A 5‑Step Content Planning Framework for Effective Digital Marketing

The planning phase is critical for an effective content strategy. Here’s a five-step framework for digital marketing to ensure each web page and blog post makes an impact.

As with any mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy, a well-planned approach to con­tent mar­ket­ing can mean the dif­fer­ence between suc­cess and failure—especially as health­care orga­ni­za­tions are embrac­ing con­tent like nev­er before. In fact, our lat­est State of Health­care Con­tent Mar­ket­ing sur­vey found 97% of respon­dents are using con­tent or plan­ning to lever­age con­tent to engage audi­ences and dri­ve growth. That means dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing your approach is more crit­i­cal than ever—and it starts with a sol­id frame­work for dig­i­tal marketing. 

Based on our work with hos­pi­tals and oth­er health­care orga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try, here’s a five-step frame­work for dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing that our team uses to ensure every piece of con­tent we cre­ate aligns with the clien­t’s goals and tar­get audience.

Step 1: Create an SEO strategy and conduct keyword research.

Most web con­tent gets zero organ­ic traf­fic and pages ranked beyond page 1 are ignored. To over­come these chal­lenges, start with a search engine opti­miza­tion (SEO) strat­e­gy that charts a clear and effec­tive course for your con­tent plan.

This strate­gic approach to con­tent ensures the time and resources you’ll invest gen­er­ate qual­i­ty traf­fic that can trans­late into brand and rev­enue growth.

The first step in cre­at­ing an SEO strat­e­gy is to bench­mark your per­for­mance. Use a tool like SEM­Rush (our favorite) to find out which key­words your site ranks for and using those insights, set goals for con­tent per­for­mance and define the met­rics that will be used to mea­sure success.

If your goals are focused on gen­er­at­ing traf­fic and top-of-the-fun­nel leads, these can include (among oth­ers based on your goals):

  • Total ses­sions
  • Total new/return users
  • Key­word performance/trend
  • Aver­age pages per ses­sion and time on site

Next, con­duct key­word research to iden­ti­fy those terms that align with your pri­or­i­ty services.

Here are the pri­ma­ry steps in the process:

  • Cre­ate a “wish list” of key­words for which you want to rank #1 (or at least page 1) of the search engine results page.
  • Using an SEO tool or sim­ply key­ing key­words into Google, check the com­pe­ti­tion for your tar­get list.
  • Based on the analy­sis in the step above, refine your list to include the key­words you can com­pete for and have the exper­tise to address via your content.

Step 2: Define your topic categories.

Now that you’ve devel­oped an SEO strat­e­gy, you’re ready to round out the plan with inter­nal per­spec­tive and audi­ence data. This 360-degree view helps you con­sid­er how to engage your audi­ence around top­ics they care about, while strate­gi­cal­ly incor­po­rat­ing ele­ments that posi­tion your brand as the author­i­ty and trust­ed advisor.

Along with key­word research, here are a few areas that guide your con­tent plan­ning efforts:

  • Ser­vice line priorities
  • Sea­son­al health obser­vances and initiatives
  • Hos­pi­tal news and updates
  • Ever­green health and well­ness issues

A few of the more com­mon ones we fea­ture are patient sto­ries, health and well­ness top­ics, news and events and tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions and awards.

Crit­i­cal ques­tions to ask at this stage:

  • Which top­ics are most close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with your strate­gic priorities?
  • What con­tent can you cre­ate that can’t be found any­where else?
  • Which cat­e­gories can help you rank on page 1 of Google?

Putting the plan into action:

Cre­ate a brain­storm­ing map with strate­gic pri­or­i­ties as the cen­ter and spokes of the wheel for all your major top­ic ideas.

Pro Tip: Source inter­views and sources early—and make friends with the clin­i­cal resources who are will­ing to help and be fea­tured in posts. 

Step 3: Get in sync with stakeholders.

An effec­tive frame­work for dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing shouldn’t exist in a vac­u­um. The most suc­cess­ful strate­gies are devel­oped in part­ner­ship with peers in PR, ser­vice line man­age­ment, oper­a­tions, foun­da­tion, advo­ca­cy and oth­er areas.

This typ­i­cal­ly involves meet­ing with depart­ment lead­ers to dis­cuss key con­tent ele­ments, including:

Dif­fer­en­tia­tors—What sets your orga­ni­za­tion apart? Is it your spe­cial­ists, tech­niques, tech­nol­o­gy, location/convenience?

Sub­ject mat­ter experts—Who should we fea­ture in our paid/earned/owned media chan­nels based on exper­tise, per­son­al­i­ty and reputation?

Capac­i­ty—What is the wait­ing peri­od for a fea­tured ser­vice line, and how many patients can they accom­mo­date with­in a rea­son­able time­line after con­tent deploys?

Calls to action—What do we want users to do after con­sum­ing the content?

Lead intake—How can we reduce fric­tion when some­one inter­acts with our content?

