Maybe I was a bit late to this game, but the first time I ever heard the term “content marketing” was somewhere in the second part of 2009.

And pretty much immediately after that I fell right into a trap that could only be described as being a gold prospector of sorts. In other words, I was constantly on the lookout for the next big content marketing technique that’s going to change the game and bring me massive results in little time.

Didn’t work out that well.

So after a while of hit and miss, I realized that true success in content marketing isn’t about finding THE method. On the contrary, it’s a lot more about planning your efforts in time and then executing on this plan long-term.

Of course, every once in a while, you will stumble upon a method that’s superior in some way, but you shouldn’t count on it or make it your actual strategy for content marketing. This could indeed turn you into an old beat-down gold prospector, who did find some nuggets back in the day, but isn’t doing all that well at the moment.

As 2014 has already begun and you must be busy in planning your marketing strategies, I want to show you how to create a plan that will take you by the hand through all of your content marketing efforts in the next 12 months. Instead of focusing on one “cool” technique that you should totally try out like now(!), I will present a bigger picture geared at planning and building long term content marketing campaigns.

Step #1: Set only 2 major goals

Let’s start with the main building block of every good plan – goals.

Now, the trick with long term goals is that you shouldn’t have too many of them. If you do, they will become diluted and not clearly visible during your everyday work.

A goal isn’t that much about instructing you how to do your work, but more about giving you guidance as you go along. For instance, later down the road, when you’re thinking about using a certain method and including it in your plan, the question you should be asking is: “Will this method help me achieve my goal?

Therefore, your goals should be something that you identify with strong enough to be able to stick with them for a longer span of time.

To make this possible, in this 12-month plan of action, we’ll set only 2 goals – one goal for the first part of the year, and one for the second part.

This means that right up until June/July, you will be building campaigns to achieve your first goal, and then you’ll move your efforts for the second half of the year and create new campaigns to take care of the other goal.

There are likely two questions on your mind right now: why and how.

The best why I can give you is that working on something long term gives you direction, makes it clear that there’s no rush, and allows you to spend time thinking through every method on your list in detail.

Now about the how. Here are the most common goals people set for content marketing (not my own list; these actually come from a number of articles at Copyblogger, Forbes, Search Engine People and other sites):

  • Increasing web traffic to your main site. This is the most controversial goal on this list. Many people believe that making traffic your main goal means that you basically couldn’t come up with anything better…
  • Increasing brand awareness.
  • Positioning yourself as a go-to place for industry news/insights.
  • Building trust/relationship with your audience.
  • Building and deepening loyalty with existing audience.
  • Becoming the main educator in your niche.
  • Attracting targeted prospects into your marketing funnel.
  • Increasing reader engagement.
  • Becoming the source of inspiration for people active in your niche.
  • Becoming the solution for popular problems.
  • Attracting partners and building a network.
  • Attracting new talent and expanding your back-end.
  • Building your search engine position.

Any of the above can work well as a long term goal, so feel free to make your selection based on what your business needs the most. Also, don’t hesitate to go with your own ideas if none of mine make sense at the moment.

One more thing, a general good practice is to make the second goal a continuation of the first one. That way you will make sure that your content marketing year flows smoothly with every action building upon your previous efforts.

Step #2: Decisions and research time

This part is all about the preliminary work that needs to be done to avoid any surprises later down the road. It’s also meant to validate your goals and ensure that they are achievable with the content marketing methods that are at your disposal and within your budget (remember the “Will this method help me achieve my goal?” question when picking your weapons of choice).

The things worth focusing on during this phase are:

1. Your budget

I somewhat regret that I have to start the list off with money issues, but these days it’s often the first thing we have to take into account when planning anything…

The first question is whether or not you’re planning to execute all your campaigns by yourself. If so, you will only need money for paid promotion methods, should you choose to use any.

That being said, the one-man-band scenario has some serious limitations regarding the results you can expect. The main limitation is of course time. Handling all of the work alone basically means that you’ll have to limit the range of methods you’re using to a minimum, or else you won’t be able to execute on each of them with sufficient dedication.

Just to make this easier, here are some of the possible areas that can be effectively outsourced while still keeping the “mastermind” position for yourself:

  • Content creation itself. I wouldn’t outsource content planning, but the creation itself can be done by other people while still maintaining great quality. Now, this can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be, but keep in mind that like with everything, you get what you pay for. As a general rule, I wouldn’t base my content marketing campaigns on content created for less than $200 a piece – for written content, or $500 a piece – for infographics.
  • Researching. While executing your campaigns, you will need lists of URLs, contacts, new methods, data, case studies, etc. A good virtual assistant (VA) will take care of that for you. You can hire VAs for anything starting at $500 per month.
  • Sending outreach emails. Sending 100 targeted outreach emails will take time… And if you want to personalize each message, it will take even more time. Again, a VA can handle this for you.
  • Managing social media. This is about tweeting, following, @mentioning, sharing, and all sorts of similar stuff.
  • Managing user interaction. For every successfully implemented campaign, there will surely be some user interaction with your content. You should keep your finger on the pulse and be ready to step in whenever the situation calls for it. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily have to be you who’s stepping in.
  • Making sure the technical back-end works well. Content marketing wouldn’t exist without various online tools, platforms, software, tracking mechanisms and so on. Having all this managed is another area that can be outsourced. A skilled tech person can be hired starting at $600 per month.
  • Support and your own emergency response team. This is probably the most important department in your content marketing inventory. Every once in a while, things will break, servers will go down, links will stop working. That’s why what matters most is having someone on your team who knows this tech stuff and can act fast whenever the situation calls for it.

