Table of Contents
How To Develop A Content Marketing Plan
Discover the key concepts of a world-class content marketing strategy.
Find out how you use content to raise interest, provide value and build a reputation.
Learn how to build a winning content marketing strategy for your organisation.
Content marketing only continues to grow in popularity, as you can see below:
From barely any attention a decade ago, content marketing now gets thousands of searches each day. It sits at the heart of the marketing strategies of world-class businesses. There are content marketing conferences worldwide. People build careers around it.
… but what is it?
If you’re one of the many people not quite sure what content marketing is, then we’ve got you covered.
This page introduces the key content marketing concepts, explains how they fit together and tells you how to build a content marketing strategy for your organisation that will get results.
Let’s start at the top.
(A small side note: When we refer to ‘Google’, that is shorthand for ‘Google and other popular search engines’.)
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is the creation and distribution of content to relevant audiences, with the view to attracting their interest and leading them toward a desired commercial outcome.
This type of marketing falls under the inbound marketing umbrella, the goal of which is to bring prospective customers to you.
Content marketing sits alongside SEO, social media, and branding to achieve this goal.
The idea is to attract and appeal to prospective customers at all stages of the buyer journey.
In simple words: Content marketing provides your desired audience with the information they need to define their problem, to learn about solutions offered by your business, and to feel confident in moving toward an informed purchase.
If you’re wondering what’s included in content marketing, the answer is broad. It’s not just pieces of writing: Content marketing includes videos, infographics, ebooks, articles, webinars, whitepapers, interview transcripts, images, and so on.
What are the goals of content marketing?
The goals of content marketing are to raise interest, provide value, and build a reputation. Also to attract and hold their interest and increase the likelihood of your audience completing a desired commercial outcome through your business.
The goal of content marketing is not to market a product, service, or brand directly to an audience.
Why is content marketing important?
Content marketing is important because it provides real value to prospective customers, and encourages them to continue their user journey without feeling pressured or coerced.
By addressing challenges and answering questions your prospective customers are asking, you have the opportunity to provide value. By establishing yourself as a source of real value and useful content, you increase the likelihood that a prospective customer will eventually convert.
An effective content marketing strategy targets every stage of the user journey, from awareness - where people are looking to understand the nature of a problem they’re having - to decision, where they commit to buying a product or service that resolves their problem.
Effective content marketing also looks to attract more engagement through search engines, which means you must consider the factors they use when determining which content to serve.
How does Google determine which content to serve?
Google uses an ever-changing algorithm to determine the best content to serve for any given search query.
Over time, the nature and priority of factors in the algorithm shifts. This means content marketers must keep up to speed, and ensure their content continues to provide value over time.
When you type a query into Google, you’re directed to a search engine results page or SERP. Traditionally, SERPs just gave a list of links, each with a short description explaining their relevance to your query. You read the list, click the most relevant link, and went on your way.
The goal of search engines is to provide the most useful content to resolve a user’s search query. If their query is resolved easily, they’re more likely to use that search engine again next time. This means more traffic, more ad revenue, and more profit.
The goal of content marketing is to have your brand’s content delivered by Google for as many relevant search queries as possible. As Google’s algorithms get smarter, the search engine is better able to determine a user’s search intent, and better able to serve them the right content.
What is user search intent?
Search intent is the subtle meaning behind a search term that indicates what the searcher hopes to achieve. It’s the need that a human user wants to fulfil.
If you type “pizza” into Google, for example, this could mean one of many things:
- You want to order pizza.
- You want to learn how to make pizza.
- You want to read about the history of pizza.
- You want to listen to a song called ‘Pizza’.
Google’s job is to determine which of these is most likely based on the words in your query, and serve the best content accordingly.
Below is an example SERP for the query ‘pizza’. The top two results are pizza restaurants. The third is the Wikipedia page for pizza. And below that are answer boxes for other pizza-related queries.
This suggests that Google has determined the main search intent for ‘pizza’ queries to be “I want to order pizza”.
In the past, you’d have had to search something much more granular like “order takeaway pizza in Manchester” to get results that were narrowed down in this way. But Google invests billions in refining its search algorithm to understand your search query as deeply as possible, based on as short a keyword phrase as possible.
What does Google want from your content?
