If you’re actually reading this, we think you already know what kinds of benefits a solid content marketing plan can bring to a business or brand, but it helps to remember: boosting your brand awareness? Building trust and credibility with your users? Reaching new audiences – and converting them into customers down the road? Or how about some good old spikes in numbers, such as rankings, backlinks, social followers… and conversions?
That’s what a content marketing plan can provide in terms of results. But a good content marketing strategy is about much more than that. It’s about connecting with your audience in the most effective way, providing them with useful information about your products and services, showing them how to tackle a specific problem – a problem they’re looking forward to getting resolved, and maybe your organization is the one that’s going to help them. By adding the special word “marketing” right after “content”, we add a commitment to this content. It acquires some specific goals: it’s meant to engage with the audience and to influence a specific reaction from them.
Sounds good enough?
OK, sounds great. But maybe a clear definition of what a content marketing strategy is would be even better?
Before even talking about what a content strategy is, we need to better define what content marketing is, just for the sake of a good reference – and maybe to refresh some already known concepts. Let’s start with a target audience, a specific group of people with whom you want to communicate. Now let’s think about producing and broadcasting content – any kind of relevant content – for that very audience. In order for this to work, the content in question needs to be valuable. That’s very important – because if it’s not, it won’t attract users, build trust with them, convert them into customers and bring those other nice benefits we discussed in our little introduction.
While content marketing strategies are mostly associated with the internet and recent times, the fact is that they’ve been around for a very long time. Think about content produced with the intention of promoting a business, broadcasting an idea or influencing a specific target audience, and I’m sure you can find many examples – even historical ones. You might even associate it with regular advertising, but ultimately content marketing goes in for the long haul – precisely because it offers more valuable and interesting content.
There’s something else important to cover – not only what a content marketing strategy is, but also what it needs in order to be really good. Let’s go over a few questions that might provide some valuable insights into that:
- Your brand:
- How do you define your brand’s personality?
- What makes your brand unique?
- Who are your competitors and what edge do you have over them?
- Who are your customers and why are they interested in your brand?
- Your value:
- What kind of useful information do you want to offer with your content?
- Will your content offer something new, or has it been done before?
- Your business goals:
- What are your short-term and long-term business goals?
- How is your content marketing strategy going to help in reaching said goals?
- Does your company have a written business case?
And last but not least, some questions about the content marketing strategy itself – more on that later, of course – which will help to guide the entire process:
- Your content strategy:
- What kind of content will you create to best communicate your message?
- How will your content be distributed?
- How will you measure the effectiveness of your content?
- How will you adapt your content marketing strategy with regards to its results?
So, with all of that in mind (dramatic soundtrack starts playing), how to create a content marketing strategy that really speaks to your target audience, connects with them and positions your brand as a big source of credibility? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This is a content marketing guide, so let’s go over all the necessary steps to effectively create a content marketing plan:
Nine degrees of an awesome content marketing strategy
- First things first: a real content audit
- The target audience (yep, that one)
- Then there’s the goals
- The actual content plan (woohoo, it’s happening!)
- The content types
- The content channels
- The content budget
- The competition
- Some other planning tips
- The consistency: what is your message?
- The SEO part
- Some extra promotion tips
- The performance evaluation
- Every content marketing guide has its conclusion
1. Let's start at the beginning: what kind of content assets do you have at the moment?
Every good content marketing guide starts with a clear content audit. Why? Because unless you are totally starting from scratch – we’re going to guess it’s a “no” here – it’s very likely that your organization already has some content pieces in place. Some of them might even be super interesting and getting a lot of buzz. Still, it’s necessary to know where you are (in terms of content) to know where you’re going.
That’s the deal with a content audit. You’re going to determine:
1) what kind of content you already have in place
2) how well (or not) this content is performing
3) what gaps you can cover or how you can improve this current content
4) which new directions your content marketing plan can explore
Regardless of how you conduct this step, you’ll have to catalog your content assets in a clear way and get some data about them in order to be able to make decisions. That’s the minimum. Luckily, there are many tools available today that can help you with that.
2. Even if you're a Jedi and using mind tricks, you still need an audience for them to work
It’s not possible to learn how to create a content marketing strategy without a target audience in mind. I guess you already knew that, but it’s good to remember. For any decent content marketing plan to work, you need an audience, right?
