Content Marketing Planning: Ultimate Guide | BuzzSumo

With most content marketing campaigns I have come across, there’s one thing in common: Lack of planning.

I admit, I am a control freak. I have to plan and schedule everything months ahead.

But that’s also the reason why I’ve been able to accomplish so much and remain in the spotlight.

Thorough content marketing planning has lots of benefits, including:

  • Higher productivity and efficiency (You are able to produce more content by getting more organized)
  • More effective marketing collaboration and all the many benefits that come with it (You can involve your team in your planning process)
  • Better goal setting and achievement (You can put down what you want to achieve with each asset and have enough time to collect more ideas and feedback from your team).

Here’s how to create a well-informed content marketing plan for as long as one year ahead:

1. Collect Content Ideas

Any content marketing planning process always starts with keyword research, and that research is not just for search engine optimization purposes.

“One thing many marketers seem to forget about keywords is that there’s a human being typing each query in the search box.”

Ann Smarty

This means keyword research allows to:

  • Better understand your target customer’s struggles
  • Better structure your content to answer more of your customers’ questions

Both of these help you build brand loyalty, links and, yes, search visibility- all of which bring more conversions and sales.

Traditional Keyword Research

“Keyword extension” tools are usually the first tools I turn to for content marketing planning. There are lots of great keyword research tools out there to choose from, including SEMrush, Ahrefs, Spyfu, Kparser and Serpstat, to name a few. All of them allow you to run a few searches for free.

All of the premium keyword research tools collect more important data on each query on the list including the monthly search volume (i.e. how many people tend to search for this keyword every month). Most of them also have “keyword difficulty” metric that reflects how difficult it would be to rank in 10 ten for each query organically. Both of these numbers allow you to make more informed content marketing planning decisions about whether to include any of the keywords in your content plan.

To quickly illustrate the process, here’s the filter I am using at Serpstat to find keywords with low competition:

[Serpstat has its own estimation of how competitive each keyword is with 0-20 keyword difficulty reflecting the lowest competition. These keywords are “the easiest”. Export results into an Excel file to create an action-ready spreadsheet to plan one-year worth of content]

Question Research

Another great way to collect useful content ideas is to use question research. It’s like keyword research, only it focuses on interrogative queries. I did a detailed overview of all the tools you can use for question research. Here are the takeaways:

  • Google’s “People Also Ask” results can be retrieved by Featured Snippet Tool
  • Text Optimizer extracts questions from Google / Bing SERPs by using semantic analysis
  • Ahrefs, Serpstat Questions and Answer The Public collect question-type queries from Google Suggest results
  • BuzzSumo Question Analyzer aggregates questions from Quora, Reddit as well as various discussion boards
  • Twitter search for real-time question monitoring: You can monitor Tweeted questions using [keyword ?] search on Tweetdeck (note the space between your keyword and the question mark
  • My Tweet Alerts for monitoring interesting (AMA) questions on Reddit

Further reading for content marketing planning with questions:

Related Concepts and Neighboring Terms

Another – often overlooked – way to collect content ideas is to research related and neighboring terms. Not only will that allow you to find more interesting angles, this research will prompt your writers to enrich the content by using synonymous and associated concepts.

Text Optimizer is the perfect tool for this stage of content marketing planning: It uses Google SERPs for your given query to retrieve search snippets and then it analyzes them to identify related and neighboring terms.

The idea is simple: Google generates search snippets based on what it believes answers each query best. So those search snippets represent the best possible summary answering the given query. Now, all you need to do is to retrieve important data from that summary to come up with more ways to write content and more angles to branch out.

BuzzSumo’s Topic Explorer

Another great way to come up with lots of content ideas is BuzzSumo’s own recently launched Topic Explorer. The Topic Explorer adds a layer of artificial intelligence to the platform, allowing content creators to expand their reach (and their blog post ideas) to new subject areas.

Use it when you are looking for new ideas for your content marketing planning. The Topic Explorer helps you to dig deeper into smaller niche areas, or expand to related terms.

2. Organize Content Ideas

After using the tools above, you’ll come up with a big list of keywords (possibly hundreds of those). How to make sense of those keyword lists and turn them into an actionable content plan? Here are two steps:

Keyword Clustering

Serpstat has a nice keyword grouping feature that helps one better understand their keyword data and put it into action. Import your good long keyword list and give it some time. Serpstat will actually check search results for each query on the list, find overlapping URLs and, based on that, determine how closely related those queries are.

You can tweak your Serpstat clustering settings based on how closely related you want those keyword groups to be.

Organize Further by Goals and Content Types

Once you have come up with topics behind your keywords (by doing the clustering exercise above), you can organize them a little bit further by:

  • Content goals (examples include: outreach / links, lead generation, customer engagement and loyalty building, etc.)
  • Content type(s) (examples: a video, a listicle, a how-to article, an infographic, an ebook, an interview, a long-form article, or a good mix of many types)

This will help your team to better streamline their efforts and prepare all the planned content assets far in advance.

