog content if they trust your opinion, data, and authority.
- Social media shares and comments: Positive social media interaction creates buzz around your brand.
- Backlinks: If other people are quoting you and linking to your content, that’s a powerful indicator of brand authority.
Here’s a template you can use to track KPIs for different business goals:
Content marketing checklist
We’ve covered a lot of ground. While we recommend using each of the templates for different content marketing goals, you might crave a more comprehensive checklist for easy reference. After completing your marketing plan, use the checklist below to make sure you covered all your bases.
▢ Customer surveys
▢ Social media activity
▢ Product reviews
▢ Competitor product reviews
▢ Customer service interactions
▢ Support chats
▢ Recorded conversations
▢ Interviews with brick-and-mortar staff
▢ Keyword research
▢ Search queries
▢ Competitor keywords
▢ Purchase history
▢ Average order value
▢ Purchase categories
▢ Social media activity and comments
▢ Competitor content topics
▢ Industry trends
▢ Repurpose potential
▢ Company innovation
▢ Formats (blogs, white papers, case studies, social media content, etc.)
▢ Style guide
▢ Content audit
▢ Regular updates and reviews
▢ Search engine optimization
Budget & labor
▢ Previous years’ budget data
▢ In-house labor
▢ Contractor labor
▢ SaaS tools
▢ Web hosting
▢ Office expenses
▢ Quality control
▢ Workflow automation
▢ Audience research and behavior
▢ Competitive analysis
▢ Performance metrics
▢ Keyword research
▢ Content management system
Specs for each tool:
▢ Number of users
▢ Pricing (per user and total)
▢ Value to content goals
▢ Tool audit every year
Calendar dates for:
▢ Blog posts
▢ Instagram posts
▢ Instagram stories, Reels, etc.
▢ LinkedIn Posts
▢ Email marketing communications
▢ Blog post views
▢ Social media shares
▢ Conversion rate
▢ Engagement rate
You’d be surprised how much peace of mind a simple checklist can bring when you’re feeling overwhelmed with endless content ideas and budgeting tasks.
Content marketing can feel like chaos, but well-structured content marketing plan templates provide clear direction and data to help streamline your approach.
Bottom line: Your life is easier with content planning templates, so why not use them for every content task on your list?
Still need some direction in getting everything laid out? We’re here to help you launch a content marketing plan that keeps your content consistent, engaging, fresh, and competitive — let’s connect.