Creating a content plan can feel like launching a whole startup.
You’re juggling 100s of details, deadlines, and writers—all while facing immense pressure to drive real results.
How are you supposed to know where to start? Or even which strategies or tactics will make the biggest impact?
If you feel overwhelmed, you aren’t alone…
I’ve had some serious stress over the years when trying to help companies with their content marketing.
But that stress and overwhelm helped me develop a process for creating a great content plan.
And I’ve since used the framework I’m about to show you to generate crazy content marketing results for over 6 years.
What Is a Content Plan?
Simply put, a content plan is a document that you’ll use to implement your content strategy.
It lays out the goals, direction, and framework you’ll use to execute—bringing your content strategy to life. It’s important to have this understanding as we dive into the nitty-gritty of the process.
How to Create a Content Plan in 8 Steps
1. Figure out your target audience’s biggest problems and pain points.
Do you really know your customers?
Because you need to in order to win the content marketing game.
These days, you aren’t going to get results unless you create content specifically designed to attract your target audience.
The space is far too saturated and potential customers are more sensitive than ever to content quality.
That’s why the first step in the content planning process is figuring out who your customers are and what problems they have.
Find as much information as you possibly can about their:
That all sounds great, but how do you actually find this stuff without being a creepy stalker?
This is an entire course in itself, but here are 3 simple strategies that can help you get started:
1. Survey your audience.
The easiest way to get some data right off the bat is by asking your audience what they’re struggling with right now, what you can help them with, and what their biggest roadblocks are.
2. Look through Twitter conversations.
Did you know you can search keywords on Twitter and see all the recent tweets containing those words?
I didn’t either for a long time...
This is a little-known goldmine of customer insight.
As you comb through tweets around a topic, you’ll see common problems, roadblocks, and desires people have.
3. Join niche Facebook groups.
FB groups are also great places to figure out problems people have around a specific topic.
This generally requires more effort than Twitter, because you might need to join and participate in the group to get the specific answers you want, but the effort is well worth it.
2. Map out your customer journey.
Once you have a feel for your target customers’ struggles and desires, move on to finding specific questions they ask during each stage of the customer journey.
Generally speaking, there are 3 main stages your prospects go through no matter what you’re selling:
- Awareness (Top of Funnel)
- Consideration (Middle of Funnel)
- Conversion (Bottom of Funnel)
…But the specifics of each stage vary from business to business.
Your job in this step is figuring out what problems, pain points, and questions your potential customers ask during each phase.
Because once you know that, you’ll know exactly what kind of content to create for each stage so you can generate more leads AND nurture existing ones at the same time.
People in each stage of the customer journey will be interested in very different content because they have very different problems.
So, before we start generating content ideas, it’s crucial to know the differences in what content will resonate with which stage and what that looks like specifically for your business.
Here’s a list of some of the most effective kinds of content I’ve seen for each stage of a funnel to help you get started:
Top of Funnel (Awareness)
- In-depth guides (example: “How to start a blog”)
- Listicles (example: “SEO tips”)
- Q&A posts (example: “How long does it take to write a blog post?”)
Middle of Funnel (Consideration)
- Alternative posts (example: “Semrush alternatives”)
- Comparison posts (example: “Ahrefs vs Semrush”)
- Review posts (example: “Semrush review”)
- Best products posts (example: “Best SEO tools”)
Bottom of Funnel (Conversion)
- Posts about pricing (example: “Semrush pricing”)
- Case studies (example: “How Tom increased traffic by 300% with Semrush”)
- FAQ posts (example: “The 10 most common questions asked about Semrush”)
- Use cases (example: “How to use Semrush to build backlinks”)
3. Set SMART goals and determine your KPIs.
You obviously want to set goals for your content plan so you know whether it’s working or not, but it’s important to focus on setting SMART goals—those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
Without these elements, it’s much more likely your goal will go by the wayside when you hit a roadblock.
That means no growth. :(
So, I recommend setting 1-2 content marketing goals for each month, quarter, and year that build upon each other.
