Content Marketing Crash Course Part 1: Content Strategy & Planning

By: Chris Thompson on March 27, 2019 Categories: Content Marketing, Content Strategy
content marketing crash course chess game

Content marketing has continued to grow and shows no signs of slowing down. Sure, we’ve all been hearing a lot (A LOT) of the phrase “content is king” and all of the other marketing cliches you can think of, but there’s more to it than that. Storytelling through content has been giving brands a way to connect with their audience and make a lasting impression. In this series of four posts, we’ll show you how to create an effective documented content strategy from start to finish.

Over the next several weeks, we will be looking at the most important aspects of running a fully documented content strategy (and one that you can prove ROI on) through these four modules:

  1. Strategy and Planning
  2. Creation and Optimization
  3. Distribution Planning
  4. Performance and Measurement

In this section, Strategy & Planning, we’ll delve into content planning, and how to develop a documented content strategy. This might seem rudimentary if you are already well underway on your own content strategy, but all of the following can also be applied directly at the campaign level.

The power of storytelling.

There is some debate in the marketing industry of late around whether or not storytelling is still a powerful tool for brands to use. Most still tend to lean to “yes.” Content marketing can create impactful storytelling and enable you to connect with your audience on a different level. Creating stories can be a strong resource to pull in the reader and help them to feel something for your brand and/or the message you are conveying.

Thought leadership and quality content.

In addition to storytelling, content that is based on thought leadership is often higher quality and can create a lasting impression with your audience. Thought leadership peices are those that you create using insight from a subject matter expert from your industry. A recent study conducted by Edelman and LinkedIn looked at how thought leadership content influences the B2B purchase process and found that:

“Over 80% of respondents said strong thought leadership pieces had increased their trust of an organization, and 51.5% cited it as a major element they use to vet potential partners. Half were willing to share their contact information in exchange for content of interest, and 31% of decision-makers and 42% of c-suite execs said they had reached out to content providers to follow-up if they were impressed.” (Chief Marketer on the Edelman/LinkedIn Study)

Humans vs. Bots

All online content has two very different audiences; humans and bots. The human audience is the one we are most familiar with and should always be our priority when creating content. Bots refer to search engine bots, which crawl and index content in order to appropriately rank it for keyword searches. (i.e. Google search engine results)

Human Perspective

  • Connect with your audience
  • Create value
  • Building authority and trust

Bot Perspective

  • Create keyword rich (but not heavy), structured content (Titles, Headings)
  • Easily readable content
  • Good for SEO and discoverability

Define your goals.

First, set smart goals for your content marketing program. It helps to document them in order of importance. These goals can be as broad as a company revenue target, or as granular as a specific campaign or piece of content. It actually helps to start from the overall company goals and work backwards to understand how your marketing goals should support them.

Common goals for content marketing:

  • Return on investment
  • Lead generation
  • Pipeline
  • Brand awareness
  • Website traffic
  • Social audience engagement

Understand your audience.

It’s hard to write content for someone if you don’t know who they are. Understanding your target audience is key to an effective content marketing strategy.

Research your audience and get an understanding of where they spend their time online. Get to know them. Using their demographics (age, gender, location, etc.) you can learn where they are most likely to be found. Which social platforms are most popular with their demographic?

Develop marketing personas.

Personas in marketing are a representation of the goals and behaviors of a hypothesized group of users, used to represent the members of your audience.
Developing a persona means creating a description of a fictional character, which includes behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes and a few personal facts such as interests and hobbies, to make the character feel real.

Sample Persona (real estate)

Meet Ryan:

  • 28 years old
  • University degree
  • Works in tech sales
  • Recently married with first child on the way
  • Lives in Barrie, ON
  • Loves playing and watching hockey with friends
  • Spends time following sports on Twitter
  • Keeps in touch with friends on Facebook

How keywords work in content.

A keyword is a word or phrase that is a topic of significance, used by searchers as a way to identify and verbalize their need, problem or topic that they’re searching for. Organizations create content around relevant topics in order to be found when their audience is searching.

Writing content with specific keywords in mind helps to ensure your content will rank and be found for those phrases. Consider using the desired keyword, as well as variations of it, in article headings, subheadings and throughout your content.

Your chosen keywords should always be used sparingly. The content should flow naturally. Using the same phrase too much will be considered keyword stuffing and can cause search engine penalties. If you write with keywords in mind, you will likely genuinely optimize for those phrase(s) without making it look as if it has been done deliberately.