Google wants content that provides valuable resolutions to granular search intent. Effective content satisfies human search intent as well as meeting Google’s expectations for quality content.
On the first point: Google wants content that is high quality, well-researched, and genuinely valuable. If Google serves a piece of content at the top of its results, this implies that Google thinks it is the most valuable response to your search intent. If you click through and the content provides value, you’re likely to use Google next time. If you click the top result and it’s spammy and irrelevant, you’re more likely to look elsewhere.
Google promotes the concept of EAT: Expertise, Authority, and Trust. These are the values baked into the core of their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines: A document that’s the holy grail of understanding how Google evaluates and ranks content.
In certain niches, manual reviewers are employed to look through search results and judge them against Google’s standards. This helps to ensure the algorithm is working as intended and provides human input to guide future tweaks and refinements. The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines gives instructions to manual website raters on what to look for and how to rate content and offers the clearest glimpse into what Google expects from the content.
How does this vary from what Google wanted before?
This is an interesting question. People often feel persecuted by Google’s updates, especially ones that ‘punish’ tactics that worked before.
But if we look back to a sentence from earlier - “Google wants content that provides valuable resolutions to granular search intent” - the truth is that not much has changed.
Google has always rewarded content that provides value and addresses search intent. Over time its understanding of search intent has improved, as has the understanding of tactics that can ‘game’ the algorithm.
How do I create a comprehensive content marketing strategy?
Here are the eight key steps to creating a comprehensive content marketing strategy that will get results:
- Define the goals you’re working toward. These will guide every aspect of your content marketing strategy, so it’s important to have them nailed from the get-go.
- Define your KPIs. Goals need to be quantified so that performance can be measured. You can measure content metrics like traffic and time on page, as well as more direct business metrics like conversion rate, cost per conversion, and even ROI.
- Research your target persona(s). By defining your target audience through fictional individuals, you build a firm understanding of their needs and behaviours. This, in turn, advises the creation of content tailored to those things.
- Audit your current content. Most businesses output content even with no strategy in place, and it’s likely that existing things can be repurposed and brought into your strategy. Take a look through and see whether you’ve got anything that aligns with the goals and persona(s) from steps 1 and 2.
- Audit your competitors’ content. Understanding what your competitors are up to gives a good insight into gaps your content can fill, and strong points you can look to replicate.
- Create a shortlist of topics and ideas to target. The previous steps give a good indication of the topics and ideas to build your strategy around. Focus on specific titles within broader topic areas that help guide your target personas toward the goals you set out. Later on in this page, we’ll give you some tools for generating content ideas.
- Establish the best format(s) for your content. Different ideas are better suited to various formats. Primers, like the one you’re reading now, work well as text. They also lend themselves well to video series and ebooks. A webinar could invite industry conversation and participation on the topics we’re covering, and an infographic could highlight the best insights in an easily shareable format. Think beyond blog articles, and spend time choosing the most impactful medium for each piece of content in your strategy.
- Create a content calendar. There’s usually a logical narrative thread connecting different content pieces - this should be reflected in the order they’re published. Knowing in advance what will be published and when gives structure to your content creation, allows individual pieces to breathe, and generates maintained interest in your output.
The process above is the one we follow on content-based campaigns at Digital Media Stream.
As you can see, there’s nothing particularly complicated here. Investing time and energy into each step will reap rewards, and is actively encouraged. Monitoring performance and making amends to your strategy is encouraged as well: Perhaps your goals and target personas will shift slightly over time, based on the response to the content you create.
The key takeaway from above is this: When it comes to content marketing, isolated pieces of content don’t cut it - everything has to be part of a wider, informed strategy.
A content marketing strategy covers everything from planning content through to its publication and measuring its effectiveness concerning your business outcomes.
The next sections drill a bit deeper into each of the steps above.
How do I determine the goals for my content marketing strategy?
An effective content marketing strategy is built around realistic and useful goals.
Ensuring the goals align with your wider business objectives means that effort invested in content creation and promotion is directly valuable to your organisation.
Here are some common goals that content marketing strategies are designed to achieve. We’ll present these alone for the time being - the next section will detail the KPIs and metrics used to track their performance:
- Improve awareness of your product or service.
- Increase the number of visitors to your website.
- Grow your following across various social media platforms.
