It’s not enough to just create a one-off piece of great content for your different PR and Marketing channels – you need an ongoing content plan.
A content plan ensures you engage your target audience and keep them coming back for more.
It focuses on what’s important, strips away whatever is unnecessary, and laser-locks you on what you want to achieve.
Plus, a content plan will also keep you motivated during those times when it could seem much easier to give up.
This short guide will tell you everything you need to know to build a fool-proof and highly effective content plan.
So, let’s get started!
What is a content plan?
A content plan supports your marketing activity. It targets your potential customers at all stages of their journey by focusing on their wants and needs.
It also guides you on how to connect with them in a way that drives traffic and sales.
If you’ve created your content well, it will continue to generate interest for a long time after its posted.
That kind of content is called ‘evergreen’ and it is key to your business’s success as it keeps working for you for years afterwards.
Your content plan should comprise all your marketing assets and data-gathering functions. It should factor in everything from SEO research and engagement tracking to blogging and white paper writing.
An efficiently designed content plan shapes the content you want to create; not just its purpose, and the impact you want it to make, but by identifying who will be responsible for creating it.
A content plan gives your prospective customers awareness of who you are, educates them in what you do, engages their interest, and converts them into buyers or adopters.
Ideally, it will also help your business generate leads by creating content that your audience will want to tell their own followers about.
But, for all that to happen, your content plan must be smart, innovative, and in line with your business goals.
It also must be flexible, so that you can easily scale your activity up as you reach your targets and as your content marketing budget increases.
Why do you need a content plan?
A content plan is an essential part of every successful marketing campaign.
Companies who have a content plan are much more likely to produce effective, sales-winning content than those who don’t.
Research has also shown that of 89% of B2B marketers and 86% of B2C marketers use content marketing, only 37% of B2B marketers and 40% of B2C marketers have a content plan and a documented content strategy.
That means the majority of B2B and B2C marketers are simply producing content on a wing and a prayer, hoping that it reaches its intended target.
When you’ve got a contact plan, you’ve got clarity and direction. You’re also much more likely to stay several steps ahead of your competition.
Are a content plan and a content strategy the same thing?
No, they’re not, although the two terms are often confused.
This is one of the biggest reasons why marketers who think creating a content strategy is enough are often left confused and disappointed when their content strategy fails.
There are five stages to the content production process:
- Content strategy
- Content plan
- Content production
- Content publishing
- Content distribution
Your content strategy should always come before your content plan because it lays the foundations for what your content plan will be.
However, as you can see, without the content plan, none of the final three stages can be effective.
Besides everything else, a content plan also provides checks and balances that the goals you’ve identified in your content strategy are actually viable.
If your content strategy is unfocused and wishy-washy, you’ll realise it as soon as you start putting the content plan together.
How else can a content plan support a content strategy?
A content plan makes the ‘wish list’ of your content strategy a reality.
For example, your content strategy may well include a list of keywords and long-tail keyword phrases that your SEO experts have told you to use in your digital PR.
The problem is, you can’t just throw keywords out there without any rhyme or reason.
Not only are search engines on the lookout for that kind of scattergun approach and will penalise you for it, but your audience also don’t want to read a shopping list of words with no meaning or message behind them.
They’ll simply turn off and go to your competitor’s site instead.
So, your content plan will show you how to use those keywords and long-tail phrases intelligently, to maximise their effectiveness in your marketing.
It will also force you to dig deeper and supercharge each piece of SEO content you create.
It will prompt you to ask yourself important questions before you even begin creating the content such as:
- What do people want to know about your product or service?
- What are their concerns and pain points?
- How will the content you produce answer those questions and convince them that investing in your product or service will make their lives easier?
It’s not just the keywords that your content plan will optimise, it’s the content too.
Also, as your content strategy evolves and your content plan evolves with it, it will help you stay on top of shifts and trends in content marketing and audience engagement methods.
That means you’ll always be flexible enough to modify your approach and change or add to the keywords you use.
This is another useful way to keep refreshing your content so that it stays evergreen and is always in line with your business goals.
How to write a content plan
Every company’s content plan will be different, but all will have commonalities.
Begin by asking yourself these questions:
- What’s your goal?
- What do you want your content plan to achieve?
- Do you want to build brand awareness?
- Which keywords should you use so that people using search engines will find you?
- Do you want your content to convert your audience’s interest into sales?
Content Plans for Brand Awareness
Content planning to increase brand awareness is a common business goal. Brand awareness means showing potential customers that your entire brand exists, not just one particular product.
