In the 25+ years since Bill Gates told us that “content is king,” content marketing has come a long way.

Tossing the occasional blog post or video on your page isn’t enough to get the attention of search engines or prospective customers anymore. You could increase the volume of your content, but if you don’t have a strategy for timing and targeting it, you’re not likely to get results.

Content planning helps you get the best content marketing ROI. With a good plan, you can create content that ranks on Google and drives conversions over time.

This article breaks down content planning, why you need it, and how to do it right, step-by-step.

What is Content Planning?

Content planning is the process of coming up with your content ideas and figuring out details like who will create each content piece, how it will be distributed on various marketing channels, and which tools you’ll use to execute your content marketing plan.

A content plan outlines the content you’re going to create, who it’s for, and when and how it’s going to be created.

Diagram of different content plan elements

What’s the difference between content planning and content strategy?

Content strategy and content plan are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same.

Your content strategy is a high-level vision. It describes your goals, your major messaging and themes, and your target audience.

A content plan fits under the higher-level umbrella of content strategy. It gets more specific about which pieces of content you’re going to create, how you’re going to create them, and when you’ll create and distribute them.

Content strategy and content plan differences

Why Do You Need a Content Plan?

Content planning can be a time-consuming process, and you’ve already got a lot on your plate. You might wonder if writing a content plan is really more effective than ad hoc content creation.

Here’s why it’s important to start with a plan:

It keeps you from wasting time and money

Yes, content planning is time-consuming, but it improves efficiency in the long run. When you make a content plan, you set goals for your content marketing activities. Every piece of content you create is aligned with those goals.

That means you never throw away precious hours or budget writing a blog post or creating an infographic that isn’t helping you achieve your objectives.

It fills gaps in your current content

Maybe there’s an important audience segment that you haven’t nurtured effectively. Or maybe you’re neglecting a great keyword. Maybe you’ve been caught up writing blog posts and haven’t branched into other types of content.

The process of content planning helps you identify these gaps and make a plan to fix them.

It improves your time management

A content plan includes a calendar for content creation and distribution. That helps you publish a steady stream of content. Your workload isn’t uneven or unexpected. You’re prepared for time-sensitive projects like seasonal content or content that supports an industry event.

It helps build trust

When done right, content marketing can boost awareness, credibility, customer loyalty, and demand generation. If your content delivers value for your customers they begin to trust in your brand.

Content planning is the key to unlocking all these benefits for your company.

Top benefits of content marketing

Instead of just posting content willy-nilly to your company blog, every piece serves a greater purpose, contributing to your strategic online presence.

What’s Included in a Content Plan?

Your content plan is much more than a calendar or list of topics — it’s a roadmap for your entire content creation process.

Here’s what your content plan should specify:

Your content creation and distribution schedule

The editorial calendar lets the whole team know when each piece of content will be created, published, and promoted.

What types of content you’ll create

Are you going to create blog posts and short articles like 90% of B2B content marketers do? Or will you focus on case studies or ebooks?

Ideally, your content plan will include a mix of content types.

Common types of marketing content

The goal for each piece of content

You should always know what your content is trying to accomplish. A video aimed at spreading brand awareness will look different than one created to drive conversions.

The content’s target audience

Your content plan should specify the target audience of each piece of content. If you market to multiple buyer personas, make sure your content plan includes content tailored to each group.

The stage of the customer journey

Your content should nurture a customer through the entire buyer journey. That means you have to create content for people at each stage, including:

  • Awareness: When the person has started to discover a problem that your product could solve
  • Consideration: When the person has clearly defined the problem and is researching solutions
  • Decision: When the person is ready to make a purchase decision and is comparing products

Stages of the buyer's journey

You can do this by planning one piece of problem-focused content, one piece of solution-focused content, and one piece of provider-focused content per week, for example.

Who will create and distribute the content

You’ve decided exactly which content to create — now, whose job is it? Each piece of content should have an owner. You may also want to designate other team members who will work on creating, publishing, and promoting the content.

Master Content Planning in 8 Simple Steps

Let’s dive into the specifics of how to do content planning effectively. Follow these eight simple steps, and you’ll be on the path to content marketing supremacy.

1. Establish your goals

Goals guide your content planning and determine how you’ll measure your success.

For example, you could have a goal of increasing marketing-qualified leads by 10% in Q4. That objective might make you more likely to create gated content like downloadable ebooks.