Maybe you’re already familiar with the very interesting concept in content marketing called the “buyer persona” – kind of an entity with the most important characteristics concerning your target audience. If you aren’t yet familiar with it, we recommend that you study it and create one for your brand. There are different approaches to this, but let’s focus on this one: all relevant information that concerns the people who interact with your brand should be included. Demographic information, job, overall interests, motivations, goals – and, of course, what kind of solution they expect from your organization, i.e. how are you going to help them solve their problem?
And again, we’re going to bring up the buyer’s journey here because it’s important. Your content marketing strategy shouldn’t just apply to a specific target audience/buyer persona, but it should also consider the different stages of said audience within the buyer’s journey itself. Here are some examples:
- Awareness: content directed at audience members who are not yet familiar with your brand, but are experiencing a particular problem. This kind of content will get them to notice your brand.
- Consideration: content directed at users who are already actively looking for a solution to their problem. This kind of content will ideally make them interested in your brand.
- Decision: content made to help users decide that your solution to their problem is the best one. In other words, the user probably already knows of a few different options/products/services, but is yet to decide which one is the best fit.
- Loyalty: content targeted at users who are already familiar with your brand, and – how about this – love it. This kind of user might even recommend you to their own contacts.
So, as you can see, it’s not enough to simply understand what a content marketing strategy is and how it is done. It’s crucial to know your target audience well and – most importantly – know which point of the buyer’s journey they’re at. This will allow your content marketing strategy to fully seize the opportunity to grab their attention and produce results.
And then there are the topics to consider. What exactly are you going to talk about? After planning your audience and your content marketing goals, you need to decide on which content topics you will cover. This is one of the most important parts of learning how to create a content marketing strategy – more on this later.
3. A content marketing guide without mentioning goals is like a bird without wings
(wow, what a snappy title and metaphor!)
Well, some birds don’t actually fly, but you get the picture. Let’s go back to the questions asked in our introduction: what are your organization’s short-term and long-term goals, and how will your content marketing strategy help to reach them? The “short-term vs. long-term” part is really important, in that you need to be able to associate your content with these objectives separately.
Let’s try to clarify this a bit: goals associated with your long-term business plans should be different to the ones expecting more immediate results (for operational scenarios, for example). That’s also going to help determine the timeline for these objectives and results: a quarter, a semester, a year or a couple of years. It might be a good idea to involve other areas of your enterprise in this step.
And, of course, for each content initiative you should establish specific targets – in the form of KPIs to be closely and regularly measured. We’ll get to that later. For now, it’s enough to understand that any content plan has to be aligned with your organization’s overall goals – and it needs objectives of its own.
4. OK, now things are starting to get serious.
We've got an actual content marketing plan going.
You’ve come up with a thorough content asset inventory, studied your target audience/potential customers in-depth, and reviewed every single goal you want to achieve with your content marketing strategy. Great job! Now it’s time to define your content plan – what are you going to create, how you’re going to create it, and how you will organize it overall.
The content types
As we’ve mentioned before, each piece of content needs to be related not only to your target audience, but also to the specific buyer’s journey stage where they find themselves. And as such, your entire content portfolio should be well diversified and cover all of your bases. Here are some examples of content types that should be correctly allocated according to your target audience and each stage of the buyer’s journey:
- Text-based content: blog posts, news articles, product categories/descriptions, email newsletters, web pages, research papers, white papers, case studies, interviews, tutorials.
- Video and audio-based content: video tutorials, live events, video conferences, podcasts.
- Graphics: photos, infographics, presentations, slides.
- Other formats: social media posts, branded content, online tests and quizzes, eBooks, manuals, templates, checklists, comparisons, “gated content” (which requires some sort of subscription), user-generated content (reviews, testimonials, comments, quotes, etc.).
Remember that some of these content types might be repurposed – meaning that they could be adapted into other content formats, or at least can give birth to other very interesting content pieces. Think about a case study or a white paper, for instance, which could lead to amazing blog posts or web pages. Or maybe an infographic that leads to great social media posts. Or tutorials that lead to great YouTube videos – and might become even more successful in this new form. The important thing here is how they effectively convey your message, and how they connect to your audience.
The content channels and distribution
Even if you have a huge budget for your content marketing plan at your disposal – congrats on that, by the way – it’s not infinite. Meaning: you need to prioritize the channels that will deliver your message to your audience in the best possible way. Let’s do a basic distinction here:
- Internal/owned channels: your company’s website, blog, social media profiles, videos, podcasts, webinars.
- Paid channels: search engine and social media ads, display ads – basically every form of paid advertising available.
- External channels: product reviews on other websites, external news articles, social media mentions from users and other companies, additional content about your brand.
