Digital Marketing

Blog planning: Tools and tips to power your content strategy

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At Brafton, we take our content planning very seriously. We use several tools to develop our content calendar, hone our keyword strategy, and align our marketing and business goals. Blog planning tools allow us to produce high-quality content and keep up with the latest trends.

When you have a clear plan, you can achieve your objectives more easily. In this article, we’ll help you understand how to choose the right tools for your needs and show you some of our favorites.

Why use a blog content planner?

The planning phase is essential for any strategic effort. Taking the time to create a content plan can help you develop a great idea into engaging content that captures the attention of your target audience and helps them move further along the buying journey.

When content marketers plan out their blog content, three key things happen:

  1. You avoid wasted efforts. We can’t begin to tell you how many companies have embarked on a content marketing journey, only to give up after a few weeks and a handful of blog posts because they believe their work isn’t paying off. Planning out all the important elements means you can avoid wasting time creating content that doesn’t resonate with your target audience and doesn’t further your objectives.
  2. You ensure content aligns with your goals. Filling out your planner will help you align your content strategy with your overarching business goals. This includes connecting blog posts to active marketing campaigns and scheduling content around them, an approach that really packs a punch.
  3. You keep everyone on the same page. Your company’s blog content can impact more than you realize — from your readers and website visitors to marketing and executive teams and beyond. A content planner keeps all the different aspects and people involved organized, visible and accessible to stakeholders across the company. Plus, this alignment often translates to a much more streamlined, and less painful, editing process.

Anatomy of a content planner

There are a ton of awesome content planning tools available: Some are free, others require a subscription. Because individuals and organizations have unique editorial needs and processes, it’s best to do your research and check out several tools to find the one that fits your needs. To guide your search, here’s an overview of some of our favorites so you can focus on a few of the most useful blogger tools and start planning your content calendar.

No matter what your blogging goals are, there are several common features that will prove useful to content creators across industries. When choosing a content planner, it’s important to find one that includes these key fields:

  1. Blog title. This should include the relevant keywords to help the blog post connect back to your target audience and/or associated marketing campaigns.
  2. Content type. Planners aren’t just for blogs. You can use them to map out and organize your infographics, videos, eBooks, white papers, press releases, social media posts and everything else you’re creating.
  3. Publish date. Your content planner is a living document, allowing you to map out draft due dates, estimate publish dates and change timelines when needed.
  4. Status. This handy little section helps stakeholders see where in the process each blog post is currently. This can include levels like “not started,” “in progress,” “in editing,” etc.
  5. Media type. As Curata pointed out, now that many businesses leverage an omnichannel strategy, it’s important to specify where each piece of content will live. This can also be helpful for organizing social media and LinkedIn posts.
  6. Writer’s name. As well as the author’s name, if the post is being ghostwritten or being attributed to someone else.
  7. Content owner. Or, the person responsible for facilitating the creation and publication of the piece. This may be the writer, author, editor or content marketing manager.
  8. Target persona. We discussed mapping content to your target audience, and one of the best ways to do this is through your defined personas. Your planner should include a place to list the specific persona each piece of content will speak to.
  9. Content brief. Or, a link to a document that might provide additional details about the piece, including SEO keywords, number of words, topics to discuss and more.

Depending upon your content strategy and the needs of your stakeholders, you may prefer a more detailed or more basic version of what’s described above. The bottom line is that your content planner keeps all the important elements in order and helps you maintain a publication schedule. In addition, some tools are better for individuals or small teams while others are designed for the enterprise. If you’re just starting out, consider trying a few free tools to get a sense of what features you need to support your unique blog planning needs.

