Content marketing is hard.

And time consuming.

And expensive.

Notice the graph from TrackMaven based on their survey of over 13 million pieces of content published in 2013-2014. With the rise of social media and algorithm changes at Google, there’s been a content explosion. As more content gets published, engagement per post declines.

So, how do you ensure your content bubbles through the vast amount of content created every day?

A solid content marketing plan.

How to create a successful content marketing plan

This infographic from Website Designs is a good starting point in creating a successful content marketing plan. Let’s take a look at their advice and I’ll add my own take on a successful content marketing plan as well as what some other great folks say about a content marketing plan.

1. Start with goals

As with anything else you do related to marketing, you need to start with goals — preferably SMART goals that track to your overall market performance. For a B2B company that might involve developing leads, for a B2C company goals might include sales.

content marketing planIt’s OK to have multiple goals. In fact, you should have goals that direct readers down the conversion funnel — from awareness to conversion.

Create content related to each stage of the customer journey to ensure effective movement down the conversion funnel.

While we’re talking about goal setting, let’s also talk about other aspects of strategy.

Sure, you don’t need a 60 page tome detailing a strategy that’ll be obsolete before it comes off the printer. But you do need a few things to coordinate your content marketing and keep everyone on track.

Note, I borrowed heavily from a post on Hubspot for this list.

  1. Use a tool like Keyword Tool (found as part of Google Adwords) to find a list of appropriate keywords to guide your content creation
  2. Develop a style guide containing your brand colors, brand images like your logo, and other stylistic elements to give your content a polished look. Think about:
    1. Capitalization
    2. How to include quotes and links to other sources
    3. Proper use of headings and subheadings
    4. Minimum and maximum post length for various post types — ie. Facebook, Twitter, blog
    5. Preferred layout — images per post, image sizes (many of these are set by the social platform), length of paragraphs. Remember you want your content to be scannable.
    6. Punctuation
  3. Templates for ebooks, powerpoint presentations, and various types of posts.

The AP Style Guide is a good starting point, but online publishing is different from print journalism so don’t feel you have to follow everything in the AP Guide.

2. Audit existing content and determine where the holes are

For instance, maybe you need an ebook, infographic, or webinar to drive sign ups to your email list.

Maybe you need more visual content — your content marketing plan should include a wide range of different content types, not just written words.

Determine which content can be re-purposed:

  • Cut an ebook up into individual posts
  • Combine individual posts into an ebook
  • Expand on an existing topic
  • Update an existing post with fresh content
  • Turn a blog post into an infographic or short video

3. Develop your baselines

Record the current size and engagement in your community. This gives you something to compare with when gauging the success of your content marketing.

You might also want to do some benchmarking. Who are the leaders in your industry? Who are leaders for specific tasks? How are they performing?

This challenges you to meet their performance standards. As part of goal setting, develop concrete metrics based on your benchmark competitors.

For instance, a concrete company benchmarked its on-time delivery against Dominos, when Dominos offered their 30 minute guarantee. Every month the concrete company beat the local Dominos, Dominos employees bought his staff pizza and when they lost, they bought Dominos employees pizza.

4. Target customers

We call this segmentation. Splitting off the customers most likely to need/ want your product and targeting communications toward this segment.

The modern usage of target marketing is via personas. Personas are richer than old segmentation variables that tended to be demographic (age, gender, income) or geographic (location). Personas look more like individuals representing different types of consumers and include psychographics (attitudes, values, lifestyles) and usage occasions (gifts, emergency).

Here’s a great post from Buffer on creating personas.

5. The sales funnel

I talked a little about the conversion (sales) funnel earlier. You want to create content for each phase in the conversion funnel

digital analyticsImage courtesy of Occam’s Razor

You also have Kaushik’s See, Think, Do concept that highlights metrics for each stage in the customer journey, but you can use it equally well to guide content creation and set goals for the content marketing campaign.

6. Understand your purpose

This is more nuanced that goal setting, which is an overarching activity related to your content marketing.

Instead, a purpose is the purpose of a particular piece of content. Maybe the purpose is to create awareness, in which case, you’ll likely focus on creating content that performs well in search (or even using some paid search or paid social media) to bring more prospects to your sites.

If your purpose is to be seen as an industry leader, rather than focusing on keywords, linking, and other SEO factors, you’ll focus on providing in-depth information.

7. Develop an editorial calendar

An editorial calendar is the lifeblood of your content marketing plan.

You calendar (often set up as an Excel spreadsheet) contains information to make your content sizzle. Here are things to include in your calendar:

  • Headline or several headlines if you plan to do A/B testing on them
  • Planned network for publishing
  • Editor
  • Writer
  • Due date to editing
  • Due date for publish
  • Possible links
  • Keyword or keyword phrase
  • Images
  • Publicize plan
  • Topic

An editorial calendar keeps you on schedule so content is published on a consistent basis and makes it easier to write the actual content.

I generally spend part of my day reading — actually a pretty significant amount of time. As I read, I gather resources for future posts into my editorial calendar. That way, when I sit down to write a post, I have most of the resources necessary at my fingertips.

Staring at a blank screen isn’t an effective way to develop content on a consistent basis.

It also helps to develop theme days. For instance, every Thursday I publish a recap of the week’s news on a particular topic related to digital marketing. This week’s recap will be on content marketing. So, come back on Thursday for more on this topic.

8. Develop content

Actually writing the content should be fairly fast and easy if you’ve done a good job on your editorial calendar.

Forget everything you learned about writing in college — that’s the advice from Hubspot.

Use short paragraphs and vary sentence length. Use vernacular and grammar doesn’t have to be perfect. Write more like we talk.

When I write, I’m actually talking to a prospect — a specific prospect — in my head and writing down what I say. That makes my writing more energetic and consumable. I also strongly advise using active voice – it makes readers feel more engaged with the content.

Also, don’t publish without proofreading, but recognize every post won’t be perfect. Remember, a post published is better than a post that’s perfect.

You can go back an edit later if you discover a mistake.

9. Promote your content

optimize social media sharingWriting is less than half the battle. You need to promote content to get it read. My traffic more than doubled when I started using my own version of this publication schedule from Buffer.

Promotion also means building your social networks and sharing content created by others — tit for tat.

10. Measure

Use Kaushik’s metrics plan — from above — or set up a dashboard using metrics from Google Analytics, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Monitor performance across the platforms, especially as they apply to your goals. Track trends over time as well as individual point metrics.

11. Optimize

I’ve been doing this a long time. Still, I can’t predict what will work for each individual client. I can, however, measure and adjust what I’m doing to ensure each client’s content marketing is optimized for their particular personas.

I then create more of the content that’s working and less of the content that isn’t.

I also pay close attention to trends over time. I should see a general upward curve to most metrics over time.

12. Rinse, repeat

These simple words doubled the amount of shampoo company’s sold.

But, it’s good advance for any digital marketer trying to create the optimal content marketing plan.

Everything changes.

Personas change.

The Google algorithm changes.

Facebook changes.

You must constantly measure and adapt your content marketing to meet the requirements for success today — not yesterday.