A blank page is the one of the most intimidating things you can ever face; it’s utterly perfect as it is, but totally useless to you. Today I’m going to walk you through the process of creating content, whether it’s infographics or articles, that you can eventually market and get loads of those lovely little links from!

As Amy mentioned in her awesome round-up of the Content Marketing Show 2013, Jo Kerr gave a fantastic presentation entitled ‘Content Planning 101’. It was punchy, to the point, and covered some important topics. Luckily for me, content planning forms the next logical step to my guide to Content Marketing (I’ve already covered what content marketing is and some really great examples of it in practice). Jo’s presentation confirmed a lot of things that I already knew about content planning but also gave me some great new tips that I’ll be implementing in my planning from now on.

So without further ado, here’s my step by step guide for getting the most out of your content planning time.

Step One: Identify Your Target

Target practise

The first step in your content plan should be to identify exactly what you want to get out of your content. Is it links, social shares, increased conversions, more traffic? Once you’ve identified this write it in the top right hand corner of your piece of paper. Underline it, colour it in, point loads of arrows at it, anything to make it stand out. Move on to the next step.

Step Two: Analyse the Battlefield

You’ve got your target. Now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty.

Nobody wants to create content that bombs. Sadly there’s no content crystal ball (that we’re aware of anyway) that can help you identify what ideas will soar and which will get the cold shoulder. The next best thing to seeing the future is to delve into the past. Check out your competition and see what’s worked for them!

If your target is social shares, see what blog posts received the most retweets and likes. This isn’t where you should be harvesting your content ideas from but it’ll be a good indicator to what goes down well in your niche. Are the roundups getting the most attention or are infographics stealing the show? What about Q&A’s with influential people in your niche? Have a look around at what’s being shared by the big names in your sector. What kind of things are they sharing and could you create something similar?

Step Three: Have Some Alone Time

Have a little mini-brainstorm on your own. Come up with as many ideas as you can, or as many as your time frame allows. Scout the internet; if you see things you like that could be relevant, save the links or the pictures as they could come in useful later. Once you’ve done this you’re ready for step four.

Step Four: Gather the Troops

Troops

If you come up with a singular content idea which you are convinced is absolutely amazing and is going to be the best thing ever created, then think again. Your idea is probably rubbish. It’s nothing personal but as Laura Edwards said, when coming up with ideas 80% are going to be crappy (we’re talking straight to the bin, never to be mentioned again), 19% passable and 1% genius.

According to the maths, the likelihood of your first idea being in that 1% is very, very slim.

The best way to increase your chance of getting more awesome ideas and less trash is by gathering your troops and coming up with as many ideas as possible. You never know, one of your team could be sitting on absolute gold, but if you don’t ask you’ll never know!

You don’t need to bring your office to a complete halt to brainstorm ideas. Grab a couple of the people that are working on that particular project, individuals who you know may have an interest in the kind of thing you want to create, or some of your most creative ideas people. You’ll also need a handful of different coloured post-it notes, some pens, a notepad, and a quiet space!

Cakes

Bribing colleagues into participation using cakes, sweets and chocolates is completely acceptable, as are threats*

Now it’s down to you! Start throwing around ideas for articles, infographics, round-ups, whatever you can think of! Write them all down. A nice way to keep everything organised is to write all infographic ideas down on one coloured sticky note (or in a particular colour pen), all article ideas in another colour and so on. This will make your brainstorm nice and visual and you’ll be able to see where some of your best ideas are likely to lie. Don’t forget to include ways in which you could achieve your target (Step One) by adding places you could share each content idea and who might be interested.

Remember these important tips:

It’s not all about you!
Your content need to hold value for your readers. The best kind of content is one that evokes some kind of emotion. Tell a story, create a persona, get people engaged!

Would you share it?
If you wouldn’t, it’ll make up part of the 80% of rubbish ideas.

Have you already created something you could use again?
If it worked once, it’s likely to work again! Don’t be afraid of using feedback to improve on previous content that you’ve created! If you got a huge response to a question, use those answers to create something new, people love sharing things they’ve contributed to!

Step Five: Weed Out the Weak

This needs to be carried out delicately. Remember those percentages? 80% of what sits in front of you right now is trash, but it’s your team that’s come up with those ideas. Don’t be unnecessarily harsh when picking your best and always keep all of your ideas. Store them in a notebook or keep the sticky notes posted somewhere in the office. It could just be that some of the ideas aren’t quite working for you right now but they could be really great in a few months time.

Step Six: Always Be Prepared

In front of you, you should now have a selection of great ideas. Now you need to organise them.

If you have a whiteboard or a wall planner now’s the time to use it.

The reason we suggested sticky notes earlier on is because at this point you can move things around until you get the right mixture of content. Plan out your content for the whole month. What day will you post what ideas? This will help you balance your workload and plan ahead so that you’re never scrambling to keep your blog up to date.

Elsie from A Beautiful Mess has some great tips for organising your blogging schedule as well as blog brainstorming and keeping all of those great ideas safe for the future.

Step Seven: Attack!

You’ve got your ideas. You’ve got your schedule. What are you waiting for? Get going!

Attack

Take a look at what you can produce in-house, what needs to be outsourced and always keep these production times in mind. Create a task-list and get your team going. You may have a blog to go out in four day’s time but that infographic in a fortnight will take a week to create and perfect. From here you can plan your team’s time accordingly and make sure you get everything completed on schedule.

Don’t forget to share your progress with everyone and ask for feedback before putting any content live as one of your team might spot a mistake you didn’t, or have some constructive criticism that could change your whole piece from ‘okay’ to ‘wow’.

Step Eight: Don’t Slack Off

Your content is rolling out just as planned, it all looks great and peachy but DON’T GET LAZY! 

Cat and mouse

Don’t slack off once you think the hard work’s done. You could miss out on some easy wins!

You might have created something amazing but who’s going to find out about it if you just upload it and then leave it there? Make sure that you’re sharing it on your social platforms, reaching out to bloggers or people who might be interested. Outreach is just as important as the content itself so don’t skimp on it. I’ll be writing a blog post about making your outreach count but for the time being, I’d highly recommend giving the Good Outreach Vs. Bad Outreach article over at SEER a read.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your outreach either. The bloggers you’re approaching will have received the same stock email more than once a day since they started their blog so offer them something a little bit different. Go for flattery, humor, anything as long as it’s not a standard template email that reads as if it’s been written by a robot. You’ve made something awesome so tell them why it will benefit them (usually the same reason you outlined in Step One!)

Don’t forget to follow up your outreach either! Sometimes emails can get lost in amongst the spam, that second prompt asking them to check your infographic out will take you two minutes and could be the difference between a link or no link!

Step Nine: Rinse and Repeat

Congratulations! You’ve completed Content Planning Boot Camp.

There’s no medal. Just a sense of satisfaction. Make sure you give your team some praise for a job well done, maybe bring in some treats then go right back to the beginning.

Start back at step one at the beginning or end of each month and repeat. This will ensure you always have a full editorial calendar full of great ideas and share-worthy content – a digital marketer’s dream!

What tactics do you employ when putting together a content plan? Do you even have a content plan? If you don’t, why not? We’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions so let us know in the comments below!

* We highly recommend using cake over threats. We take no responsibility for any harm that may come to you/your possessions/your Facebook status as a result of your threat!