Our content calendar might look like an incredibly intimidating piece of work, but it allows us to work in very efficient ways. From keyword research to content publishing, every step in our content planning process has been systemized and productized to a tee.
This content calendar allows us to execute things in a lean and agile way without compromising on quality. It’s always tempting to jump in the fun parts of SEO content creation head first and forget that quality content requires rigorous content planning.
After all, what’s more exciting than being transported by a moment of aspiration to share your latest memes, or the video you recorded with your colleagues at the launch party the other day?
But content marketing is a long-term investment that requires tenacity and consistency to pay off, and content marketers understand this well: out of 1500 organizations surveyed, 84% declare having a content marketing strategy.
Content Planning vs Content Strategy
Content marketing starts with content strategy, then content planning, before going into the operational phase. Content strategy tells you why you create content, while content planning answers how you want to go about creating content.
An effective SEO strategy for the web includes industry research, business goals, and branding guidelines for a given target audience.
Digital content planning defines the tactics used at each step of the content lifecycle to create high-quality content: workflows, processes, and tools.
Why content planning is important for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and basically all of digital marketing
With 82% of content marketers pursuing content marketing, it becomes vital for content creators to have a content marketing plan to differentiate themselves from their competitors and create trust with quality content. If your content isn’t unique, it will drown in the vast ocean of information that is the web. Our content plans always focus on creating original articles.
But you can’t have a content plan without a content strategy. We need both to align our daily marketing activities with our customers’ business goals and their customers’ needs. A good strategy makes sure we don’t aim in the dark so that the returns on your marketing investments pay off. That’s how we get our customers like MentorCruise to drastically increase their revenue by more than 800%.
Finally, our content plan is the lifeline that keeps our team afloat amidst tumultuous waters. Even if everything else were to catch fire, we would still be able to optimize each piece of content and keep on schedule without much thinking: the structure prevents us from reinventing the wheel, to go deep into the creative process.
Defining Strategic Goals and Priorities
Our content strategy process contains 2 steps. Without it, any marketing agency would be directionless when planning and creating their content.
Sending a Company Questionnaire
First, we send a form to our customers to better understand how we can serve their business goals using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system called Service Provider Pro. For instance, once a client purchases our Starter Content Package, they get directed to a questionnaire that they need to answer.
We ask the following questions:
- What is your primary goal in terms of content production?
- Do you already have some topics in mind, or would you like to get suggestions? If you have the topics, include them in your answer.
- What's your priority in terms of increasing reach?
- Could you share your brand description, including your features, and mission?
- What are some branding guidelines you want us to follow?
- What are some style guidelines you want us to follow?
- Could you identify your largest customer segments?
- What are your target interests and demographics?
- Which companies are your main competitors, especially in terms of SEO? Try to include 5 or more.
- Is there anything else you'd like to add? For example, are there new types of potential clients that you want to attract through SEO? Or any keyword topics you want us to focus on?
Now you might be asking: Do clients even have the patience to answer such a long questionnaire? Yes. In fact, most of the answers that we get are quite thorough. Here’s how we keep the response rate high:
- They need to complete the questionnaire after making the purchase. Prospects deliberating whether they should try out your services are less likely to answer a questionnaire this long, because they don’t have. And it might even deter them from converting, as it would involve too much work.
- Make your questions relevant. Each question is relevant to the SEO strategy that we want to pursue. Businesses that don’t know much about SEO will want to answer every single question to make sure that they get the whole process right. More experienced businesses will understand how each question is relevant and will want to answer as thoroughly as they can, as well.
Creating a Company Branding and Communications Cheat Sheet
The second step consists in gathering the answers provided by our customer and research of our own in a Notion page that includes vital information on:
- Business goals: what are the client’s goals and priorities for this project?
- Target customers: Who do they want to target through search marketing?
- Communications style: This consists of branding and styling guidelines that create the voice of their brand.
- Offerings: This summarizes their products and/or services, including the different use cases for these offerings and the pain points that the business wants to solve.
When it comes to creating content, we have found that providing a short overview of the business they are providing helps them figure out who we want to target and how we want to target them. At the same time, they come to understand the offerings that the business provides and devise seamless ways of integrating them into the content.