Your plan should demonstrate the qualities that set your brand apart by:
- Educating your audience about your brand and products
- Highlighting what your company stands for, and what your values are
- Providing information that establishes you as a thought leader in your field and a voice your audience can trust
- Showing the products you produce can solve your customer’s problems
Social media is a great vehicle for building brand awareness.
Using Keywords / SEO content
Increasing the number of keywords, you use can push you up the rankings on Google and other search engines, making it easier for people who don’t know about you to find you.
However, you can’t just blitz the web with random keywords.
You have to incorporate those keywords into content that directly targets your audience and shows up when they enter a particular search term.
The aim of keyword directed SEO content is to:
- Target the keywords you know your audience will be searching for (which you’ll already have identified via keyword research)
- Match the keyword to the intent of the person searching for it
- Ensure that the content you publish reflects the keyword’s meaning, and provides the searcher with useful information that will prompt them to find out more about what you do
- Show you can solve the searcher’s problem and/or provide them with the knowledge they’re looking for
Using your content plan to convert your audience’s interest into sales
In other words, you want the content you produce to convince your visitors and followers that your product is worth buying and convert them into customers.
To do that, your content plan should highlight what differentiates your business and product from other brands, and why your product is better than your competitors’.
Conversion content needs to be:
No nonsense and no fluff content plans
From the opening paragraph, you must plant the seeds of what you want your reader to do; buy your product.
Don’t overwrite. Use visuals and power words and concentrate on the value of what your product does and the awesome results it will deliver for the customer.
Full of Call to Actions (CTAs)
A Call to Action is the ‘do this now / click here now / contact us now’ part of your content.
You should include at least three or four CTAs if possible, arranged throughout the content in a way that’s organic and doesn’t feel like an off-putting hard sell (even though it is!).
At the very least, there must be a clear CTA in the last paragraph of the content so the reader knows what to do next and will be encouraged to click the ‘Purchase’ button.
It doesn’t matter if you are posting content on your website, creating SEO optimised blogs, or sharing your article LinkedIn the principle is the same.
Connect to your target audience with your content plan
Who do you want to engage with? What’s your audience’s personality?
Gather as much data on your target audience as you can. The more you know about them, the more successful your content plan will be. Use tools like web analytics (like Google Analytics) and market research.
Different audiences respond to different kinds of content. When you know who your audience is, you’ll be better placed to give them the content they need.
What problem will your content solve?
Do you know your customer’s pain points? What do they want to know?
How will the content/product you’re providing solve those pain points, give them the information they need, and/or make their lives easier and more productive?
What sets you apart from your competition?
Your content plan must highlight your Unique Selling Point (USP) because that’s what will convince your audience to engage with you instead of moving on to your competitor.
Your content plan needs to be clear on why your brand and solutions are the best.
What formats will your content use?
Different platforms and social media channels require different types of content. They also have different rules for the kind of content they’ll allow.
When you’ve identified your target audience, you’ll have a much better idea of the kind of content they’re looking for and the format they want that content to take.
Not every type of content will work on all platforms, so you’ll have to modify it accordingly. Also, not every platform will be suitable for the message you want to convey.
Look at what your competitors are doing to see what works for them.
Is social media getting them more engagement than blog posts?
Are videos working better for them than emails?
Your content plan should include every format you want to use; preferably, that will be a combination of plain social media, blogs, case studies, infographics, videos, podcasts, etc. depending on your audience, your message, and platform.
How will you create and manage your content?
Your content plan needs to clarify three important factors:
- who in your organisation will be creating the content, or will you engage a third party to create the content for you?
Creating your content in-house gives you more control, and it’s easier to demonstrate your expertise when the people who actually do the job are the ones putting the words on the page!
But, having said that, finding the time to create in-house content when you or your colleagues can be tricky.
Also, if you work with a third-party content creator who knows what they’re doing, they can be a terrific asset.
The key to working with a third party is communication, so they’re clear on what you want to say and have all the information they need to convey your expertise.
They must also write in a voice that perfectly reflects and supports your message and your brand.
- where the content will be published
- when the content will be published (i.e., when will it go live?)
Incorporate a calendar in your content plan
It’s important to keep your brand message consistent and avoid repeating yourself, which is very hard to do without a content plan. Scheduling is key.
It’s also useful to have an arc to your content, especially when producing blogs, so the reader feels like you’re taking them on a journey and will keep coming back to find out more.
