To generate high-quality content consistently, you need a steady stream of content ideas, a solid workflow, and—most importantly—a well-crafted content plan. With a solid plan, you can stay organized, execute your content strategy successfully, and ensure you’re creating content that will actually connect with the right people and convert them into lifelong fans. If you’ve never created a plan before (or aren’t sure you’re doing it the right way), you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll walk you through the content plan process—and help you avoid common mistakes along the way.
But first, let’s go back to basics.
What Is a Content Plan?
In short, a content plan is a way to document the content marketing you want to create—and ensure everyone on your team stays on the same page.
Why Do You Need a Content Plan?
Good content marketing is strategic and intentional. It also involves many moving parts, from copywriting to design. The better you can plan, the easier it is to…
- Publish consistently. This is one of the most common mistakes in marketing. If you don’t have a reliable content infrastructure (aka the knowledge and resources to create content), it is very difficult to produce and publish high-quality content consistently. A content plan helps keep everyone on the same page to ensure you hit your deadlines and publish the right thing at the right time.
- Tell your brand’s best stories. We like to think of content marketing as a unique ecosystem, where every piece of content helps reinforce your brand story. If you’re making content piecemeal, or on the fly, it’s harder to control the quality and message that you’re sending. But with a solid content plan, you can ensure that you’re creating the right mix of content for your audience.
- Maximize resources. When you know what content you plan to create, you can identify and allocate resources more effectively. In fact, the more you plan, the more mileage you can get from your content. (Find out more about how a divisible content strategy can help you work more effectively.)
Note: What’s most important is actually documenting your plan. That can help you keep track of your content, spot additional content opportunities, and more.
How to Create a Content Plan
Creating a content plan is simple and straightforward (if you know what you’re doing). Follow these five steps to set yourself up for success.
1) Complete your content strategy.
Successful content marketing doesn’t start with content—it starts with strategy. Before you make your content plan, you need to know what your goals are, who your audience is, how your content will support those goals, how you plan to measure success, etc. If you haven’t established this foundation, your content won’t be very effective. (In fact, you’re almost guaranteed to waste valuable time and resources for little reward.)
This is why it’s important to start with the basics. Use our content strategy guide and toolkit to ensure you have the information you need to build a content plan that is aligned to your goals.
2) Build your content pipeline.
Good content rarely happens when you’re scrambling to create something last minute. Thus, your content plan needs to account for any significant events or dates that you will create content for.
This may include all sorts of notable events, such as:
- Seasonal events (e.g., annual tradeshow)
- Company milestones
To make sure these events are on your radar from the start, we suggest building a content pipeline, wherein you document important events for each quarter. (Download our free content pipeline template to do it.) Although you may not be focusing on those events yet, it’s important to have them in the pipeline so you can brainstorm and prepare far ahead of time.
3) Decide on your cadence.
How often do you plan to publish? What is a steady, reasonable cadence? This will rely on your team’s knowledge, skills, and ability to create various pieces of content. You may publish daily, weekly, or monthly—it all depends on your brand. What matters most is that you choose a reasonable cadence that you can realistically maintain.
Tip: If you don’t have the ability to create something in-house, outside support can help. See our tips to figure out if you should turn to a freelancer or a content agency.
4) Brainstorm ideas by month.
Every brand’s content needs will be different, but if you’re building your content operation from scratch, it helps to break content plans down by quarter (via your content pipeline), and then by month.
We find it especially helpful to choose a specific topic, set of keywords, or seasonal theme to brainstorm around each month.
Note: While you can loosely plot these themes out, they shouldn’t be written in stone. Things can (and often do) change. If you’re brainstorming too far ahead, and something unexpected happens, it’ll throw your whole calendar off. Instead, plan 1-3 months at a time.
When it comes time to brainstorm specific content ideas, there are a few best practices to keep in mind:
- Include stakeholders. Don’t leave anyone important out of these meetings. More minds make better ideas. Plus, you don’t want to go back to square one if a stakeholder doesn’t approve of the idea.
- Vet your ideas. Don’t go with your first ideas. Instead, use your marketing personas to vet and prioritize the ideas that will resonate with your audience most.
- Consider the platform. Where does your audience live online, and what type of content do they like to consume on these platforms? This may influence the types of ideas you brainstorm.
Once you have your list of ideas, think about what order you will want to publish them in. For example, if you’re just starting to publish content, you will want to publish your larger, more broad pieces first.
5) Build out your editorial calendar.
This is where you get into the nitty-gritty content-planning details. Build and schedule a calendar that keeps everyone on track, including all the relevant details like topic, keyword, author, etc. Again, you want to schedule things out far enough in advance that no one is unprepared or blindsided by a deadline. However, this is marketing, and things change (hi, pandemic!). You may need to be flexible and move some content up, or push other content back.
For more on this, find out how to build a proper editorial calendar.
How to Execute Your Content Plan
As you begin to document your plan (and measure the results as you go), we have a few final tips to make sure your content-planning work pays off.
- Choose the right mix of content. Think of your content as nutrition—your audience needs a well-balanced meal to stay interested (and satisfied). Find out how to serve the right type of content that will keep people engaged.
- Have a distribution strategy. No matter how good your content is, if people aren’t seeing it, it isn’t doing its job. See our guide to build a distribution strategy that gets the right eyes on your content.
- Test and tweak. Good metrics are the key to content marketing success because they tell you whether or not your content actually works. Measure your efforts, and use the insights to improve your content going forward.
- Don’t be precious with your content. If it isn’t working and you’re supposed to create the same content next month, mix it up.
Of course, if you need a partner to guide your strategy and content, we’re always here. See our content strategy FAQ, or hit us up directly. We’d love to help you create a content plan that resonates with the people you’re trying to reach.