Creating a Content Marketing Plan [Guide]

Published January 16, 2018
by Andy Beedle

This guide will give you an easy, step-by-step process for creating a content marketing plan. You can use it to create an overall strategy for developing blog posts, which articles you want to share and highlight in social media, and to better understand your target market’s needs.

We cover:

  • What is Content Marketing and why should you use it?
  • The steps to creating a content marketing plan.
  • What to do with your plan once you’ve finished it.

What is Content Marketing and Why Should You Use It?

Simply put, content marketing is the practice of providing knowledge and ideas (content) that your target market finds valuable and using this content to establish authority. Done correctly, content marketing also increases your visibility in search engines and on social media platforms.

Unlike the old-school notion of selling the features and benefits of your products and services, content marketing starts with the assumption that your goal as a marketer is to establish credibility with your target market by demonstrating how you solve their problems or meet a need. Content marketers solve problems for prospective customers (or students) by creating content that helps them answer questions and solve challenges.

Content marketing doesn’t sell as its first goal. Instead, it informs and entertains – which establishes you as a trusted authority that has your prospects’ best interests at heart.

Why adopt this approach? The rise of ratings sites and social media, means that organizations no longer control the flow of information about their services or about the verticals they serve. Instead, prospective buyers and consumers engage in a continuous conversation about companies, products, strategies for problem solving, and news items. As a marketer, you want to be a participant in as much of that conversation as possible – and you want your participation to be welcome and encouraged! Providing useful and helpful content divorced from a constant sales pitch establishes the idea that you understand your buyers’ needs and that you care about meeting those needs more than you care about “selling”.

In addition to these obvious benefits, there are two other reasons to embrace content marketing: First, everyone is doing it and (done right) it is a very, very powerful tool in developing a steady stream of inbound leads. As organizations have better understood the power of participation, the amount of available content has exploded. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s most recent study on B2B content marketing (http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/2015_B2B_Research.pdf), over 70% of marketers are creating more content in 2015 than they did in 2014. Fortunately, only 21% think that their efforts are successful and the remainder wish they had a more effective strategy.

Content marketing is growing, but the majority of practitioners don’t yet feel that they are building the relationships with prospects that will lead to increased revenue and interaction with the brand. This means that adopting an effective strategy will give you a leg up on the competition.

And developing an effective strategy gives the added benefit of increasing your visibility in search engines and creating the potential for lots of “long tail” inbound traffic that converts into leads. (“Long tail” refers to search terms that are longer than one or two keywords. In fact, more than 27% of all search queries are in the form of questions and over 50% of search queries have more than four words. http://www.surefiresearch.com/search-marketing/question-keywords/) By creating a model of the journey that prospects take when becoming a customer, you can develop a list of commonly asked questions that arise during the buying process. Developing content that answers these questions (for example “What is the best way to decide on the type of college that is best for me?” or “How do I decide how big a washing machine to get?”) allows you to demonstrate your value. It also positions that content to rank highly for relevant web searches.

The more detailed and granular you are in addressing the needs that come up in the buyer’s journey, the more likely you are to create content that will rank well.

Now let’s get on with creating your first Content Marketing Plan!

Creating a Content Marketing Plan:

The goal of a content marketing plan (CMP) is to provide a framework for ongoing online (and some offline) marketing efforts for your organization. This framework is based on:

1.) Figuring out what kinds of circumstances trigger a search that results in you being “The Answer”. (In other words, what problems does your organization solve for its clients and customers? What questions do they ask that make you the answer?)

2.) Determining a list of topics and associated keywords that will drive content development, promotion, and SEO/PPC efforts.

The end result of developing the plan will be a structured list of “marketing triggers” specific to your organization’s offerings, with each trigger having a specific set of associated questions and answers.

This list of questions and answers will then yield a list of content topics/ideas, keywords for inclusion in PPC and SEO programs, and notes on which social media platforms will provide the most useful potential traffic for the client.

Step 1: Understand your organization’s products and/or services.

It is surprising how many marketers don’t really have a clear and simple understanding of their products and services and how those things play a role in solving customer problems. In this step, you simply need to write the down the answers to the following questions.

What programs/products/services do you offer? Write out a simple list of the distinct programs or products you offer. This should include as broad a listing as possible. For example, if you are a college, then you might offer internship placement or career services in addition to academic programs. Be sure to give a brief explanation of each item in your list.

What is the profile of the typical buyer and influencer of each type of offering? For example, in many b2b situations, there are buyers who sign checks as well as influencers and ‘researchers’ who have a say in the ultimate purchase. In the “traditional” college market, the buyer is often a parent who is making a decision on behalf of a child.

What problems do you solve for your customers? How do you solve them? Ideally, this list should be posed as a series of very clear and distinct challenges. As in, “We help students learn the skills necessary to become a welder. We do this by offering classes, extensive outside lab time, and the only certification center in the state.” Ideally, you will not reference a specific program or offering here. Instead, describe what your organization does. For example, rather than say, “We help students find jobs through our career services office.” You would instead say “We help students in their job search by providing resume writing services, actively seeking out employers with positions, and teaching them interviewing skills.”

What problems does each specific offering/program solve for your customers? How does the program solve these problems? Take the list you created in the first question of this step and write next to each offering the exact problem(s) that offering solves. Then make notes (using your answers above) that show how that program solves those problems.

Step 2: Create a grid of “marketing triggers”.

