Creating a content plan is a complex task with a lot of moving parts, but a crucial one – it is the foundation for how your website will perform in the future. If you are looking for a 3-minute read on how to create a content plan, this article is not for you.
Instead, I will take you through all the steps that are needed to create a content plan, the factors you must consider when making one, and the possible variations in practice based on a given situation. Where it’s sensible, you’ll find specific examples to more easily comprehend the theory behind everything.
By the end, you should know how to create a content plan on your own. And one more thing – the article is written as if you were a content strategist who is creating a content plan for a client. But even if you are reading in order to learn how to create one for your website, the same principles apply.
So, because this article is going to be long no matter how you take it, we might as well get started.
A Few Things to Consider Before We Diving into the Practical Steps
A content plan is a document that focuses on actionable steps that can be taken to achieve the client’s goals. More specifically, how the client can achieve those goals through blog posts. As such, it is not the first strategic document that should be created but follows after more general documents – like overall SEO and content strategies, brand identity and voice discussions, competitor, market, and SWOT analyses, etc.
In more concrete terms, you should know who your client’s target audience is and the most important buyer personas, how established their brand is, what KPIs will be measured, what resources the client has at their disposal (e.g. Can they create one or 11 blog posts per month? Do they have a large social media following they can leverage? Do they have experts they can feature on their website?), how satiated the niche is with services and/or informative content, etc.
So, you need to have a deep understanding of the current situation that the client is in and what content goals they have – this is what informs the creation of your content plan. In this article, we will discuss the process of creating a content plan and a type of structural template that can be used, but all of this needs to be adjusted based on everything listed above.
With that out of the way, let’s get more specific.
What Should Be Included in a Content Plan?
A content plan should always include the following:
- Blog topics
- The focus keywords for each individual blog
- How the topics relate to each other (i.e., an internal linking structure)
It is also advisable to add an easily navigable editorial calendar for simpler content management. A simple table in Google Docs or an external Google Sheet can serve as the editorial calendar.
Additionally, a content plan may also include any more general information you find relevant that does not influence the actual execution of the plan. Think from the perspective that you are creating the document for a client – what would they like to see; what would help them understand the plan?
You can add an explanation of what topic clusters (more on that later) the content will focus on. You can elaborate on some of the key concepts that will be utilized in the plan or talk more about the most important metrics that will be tracked, e.g., how organic traffic is measured. You can even insert future plans without actionable steps.
In short, anything that may be relevant to help the client understand the plan better is a welcome addition.
Now, I’m going to give an intro to keyword research, but if feel you’ve got that covered, feel free to skip this portion.
A (Long) Note About Keyword Research
Keyword research is a complex topic, too complex to do justice here – you can find a full keyword research guide here. However, a content plan simply can’t be done without it, so it needs to be mentioned. Keyword research does three things:
- Finds specific keywords that you want to rank for (we call them focus keywords)
- Finds secondary keywords that would be good to rank for (variations of the focus keyword)
- Finds Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords (keywords that are semantically/topically related to the content of a page and help search engines understand what the page is about)
In practice, you need to have focus keywords for your content plan so that you know what you are targeting. Secondary and LSI keywords are typically researched when SEO strategies are created for an individual piece of content, so they are not necessary to include in the content plan.
Searching for the focus keywords can be done as part of the content plan (this is the approach I prefer) or it can be done as a separate task where you integrate the keywords into the plan. Both approaches can work, it simply depends on what works for you. Sometimes, even the client may provide you with the keywords they would like to rank for.
Important Keyword Metrics and Search Intent
When talking about keyword research, we need to get a bit more specific. Keywords have two important metrics:
- Search volume – the number of times people search for a given keyword in a month in a country
- Keyword difficulty – an estimate of how difficult it is to rank for the given keyword based on the numbers of backlinks the pages that rank at the top of SERPs for that keyword have
Here’s how it looks in Ahrefs:
Ideally, you want to find keywords with a high monthly search volume and a low keyword difficulty. In practice, that doesn’t always happen. So it ends up being a balancing act – do you believe you can write an article that would be good enough to rank for a high-volume and high-difficulty keyword or do you go for a lower-volume and lower-difficulty keyword?