Setting Business Goals With the SMART methodology
First, we define marketing goals aligned with our customer organization’s mission and values. Assessing key performance metrics and setting goals according to them allows us to distinguish success from failure.
The SMART methodology is the most commonly used framework to go about describing business goals in an efficient way. According to it, your goals should be:
- Specific: the goal is atomic and simple to understand
- Measurable: the goal can be quantified with a performance indicator
- Achievable: the goal has been agreed by all stakeholders
- Realistic: the goal can be achieved given the current state of your organization
- Time-bound: the goal has a clear deadline
For example, a SMART business goal for a solo startup founder could be to publish 4 long-form articles of 1500 words by December next year, or to generate 5,000 pageviews by December next year.
A very clear way of showing this is through a content report that we send to the client every month:
This report contains information on the articles we’ve submitted, when we’ve submitted them, the approximate word count of each article, and monthly search clicks estimation provided by Ahrefs, which shows how much traffic the businesses can get if this piece of content hits the front page of Google Search.
Creating your personas
So that summarizes our three-step strategic evaluation that is part of our content planning process, but what if you don’t even know who your target audience is? After all, quality content means content that engages and helps your readers. If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, you cannot ensure quality.
We want to concentrate our efforts on your ideal customer-her needs, desires, and pain points. To find a realistic representation of this ideal customer, you can conduct a data-driven buyer persona research, based on:
- Why are they using your product/service?
- What is their main interest that is relevant to what you have to offer?
- What is their profession (especially important for B2B)?
- What is their age range?
- What queries do they search for?
… and so on. The secret to creating effective persona research is making it extremely relevant to your offerings and the issues you solve. Keep it simple. Keep it lean. Keep it stupid.
Some software tools you can use to conduct buyer persona research:
- Make My Persona for buyer persona design
- Google Analytics and Search Console are baseline tools that you need to have to make your persona research more data-driven. Really get deep into your data and see which pages and content turn visitors into prospects and clients.
Branding & Value proposition: Competitive Analysis and Content Gap
At this point, we have an idea of the readers’ needs. It’s time to think of what unique content consists of to rank high on the SERPS and provide high-quality content.
- Competition analysis: we identify the top players for a customer’s given industry, their content types (text, audio, video, illustration, etc.), and their content offerings.
- Content gap: what is it people want to know that your competition isn’t providing yet?
- Brand positioning: what makes your brand’s unique value proposition considering all we just learned? What’s your niche? What angle can we use to appear on the first page of the SERPs?
- Adapting your brand to your audience: types of branding and branding frameworks for success
We use Ahrefs to audit our customers’ websites, analyze the competition, and find content gaps with keyword research. From the company questionnaire, we can also find good content angles to leverage to add value.
A content strategy roadmap is useless without an execution plan, so let’s get right into it.
Organizing Everything Into a Content Plan
A content plan determines the content we hope to create and sets expectations for how it should be created. It outlines who’s responsible for making the content, what the content’s purpose is, and how the content will impact the overall content strategy.
A content management plan should be clearly documented, repeatable, and span the entire content lifecycle. Here are 7 steps we follow in our own content planning process, along with content planning tools we use to help us.
Step 1 - SEO Content Research
The first step is to find content ideas that fit the branding strategy, ensuring what we write adds value. We explored relevant themes and topics in the content strategy, and we also identified competitors and content gaps.
Now, we can use this information to identify traffic-generating target keywords. We use Ahrefs to perform keyword research. Keyword research retrieves the audience's search intent from search engine result pages we can transform into long-form content readers care about.
We always follow the same steps to come up with a list of great keywords:
- We enter in Ahrefs specific keywords identified from studying our customer’s brand in the Company Cheatsheet, creating their content calendar and doing extensive keyword research.
- We look at the first SERP and sort the results by organic traffic
- We look at the top keywords for the top three results
- We aim for keywords with the highest traffic and a difficulty of at most 15/20, ideally. Targeting low-difficulty keywords allows our customers to see returns on their SEO investments much faster.
Once we have a list of keywords ready, including long-tail keywords, we schedule articles in an editorial calendar.