- Grow your mailing list.
- Increase the number of people requesting information about your offering.
- Increase the number of people requesting free trials of your service.
- Grow the number of conversions from commercial pages on your website.
The exact goals of your content marketing strategy will depend on what your business is trying to achieve. It’s worth spending time at the outset to get these nailed down.
Which KPIs and metrics should I track around content?
Here are some key KPIs and metrics that indicate how well your content marketing strategy is performing:
- Page views of content pieces. A higher number means more people are looking, which is positive.
- Time spent on-page. You want people finding your content to spend time reading or otherwise engaging with it. Low time spent on-page can suggest people are leaving as soon as they arrive, although this is not always problematic. It may be that their needs were met straight away.
- Links clicked. Understanding where people went next when they found their content gives insight into whether they continued their user journey on your site.
- The number of followers. If your follower numbers are increasing on social media, this is indicative of a growing audience.
- The number of signups. As above, more people signing up to your newsletters means a bigger audience.
- The number of requests for information. Whether by email, phone, or other means, if the number of people requesting information about your product or service increases, this suggests effective content marketing.
- Rankings. As your content marketing strategy is implemented you should start to rank higher in Google for key terms and to rank for more terms in total. This translates to higher online visibility.
- Conversion rate. As you progress along the buyer journey, the content will have CTAs that allow people to complete various actions. The rate at which people complete said actions (as a percentage of total visitors) is a strong indicator of how effective your content marketing is.
- ROI. As your strategy is implemented you should expect to see a higher number of completed purchases.
The precise metrics you track - and the combination - will be dependent on the objectives of your strategy.
How do I find topics to build content around?
Here is a non-exhaustive list of ways to find topics for your content marketing strategy.
- Internal discussion. Sometimes, a good old-fashioned brainstorm is the best place to find ideas. Your team understands the challenges faced by prospective customers, and have a deep experience of how your product or service addresses these. Content built around solving commonly encountered problems or issues is a good place to start.
- HubSpot Blog Ideas Generator. The meta description of this tool says it best: “HubSpot's free Blog Ideas Generator tool gives you a year's worth of blog post ideas in a matter of seconds.” They might not all be useful, but it’s more ideas to work with.
- Forums. Real humans hang out in forums and discuss problems they’re having. By trawling forum posts in your niche, you can find some really good question-oriented content ideas.
- Google. There are two places to look in the Google SERPs for content ideas. First up, the ‘People also ask’ box, seen below. Google populates this with questions people are searching for, suggesting real human search intent waiting to be addressed.
The ‘Searches related to’ box also gives deep insight into searches around core topics. By creating content that addresses these, you tap into real demand.
As we said, this list is not exhaustive. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
How do I determine which topics make good business sense?
A content marketing strategy is designed to guide people along their user journey toward a desired commercial outcome that will address problems or challenges they are facing.
This journey is traditionally broken down into three key stages: Awareness, consideration, and decision.
If potential topics align with these stages, it often makes good business sense to include them in your content strategy.
Here is a definition of each stage with regards to a content marketing campaign.
What is the Awareness stage?
In this stage, a prospective buyer becomes aware of a problem they are having. This could be anything from “I’m hungry” to “the software our company uses is no longer compliant with newly introduced legislation.” Whatever the issue, they begin seeking a solution.
Content at this stage should:
- Help a user to conceptualise and define their problem.
- Facilitate research into potential resolutions.
- Explain the consequences of not addressing the problem.
- Address common misconceptions around the nature of the problem.
What is the Consideration stage?
At this stage, the prospective buyer has defined their problem and begins to consider solutions. This involves identifying, comparing, and evaluation of products and services that could potentially resolve their issue.
Content at this stage should:
- Introduce relevant products and services.
- Offer a comparison of their strengths and weaknesses.
- Round up opinions of people who have used these solutions.
- Explain clearly how these potential solutions target their specific issue.
What is the Decision stage?
At this stage, the prospective buyer uses the information they have sourced to decide on a product or service to solve their problem. They commit to a purchase.
Content at this stage should:
- Reinforce why your product or service is the right one.
- Recap all the information a prospect needs to make their decision.
- Use testimonials to demonstrate your trust.
- Offer free trials or discounts to encourage people toward purchase.