And there is no formula you can follow here. At the end of the day, you use your expertise to give the best estimate you can.
But you also need to consider the target audience and the search intent behind the keyword – what the person typing the keyword into Google is looking for. Let’s say the client is a dentist. The long-tail keyword ‘how often should I visit a dentist’ has a clear search intent and is worth writing a blog around.
‘Dental services’ also has a relatively clear search intent and should be the focus of a service page and you would generally not write a blog around it. However, you also need to consider the combination of volume and difficulty we discussed. You may believe you won’t be able to rank for ‘dental services’ with the client’s service pages.
Then you need to consider workarounds if it is crucial to rank for a variation of this keyword. You can create service pages that focus around the keyword + specific locations where the client offers their services, like targeting ‘dentist in New York’. Such keywords typically have a lower difficulty (but also a lower volume).
Case in point:
Or you can make service pages that focus on specific dental services by targeting specific keywords, e.g., ‘root canal for cracked tooth’. These types of long-tail keywords behave similarly as when you add a location.
But there’s an additional catch – certain types of content are easier to rank. Long-form, informative content (i.e., blogs) are easier to rank than short-form service pages. So you could try writing an article titled ‘X Benefits of Regular Dental Services’.
But, again, what is the search intent behind the keyword? That’s something you need to estimate. If your article doesn’t meet the search intent, you get nothing from it.
On the other hand, if you do believe people may be interested in the topic, even those searching to hire services, and you could plausibly lead them from the article to the client’s page where the actual services are offered, then, it is worth writing.
At the end of the day, SEO is not an exact science and you do what you can to achieve the desired goals.
I said in the subheading that it would be a long note, didn’t I? And there’s one more.
Ahrefs and SemRush are typically considered the best platforms for keyword research. Both update their databases regarding keywords periodically. If you have access to both, use the one that has updated the database more recently.
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The Structure of the Content Plan
Finally, we get to how a content plan should be structured. Content plans should be focused around topic clusters that have a single pillar page and informative content that supports the pillar page.
New topic clusters have additional pillar posts with additional pieces of supportive content. This is the best way to achieve the client’s desired content goals.
A topic cluster is a logically and structurally related grouping of content. It is all the content that deals with a specific subject. For instance, how to sell a home could be a topic cluster if your client buys real estate – it could deal with everything from how to maximize profits to the legal aspects of home sales.
A pillar page is a long-form article that covers, in short, everything from the relevant topic cluster that the target audience could be interested in and links to specialized, supportive types of content (and is linked to from that supportive content). It is a catch-all page that you use as the pillar of your topic cluster.
Supportive articles are blogs that have a narrow focus and deal with a user’s specific search intent. The purpose of this kind of structure is to let users come to the pillar page and then expand their search to more specialized content.
Conversely, they can come to a website because they are interested in a specific topic and then expand their search to the pillar page and then again go to more specialized content. All of this helps boost organic traffic and can lead to improved conversion rates.
It’s Clearer with an Example
Let’s use the example of how to sell a house topic cluster to clarify things. The topic cluster is a conceptual notion, while the pillar page is a concrete article and, in this case, it can be the same – so our example pillar page is How To Sell a House.
One subheading for the pillar page could be How To Maximize Your Profits. That subheading could cover all the most important steps in a home sale, like preparing a home for sale, marketing the property, how to find suitable real estate agents, what the most cost-effective repairs are, etc.
Each of these steps can then be expanded upon in another blog – that’s your supportive content. The same principle is applied to the other subheadings of the pillar page until you cover everything relevant from your topic cluster. Naturally, the number of blogs will vary depending on the scope of the topic cluster.
