Without a consistent stream of impactful content ideas, the health of your content marketing strategy can never be guaranteed.

Roughly 60% of marketers create at least one piece of content each day, but is each piece effective? How do you know what content to create? How do you properly allocate scarce resources for content creation and distribution? Which channels need to be prioritized?

For some organizations, finding the answers to these vital questions is a guessing game, with gut feelings superseding data. Other companies lean toward the opposite extreme, over-engineering the content planning process in ways that slow down marketing campaigns and kill creativity.

Technology plays a role, no doubt, but the processes that you put into place will either oil your content marketing engine or throw a wrench in the works. In this article, part of our series around content management challenges, we’re delving into what your content planning process should look like, from one end to the other.

What is content planning (and why do you need it)?

As the name suggests, content planning refers to the processes around ideation, drafting, collaborating, editing, and optimizing content.

The most serious questions surrounding content planning are:

  • Do you really have an end-to-end process? If so, how mature is it?
  • What would the ideal process look like? Why?
  • Where can things be automated or streamlined?
  • What are the impacts if the process isn’t optimized?

To get your organization’s answers to the above questions, here are six steps to keep in mind when plotting your content planning strategy.

1. Define goals for every piece of content

Make granular goal-setting part of your content creation culture. By giving each piece of content an objective, your entire team can collaborate with the same goal and target audience in mind on a content-by-content basis.

Generally speaking, there are three objectives to set for any piece of content:

  1. Topic Coverage and Findability: Builds your position as a niche authority and guides content creation to match user intent.
  2. Brand Language and Emotional Appeal: Guides content creation toward a positive audience reaction and builds a consistent brand voice that connects and inspires.
  3. Reach and Engagement: Provides fast and granular insight into audience response and guides content creation toward digital goals and target audiences.

2. Map your gaps

The last thing you want to do is duplicate content. You don’t want your blog posts competing against each other on Google, nor do you want two extremely similar YouTube videos.

By auditing the content you already have, both published and unpublished, you can map out what topics you have covered, and which topics need more attention. To be thorough, you should map out what content is currently available by both content type and content audience. This will give you a comprehensive understanding of where your content gaps are.

This step is fundamental to moving your content strategy forward, which is why the Sitecore Content Marketing Platform offers a Strategy Board to help marketers and content authors visualize their content gaps with customizable dual-pivot views.

3. Prioritize trending topics

Talk to internal stakeholders, partners, and vendors about what’s trending in your industry. Better yet, talk to your customers and target audience directly about what issues they’re facing, and what kind of content they’d most like to consume.

You can also use tools including Google Trends and Ahrefs to discover trending topics and keywords that you can incorporate into your content for both SEO and thought leadership purposes.

4. Assess and assign available resources

Do you have the writers or agencies on hand to handle the content gaps and trending topics you’ve identified?

You might have writers, videographers, or social media managers who can focus on different topics. It’s your job to assign each topic to a person or team with the knowledge to produce content that brings value to the consumer.

If you don’t have the right resources for a particularly high-priority topic, move down the priority list for now until you find the right person for the job.

5. Learn from the past

Don’t forget to analyze your content effectiveness metrics to see which types of content and which topics resonate best with your audience. A few topics and content types should stand out above the rest. Prioritize those.

If certain topics were ineffective in the past, consider dropping them from your shortlist, or approaching them from a different angle.

6. Execute on your shortlist

After reaching step five, you should now have a shortlist of content ideas that:

  • Have individual objectives
  • Will fill content gaps
  • Address trending topics
  • You have the resources to complete

With all those boxes ticked, you can systematically draft, write or record, edit, and publish the content you know will move the needle.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail

Without a robust, agile, and intelligent content planning and management process, it will be incredibly difficult to extract ROI from your content marketing campaigns.

By working your way through the six steps outlined above, you can evaluate the deficiencies in your content planning process and figure out what needs to be added, removed, or transformed.

In addition to improving the process for plotting your content strategy, also consider technology to make the process scalable. A unified asset management system, a centralized content calendar, and a single software platform for collaborative editing and quality assurance can significantly boost your content planning strategy.

Looking for more ways to optimize your content operations?

Our marketer-friendly guide on how a content hub can revolutionize content production and publication, “The case for the marketing content hub,” is the perfect next step for a content-conscious marketing team.

Jose Santa Ana is Product Marketing Director at Sitecore. Find him on LinkedIn