How do I present a content marketing strategy?
If you’re creating a content marketing strategy on behalf of a client, or one that needs signoff from people further up your organisation, there are certain things we recommend including.
- A clear summary of the goals of the content strategy, alongside the KPIs. These provide a concise and immediate point of reference for the remainder of the strategy.
- The target persona(s). These give an easy-to-understand context for all content to be created.
- A list of content titles, with a brief explanation of how each will deliver value to human users, and contribute to the achievement of business goals.
- An editorial calendar, to set expectations for what will be created and when.
Much of the research informing the creation of a content marketing strategy can be omitted when presenting.
Creating and structuring the content within your content marketing strategy
Current content best practice is centred on the use of topic clusters consisting of pillar pages and cluster content. This structure provides a clear logical framework for your content, with an intuitive route from broad to more granular search intents.
What is a topic cluster in HubSpot?
A topic cluster refers to a selection of content pieces linked by a common topic. The content inside the cluster targets multiple search intents, and multiple stages of the buyer journey.
A well-constructed topic cluster will satisfy broad and granular search intents, and guide all visitors further along their buyer journey.
Topic clusters have pillar pages at their core, with offshoot cluster content digging deeper and addressing more granular queries.
What are pillar pages in HubSpot?
A pillar page provides an extensive, in-depth introduction to a topic. They sit at the centre of topic clusters.
The page you’re reading now is our content marketing pillar page: It answers a wide array of top-level questions about content marketing and links out to various pieces of cluster content for users who want to dig deeper.
What is cluster content in HubSpot?
Cluster content sits around a pillar page to provide deeper information about granular aspects of a topic. This content marketing pillar page links to cluster content about:
What are hyperlinks?
Hyperlinks are the means through which web pages are connected.
When a human user clicks a hyperlink they are taken to another web page. When a search engine crawls a website they use hyperlinks to navigate and to build an understanding of how content is connected.
By linking from pillar pages to cluster content, you establish a clear and logical content hierarchy. Human users can quickly navigate to the content that addresses their search intent, and search engines build a strong understanding of the structure and relative importance of content on your website.
What are keywords?
Keywords are the words and phrases that human users enter into search engines. Keywords reflect natural human search behaviour, and web content addresses the search intent they reflect.
Keywords can be short tail or long tail.
A short tail keyword is a word or short phrase that communicates clear search intent. “Dresses” or “cocktail dress” are good examples.
Long-tail keywords are broader. “Buy a red dress with shoulder straps” or “dresses to wear to formal events” are examples of long-tail keywords.
Short tail keywords are often more competitive, as a clearer search intent implies closer proximity to a purchase. Long-tail keywords are less competitive and therefore easier to target, but more steps must be taken to lead a prospective customer toward converting.
What are LSI keywords?
LSI stands for latent semantic indexing, and these terms have high relevance to the keyword phrase being used.
Search engines use LSI keywords to build a more detailed understanding of the content on a web page. Pages that use LSI keywords are likely to provide a more valuable experience to a human user, and will most likely rank better as a result.
LSI keywords relating to dresses include things like ‘fabric’, ‘returns policy’, ‘responsibly sourced materials’, and so on.
How do I find the right keywords for my content?
There are many tools and techniques for finding keywords. The majority suggest keyword terms related to those you provide, alongside estimated search volume, competitiveness, and various other metrics to evaluate their suitability.
- Google Keyword Planner. This tool is part of Google Ads, but you can use it without actually running any ads.
- Ahrefs. These guys offer a bunch of tools to improve your SEO, including a good keyword planning tool.
- Ubersuggest. This tool is offered by content guru Neil Patel. It gives at-a-glance info on trends and SEO difficulty.
What content creation tools are available?
There are thousands of content creation tools, from expansive software suites that cover every aspect of the process, to obscure tools covering the most granular tasks.
Here are a few of our favourites to get you started:
- Statista. This portal for market research provides statistics on almost everything, and stats make a fantastic underpinning for quality content.
- Visme. This interactive graph generator is excellent for turning raw data into beautiful, interactive graphs for your content.
- Canva. A simple platform with incredible content potential. Their simple tools allow you to instantly and effortlessly create a range of visual content to delight and impress.
