There is something about the blank-slate aspect of a new year that I find beautiful and exciting. There are 12 whole months of new opportunities.
On the flip side though, the blank slate can sometimes feel paralyzing to me as well.
I am flooded with so many questions about what I should do that it’s hard for me to just get started.
Maybe that’s why I was drawn to the marketing industry.
We have so many templates, guides, roadmaps at our Google-searching fingertips, that it makes it easier to take that first step.
Well, in that spirit, I wanted to put together a helpful plan to all you fellow-marketers out there.
As the team lead for IMPACT’s content consulting services, I am often asked where to begin. What is the first step in creating a successful content marketing plan?
I don’t want to just give you the first step though; I want to really help you create a content marketing plan that will include the most important B2B marketing plan components:
- In-house ownership
- Sales insight
- An editorial calendar
- A defined writing style guide
- Customer-focused content
- One-to-one videos
- A learning center
- Revenue-driving videos
- Pillar content and topic clusters
- Content promotion strategy
- A way to measure results
Let’s break it down so you have clarity on what each of the components entails.
1. In-house ownership
This one is first because it is, hands down, the most important.
Here at IMPACT, we’ve talked about how the relationship between agencies and clients has been broken for a while.
How so? Outsourcing. Gone are the days where you should be paying a third-party to write content for your company (and expect to actually get impactful results).
Think about it for a second.
Are the people you’re paying to strategize and write content for you ever really immersed in your industry? Do they have the expertise you have? Do they know the day-to-day dealings of your prospects?
Bringing content in-house is going to be the most impactful move you can make with your content marketing. But what does insourcing content really mean?
Well, it’s building a culture of content within your organization and actually having members of your team write content.
No one knows your business like you do. By writing your own content in-house (owning it, if you will), you’ll be able to create more meaningful resources for prospects and customers alike.
On top of that, you’re going to build trust — the secret sauce to any successful relationship. When someone sees your face on an article or in a video, they feel like they’re getting to know you even before you’ve met in person.
Readers have the opportunity to get to learn your thoughts and perspective and possibly even hear your voice.
Everyone here at IMPACT contributes to our content and each article, podcast, video, etc. is a little peek into our team’s personality.
You get to see who we are by reading personal anecdotes about our work or life, lessons we’ve learned, industry trends we’re excited about, stories about where our expertise truly lies, and so much more.
How powerful will it be for your prospects to already have a relationship with you before they even become customers and start working with you?
2. Sales insight
OK, so now you’re on track to bringing content in-house.
That couldn’t possibly mean the sales team — the coveted, busiest, revenue-driving team — would also have to participate, right?
Oh, you bet it does!
Nothing will be more powerful than getting your sales team involved in your content making process.
The sales team knows first-hand what prospects are asking, what their pain points are, what success would look like for them, etc. No one else at your company will have the same insight as to your sales team.
Become a powerhouse content-producing company by teaming up!
Now, I’m not pitching that you have them spend hours writing blog articles every single week — I know your CEO would laugh at that.
What I am recommending, though, is you establish a process to continuously get sales insight during your content strategy process.
Start by asking each salesperson what the top 10-20 questions they get all the time during their process.
Bonus points if you can get individual salespeople to create and publish content under their own name.
Why? Because when that prospect reaches out about your product or service, they will already have an idea of who they will be talking to, making the initial conversations all that much more personal and impactful.
3. An editorial calendar
I’m sure your head is swimming with ideas.
This is the point where you need to capture those and get more granular to create your editorial calendar.
An editorial calendar is a resource planning tool that contains the details and overarching plan for what content you will produce and when. It can be used to plan out the strategy for blog articles, videos, podcasts, and more.
Aside from the more traditional items you need to specify in your editorial calendar like type of content, a targeted keyword, call-to-action, featured snippet plan, there are two things you must include to ensure you publish at a regular cadence and can hold your team accountable:
- Publish dates
Revisit this calendar every single month. That’s right. Not an annual calendar, not a quarterly calendar, but a monthly calendar.
Because to really move the needle and drive results with content, you should aim to produce 2-3 content pieces every week.
That’s probably going to be a lot more content than you are used to creating. Breaking it down by month will help make it less overwhelming and easier to manage.
I always recommend you keep a backlog of topics at all times, though, so you can create the next month without feeling like you’re starting from scratch each time.
4. A defined writing style guide
One item that is often overlooked by team is a content marketing style guide. Many content consulting clients I’ve work with have told me that it feels like tedious or unnecessary work; they struggle to see the value.
Then, a couple of months later, they vent to me how much time they are spending editing everyone’s content.
