Content is hard. It’s one of the biggest hurdles that keep site launches from happening on time. It’s hard for developers, who are stuck waiting for content from their clients. It’s hard for the clients, who haven’t thought about content before.
I talked about the content bottleneck last year at WordCamp Maine. My goal was to help web professionals embrace content in their projects.
This time I’d like to talk about planning for content when you’re the one responsible for producing the content.
When I say “content”, what am I talking about, exactly?
In the context of WordPress, we usually think of content as words on a website. But content can be so more than that. It’s information. It’s media. It’s images, video, audio. It takes on different forms and shows up in different channels. It’s analog and digital. It’s educational, entertaining, inspiring, moving, emotional, invigorating.
I could go on, but then we’d be here all day. So let’s start what WordPress is good at: putting words on a website.
Two types of content: Search vs. Subscribe
My philosophy is that there are two types of content for sites. There’s “information people search for” and “information people subscribe for”.
You build a resource library around information that people search for. Your goal, as a creator, is to produce resources that people refer to over time. This is where a lot of the traditional SEO/content marketing advice applies. The skyscraper technique, content pillars, evergreen content, in-depth original research, et cetera.
You build a publishing schedule around content that people subscribe for. Consistency is everything here. This is content that people form habits around, like weekly updates. Beyond WordPress it could be an email newsletter, podcast, YouTube series… you get the idea.
Both approaches are valuable, and figuring out which is best for your site is part of the fun of working on content.
But before we get too deep in the weeds here, let’s step back. Because there’s an all-important question we haven’t answered yet.
Who are we doing this for?
Who are we talking to? Who are we trying to help? Whose lives are we trying to make an impact on? Who’s our audience? This is fundamental 101 material right here, but it’s amazing how often we forget about it.
Adopting the hero’s journey helps us frame the story of our audience. Our audience is the hero, and we’re a trusted companion that will be there for them throughout that journey.
|Hero||Who are we helping?|
|Trigger||What’s happened in their life or work?|
|Desire/Goal||What are they trying to achieve?|
|Relationships||Who is supporting them?|
|External Conflict||Who and what are they up against?|
|Journey||What are the major milestones they’ll have to overcome?|
|Outcome||How do they know they’ve “made it”?|
So let’s say that you’re working on a website for a real estate agent. Let’s take a jab at what that might look like:
|Hero||Young couple buying their first home.|
|Trigger||Recently married, want to start a family, need more space.|
|Desire/Goal||Finding a home they can make their own.|
|Relationships||Family, friends, financial advisor|
|External Conflict||Saving money; competitive market; renting versus buying|
|Journey||Saving up for a down payment; approval on a mortgage; finding the right home; putting down an offer; having the home inspected; signing off on the deal; moving in; settling into the neighbourhood.|
|Outcome||The process was made easier with the agent.|
By doing this exercise we’ve gone beyond profiling a potential audience segment. We’re looking at the big picture. We’re looking at what lies ahead for our audience, and where we can step in to help.
What content should we create?
This brings us to our first framework: Reach Teach Sell. This is something I started piecing together a few years ago while I was working in B2B marketing.
The left column covers each step of the Reach Teach Sell framework. On the right side, we fill in what we’ll do to fulfill each step. Once we have this documented, we’ll have a high-level strategy to follow for our content.
|Reach||How do we reach our target audience where they already are?|
|Teach||How do we build trust and credibility over time?|
|Sell||What questions do we need to answer to support the sales process?|
|Support||How do we create an amazing new customer experience?|
|Retain||How do we keep customers coming back?|
|Reward||How do we reward customers for their loyalty?|
|Refer||How do we encourage customers to tell others about us?|
But what if you’re not a business? What if you’re a non-profit, or an artist, or a blogger? Even in these situations, we can still follow the framework, albeit in an amended form.