- Google Fonts. You’ll be surprised how much of an impact the right font can make on your content. Google Fonts offers hundreds of beautiful web fonts for free.
- Unsplash. Images make or break content, but stock pictures often come with a hefty price tag. Unsplash is just one of many free stock image websites, but it’s our favourite.
- Gifmaker. Animated images are surprisingly powerful, just look at Buzzfeed and Reddit for proof of that. Gifmaker is our favourite tool for quick and easy gif creation.
- Fiverr. More of a toolbox than a tool Fiverr is a freelancer network where you can find people to do absolutely anything. Need a quick infographic made? Fiverr. Need a highly-polished corporate video created? Fiverr. If your team lacks expertise in some aspect of the content creation process, one of Fiverr’s seemingly-infinite freelancers will be on hand to help.
And perhaps more helpful, here are some guidelines for helping you choose the right tool for the job.
- What are you trying to do? A clear vision will help you to narrow down your search for the right tool.
- Is the tool in line with your budget? Many tools are freemium, meaning the free version limits functionality. If you’re looking for free-content creation tools, make sure yours gives you everything you need.
- Are there any watermarks or branding? Creating the perfect piece of visual content for a client, only to realise there are watermarks from the content tool, is crushing. Check that the end product will be clean before committing.
- Do you have full ownership of the output? Some content tools place limits on what you can do with the end product. This is especially true for stock images, which usually require some sort of accreditation.
What should I do before publishing content?
It’s important to follow SEO best practice before publishing content.
This means ensuring keywords are used correctly, implementing a clear heading structure, and tweaking copy to encourage easy understanding by search engines.
And with all of these things, the human reader needs to take precedence.
Running content through some sort of editorial process is essential. The skillsets for creating content and editing content are different, and not every content creator possesses both.
By proofreading each piece of content, you ensure a consistently high standard. Vital for any brand.
And with a proofreader who’s versed in SEO, you ensure that no technical SEO aspects are missed.
Grammarly is a fantastic piece of proofreading software that we recommend.
What SEO best practices do I need to observe when creating content?
We touched on these briefly above, but here are the SEO best practices to observe when creating content:
- Use the right keywords. Although they’re less important than they used to be, keywords still form the basis of Google’s understanding of your content, whether text-based or visual. By targeting the right keywords (discoverable with the tools we mentioned above) you increase the likelihood of your content appearing in the right places.
- Ensure a clear heading structure. Google uses HTML headings (H1, H2 etc) to understand the hierarchy and logical flow of written content. Imagine reading a table of contents: You read the top-level chapters first, then the chapter subheadings, to build an understanding of what you’re about to read.
- Put alt tags on images. Google is better than it used to be at processing images, but it still relies on text tags to understand exactly what visual elements of written content mean. Write a descriptive alt tag for every image, and Google will have an even clearer understanding of your content.
- Internal links. As we said earlier, links are useful navigation tools for human readers and useful structural cues for search engines. Linking between relevant content pieces will help everyone.
- Integrate it into a clear content hierarchy. Stray content pieces are confusing. The best content is well-positioned within and amongst other pieces, offering clear and intuitive navigation for human users. Topic clusters are the best practice way of structuring content, but many websites use other methods successfully.
How do I stay abreast of the latest content best practice?
There are some great places to keep up to speed with the latest content requirements.
- The Official Google Webmaster Central Blog addresses all aspects of SEO and provides a clear insight into what Google considers legitimate.
- The HubSpot blog offers insightful and actionable information on content marketing and its contribution to the broader marketing mix.
- The Content Marketing Institute blog is the official mouthpiece for the organisation whose mission is “to advance the practice of content marketing.”
- Neil Patel’s blog digs deep into all aspects of content marketing.
Thanks for reading our content marketing pillar page. This page gives top-level answers to pretty much every question you might have about creating a content marketing plan.
With this firm grounding, you’re perfectly positioned to dig deeper into the aspects that interest you most. You’re also well on your way to building and implementing a content marketing strategy that will get the results your brand deserves.
If you’re looking for help with your content marketing, Digital Media Stream can help. Our team of in-house experts are well versed in every stage of the content marketing process. We’re a Platinum HubSpot Partner Agency, too: Testament to our expertise with the platform, and the success we’ve delivered to clients in all manner of industries.