Essentially, your owned channels are where you have full control of your content distribution. The paid channels also offer some degree of control, but a bit less. And the third – external channels – work as a result of your overall content strategy. Why are we mentioning this? Because it’s good to keep in mind that each of these segments may interact with and influence the others. It’s important to create a consistent experience for your brand’s perception over a multitude of different channels and venues. The message and the tone have to be aligned all over.
Let’s say, for instance, you have a strong visual content piece – such as a powerful infographic. Where is it going to be promoted? Maybe it makes sense to use a highly visual-oriented social media channel – like Instagram or Pinterest, right?
Sure, this is a content marketing guide, but the fact is that there’s no cookie-cutter approach to your content marketing distribution. A lot of factors can influence that, and it’s up to your organization to have them clearly defined. But it’s very important to know how each channel relates to your audience, to your message and – of course – to the others.
The content budget
Speaking of content budget, there are some very interesting things to consider before deciding where to invest your company’s money – and how:
- Agency: does it make sense to hire a digital marketing agency to create and execute your content strategy – and if not all of it, maybe a part of it?
- Personnel: if you’re not going to outsource your content marketing plan, will you be needing any additional team members to help?
- Paid advertising: are you planning on spending money on paid ads? If so, how much?
- Tools: do you need to acquire new tools/software/equipment to better plan, produce and organize your content strategy? More on this below.
Again, all of this will greatly depend on each project and its goals. But it’s critical to consider these things before committing to a budget decision.
Don’t forget to take a very close look at what your competition is doing. This can give you very important insights about what to do – and what not to do – with your content marketing plan. This includes the content types used, the channels it’s distributed on, its formats and even broadcasting times.
Understand: you’re not supposed to do what your competitors are doing. The only thing that can make your content marketing strategy unique is that it’s your own. Let’s get a bit motivational here: you are your best asset. Don’t try to imitate something that’s already been done, but use what has been done as a reference to create something fresh and truly unique.
That principle has been valid for some of the best artwork created in the history of mankind – and it’s also valid for your content marketing strategy, sure. Why not? But yes, definitely check examples, references, successful cases – especially from your competitors. This is going to give you an accurate frame of reference to know what fits you best.
Some other planning tips
Getting a content marketing plan ready isn’t easy, and any help you can get is welcome, right? So consider using tools to help you plan and distribute your content. Preferably the ones that offer an organizational bird’s-eye view over all your tasks and projects and have the very important feature of a calendar. This is going to help immensely when planning content posting times, observing critical deadlines, assigning tasks to stakeholders and so on.
There are a lot of tools available to that end. Most of them are defined as “project management tools” – which is really what you need in your content planning, right? We’re thinking Trello, Asana, Monday – and even tools that are known for other purposes but can help with that as well (such as SEMrush, for instance). Try them out, see which one works best for you, and go for it!
5. Honestly, what is a good content marketing strategy...
other than the same message spread across many different venues?
Don’t you agree? Regardless of how many mediums you use, how many points you want to make and how pluralized your content mix is, one thing needs to remain the same, always: the consistency of your message. If you decide to make something that’s rather different every time you change the medium, you might get very disappointing results in the end.
Every piece of content you create – regardless of whether it’s a simple social media post, a YouTube video or an eBook – should relate to your brand’s vision and its long-term goals. Even if the content piece has immediate, short-term objectives, the personality of your brand (one of the first things we mentioned here) should guide your entire content production.
Here it’s also good to consider things like your unique selling proposition, your competitive edge against other similar companies, how you will solve your customer’s problems, and so on. And let’s not forget – be upfront. This is highly valued by audiences all over – nobody likes to be tricked, right?
6. SEO will be SEO: a rather big piece of your content strategy
You didn’t think we would create a content marketing guide without mentioning the critical importance of SEO, right?
Every kind of text-based content that you’re planning to create needs to have a clear, solid SEO strategy behind it. It’s that simple. Otherwise, there’s no point in carefully studying how to create a content marketing strategy – this is going to allow a huge part of your content to actually be visible to its intended audiences.
We have an incredible article specifically about that right here. But let’s go over some basic items your content should feature in order for it to stand out – to users and search engines too:
- Keyword research: conduct careful and in-depth keyword research to identify the best search queries related to your content – and also as a way of providing ideas for topics.
- Technical SEO: identify – and fix – any crawling or indexing issues with your web page before publishing your content online.
- On-page SEO: URLs, titles, internal links, keyword density, headers – all these items should be reflecting your primary and secondary keywords.