Let’s say we’re pulling together a content plan for an artist. They could be a musician, or an illustrator, or a photographer. Here’s how the Reach Teach Sell framework could apply to them:
|Reach||How do they reach their target audience where they already are?|
|Teach||How do they entertain or inspire their audience over time?|
|Sell||What can they offer that will generate revenue?|
|Support||How do they create an amazing VIP experience for fans?|
|Retain||How do they keep fans coming back?|
|Reward||How do they reward their most loyal fans?|
|Refer||How do they encourage their fans to tell others about them?|
Now, back to the business example. Where would all this content appear, in the context of a website?
|Reach||Advertising; sponsored content; guest posts; social media|
|Teach||Blog posts; resource library; podcast; newsletter|
|Sell||Company/org info; product pages; testimonials; FAQs|
|Support||Knowledge base; documentation; messenger bots; live chat|
|Retain||Reminder emails; customer-only newsletters; customer account page|
|Reward||Customer stories; invite-only virtual events|
|Refer||Refer-a-friend programs; BOGO promotions; contests|
And if you wanna get really simple with it, mapping each step to pages on your site:
|Reach||Landing pages for ad campaigns|
|Sell||Home page; About Us page; Product/Service page; FAQs page; Contact page|
|Retain||Customer account page|
How do we align this to the marketing funnel?
So we know the journey that our audience will go on. We know what our task are as guides — the things we need to help them with. And we know what content we need to lay the foundation for a website.
Now we need to think to the future. What content will we need to create on an ongoing basis? What will go onto our blog? What will go into our resource library? What will we publish on social media?
And this brings us to our second framework: Aligning to the marketing funnel.
- TOF: Top of Funnel (Awareness)
- MOF: Middle of Funnel (Consideration/Evaluation)
- BOF: Bottom of Funnel (Conversion)
“TOF” content is relevant to your website and target audience. “MOF” connects that content to your product or service. “BOF” is all about your business.
We’re going to come up with ideas that fit into each of those categories. We’re going to remain at a high level and come up with types of content, not specific topics. This is a brainstorming exercise.
And if you’re not building a business website, that’s fine! Drop the funnel aspect. Think of “what people search for” versus “what people subscribe for”.
|SEARCH FOR||SUBSCRIBE FOR|
So, for example, if we’re doing a website for a bed and breakfast in Niagara:
|SEARCH FOR||SUBSCRIBE FOR|
|TOF||Photos, videos of Niagara||Stories of the Niagara region|
|MOF||Things to do in Niagara||Upcoming events in Niagara|
|BOF||Accommodations in Niagara||Special discounts & promotions|
With our funnel and search/subscribe matrix completed, we can start branching out from those central ideas into specific topics, and the rest of our frameworks.
What are people searching for?
Let’s go through the “Search For” column first. This is the content that will live in your blog; the stuff that will, over time, bring in organic search traffic. Be extra smart about it and tag each topic idea with where it maps against the funnel. Are you aiming for awareness (TOF), making it specific to you or your business (BOF), or somewhere in the middle (MOF)?
Top 12 Questions
What are the most commonly-asked questions you’re constantly answering? For example, REI Co-Op (the American equivalent of MEC) has an entire section of their website dedicated to expert advice about outdoor activities.
12 Monthly Themes
What seasonal trends affect your work? What’s happening in each month that you can produce content around – ideally content that stays relevant from one year to the next?
12 Most Important Things To Know
What are the twelve most important things you think your audience should know about? This content may not be great for organic search, but it could be useful for linking to from other parts of your site.
Tip: Buyer guides are super useful for online retailers. Theresa Duong, a jeweler in Toronto, sells custom wedding rings. She offers a guide that helps her potential customers. She’s making her sales process easier by answering common questions. She’s also building her credibility by making the process easier for her customers.
12 Popular Topics
What popular topics can piggyback on? These should be relevant to your audience and your site. Fads and trends fizzle out, so look to the future – is there anything coming up that you can start preparing for now?
In our world of WordPress, there were developments this year that we knew were coming ahead of time. Europe’s GDPR law was a big one. Chrome’s “Not Secure” warning on HTTP websites was more recent. On the horizon: Gutenberg coming to WordPress core.
Sites that started publishing content about these topics a year or two ago stood to gain the most. Why? Because they were covering these issues before everyone else.
Like it or not, listicles work at driving clicks, and yes, we’ve run the headline tests to prove it. So what checklists or lists of resources could you create?
Popular list headline formulas include “top X”, “best X”, “X ways”, etc.
12 In-Depth Guides
What in-depth, how-to guides can you create for your audience? This takes the “Top 12 Questions” and “12 most important things to know” frameworks to the next level, because we’re going deep.
What are people subscribing for?
The idea with this content is that you’re creating a routine for your audience. The content goes out at roughly the same time every time. You could publish to your website, publish to other channels, or both – i.e. publish & syndicate.
Recurring Weekly Features
You can scale this up and down – it could just be one day of the week, or it could be every day of the week.
