How to create a winning content marketing strategy: A 12-step template

How to create a winning content marketing strategy: A 12-step template

9 minute read

How to create a winning content marketing strategy: A 12-step template

9 minute read

How to create a winning content marketing strategy: A 12-step template

Masooma Memon

GatherContent Contributor, Writer
Any marketing tactic or campaign is bound to fail or deliver under-optimized results unless there’s a strong strategy at its foundation. When crafting your content marketing strategy, you need to tie together all your types of content, so they deliver a better conversion rate.

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Not sure how to go about creating a content marketing strategy?

Dig into this guide that dives into developing a content marketing strategy, the tools and resources you’ll need, the metrics you should monitor, and more.

How do I know I need a content marketing strategy?

If you’re already creating great content – writing case studies and social media content, for instance, you need a strategy to breathe sense into your efforts.

“Without a content marketing strategy, you risk focusing on the content and content strategy too much, and not seeing the overall goals anymore. In fact, this is one of the most crucial and deadly mistakes in content marketing,” shares Bonsai’s Head of Content, Cary Hastings.

Hence, by developing a content marketing strategy, you can set goals for each piece of content that you create. You’ll be able to drive consistent results instead of sporadic ones.

If you haven’t been creating content but are looking to explore a marketing strategy to grow your business, consider the benefits of content marketing and develop a strategy.

💡 Learn more: Arriving at Content Strategy

12 steps to developing a content marketing strategy

Here's a content marketing strategy template that breaks down the entire planning process in 12 easy-to-follow steps:

1. Review your audience

Kick things off by understanding who your audience is. This is essential so you can tell:

  • Their pain points to create new content that addresses them
  • Types of content they prefer consuming
  • How they research their problems
  • The online channels they use

The information you learn here will help you determine the kind of content you should create and the channels to distribute your content on.

Understanding your target audience’s online behavior will also help you map out a marketing funnel based on their buyer’s journey. This way, you can create content for all funnels: top, middle, and bottom that help with brand awareness and education, consideration, and conversion, respectively.

2. Set goals for your content marketing

Next up, identify your content marketing strategy’s marketing goals. Do you want to drive brand awareness and lead generation? Or do you want to push people to sign up for free demos?

While you are at it, determine your content’s unique value proposition?

For example, Databox’s content marketing became popular for its expert round-ups that provide original, high-quality content sharing subject matter experts’ insights.

Databox's expert roundup content
Databox's content marketing strategy is applauded for its unique expert round-ups.

3. Create your reader persona and brand voice

Digging into audience research in the first step will give you a rough sketch of who your target buyer is.

Now, create your reader persona or a profile explaining the language your audience uses plus their interests.

You can refine this as you grow your website traffic with content by digging into your Google Analytics data.

To get started, talk to at least five of your customers or target buyers. In your conversations, “listen to the words customers are using,” advises Adrienne Barnes of Best Buyer Persona.

"I call these relational keywords — they show the relationship your customers have with your product. These should be the guiding point for all content. Know what they call your tool, how they refer to your service or features."
Adrienne Barnes
Founder, Best Buyer Persona

Additionally, create your brand voice guidelines and construct a style guide so all content you and your team create will follow a voice and style.

Need to know: Create your content strategy document, style guide, and brand voice guidelines in GatherContent. This way, you can build a resource library of all documents in one place that’s easy to access for all team members.

4. Decide your core topics or content pillars

Next up, decide the key topics you’ll create content on.

The ideal content pillars for any business are ones that interest your audience and show your expertise.

For instance, RescueTime, a time tracking app, covers content on time management, work-life balance, productivity tips, and so on.

These are all topics that their target audience is already searching for and ones they can introduce their app in as a solution to the searchers’ problem.

Having a clear idea of the topics to cover will help you improve your SEO while establishing your brand as the authority on the topics.  

5. Conduct a competitor analysis

Research your competitor’s content plan. Look for their:

  • Publication frequency
  • Content types
  • Distribution channels
  • Content’s unique value proposition
  • Marketing tactics
  • Target keywords and phrases

Then, analyze how you can do better in a way that serves your audience. But don’t copy – your readers will always be different than your competitor’s, even if slightly.

6. Settle on your content type(s) and channels

Use the information you’ve gathered in your audience and competitor analysis to decide on the content type(s) you’ll create.

These could be anything from:

  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Infographics
  • Case studies
  • Blog content
  • Email content
  • Video content
  • Research reports and whitepapers

Once done, decide your content distribution channels.

Knowing where you’ll be promoting your content helps you optimize content for those channels. It also helps you establish a presence on those channels so you don’t come across as someone sharing links to their content and leaving.

