From Calendar to Conversions: How to Plan 12 Months of Customer-Focused Blogging

Blogging is the fundamental component of your content marketing strategy. My own research has shown that the more blogs you publish, the more visitors you attract, the more leads you can nurture, and the more conversions you will get!

Publishing 2 to 4 blog posts per week provides the highest results in terms of both traffic and conversions. That finding comes from my company’s client data and holds up across industries, sizes and markets in both B2B and B2C.

In such a clear-cut case where quantity matters, it’s a no-brainer that you should plan at least that many posts without sacrificing quality.

Did you get that? No brand should cut corners on quality. But if you can maximize the number of blog posts you publish without taking a hit on quality, data tells us you will see better results from your content marketing.

How do you do that? How do you plan for a year’s worth of content? It’s essential to develop a road map for your content and bring the C-suite on board to ensure that content marketing is an organizational priority.

Let me walk you through each step of this process and give you some guidelines that will ensure that you don’t stray from the right (read ROI-intensive) path.

Identify your blog post goals

As I’ve said so many times before, you want to tie objectives from your content marketing efforts to the overall business goals. Every post you plan must accomplish one or more of these objectives:

  • Brand awareness and recall
  • Audience engagement
  • Web traffic
  • Search engine visibility
  • Lead generation and nurturing
  • Customer retention
  • More ROI from marketing

Once you identify a post’s goal, match it to a phase in your sales funnel and determine at which point a customer would ideally consume the content.

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Decide on themes and topics

Choosing themes and topics is central to the process of planning a content calendar. But first, content marketing strategists (and your CMO) need to understand the difference between themes and topics.

In the context of a blog, themes identify with the categories of a blog. For example, themes for a marketing blog could be content marketing, social media, event marketing, and so on.

Topics, on the other hand, are the core areas of discussion around which the post is written. For example, a topic such as analytics might lead to a blog post with the title The Role of Data and Research in Content Engagement. (This topic would fall under the blog’s theme of content marketing.)

I love how enterprise cloud computing solution provider Nutanix categorizes articles in its online magazine The Forecast into technology, business, and industry themes. Such differentiation is essential for you to grow the authority of your brand by increasing the breadth and depth of your content.

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How do you go about identifying the themes around which you’ll weave your topics for the months to come?

You already have a bagful of knowledge about the topics and trends prevalent in your industry, as well as the conversations around them. Start with what you assume to be the issues central and most important to the bulk of your audience. Then confirm your hypotheses and expand on your initial ideas in three ways:

Survey your audience

The best way to give your audience members what they want is – well, to ask them. A tool like SurveyMonkey is useful here – you can quickly put together a short list of questions and post it on your website, send it via email, and share it on social media.

Your survey should:

  • Include easy-to-understand questions with simple answer options
  • Be able to be completed in less than a minute
  • Have a small incentive (such as gated content or a first look) for completion

Along with your general audience, you can send a few (but different) questions to influencers and thought leaders in your industry. Their insights may be more valuable than those of the general audience.

Track online conversations

Sometimes your audience won’t explicitly tell you what it wants. Or maybe, your audience is too large to survey. Use the advantage of online platforms and social media to gauge opinions and understand pain points – there’s always a discussion going on related to your industry somewhere on the internet.

Social listening tools like TalkwalkerBrandwatch, and Mention monitor ongoing conversations around your industry and brand on various social platforms and record them for later use in brainstorming topic ideas for your content marketing strategy.

Perform keyword research

Organic visibility of your brand and content on Google is central to any digital marketing. Google is shifting from being a search engine to an answer engine, constantly tweaking its algorithm to pull up the most relevant and contextual content that matches not just the searcher’s query but also the intent.

Keyword research tools can give you a lot of clues as to what people search on Google, the number of searches performed per month on a topic, how many people click a result, and what kind of content shows up for these searches. Answer The Public is one tool that returns a ton of why, when, what, how, and other questions you can consider answering in-depth with your articles.

 

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Based on such information, you can understand your audience members’ intent better and create new content to draw them into your marketing funnel.

Build a list of topics

Now that you have the themes around which you’re going to build your content, get key members of the marketing team to brainstorm ideas and headlines on the topics under those themes. Consider grouping them in multiples of 52 (one for every week of the year).

Next, make sure you have the headlines and possible key points vetted for SEO. Put together a plan to optimize the content for search engines.