When I ask why, it’s usually because each person has their own writing style and the content manager has to edit their colleagues’ work to fit the over brand voice, tone, and style.
Do yourself a favor and don’t skip this step — make a content marketing style guide.
Director of Web & Interactive Content Liz Moorehead explains that “A content style guide is a documented set of guidelines and rules that break down your brand personality, and how it is (and isn’t) expressed through your content.”
It will help give direction to those contributing and will save you so much time and energy in the long run.
Aside from noting your company’s key do’s and don’ts, you can include best practices within the style guide, such as how to write a killer introduction or conclusion, examples of great content, structure tips, and more.
5. Customer-focused content
Now, what are the best topics you should write about? By now, you will have common questions the sales team gets when talking to prospects, but it may feel overwhelming trying to figure out where to start.
Which question should you answer first?
Follow Pareto’s Law — what are the 20% of products or services that you sell that generate 80% of your revenue?
You will most likely find that those questions are centered around five main topics we call The Big 5:
- “Best of”
- Reviews or Ratings
We have seen this over and over again. So much so, that we specifically teach clients on how to successfully write on these topics.
They are part of the They Ask, You Answer philosophy, which, when embraced, can make you the most trusted voice in your industry because it is entirely focused on creating customers want and need to read.
No one wants to read or consume content unless it is going to help them in some way. We’re selfish; It’s an innate quality, but it’s also something you can use to your advantage!
If a customer is struggling with a problem, they want to find a solution.
Write an article that dives into their problem and provide the solution. Be helpful.
Focus on the reader and make it your number one goal to create content that will serve them.
Over time, a deep trust will build and when they are ready to buy, you and your company will be top of mind.
6. 1:1 Videos
Over the past couple of years, the IMPACT team started using video more and more in our workdays and as someone who works remotely full-time, I’ve come to learn how incredibly valuable video is when communicating with others.
Designers send videos to clients walking them through a new site page design. Account Executives explain a step-by-step strategy to clients before their scheduled call.
Project Managers send videos to our developers to show something glitchy that was happening on a client’s site.
These are 1:1 videos.
Demand Generation Manager Myriah Anderson explains “1:1 videos are personalized video messages that are intended for a single person. Look at it like a voicemail or email outreach to someone, but just in video format.”
Quickly, we started seeing internal communication improve and client calls being more efficient because everyone was able to communicate clearly in an efficient and time-saving manner.
We recognized the power video had and started using 1:1 videos in our sales process to share relevant content and updates to prospects in everything from autoresponder emails after someone booked a consultation appointment to follow-up emails post-meeting.
Even by including the word “video” in the subject line of emails can improve the open rate by 7%.
Using 1:1 video allows you to not just put a face to a name, but show the actual person! And address your recipient directly.
7. A learning center
After producing great content for a while, you will have so much information on your website that it may become difficult to find something specific.
Have you ever thought, “Hey, I know I wrote about that topic a while back, I just need to find the article.”
What do you do?
If you’re like most people, you probably do one of two things:
- Google your company’s name + whatever the topic of the article was
- You log into the backend of your CMS and search in the blog or posts section for the topic of the article
Not only is that not a practical process for your internal team, but it definitely isn’t something a prospect is going to do when trying to navigate the content on your site.
Instead, create an interactive learning center.
A learning center is a place on your website that houses your most popular or relevant content and is organized in a way that allows you to filter and sort through topics to make it easy to find specific content that you or your visitors want to consume.
The learning center will quickly become the content homebase for you, your team, and all of your site visitors.
8. Revenue-driving videos
I think by now we are all in agreement that video is important, but for all the statistic lovers out there:
- 82% of consumer internet traffic will come from videos by 2022
- Users spend 88% more time on websites that have videos
- 81% of businesses use video in their marketing strategy, a 63% increase since last year
But just because video is popular, doesn’t mean that you should be producing any-old videos.
Just like your written content, you want your video content to be as valuable as possible and help drive results for your business.
So, what kind of videos will have the most impact on your bottom line?
We often turn to what we call The Selling 7:
- 80% videos: These videos answer the most common questions your prospects ask
- Bio videos: Start with those in client-facing roles and have them speaks directly to the camera and introduce themselves
- Product and service fit videos: These videos should make it clear who your product or service is a right fit for
- Landing page videos: Eliminate any doubts a user would have before filling out a form
- Cost and pricing videos: These videos should address the elephant in the room: how much a product or service costs. Even if your answer is “it depends,” you need to create a video that talks through the factors that influence the cost of your product or service
- Customer journey videos: Create a video that your prospects can resonate with! It should talk through your customer’s problem, the journey to fix the problem and where they are today
- “Claims we make” videos: these are About Us videos done correctly
If you’re looking to drive results quickly, I recommend starting with landing page videos.
