Imagine this: you and your team have dedicated hours to researching, writing and editing an e-book. It’s finally finished, gone through approvals, and is ready for (drumroll please…) publication. After the asset is live, you check the analytics and engagement metrics, but things aren’t quite adding up the way you expected. Leads aren’t converting and, suddenly, the time you invested into this great piece of content looks like a waste.
As marketers, we’ve probably all heard the phrase, “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.” And like most catchall phrases, it comes with caveats. While experimentation with new strategies is valuable and necessary for your marketing communications program, content development and how it impacts your business shouldn’t be guesswork. Instead, with careful planning, your content should be reliably contributing to your sales funnel. If it’s not, then it’s likely time to update your content marketing strategy.
Building a Content Marketing Plan
A thorough content marketing plan includes measurable goals, buyer personas, and an editorial calendar informed by research. The plan should be supported by metrics and include key performance indicators (KPIs) and must keep budget and stakeholder expectations in mind.
Below, we’ve outlined the six biggest steps to follow when developing a content marketing plan.
1. Audit Existing Owned Content
A content marketing plan should rely on real user data. The best way to gather this information is to analyze performance metrics from existing content. According to Semrush, organic traffic, search ranking, and leads are the top three most important KPIs behind a successful piece of content. You should also look into pieces that performed well based on metrics important to your company, such as customer engagement and clickthrough rates, that can inform your sales team about topics that are top-of-mind for customers and related products of interest.
This audit will provide insight into what is already resonating with your audience, define a baseline for content performance, and uncover existing pieces that can generate quick wins (more on this later).
2. Revisit (or Build) Personas
If you’ve already developed buyer personas, now is a great time to give them a second look. They are excellent tools for helping your marketing and sales teams reach and effectively communicate with your ideal buyer. If you haven’t already created buyer personas, consider how they can help define and standardize messaging, guiding customers through a more targeted and cohesive sales experience.
To be effective, personas need more than just demographic information about your audience. They should include insight into the buying experience of your ideal customer and define the best channels and messaging to connect with them. Be sure to evaluate your existing personas with this in mind.
3. Ensure Consistency With a Content Style Guide
A content style guide defines your brand’s voice, style, tone, grammar, and mechanic rules to follow when drafting content. Your style guide should accurately communicate your brand’s personality and reflect what is most important to your ideal customer.
Your content audit (i.e., step 1) may uncover new information about how your customers react to and engage with your brand. Consider how top-performing pieces reflect your brand voice and content style guide — taking note of both alignments and where things feel off — and make updates to your style guide to reflect reoccurring trends you observe.
Your style guide will provide the overarching guidance to deliver each piece in your content marketing plan in a consistent, recognizable brand voice.
4. Document Your Strategy + Define Measurable Goals
Your content audit, personas, and style guide are necessary building blocks to create and execute an effective content plan. Use the information gathered during the first three steps to build a strategy that outlines important points you want to hit and pieces of content, like specific topics or original research, that speak to your buyers at each stage of the sales process.
A content strategy must evolve to be impactful over time. We recommend comparing content metrics against your chosen goals quarterly to keep your strategy fresh. Define the KPIs to measure success in your initial plan and determine how often you will reevaluate that success.
5. Create an Editorial Calendar That Considers Your Buyer’s Journey
An editorial calendar is what brings your content strategy to life. It should include varied content types that address the topics your customers are eager to learn about at every stage of their buying journey. Create content — whether it be blog posts, infographics, or videos — to answer questions, share company announcements, and amplify customer success stories. Make sure your planned content addresses pain points for your ideal customer and their final-decision maker.
*Bonus Tip: Recycle Premium Content
Your editorial calendar doesn’t need to have 100% net new content. Chances are, you already have a few long-form pieces you can mold into new assets. Not only is this less time-consuming than creating something brand new, but high performers of the past could also easily become high performers in the present with a few tactical updates. Work these updates into your editorial calendar to maximize ROI on a minimal budget.
6. Report Results and Reevaluate
The last, and arguably most critical, step in building an effective ongoing content marketing program is to report on results quarterly. Semrush reported that 65% of companies with very successful content marketing programs run content audits more than twice a year.
Use reporting as an opportunity to run a mini-audit and course-correct if the tactics and topics you thought would be impactful aren’t resonating with your audience. Continue to identify pieces that are performing well, and tweak them to drive even more leads (and the opposite — take note of what’s not doing well and test new approaches to drive engagement).
Quarterly reports also provide an opportunity to outline the ROI of your content and gain stakeholder buy-in. Use them to showcase how your content program supports the company’s larger business goals via new leads, traffic to the site, and engagement among your key audiences.
Your Content Marketing Toolbox
An informed and iterative content strategy is a key revenue generator. When reinforced by a thorough content audit, research-backed personas, dynamic editorial calendar, and regular reporting, your content strategy should set you up to meet both the expectations of your stakeholders and your marketing KPIs.