You set goals for traffic, new followers, backlinks and social shares. You created a content calendar filled with engaging topics and titles that will keep you and your copywriters busy. You have a plan, you’re organized and you have every intention for the interconnectedness of your future on- and off-site content assets to look like this:
(image source: http://i.imgur.com/SAqMEmj.jpg)
Instead, you find yourself several months into content production and it looks like this:
(image source: http://i.imgur.com/SAqMEmj.jpg)
There’s little that upfront planning can do to prevent this from happening. Even the best-planned content strategies will begin to unravel as your site grows and becomes more complex to manage.
Of course, I’m not saying that you should skip your initial content strategy development. Rather, you should carry it through execution so that you force yourself to critically think about each asset before you create it.
So, what’s the key to keeping a content strategy on track? Spend 30 minutes to plan out each piece of content before it’s produced. Yes, it’s an extra commitment of time, but it is vital in keeping your content strategy focused on your goals while avoiding hours of cleanup down the road.
This article will provide you with a template that you can use to fully define the purpose of any new content asset you want to create and what must be done for it to be successful. I’ll show you how documenting and tracking relevant information will keep your content strategy from going off course.
Planning Task #1: Define Your Next Content Asset (15 minutes)
Describe the purpose of your new content idea
Quickly answer the following questions:
● What topic is it addressing? ● Why is it being created? ● How will it bring you closer to reaching one of your content strategy goals?
If you find yourself struggling to answer any of these, then it’s probably best to abandon your current idea and move on to the next one. If you’re having difficulty coming up with any content ideas at all, there are several posts on this blog that can help:
How Would You Classify the Content?
Decide where the content fits best within the site’s conversion funnel. The content conversion funnel has been dissected many different ways, but I generally limit it to three stages for simplicity.
◯ Generally Informational or Fun
Is the content intended purely for education or enjoyment? Perhaps you're creating a long-form guide, an opinion piece or assessment. These top-level content assets cast the widest net for your target audience, but generally have low conversion potential.
Investigative content assets usually include questions or comparisons of specific aspects of a product or service. You might be creating a blog post around a frequently asked question, detailing the top five add-ons for a particular product or doing a side-by-side comparison of two options consumers have in a certain market.
Is the sole purpose of the content to capture customer information or generate leads? Campaign-specific landing pages that target search engine users, email subscribers, social media users or your advertisements are common examples. You could be running a contest, asking users to download a whitepaper or otherwise soliciting their information via a contact form.
Select whichever one applies for the content you’ll be creating. Documenting where the content will live in your conversion funnel will help ensure you’re creating sufficient content for each stage and associating it properly with existing assets.
Which “Food Group” Does the Content Fall Into?
I like the analogy of content variety being like a well-balanced diet. You have to mix up your content to keep your marketing channels fresh and your audience engaged. Otherwise, they may get tired of being fed the same thing over and over again.
These content food groups are adapted from LinkedIn’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Jason Miller. Feel free to modify them if needed:
◯ Whole Grains
This basic building block of content can be served up daily if needed. ● Tutorial (how-to) posts ● FAQs ● Helpful resources or round-ups ● Content repurposing
Not the easiest to produce, but you know you need them. ● Thought-leadership or opinion pieces ● Industry news or developments ● Case studies
These are your most time-consuming, but potentially most-rewarding content assets. ● Guides or content hubs with high educational value ● Interactive content ● Infographics, videos or highly visual content ● Landing pages
◯ Desserts & Condiments
These supporting assets can help inject some personality into your content strategy. ● Cultural highlights (e.g. client or team member spotlights) ● Anything interesting, humorous or creative that you can think of!
Pick the category that makes the most sense for your topic. By staying on top of your food groups, you’ll produce a diverse balance of content without straying too far in any one direction. Strive to create content in roughly equal proportions among the four food groups.
Which Keywords or Search Phrases are Relevant to the Content's Topic?
Even just a few minutes of keyword research can help position your content for a larger or more-targeted audience, depending on your goal.
Using SEMrush, Google AdWords Keyword Planner, Google Autocomplete and/or Google Trends, identify five-to-10 search terms that are worth including in your content. This can help your copywriters to write more effectively and your technical SEOs to optimize the page with greater precision.
Audit the Top-performing Content Out There: Emulate and Improve
The is no better way to figure out what it will take to produce great content than to review content that is already successful for your chosen topic. Your goal should be to identify top-performing content, emulate what they’re doing well and improve upon what they’re lacking to give your content a marketable advantage.
There are several ways to define success in content marketing, but I choose to look at organic search results and social signals as easily identifiable measures of content success.
Do a few Google searches using the keywords that you identified in the previous section. Click through to several of the top results. Save URLs of content that you believe are worth emulating.
Repeat the same process on social media channels to identify the most shared content for your topic. Using BuzzSumo will save you some time. In addition to auditing the top-shared content, make a mental note of which social channels are sharing content on your topic the most.
Based on your audit, what characterizes a successful piece of content for your chosen topic? (There’s usually more than one reason). Another way to phrase this question is: What does your content need to have to be successful?
▢ Depth of content ▢ High-quality design/UX ▢ Social sharing functionality ▢ Interactivity ▢ Visual assets, imagery and/or video ▢ Downloadable assets ▢ Audio assets ▢ On-page optimization ▢ Other: __________
What is your recommended word count for this content asset? Let your copywriters know how in-depth their writing should be.
◯ Short: 500 - 999 words ◯ Medium: 1000 - 1499 words ◯ Long: 1500 - 1999 words ◯ Extensive: 2000+ words ◯ Other: _______ words
You may have different definitions of content length as it relates to word count. If so, change the selections to reflect your word count breakpoints.