Our goal in this step is to develop a list of milestones or triggers that will result in your offerings becoming relevant to potential buyers. You are trying to develop a specific set of questions/problems that you solve for your customers.

For each of the problems you listed in Step 1, write out a list of 5 to 7 major events/issues that would trigger or create that problem for your potential customers . For example, “I just got fired from my minimum wage job.” Or “My washing machine is making a funny noise.”

For each of these major events, write out a list of questions, worries, or challenges associated with that event. Say the event is getting fired from a minimum wage job, prospects might ask: “What can I do to never have another minimum wage job?”, “How do I get out of the hand to mouth existence of being a disposable employee?”, “What do I do next?”

For each question you identify, write out an answer — that answer should be fully generic — it should be the *right* answer to the question without specific reference to your programs/offerings.

When you have identified triggers, questions, and answers, you can create a grid like the one below. This example grid is for a translation firm and shows some of the questions and answers surrounding the legal and regulatory compliance needs of multinational organizations.

When you develop the full grid of all triggers, questions/problems, and solutions, you will have a framework that will help you create production schedules. It will also help you determine content topics for blogs, ads, email campaigns, and any website or social media content. You will also use this grid as the foundation for identifying potential keywords for use in PPC campaigns.

Step 3: Create a Keywords list.

Now it’s time to create a list of keywords that people have actually used to find your website. This will help you establish which topics are most relevant to your audience as well as where to find your best (and worst) opportunities for content marketing.

Look at your organization’s analytics and webmaster tools for a list of organic search terms. Unfortunately, most of the organic terms being searched come through as “not set” because of browser privacy defaults. Make a list of those keywords that are *not branded* (meaning your organization’s name does not appear in the term) and that also appear in the top 100 search listings. You are looking for non-branded terms that bring traffic to your site where you ranked better than 100.

Look at top performing keywords in any existing PPC accounts and then look at Search Insights to get a list of the actual searches that are triggering those keywords. List the keywords and their top associated searches together.

Look at both lists and eliminate any of those that would appear to be bringing bad traffic (for example, if your school runs a pharmacy tech program, you may see a lot of “pharmacy” keywords — take out the ones where people are looking for a local pharmacy and not an academic program.)

Step 4: Create long-tail keywords list.

At this point, you are ready to identify those longer, question based searches that will provide the most likely sources of traffic for you.

Take your master keyword list from Step 3 and create clusters of keywords with related meanings or that share related concepts. If you have a bunch of keywords that are associated with a particular program, group them together. If you have different keywords associated with a particular type of question or service, then group those together.

Take these basic clusters of keywords and give each one a simple name. It should be a phrase of no more than four words and lends itself to being part of a question. For instance, let’s say you have a welding instruction program and you identified a cluster of keywords about different, specific types of certification. You can call that keyword cluster: “Types of welding certification” and it would easily be part of the question “What are the types of welding certification?” or “How can I get tested in the different types of welding certification?”

Take the clusters of keywords and match them to the broad “marketing triggers” from Step 2. Here you are simply matching keyword clusters to particular marketing triggers that you identified earlier. Note that a cluster of keywords may match more than one trigger. In addition, more than one trigger may be relevant to a particular keyword cluster. For example, if you have keywords for your school’s nursing program and have identified both “I just got fired from my minimum wage job.” And “I want to find a career where I can help people.” As marketing triggers, then the nursing keywords would be appropriate for both.

Login to an adwords account and use the keyword planner to get suggested search terms and adgroup ideas. Type in the names of your keyword clusters and see what related terms adwords suggests. When you find keyword or adgroup ideas that seem like they would produce good traffic because they are closely related to the concepts you identified earlier and have decent traffic per month (for national level campaigns — at least 100. for a local market — at least 30) as well as a competition ranking anywhere below “High”, add them to your cluster.

Take each of your cluster titles from above and create two or three questions for them. For “Types of welding certification” you could use: “What are the types of welding certification?” and “How do I get different types of welding certification?”

Type these questions into google — type them, do not copy and paste them — and watch the suggested searches that come up as you type. Suggested searches are the ones that appear under what you are typing (see below). Make note of any suggested searches that seem like promising questions or topics.

When you have typed in your questions, copy down the first three URL’s that appear in the search results for each. These are your competitors for the traffic you want.

Creating Your Plan:

Now you should have your “marketing triggers” grid and a list of keywords broken into clusters. These clusters have questions associated with them and you have a list of the top URL’s for each question. In addition, you have linked each of your keyword clusters to a specific trigger.

From here, you can write up a social media plan and a blogging/content schedule centered around your problem/solution grid and the keywords you would use in describing them. Even if your social media plan is heavily image or video dependent, you now have a set of guidelines for producing that content.

Here is an example of some blog titles that center around the “compliance” grid we showed above:

blog titles about compliance

Writing specific and detailed content to match these titles increases the likelihood that you will develop a positive relationship with potential buyers and it increases the likelihood that search engines like Google and Bing will rank that content highly as searchers pose relevant questions.

From here, you can begin to list potential blog titles, types of articles you want to re-post or highlight on social media, the kinds of photos you will want to publish, as well as which keywords and ideas to highlight in your website content.

And given the size of the list, you will now have a structure that easily allows you to create an entire social media and content marketing calendar for (at least) several months.

Have you had success with content marketing? Do you have any other must do steps in creating a plan? Let us know!





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