No successful content marketing effort can start without one key ingredient: a content plan. A content plan, also known as a content marketing plan or a content strategy, is your ultimate tool for content marketing victory.
It tells you what to publish, when and where to publish it, and what keywords to target with it.
When done right, your content marketing plan is the master document that gives you the info you need to boost your search engine results page (SERP) ranking, increase your traffic, and match or surpass your competition in the digital marketing arena.
It’s brilliant. It’s big. And it’s made up of a number of ingredients:
- A thorough understanding of what a content marketing plan is
- Domain analysis that includes your top competitors
- Keyword research to target, analyze, and compare your keywords with competitors’ keywords
- Competitive research, which includes SEO research and a content audit
- A content strategy to ensure your content meets your business and marketing goals
Let’s start with a rundown of what a content marketing plan is so you know exactly what to expect as you’re creating one.
What’s a Content Marketing Plan?
When we talk about a content marketing plan, we’re not talking about a content calendar where you jot down a handful of content ideas for blogs, social media, and email marketing.
We’re talking about spending several days—or even weeks or months—crafting an in-depth content strategy. A comprehensive content and SEO plan that serves as your ongoing guide.
Sure, your plan is going to help you create an editorial calendar packed with great content that appeals to your target audience. But it’s also going to do much more.
To be worth its weight in effort, it must answer the most difficult questions content marketers need to know:
- What quality of content do we need?
- How frequently should we publish content?
- How much is all this great content going to cost?
A prime example of a killer content marketing strategy is the Content and SEO Plan we created for Magic Mountain when we were the full-scale agency ideaLaunch. It took about 400 hours for us to develop. And it answered those tough questions and more. (You can see how we did it for yourself in our downloadable sample plan.)
Now let’s dive into the nuts and bolts of the perfect content strategy, starting with your domain.
If you really want to go wild, check out the domain authority (DA) of the websites while you’re at it. Domain authority is a ranking score that estimates how likely it is for a website to rank on search engine results pages (SERPs).
- The DA score ranges from one to 100
- The higher the DA score, the greater the chances of ranking
Moz developed the DA ranking, and it has a free tool you can use to see where you and your competitors’ websites stand.
Based on the domains previously researched, you want to identify organic keywords for your brand and your competitors. Take a seat. This is going to take a while.
SpyFu is a content marketing tool that can help with keyword research. Simply drop in one of your top competitors’ domain names to find 10 keywords that drive organic traffic to their website.
For Magic Mountain and its competitors, we identified 194,458 organic keywords. No, that’s not a typo.
Keyword Research Methodology
Once you have your ginormous list of words, you want to cull the raw data to eliminate:
- Misspelled words
- Phrases that would be impractical for developing content
The end result will be your Keyword Universe. In our case, the list of 194,458 organic keywords was narrowed down to 4,503.
All keyword analysis and comparisons you make going forward are going to be based on the keyword universe you’ve identified. When you attack the research this way, you’re able to analyze your company and your competitors in an apples-to-apples environment, providing better segmentation and more accurate keyword data.
The goal of this keyword research methodology is to give you actionable information you can use for content strategy and creation.
Keyword silos are categorical classifications for your keyword universe. Three useful silos you can use are:
- Topic silos: Directly align with your product or service offerings. We created six topic silos for Magic Mountain.
- Industry silos: Pinpoint the different industries you serve. We created five industry silos for Magic Mountain.
- Trigger event silos: Focus on an occurrence that creates a sales or marketing opportunity. We created five trigger event silos for Magic Mountain.
Once you have your various silos created, tag or associate each keyword with at least one silo.
All 4,503 keywords in the Magic Mountain keyword universe were tagged or associated with at least one silo. Keep in mind that a single keyword can exist in multiple silos, where there may be natural contextual overlap.
The keyword topic silos we identified to align with Magic Mountain’s service offerings were:
- Data backup and recovery
- Document management and imaging
- Health information management
- Records management and storage
- Secure shredding
- Information advantage
The keyword industry silos we identified were:
- Small business, medium business (SMB)
The keyword trigger event silos we identified were:
- Real estate change
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Government regulations
Keyword classifications tell you how important each keyword is to your content strategy, and why. Sort your keyword universe into four different classifications:
- Golden Keywords: These are keywords you hand-select based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of what the highest-priority keywords are for organic traffic growth, engagement, thought leadership, and lead-generation opportunities.
Focus on Golden Keywords for content creation and optimization.
- Low-Hanging Fruit Keywords: These are keywords in your keyword universe for which you are currently ranking between 11 and 50 in listing position. If you focus on improving the quality and quantity of content you create for these keywords, you can push them into the top 10 listing positions.
Focus on these keywords to score quick wins, increase organic traffic, and generate web-based leads on new keyword phrases.
- Top 100 PPC Keywords: These are the 100 keywords in your keyword universe with the highest-associated pay-per-click costs.
