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Content Marketing

The 13-Step Guide to Creating a Content Marketing Plan [Free Template]

Need a content marketing plan but not sure where to start? This comprehensive guide walks you through a 13 step process to create a content strategy

14 mins read time

Ready to jumpstart your content marketing and give your brand a major lift? Content marketing is extremely effective and offers great ROI — but if you want to do it right, you need to have a plan. Creating a content marketing strategy takes a lot of work, but we’ve broken it down into biteable little nuggets of information so you can take it one step at a time.

Plus, we’re also including a free content marketing plan template, so once you go through the steps, you can use it to build a practical and realistic plan to achieve your content goals. 

Download your free content marketing plan now or after you’ve read through our guide to creating a content marketing strategy that delivers.

FPS | Content Marketing Plan Template

What Is Content Marketing? 

Content marketing is a key component of inbound marketing, in which your brand creates, distributes, and promotes various types of content to answer your audience’s needs, wants, and pain points. Content provides prospective customers with information, solutions, and meaningful opportunities to interact with your brand.

It’s also a cost-effective and efficient way to market your brand. So if you’re wondering why we’re such big fans of content marketing, here are a few of the many (many) reasons:

why you need content marketing

More leads, more sales, more loyalty…and all for less money? How can you not love content? (You can’t not love it; that’s the takeaway.) 

But, as we mentioned earlier, you can’t really expect content marketing to do the job it’s meant to do if you don’t have a firm plan in place. And that’s what we’re here to do today.

What Is a Content Marketing Plan? 

You’ll often hear a content marketing plan referred to as a content marketing strategy, and both terms are correct. Your plan is essentially a document that details the strategy you’ll follow to achieve your content marketing goals.

The steps you’ll take to build your content marketing plan will be different from the steps other brands or types of businesses -- like SaaS or startups -- take, but you can anticipate a few phases in your strategy that are common across many brands and industries.

how to build a content strategy-1

The image above is a broad look at some of the steps you’ll need to take to create your content marketing strategy. We’ll break it down even further into 13 steps that dig deep into the details. But first, why is creating a content marketing plan so important?

The Value of Creating a Content Marketing Plan 

Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to build your content marketing strategy. Is all the hassle really worth it? A lot of B2B brands don’t think so, and the statistics don't lie. Only 37% of B2B marketers say they have a documented content strategy.

organizations with content marketing strategy

That leaves a quarter of all B2B marketers with no content strategy and another 38% who claim they have one but have zero documentation. 

What does this mean? Well, the same research has shown that among these B2B marketers, those with a documented content marketing strategy represented a majority of the most successful brands. Those without a documented strategy were more likely to be the least successful or underperforming brands.

Content strategy matters. You can’t really put a price tag on what you’ll get out of it. But without one, it could cost you more than you’re willing to spend.

So, now that we know how important a content marketing plan is, let’s get into the good stuff:

13 Tips for Creating a Content Marketing Strategy

Of course, if you have the budget and resources, we recommend finding an agency partner to support you through the process of creating your content marketing plan (and we know a great one). But we also understand that’s not always the reality for some brands. So if you’re planning to DIY your content strategy, we’ve got the step-by-step walkthrough you need. Follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful content marketing strategy.

#1: Establish Goals and KPIs for Content Marketing 

There’s one important thing to remember when it comes to the content marketing goals you set and the metrics you use to measure them: They won’t look the same as those for traditional marketing. Your overall marketing strategy may be focused on sales, revenue, and conversion, but with content marketing, you’ll need to look beyond the dollar signs.

Content marketing metrics and KPIs can certainly include sales, but the fact is that much of the content you produce will hit your audience earlier in the funnel when they’re not quite ready for conversion.

So you may need to redefine what a “conversion” actually is. It could be downloading a content asset you’ve created or signing up for your mailing list. But it all comes down to setting goals that align with what your content marketing strategy can achieve and tracking the right metrics to make sure you’re on track.

Content marketing KPIs can also include:

  • Newsletter and email subscribers
  • Site traffic or landing page traffic
  • Social engagement (likes, follows, shares, etc.)
  • Increased SERP ranking

One of the biggest goals for content marketing is increasing brand awareness, which is a tough KPI to track. Remember that you’ll also need to track all your expenditures to determine your ROI. Content marketing is more cost-effective than other forms of marketing, but because it’s more difficult to track, it’s sometimes easier to spend more than you’re getting back.

Make a list of your goals, then create a list of the metrics you can use to track them. Include your budget, and make sure you stick to it.

#2: Conduct Audience Research and Define Your Audience

Now that you’ve got your success indicators nailed down, you can start to get into the good stuff. You’ll begin by deep-diving into your target audience and, more specifically, your buyer persona(s). 