Here’s an example:
- Every month, I want to: 1) Grow traffic by 5% 2) Grow opt-in numbers by 2%
- Every quarter, I want to: 1) Grow traffic by 15% 2) Grow opt-in numbers by 6%
- Every year, I want to: 1) Grow traffic by 50% - 60% 2) Grow opt-in numbers by 20% - 25%
These goals are specific, easily measurable, achievable, relevant, AND timely. They’re also tied to KPIs (traffic and leads).
Structuring goals this way helps you break big, scary content goals into bite-sized chunks.
If you hit your monthly goals, then you’ll hit your quarterly goals. And if you hit your quarterly goals, you’ll hit your yearly goals.
You get the idea…
These goals will act as the north star for your entire content plan. They’ll help you know if you’re on track, off track, or need to create a new track altogether.
4. Look at the data to figure out what kind of content to create.
Most blogs fail because they don’t scientifically create content.
What does that mean?
Simply, creating content based on data.
This doesn’t have to be SEO-specific necessarily, but you need to have a data-backed reason for everything you create.
This could be anything from seeing signs that something could go viral on social media, get views on YouTube, attract great traffic, generate leads, or whatever else.
Most of the time, though, this will mean there’s search traffic behind a particular keyword(s), and the competition level for ranking is within range for your site.
This is critical because the purpose of your content is to drive your target audience to your site.
To do so, you have to create content they want in a way they’ll actually see it.
And you aren’t going to succeed if you’re creating content on a whim. That’s why strictly personal stories, business updates, and similar types of content really don’t drive a ton of results.
So, how do you find this data?
Here are a few places to start:
- Use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs or Semrush to find traffic data behind certain queries
- Google trends can help you figure out whether certain topics are growing or dying
- Buzzsumo can help you figure out how many social shares certain pieces of content generate
- Your Google Analytics account can help you spot trends with content you’ve already published. There are even several Google Analytics tools designed specifically for this purpose.
5. Brainstorm how you can create unique and valuable content.
“Create great content” might be the biggest platitude in the marketing world.
People say it all the time but no one tells you what that actually means.
And in part, no one will truly ever be able to say exactly what it means because “great content” is largely subjective.
But I’ve learned over the last 6+ years in the industry that there are several timeless principles you can use to create “great” content.
And if you use these principles as the foundation for all of your content, you’ll set yourself up for success.
Compelling content is…
1. Clear - it’s both easy to digest AND understand.
2. High-Value - it provides immense value to the reader by solving a problem, entertaining them, or helping them do something.
3. Unique - “High-value” content is always unique—it offers a unique perspective, proprietary data, or a better user experience than other content (or a combination).
4. Empathetic - finally, great content meets people where they are. It understands exactly what people are dealing with and wanting at that specific time and it gives it to them
Your job is to find out the definition of these 4 principles in your industry.
And that takes knowing what’s going on in your industry and understanding your customers incredibly well.
As you get to know your target audience more and more, you’ll begin seeing where other pieces of content are lacking.
Maybe they don’t cover everything about a subject.
Maybe they aren’t actionable enough.
Or maybe they don’t include unique insights from the author’s experience (which could be because they don’t have that experience).
Take time to find a few ways you can provide unique value with each piece of content you create.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply read, watch, or listen to competing content and make notes on its strengths and weaknesses, then use those insights to fill in the gaps.
This mindset will help you become a thought leader in your industry.
6. Create a formal content calendar.
The key to creating a great content calendar is finding the right balance between your goals and your resources.
In other words, you want to figure out how to reach the goals you set in Step 3 with the budget, writers, and bandwidth you have.
There really isn’t a perfect balance here—it’s something you’ll have to define for your company over time.
The main thing to keep in mind when creating your content calendar is consistency.
The specific amount of content you create doesn’t matter outside of how it impacts your goals.
But momentum is a big part of content marketing, and creating a consistent schedule (whether that’s weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly content) is key.
You can’t get great results from your startup content marketing campaign without consistency.
Planning Content for Each Stage of Your Funnel
Once you get a feel for how much content you need to create, and how often you need to create it, the final step is determining the proportion of top, middle, and bottom of funnel content you’ll make on average every month.