Use this list to identify keyword phrases for which you already rank high in organic search, as well as keywords that are extremely expensive in the world of PPC.
Check with your PPC team to make sure you are not spending money on PPC campaigns for keywords for which you already score in the top three organic listing positions—unless there’s a specific reason for doing so.
For instance, the PPC team might be trying to drive organic traffic to a higher-conversion landing page while redesigning the default page for that search phrase.
Also take note of keyword phrases that are especially expensive for PPC so you can determine if you’d rather try to rank for those keywords through an organic search strategy.
- Top 100 Search Volume Keywords: These are keywords with the highest number of monthly searches. This data provides insight into topical trends and subject-matter popularity.
Top 100 Search Volume terms are often, however, head terms. Head terms are extremely popular—and competitive. They also have a significantly lower conversion rate than long-tail keywords. Use this list for market insights and as a compass for creating content with long-tail keywords related to the head terms.
Keyword Silo Distribution
Now that you have your keywords classified into the four different categories, you can create three additional graphs to show where the keywords belong.
Create a graph for each silo, showing the distribution of keywords based on their designation as Golden, Low-Hanging Fruit, Top 100 PPC, and Top 100 Search Volume. Do this for your:
- Topic Silos
- Industry Silos
- Trigger Events Silos
See the silos in action with a download of our Magic Mountain sample content plan.
Listing positions indicate where your website stacks up against your competition based on the hottest keywords you’ve identified. You want to compare your site to the competition with regard to:
- Top Three Listing Positions (the Holy Grail)
- Top 10 Listing Positions
- Top 10 Golden Keyword Listing Positions
The top three positions generate the largest amount of web traffic and SERP click-through rates.
Regularly checking in on your top keywords is important to see if any are losing ground. Check in once a month for best results. This way you have a better chance of reversing the trend.
Keywords can lose ground for several reasons, including:
- Changing the URL of a landing page or post without redirecting it.
- Changing a page’s SEO title, text, or images. This can happen if you change plugins or content marketing platforms.
- Losing quality backlinks. Backlinks can be lost for any number of reasons, from sites deleting pieces of content to going out of business. Consistently building new backlinks can reduce the impact of losing existing ones.
- Being penalized by Google. Violating any of the Webmaster Guidelines can result in penalties that affect your site’s ranking.
- Being affected by an algorithm change. Google changes its algorithms regularly, as evidenced by this HubSpot infographic. There’s always a chance any of those updates could work against you.
- Being outranked by competitors. It’s essential to keep an eye on what’s going on with your and your competitors’ sites.
If you are being outranked by competitors for a specific keyword, do your research to determine how they’re achieving it. Then fight back by updating your keyword-targeted pages or posts, or creating new pieces of content around the specific keyword, ensuring it’s better than your competitors’ content.
Aggregate Search Volume by Industry
Breaking down keywords by industry segment is difficult from an SEO/data analysis perspective. The only truly accurate way to do this would be to track where users went after searching a keyword.
Because this would require access to the analytics of every single person and domain that has activity within your market segments, it’s clearly an impossible feat. Since this information is not available, the best way to analyze industry-specific opportunities for your company is by search volume.
Because there are a potentially infinite number of keywords related to each segment, you may want to limit your research. Stick to keywords in your keyword universe, which still provide a substantial base of data.
This type of research lets you identify specific keywords that show clear association with a specific industry segment. Once you’ve determined which keywords apply to a particular segment, you want to calculate the total search volume of those keywords.
Make things easier on yourself by skipping ambiguous keywords. Instead of trying to apply them to any industry segment, leave them out of the analysis.
In the case of Magic Mountain, we found the healthcare segment had the highest aggregate search volume, based on its associated keywords. That means the healthcare segment presented the greatest traffic and content marketing potential.
- 525,630: Aggregate search volume for healthcare segment
- 241,530: SMB, or small-medium business segment
- 193,860: Government segment
- 193,350: Legal segment
- 48,270: Enterprise segment
- 7,770: Finance segment
Once your keywords are sorted and analyzed, it’s time to turn back to your competitors for additional research. Researching your competition is essential for crafting an effective content plan. In our Magic Mountain plan, we researched a total of 13 competitors, comparing our client’s site to its competitors’ on everything from domain ranking to keyword listing positions and SEO. As you’re starting off, break your analysis into two main components:
- SEO research
- Content audit
SEO research involves several important components. These include:
- Google PageRank
- Indexed Pages
Although Google’s Toolbar PageRank was removed from public view several years ago, PageRank (PR) still plays a crucial role in Google’s ranking algorithm. PR is a formula that determines the “value” of a webpage, which then determines its relative importance.
PageRank looks at factors including:
- The quality and quantity of inbound linking pages, also called backlinks
- The number of outbound links on each linking page, also called external links
- The PageRank of each linking page
While you can no longer see the PageRank score of your or your competitors’ webpages, you can pay attention to backlinks, external links, and factors that contribute to creating a quality page that Google deems important.