9. Pillar content + topic clusters
You may have scanned this list of B2B content marketing plan must-haves and thought, “What?! No keyword research?!”
That was done purposely.
Google algorithms are ever-changing and I’ve seen way too many people fall victim to over-analyzing keywords and spending way too much time researching hundreds of terms they want to rank for only to make incremental (if any) organic ranking improvements.
Now, I’m not trying to tell you not to do any keyword research. Just don’t obsess over it so much that it becomes a hindrance.
The biggest thing we know from an SEO perspective is that Google wants you to write naturally.
Instead of trying to rank for everything, you need to put your effort into creating content around one central topic (to start). This is what you want to be most known for and will help search engines establish your website as the ranking authority for that particular topic.
Creating pillar content — a single pillar page and its topic cluster pages — has proven to be one the most successful ways to increase your organic ranking.
What exactly is a pillar page?
We’ve previously defined it as “… a long-form piece of content (upwards of 4,500 words) meant to serve as the head of a keyword cluster that targets one specific keyword with high search volume.”
Say, for example, you are a managed IT service company. You will most likely want to rank incredibly well for “managed IT services.”
To do so, you will want to write a comprehensive “pillar” piece of content that dives into the main topics associated with managed IT services, such as: what is managed IT services, how much does managed IT services cost, managed IT services vs. in-house solutions, etc.
We’ve gone pretty in-depth on how to write a pillar page before so I won’t be doing that here, but check out the following resources since this is a complex, and often confused, topic:
- Pillar Content: 4 important lessons for beginners
- Pillar Content: 2 dos & 2 don’ts for marketers
- How to write a pillar page
- How to connect your blog strategy to your pillar content strategy
- How to measure the success of pillar content
10. Content promotion strategy
Gaining organic traffic from your content efforts is typically the number one goal companies have, but you don’t want to ever create your content, hit publish, and just sit back.
You want to do everything you can to increase visibility to your content once its on your site. Otherwise, you’ll start to hear your boss tell you this “content marketing thing” isn’t worth it.
So don’t wait! Promote that content.
Create a really engaging newsletter (forget those cookie-cutter, boring newsletters) and feature your recently published pieces.
Join Facebook community groups and share your content when it will be a relevant and valuable resource to a members’ question or post.
Pay to promote your content through paid search and social so you can help directly drive traffic to your quality piece.
You never want to be passive when it comes to getting eyes on your content.
11. A way to measure results
Over time, you will want to fine-tune your content and be able report back to your team on whether or not your efforts are successful.
To do so, you’ll need to track ongoing analytics data.
This will help you see what is working but also what may not be working, so you can change and improve your content marketing plan.
This graph shows keyword growth, or how many keywords a website domain is organically ranking for, over a two year time period.
From an overall perspective, there are specific items you should track on an ongoing basis to measure growth and success with your content — and website — as a whole. Those items include:
- Number of content pieces produced in period – Find in your editorial calendar
- Keyword growth – SEMRush or a similar alternative
- Traffic – HubSpot or Google Analytics
- Traffic sources – HubSpot or Google Analytics
- Traffic GEO (if local) – Google Analytics
- Impressions – Google Search Console
- Clicks – Google Search Console
- Average CTR – Google Search Console
- Average position – Google Search Console
- Contacts – HubSpot
- Contacts by sources – HubSpot
Then, break it down per-page. Did you recently publish a pricing page or a competitor comparison article? Dive in and show performance on a per-page basis to measure how a single piece of content is doing:
- Total keywords ranked – SEMRush or a similar alternative
- Average keyword positions – Google Search Console
- Highest keyword position – SEMRush or Google Search Console
- Impressions – Google Search Console
- Views – HubSpot or Google Analytics
- Entrances – HubSpot or Google Analytics
- Average time on page – HubSpot or Google Analytics
- Bounce rate – HubSpot or Google Analytics
- Exit rate – HubSpot or Google Analytics
I recommend taking a health snapshot every quarter particularly since content can take some time to accrue organic authority. Then, after a year of producing consistent quality content and reporting on these metrics, do a year-over-year comparison to show growth.
Your next steps
Keep the above items in mind as you embark on creating your B2B content marketing plan for this year, but the utmost important thing to remember: create content that someone will care about and want to read.
It sounds simple (and it is), but that doesn’t mean it’s easy otherwise every other marketer would be doing so already.
Every time you start to feel overwhelmed or frustrated on what to do next or where to begin, think about your customer and what he or she is doing. What are they struggling with? What are they confused about? What would make their lives easier or better?
And then write.