One of the best ways to do that is to calendarize the topics you’re going to write about so that:
a) you can see where each piece of content starts and ends, so the next piece of content picks up where the last one left off, and
b) you’re not always scrambling to think up new ideas, which means you won’t be tempted to desperately snatch at the first thought that comes into your head.
Calendarizing your content also gives you an overview of what you intend to write before you write it, so you can be sure your company’s message stays at the forefront of everything you produce.
A content plan will help you keep your content well-balanced and varied.
It will keep you in control of your workflow and budget and ensure you won’t miss your publishing deadlines.
It’s essential to be consistent because that’s the only way you’ll drive engagement and continue to build your audience.
Top tips for creating an awesome content plan
Look closely at your competitor’s websites and social media.
- What type of content (i.e., blogs, videos, infographics) is getting the most likes, links, and shares among their followers?
Don’t forget, their followers are probably your target audience too.
- What content do their followers respond best to? Is it the content that relates directly to the product or services your competitor offers or is it the more ‘freewheeling’ content that simply tries to engage them without being too on-the-nose?
- How often do your competitors publish their content?
- Could your competitor’s content give you a launchpad for your own ideas? Remember, there’s a big difference between using someone else’s content for inspiration and reworking what they’ve already written to pass it off as your own. Please don’t plagiarise other people’s work. Not only is it essential to create original content that’s in your own unique voice, but plagiarism is unethical and can potentially damage both your reputation and your bank account.
Stuck for content ideas?
You’ve hopefully got at least a few topics to start with.
Dig down into each of them and look for ways you can both expand and go deeper into the topic.
For example, if your first idea is ‘food processing automation’, you could broaden that out into ‘Innovations in food processing automation’ or narrow it down to a specific type of food processing machine and its advantages.
By both opening up and narrowing down each topic, you’ll quickly start spinning off lots of new ideas.
Here’s a few things to think about if you’re stuck for ideas:
1. Go back to basics
- What are the questions your customers regularly ask you?
- Is there anything unique about your brand and product?
- Think about your business’s history, anything of interest?
- What’s happening in your sector that everyone’s talking about?
- Are reporters, news editors or the media interested in your sector right now?
2. Use a Keyword Explorer or Topic Generator to brainstorm blog ideas
There are plenty of keyword explorers available online, and all you’ve got to do is enter a keyword and be inspired by what the engine throws back at you!
3. Interview someone in your sector
Ask them how the industry has changed since they started in it, find out what their favourite tools and motivators are, give your audience a unique insight into how that person ticks.
4. Rework your existing content into a different format
Turn your old blog post into a more in-depth article.
Lift ideas from another blog post and turn them into an infographic.
Take a listicle, select the best bullet points, and transform each of them into a long-form piece.
5. Poll your audience
Ask them what they’d like to know and then deliver it.
You can also ask the people in your network to have their say on hot topics of the moment.
6. Have your readers commented on any of your previous blogs or posts?
Could you reply to their comment by creating a whole new piece of content, which will also demonstrate how open you are to engaging with your audience and receiving their feedback?
7. Share your opinions
People are naturally nosy, and we love to find out what others are thinking – sometimes, just so we can disagree with them!
Sharing your thoughts on an industry topic will reinforce your knowledge and expertise, invite feedback, and potentially start fresh conversations.
8. Compile your blogs into an ebook or white paper
Creators often use an ebook or white paper as a lead generator and sales funnel.
You can offer it as a free download on your website, for example, and build an email list from there.
How will you know if your content plan is working?
It’s important to build regular ‘measurements of success’ into your plan.
If you keep monitoring your content’s performance, you will know what’s working (so you can create more of it) and change your approach when something isn’t connecting with your audience.
Data tools like Google Analytics will give you metrics like how many followers are engaging with your social media, how many people are opening your emails, and the ‘bounce rate’ of the individual pages on your website.
It will also tell you what types of content are working best for you, and which aren’t.
It’s a good idea to undertake this monitoring every few weeks at the very least.
When you publish content that you want to make an immediate impact, you should start monitoring within a few hours of its release to check that it’s working.
If it isn’t being picked up the way you’d hoped, that gives you time to rework the content or try reformatting it for another platform.
Are you ready to start creating your first content plan today?
It may feel like you’ve got a lot of work ahead, but we promise it will be worth the effort. Soon you’ll have a sensational content plan that drives results.
Then everything else will fall into place!
The content you create will be of a much higher quality, increase audience engagement and accelerate lead generation.
Whatever your targets are, having a detailed, comprehensive content plan is the surest way to achieve them.
So, what are you waiting for? Start creating your content plan today!