The art of content roadmapping
Content as a Product Series - Post 2: How to make a content roadmap and prioritize the right things
If you lead content efforts at a startup, are the only marketer at an early-stage startup, or even a founder, you should make a content roadmap. You might already have one, but to be honest, it’s probably not doing you any favors in terms of helping you prioritize the right content —the content that will drive results. It’s also probably more of a list than a roadmap.
A content list has a bunch of ideas without much regard for the potential impact, required effort, and coverage of your marketing goals. A list doesn’t include the target audience or the goal. Your roadmap needs all of these things and more. If you put the effort into generating the right content ideas, adding the right details to your content ideas, and creating a prioritized roadmap—like how a product leader puts effort into a product roadmap—you will save a ton of time producing and distributing content later. Your growth team (even if that’s also just you) will thank you. And your content will perform better. The process may seem arduous at first, but it’s worth it—even in the early days of your startup.
This newsletter is part of a series I’m calling “Content as a Product”. The first post, Content marketing does not equal blog posts, was about creating high-impact content, this post is about content roadmapping, and the final post is about distribution. TLDR of the series: Think of content as a product. It’s not the software product you are creating, but it is another “product” for the same audience. Much like your product solves a big problem for your audience, so should your content.
MKT1 1 on 1 Chats: Event this Friday on Content Strategy
I’m hosting a live, casual 1:1 chat on Zoom with Jenny Thai, the current Head of Content & Comms at Clearbit, formerly Head of Content at Asana (who I had the privilege of working with). We’ll be chatting about the topics in this content series and more this Friday 8/19 at 10 AM PT. I’m hoping to do a series of these talks with other marketing leaders!
How to generate content ideas
I talked sh*t about content lists instead of content roadmaps above, but really you need both things. You need a place to park all of your content ideas (that’s the list) and you need a roadmap to make sure you produce high-impact content (that’s the roadmap).
In our previous newsletter, I covered in depth how you need to focus on writing content that solves your audiences’ problems—this is the content that will drive results. That’s the guiding principle for great ideas but its not enough to make a well-balanced roadmap. To get “full coverage” with your content roadmap—across all of your audience segments, across all the problems you solve, and across all stages of the funnel, you need to source ideas in the below ways.
Before you can create a proper content roadmap, you need to do some pre-work
What is audience analysis? For each audience segment and ideal customer persona (ICP), make sure you understand jobs to be done, challenges in workflow, other tools they use, behavior and content preferences.
How to do audience analysis: Make sure you have audience segments, not just ideal customer personas (ICPs). This means you include companies you are targeting and the ICPs within them. Talk to customers externally and customer-facing teams internally to get a full picture of each audience segment. More on this process in our previous newsletter and in our audience analysis template for paid subscribers (at the bottom of this newsletter).
Why you need this for a content roadmap? Great content starts from knowing your audience deeply, and not just how they will use your product, but a holistic view of their workday. You should have a focus audience for every piece of content you write.
How to use this to generate ideas: Researching workflows and jobs to be done for your audience is a great source for how-to content, templates, tools, and resources.
What are perceptions? Perceptions are short statements that serve as the brand tenets of your story for the next year or so. Marketing perceptions are what you want to be known for as a company. If done right, you’ll hear your audience repeat these back to you. All of your longer-form content, your big ideas, your potential data studies, the trends you want to weigh in on, the opinions you want to share, and your customer stories should ladder up to these.
How to write perceptions: We recommend creating 3-4 perceptions to guide your storytelling efforts. This should come after you do audience analysis. You’ve nailed it if no other company can claim this combination of 3-4 perceptions. Newsletter all about perceptions here: Perceptions: Our favorite marketing strategy exercise, including more examples.
Example of “hypothetical perception” for Salesforce at founding: “No Software” - Software is moving to the cloud. We are leading this movement.
Why you need this for a content roadmap? You need to know the overall stories you are trying to tell and the unique opinions your company holds. Otherwise your content will likely be all over the place and you’ll lack a good mechanism for prioritizing topics.
How to use this to generate ideas: Determine what content will drive these perceptions from your audience. Create a content idea list for each perception each quarter.
Basic SEO strategy aka focus keyword list
What is a focus keyword list? A list of keywords you are trying to rank for. Includes existing rank, page or post that ranks, traffic, competitiveness, and relevancy.
How to make an SEO keyword list? This is an art and science itself, but don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good here. Prioritize based on a combo of the above variables. It’s also helpful to have content pillars for SEO. Ahrefs has better content on these tactics than I ever will.
Why you need this for a content roadmap? It’s hard to create a content strategy without knowing what keywords you want to rank for. A focus list makes this less overwhelming and makes it easier to track progress.
How to use SEO keywords to generate ideas: While you need to make sure most content has a focus keyword, you will likely also need to come up with separate content ideas to rank for all of your focus keywords.
