By Jodi Harris published December 23, 2020 Est Read Time: 10 min

Time-Saving Tips, Checklists, and Templates to Conquer Content Marketing Goals in 2021

At a time when the colder, darker days of winter are urging us to slow down, curl up somewhere warm, and enjoy our well-deserved holiday breaks, the weight of looming tasks when we return makes it even harder to justify taking time to relax and recharge.

As a gift to my tribe of weary content marketing warriors, I’ve compiled time-saving tips, productivity checklists, and useful templates from articles published in the last couple of years. I hope they’ll power your resolutions to get more done in the world of 2021, help you manage your work efficiently, and start your new year energized and well prepared to conquer your content goals.

Thrive in a post-2020 world

Not everything changed in 2020, but a lot did. That’s why it’s helpful to revisit your content marketing’s big picture as well as the most noticeable elements. In 15 Resources to Help You Check Your Content Marketing Now, CMI’s Kim Moutsos pulled together some ideas that will help you face 2021 with fresher, smarter eyes and ears. The resources help with everything from content marketing strategy to content creation to your personal brand and many things in between.

Create a strategy in 1, 2, 3

Pressed for time? Who isn’t? Don’t let that be an excuse to forgo a documented content marketing strategy. In Create a Content Marketing Strategy in 3 Steps, I share the details that should go into your why, who, and how. If you’re starting a content marketing program, adapting to a new business model, or adding marketing priorities or customer challenges, this article is for you.

Ready to put that strategy into action? Proceed to creating a strategic editorial calendar. In How to Create a Strategic Editorial Calendar, Kelsey Raymond walks you through seven steps to lay the foundation that will give your content a better chance at success.

Turn strategy development into a group activity

Rather than thinking of strategy development as a solo effort and later opening it up for debate and deconstruction throughout the enterprise, why not try making it a collaborative affair from the start?

Don’t make #ContentMarketing strategy a solo effort. Open it up for debate throughout the enterprise, advises @joderama via @CMContent. Click To Tweet

In How to Run a Strategy-Focused Workshop, Marketing Insider Group’s Michael Brenner points out that a workshop environment empowers everyone involved in your organization’s content to weigh in and feel more invested in the strategic content decisions executed down the road.

It also can provide added flexibility should you have to change course in times of crisis or opportunity. Michael walks through each step of building an actionable strategy – from setting business goals and planning your brand’s unique approach to crafting the tactical blueprints governing your content creation (like the one shown in the image below), distribution, and measurement decisions.

A #content workshop can clarify objectives, give consistent voice, & improve customer experience, says @BrennerMichael via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Image showing an approach to crafting the tactical blueprints governing your content creation, distribution, and measurement decisions.

Illustrate your intentions to secure executive support

Developing your strategy is an important first step; but the key is communicating with the decision makers using terms that business leaders understand and relate to.

In Make Your Content Marketing Strategy Useful – Do It in Visuals, Venngage’s Nadya Khoja suggests taking a visual approach to the conversation.

Using #visuals to communicate your #ContentMarketing strategy is the best way forward, says @NadyaKhoja via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

She shares this example of a team communication strategy graphic. It gives stakeholders a clear road map without a lengthy presentation.

Image showing an example of a team communication strategy graphic.

Form a content council

If your marketing departments tend to operate as independent teams, consider an idea that helped Corteva Agriscience – the content council. In Charter a Content Council to Knock Down Silos, Corteva’s Andi Robinson details what it is and how they did it so you can too. Interestingly, members on their content council come from corporate communications and marketing, representing all geographic regions where the company operates.

About 75% of the 40-member #content council at @Corteva Agriscience comes from marketing and 25% from corp comms, says @hijinxmarketing via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The Corteva content council addresses content and content marketing as two distinct tracks while ensuring all is united under the same charter.

Image showing a chart of Corteva’s council two tracks: content and content marketing. The tracks reflect the industry’s relatively new use of content marketing as a holistic strategy to build brand advocates and provide value beyond products.

Do what works; stop what doesn’t

In a cost-conscious world, content marketers must deliver results.

Delivering results likely will be of greater importance in 2021. This article, How to Adopt a Growth Mindset for Your Content Marketing, helps you develop a process to build on what’s working and stop what’s not. Emilia Chagas outlines in detail – starting with this downloadable spreadsheet for content brainstorming – how to make your content truly count.

Image showing the downloadable spreadsheet for content brainstorming.

How do #content teams integrate a growth mindset? It starts with experimentation, says @emilia_chagas via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Make friends with failure

While you may not salvage every content piece that struck out, CMI’s Kim Moutsos offers six suggestions in So Your Content Failed. Now What? Among them, how to spice things up with help from new headlines and ledes, optimized calls to action, and a renewed focus on the sweet spot between your areas of authority and your audience’s pain points.

#Content often underperforms if it’s missing a tilt, says @KMoutsos via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Set the stage for easier editorial management

A well-detailed creative brief can help you minimize content conundrums with external contributors (and even your internal content creators). It also can help you maintain a consistent voice and value proposition across all your brand’s content offerings.

A clear, well-detailed creative brief to share with contributors can help maintain a consistent voice for your brand, says @joderama via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In How to Create a Good Brief for Better Content Marketing, Daniel Hatch outlines the most pertinent details in a creative brief, including:

  • Title: What will this project be called?
  • Deadline: When is the final content due?
  • Messaging criteria: What is the angle/message/purpose for this content? What audience should it engage, and what information will it expect to receive from your brand?
  • Technical specs: Is there a target word count? What format should they write for? What are your requirements for including images, references, or other ancillary assets?
  • Submission process: How and where should the content be filed? Who should they contact if they have questions?
  • Resources: Are there style guides they can reference? Are there templates they should use? Will they need access to password-protected asset libraries, company file-sharing directories, or other proprietary systems to deliver on your expectations?