We create a shared spreadsheet where each team with a stake in the content can assign a priority to each idea, put forward key points to include in the piece, recommend the best dates or time to publish it, and suggest other articles on the blog or reference posts to link to. The columns in the spreadsheet might include:

  • Topic (Headline)
  • Theme
  • Team 1 Priority (and comments)
  • Team 2 Priority (and comments)
  • Avg. priority (publish date will depend on this)
  • Editor’s remarks
  • Content assets to link (with URLs)

Determine the most effective content formats

Most companies across verticals now choose a nice mix of videos and articles – with images to boot – in their blog posts to make their content more interactive and engaging. However, a series of videos, webinars, or podcasts is best kept to once a week to avoid audience fatigue or information overload.

SEO tool suite Moz has consistently aced it for nearly a decade with its legendary Whiteboard Friday videos. Former CEO Rand Fishkin started them by breaking down one topic at the beginner to intermediate level every week to an eager audience. The videos have now moved on to advanced topics, explained by industry experts while retaining the fun brand personality that Rand built at the outset.

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Content published in a specialized format or as part of a series warrants special planning. You need to decide the intervals or days of the week on which you’ll schedule these posts. You also must figure out how long you’ll stick to the format so you can evaluate the right success metrics (more on this later).

Finally, create your content calendar

Once you have a pool of topics, decide what kind of posts to create in the short and long term, brainstorm the exact headlines, select the format, and so on.

While there are dozens of content calendar templates available online (and there is a very useful set of actionable worksheets from Roger Parker available here), I like a simple one that incorporates only the essential elements. Let me walk you through the quick one-two-three process of creating a yearly content calendar using Google sheets: 

1. Finalize a theme for every month

You can lend focus to your blog and stick to your strategy by deciding a theme for each month. For each one, brainstorm the title ideas. A ton of headline generators such as CoSchedule’s can help you create irresistible headlines. Test three to five variations for each headline.

TIP: Your titles will depend on the content type (i.e., how-to guide, opinion, listicle, case study, video, interview, report) so plan accordingly.

All this is very good, but how do you pick a theme for every month of the year? Ask more questions such as:

  • What are our audience segments? What do they want and when do they want it? When are they active and when are they not?
  • What kind of posts do we publish when business is slow? When business picks up?
  • Does our content marketing strategy include newsjacking or clickbait?
  • Does our branding strategy involve voicing our opinions strongly or taking sides in politics or sports?
  • Are there any big industry events happening around which we need to tailor our content?

The more expertise your team has in your domain, the more information you have on your industry, the more connected you are with your customers and your audience, the easier it becomes to publish and promote content on the right topics at ideal times.

 

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2. Break the months into weeks and assign titles

With your themes and topics determined, pick your titles for the week. Your calendar now should look something like this:

Don’t forget to leave room for fresh content that talks about notable developments in your industry as and when they happen.

3. Add supplementary columns as necessary

You need to plan out the who, when, and how of creation and promotion. You can incorporate additional columns to the sheet, such as:

  • Targeted keywords
  • Content type
  • Deadline for draft
  • Publish date
  • Channels for promotion
  • Author
  • Call to action

Then look over the calendar sheet. Quickly prioritize the headlines. With the “favorites” ranked, make sure to schedule priorities, topics, themes, keywords, and types over the year. That way, you don’t create all the favorite content in the first quarter, with mediocre and least favorite topics filling out the rest of the year.

Make every blog post count

Of course, once you’ve put all your heart into optimizing your posts, it’s necessary to keep your eyes on your blog analytics or your content dashboard. Google Analytics is your friend and will help you pinpoint the success of all kinds of posts, from content champions to cash cows, to blog potatoes (the couch potato equivalent of a blog post).

Page views, web traffic, click-through rates from various channels, backlinks, social shares, time spent per session, and on-page engagement are obvious metrics that you should be monitoring, You can analyze plenty of others, such as contribution to acquisition or sale, content quality, and content half-life, to measure the true ROI of your content and route back the insights gained into your calendaring process for the next quarter.

Ready for a year

The creation of a 12-month plan for your blog is a smart strategy for several reasons. Your content creation will be smarter and more relevant to your audience and your business goals.

But it’s not set in stone. Evaluate your analytics regularly to decide what needs tweaking in the upcoming quarters. And adjust industry news and trends that you couldn’t have known about when the calendar was crafted. Even though they will never know your thoughtful process, your audience members will thank you by engaging with your content.

Time To Act!

If you are ready to get more traffic to your site with quality content that’s published consistently, check out our Content Builder Service. Set up a quick consultation, and I’ll send you a free PDF version of my books. Get started today–and generate more traffic and leads for your business.

This article originally appeared on Content Marketing Institute.

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.

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