Pro Tip: If you have a large orga­ni­za­tion with mul­ti­ple cam­pus­es or facil­i­ties, you are like­ly fac­ing an issue where you are try­ing to be equi­table with who you feature—from what ser­vice lines/physicians/campuses across mul­ti­ple con­tent forms. The good news: You’re not alone. Even con­tent mar­ket­ing lead­ers at Cleve­land Clinic—the No. 1 hos­pi­tal blog in Amer­i­ca with 7+ mil­lion ses­sions per month—deals with this issue.  In our expe­ri­ence, iden­ti­fy­ing a peer with­in your orga­ni­za­tion who can part­ner with you to track this and reach out to those var­i­ous inter­nal play­ers is an effec­tive strategy.

Crit­i­cal ques­tions to ask at this stage:

  • What makes your orga­ni­za­tion unique?
  • List three sub­ject mat­ter experts you can use.
  • List new inno­va­tions or part­ner­ships planned in the next 6–12 months.

Putting the plan into action:

For each piece of con­tent, iden­ti­fy the pur­pose, the audi­ence and the call to action.

Step 4: Flesh out the plan with other relevant data.

To ensure the con­tent plan is ful­ly informed, con­sid­er oth­er data sets that can guide your direc­tion on audi­ence, chan­nels, cadence, calls to action and oth­er elements.

This can include:

  • User/Reader sur­veys
  • Focus groups
  • Web­site metrics
  • Key­word research
  • Con­sumer data
  • Social met­rics
  • Nation­al headlines

Crit­i­cal ques­tions to ask at this stage:

  • What is the community’s per­cep­tion of your brand?
  • Which top­ics do your com­mu­ni­ties care about?
  • What key­words are you rank­ing for? Which ones have the most potential?

Putting the plan into action:

Brain­storm a list of places where you can gath­er data and infor­ma­tion about your audi­ence (any­thing from sur­veys to social engage­ment to con­sumer data trends, etc.)

Pro Tip: Of course, there’s still room for “heart” and “gut” checks in mar­ket­ing, but it needs to be both/and. Start with the data and let that be the pri­ma­ry dri­ver, along­side your gut, and go from there. 

Step 5: Map out your plan.

Now that you’ve col­lab­o­rat­ed with stake­hold­ers and ana­lyzed data to define your audience(s), top­ic cat­e­gories and chan­nels, it’s time to map out the con­tent plan itself.

This typ­i­cal­ly includes the fol­low­ing ele­ments that can make or break a con­tent strategy:

  • Audi­ences
  • Chan­nels
  • For­mats
  • Cadence
  • Calls to Action

When it comes to con­tent plan­ning and man­age­ment, keep it sim­ple and remem­ber: The key is not hav­ing the right tool but under­stand­ing your goals and think­ing con­tent first. In fact, we often use Google Sheets as one of the eas­i­est and most effec­tive tools to plan, man­age and track content.

Crit­i­cal ques­tions to ask at this stage:

  • How fre­quent­ly can you deliv­er rel­e­vant con­tent to your audience?
  • How often does your audi­ence want to hear from you?
  • What for­mat do you use to track your content? 

Putting the plan into action:

Move your brain­storm­ing for­mats into a cal­en­dar for plan­ning. Be sure to include enough time in the sched­ule for copy­writ­ing, design­ing, editing/proofreading and fact check­ing. And build in time on the back end for reporting.

Pro Tip: Plan out and deliv­er assign­ments as far in advance as you can—if you know Heart Month is a focus, get start­ed in Octo­ber or Novem­ber to leave room for adjust­ments, more cre­ativ­i­ty, and the abil­i­ty to pick up last minute requests.

Bonus Tip: 3 Ways to Error-Proof Your Content during the Planning Process

Based on our expe­ri­ence, here are some tips for avoid­ing most com­mon errors when build­ing and exe­cut­ing a con­tent plan:

  1. Make time for stake­hold­ers to weigh in dur­ing your process. If you need legal to review, build in time for that. If you need a physi­cian or patient to approve, build in time for that (and add a 2–3 day buffer to the actu­al deadline).
  2. Cre­ate check­lists for each step of the process and the process itself. This will reduce errors and keep your con­tent consistent.
  3. Choose a style guide. Your high school Eng­lish teacher was wrong: Gram­mar is sub­jec­tive. Some gram­mar and punc­tu­a­tion is brand pref­er­ence, so decide those things and stick to it. Most health­care and busi­ness orgs use jour­nal­is­tic style guides like AP and Chica­go and then add some excep­tions. Write this down and use it con­sis­tent­ly across your orga­ni­za­tion. Con­sis­ten­cy builds an uncon­scious trust. No one notices your gram­mar until you make a mis­take or it’s not consistent. 

Final thought: Don’t set-it-and-forget-it!

Of course, the process of cre­at­ing a frame­work for dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing is iter­a­tive and the plan needs to be refined as con­sumer pref­er­ences change, new chan­nels and com­peti­tors emerge, and oth­er issues impact performance.

Get more insights with our checklist for creating website content.

Want More Expert Perspective?

Our team of health­care mar­ket­ing experts is here to guide your con­tent strat­e­gy to greater success.

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