Which functionality should be included with this content to generate conversions? Even purely informational content should allow for users to give you contact information if they so choose.
▢ Email Capture: Pop-Up ▢ Email Capture: Sidebar ▢ Email Capture: Within Content Container ▢ CTA Linked to a Conversion Generation Page (Include Link in "Other" Field Below) ▢ Ecommerce Purchase ▢ Basic Contact Form ▢ Other: __________
Keep your content strategy highly effective by thinking about how the page will convert visitors once they arrive.
What resources are needed to complete this task? Define which team members need to be assigned to this initial task and how many hours are needed. Lastly, set a deadline by the content must be written.
Planning Task #2: Content Optimization (3 minutes)
Where will the content live on the site?
Be sure to specify where this new content asset will fit within the existing hierarchy of the website. Consider how a potential visitor might navigate to your new content based on the behavior associated with similar, existing content.
◯ Blog ◯ Top-level URL ◯ Sub-page of an existing URL ◯ Other: _________
How will this content be optimized before it’s published?
Don’t skimp on the on-page optimization planning. Remember to incorporate those keywords from the previous task into essential elements for better ranking potential!
▢ Concise, descriptive URL ▢ Engaging page title ▢ Keyword-targeted meta description ▢ Headings with target keyword and variants ▢ Images and other media with ALT text ▢ Inbound internal links with relevant anchor text ▢ Outbound internal links ▢ Body copy with keyword and variants ▢ Embedded video or slideshow ▢ Other: ________
Granted, you’ll be checking off most, if not all, of the boxes above for every piece of content your create. But, it serves as a good reminder to you and your team not to leave out any important aspects of on-page optimization.
Do forget to also define what resources are needed to complete this task. Assign out the work, determine the hours needed and set a due date.
Planning Task #3: Content Marketing (12 minutes)
How will this new content connect to existing content on the site?
Many SEOs have hypothesized that internal linking is the most underrated and under-utilized tactics at a content marketer’s disposal. Properly relating relevant web pages through internal links can improve the crawl efficiency of a website and also the search rankings of linked pages.
One highly-effective technique for identifying internal linking opportunities is to first find pages on your website that are already ranking well for your target keyword. Do a Google search for “site:www.yourwebsite.com + your target keyword.” Substitute your website and target keywords for the bold items and this query will return web pages from your site ordered by their relevancy to the target keyword.
Use this method to find existing content from which to build internal links to your new content once it is live. Your new content will be better positioned to rank for its target keyword because it will be associated with web pages that already rank for that keyword. Try to identify up to 5 URLs as internal linking opportunities.
Couple the technique outlined above with any other content you know to be relevant for building internal links to or from your new content when it is published. Think about where this new content will fit into your conversion funnel and how you can link to existing content in other stages.
How do you recommend that you market this content once it’s published?
Your audit of the top-performing content for your topic should be very helpful in directing your answer to this question. Define which outlets available to you are opportunities for marketing your new content when it’s ready.
▢ Social media advertising ▢ Influencer outreach ▢ Backlink acquisition ▢ Email marketing ▢ Forum or UGC site submission ▢ Other: ________
If you selected “influencer outreach” or “backlink acquisition” above, you’ll need to identify some targets. Pursuing either of these tactics can be time-intensive, but highly-rewarding if done right. Some planning before your content is written can help it be better suited to generate mentions or links.
Find influencers who will want to share your content
In the first section, I suggested using BuzzSumo to find highly-shared content for your topic. You can use the same tool find influential Twitter users who have previously shared content from your search.
Type your keyword into the BuzzSumo search bar. Choose a result that you’re interested in seeing who shared the link on Twitter. Click on “View Sharers.”
You’ll get a list of folks who found that particular article worthy of a mention on Twitter. You can sort by several different social metrics to identify influencers for you to target.
A great way to almost guarantee mentions from these influencers is to mention them in your content. Either reach out directly for a quote or source information from one of their posts. Let them know when the post goes live and you’ll have something valuable to tell them.
The best way to get a shoutout is to give one.
Find backlinks worth targeting
Because backlinks can be such a significant determinant of organic search ranking, I would recommend auditing the backlink profiles of high-ranking content for your target keyword.
A full backlink audit could quickly turn this 12-minute task into your entire afternoon, so our goal here is quickly identify some high-value backlink opportunities that may be worth our full effort later on.
If you don’t have access to a backlink tool, check out OpenLinkProfiler or WebMeUp. They both provide a useful amount of backlink data totally free. Plug in the URLs of top-performing content and review the sites that are linking to them. I’d suggest sorting by Page Authority, if possible, to get a quick idea of a link’s value.
Save URLs of sources that you would like to receive a backlink from to market to later on. In the meantime, like we did with the social influencers, you may find opportunities to link to these sources in your content. Asking for a reciprocal link is much easier than trying to get one all to yourself.
Finally, figure out who needs to be assigned on the task, how much time is needed and when content marketing for this new asset should kick off.
How Can I Track All Of This?
By answering all of the questions above, you’re not just moving forward with a topic. You’ve defined its purpose, what it will need to be successful and how it’s fitting into your overall content strategy. If any team members or clients ask why a particular piece of content was created, you’ll have a nice summary of your justifications from this template.
I converted this template into a Google Form. While not the prettiest form builder out there, it’s fairly easy to work with. You can always view a summary of the responses, which will give you some nice visualizations of the data. Or, you can have them published to a spreadsheet and create a dashboard of charts for yourself.
Use this template to keep track of all the variables of content creation. It will help keep your content strategy organized and your audience engaged. You’ll earn more traffic, followers, links and shares than you ever could have without it!