I’d start with a weekly blog post, combining original writing with a curated list of links. It could be links to content you’ve published, or it could be links to content from other sources. This sort of thing translates well to a weekly newsletter.
Buy Sell Ads publishes a weekly newsletter called Re:Growth. Designer Paul Jarvis runs a weekly newsletter called Sunday Dispatches. Artist & writer Austin Kleon runs a weekly newsletter, too. Those are just a few of my favourites – there are plenty of others.
If you want to do something on social media, you could also tie into popular weekly hashtags:
- #TechTuesday or #TipTuesday
- #WisdomWednesday, #Winesday (sup Niagara?) or #Humpday
- #ThrowbackThursday or #TBT
- #FollowFriday (#FF) or #TGIF
- #Caturday (?!)
- #SundayFunday (a personal favourite)
Recurring Monthly Features
Every month you’ll put out a new piece of featured content. The feature could align to your monthly theme, or it could vary – it’s up to you. The important thing is that your audience knows to expect this content every month.
If you’re looking for inspiration, check out Wikipedia’s listing of month-long observances.
Recurring Quarterly Features
Every quarter you’ll put out a special something. This is really good for heavy stuff that you can get a lot of mileage out of: original research, long-form content, things that can be repackaged and atomized into other things.
Publicly-traded companies publish quarterly financial reports. Field Notes puts out a limited-run special edition of their notebooks every quarter. Other ideas: Look ahead. What’s coming up in the next three months that your audience care about? Or what about recapping what’s happened over the last month?
Steal inspiration from around the web
There are so many sources of inspiration around the web. Pinterest has tons of infographics and charts for “blog post ideas”. A quick Google search for “headline formulas” returns a bunch of listicles. Steal these ideas and use them as prompts. Spend a half hour riffing and brainstorming.
Setting up your schedule
Now that we know what we’re going to produce, we need to determine when you’ll produce it. That’s where content calendars come into play. Here are a few examples to get you started.
I’m not going to dive into specific tool recommendations here. Trello, Airtable, Asana, CoSchedule, Google Sheets… it doesn’t matter. Find a tool you like and stick with it.
Here are a few setups to get you going:
Quarterly Planner View
The quarterly view is good if you’re doing one topic per month. I like using the quarterly planner for monthly themes, or for monthly newsletters.
Weekly Planner View
The weekly view is good for (surprise!) weekly content. Each month has, on average, around four weeks. So each week would have its own topic.
|Week 1||Week 1||Week 1|
|Week 2||Week 2||Week 2|
|Week 3||Week 3||Week 3|
|Week 4||Week 4||Week 4|
Monday-Friday Calendar View
This familiar calendar view is good for recurring topics that run every week.
You can go through these exercises every year. Iterate and improve on what you’ve already done. Come up with new ideas. Take a guide you published this year and update it for next year.
Imagine taking your written topics and turning them into other pieces? For example, you could turn a series of posts into a podcast. Read the content out loud as if you were recording an audiobook. Or pull out particularly strong excerpts and turn them into images for social media.
If you’ve created a checklist, could you turn that into an infographic for Pinterest? Could you turn it into a slide deck? Could you record that, with your narration, and turn it into a video? You get the idea.
Gary Vaynerchuk talks about this in his post Content on Content on Content. I refer to it as content atomization. You’re blowing content apart and reassembling it in a different format.
Content planning is the fun stuff.
This is your opportunity to brainstorm and think about possibilities.
So go ahead and enjoy this part of the process. Start by defining who you’re trying to reach. Your audience is the hero, you’re the experienced guide. What journey lies ahead for them? Where can you step in to provide help?
Then think about the journey that they’ll take with you, and where content fits into that.
Map it against the marketing funnel: Top, Middle, Bottom. Then look at it from two dimensions: What are they searching for, and what would they subscribe for? Fill in those gaps, then start building up your list of ideas.
At GoDaddy, I go through this process every few months, planning content a quarter at a time. For my personal blog, I have an ever-growing list of topic ideas in Todoist.
Now I know this looks like a lot of work, but here’s the thing: you don’t need to do it all. These are exercises meant to help you figure out what you need to create. Use everything, or only some of it. It’s up to you.
One last thing…
What I’ve shared here is a remix of bits and pieces of concepts that I’ve picked up from other places. So here’s my final ask: Take what you like from this, tweak it, make it your own, and pass it along.
And don’t forget to have fun with it.