The template below is based on the assignment brief for CMI’s digital magazine (CCO) contributors. Working with a structured format like this enables me to outline the story we want them to tell, the approach we recommend taking, and the voice and style that will make their work a good fit for the audience. I add custom fields when an article has unique requirements.

Image of a content brief template. It includes working title, word count, deadline, who, what, where, details, conclusion, desired response, source materials, mission, copy cotes, and ancillary assets to include.

Get more from what you’re doing

Content marketing teams were a big topic in the past year, perhaps because many are trying to sustain their operations or even do more without hiring additional team members.

We don’t expect that to change in 2021, so here are a few how-to articles and tools to help you and your team:

Outsource to expand your coverage capabilities

If you can’t expand your team or fill in gaps with full-time hires, you’ll want to check out Your  Get-It-Done Guide to Content Outsourcing. I share a checklist to identify and vet candidates who have the requisite skills and experience you need.

Image showing a checklist of questions that can be used to identify and vet candidates who have the requisite skills and experience you need.

Remember to give if you want your content to achieve

Your content likely won’t further your marketing goals unless it offers something your audience needs and wants. In Must-Have Checklist to Creating Valuable Content, Ahava Leibtag outlines the benchmarks that distinguish content experiences that consumers crave from pitchy prose that only serves the brand’s interests.

Image showing a step-by-step checklist that outlines the benchmarks that distinguish content experiences that consumers crave from pitchy prose that only serves the brand’s interests.

Pair content with the right distribution channel

No matter how skillfully, artfully, and strategically you’ve crafted your content, it won’t drive your marketing goals unless you’ve given the same careful consideration to how you share it with your audience.

In How to Match Your Content to the Best Distribution Channel, Aaron Agius gives a brief tutorial on the goals to be achieved based on the most popular distribution platforms. He also suggests the most relevant content formats on each platform.

If you don’t distribute your #content smartly, you’ll never achieve your brand’s #ContentMarketing goals, says @IamAaronAgius via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Image showing a brief tutorial on the goals to be achieved based on the most popular distribution platforms, and the most relevant content formats on each platform.

Let all see the analytics

Did you know self-service business intelligence – making data available for all departments – has become a thing? Over 60% of executives say it creates a significant competitive advantage by accelerating learning and responsiveness, as Ann Smarty noted in How to Create a Performance Dashboard for Your Content Team [Tools].

Making #data available for all departments accelerates learning and responsiveness, says @SEOSmarty via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Imagine if your team knew how well their content delivered the results most important to your marketing and business goals. Ann teaches step by step how to develop a dashboard that will help your team do just that.

Image showing what Google Analytics reports from Whatagraph look like: top social networks, social traffic, and top landing pages.

Build a sound plan to measure for meaning

Speaking of goals, you won’t know if you’re hitting them unless you track and measure your content’s performance. In How to Measure Your Content Marketing Effectiveness, CMI’s Cathy McPhillips created this helpful chart:

Image showing common content marketing goals and associated metrics.

You can also base your measurement plan on tracking the key performance indicators (KPIs) for each type of content (e.g., email newsletters, blog/website articles, social media posts, videos). The chart below outlines some of the most informative data points:

Chart outlining some of the most informative KPIs by content type

For a more comprehensive performance view, establish a formal measurement dashboard. In How to Score Your Content Assets for Long-Term Success, Lindy Roux offers a scoring system for micro and macro goals across platforms to facilitate apples-to-apples qualitative comparisons.

A #content scorecard marries qualitative and quantitative assessments, says @lindroux via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

You’ll find several tools and tips for building that dashboard in Nail Your Content Performance With This Measurement Starter Kit as well as templates, like this one for tracking social media conversations.

Image showing a template for tracking social media conversations.

Audit and optimize your content for search

Some performance evaluations are more complicated to gauge than others – SEO chief among them. Because search rankings are contingent on a myriad of algorithmic factors – including non-transparent ones – tightening up your content’s search techniques often requires an SEO audit.

In How to Do a Helpful SEO Audit in a Few Hours, Keith Hodges covers the on-page, off-site, and technical factors to evaluate.

A good #SEO audit covers on-page, off-site, and technical factors, says @seokeith via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Image showing the on-page, off-site, and technical factors to evaluate when doing an SEO audit.

Since on-page SEO is the most controllable factor, it’s critical to understand how well components like your landing page URL, metadata, headlines, and internal links stack up. Follow Keith’s process for a quick on-page SEO audit, starting with filling in the table below:

Questions to answer when conducting an on-page SEO audit.

What will you do with all the extra time on your hands?

I hope these tips, tricks, and templates will make your content marketing tasks easier, more effective, and more satisfying. But don’t forget to reinvest a little of your newly reclaimed time by reading about all the techniques and industry perspectives we’ll be sharing in 2021 – and by letting us know in the comments what other topics you’d like to see us cover.

Subscribe to CMI’s free newsletter and discover trends, insights, and practical tips to grow your content marketing skills. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is director of content strategy at Informa Connect. She describes her role as a combination of strategic alchemist, process architect, and creative explorer. Jodi previously served as director of editorial content at Content Marketing Institute and spent over a decade developing and managing content initiatives for clients in the entertainment, CPG, health care, technology, and biotech industries, as well as agencies and media brands. Follow her on Twitter at @Joderama.

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