How To Create a Content Plan
Now let’s get to the actual steps for creating a content plan. As we’ve said, a content plan must include:
- Blog topics
- The focus keywords
- The internal structure
And the internal structure is based around a topic cluster with a pillar page + supportive content. All of this should be reflected in your content calendar.
There are three steps to content planning (excluding the preparatory steps that were mentioned at the beginning) and I’ve separated them here, but they can be done concurrently or consecutively, depending on what comes natural to you.
1.Coming Up with the Topics
Step one to content creation is coming up with topics. If you understand the subject matter, then you can probably brainstorm 10 potentially good topics in a few minutes. If not, then you need to do your research. Looking at what other websites within the niche are writing about is a good way to get topic ideas. Social media posts from competitors are also a good source of content ideas.
If somebody has already done keyword research for you, those keywords should inform your content marketing plans. But remember that you need to have a pillar page and supportive content. Depending on the scope of the content marketing plan, it can deal with one topic cluster or multiple, but remember to keep the clusters separated.
2.Aligning the Topics with the Desired Keywords
If you’ve already done keyword research and have brainstormed some topics, then it’s time to see which keywords align with each blog topic – and always think of the search intent behind the keywords. It’s mostly a mix-and-match type of situation in this case.
However, presumably, you won’t have thought of everything relevant to your topic cluster. If you have a keyword that doesn’t match a specific topic, that’s potentially an additional blog post. Conversely, you may have a topic that doesn’t have a matching keyword. That means you need to do some supplemental research.
The simplest way to find keywords in this situation is to type in your topic into Google and see what comes up. Does something akin to what you’d like to create show up? Excellent. Ahrefs and SemRush (and other software) allow you to see what keywords those articles rank for.
Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like for a Wikipedia page in Ahrefs:
Choose the best keywords for your blog article and you’re one step closer to content creation. And there’s one other thing I should mention – you will likely go back and forth between steps one and two before you get to an effective content plan.
What if There’s No Relevant Keyword for My Topic?
The best practice is to write blogs that are backed by keywords with a good search volume. However, that works on the presumption that users will only come to your pages from Google or other search engines.
They may come to your pages through other channels – through social media content, paid Google ads, by browsing your website, etc. Consequently, if you believe you can provide valuable content that your readers are interested in, include it in the content calendar, even if it’s not backed by valid keywords.
And there’s one more thing to consider – search volume measures the current number of monthly searches. In other words, what people are interested in right now. It does not give future predictions. You could have insider knowledge that certain topics may become more relevant in the near future.
Think of AI – it’s not a new concept, but since ChatGPT came out, everything AI-related has become much more dominant in the pop zeitgeist. If you can predict such things, it would be worthwhile to write non-keyword-backed but high-quality content to position yourself from the very beginning.
3.Creating an Internal Linking Structure
By the time you’ve finished steps one and two, this step should be easy. You know what type of content you wish to write, what your pillar page and supportive content is, and how they link to one another. But it is still important to lay out a clear structure for your internal links in your content calendar.
Internal links to related posts allow visitors to keep exploring your website and find all the information they are looking for. By inserting internal links in natural places, you direct the visitors to other topics in the blog section that they may be interested in.
From an SEO perspective, they interconnect all the content on your website which helps Google understand what your pages are about, crawl them, and recognize the value it offers to the readers.
From my experience, creating a graphical representation of the internal structure in Miro or a similar app is a good way to help clients visualize what you’re writing about. And that’s it about the content planning process.
Think You’ve Got The Hang of It?
I know this text was long and there are a lot of ifs and buts. Again, SEO is not an exact science so that’s how it needs to be. In case this article has helped you understand how to create an effective content plan on your own, then it’s done its job.
On the other hand, it may have helped you understand how complex a task it truly is. And that’s why we offer our services. Play Media takes a holistic approach to search engine optimization and provides the full range of marketing services you need to achieve your goals – including the creation and execution of content plans.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule a free consultation to learn how we can contribute to your short- and long-term plans, feel free to contact us.