Writing content without a plan is like building a house without a blueprint. You can come up with a stellar-looking wall that everyone loves, but it wouldn't do you any good without a foundation.
Content planning is the key to an efficient content marketing strategy. Each blog, article, or video is just one part of the big inbound marketing machine. It helps bring your target audience to your website, achieve high rankings, and establish you as an industry expert.
Without a plan, even the best-written blogs go to waste. In fact, they may hurt your marketing strategy by pulling traffic from other important pages. By implementing a high-quality plan, you give each piece of content the extra power to boost your marketing efforts.
Here are four best practices to help you streamline your content planning process:
1. Create a Content Calendar
Content is only king when it’s consistent. After studying your target audience’s needs and employing the topic cluster strategy, you can determine what topics you should write about and build a plan accordingly. It doesn’t matter what software or medium you use to create your calendar — e.g., Excel, Google Calendar, Asana — as long as you use it for content only.
Ideally, you should stock your calendar with three months worth of content topics with a posting cadence of once a week. This not only helps you stick to a schedule and post content on time, but it also gives you a full picture of everything you have published and will publish.
You shouldn’t, however, feel restricted to writing about just those topics. If something comes up mid-cycle (e.g., a relevant current event, trend, etc.), feel free to work it into your schedule.
Pro tip: if you have a fast-changing industry, you can start with a one-month plan and see how it goes. Always leave yourself room to pivot.
When creating a calendar, you should pay attention to special dates and holidays like Christmas, the company's birthday, Mother's Day, Black Friday, or whichever ones are important in your industry. You may want to plan content pieces relevant to these dates or, in some cases, exclude them from your publishing schedule.
2. Create Outlines
Once you have a list of topics and your three-month plan, it’s time to make outlines. Like content planning is the blueprint for your overall strategy, outlines are the blueprints for each piece.
If you find yourself changing the topic or angle of a piece while writing the outline, don’t worry, that's perfectly normal. As long as you stick to your publishing cadence and the new angle fits it into your overall strategy, roll with it!
You may be doing the math in your head right now. One piece a week times four weeks in a month times three months — that’s twelve outlines. That’s a lot to tackle at one time. For content two or three months down the line, these initial outlines can be short and sweet. Even if it’s just a brain dump of ideas and a few scattered sentences, putting your thoughts on paper will help you create the content when the time comes.
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3. Include Sales Enablement Content
When you sit down to plan the next few months of content, don’t forget about sales enablement or the content your sales team can use in their sales process. These include:
- Product descriptions and cut sheets
- White papers
- Case studies
- Blog posts
- Video demos
Sales enablement makes for great content, but it also allows your marketing team to get on the same page with your sales team and work towards shared goals.
According to HubSpot, 90 percent of the content marketing teams create is never touched by the sales department. If such is the case in your organization, these two departments essentially do the same job twice.
Including sales enablement content in your plan doesn’t require a ton of extra effort, either. Your sales team can employ the majority of the pieces you create for sales enablement with minor adjustments. Similarly, you can use any content created by the sales team in your inbound marketing efforts.
4. Use Powerful Tools to Stay Organized
A huge part of content planning is proper organization and management. Managing your content process and keeping your team on schedule can be overwhelming. The good news is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are several tools you can use to keep your process running smoothly. Here are some of our favorites:
This day-to-day project management software allows you to track different projects and tasks, including content planning. The platform comes with several templates you can use out of the box or customize to your process.
We use Asana to keep track of every content piece we create, from outline to promotion. Each content piece should have its own task where team members can post updates, relevant links, and leave action items.
You can also use it to keep external stakeholders, like clients, updated or request their feedback. You can either invite them to your internal team’s project or create a separate one with the tasks relevant to them.
With Asana, all team members can contribute to your content, make appropriate changes, keep track of progress, etc.
Slack is an instant messaging tool that is great for informal communication and real-time questions. Like Asana, Slack is highly customizable, so you can set up your workspace however you want. You can create separate channels for different projects, control who has access and even integrate it with other online tools. It also allows team members to create private and group chats.
We use Slack to communicate with our team about both client and internal matters — whether that’s sharing meeting agendas, making announcements, or sending GIFs back and forth.
HubSpot is a platform that offers a suite of customer service, marketing, sales, and CRM software. You can use HubSpot to do everything from managing your sales funnel to blog hosting. It also has an expansive knowledge base with helpful tools, templates, and certification courses.
We use HubSpot to create our topic clusters, host our blog, post to our social channels, track analytics, etc.
SEMRush can be simply described as an SEO tool, but it’s so much more than that. It includes tools that allow marketers to conduct in-depth keyword research, identify content topic ideas, automate outreach for backlinks, and schedule content. This tool can even help you analyze your existing content and point out elements you could change to rank higher on SERP. It can also analyze your competitors' websites to see which keywords work for them.
Explore the Power of Content Planning
Content planning is an integral part of your inbound marketing strategy. Without a clear plan for creating and publishing content, you may fail to maximize the content you create.
With a proper content planning strategy, you not only bring value to your clients and sales team, but you also boost your website's ranking and establish your company as an industry expert. When you use the right tools, you can create a seamless process and enjoy the benefits of your content marketing strategy.