Creating Your First Content Plan
Your content plan is the culmination of all your planning. It is where your keyword research, landing pages, CTAs, personas, and SEO come together. The purpose of your plan is to give you a guideline to what kind of content you should publish. The key to an inbound marketing strategy is providing content to attract potential leads, offer good stuff, and nurture them along the path to becoming delighted customers.
The first place to start is with your keyword research. You should already have a big list of keywords relevant to your business and offers. Go through this list and use the tool you like the most (we love Hubspot) and get the keyword difficulty and average monthly searches for each. Initially, we want to build two lists, a list of keyword ranking opportunities and a list of the most searched terms.
The first list is your keyword ranking opportunities. Find the keywords with a decent amount of monthly searches. Depending on how niche your business or product is, it could be 20 or 200. For Growth Labs, we look at any above 10, since the SEO and inbound field is very competitive, we want to hit the niche markets within it. Using Hubspot, or your tool of choice, rank the keywords by difficulty, starting from lowest to highest. Then go down the list and collect all the keywords, both short and long tail, that fit your criteria for monthly searches as well as having a difficulty of about 55/60 and under. The point of this is to see if there are any keywords that are searched for on a regular basis but also are not too difficult to rank for. Generally, if the difficulty is 60 or less, you can work hard at ranking for them. Anything above that is going to take a long time.
After this process, you should have a short list of keywords that are both searched for and not difficult to get ranked in the top ten of search engine results pages (SERPs). These keywords should heavily influence your content strategy.
The second list of keywords are a collection of the top ten or so most searched keywords in your list. These will almost always be the short tail keywords. To get these, use your tool to rank your keyword list by monthly searches and record any of the keywords in the top 10 or 20 that can be used to generate content around. Some of the keywords in your list may not be suitable for content to be built around, but most of them should be.
The reason we are creating this list is two-fold. On one hand, we can see the keywords that get a lot of traffic and their difficulty. This gives us a goal to strive for, even if we don’t want to focus on these words immediately. On the other hand, since most of these are short tail keywords, you can refer to this list to add relevant keywords to your content as well as use it as a reference to build long tail keywords.
Ok, now that you have your keyword shortlists, what is next? Deciding what to publish!
We all know our SEO, right? It tells us that we should have the keyword in our content, in the page title, and in the URL (among other things). Take a look at your keyword shortlist based on difficulty. These are the keywords you should try to rank for. Now it’s brainstorm time. Think of a few blog/infographic/content topics for each keyword. These topics should be relevant to your service, business, or industry. Do not worry too much about what each post should be about, we are working on creating the titles first, and the content will follow. As long as you have a general idea about what you are comfortable writing about, the details will fall into place.
As you or your copywriter works on these posts the titles may change slightly, however, the keyword should remain the same. Some small variations of the keyword will not generally matter for search engines. When brainstorming, here are some things to think about that will save you time in the future:
- What kind of information do my customers like to read about?
- What can I write about my business’s industry?
- What topics can I use to demonstrate my business’s USP?
- What keywords can I use to set my business apart from the competition?
- If someone is searching for this keyword, what kind of information are they looking for?
- Where in the buyer’s journey would this topic fit?
- What questions do my customers or visitors usually ask or email me about?
- When I am mingling at a party or event, what kind of questions do people ask about my business?
- Can I write good content, of over 300 words, around these topics?
When you are finished, you should have a list of at least 30 potential topics. If they seem similar, it is okay for now. Some of these topics can be general, and later pieces of content could look at one aspect in a more detailed light.
Alrighty then, now we should have some keyword shortlists and a list of potential content topics. Now it’s time to look at personas and the buyer’s journey.
Personas and the Buyer’s Journey
It is important to plan content for your personas and the buyer’s journey to weed out poorer topics and to make sure your content plan is balanced. Look at your potential topics and think of the audience for each. Which persona would most benefit or most be interested in that topic?
Map these out and assign each topic to a persona. A lot of topics would probably be interesting for more than one of them, but try to decide on a main persona for each. This will also help the writer when developing the tone of the content.
The next step is looking at the buyer’s journey. The easiest way to digest this part of the process is to create a graph where you can see both the personas and the buyer’s journey on different axes.
To determine where each post goes in the journey, think about the steps. Some people say there are 3, others 4, and maybe some fringe marketers break them down into 5 or more. We will use 3:
- Awareness: This is where the visitor has a problem and is searching for answers. Or, they don’t know they have a problem yet and want to see if they do.