Furthermore, I use two more labels that help with planning:

  • “Filler” content (Something I can publish any time, any day of the week)
  • Seasonal content (Something that would probably do better if I publish it during a specific season, holiday or awareness week).

Not all seasonality is so obvious, so I use Google Trends to spot some patterns to time my content better. For example, I have just recently discovered that the peak interest in [teacher]-related content falls on April, rather than September (as I had previously thought):

3. Create Your Schedule

Put a Rough Plan into a Spreadsheet

Finally, you have enough data to start working on your schedule. The easiest way to put quick ideas down is to use Google Spreadsheets. They are free and have collaborative features. Plus spreadsheets can totally be used as calendars:

  • You can color-code cells based on content types and/or goals
  • You can use cell comments to leave your own notes on each specific content campaign (e.g. angles, additional assets to create, etc.)

Overall, spreadsheets provide for the most flexible and customizable environment for higher-level content marketing planning. I’ve shared my own content planning roadmap template here. There are also many more tools to keep and organized your content ideas and important dates.

Schedule Seasonal Campaigns

Whenever I do content marketing planning, I tend to focus on seasonal content and how I can time it better. Seasonality directs and informs my content marketing plan because being part of a trend is very powerful when it comes to content visibility and user engagement. With seasonal content you are able to use all those trending hashtags and catch the peak of interest in the topic.

The three tools I am using to schedule and market seasonal content effectively are ContentCal, Finteza and Alter:

ContentCal for Streamlining the Campaign

ContentCal is a calendar app that makes planning seasonal content easier. Once you have your spreadsheet / content roadmap, use ContentCal’s “Campaigns” feature to put everything together.

ContentCal’s Campaigns section is an effective collaborative tool for higher-level planning. Start adding your seasonal content campaigns in there:

  • Add the start and end date (Adjust the start date the way that your team has time to prepare for the campaign)
  • Create a detailed campaign brief. List your keywords, hashtags to use when marketing and announcing the upcoming campaign, ideas for social media graphs, and more. The campaign brief keeps your whole team informed of what’s coming:

Once your campaign is created, your team will see the campaign ribbon across the dates you specified:

You can schedule your campaigns as far as one year ahead (which is usually what I do).

Finteza for Showcasing Seasonal Content on the Site

One problem I have always struggled with – both for my own sites and my clients’ sites – is the ability to efficiently showcase seasonal content on the site.

Finteza is the free analytics suite that solves that problem with its “Advertising zones” feature. Create your on-site zones where you want to announce your seasonal content (for me it’s the sidebar and the footer) and schedule your seasonal content banners to show up there to drive more engagement:

Once your campaign is scheduled, you don’t have to remember to add or remove those banners. You can schedule your campaigns to show up far in advance and rest assured that Finteza will handle the rest.

The beauty of scheduling everything is advance is that you are making sure that even smaller campaigns enjoy some spotlight when it’s their time. On top of that, showing seasonal content in prominent places of your website will improve engagement and prompt visitors to hang around (instead of bounding back), so you may see lower bounce rate thanks to Finteza.

Alter for Personalizing Seasonal Content

Finally, another tool for properly marketing your seasonal content is Alter which is the newer personalization platform that allows you to bring your content forward based on an infinite combination of criteria.

For example, you can encourage your site users to check specific content assets (or products) based on:

  • Social media platforms they came from
  • Advertising campaigns that drove them to your site
  • A device they are using
  • Their location (this is especially useful when you are focusing your content on a country- or a city-specific holiday), etc.

Once your audience is created, you can use Alter’s page editor to set-up your personalized call-to-action and increase on-page engagement:

[Use Alter to bring your seasonal content forward based on the marketing campaign you are using to promote it]

Takeaways: How to Plan Your Content Marketing?

  • Use keyword and question research tools to collect as many content ideas as you can
  • Organize your content ideas using keyword clustering
  • Use spreadsheets to label your content ideas based on the campaign goals, types / formats and seasonality
  • Schedule seasonal campaigns using collaborative tools for your whole team to get informed and organized
  • Plan how you are going to showcase seasonal content on-site to boost its exposure and improve on-page user engagement

And how are you planning content? Please share your tips in the comments!A

Ann Smarty is the Brand and Community manager at as well as co-founder of Viral Content Bee. Ann has been into Internet Marketing for 10 years, she is the former Editor-in-Chief of Search Engine Journal and contributor to prominent search and social blogs including Small Biz Trends and Mashable. Ann is also the frequent speaker at Pubcon and the host of the regular Twitter chats #vcbuzz


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