Content planning is a lot like exercise. It isn’t always fun, but you gotta do it if you want your content to perform.
Fortunately, content planning can be done quickly and effectively, using a 6-step process that integrates your promotions, campaigns, and content. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of content creation. Because you know exactly what needs writing, when, and what it needs to accomplish.
Fortunately, you can do this even if your business calendar isn’t nailed down yet. I’ll walk you through the process, and your ideas will come into focus as we go.
Why Planning Is Important
It’s hard enough to create all the content you need to keep your blog fresh and your funnels full. Without a content plan, you’re working blind. You don’t know the topics you should focus on. You don’t the keywords that will help you grow. And your content won’t support the rest of your sales and marketing efforts.
Content marketing is just that — marketing. It needs to coordinate with and contribute to every other growth initiative.
Having said that, I realize that many content teams avoid planning because they want to stay nimble. When they get an idea, they want to be able to turn the ship quickly and follow their inspiration.
They’ve bought into the idea that plans will lock them into a boring routine. The excitement of rushing to meet deadlines makes them feel they’re doing cutting-edge work.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Good planning is flexible enough to allow room for great ideas. And a good plan isn’t boring. Instead, it frees you to be creative and innovative.
By planning your content marketing in advance, you do much of the difficult work in advance:
- Researching the topics that your brand should talk about
- Finding the keywords you should be ranking for
- Figuring out how to coordinate your blog with your major marketing campaigns, sales, and events
The calendar tells you that a blog post is coming due. You can work well in advance to get it done early. That gives you time to create graphics that bring the post to life or interview experts to make it stand out.
Planning is important because it (magically) helps you feel less rushed while getting more done and creating higher quality.
Now, let’s look at a simple content planning process.
Step 1: Setting Your Goals
Every piece of content you produce should help you meet a business goal. So start content planning with goal setting. Most content supports:
- Traffic, through keyword optimization
- Product marketing
- Sales engagement
- Lead generation
Your content plan will likely include content for all of these goals. That’s why it helps to have your company’s business plan in hand when you’re doing content planning.
Are you looking to expand? How much? What are the growth tactics being leveraged? Will you be expanding into new markets, creating new products, or simply scaling an already successful program?
Lastly, look at your budget. This tells you what’s possible as you plan your content and/or marketing strategies.
Step 2: Content Planning (Types of Content)
Once you know your objectives, you need to decide on the types of content you’ll create.
Maybe you’ll focus on your blog. Will you only create text articles, or will you mix in infographics, videos, or other media?
Perhaps you’re ready to move into new channels, say, with a podcast or video show. Or maybe you want to prioritize guest posts for specific sites.
Now based on your growth goals, think about the types of content you might create to impact each growth category:
- list building
- product marketing
At this stage, you only need to brainstorm rough ideas for each. Under list building, for instance, you might say you want a download or content upgrade for every post — or maybe you’ve been thinking about creating a 10-day email course.
Before you move on, verify that your ideas can actually help you reach your business goals.
Step 3: Setting Your Frequency
Not too many year ago, content marketers set strict schedules and churned out content as often as possible. But for most brands, the days of daily blogging are gone. And we’re discovering that an irregular schedule can be just as effective as publishing on specific days of the week or month.
Don’t fall into the trap of creating content for content’s sake. Choose a schedule that works for you, giving you time to create higher quality, more meaningful content.
Remember: Creating content isn’t the goal. The goals are traffic, engagement, and sales.
Tip: If you struggle to create content on a regular schedule, aim for one post per month. And make sure you produce a format that comes naturally to you: either written, audio, or video. Of course, if drawing is your thing, by all means, let your creative juices flow.
Step 4: Planning Your Content Calendar
At this point, we’re performing high-level planning. No details yet.
Start by filling in your blog’s (and other content’s) publication days and blocking off the dates of major promotions or sales. Add the products or funnels you’d like to promote each month.
Then, for the weeks or months between major promotions, consider the growth-generating content ideas you brainstormed in Step 2. Think about when and how they might fit into your schedule.
Taking a high-level view of your calendar, assign dates or date ranges for each.
Remember, at this point, you’re visualizing the entire year (or as much as 6 months of it) at once. Don’t worry about details. Just map the calendar with broad strokes.
