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6 Simple Steps to Create Actionable Content Plans

The Importance of a Good Plan

Starting any endeavor without a solid plan is a fool’s errand. Planning can make the difference between a fun hike in the woods and wandering lost in the wilderness. The same is true of content development projects. When it comes to helping deliver the traffic and results you or your clients expect, planning often separates success from failure.

Today let’s take a look at the 6 steps to build a simple content plan for your organization – one that focuses on creating content of interest to your audience and customers. The web is of riddled with technical SEO topics related to how to structure content that will increase your ranking in search engines. While it is important to do both, we are going focus on how to get started publishing meaningful content for the people who make up your target audience.

Throw a stone in a book store and you’ll hit a writer who will tell you a blank page is a scary proposition. Add to the challenge the need to tailor your message to a unique industry vertical with its own terminology and lingo. Speckle in the need to adjust your copy to how it will be delivered – web copy, webinars, blog posts, white papers, videos, applications – and you’ll see a few getting queasy.

Our agency customers in particular are faced with the challenge of learning how new verticals communicate with each new client they land. With a little research and a solid content plan though, it’s very doable.

1. Audience & Target Market Selection

It almost seems strange to admit but more web traffic is not always better web traffic. If you are attracting the interest of individuals outside of your target market, your site analytics may appear like they are trending in the right direction but you will watch your conversion stats plummet.

The goal of your content plan should be for your company or brand to “own” a particular set of concepts to the degree possible with the available resources. In this post-Penguin world, where Google’s search algorithm increasingly favors useful, socially-relevant content over link building strategies, being the “go to” source for a particular set of concepts is becoming increasingly important.

The first step in developing a content plan is to think carefully about the exact audience you want to communicate to. Today’s content strategists and planners use competitive keyword research to ensure the word choices they use fit the audience they are seeking to attract.

Industry Example

Let’s assume it were your job to develop content for the dental market. If it were, it would make a significant difference whether you were developing copy for dentists or for consumers planning on visiting dentists. “The chair” is the common term used to refer to the area where a dentist drills. If your task was to write copy for dental professionals though, “the operatory” would be a more appropriate. Small keyword choices like these can mean the difference between attracting the right audience that delivers real results, and attracting the wrong audience and false hope.

2. Keyword Analysis

It’s often a delicate balancing act. Strive for long tail keywords for focus, or concentrate on head terms that deliver more search volume. When developing a content plan, tools like those iSpionage offers can help you discover, plan for, and develop content that uses a combination of terms with the best chance of delivering a sufficient amount of targeted traffic to meet your business goals.

The term “golden keyword” has started to make its rounds around the web. It is used to describe terms that help weed out untargeted traffic and still yield clicks and conversions. Keyword research tools that collect competitive data can help you efficiently explore topical areas of interest and uncover these “needle in a haystack” keywords. Certainly you use broadmatch settings within your Adwords account to capture additional related traffic, but it only works to expand the impact of solid keywords once they are discovered.

An understanding of which keywords deliver meaningful traffic that converts is key. Some of these can be discovered by exploring the keywords your competitors use. Tools like those iSpionage offers not only provide an efficient approach to uncover these keywords, but once identified, we can also help keep a close watch on them for you.

3. Persona Development

The development of persona, or fictitious reader profiles, is an important third step in the content planning process. These profiles help guide the development of appropriate content and help to simplify decisions about what topics make sense to develop. For each persona you create to guide and inform your content planning decisions, you should minimally note:

    • Age (Teen, 20s, 30s, etc.)
    • Geographic location (municipality, state/province, country – urban, rural)
    • Profession
    • Experience level with computers/information (novice, intermediate, expert
    • Educational level
    • Gender
    • Learning Style
    • Backstory

It is certainly important to understand that your audience is not composed of a homogeneous set of individuals. It is equally important to not go overboard and to limit the number of persona profiles you consider. Budget and time available are always resources in short supply. We recommend picking your battles so you can execute well for the persona you do prioritize.

Industry Example

As much as you may hate hearing it, it’s time to go back to the dentist. Assume we are developing content for a manufacturer of a teeth whitening solution sold to dentist offices. When deciding on the audience we are going to target, the first decision will be whether to tune our content to communicate with dentists, or dental hygienists, or consumers. Since aforementioned resources are limited, the option of going after all three is not an option. If the ultimate purchase decision is made by dentists directly with hygienists acting in the role of an influencer, they likely make the most sense to communicate to. It ain’t over yet though. With the target audience so defined, the question then becomes: Are all dentists alike? Are all hygienists alike?