Say you plan to use LinkedIn for reaching your potential customers. Instead of using it to dump links, create a consistent presence on the channel to attract and convert your audience better.

Similarly, if you’re planning to use the search engine to drive organic traffic, you’ll want to optimize your content for SEO.

7. Write down your KPIs

Deciding your content marketing campaign’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) helps you refine your strategy.

The metrics you track will vary according to the channels you use and the content formats you create.

Here are examples of KPIs to track:

  • Site traffic
  • Subscribers for your newsletter
  • Social shares and mentions
  • Search ranking
  • Downloads
  • Conversions

Depending on what KPIs you choose, you can also set a realistic revenue target for each quarter.

8. Get your tools in order

Now for the basic tools, you’ll need for developing a content marketing strategy.

  • Keyword research tool(s)

Pick from keyword research tools such as Ahrefs or SEMrush to identify what your target audience is searching for.

Dig out and use long-tail keywords with a high search volume and less ranking difficulty to plan content topics around.

  • Content management and collaboration tool

Use GatherContent to manage all your content efforts. From creating and assigning briefs to handling your content production and content editorial calendar, the tool is a one-stop solution for running content operations smoothly.

Use GatherContent as a central repository for all the content you create
GatherContent is a one-stop content management and collaboration tool for assigning briefs, managing content production, maintaining your editorial calendar, and more.

💡 Learn more: A 6-step strategy to build strong content marketing collaboration

  • Content creation and editing tools

Use AnswerThePublic to create outlines for content pieces based on the questions searchers are asking related to a topic.

Second, try Clearscope for written content’s SEO optimization.

Lastly, use these two tools for content editing: Hemingway Editor and Grammarly. The former boosts content readability by highlighting hard-to-read sentences and the latter catches typos and passive voice use.

Need to know: GatherContent integrates with Grammarly. This way, you and your team can check the content you create on the spot.
GatherContent integrates with Grammarly.
GatherContent integrates with the grammar and spelling checking app, Grammarly, so you can edit your content easily.

9. Create a content distribution plan

Content distribution is as important as content creation — if not more. Your content marketing plan will be incomplete without a distribution plan.

The best distribution channels to pick from are ones that your audience uses. This includes Q&A forums, social media channels, and communities such as Slack communities.

Flesh out a link-building and SEO optimization plan for distribution using organic search. Another good idea is to repurpose content – repackaging content in different formats to distribute it better.

10. Define roles and create a content marketing workflow

With most of the marketing content strategy work done, start defining roles and responsibilities.

Decide on who will be creating project briefs, who will be involved in content creation, who will handle link building and the rest of the SEO work, and so on.

Clarifying all this upfront ensures your content production is a well-oiled process.

Need to know: Create briefs in GatherContent – complete with due dates. The best part? These brief templates are designed for minimizing back and forth between writers and editors/managers. To this end, they come with embedded instruction for content creators.


Use Gathercontent to create templated briefs complete with deadlines and embedded instructions for writers.
GatherContent helps you create templated briefs that include sections for everything writers need to submit plus embedded instruction to minimize back and forth between writers and content managers.

That said, you need to work out your content workflow. Break down each content format you plan to create into stages so you can manage their production easily.

Need to know: Create your content workflow in GatherContent so you can get an overview of your projects’ progress status.
Use GatherContent to create your content workflow to see how far along each project is coming.
By creating your content workflow in GatherContent you can see track project's status.

11. Plan your content and create an editorial calendar

Once your content topics are ready, decide on a publishing frequency.

Don’t be too ambitious. Quality content takes time to produce. So set SMART goals and stick with them.  

When done, plan your content calendar that lays out the content you’ll produce and by when.

Need to know: Add due dates to your content projects and view them in an editorial calendar format with GatherContent.
Use GatherContent to create your editorial calendar.
GatherContent helps you create editorial calendars so you can get an overview of your publishing schedule.

12. Measure your content performance

Finally, measure your content marketing plan’s performance for a defined period.

Monitor it against the KPIs you outlined above. Google Analytics is a great place to start.

💡 Read next: Measuring the Performance of Your Content

Connecting a content marketing strategy with other teams

As you plan your strategy and content, always loop in other customer-facing teams such as Sales or Customer Service.

Essentially, the right content for your audience is what’s helpful to them. It’s content that “answers common questions [your audience has], helps them understand your products/services better, and eases their doubts,” as Global Call Forwarding’s Content Marketing Manager, Meryl D’Sa-Wilson puts it.