How keywords are changing.

The way search engines use keywords has become a lot more complicated over the years. It is wise to choose root keywords and then build phrases around them. Topical keywords and content should also be aimed at addressing, where possible, user intent. In other words, answer users questions and generate content which meets their needs. The advent of mobile devices and intelligent personal assistants has led to an increase in voice searches, where the typical format is question-based. This trend is only going to continue to rise.

Google Adword’s Keyword Planner is a great tool to help you find keywords. Or, try our SEO tool which includes a keyword research tool. Mintent offers extensive keyword insight by pulling in several different data sources, including Google Related Searches, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, Backlink Anchor Text, Social Keywords, Competitive Keywords and Not Provided Insights. Keyword ‘Klusters’ enable you to organize your keywords into logical groups for easier analysis and reporting.

Keeping an eye on competitors.

Who are your competitors? This may seem like an easy question, but when it comes to digital marketing, your competitors may not always be who you think they are.

Real world competitors: companies within your industry you regularly compete with directly for business.

Online competitors: any websites competing for the same keyword visibility as you. These may, and quite often are not, your real-world competitors.

What are your competitors doing in terms of content and social media? Take a look at their sites and their social accounts and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What types of content are they creating? e.g. blogs, whitepapers, infographics, videos, podcasts, etc.
  • How often are they posting articles?
  • Where and how often are they sharing their content?
  • Do they have their articles broken into categories?
  • What topics are they writing about?

Is all of their content created by them, or do they have guest posts from customers, industry experts, etc.
You don’t want to copy your competitors, but rather get ahead of them. Look at what they have done and think about what is missing. What can you expand on? In many ways, modern SEO is about out-doing your competition in order to establish more authority for your chosen topics.

Planning your content.

Think back to your audience. What are they interested in? What topics are popular in your industry? Content should be informative; about your industry first and your organization second.

  • What are the top 10 questions asked by customers?
  • What are the top 5 industry topics you can educate them on?

Again, what have your competitors missed? In looking at the topics and categories they’ve covered, are there ones you can expand on or are there areas they have ignored completely?

Some of your best content ideas can come from your customers. Review your Frequently Asked Questions. FAQs can be a hotbed of information when it comes to understanding what your customers want to know more about. Can any of your FAQs be expanded into full articles or infographics? Also, look at the search queries on your website’s internal search, in Google Search Console or even ask clients to weigh in with their ideas for content topics.

Formatting your content.

When creating text-based content like blog posts, consider using numbers and lists which are much easier to scan and consume by today’s time-crunched readers.

  • “10 Trends for ______________”
  • “12 Reasons You Should _______________”
  • “5 Mistakes You’re Making with ____________”

When creating content ideas, think about how to best break them out, either in lists or using subheadings. The key to content is to make it easily digestible. You may have one major topic for an article, which can be broken into 5 smaller sections within the post.

Content types.

  • Blog articles
  • Case studies/testimonials
  • White papers/guides
  • Checklists
  • Worksheets
  • Images
  • Infographics
  • Videos

Content brainstorming.

At least once per quarter, take some time to brainstorm topics you can cover.. Think about what your audience will find most valuable and how you can speak to them about it. Think about your personas. Who is each piece being created for?  Be sure to list the root keywords being used and what channels it will be used for.


After all this homework, building out a calendar should be the easy part! The key is to keep your schedule realistic considering your team’s bandwidth, and scalable for growth once you have those resources. Try to plan your calendar out at least 3 months in advance, so you can build campaigns that are aligned with your overall strategy.

Your calendar can be an actual calendar layout, or it can simply be an Excel file with the following headings:

  • Title
  • Content Type
  • Topic
  • Keywords
  • Description
  • Persona
  • Due Date
  • Author

Your content team.

What does your content team look like? Your blog doesn’t have to have only one author. Having a variety of voices within your organization can bring different perspectives to the table. For instance, someone on the leadership team could write a thought leadership piece about the industry, whereas someone in manufacturing or operations could write a really great technical how-to article.

Having a solid plan.

At the end of the day, having a well- defined and developed plan for your content marketing team will lead to more success. Content marketing doesn’t have to feel like rocket science, but it also should not be managed haphazardly. Taking the steps outlined above will help you create effective content for the right reasons, with the right people in mind. Creating content tied to your goals and audience will yield content valuable both to you and your target market.

Are you looking for help with the planning of your content marketing strategy? We can help! Learn how our experienced digital marketing professionals can get you set up for success!