This is the point where developing a few different personae makes sense. It may be useful to create content specifically for the “Cost-Conscious Dentist” persona where financial considerations is your primary topic. Perhaps a nice “Care-Focused Dentist” makes sense. Perhaps a “Time-Conscious Hygienist” who just wants to get home to her glass of Cabernet rounds out the team.

It is also important to discover and use keywords in your content that dentists and hygienists are likely to use when searching the internet. Equally important though is limiting the use of keywords that would attract untargeted consumer audiences. For instance, the term “dentistry” is used more often by those in the profession while “dentist” would be used by consumers. Those planning content should put themselves in the shoes of their persona and think carefully about how to develop compelling content for the right audience. It may be tempting to develop content tuned for the term “whitening toothpaste” to attract some portion of the 40,500 monthly searches of the term rather than use “whitening system” with half the traffic. Smart content planners focus on conversion goals and temper the desire for increased untargeted traffic to accept less of the right traffic.

4. Brainstorm Content Topics and Content Types

The fourth phase of the content development process, and my personal favorite, is to round up a team of creative individuals in your organization for the purpose of fleshing out the plan with content ideas. Even for relatively simple content plans, we recommend at least three brainstorming sessions to gather content ideas and match them up to content types and persona profiles.

We recommend forming a small team and preferably at least half of your group should remain consistent throughout the planning process. Brainstorming sessions tend to work out best when the group adheres to the “pizza principal”. The pizza principal is simple: invite the same number of people to your brainstorming session as you would to share two large pizzas. Five to seven people tends to be about the right number. Consider inviting the hygienist with her Cabernet just for grins.

The brainstorm moderator should make sure no one person takes over the session by encouraging participation from everyone. Remember to allow for creativity and stretch ideas. At the same time, each content idea needs to have a stated, well-understood business or user objective to guide its creation and help measure the success. The goal should be to diverge from the beaten path and let ideas flow freely. Toward the end of each session, converge around the ideas about which the group feels most strongly.

5. Write It Down and Develop a Schedule

It is important to not let all this hard work disappear into thin air. Ideas need to be captured, mapped out and scheduled in a calendar across the coming months or year. Remember to assign budget and writing resources to each piece of content and backward schedule the development of each.

I usually recommend that each piece of content should have a single content owner who will be responsible for the deadline and resources required to create the piece. This SNTG, or “Single Neck to Grab” approach tends to limit the confusion caused when teams of people are involved in the content creation process. If you are responsible for the plan and your single, well-communicated document does not communicate who is responsible for a specific piece of content – then the neck to grab is yours. Happy delegating!

We recommend noting the following for each item on your content plan calendar:

    • Business objective – what part of the conversion funnel is the content intending to influence
    • Keyword objective – what are the keywords and keyword phrases you want to focus on
    • Delivery channel – how will you distribute the content once it is created
    • Level of effort – how much time or budget is required to complete the piece
    • SNTG – Who is ultimately responsible for making sure the content gets created
    • Due Date – what date do you want to share the content
    • KPI – The key performance indicator(s) you will use to determine whether the content is successful

Some key performance indicators that you may want to consider include

    • Views
    • Downloads
    • Social media shares
    • Comments
    • Conversions

6. Plan Execution & Monitoring

The final phase of creating a simple content plan is to implement with excellence and monitor your results. The key point here is: with excellence. Search engines and people alike favor content that is useful and meaningful to your target audience. The better the content, the more it is shared and linked to, the better your organic search results will be. Depending on the number and skill of the competitors vying for the limited attention of your target market, the difference between success and failure will depend on the quality of your ideas, the uniqueness and value of the content you create, and the frequency with which you publish.

If your plan, ideas, and content are better than those of your organic search competitors you will gain ground against them. If you are just beginning with content marketing, remember it does take time to see results. Often, a ramp up period of six to nine months is not unreasonable while you attract interest and establish your audience.

Rinse and Repeat

As with most strategies when it comes to search marketing, it is important to continuously learn. Make sure you monitor your KPI results carefully so you can improve over time. Use your findings and results as inputs to the development of your plan for your next business cycle.


We hope this simple content planning process will be useful to you. Content planning is generally a complex topic that we have attempted to make as simple as possible though these 6 steps. Though we have tried to cover the high points, we would be very happy to hear your own experiences and insights in the comments section. Happy planning!