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How to Find and Use Your Content Essentials: A Template and Step-by-Step Guide


I hate shopping, and I have a limited fashion sense. So when a friend offered to help me shop for wardrobe essentials that I could mix and match to suit almost any occasion, I wholeheartedly agreed. These staples have been so helpful in many ways.

Now I no longer spend time thinking about what to wear and I don’t constantly second-guess myself. Packing is not a nightmare because I don’t have to try on a bunch of things that are “meh” and “good enough.” A wardrobe of staples has saved me so much time, and I feel much more confident.

Do you want to regain some time — and come across as more put together? Let me help you put together your content essentials.

What are content essentials?

Content essentials are those pieces of content that work well in many situations. In short, they are the best version of your brand. Another way to look at it: Your content essentials are the 20% of your content that gives you 80% of results.

Your #content essentials are the 20% of your content that gives you 80% of results via @michelelinn. Share on X

Content essentials don’t need to be only blog posts, they can be e-books, videos, or any other type. They are the pieces that your audience loves time and time again.

How do you find your essential content?

Your audience indicates their love for your content essentials through engagement — they are your conversion champions (hat tip to Andy Crestodina who coined this phrase.)

Your conversion champions are those pages or posts that have the highest percentage of traffic converting to something. In CMI’s case, I look at conversions to email subscribers, but for you it could be items added to the shopping cart.

Andy explains how to find your conversion champions in No. 2 in this post: 3 Internal Linking Strategies for SEO and Conversions.

How do I keep track of my content essentials?

Once you identify what your essentials are, keep them in a central spot (consider this your brand’s content closet). Not only will this help everyone on the team share the best of your brand, but you can also make a note to revisit these essentials to make sure they continue to showcase the best your brand has to offer. (Not to take this wardrobe analogy too far, but you know how you may love something one season, but when you revisit it the following year . . . not so much?)

I like to track our content essentials in a simple spreadsheet, but you could use any system you like. You can view and save your own copy of this template if helpful:

  • Go to File > Make a Copy and save it as a new Google spreadsheet.
  • Go to File > Download As > Microsoft Excel to save it as an Excel spreadsheet.

You can customize this template of course, but I track the following:

  • Name of the content essential – Record the title of your blog post, e-book, etc.
  • URL – If this piece lives in multiple places, choose one location.
  • Category – If your site has categories or other taxonomy, track the best place for each content essential. That way, if you are looking for content to support one of your categories, you can easily scan the list to find a good match. (And, if you find you don’t have a content essential in one of your categories, there is a great opportunity to create one.)
  • Date of review – Track when you last evaluated the content essential so you can easily see when you need to take another look. I highly recommend reviewing your content essential in batches with pre-determined regularity.
  • Calls to action (optional) – Keep a list of a few CTA options for your blog posts so you can easily include them in posts. (At CMI, we keep our CTAs in a separate list, so I don’t duplicate them here, but if you don’t have a CTA list, it may be useful to centralize them here.)
  • Notes – I like to have a catch-all space for any other details the team should know about this piece such as when it will be updated.


Click to enlarge

What can you do with these content essentials?

Your content essentials are the best version of your brand, and you want to promote and distribute them as much as you can. Here are several suggestions:

  • Put them on high-traffic pages.
  • Add them as CTAs to relevant blog posts.
  • Update and republish them (annually is often a good cadence but see what works for your audience).
  • Aggregate them into e-books
  • Break them out into other content. (Here are 10 ideas on how to atomize your content.)
  • Re-share them on social. (Bonus tip: Use BuzzSumo to see which posts are popular on which platforms so you can put your money behind the right social channels.)
  • Curate your essentials into collections, hubs, or posts.
  • Study them to understand what your audience truly craves. (More on that below.)
Promote & distribute your #content essentials as much as you can says @michelelinn. Share on X

But, remember: Your content essentials need to make sense in the context of wherever you place them. Just because your go-to outfit is a black dress, it doesn’t mean it makes sense at a BBQ.

Will people get bored of seeing the same stuff?

Are you thinking, “This all sounds great, but how much should I really do with one piece of content? Will my audience think I don’t have much in my content closet?”

First, look to see how many people are new to your content essential. To find out, go to Audience > Overview in Google Analytics and look at the info for returning vs. new visitor. You’ll likely see you have a lot of new people coming to your website.

In short, use your content essentials where they are most relevant, and while your loyal audience may see them time-and-time again, you’ll impress the new people you meet. (And, wouldn’t you rather wear a great outfit you have worn before rather than something “meh” that people haven’t seen?)

What are the other benefits of studying your essentials?

Essentials give you mental space

Now that I have my clothing staples, I still spend some time deciding what to wear to an event, but it’s so much easier. I have more time to focus on things that really matter.

How this applies to your content: Who doesn’t want more time? Or more specifically, who doesn’t want the mental space to think about new things in a different way? Having content essentials lets you do exactly that: focus on something important instead of reinventing your go-to content.

Essentials help you get a sense of style

Not only do I now have a small selection of basics that give me mental space, but now that I know what types of essentials suit me, I shop more efficiently to find other essentials to add to my wardrobe (no to crew necks, but yes on scoop necks).

How this applies to your content: Do you want to have content your audience would miss if it were gone? Study your content essentials to see what format your audience craves. You’ll start to see themes emerge. Is it a template? An e-book? A how-to video? Create more of those types of things.

Fill in editorial gaps instead of creating the same ol’ content

Before my wardrobe-essential shopping trip, I bought what was in my comfort zone. The result was that my closet was brimming with too much of the same stuff. Yes, there are some essentials of which you can use multiples (think: white T-shirts, jeans, black leggings), but you need other pieces to tie it all together.

How this applies to your content: Do you have one area covered so well in your editorial but continue to write about it because it’s comfortable? Chances are that new same-topic content isn’t doing your brand that much good because it gets swallowed by your older content or cannibalizes that older content that worked well. In short, figure out what you have and then figure out what you need — and focus on those gaps.

What’s key for me to remember?

You need a list of your content essentials because it will save you time, present a more confident view, and help you get more bang with your content marketing. Tracking them in a shared spreadsheet or some other tool will help you stay organized and keep your team on the same page.

Would love to know if you are doing something similar. Let me know in the comments.

And a special shout-out to Lisa Dougherty who runs this blog. She was the go-to friend who helped my wardrobe and turned a shopping trip into content marketing inspiration.

Looking for more templates? Check out our collection of 23 checklists, templates, and guides. (And, I’ll let you in on something: This post is one of our content essentials; we update it annually.)

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute