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Where Marketers Go to Grow

January 19, 2017 // 8:00 AM

How to Plan a Content Marketing Strategy: A Start-to-Finish Guide

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Whether you're just starting out with content marketing or you've been using the same strategies for a while, your content marketing plan needs to be better than ever for 2017.

Why? This year, you've got even more competition -- according to Content Marketing Institute, 70% of B2B marketers surveyed say they are creating more content this year than they did in 2016.

The first step to getting a leg up on the competition is to have a solid, smart content marketing plan in place. If you're having trouble planning for the upcoming year or need some fresh ideas to include in your plan, read on. Receive a 12-month marketing plan in less than 10 minutes with the help of our  free generator. 

In this blog post, we'll dive into why your business needs a content marketing plan and the exact steps you will need to take to create one.

Why Content Marketing Matters for Businesses

Content marketing helps businesses prepare and plan for reliable and cost-effective sources of website traffic and new leads. Think about it -- if you can create just one blog post that gets a steady amount of organic traffic, an embedded link to an ebook or free tool will continue generating leads for you as time goes on. 

The reliable source of traffic and leads from your evergreen content will give you flexibility to experiment with other marketing tactics to generate revenue, such as sponsored content, social media advertising, and distributed content. Plus, your content will not only help attract leads -- it will also help educate your target prospects and generate awareness for your brand. 

Now, let's dive in to learn the specifics of how to create a content marketing plan.

7 Steps for Creating a Content Marketing Strategy

1) Define your goal.

What's your aim for developing a content marketing plan? Why do you want to produce content and create a content marketing plan? Know your goals before you begin planning, and you'll have an easier time determining what's best for your 2017 strategy. (Want help figuring out the right goals? Download this goal planning template.)

2) Conduct persona research.

To develop a successful plan, you need to clearly define your content's target audience -- also known as your "buyer persona."

This is especially important for those who are starting out or are new to marketing. By knowing your target audience, you can produce more relevant and valuable content that they'll want to read and convert on.

If you're an experienced marketer, your target may have changed. Do you want to target a new group of people or expand your current target market? Do you want to keep the same target audience? Revisiting your audience parameters by conducting market research each year is crucial to growing your audience.

3) Run a content audit.

Most people start out with blog posts, but if you want to venture out and try producing other content pieces, consider which ones you want to make. For instance, if you've been doing weekly blog posts for the past year, creating an ebook that distills all your blog posts into one ultimate guide would be a one way to offer information in a different format. We'll go over several different types of content you can use further down on the list.

If you've been in business for a while, review your content marketing efforts and the results from it in the last year. Figure out what you can do differently in the upcoming year and set new goals to reach. (Pro tip: Now is a great time to align your team's goals with the rest of your organization's goals.)

4) Determine a content management system.

Have a system in place where you can manage your content. A few vital parts of content management include content creation, content publication, and content analytics.

If you're a HubSpot customer, you can plan, produce, publish, and measure your results all in one place using HubSpot software. Other content management system options include CoSchedule and WordPress (although we can't speak to the full range of capabilities of these sites).

5) Brainstorm content ideas.

Now, it's time to start coming up with ideas for your next content project. Here are some tools to get the wheels turning:

  • HubSpot's Website Grader: HubSpot's Website Grader is a great tool to use when you want to see where you're at with your marketing. From your blogging efforts to your social media marketing, Website Grader grades vital areas of your marketing and sends you a detailed report to help you optimize and improve each area. With this tool, you can figure out how to make your website more SEO-friendly and discover new content ideas.
  • What To Write: Get your mind gears going with What To Write's unique content idea generator. This tool asks you questions that will help jumpstart your brainstorming. It also generates several blog post ideas for you after you've completed the questions, so you can use those ideas in your content marketing plan.
  • HubSpot's Blog Topic Generator: Get blog post ideas for an entire year with HubSpot's Blog Topic Generator. All you need to do is enter general topics or terms you'd like to write about, and this content idea generator does all the work for you.
  • Feedly: This popular RSS feed is a wonderful way to keep track of trendy topics in your industry and find content ideas at the same time.
  • Buzzsumo: Discover popular content and content ideas at Buzzsumo. Buzzsumo uses social media shares to determine if a piece of content is popular and well-liked, so this information will help you see which content ideas will do well.
  • Content Forest: Content Forest offers free tools, which include KeywordKiwi and ContentIdeator. These tools will help you find popular content from your competitors, effective keywords to use in your content, and great content ideas all in one spot.
  • Blog Post Headline Analyzer: CoSchedule's tool analyzes headlines and titles and provides feedback on length, word choice, grammar, and keyword search volume. If you have an idea in mind, run a few title options through the Headline Analyzer to see how you could make it stronger, and to move your idea further along in the brainstorm process.

