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Best Practices for Content Planning in 2024

9 min read

It’s that time of year again, when CMOs ask for your editorial or content marketing strategy for the year. This can be a somewhat frustrating ask — usually because what they want is a content planning calendar that dovetails with conferences, digital spends, product releases, or seasonal events that tie into your product.

I personally call this a “Big Rocks” calendar. These are the content marketing assets that are necessary for the CES show in January, or the Dreamforce Conference in the fall. You might need website content and other collateral created for a product release in April and then again in October. And you may do your own bespoke research in January so you will have industry reports to publish and promote in February and March. Of course a social media calendar would feed off this big rocks calendar.

But for people publishing blogs throughout the year, a different planning tool is necessary. Some may refer to this as an editorial calendar — although that can be confused for that Big Rocks calendar I was referring to. Others call it a content calendar — as in content production workflows and publishing dates. Although sticking to exact dates can be tricky when you have many reviewers and stakeholders internally, and many different target audiences externally.

Whatever you want to call it, this content planning calendar is more directional in nature — and should be the cornerstone of your blog publishing plan. You should use it to indicate the topics your content team will be tackling — perhaps throughout the year — certainly within the foreseeable future.

But it should be viewed as a compass to guide you — and not a tablet written in stone.

Operate Like a Newsroom

The reason I stress that your calendar is directional — and not static, is that the most effective marketing today is inbound marketing. This is where your target audience organically finds your content, consumes it, and then decides they want your product. Which means you need great content that’s both current — and relevant.

This requires thinking and operating like a newsroom. Here’s an example. MarketMuse has had machine learning embedded in its product since 2013. But we didn’t really talk about it. But then ChatGPT flew onto the scene – and we wanted to be part of the conversation. Our product development team released an AI writer in early 2023, and we sat down as an editorial team to plan content around the topics of AI, GenAI, AI Tools, etc.

A responsive blog has to be able to adapt to what the market is talking about – and fill the gaps as necessary.

Setting Your Content Goals

In order to pull together your calendar, look at your marketing goals. Is it to increase traffic? Create brand awareness? Create thought leadership? Educate prospects and customers? Bring them into the funnel? Your content marketing efforts need to reflect the overall marketing strategy.

  • If you are looking to increase traffic — you will want to expand the number of content topics you are going after
  • If you are looking to create brand awareness or thought leadership — you will want to look for topics that are more tangential to your brand
  • And if you are looking to educate your prospects — come up with content ideas that indicate intent to buy and plan content

First of all, what is a content topic? That’s a very good question. Merriam-Webster defines it as the subject of a discourse or of a section of a discourse. And that can be as narrow or as broad as you want. “AI” can be a content topic, and so too can “AI tools,” and “AI Content Tools”. From a content strategy point of view, always think in terms of creating more than one blog post on a given topic. One story is good, but you should want to offer a collection.

Which brings us to topic clusters.

Topic Clusters

If you are selling shoes — and you only have one pair to sell, are you really a shoe store? Google looks at content the same way. If you are writing about a given “topic” and there is only one article, Google algorithms are deciding — hmm, maybe this isn’t an authoritative source — on this subject.

So if your (likely) goal is to drive more organic traffic, to satisfy the algorithm, you are going to create topic clusters. If you have been publishing for a while, you likely have dozens of topic clusters within your existing content. You can further leverage these clusters by:

  • Optimizing what you have
  • Expanding them — by looking for subtopics you might have missed that you can now rank for
  • Decide that rather than expand on existing content, you’ll create net new content.

Pillar Page

Pillar pages are another term that’s thrown about. A pillar page is the page you deem to be the authoritative one on your site. Your pillar is typically a blog post — particularly if it is more top-of-funnel and educational. But if the topic intent is closer to buying or validating a purchase decision — you might want your pillar page to be a solutions page.

The point is, as you create new blog posts — make sure to link to the pillar page (and vice versa) whenever possible.

Pro Tip: Make sure the anchor text you use matches the topic. Don’t use ambiguous words, like “read more.”

Follow the Data

So where do you begin? Follow the data. You can use Google Analytics — but frankly, with the release of GA4, I think it is harder. The great news is there are terrific content planning tools like MarketMuse that can help you find the topics that are working for you, the topics that can provide some easy wins, and those topics that you might want to invest in content creation.

I’ll use MarketMuse’s own website as an example:

List of three topic/URL combinations found in MarketMuse Inventory.
All Inventory contains all the page/topic combinations for the site.

We have 508 blog pages — that cover 4.3k topics. If that sounds wild, it’s because the way search engines parse sites, a single article can cover a multitude of topics.

There’s no reason to put that many topics on the content calendar — your manager will think you’re nuts. So here’s the secret. Find out which topics are within your reach to rank higher and bring traffic in quickly.

I can filter the 4300 topics to see which ones I can get to rank higher with fairly little effort. MarketMuse looks at the Difficulty of winning a content topic, then subtracts your own Topic Authority to determine your Personalized Difficulty score. They’re ranked from 1–100. I filtered on items between 3 and 20 to grab the low-hanging opportunities. And I have a ton of them.

Topic table for the MarketMuse blog showing each topic along with its rank, URL, Topic Authority, Difficulty, Personalized Difficulty, Competitive Advantage, and monthly search volume.
List of topics for the MarketMuse blog sorted by Topic Authority.

So to narrow it down, I check the traffic volume of those words. If this seems similar to keyword research, you’re right.

List of topics with high Topic Authority on the MarketMuse blog, highlighting four that have relatively high monthly search volume.
These topics with high authority have relatively high monthly search volume.

Without even leaving the first page, can see the following topics are easy to win — and have decent traffic:

  • AI content optimization
  • PR Link building
  • SEO outreach

I’ll repeat this process until I have a nice collection of topics — that will be the foundation of my content planner. Since we are close to winning these topics, the next question is can we win it with just a really strong subhead and additional copy? Or, do we need to create net-new?

In the case of the “AI content optimization” story, I can see it goes to our home page — which is always changing. I want to give it its home, so that means we’ll need a content creator to create a net-new story. As I look at the topic, and I consider my target audience — which includes content strategists and content creators — perhaps there are more ideas we can come up with.

Our content team comes up with a cluster of three ideas:

  • What Is AI Content Optimization for SEO?
  • Best AI Content Optimization Tool
  • Content Optimization Strategies (a little further up the funnel)

Since these are net-new — I’ll slot these to be created some time over the first three months of the year. Soon we will have a cluster of three, on a really important, and very winnable topic.

Six hexagons each representing a piece of content within a cluster.
These content pieces make up a content cluster for the topic AI content optimization.

Depending on the size of your content team and your overall content strategy, you can search for more topics to fill out your plan.

Communicating Your Plan

The easiest way to keep track of topics and the great content you want to create is to use some sort of content planner. It could be a project management tool like Asana or Wrike or just a Google Sheet. Like I mentioned, looking out more than a quarter is dicey — because so many things change.

But if limiting yourself to one quarter isn’t an option for you, slot in some of your staple topics throughout the year, and plan on filling them in as you get closer.

Don’t underestimate the power of just optimizing and refreshing older blogs. According to research by Andy Crestodina at OrbitMedia, bloggers who update existing content are three times more likely to report “strong results” from content marketing. It’s a powerful strategy for any content strategy.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Diane Burley has three decades experience creating high-impact content at scale. As a published author and seasoned technologist, she translates complex concepts into clear, engaging messaging that connects with audiences. She can help you build a content factory that drives results.