Again, this will vary depending on your industry and goals, but a good rule of thumb is focusing as much effort as possible on middle and bottom of funnel content.
Usually, this means 75%+ of your content is focused here.
Because these will be your biggest money-making opportunities. They’ll attract prospects to your site who are the most likely to become paying customers.
Top of funnel content has its place, don’t get me wrong.
It’s just much harder to move someone through the entire funnel than it is to move them one or two steps.
Where to Create Your Content Calendar
I’ve used about 1,000 different tools over the years to build my content calendars.
There isn’t a “best” tool in my opinion. It depends on your use case and the integrations you want.
Here are several I’ve used and recommend checking out (all of which are free or have free versions):
7. Determine how you’ll actually create your content.
Your goal here is to simply map out the “who” behind your content plan.
Who’s going to write the content? You? Someone in-house? Freelancers? An agency? A combination?
If it isn’t you, will you provide content briefs?
Once you have those details ironed out, you need to determine things like:
- Monthly budgets
- The general workflow (outlines, V1s, edits, approval, etc.)
- Publishing frequency
- Types of content and resources needed (video, whitepapers, screen records, audio, etc.)
These will provide guidelines for you to work within and can have a significant impact on your content plan.
8. Decide on your content promotion strategy.
The final step in the content planning process is creating a standard operating procedure around how you’ll promote all of your content.
Because here’s the truth:
If you don’t promote your content, it won’t do anything for you.
You could create the best content in the world, but if no one sees it, it won’t do anything for you.
This isn’t a magnificent new insight, you’ve probably heard this a thousand times.
But the problem is: knowing the importance of content promotion doesn’t change the fact that it can be freakin’ hard.
To make matters worse, the vast majority of strategies people recommend generate little-to-no impact (especially for the time investment).
…And you won’t even know which ones are duds until you’ve already wasted your time.
Pretty encouraging, right?
That’s why I’ve put together this final part of the guide.
I’ve condensed my content promotion process into 4 main steps based on strategies that I’ve seen make the biggest impact.
And I’m giving it to you in hopes that you don’t waste the 100s of hours I did over the years!
My 80/20 Content Promotion Process
1. Share via your owned channels (duh).
You’ve heard about doing this a million times because it just makes sense. Some of your best customers are on your email list and follow you on social.
Just give ‘em the dang content.
2. Pay for targeted traffic.
After your initial wave from #1, I recommend spending as little as $50 – $100 (more will obviously do more for you) promoting your content via ads.
This will give your content even more momentum, and you’ll likely also pick up some shares.
I’ve found the best results with Twitter ads and Quuu promote from my tests, but other networks often work just as well.
3. Run a targeted link building campaign.
It’s critical to run a hyper-targeted link building campaign while you’re doing strategies #1-2 above.
You want your content to go ahead and start building authority in Google’s eyes. Because the faster you do so, the faster you’ll rank.
I recommend running a very specific campaign for each new blog post where you reach out to every quality site you can find who:
- Already links to similar content
- Already wrote a similar piece of content
I walk through the specifics of this process in steps 2 and 5 of this guest post.
You shouldn’t expect to rank immediately with new content, but it could happen as soon as a few months or even weeks depending on the quality of the links you build.
4. Share in any relevant communities you’re in (optional).
If you already have a presence in relevant online communities, definitely share your content there as well.
You have to be a pretty active and contributing member before you can do this, though.
If you aren’t, I recommend striving to become one before sharing so people respect you.
This will only get you short-term traffic…but hey, it’s traffic!
The Quality of Your Content Plan Dictates the Quality of Your Results
In Atomic Habits, author, James Clear, talks about the importance of systems and processes.
He makes the argument that your systems produce your results, and if you don’t like the results you’re seeing, you need to improve your systems.
That mindset is crucial to creating a content plan that generates crazy amounts of traffic and leads.
Great content plans never happen on the first try.
Oftentimes, they take countless iterations before they finally start producing the incredible results you hope for.
So, persist and optimize until you find the perfect system for your content marketing.
You’ll be glad you did.