6) Determine which types of content you want to create.

There are a variety of options out there for content you can create. Here are some of the most popular content formats marketers are creating and tools and templates to get you started.

Blog posts

If you haven't already noticed, you're currently perusing a blog post. Blog posts live on a website and should be published regularly in order to attract new visitors. Posts should provide valuable content for your audience that makes them inclined to share posts on social media and across other websites. We recommend that blog posts be between 1,000 and 2,000 words in length, but experiment to see if your audience prefers longer or shorter reads.

Read this blog post on how to write a remarkable post (meta, we know), and check out our free templates for writing great how-to, listicle, curation, SlideShare presentation, and newsjacking posts on your own blog.

Ebooks

Ebooks are lead generation tools that potential customers can download after submitting a lead form with their contact information. They're typically longer, more in-depth, and published less frequently than blog posts, which are written to attract visitors to a website. Ebooks are the next step in the inbound marketing process: After reading a blog post (such as this one), visitors might want more content from an ebook and submit their contact information to learn more valuable information for their business. In turn, the business producing the ebook has a new lead for the sales team to contact.

Check out these 18 templates to get started writing your first ebook.

Templates

Templates are a handy content format to try because they generate leads for you while providing tremendous value to your audience. When you provide your audience with template tools to save them time and help them succeed, they're more likely to keep engaging with your content in the future.

Infographics

Infographics can organize and visualize data in a more compelling way than words alone. These are great content formats to use if you're trying to share a lot of data in a way that is clear and easy to understand.

If you need some more convincing, here's an infographic about why you should publish infographics. If you're ready to get started, get our templates for creating beautiful infographics in less than an hour.

Videos

Videos are a highly engaging content medium that are shareable across social media platforms and websites alike. Videos require a bigger investment of time and resources than written content, but as visual marketing increases in popularity, it's a medium worth experimenting with.

We have some tips for making your first marketing video -- read them here. You could also try your hand at live streaming videos on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Podcasts

Starting a podcast will help audiences find your brand if they don't have time or interest in reading content every day. The number of podcast listeners is growing -- in 2016, an estimated 57 million people listened to podcasts each month. If you have interesting people to interview or conversations to host, consider podcasting as another content format to experiment with.

Here's our comprehensive guide to starting a podcast.

External Content

Once you've been regularly publishing content on your own site for a while, it might be time to start thinking about distributing your content on other sites. This could entail a few things:

  • Publishing website content on social media sites, such as LinkedIn
  • Repurposing content into new formats and publishing them on your blog or social media sites
  • Creating original content specifically for external sites, such as Medium

Here are some ideas for repurposing published content to generate more traffic. If you're considering Medium, check out our insights from our first year of publishing original content on ThinkGrowth.org.

When you're ready for more ideas, there's a plethora of different content types to diversify your website. Check them out below:

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7) Publish and manage your content.

Your marketing plan should go beyond the types of content you'll create -- it should also cover you'll organize your content. With the help of an editorial calendar, you'll be on the right track for publishing a well-balanced and diverse content library on your website. Then, create a social media content calendar so you can promote and manage your content on other sites.

Many of the ideas you think of will be evergreen -- they're just as relevant months from now as they are today. That being said, you shouldn't ignore timely topics either. While they may not be the bulk of your editorial calendar, they can help you generate spikes of traffic.

Most people count on incorporating popular holidays such as New Year's and Thanksgiving in their marketing efforts, but you don't have to limit yourself to these important marketing dates. If there are niche holidays that might appeal to your audience, it could be worth publishing content on your blog or on social media. Download TrackMaven's ultimate list of national days to keep an eye on when you're planning your calendar.

We know this is a lot of information, but the work has just begun. It takes time, organization, and creativity to grow a successful content marketing strategy. From building the foundation of your content marketing plan to adding tools to better manage your content, setting up your strategy for the new year won't be a hassle if you follow the steps and explore the resources here. For additional guidance, use HubSpot's Marketing Plan Generator to create a 12-month strategy in just a few minutes.

Happy creating, and here's to a great year.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in January 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Topics: Content Marketing

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