Other tips for using your blog planner

Content planning tools are highly useful — but you need to understand how to use them to get the most from your investment. Here are a few other best practices to keep in mind with your content planner:

  • Read the documentation: As you narrow down your selection of blog planning tools, check out each vendor’s website. Many software developers host essential resources to help you get the most out of their products. Look for providers who offer guides, troubleshooting tips and responsive customer support.
  • Get stakeholder feedback: To ensure your tool selection aligns with your organization’s broader marketing plan, ask for opinions from anyone who may need to use the tool. This might include writers, editors, designers and project managers, as well as leadership. Gathering this feedback early will help you select a tool that has the right features to support your teams.
  • Make it a staple within your content creation process: Remember those companies we talked about that charge forward with content marketing without planning? Welp, the same thing can happen if you don’t take the time to actually use your content planner. Make it a priority touchpoint in the content creation process and use it as a key asset for providing all the necessary details to writers, content owners and the marketing team.
  • Include a place for potential topics: Your content planner can also provide a parking lot for your content ideas until they’re fully fleshed out and ready for creation. Best of all, every stakeholder can contribute whenever inspiration strikes, and you then have a list of ideas ready to pull from for the next planning period. This will help you plan out your editorial calendar and determine where each post idea best fits within your overall marketing plan.
  • Make a complete transition from old processes to new: If you’re looking for your first content planner there’s a good chance you’re using email or some other basic office tool to plan your content. Or maybe you’ve been writing your ideas down on paper. Whatever method you’re currently using, it’s time to drop it. When you choose a planner, commit to using it fully. By putting as much of your process into the tool as possible, you can be sure that all of your work is centralized, which allows for easier collaboration with your team members.

Planning a blog: An example process

So what does it actually look like to plan out a single blog post? While everyone has their own preferred method, the following example will show you some best practices. Implementing these recommendations at your organization will help you streamline your process and focus on creating engaging content that your audience will love.

  1. Review your brand objectives: It’s important to start the content creation process by looking at your current business goals. The blogs you create should align with these goals. For example, if you want to increase brand awareness, you might develop a blog that showcases your product in action. If you’re building thought leadership, you’ll want to write about a current trend or issue that affects your audience. Consider meeting with your sales team to ensure your content aligns with their goals, too.
  2. Audit your existing content: Check your website to look at the content you’ve already produced. Notice any topic gaps? Those could show you how best proceed. Likewise, you might find that you’ve already published content that supports your current goals, but it isn’t performing up to your expectations. In that case, you may want to reoptimize those blogs before creating anything new.
  3. Analyze your competition: What are your competitors publishing? While we’re not advocating for copying other brands, it is critical to understand what type of content your blog will compete against. Look for ways that you could do better, such as addressing a niche topic in greater detail.
  4. Define audience needs: Once you have a direction, you should consider what topics your audience will want to read about. What are they searching for online? Are they trying to solve a specific problem? Take these needs into consideration as you define your topics.
  5. Choose your topic: Brainstorm a list of possible topics and collaborate with other stakeholders to determine if there’s a consensus about which topics are more likely to resonate with your audience and drive your business goals forward. At this point, you determine if you want to develop a timely post or a piece of evergreen content.
  6. Conduct keyword research: With your topic selected, you should conduct keyword research to ensure you include relevant subtopics. Not only will this ensure your post is engaging to readers but also meets the right criteria for search algorithms.
  7. Research your topic: If you’re the subject matter expert, you can dive right into the writing at this stage. If not, you’ll need to conduct research online or speak with SMEs at your organization. Interviews will help your content stand out from the competition, especially in terms of thought leadership.
  8. Develop your headline: Your headline is the most important factor in whether or not potential readers will click on your article from a search engine results page. An effective blog headline usually includes a keyword phrase and gives the reader an idea of what to expect.
  9. Write the blog content: Using your brand style guide, write your content. Use subheadings, bulleted lists and pull quotes to make your content easy to read and understand. Be mindful of whitespace — most of your readers will experience your content on a mobile device, so shorter paragraphs are usually better. Make sure to proofread and edit your copy, too.
  10. Add visual elements: Human readers and search engine algorithms alike appreciate visual content. If you can show a piece of information in a visual, that’s usually the best way to go. Plus, images can break up your written content, making it easier to digest the information.
  11. Publish: Schedule your post and publish it on your website. From there, you should monitor your analytics over the next few weeks and months to determine if it performs up to your expectations.