To this end,

"it’s necessary to check in with your sales, product, customer support, and tech support teams. These teams interact with customers and prospects in different ways and can give you insights into the language and terminology customers use for products like yours, what their concerns might be, and what assurances they are looking for,"
Meryl D'Sa-Wilson
Content Marketing Manager, Global Call Forwarding

Beyond that, Mike Jones, CEO of Resound Creative adds:

Other teams in your org (especially sales and customer support) can provide a wealth of ideas for your content marketing strategy.

For instance:

  • “What questions are they encountering from customers? (Those can make for great content themes).
  • Where are they finding customers gathering and engaging? (Those could be great distribution channels for your content).
  • What current events and issues are customers concerned with? (Again, great fodder for your content planning).
  • What new products and/or features are your product teams working on? (This will inform what goals you need to establish or revise in your content marketing strategy)
  • Who in your org (outside of the marketing team) is a subject matter expert – could they be empowered through providing content and/or being featured as a spokesperson for various topics related to your brand?”

In short, all this information that other teams provide not only gives you content ideas and audience pain points but can support your content planning too.

Plus, sales and customer support teams can share this content with their prospects and customers to help explain certain concepts or processes as well,” D’Sa-Wilson points out.

💡 Learn more: Actionable content strategy resource guides

How often do I update a content marketing strategy?

"Every quarter a team should look at their content marketing strategy to determine what's working, what’s not, and what can they attempt going forward,"
Brian Robben
CEO, Robben Media

Robben Media’s CEO Brian Robben, also suggests:

“This content audit will give you extreme insight into your current performance and how to enhance it. After a few quarters or years of doing this, you’ll know from experience what’s the best content for your audience and why. That’s a powerful insight that your competitors will not have if they don't take their content as seriously as you.”

D’Sa-Wilson also notes, “Trends, keywords, and SEO best practices continue to change as time passes. So it’s a good idea to review your content marketing strategy every 5-6 months and take stock of what has worked and what changes need to be made.”

Here’s what you need to be doing as part of your review, according to D’Sa-Wilson:

You want to research new relevant keywords, review existing content, and find new growth opportunities. When updating your content marketing strategy, look for new keywords and topic clusters to target and old content to optimize and update.”

Review your strategy each quarter or every six months so your content marketing efforts are aligned with prevailing trends and customer requirements.

With that, our post on creating a winning content marketing strategy comes to an end.

Good to know: Start planning today and ready your tools too. In fact, try GatherContent free today as part of your 2022 content marketing strategy.


Not sure how to go about creating a content marketing strategy?

Dig into this guide that dives into developing a content marketing strategy, the tools and resources you’ll need, the metrics you should monitor, and more.

How do I know I need a content marketing strategy?

If you’re already creating great content – writing case studies and social media content, for instance, you need a strategy to breathe sense into your efforts.

“Without a content marketing strategy, you risk focusing on the content and content strategy too much, and not seeing the overall goals anymore. In fact, this is one of the most crucial and deadly mistakes in content marketing,” shares Bonsai’s Head of Content, Cary Hastings.

Hence, by developing a content marketing strategy, you can set goals for each piece of content that you create. You’ll be able to drive consistent results instead of sporadic ones.

If you haven’t been creating content but are looking to explore a marketing strategy to grow your business, consider the benefits of content marketing and develop a strategy.

💡 Learn more: Arriving at Content Strategy

12 steps to developing a content marketing strategy

Here's a content marketing strategy template that breaks down the entire planning process in 12 easy-to-follow steps:

1. Review your audience

Kick things off by understanding who your audience is. This is essential so you can tell:

  • Their pain points to create new content that addresses them
  • Types of content they prefer consuming
  • How they research their problems
  • The online channels they use

The information you learn here will help you determine the kind of content you should create and the channels to distribute your content on.

Understanding your target audience’s online behavior will also help you map out a marketing funnel based on their buyer’s journey. This way, you can create content for all funnels: top, middle, and bottom that help with brand awareness and education, consideration, and conversion, respectively.

2. Set goals for your content marketing

Next up, identify your content marketing strategy’s marketing goals. Do you want to drive brand awareness and lead generation? Or do you want to push people to sign up for free demos?

While you are at it, determine your content’s unique value proposition?

For example, Databox’s content marketing became popular for its expert round-ups that provide original, high-quality content sharing subject matter experts’ insights.

Databox's expert roundup content
Databox's content marketing strategy is applauded for its unique expert round-ups.

3. Create your reader persona and brand voice

Digging into audience research in the first step will give you a rough sketch of who your target buyer is.

Now, create your reader persona or a profile explaining the language your audience uses plus their interests.