Map out your calendar with broad strokes to visualize how your promotions and content work together.
Tip: Consider color coding your different campaigns. For each month, make note of the products or funnels you’ll promote. And jot down any additional ideas to keep a forward momentum.
Now make one final review, asking yourself these important questions:
- Is it realistic?
- Does it allow time for you to craft quality content, produce it, and promote it?
- Can you meet this schedule, do it well, and still have time for your other priorities?
If yes, move on to Step 5. If not, adjust as necessary. Remember, quality is more important than quantity.
Step 5: Brainstorming Content Ideas
Once you know the campaigns and themes you need content for, you can begin generating specific ideas for that content.
I like to use a spreadsheet and jot down every idea that comes to mind.
This is from a blog I’m managing. The ideas are in the second column. In the first, I write in the writer I assigned the article to. I gray it out once the article is turned in, and after it’s edited and scheduled in the blog, I’ll delete it from the list.
A pad of paper or spreadsheet is perfect for brainstorming content ideas.
Start by looking at the keywords you should rank for. Choose five to 10 keywords, along with long-tail keywords that support your main keywords.
While you’re at it, review your existing content for old articles that aren’t ranking as well as they should. Add these articles to your list as well. Instead of writing something from scratch, plan to update these articles.
Next, look at the marketing and sales campaigns you’ll need to create content for. Jot down your ideas for those campaigns.
Look at your product development. Are new products or features being developed? Brainstorm for titles and topics that would generate interest in your product.
Finally, get creative. What fascinating or engaging ideas come to mind? Let your mind roam for this one. It’s okay to think outside the box.
Remember, this is a brain dump. Don’t edit your ideas!
Jot down the good, the bad, and the totally ridiculous. Inspiration can sometimes begin as a very bad idea, so don’t hold yourself back.
Your list needs to be long enough to give you more ideas than you need, as determined by your frequency and the time span you’re planning for. So if you plan to publish twice a month and are brainstorming 12 months of ideas, you’ll need at least 30 ideas. (Remember, you’ve got bad ideas mixed in with the good ones at this point.)
Now, let your list sit. Add to it if other ideas come to mind, but try not to think about it too much for at least a day or two.
At that point, you can read your list objectively.
Some ideas will be great. Keep them. Others no so great. Delete the ones you don’t like and tweak the so-so ideas, improving them or combining them with others to create ideas that are worth working with.
Do this for every channel or campaign you’ve entered in the calendar:
- general content ideas that could fill your blog’s categories
- general content ideas for other channels: video or podcast, for example
- ideas that could help you rank for specific keywords
- ideas that could support a promotion or campaign
Then, once you know the topics/ideas you plan to keep, plug them into the calendar and share them with your writers.
Note: Content planning for the entire year can be hard. If it helps, once you have your ideas, rough out your plan for the next 12 months. Then focus on the next 3 or 6 months. By limiting your scope to a shorter time frame, you may find it easier to create a concrete plan.
Step 6: Creating Your Content
You can create content as your due dates approach or sit down and crank out several months’ worth of articles and video scripts at once. How you do it is up to you.
Here are some tips to keep you on track.
This video explains how you (or your writers) can begin ideation and research for upcoming content.
Never underestimate the time it can take to create quality content. Always allow more time than you think you’ll need.
It’s tempting, when deadlines loom and your time is tight, to move your publication dates back. Especially if you run a solo operation. To meet your goals, you’ve got to meet your deadlines.
If you want to meet your goals, the calendar is the boss.
Having taken time to plan your content marketing calendar, follow the plan! Watch your due dates and do the work.
Back to You
There are two types of people, and you know which one you are: planner or pantser.
Planners love creating detailed plans, making lists, and filling out their calendars. But planners often fail to execute. The fun is in the planning, not the doing.
Pantsers hate advanced planning. They work from the seat of their pants—waiting for inspiration, going with the flow, following the trends. That’s great. It makes for timely and interesting content. But it’s hard to meet your business goals this way. And what happens when you aren’t feeling inspired?
If you want to grow your business, you need to plan ahead and then execute your plans. You can plan with broad strokes or meticulous details, but you need to plan.
And even more importantly, you need to work your plan.
If you haven’t already, set aside a day to think about what you want to achieve this year. Then, as Nike says, “Just do it.”