- Off-page SEO: do some outreach and promote your content to get backlinks (more on this later). Also, keep a close eye on your backlinks – are they coming from quality websites or not?
Remember, content that has organic visibility is part of every successful content marketing strategy. Make sure your SEO is done well to achieve that.
7. Are you going to promote that nice content marketing of yours?
To be honest, promoting your content in different ways is what we’re talking about in every step of this article. But it’s still important to recap and dedicate a special mention to this topic. Why? Because without active promotion, your content marketing strategy won’t go very far. So, plan ahead and consider this before making decisions on your content plan:
- Cross-promotion of content: reiterating our point made earlier regarding content distribution: use your many different content channels to promote content from one medium to the other. Each content piece can be a great vehicle for promoting another – especially if we consider your social media platforms, your videos and your email newsletters, for example.
- Paid advertising: if you’re already thinking about using paid ads as part of your overall content marketing strategy, then it’s a good idea to consider expanding this. It can be an excellent tool to further promote and broadcast all of your content pieces.
- Outreach: doing active outreach to promote digital content is something fairly common in the online marketing world, with a special mention to SEO as a way of obtaining backlinks. This might also be a good option within a well-structured content marketing strategy. Pay special attention to organizations and professionals that are aligned with your brand’s message, your content marketing goals and – of course – the content piece that you’re trying to promote in each case.
- Agencies: as with the other steps in this awesome content marketing guide, digital marketing agencies or PR firms are always an interesting choice to boost and scale up the promotion of your content. But, as we mentioned earlier, this is only an option if it fits in your budget.
8. But does it really work?
Remember, it's not a good content marketing strategy if it's not checked for performance.
You saw this one coming, didn’t you? Well, it’s hard to escape it. In order to truly assess whether your content marketing plan is working or not, you need to look at some numbers. Even if they look great on the surface, they might still tell different stories when looked at more closely. And, as always, if it’s not working, the best way to go about it is to propose changes.
But how to really measure the performance of an entire content plan? The way we see it, either you’re going to report these numbers to a client or you’re going to need to examine them closely for your own organization. And, depending on the results, some decisions might be made. In any case, there are going to be lots of items to consider, so let’s go over the most important ones:
- User behavior: sessions, page views, average time on page, bounce rate, pages per session, traffic sources, newsletter subscriptions, etc. These metrics will apply mainly to content published within your websites and subdomains. You can check these metrics (or their equivalents) in your web analytics platform of preference.
- Engagement: likes, shares, posts of your content, number of followers, comments, etc. These will apply mainly to social media channels – either the ones belonging to your company or profiles of other people/pages that interact with your content somehow. There are many tools and platforms – sometimes called “social media trackers” – available to check these metrics.
- Organic/SEO: organic sessions, organic landing sessions, impressions, CTR (click-through rate), rankings, backlinks, referring domains, keywords ranked, page/domain authority, etc. These metrics could be related to user behavior (especially when it comes to traffic), but they deserve a special note – just because SEO is super important overall. Check them in your web analytics platform or tool of choice.
- Revenue: conversion rates, leads, ROI (return on investment). These ones are obviously very important, since they will provide the best snapshot of how well (or not) your content marketing campaign is doing. Provided that your main objectives are revenue-related, of course. You can check and evaluate these metrics (again) in your web analytics platform.
This is valid for every single metric you analyze: it needs to be evaluated against the backdrop of your original goals. We all like to see upward graphic trends, high rankings and big revenue spikes. But a good content marketing strategy is one that follows through on the goals it established in the first place – and that is why measuring (and reporting) is so important.
9. Give me a content marketing plan that’s good enough – and an audience to engage with it – and I shall move the world (pretty nice title for a conclusion, right?)
Now we come to the part where we recap some of the benefits that a great content marketing strategy can bring to any project. Powerful brand awareness. Skyrocketing conversions. Solid authority for your company in your field of expertise. Shining leads.
That all sounds great, but by now you’ve realized that creating a successful content marketing strategy from zero can be an incredibly challenging task. In order to do it well, you need to have a lot of data and details on many different topics – not to mention a clear concept of what your brand is about and what message you want to communicate to your users. Something that many companies still haven’t figured out, by the way.
But hey, don’t let any of this discourage you. Working on a solid content plan, being able to engage with your audience, providing them with useful content and then seeing the potential results of your work – that’s the kind of fulfillment that content marketing can provide. Not only in terms of actual results, but in your own experience as a professional. Sounds interesting to you? Then go ahead and get your content marketing strategy going. It will be worth it!