Take some time to do some audience research to find out what existing customers are saying, along with the customers you’d like to have. 

understanding customer needs

Surveys are a great way to get feedback on what your customers want to hear from you. Another excellent way to get intel from potential customers is to hang out on social forums like Reddit and Quora. It’s a perfect opportunity to listen in on what real people are saying about your brand, product, or industry and learn what they want in a casual and conversational space.

#3: Conduct a Content Audit

A content audit is a key step in creating your content marketing strategy. Depending on how much content you’ve already created, your audit can be pretty quick…or really long. Allot time according to how much content you’ve got in your backlogs.

If you haven’t done a content audit before, it’s something you’ll want to make a regular occurrence. You can plan to do it annually or more frequently if you’re producing a ton of content. 

You can structure your content audit however you want, but typically you’ll house it in a spreadsheet where you can track things like publication date, when/if it’s been updated, how it’s performing, and whether it’s a candidate for a rewrite, repurposing, or deletion. 

#4: Research Competitors 

You can weave this step in as part of your content audit. Create a separate tab in your spreadsheet so you can log what your competition is doing. 

Look at the themes and topics they’re discussing, and pay close attention to what content of theirs is getting the most engagement on social media. Take a look at how they rank in search and use an SEO tool to determine which keywords they’re ranking for (so you can create content that will outrank them). 

Remember that aside from your competitors, other things are competing for your audience’s attention. Pay attention to news and entertainment sites and social media where similar topics might be vying for their attention. 

#5: Conduct Keyword Research 

SEO and content go together like mac and cheese or PB&J (we’re writing this at lunchtime, okay?). So it’s critical that you put a lot of effort and thought into selecting the keywords you’ll use to optimize your content for search.

It’s tempting to go after the mega-keywords with insanely high search volumes — but you’ll find the competition is also extraordinarily high, and it’s almost impossible to rank well for them.

Instead, go after long-tail keywords — the lengthy, hyper-specific keywords with low search volume. Why? Because as the keywords get longer and more specific, the competition declines, and the likelihood of conversion dramatically increases.

long-tail keywords

That’s because of search intent (what users intend to do with the information they’re looking for). Long-tail keywords are better at fulfilling search intent, and those high-intent keywords are designed for conversion.

There are four types of search intent, so you’ll need to understand which type you’re going for when selecting your keywords.

b2b keywords and search intent

And it’s not just for B2B brands — any brand can take advantage of long-tail keywords and search intent as part of their content and SEO strategies.

#6: Identify Your Best Content Channels 

It’s tempting to broadcast your content across every possible channel and network in the hopes that it’ll hit the target eventually. But that usually means a lot of extra work with very little reward. 

Instead, tailor your content distribution to specific channels where it will have the most impact. Of course, which channel you choose will depend on many factors, including the content format, funnel position, the buyer persona you’re targeting, and more.

B2B brands will find that LinkedIn is a great channel for a lot of their content, while a B2C brand might get better results on Instagram. A company blog might work better for some brands, while YouTube is more successful for others.

Whatever you choose, you’ll need to research and plan to figure out which channels are the right ones for you. Google Analytics can help with that if you go into acquisition and see which channels are bringing in the most traffic and shares. You can also use a tool designed specifically for this purpose, like Buzzsumo, to see what content is performing the best on which channels.

#7: Understand the Content Funnel 

There are a lot of funnels in marketing. There’s a funnel for pretty much every type of marketing and every marketing channel. But all of them follow roughly the same format — customers (or leads or users) come into the funnel at or near the top, and your marketing efforts lead them further down toward the bottom, which is typically where conversion happens.

In the content marketing funnel, the funnel stages align with the phases in the buyer’s journey — awareness, consideration, and decision — which will determine the type of content you want to create to continue moving them through.

content marketing funnel

For example, you wouldn’t want to create an intensive webinar on how to use your product for users still at the top of the funnel because they just aren’t there yet. They’d be disinterested or overwhelmed, and all that time and effort you put into creating the content would go to waste. 

But if you created that content and put it in front of an audience near the bottom of the funnel — the ones who know your brand and are just about ready to make a purchase — you’ll see a much greater return.

#8: Determine the Type of Content That Works Best for You 

There really are endless possibilities when it comes to which type or format to use for your content. Budget and resources might determine which types you choose, but you should also look at your buyer persona and see which formats are most effective for them.

Blogs are an age-old content marketing tradition; while they can get a little tired after a while, they’re still around because they’re incredibly effective.

brand blog statistics

You can’t really argue with those numbers. So, if you’re just getting started with content marketing, a blog is a great place to begin. 

But don’t be afraid to branch out from there. You might want to dabble in video content, infographics, podcasts, or something else. B2B brands might get more results from ebooks, guides, or case studies.

As much as you’re able, experiment with content formats and find which types work best for you.

#9: Identify and Allocate Budget and Resources 

A lot of folks are drawn to organic or inbound marketing because they think it’s FREE (and who doesn’t love free stuff?). 