Your content goals should be SMART. In other words:

  • Specific: The goal should be clear and well-defined.
  • Measurable: There’s a clear way to track your success.
  • Attainable: Your goals should be optimistic but realistic.
  • Relevant: Your content goals should align with your overall organizational strategy.
  • Time-bound: The goals have a deadline.

2. Define your target audience(s)

All of your content should be targeted at your ideal buyer.

Before you start planning your content, you should have an idea of who you’re creating it for — and no, that isn’t “everyone.” One way that many companies narrow their targeting is by creating buyer personas.

A buyer persona is a detailed description of a fictional person who represents your target audience. The persona helps content creators visualize who their content should appeal to. A persona usually includes:

  • A name
  • The person’s demographics, like age and gender
  • Their lifestyle and interests
  • Their typical problems and pain points
  • Their buying habits — are they primarily concerned with cost or brand recognition?

You may have one customer persona or a few depending on your product selection and industry. If you sell to multiple personas, plan to create content that caters to each of them.

3. Do your research

Content planning isn’t about picking topics randomly, it’s about choosing the pieces of content most likely to perform well for your business. And that means starting with research.

First, check out what your competitors are doing. 

You probably already know who your major competitors are, but you can also use our free Search Competition Tool to identify businesses that are competing with you for keywords.

Browse the competitor sites for content ideas. Do they have content on any relevant topics that you haven’t covered yet? Make a list of these content titles.

Next, identify logical keywords for your content. 

A piece of SEO content is typically based on a keyword that you expect your potential customers to search.

A good place to start your research is our free Keyword Planner Tool. Just type in a word or phrase, and the tool will give you a list of related keywords.

For more comprehensive information on how to identify the best keywords for content creation, check out our guide to SEO keyword research.

4. Audit your existing content

Before you decide to create new content, you should evaluate the content you already have. Conduct an audit of your existing content, asking yourself questions like:

  • Is all of our product-related content up-to-date?
  • How well is the content performing?
  • Have we covered each stage of the buyer journey for each buyer persona?
  • Is there content focused on the keywords or topics identified in step #3?

The goal is to identify gaps. If you already have a lot of content about a certain topic, you don’t need to write more. But you could be neglecting a key audience demographic or a topic that all your competitors have covered.

You might find that you already have content about a topic, but it’s not performing well or isn’t up-to-date. There’s no reason to recreate these pieces — content optimization can also be added to your calendar.

5. Plan your new content

You’ve brainstormed keywords and observed the competitive landscape. You know what existing content you have and how it’s performing. Now it’s time to take that information and turn it into a plan.

Think about cadence — based on your time and resources, how frequently can you create content? This will determine how many pieces of content you need to plan for. Start adding your ideas to your content calendar.

In addition to your regularly scheduled content, think about planning special content around events, product launches, holidays, etc.

Example of content calendar

6. Plan for distribution and promotion

When you’re creating your content calendar, don’t forget to make a plan for how you’ll promote the content. Will your blog post be posted to social media? Sent in an email campaign? Syndicated on external sites?

Repurposing or promoting existing content can also be a part of your content plan.

7. Assign the work

For each piece of content, choose an “owner.” This person won’t necessarily do all of the work on the content, but they’ll make sure its creation and distribution are on track.

You can choose to have your team create all of your content, but there are other options. First, you can work with influencers who will create content promoting your brand.

Working with influencers can be a great way to generate content with a larger reach. And it works — 36% of marketers say that influencer content outperforms their brand-created content, while only 10% say the brand content does better.

Influencer content outperforms brand content

If you add influencer content to your content plan, it should still be assigned an owner from your team. This person will manage communication with the influencer.

There’s another way to get expert-created, high-performing marketing content without the hassle of creating it yourself. HOTH Blogger is a blog writing service that provides highly relevant, well-researched, professionally-written content for your company blog.

8. Measure results and adjust plans based on them

Your content is out in the world, but the job of content planning isn’t done. Tracking the performance of your content can help you create effective content plans in the future — or tweak the current one.

Just because you’ve filled out the content calendar doesn’t mean you can’t change the plan. For example, you might discover that content aimed at buyer persona A is performing better than the content for buyer persona B. You could then choose to prioritize content for persona A for the rest of the year.

There are a lot of tools that can help you with content tracking, including Google Analytics and our free Website Traffic Checker.

Plan for Content Success

Content planning lets you create high-performing content that helps you achieve your business goals. It prevents wasted time and ensures that you’re generating content on a regular schedule.

But it’s daunting, and it takes time and expertise. How do you find the right keywords or know what types of content to prioritize? We can help. Schedule a call to talk to an SEO and content planning expert today.