Feel free to pick any number of the above areas and set your budget for each of them. Budgets work best when seen on a monthly basis, which also makes it easier to make sure that your cash flow won’t take a big hit during your campaigns.

Apart from that, also set a fixed amount of money you’re planning to spend per month on active promotion (ads, getting your sponsored posts published, links – if you’re up for this kind of stuff, and so on).

2. Finding inspiration in other markets

Earlier this year, InboundWriter published a series of posts (one and two) describing how big brands use content marketing to grow even bigger.

I am not saying that you should go and try to implement everything there, but this is a great example of the kind of inspiration you should seek. Big brands are great sources of insights because what they do is usually backed by months of research and thousands of “research dollars.”

3. Finding partners and expanding your network

Partners – also known as competitors – are THE multiplier of everything you do.

If you’ve been around for a while then you probably have a number of partners already, but do some additional research anyway. Go through your niche and find other sites that cater to a similar audience – this is most likely your competition.

Instead of competing, try turning them into your partner. Start by giving something to them, and not asking for a favor. Sharing their content on your social media platforms or even to your email list (if it’s relevant) won’t cost much and it can be a great relationship-starter.

It’s a good idea to target your peers with this, instead of trying your luck with someone who’s massively bigger than you are. Building this kind of bond can really pay off big time later down the road when you’re executing your campaigns.

There are a number of tools you can use for this part of your research. We’ve mentioned some of them in this post. On a personal note, my favorite one is InkyBee.

4. Finding contributors and help

Regardless of your budget, you’re probably interested in contributors willing to help you out either for free or in exchange for money.

Listing all the possibilities (or at least most of them) when it comes to finding quality help would probably require a post of its own so let me just give you one idea here.

If you’ve had some guest contributions on your site up until today, reach out to the authors of the best ones and ask them about coming on board for your upcoming campaigns. This can be equally effective for paid work, as well as free work (in this case, some promotional links will be involved).

You can also do some sniffing around in your niche and find interesting guest posts on your competitors’ sites.

5. Identifying influencers

Every content marketing campaign should include some form of influencer outreach. And the natural starting point is obtaining a list of those influencers.

The difference between influencers and partners is that partners are people/brands that are at a similar level as you are, influencers are those above this level.

So focus on finding people who can give you big leverage should you successfully convince them to share your content.

You don’t have to be humble when researching this. If someone is an authority figure in the niche (or in the niche that’s more general than yours) then on the influencer list they go.

Phew, with all these decisions and research out of the way, it’s time take care of the content.

Step #3: Planning your content

The simplest definition of content marketing I could find is “using your content as a marketing tool.” It’s also the coolest one if you ask me. The simpler something is, the more room it leaves for interpretation.

So by the above definition, any type of content has the potential to work extremely well, as long as it is:

  1. in tune with your goals,
  2. tightly targeted to your ideal audience,
  3. executed flawlessly.

Making a mistake with any of these three factors can be very difficult to fix later on, so it’s extremely crucial to spend a fair amount of time perfecting your understanding of each of them.

Now, what’s also important to keep in mind is that designing ongoing content marketing effort doesn’t have to mean producing some extremely long and in-depth pieces every other day. We’ve all heard about those massive campaigns and infographics that went extremely viral after being pumped with tons of promotion, but this is not the standard in the content marketing space.

Just like with traditional advertising, there are Superbowl ads, and there are everyday campaigns that run throughout the year continuously. Both have a place in the marketing space.

A while ago, I stumbled upon a post on ProBlogger listing 52 types of content (blog posts) that you can use to grow your site. Even though the publication date proudly says 2011, the post is still relevant and delivers a big set of ideas if you’re facing content creator’s block right now.

Here are just the headlines to give you a bird’s-eye-view on this. I’ve handpicked the types that can work especially well as a content marketing tool (please visit the aforementioned post to get the full descriptions):

  • How-to and tutorial posts.
  • Definition posts.
  • Standard list posts.
  • Resource/link list posts. Like this:

  • Profile posts (about someone).
  • Case studies.
  • Comparison posts (two ideas put against each other, can also be used as an infographic).
  • Stories.
  • Controversial posts.
  • Posts to get you inspired. Like this:

  • “What if” posts.
  • Parody posts.
  • FAQ.
  • SAQ (Should Ask Questions).
  • Interviews.
  • eBooks.
  • Special reports.
  • Cheat sheets.
  • Checklists. In-the-nutshell summaries of something.
  • Infographics.
  • Projects. Like this whole site created by Pat Flynn:

  • Gathering posts. It’s where you take your previous content and present a big resource page that reuses the content to give a bigger picture and solve a specific pain.
  • Income reports. Or traffic reports. Or any other report that makes sense.
  • Contests.
  • Tools. Like this:

  • Comics.
  • Freebies.
  • Presentations (usually at SlideShare).
  • Podcasts.
  • All forms of video and audio content. Including interviews, how-to videos, talks, and so on.

