Master Guide to Content Planning

Content, content, content!

Content is having its Marcia Brady moment - and for good reason. Across industries, for example, customers interact with brands multiple times before conversion and the content they are delivered can negatively or positively impact the chance of completing the sale (read, "Content Marketing Stats to Influence 2017 Decisions"). What's more, people want to self-serve (or find answers themselves without a company's intervention) and having high-quality content at their disposal is a sure-fire way to help them feel empowered and like they are making the best purchasing decision. In order to create content that resonates with a person wherever they are in their customer journey, consider these steps.

Step One: Meet Your Audience 

Whether you're developing a content plan for a new company or at a new job or are looking for ways to improve an existing strategy, understanding who it is that will read your content is a crucial step. Google Analytics, for instance, offers demographics (age, gender) and interests (through online travel and purchasing activities) information. This is a great place to start as is Facebook Insights, which provides basic demographic info (age, gender, location), which is important to look at since it's likely Facebook where content will be promoted. Facebook takes it a step further and allows Page admins to see which of their followers is currently most engaged (by those same demographics). 

Many content management systems (CMSs) or Web experience platforms provide far more sophisticated customer profiling, which enables brands to reach the holy content grail of "serving the right content at the right time to the right person." While it can seem like a creative burden (because it is) to create content for different segments or even individuals, many platforms leverage a layering-type approach where brands create "base" content (let's say a landing page for a new product) and then add layers on top of that content to personalize it to more people, which is then served dynamically to visitors who meet certain criteria (e.g., first-time visitors versus people who have visited the site before but didn't buy). 

Upgrading to the newest version of a CMS or considering a new one altogether, is a decision that needs to be made in 2017. Until then, knowing the basic demographics of a site and its social media followers, is information that can be used to inform content strategy.

++ Editor's Recommended Reading: 3 Phases of Content Strategy

Step Two: Know What's Worked 

Reviewing past content successes and failures is a smart way to understand what has worked and what hasn't in order to make more effective decisions going forward. Unfortunately, not all content producers have access to analytics other than page views and social shares, but reviewing and documenting even these basic metrics and then sorting them in Excel by most-viewed and most-shared, respectively, is a valuable practice (if their content management system doesn't already offer access to more meaningful data or provide some integration to do so through a third-party provider). Many modern CMSs provide trend data, even suggesting which content types or keywords will be most successful based on past hits and misses and other sites' information.

++ Editor's Recommended Reading: 9-Step Blog Content Audit

Step Three: Create a Plan

The whole "failing to plan is a plan to fail" mantra rings particularly true when it comes to content strategy. There should certainly be enough "wiggle room" within a content plan to address trending topics and other subjects that can't be planned for, but having the general structure of an editorial plan (what will be published, when and by whom as well as where it will be promoted), is the only way an organization will be able to execute the big dreams they have for their content and keep it timely. 

Step Four: Suggest Fries with That

By now, you're a content-creating machine, but your audience will likely never access all of the material that is related to their interests. Brands need to actively promote older content (that still makes sense) on social and through recommended-reading type functionality. What's more, repurposing high-performing content can give new life to material already created (e.g., a blog into a video, infographic, whitepaper, etc.). 

Step Five: Get Help

Planning, researching, writing, designing and promoting content takes time, but brands aren't on the island all alone. Not only can brands reach out to qualified freelancers to get content created at an often very reasonable price, but they can also seek the help of like-minded businesses for them to contribute content to their site. Guest blogging remains an effective way to earn high-quality links, which is why people in your field may be open to it. Likewise, it could be beneficial to pitch your own content to an industry publication for exclusive rights to publish there in order to get a valuable backlink and more eyes on your content.