Step 2 - SEO Editorial Calendar
A content schedule makes the team accountable, improves delivery success rates, and nurtures collaboration. It tells everyone who does what, where the content is located, and when it should be shipped.
We want the editorial calendar to be easily accessible from a centralized app and contain basic details about each piece of content, such as its priority, the title, the target audience, the word length, the author, the location of the content brief, and target SEO keywords to account for.
We use Asana for that:
As you can see, while the image at the introduction may seem intimidating, our content calendar is in reality quite modular and easy to navigate. In particular, we have:
- SEO content project managers assigned for a number of clients to oversee the whole process.
- Each task/calendar entry has custom fields such as the client, the project manager, the writer, the keywords to target, the brief, its stage in the content planning process, and so on. Every time a brief has been created, the project manager then goes to delegate the article to one of our writers.
- We also have specific boards that that tasks automatically go into once a task finishes a certain stage.
Step 3 - SEO Content Briefing
Developing content briefs makes our writers’ work easier. It makes the writing process repeatable and eliminates writer’s block by providing thoughtful guidelines, research links, and text references to kickstart the research process.
Frase is our go-to SEO tool for AI-generated briefs:
We use this automated brief as a base for the real thing:
Our briefs contain the following items:
- The article’s title
- The target word count
- The client’s cheatsheet
- Target readers
- Keyword topics to mention
- A detailed description of what is expected in the article, including branding guidelines, styling guidelines, and tips for the article outline
- Reference articles to read to ensure quality research
Optional bits (to help the writer create comprehensive content):
- Related questions asked in SERPs
- Questions used across top SERP results
- Statistics: facts referenced across top SERP results
Step 4 - SEO Content Writing
The meaty part of the process, resulting in successive drafts. Great writing includes:
- Creating an appealing headline that hits relevant queries
- Using simple language
- Having a clear and unique perspective on the topic
- Developing a strong voice with its own style and tone
- Using supporting media
- Focusing on long-form content
- Designing a content structure that flows from one sentence to the next
- Integrating internal linking and external linking
We prefer Google Docs for easy collaborative writing and editing:
Step 5 - SEO Content Editing
Editing makes sure our content lives up to the quality standards we defined in the strategic plan. We really want to prioritize quality over quantity for search engines and readers to love what our customers have to say, with actionable insights to drive traffic and lead to their business.
For a dedicated article on editing tactics, read our piece on How to create an effective SEO editing process.
Frase is again used at this step for content optimization using keyword density metrics:
Step 6 - SEO Content Publishing
Once we are done with the different drafts and revisions, it’s time to publish. For this step, we let our customers:
- Choose a content management system (CMS) for the channels they picked to make it easy for them to create, manage, and monitor their content at scale.
- Choose a distribution tactic to amplify their content reach. If you publish your content across different channels, you still need to cater it to their own specificities. For example, a blog post could be turned into a Twitter thread.
Using Google Docs, we can easily export content to any format to fit any Content Management System, including Markdown and HTML for static website generators.
Step 7 - Optimizing Our Content For Search
The work is not over after we hit publish: we still need to make sure your efforts will pay off by measuring their impact, and optimize our content planning process accordingly.
Measuring the effectiveness of your content is done by tracking key metrics you defined in the strategic plan. At Embarque, we focus on:
- Search Engine Result Page (SERP) Ranks for a given page or keyword
- Traffic and search volume
- Conversions and low bounce rates
We like to follow up on every piece of content to improve our content plan, using keyword and content optimization. Listening to the feedback you receive is essential for us to succeed in the long run.
Regarding tools, Google Analytics or similar website analytics software is used to measure traffic and conversion metrics, while we use Ahrefs to track how the content we create is doing. We also use SEO Scout integrated with Search Console to understand the ranking behaviors of the websites we’re managing.
Invest in your SEO content strategy
What makes a good content strategist is an ability to zoom out of the daily marketing tasks to see the big picture and take into account all the new occurings in the digital landscape-whether it is new trends, tools, or organic search engine recommendations. Content planning is a vast subject that takes time and effort to bear fruits.
If you find yourself looking for a capable dedicated team to create a tailor-made content plan for you, don’t hesitate to send Embarque a message.