Plus, believe it or not, there’s some new stuff that has sprouted up since 2011:

  • Animated GIFs.
  • Expert opinion gathering posts. It’s where you ask a bunch of experts about something and then present their answers inside one post.
  • Animated infographics (motion-graphics). It’s difficult to explain, just go here and check out the awesomeness.
  • Live-stream content. For example, webinars or even Google Hangouts.
  • Events.
  • Memes. Like this (mostly underlined with some humor).
  • Research-based content. And I do mean heavy research, not just some facts here and there.
  • Complete guides (ultimate guides). Neil Patel is quite good at this lately:

I’m sure you already have many ideas just by reading through the above list, so go on, jot down the ones that seem the most interesting to you (remember about the three factors I mentioned above), and proceed forward when done.

Working on your release schedule

In one of his posts at Bidsketch, Greg Ciotti said that it’s pointless to just keep producing content that’s reaching a mere hundred visitors, when you can put in some effort into promotion and reach tens of thousands of visitors instead.

That is why your release schedule will play a major role in all your campaigns. Every piece of content simply deserves a period of promotional time that will maximize its exposure.

Feel free to take it or leave it, but I’d advise setting at least a week to promote every piece of content you produce. What this means is the following:

  • If you’re in this on your own then it probably means that you will be able to publish only one piece of content a week.
  • If you’re not alone in your business or are willing to outsource things then you can multiply your effects by giving certain tasks to other people, so every piece can get a week’s worth of promotion, even if there is more content being published in that time.

But the most important part is this: Once a release schedule is set, it’s set for good. There’s no room for “oh I didn’t have the time to publish anything this week,” or for “I just don’t feel like promoting this piece.”

The reason why I’m being this strict with it is because if we’re talking about planning a year’s worth of content marketing then it really doesn’t take much more than a delay here and lack of action there to mess things up completely in the long run.

Step #4: Launching your campaigns

With all this planning behind us, it’s about time to press the launch button and start some campaigns.

Like I said at the beginning, for the whole year, we’re going to be launching 6 campaigns in total, each lasting 2 months.

The first 3 campaigns will be targeting the first goal you’ve set, and the other 3 the second goal.

Having your goals at hand, and all the assets you’ve built or gathered along the way (budget, ideas for certain techniques you can use, partners and peers, contributors and team members, influencers, types of content you’ll be using), create a mind map or a Word document that groups them together into campaigns.

In short, what you should end up with is a list of content types that make achieving your goal possible, and list of other assets that you’re going to use during each campaign.

You don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) include all your content types in every campaign. It’s perfectly okay to focus on just one content type per campaign for maximum exposure (or on one main content type and two supporting types).

Once you have this done, update your schedule so it guarantees sufficient attention and time for each content piece you’ll be creating. Pick the exact number of content pieces that will be part of a campaign and pair them with your list of assets that you’ll leverage while executing the campaign.

If this sounds a bit unclear then here’s an example of what a single campaign like this can look like:

Campaign #1

The goal: positioning my site as a go-to place for industry insights.

Duration: 2 months.

Budget: $1000 in total.

Main content: Expert opinion gathering posts.

Supporting content: How-to and tutorial posts.

Release schedule: There will be 2 posts published every week, making it 16 posts in total. 4 of them will be expert opinion gathering posts, and the remaining 12 will be tutorials. Each gathering post will be promoted for a two-week period following the post’s publication. Along the way, each tutorial will be promoted as well.

Partners: Partners X and Y will help to distribute the main content in exchange for ____.

Outreach: The campaign will be based on convincing the influencers to share the main gathering posts, especially since a lot of them will be included in the gatherings. Other channels like social media and SEO outreach will be used as well (to build links to the gathering posts, as well as the tutorials).

Team: Every tutorial will be created by me personally, and every gathering post with the help of Some Guy. There’s a $200 budget for each of the gathering posts (production costs).

After having your assets in line and going through all the steps described above, creating such an outline for a single campaign shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. It’s really not as difficult as it seems.

All you can do now is start executing on your plan. Get your content created. Spread it out. Promote. Repeat.

Make sure to take care of tracking your results and split testing individual elements of your promotion as well as your content (things like headlines, calls to action and so on).

When December 2014 comes, analyze your results and confirm that you’ve achieved your two main goals.

So what’s your take, do you have a plan for a whole year’s worth of content marketing yet?

(Image Source Credits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)