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7-Step Content Marketing Plan: A Quick-Start Guide

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Content marketing engages your customers through digital channels like social media, blogging, and email marketing. You’re likely familiar with what content marketing is, but how effective is your current strategy?

Your competitors are investing in content marketing, as marketing budgets continue to move to digital strategies. According to Forbes, the most effective content marketers allocate a larger portion of their budget to content marketing: for B2B it’s 42% of their total marketing budget, compared to 28% for less-effective marketers.

Do you have a documented content marketing plan in place? It can mean the difference between succeeding or continuing to flail with your efforts. Here are some eye-opening statistics: 

  • 88% of B2B marketers currently use content marketing as part of their marketing strategy, yet only 32% have a documented content marketing strategy.
  • 76% of B2C marketers report using content marketing, yet only 37% say their strategy is effective.

There is a divide between a scattershot effort and a dialed in content marketing plan. Which side is your business currently falling on? In this content marketing quickstart guide, you’ll learn how to create a quality content strategy in seven straightforward steps. Let’s get started. 

Quality Content Marketing Plan
Quality content marketing plan (graphic)

1. Write Down Your Goals and Objectives

Your first step is to set your content marketing goals. You have to know what you want to achieve so you’ll know if you’re meeting or failing at reaching your goals. You need to have something to measure weekly or monthly.

It's pertinent to decide what you hope to achieve. If you don’t then you will just be creating content for the sake of creating content, which may not be the most efficient use of your time or budget.

Here are the goals that most businesses have in mind to help you decide where to focus your efforts:

Brand Awareness or Reinforcement

This is the most popular reason people advertise. They’re trying to get more eyeballs and broader awareness. Content marketing through blogging and social strategies is the best route for this because it’s organic and authentic, meaning people will trust your brand more and feel more loyal to you. This is a long-tail strategy though requiring a vision and plan to execute.

Lead Conversion and Nurturing

Once someone subscribes to your emails, they’ve given you “permission” to market to them (of course, not in a spammy, salesy way). Depending on what their conversion goal is, businesses may want to convert visitors into signing up for a webinar or downloading an ebook. You can keep using content to move them through the buying cycle on their customer journey.

Customer Conversion

In this stage, the goal is to convert a subscriber into a customer. At this point, the subscriber is now a marketing qualified lead (MQL) so you start to send them content about your product or service. You could send them case studies of how your product or service worked for other clients. They need to know, in this stage, why your offering is best for their needs.

Customer Service

This is where you create content specifically for your customers. Your content is a great way to educate your customers on your products, how to use them, and how they fit into their lives, or solve their needs.  Are you writing about how to best use your product or service? If not, you should be. 

Customer Loyalty and Retention

You have customers, now, it’s time to keep those customers. You could do something like create a customer newsletter or host an event or create a webinar series. The more engaging, high-quality content you create, the better you drive customer loyalty and retention.

2. Research and Define Your Audience

It’s all about sending the right message to the right person at the right time.

Before you can ever send a message though, you have to know who the “right person” is so you send the best message to them.

The reason content marketing fails more often than not is due to a lack of research.

You should never create your personas based on your assumptions or hunches alone. And you, without a doubt, should never—I repeat never—just try to get everyone and anyone on your email list or as your customer.

Keep in mind that quality trumps quantity, and if you’re optimizing for quantity then you’re just another annoying spammer. You want your content marketing to be well-targeted. If you do that, you'll be more effective.

Step 1: Gather Information

You can figure out who your target audience is through research, observation, interviews, surveys and competitive analysis. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself when developing your personas:

  • What products or services are my prospects or customers using that I compete with, complement, or that might translate to interest in my offering?
  • Where do these people hang out online?
  • Is there any low hanging fruit? Are there people already doing what you want them to do, just somewhere else?
  • What do my best customers have in common or what trends do I notice that will help me target my messaging to prospects?

Step 2: Make Lists

Once you gather the information, then it’s time to make lists of these prospects from any online database, network or marketplace like these sources:

  • Twitter
  • Mailchimp
  • LinkedIn and Facebook groups
  • Meetup
  • Industry conference websites
  • Trade association forums and directories
  • Job boards like Indeed, on LinkedIn, etc.
  • Public legal filings
  • CrunchBase
  • AngelList
  • Glassdoor
  • Yelp
  • Shopify
  • Etsy
  • Kickstarter
  • Builtwith
  • Datanyze
  • Seed-db.com

Step 3: Target

Once you collect all this information and make your lists, you’ll know where you should be targeting your prospects online.

Learn more about how to craft a customer persona in this tutorial: 

3. Do Keyword Research  

“Think of SEO this way: If a customer-focused content marketing program is the sandwich, then SEO is the mayonnaise. It touches nearly everything and enhances the overall flavor of the sandwich, but on its own, it’s not very appetizing.” - Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing 

When you have a question, what do you do? Probably Google it.

Smart marketers know someone like yourself will need information on an industry subject and so they optimize their content so you can easily find it on the first page of Google.

Links that show up on the front page of Google are the content with the best SEO (search engine optimization) for that specific search query. SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a website in order to increase the number of organic visitors the site receives from search engines.