You can refine this as you grow your website traffic with content by digging into your Google Analytics data.

To get started, talk to at least five of your customers or target buyers. In your conversations, “listen to the words customers are using,” advises Adrienne Barnes of Best Buyer Persona.

"I call these relational keywords — they show the relationship your customers have with your product. These should be the guiding point for all content. Know what they call your tool, how they refer to your service or features."
Adrienne Barnes
Founder, Best Buyer Persona

Additionally, create your brand voice guidelines and construct a style guide so all content you and your team create will follow a voice and style.

Need to know: Create your content strategy document, style guide, and brand voice guidelines in GatherContent. This way, you can build a resource library of all documents in one place that’s easy to access for all team members.

4. Decide your core topics or content pillars

Next up, decide the key topics you’ll create content on.

The ideal content pillars for any business are ones that interest your audience and show your expertise.

For instance, RescueTime, a time tracking app, covers content on time management, work-life balance, productivity tips, and so on.

These are all topics that their target audience is already searching for and ones they can introduce their app in as a solution to the searchers’ problem.

Having a clear idea of the topics to cover will help you improve your SEO while establishing your brand as the authority on the topics.  

5. Conduct a competitor analysis

Research your competitor’s content plan. Look for their:

  • Publication frequency
  • Content types
  • Distribution channels
  • Content’s unique value proposition
  • Marketing tactics
  • Target keywords and phrases

Then, analyze how you can do better in a way that serves your audience. But don’t copy – your readers will always be different than your competitor’s, even if slightly.

6. Settle on your content type(s) and channels

Use the information you’ve gathered in your audience and competitor analysis to decide on the content type(s) you’ll create.

These could be anything from:

  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Infographics
  • Case studies
  • Blog content
  • Email content
  • Video content
  • Research reports and whitepapers

Once done, decide your content distribution channels.

Knowing where you’ll be promoting your content helps you optimize content for those channels. It also helps you establish a presence on those channels so you don’t come across as someone sharing links to their content and leaving.

Say you plan to use LinkedIn for reaching your potential customers. Instead of using it to dump links, create a consistent presence on the channel to attract and convert your audience better.

Similarly, if you’re planning to use the search engine to drive organic traffic, you’ll want to optimize your content for SEO.

7. Write down your KPIs

Deciding your content marketing campaign’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) helps you refine your strategy.

The metrics you track will vary according to the channels you use and the content formats you create.

Here are examples of KPIs to track:

  • Site traffic
  • Subscribers for your newsletter
  • Social shares and mentions
  • Search ranking
  • Downloads
  • Conversions

Depending on what KPIs you choose, you can also set a realistic revenue target for each quarter.

8. Get your tools in order

Now for the basic tools, you’ll need for developing a content marketing strategy.

  • Keyword research tool(s)

Pick from keyword research tools such as Ahrefs or SEMrush to identify what your target audience is searching for.

Dig out and use long-tail keywords with a high search volume and less ranking difficulty to plan content topics around.

  • Content management and collaboration tool

Use GatherContent to manage all your content efforts. From creating and assigning briefs to handling your content production and content editorial calendar, the tool is a one-stop solution for running content operations smoothly.

Use GatherContent as a central repository for all the content you create
GatherContent is a one-stop content management and collaboration tool for assigning briefs, managing content production, maintaining your editorial calendar, and more.

💡 Learn more: A 6-step strategy to build strong content marketing collaboration

  • Content creation and editing tools

Use AnswerThePublic to create outlines for content pieces based on the questions searchers are asking related to a topic.

Second, try Clearscope for written content’s SEO optimization.

Lastly, use these two tools for content editing: Hemingway Editor and Grammarly. The former boosts content readability by highlighting hard-to-read sentences and the latter catches typos and passive voice use.

Need to know: GatherContent integrates with Grammarly. This way, you and your team can check the content you create on the spot.
GatherContent integrates with Grammarly.
GatherContent integrates with the grammar and spelling checking app, Grammarly, so you can edit your content easily.

9. Create a content distribution plan

Content distribution is as important as content creation — if not more. Your content marketing plan will be incomplete without a distribution plan.

The best distribution channels to pick from are ones that your audience uses. This includes Q&A forums, social media channels, and communities such as Slack communities.

Flesh out a link-building and SEO optimization plan for distribution using organic search. Another good idea is to repurpose content – repackaging content in different formats to distribute it better.

10. Define roles and create a content marketing workflow

With most of the marketing content strategy work done, start defining roles and responsibilities.

Decide on who will be creating project briefs, who will be involved in content creation, who will handle link building and the rest of the SEO work, and so on.