Your content planning tool can help you to visualize each of these steps, enabling you to focus on creating valuable content rather than exhausting your resources on managing your projects. Next, we’ll explore some of our favorite blog planning tools.

7 recommended content planning tools

A quick Google search will show that there are more than a few content planners available today. We’ve put together this list of our favorites to help you choose the best option for your company:

1. Airtable

The Airtable content planner is exceptionally organized and user friendly. It allows you to break things down according to individual writer resourcing, the name of the blog posts each writer is responsible for in the month, and an array of other details like the type of content, status, draft due date and target launch date. You can also include spots for links to content briefs that guide writers, and a place to link to the completed draft.

Airtable offers a free version that includes essential features, as well as reasonably-priced Plus, Pro and Enterprise versions.

2. Basecamp

Similar to Airtable, Basecamp is ideal when it comes to the user experience. The platform organizes projects in terms of team stakeholders and project name, and provides sections for the schedule, drafts, assignments and more. Users can also ping each other, send messages and view recent activity from stakeholders across the platform.

Basecamp offers a free 30-day trial, and is $99 per month.

Via basecamp.com.

3. Asana

This is a helpful tool for planning blog content, featuring drop-down menu navigation, a user-friendly dashboard, features for listing actionable tasks and creating associated notifications as well as an inbox for stakeholders to make comments and communicate on projects.

Asana provides a basic free version, a $9.99-per-month Premium subscription, as well as an Enterprise version.

Via asana.com.

4. Wrike

For highly detailed teams, there’s Wrike. This platform is another that includes drop-down menu functionality, as well as menus for overall project timelines, a table listing actionable tasks and a message board. While this planner includes features and functionality to the point that it’s almost exhaustive, some teams may require this level of in-depth capabilities. For example, a social media team developing Instagram stories, Twitter polls and Facebook posts can use the tool to align their efforts with an editorial team building web content.

Wrike offers a free version, as well as Professional, Business, Enterprise and Wrike for Marketers.

Via wrike.com.

Via wrike.com.

5. Hubspot

This planner includes spreadsheet-like functionality, with boxes breaking down each day’s content plans and spots for the topic and title, keywords, target personas, calls to action and more. Its collaboration features make it easy to go from a basic blog post idea to a fully fleshed out asset with ease.

Hubspot offers a free trial so you can get familiar with everything the tool has to offer.

Via hubspot.com.

6. Trello

Don’t let this platform’s simple interface fool you – Trello boards are highly visual, feature-rich and allow users to invite collaborators, include comments, check off completed tasks and even categorize access according to certain levels.

Trello has free, Business Class and Enterprise versions.

Via trello.com.

7. Google Sheets or Excel

Hey, hey, we know what you’re thinking here — “There’s gotta be better options than just a spreadsheet!” Some teams may want something more advanced, like the planners discussed above. Others may appreciate the customizability and simplicity of a platform they’re already familiar with. For businesses with streamlined operations, it may make sense to build a blog content plan in a simple Google sheet with basic conditional formatting to show stakeholders the progress of each asset.

Curata also provides this list of downloadable content calendar templates to help you get started.

Go beyond blog planning

Any of these tools can support your content planning efforts beyond your company blog. An effective planning system supported by the right tools can help you align all of your marketing efforts, including your social media strategy and audience engagement efforts. For example, you can use your content planner to create a piece of evergreen content, then develop a targeted email marketing campaign to direct specific members of your audience back to that page. Meanwhile, your social media strategists can align their outreach efforts with your current marketing campaign goals.

Bringing your content together within a holistic search engine marketing strategy can help you achieve your business goals with greater efficiency. Now go forth and plan some awesome content!

Editor’s note: Updated January 2021.