Search engines, including Google, Bing and Yahoo!, are the major drivers of website traffic. While other referrers, such as social media networks and social bookmarking websites, may help increase traffic, for most Internet users, search engines are how they find websites, no matter which type of website they are looking for.

In order for searchers to find your website, you need to SEO optimize your website, which means you need to conduct keyword research.

Keyword research is when you research to find out what people are typing into search engines to find you or your competitors’ websites. Keep on top of current SEO trends: 

4. Plan Your Content Map

Think about all of the malls you have visited in your life.

What did they all have in common? Or better yet, which store(s) did they all have in common?

It’s likely that they all had a Macy’s or a Finish Line or another big name retailer. These big name retailers are reasons enough to visit the mall. People go to the mall to only shop in these stores sometimes, making them one of the mall’s pillars or main source of new and returning traffic.

In between pillars, to fill the empty space, are small shops, which benefit when prospects are sidetracked into the smaller store on their way to the big name retailer.

Have you ever wondered why these huge brands are in different corners of the mall? It’s because they want you to have to walk by the stores you may have never heard of and potentially purchase something from them.

When creating content for your website, it’s important to keep the mall analogy in mind.

The smaller stores will be your blog posts while the bigger stores will be your ebooks and other higher-value content offers.

Before you begin filling your smaller stores, i.e. writing your blog posts, you need to make sure you secure mall pillars that will generate massive amounts of traction, i.e. you need to make sure you create content that will drive people to your site over and over again.

Basically, you need to plan your website’s content pillars or flagship content first.

A content pillar or a piece of flagship content is an ebook, whitepaper, in-depth how-to, etc. that you build your blog posts around.

Free ebooks and courses are prime examples of content pillars, which you can use to drive traffic to your website and grow your email list. Learn more about how to create buzz piece, which is another term for pillar content: 

5. Create Your Content Calendar

Now, you need to organize your ideas by creating an editorial calendar.

The best of the best have dedicated a generous chunk of time to strategizing and planning before they ever create amazing content you love. If you want long-term success, then it is pertinent you have an editorial calendar (aka a plan) in place.

Step 1: Choose Your Tool

Where will you manage your editorial calendar? Here’s a few recommendations.

Trello

Trello is a free, drag-and-drop project management tool. One of Trello’s many alternative uses is for content managers looking to create an editorial calendar. This is best for execution, such as when you’re working with multiple writers. Learn how we use Trello at Envato Tuts+ for organizing our Editorial process and tracking content through production:

Asana

Asana is another popular productivity and project management tool. Learn how to start working with Asana and use it for creating an editorial calendar: 

Google Spreadsheets

If you have a Google Apps account then you can use Google Sheets to create an editorial calendar too. I find this best for planning at-a-glance monthly content and tracking budget allocation. We use this for our budget planning at Envato Tuts+. 

Step 2: Make Your Schedule

How many blog posts will you publish per week or month? It’s pertinent that you keep a consistent schedule so your readers know when they will hear from you. They’ll come to expect it. You want a compelling mix of content that engages readers and builds a fan base. 

You also need to plan how many authors you'll work with on your team. Learn more about the process of working with multiple contributors: 

Step 3: Plan Your Individual Posts

Utilize each individual post details’ section in order to sketch out each blog post. This will make writing much easier when it comes time. You want to consider the type of post you're aiming to create (written, video, infographic, etc.), SEO strategy, compelling title, target audience, hook to engage them, length, focus, supporting evidence, and approach. Also, have a clear goal with every blog post you write. 

6. Design Your Distribution Strategy

It’s time to design a distribution strategy.

A distribution strategy is a document that outlines where you will share and promote your content after you hit publish.

Depending on your business, you’ll use different tactics and networks to share your content. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Social Media Networks (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram)
  • Forums (Inbound.org, Quora, Reddit)
  • Slack Groups
  • Private Communities
  • Blog Syndication

Distribution, is anywhere offsite that you can engage your audience where they hang out, get your ideas in front of them, participate in the conversation, and drive traffic back to your website. Learn more about increasing traffic to your website through content marketing:  

7. Measure Your Results

It’s time to decide what you’ll measure, or in marketing speak: What’s your KPI?

A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a goal and method for evaluating success. It’s a measurable value that you assign and track periodically. It shows you how effective your business is at achieving what it defines as its key objectives.

A Good KPI is SMARTER

Create your KPIs based on the SMART criteria. Or even better SMARTER, which is an acronym for:

  • Specific: Is your KPI specific?
  • Measurable: Can you measure progress toward the goal?
  • Attainable: Is the goal realistically attainable?
  • Relevant: How relevant is the KPI to your organization?
  • Time Frame: What is the time-frame for achieving this goal?
  • Evaluate: Assess your KPIs consistently.
  • Reevaluate: And then assess them again. For example, if you exceeded your initial KPI for the current month, you should determine if that’s because you set your goal too low or if it’s due to some other factor.

Long Term Content Marketing Planning

Good, organic content marketing takes time. Give it at least three months to start seeing results and get some initial traction. But keep in mind, success comes with long term investment, so plan to reevaluate and improve your content marketing plan as you progress. 

If you're building your blog or starting your email list, we have a large selection of quality WordPress blog themes, creative email marketing templates, and more on Envato Market.

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