But what’s the one thing we know about life? Nothing comes for free.

So while you aren’t necessarily going to be spending money to distribute or promote your content (unless you want to utilize paid advertising), you still aren’t getting something for nothing. 

Content marketing is an investment, and there are definitely costs associated with it, including:

  • Content creation: Who’s writing/filming/designing all this amazing content? If you don’t have internal people with the right skills or availability, you may need to outsource (it’s the most common part of content marketing that gets outsourced). 
  • Content tools: What physical or digital tools do you need to make this happen? That might include software for design and editing, cameras or recording devices, microphones for podcasting…and the list goes on.
  • Content management: Who’s in charge of all this? Who’s coming up with content ideas, who’s scheduling it all, who’s hiring or sourcing talent, and who’s publishing/distributing it? 

All of these things come with a cost, and you’ll need to determine whether it’s worth it to keep it all in house or if you need some outside help and support.

Remember that content, like SEO, is a long game. You aren’t likely to see immediate ROI (at least not in the form of revenue), but it’s an investment that will compound and grow over time.

#10: Build an Editorial Content Calendar 

Once you’ve got all of this planning worked out, you’re ready to create one of the most crucial pieces of your content marketing strategy — your editorial calendar. An editorial calendar will keep you on track so you know you’re publishing/distributing content regularly and consistently (which is associated with the most successful content).

If that sounds overwhelming, never fear. The best thing about content is that it can last forever. In fact, reusing, refreshing, or repurposing old content into new formats across new channels is one of the most effective ways to drive results with content marketing.

repurposed content

Most of the time, you’ll want a mix of brand-new content, updated content, and totally repurposed content in fresh new formats. An editorial calendar will help you plan all of that and ensure you’re striking a balance between old and new.

#11: Write Content 

So You Think You Can Write (potential title of my new reality show) — but can you, really? Do you know how long a blog needs to be to get the best results? Do you know which words are the best to drive conversions? Or the difference between their, they’re, and there?

Acing high school English might mean you can write accurately and without grammatical errors, but a content writer it does not make. Content creation takes skill and experience, and if you don’t have someone on your team with that skill set, you’ll probably need to outsource at least some of your writing. 

But in the meantime,  you can learn some of the basics of putting together copy that drives results, like writing headlines and sub-headings that keep readers engaged and interested.

how to write effective headlines

There are also plenty of content platforms out there that can help you create content using AI. Those are really valuable tools in helping you create content briefs, optimize for search, and brainstorm topics and ideas…but even the best AI still needs a human touch. 

Bottom line: Find the best content creators/writers your budget allows. You won’t be sorry.

#12: Create a Plan for Content Promotion and Distribution

Earlier, you decided on channels that would work the best for your content, and you created an editorial calendar. Now, it’s time for all that hard work to pay off. Make a plan for how and when you’ll send your content out into the world. Remember, it’s not just about hitting “publish” and sitting back and waiting for the accolades — you need to let your audience know that the content is out there and guide them toward finding it.

That often means sharing your content on social media, using it as part of a lead gen campaign, or even purchasing paid ads to ensure it hits the right audience.

Remember what we said above about repurposing old content — that can be a great way to promote and redistribute high-performing content without draining your budget. You’ll just need to decide which content is okay with just a slight refresh and which needs a complete overhaul. 

content refresh methods

Include your distribution plan in your editorial calendar so you have the channel and schedule documented.

#13: Measure Results  

Way back in step one, you set your goals and KPIs for your content marketing plan. Now it’s time to put all your hard work and effort to the test and measure your results. There are many ways you can do this, and most will depend on what you’ve set as your KPIs. Here are some of the ways you can monitor your results:

  • Google Analytics — keep an eye on traffic, acquisitions, and much more on your free dashboard
  • Social analytics tools — like Buzzsumo, Sprout Social, and others, to measure engagement and performance
  • SEO tools — including SEMrush and Ahrefs, so you can get a better understanding of keyword performance
  • Listening tools — like Google Alerts and Mention, where you get notifications whenever your brand is being talked about

    FPS | Content Marketing Plan Template

Increase Your Chances of Achieving Your Goals with a Content Marketing Plan

Whew — you made it! Now it’s time to put everything you learned through these 13 steps into action. We’ve made it easy and simple to do that with our Content Marketing Plan Template — our free gift from FPS to you.

We hope you’ve discovered a lot about content marketing and how it can be a powerful force for your brand. If you feel you need more support in strategizing, creating, and distributing fantastic content, we’re here for you. Contact FPS today to learn more.

And in the meantime, we know you’ve got that DIY spirit, so get a head start with our Content Marketing Template — download now!

Deepshikha Dhankhar

Deepshikha has over a decade of experience in generating demand and capturing revenue through data-informed content strategies. She loves spending time in nature with her daughter and husband.

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