Websites with robust, quality content are favored in Google’s PageRank algorithm. This can partially be measured by the number of indexed pages on a particular site. Chart out the number of individual pages Google has indexed for your site, as well as the competitor sites you’re researching.
Fast Tip for Checking Indexed Pages
You have several ways to check the number of pages Google has indexed for a specific site. One of the quickest is with a straightforward Google query.
- Go to the Google search field
- Type in: site:yourdomain.com
At the top of your search results, you’ll see a line indicating the approximate number of pages indexed, along with the amount of time it took Google to calculate that number.
You can also filter the results of your indexed pages query with a variety of options:
- Shows indexed pages in your selected subdirectory: site:mydomain.com/subdirectory/
- Shows indexed pages that contain your specific word or phrase: site:mydomain.com specific word or phrase
- Shows indexed pages that contain the “word” in the URL: site:mydomain.com inurl:word
- Shows indexed pages that contain the “word” in their title: site:mydomain.com intitle:word
- Shows indexed files that have the filetype you selected: site:mydomain.com filetype:pdf [doc, xls, rtf, others]
Google Console also offers ways to research indexed pages of domains, as do a number of content marketing tools.
Incoming links are an important indicator of the viral value of your website. Links coming from authoritative and contextually appropriate sources can boost your search rankings and lead to increased traffic.
With the rise of social media, the importance of tracking inbound link metrics increases. While not absolute, they can serve as one relative indicator of how engaging your content is compared to your competitors.
Map out the number and sources of your backlinks. Start with the current month, using it as a timestamp. Then continue to track your growth of inbound links compared to your competitors on a quarterly basis. This will help you pinpoint traction or loss of traction in your target markets.
Over time, you’ll see trend lines that provide insights into your viral value compared to competitors.
Checking Number of Backlinks
A variety of digital marketing tools let you check backlinks of any domain. Options include:
A quantitative content audit on you and select competitors helps you understand the number and kind of content assets you and your competitors are producing.
In addition to counting up the types of assets, you can look at the allocation and distribution of those assets across topic silos. This gives you an understanding of how much you are investing in your various lines of business from a content marketing perspective.
A solid content audit includes comparing your company to your competitors with regard to:
- Total content assets.
- A breakdown of those pieces of content as a whole and across each topic silo.
- Breakdowns can include the number of:
- Case studies
- White papers
- Data sheets
- News articles
- Press releases
- Webcasts and webinars
- Social media presence, including:
- Publishing volume
- Number of followers
Don’t feel you need to compare your publishing volume and other social media activity to every account for each competitor if they have a particularly broad and diverse social media presence. For your comparison, only include the most relevant accounts that make sense.
The goal of a comprehensive content audit is to help you develop and implement a holistic, cross-channel content creation and promotional distribution strategy.
Once you’ve completed your keyword research and SEO research and have the content audit under your belt, you can now move forward with a content strategy. This content strategy will help ensure you have the right content to crush the competition and stand out from the crowd.
A solid content strategy involves:
- Optimizing existing content
- Creating new content
- Tracking and measuring performance
- Better prioritizing and aligning content creation with business goals and revenue objectives for each line of business
- Focusing on industry and thought leadership ideas to increase customer engagement
In the case of Magic Mountain, we recommended they create a total of 1,956 new pieces of content, with a breakdown by types of content, noting the amount and cost of each kind of content.
- Articles: 136 articles at a cost of $6,800
- Blogs: 890 blogs at a cost of $26,700
- Case Studies: 160 case studies at a cost of $160,000
- White Papers: 68 white papers at a cost of $272,000
- Data Sheets: 53 data sheets at a cost of $5,300
- E-books: No e-books recommended
- FAQs: 31 FAQs at a cost of $775
- News Articles: 75 news articles at a cost of $3,000
- Press Releases: 237 press releases at a cost of $47,400
- Podcasts: 99 podcasts at a cost of $495
- Videos: 160 videos at a cost of $800
- Webcasts: 47 webcasts at a cost of $235
All told, the combined pieces of content were expected to add up to:
- A content marketing budget of $523,505
- An estimated increase in organic traffic of 447,036
- A total value for number one listing positions of $2,576,154
As you can see, the total value for being in the top listing positions far outweighs the outlay, making this content strategy an exciting solution that’s definitely worth its weight in ROI.
Bottom Line on a Content Marketing Plan
Content marketing is not rocket science, but it does involve a good amount of research and analysis if you want to craft a content strategy that’s destined to succeed. Unless you’re a major corporation like Magic Mountain, your own content marketing efforts may be a tad less complex. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less important.
You still want to touch on every aspect to ensure you create the right content to attract potential customers, retain existing customers, and support your business goals—all while leaving your competitors in the dust.
Take an even deeper dive into the content marketing plan we created for Magic Mountain with the free download. Or if you’re looking for a content strategist to help you create a plan, or need a writer for any kind of content, start your free trial with WriterAccess today.