How to Develop a Content Plan [With Downloadable Template]


I remember back when I first started in this industry, I would download content templates everywhere! Social media template? Downloaded. Content calendar? Downloaded. If you had a template, I had an e-mail ready to download it.

I had so many PDFs and did so much other research, but I always felt that something was missing just a little bit from what I had.

I wanted to slice and dice these templates, sprinkle in a little experience from my own client interactions and industry knowledge, and cook up something that worked better for my agency, my strategists and my clients.

Now I don't know about you, but my brain tends to get paralyzed when I hit a wall.

And that's what happened a few months ago.

A few of us shipped on over to INBOUND, an annual conference in Boston, Mass. put on by marketing, sales and service software powerhouse HubSpot. Although completely inspiring, I do tend to leave it with all of these magical ideas that seem to just die as we fall back into the trenches and continue with our daily tasks.

But this time I wasn't having any of that.

So I decided to slack DellaB, star account manager and my go-to when I need to vomit up everything that gets stuck in my brain crevices and needs to get out.

I shared all of my frustrations and declared that "I just want to f%*$ing break this entire thing apart and build it from scratch."

Her excitement was palpable.

So DB and I put time on the calendar to sit at our dining room table with a bunch of blank pieces of paper and get to work.

digital marketers developing

We decided to go in with one mission: Throw everything we do out the window and build this as if we were living in a perfect world. How would we create the best content strategy?

So, we built. And now, I want to share all of that with you.

Listen: Developing a Content Plan

The Master Document

This entire plan takes place in one single Excel spreadsheet with tabs at the bottom, enabling us to keep everything we need in one concise, clean place.

The tabs are as follows:

  • Content Audit*
  • Current Keyword Rankings
  • Competitor 1 Keyword Research
  • Competitor 2 Keyword Research
  • Competitor 3 Keyword Research
  • Buyer Personas
  • Marketing Goals
  • Mission Statement & Content Toolbox
  • Content Plan
  • Metas/Title Tags/H1s

*This is the only step that happens before the Onboarding Sprint.

Let's dive into each:

Content Audit

content audit chart

For our purposes, and assuming our new client has a pre-existing site, we conduct a content audit prior to our initial Onboarding Sprint.

Listen: Running a Client Onboarding Sprint

Here we will go through every piece of content currently on a new client’s website and gather those into a spreadsheet, labeling items with:

  • Title
  • Content Type
  • Buyer’s Journey Stage
  • Buyer Persona
  • Link to Content
  • Notes (optional)

This will help us do a few things:

  • Have a working list of all pre-existing content
  • See which content may be able to be repurposed
  • See which content may be able to be upcycled
  • See which content can potentially fit into Clusters
  • Find any holes we might have
  • Save time otherwise spent creating pre-existing content
  • Find content to share again on social/use in workflows

Current Keyword Rankings

keyword rankings chart

Here, we'll run third-party keyword reports and toss everything we're currently ranking for in this tab.

*Note: I tend to also use the bottom portion to include any additional keywords I think would be useful to analyze further.

Competitor 1, 2, 3 Keyword Research

I run reports for key competitors to see what they're ranking for, to analyze what they're doing right, and what we can do better.

While I utilize three tabs, you can always add or deduct for your own needs. I personally find I don't need to do much research past ~3, because keywords all just tend to overlap by that point.

Buyer Personas

buyer personas chart

This is the tab where we build out our personas based on what comes out of our Onboarding Sprint.

Marketing Goals

marketing goals chart


Marketing goals will be based on three types of performance indicators and will flow upwards every six months.

Remember: You're never not thinking about your TPIs, etc. These are meant to layer on top of each other, with the notion that you need to set the foundation before moving on to more revenue-based aspirations.

Months 4-9: Top Performance Indicators (TPIs)

TPIs are small steps towards LPIs, the foundation of our marketing efforts. We’ll rely heavily on TPIs for our first 6 months.

  • Organic Traffic
  • Ranking for Industry Terms
  • Social Engagement

Months 10-16: Lead Performance Indicators (LPIs)

Predictive metrics that lead to KPIs, derived from content that influences evaluation and consideration.

  • Click-Through-Rate
  • Email Analytics

Months 16+: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Designate with revenue in mind. Metrics that equal conversions/rev.

  • Demo/Offer Sign Ups
  • Consultations Booked

Mission Statement & Content Toolbox

content toolbox chart

We combined both of these into one tab solely because I don't feel they need to be broken out individually.

Content Toolbox: Here you can click on or off the content formats you'll likely be using for your client.

Content Mission Statement: Your content mission statement's purpose is to declare exactly what your content is intended to provide, so you avoid wasting resources on content not aligned with your goals. 

Listen: Content Mission Statements

Content Plan

Screen Shot 2019-03-01 at 4.47.11 PM-1

Strategists will take their toolbox items and create their Content Plan.

Shifting toward a Pillar-Based Content Plan enables us to focus efforts per 90 days, always remembering that Cluster Blogs don’t need to talk specifically about the Pillar keyword, so long as it makes sense in the overarching goal. “Revolving Door Content” will also create variety.

Each 90-day plan will follow this type of format:

  • 1 Pillar Page
  • ~6 Cluster Blogs
  • 1 eBook/Download (can be upcycled from the audit)
  • 1 Infographic/Visual
  • 1 Piece of Revolving Door Content

Revolving Door Content switches out every 90 days, depending on clients' specific needs.

  • Thought Leader
  • LinkedIn PULSE
  • Case StudyQuiz/Survey
  • CEO Quick Chat

Keep in mind this plan can differ based upon each client. For example, one client might want more consistent LinkedIn PULSE pieces, so we might switch out one blog for two PULSE pieces, and so on.

Metas/Title Tags/H1s

metas title charts and h1 map

Not necessarily part of the content plan, mapping out your Metas/Title Tags/H1s is crucial to ensure your site pages are trying to rank for the right things.

I keep this tab in here for easy access to keyword research.

And.... TA-DA!

That's how you develop a content plan with a strategy.

Download our Content Plan Template