- Consideration: The visitor now knows they have a problem and they are considering options. They are looking at the different products and services that are available.
- Decision: The visitor is about to make a decision, and has narrowed down their options to make a final judgment.
A potential customer is thinking about different things at each stage and your content should reflect that. For example, let me tell you the story of Nils, who decided to go running every other morning to drop a few pounds.
The first morning he ran, he did well except that his feet started to really hurt after twenty minutes. He sits down in the park, takes out his mobile, and opens his favorite search engine. He types in, “why do my feet hurt after running?” into the search bar and awaits results. He is in the awareness stage. He has a problem (hurting feet) and is looking for a solution. Nils then finds out that he does not have the proper shoes to give him support when running. How silly!
The next search term he might enter into the search bar is, “what running shoes are best for cobbled streets?”, since he plans to run around his city block in an old city. Nils is now in the consideration stage. He knows he has a problem, he is looking for a solution and considering his options.
After browsing a few blog posts and e-shops, he finds two different pairs of shoes that he likes. He then goes to the manufacturer’s page, reads user reviews on Amazon, and tries to find more detailed information about these two pairs before he decides to purchase. This is the decision stage.
After reviewing all the information he has found, he settles on an attractive pair of sporty running shoes, purchases them, and goes home to wait for delivery in a few days. Nils has just gone through the whole buyer’s cycle in maybe twenty minutes sitting on a park bench. Depending on the product, the price, and the target audience, a buyer’s journey cycle can take as little as twenty minutes, as with Nils, or as long as half a year or more.
At each stage, Nils was looking for different kinds of information, and your content should reflect that. Generally, you want to give factual information at the beginning of the cycle, and in the decision stage, you want to flaunt your company and its USPs.
Once you have that set mapped out, it’s time to look at your offers and CTAs. These should also align themselves with your personas and the buyer’s cycle. Think of the offers as teaching someone to become a customer. Each offer should reveal a little more about their problem until they are convinced that they need your help, whether it is a product or service. A newsletter is a nice and standard offer for the beginning of the buyer’s cycle. It lets people who are interested keep in touch, and from there you can help them along the cycle.
You also want to make sure your offer is relevant to your content. If the content and offer are incongruent, it will probably confuse people and they will not partake in your offer. Not every piece of content has to have an offer attached to it, and when writing content headlines or page titles, it’s better not to force it.
Now we should have our keyword shortlist and our content topics which are mapped to personas, the buyer’s journey, and offers. Next, it is time to make the content schedule.
The Content Schedule
Poking around online will lead you to the optimal times to post content to social media. This is backed by lots of data and research but the bottom line is, your customers are unique. Think about two things – when they are most likely to check their email and/or social media pages, and when they will have time to interact.
Generally, weekends are a bad time for most people and the best times are structured around meals and commutes. These are the times when people have time away from work to really engage with content they look up on their mobile devices or PCs. For fast platforms like Twitter, it might be a good idea to post multiple times a day, especially if you have a lot of followers already.
The schedule part of the content plan is important because it lets you see how your content is structured. We tend not to plan the time of day too much, as Hubspot lets us easily check our past performance. After all, since everyone’s customers are different, it takes a bit of experimentation to get the times right and optimized. However, we do try to stick to a strict weekly content schedule, where we map out which content is going to be posted on what day.
When scheduling your content on a weekly or monthly basis for the first time, it is important to keep the following things in mind:
- Am I addressing all of my personas at least once per month?
- Do I have blog posts that fit in every stage of the buyer’s personas?
- If I am running a blog series, does it follow in a logical way?
- Do my writers have time to create the content that needs to be created on time?
- When do I need the drafts so that we can get the content edited, spell checked, and published on time?
Once you post a number of blogs for each persona and each stage of the buyer’s cycle, they will be there forever, constantly providing great content for those who seek it.
The Content Plan
Your finished content plan should contain the following things:
- A keyword shortlist to easily see what you should target
- A list of content topics based on those keywords to get ranked for in SERPs
- A map of each content topic to a persona and stage in the buyer’s cycle
- At least a one month plan of which days the content should be published
It is important to keep this plan updated and to follow it as strictly as possible. The plan is designed to give you and your team the information it needs to create good content to rank for, to keep a schedule that ensures your blog does not get behind, and to ensure you are hitting all the right notes for your strategy.