Clarifying all this upfront ensures your content production is a well-oiled process.

Need to know: Create briefs in GatherContent – complete with due dates. The best part? These brief templates are designed for minimizing back and forth between writers and editors/managers. To this end, they come with embedded instruction for content creators.


Use Gathercontent to create templated briefs complete with deadlines and embedded instructions for writers.
GatherContent helps you create templated briefs that include sections for everything writers need to submit plus embedded instruction to minimize back and forth between writers and content managers.

That said, you need to work out your content workflow. Break down each content format you plan to create into stages so you can manage their production easily.

Need to know: Create your content workflow in GatherContent so you can get an overview of your projects’ progress status.
Use GatherContent to create your content workflow to see how far along each project is coming.
By creating your content workflow in GatherContent you can see track project's status.

11. Plan your content and create an editorial calendar

Once your content topics are ready, decide on a publishing frequency.

Don’t be too ambitious. Quality content takes time to produce. So set SMART goals and stick with them.  

When done, plan your content calendar that lays out the content you’ll produce and by when.

Need to know: Add due dates to your content projects and view them in an editorial calendar format with GatherContent.
Use GatherContent to create your editorial calendar.
GatherContent helps you create editorial calendars so you can get an overview of your publishing schedule.

12. Measure your content performance

Finally, measure your content marketing plan’s performance for a defined period.

Monitor it against the KPIs you outlined above. Google Analytics is a great place to start.

💡 Read next: Measuring the Performance of Your Content

Connecting a content marketing strategy with other teams

As you plan your strategy and content, always loop in other customer-facing teams such as Sales or Customer Service.

Essentially, the right content for your audience is what’s helpful to them. It’s content that “answers common questions [your audience has], helps them understand your products/services better, and eases their doubts,” as Global Call Forwarding’s Content Marketing Manager, Meryl D’Sa-Wilson puts it.

To this end,

"it’s necessary to check in with your sales, product, customer support, and tech support teams. These teams interact with customers and prospects in different ways and can give you insights into the language and terminology customers use for products like yours, what their concerns might be, and what assurances they are looking for,"
Meryl D'Sa-Wilson
Content Marketing Manager, Global Call Forwarding

Beyond that, Mike Jones, CEO of Resound Creative adds:

Other teams in your org (especially sales and customer support) can provide a wealth of ideas for your content marketing strategy.

For instance:

  • “What questions are they encountering from customers? (Those can make for great content themes).
  • Where are they finding customers gathering and engaging? (Those could be great distribution channels for your content).
  • What current events and issues are customers concerned with? (Again, great fodder for your content planning).
  • What new products and/or features are your product teams working on? (This will inform what goals you need to establish or revise in your content marketing strategy)
  • Who in your org (outside of the marketing team) is a subject matter expert – could they be empowered through providing content and/or being featured as a spokesperson for various topics related to your brand?”

In short, all this information that other teams provide not only gives you content ideas and audience pain points but can support your content planning too.

Plus, sales and customer support teams can share this content with their prospects and customers to help explain certain concepts or processes as well,” D’Sa-Wilson points out.

💡 Learn more: Actionable content strategy resource guides

How often do I update a content marketing strategy?

"Every quarter a team should look at their content marketing strategy to determine what's working, what’s not, and what can they attempt going forward,"
Brian Robben
CEO, Robben Media

Robben Media’s CEO Brian Robben, also suggests:

“This content audit will give you extreme insight into your current performance and how to enhance it. After a few quarters or years of doing this, you’ll know from experience what’s the best content for your audience and why. That’s a powerful insight that your competitors will not have if they don't take their content as seriously as you.”

D’Sa-Wilson also notes, “Trends, keywords, and SEO best practices continue to change as time passes. So it’s a good idea to review your content marketing strategy every 5-6 months and take stock of what has worked and what changes need to be made.”

Here’s what you need to be doing as part of your review, according to D’Sa-Wilson:

You want to research new relevant keywords, review existing content, and find new growth opportunities. When updating your content marketing strategy, look for new keywords and topic clusters to target and old content to optimize and update.”

Review your strategy each quarter or every six months so your content marketing efforts are aligned with prevailing trends and customer requirements.

With that, our post on creating a winning content marketing strategy comes to an end.

Good to know: Start planning today and ready your tools too. In fact, try GatherContent free today as part of your 2022 content marketing strategy.


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About the author

Masooma Memon

Masooma Memon is a pizza-loving freelance writer for SaaS. When she’s not writing actionable blog posts or checking off tasks from her to-do list, she has her head buried in a fantasy novel or business book. Connect with her on Twitter.

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