What do funnel stages have to do with content? You need mapped out funnel stages for your growth marketing efforts (if you don’t already have it), but this funnel is also useful for content. Use that same funnel, and map existing “anchor” content to the stages by audience and ICP. Anchor content is just the most useful piece of content at that stage. Example funnel in our SDR newsletter.
How to map funnel stages to content: Make a content inventory by funnel stage. You may need a few different funnel diagrams and content mappings if you have a hybrid sales motion with a combination of a free product or free trial, self-serve, and sales-assisted motions. See the simplified example above and the detailed content inventory by funnel stage is available for paid subscribers.
Why you need this for a content roadmap? If you make content without mapping it to funnel stages you might end up with huge gaps and overlaps. This process ensures you have coverage of the full funnel—and that you have a measurable goal for each piece of content.
How to use this to generate ideas: On a quarterly basis, you should be mapping your best piece of content (aka anchor content) at each funnel stage by each audience segment and ICP. This should then guide what content you use in your growth/demand gen efforts. Wherever you have gaps, consider prioritizing content that fills those gaps.
What? When generating content ideas, make sure you include existing content updates, expansions, and repurposes.
How to figure out which existing content to improve: Look at basic content reports that show traffic, new user traffic, sources of traffic, engagement (whether that’s CTA clicks, form fills, and/or shares). Then, identify which content you want to double down on, put more effort into distributing, and/or update. Remember, don’t look at these reports in isolation. The effort you spent distributing content matters here too. Don’t falsely assume a piece of content is “bad” if you’ve never properly distributed it.
Why you need this for a content roadmap? Your content roadmap shouldn’t just include “new” content. You should double down on things that are working. New is not the goal. Impact is.
How to use this to generate ideas: Somewhere between making a content ideas list and content roadmap, catalog what existing content you want to add to the mix. Then prioritize the new content and existing content updates together.
From content ideas to content roadmap
Lists and roadmaps aren’t the same thing
If you’ve done all of this pre-work, content ideas should be flowing out of you. When you jot down an idea it’s a fast process, you aren’t filling in all the details. When you add details to help you prioritize, move the content ideas to your content roadmap. You likely have some version of this roadmap already, but it’s probably missing important details and really out of date.
I like to do the bulk of the roadmap and prioritization work quarterly and then revisit monthly—at any stage and size team.
Fill in details for each content idea
The number one mistake I see on content roadmaps is including the wrong details, and therefore, not having the right variables and context to prioritize. Details should be tracked in columns in a spreadsheet or in custom fields in an Asana project (see Asana recommendation below).
Here are the fields you need to include and why:
And without further ado…
Here’s what the full roadmap looks like a spreadsheet
Content is a game of blockbusters (like angel investing and movie making). So, I like to indicate on my roadmap if a content idea can potentially become a blockbuster. Can it be a big driver of leads? Is it one of your big bets? Can it be a lead magnet? You need to have 1 or 2 of these huge swings per quarter if you want to drive step-change growth.
If you don’t call out the big bets, you might overlook these larger scope items on your roadmap. These pieces of content can be KRs or goals in themselves (“Drive x result from creating y big bet content”). For more on setting the right types of goals, we have a newsletter on that too.
(Unnecessary aside: I worked at a video store in college. It wasn’t a Blockbuster though.)
How to prioritize content
You should prioritize with the same rigor a PM would prioritize product features and eng time. There are 2 “lenses” to look through when prioritizing: Impact and effort and marketing strategy coverage.
Step 1: Impact and effort
The prioritization process isn’t as simple as just choosing content ideas that are high impact, low effort—but it starts there.
Your roadmap should include both impact estimates (I recommend just using “high leads or traffic”, “medium leads or traffic”, “low leads or traffic”) and estimated time required (high, medium, low also works here).
Look at the time required and potential impact. High potential impact, low time to create content is what you should typically prioritize, but not always.
You will likely need to prioritize some work that’s high impact and high effort. You do this because you believe there’s potential for massive impact (it could be a blockbuster!) and/or to get marketing strategy coverage. See areas you need to get coverage on highlighted in the above diagram, highlighted purple.
These prioritized pieces of content are now contenders to make the final cut for this quarter’s roadmap.
Step 2: Coverage
If you only focus on one area of the funnel, one type of content, or one ICP, etc; the impact won’t be as high in aggregate. 1+1 might equal 1.5 and that’s bad math and content marketing. So, the next step is to make sure you have enough content to hit all of your goals across various parts of your marketing strategy. These are the same parts of your strategy I described above that you use to generate content ideas.
Group your remaining roadmap contenders (from the impact and effort process) by content type, audience, funnel stage and prioritize them within those categories.
Within each category, pick the top 1-3 items (depending on your capacity and the time it will take).
For example, pick 2-3 pieces of content that expand your funnel coverage. Pick a couple of pieces of content that aren’t just blog posts, etc.
By doing this, you’re making sure you have appropriate funnel coverage, appropriate audience coverage, enough SEO content to hit your goals, and you are laddering everything up to a bigger story (your perceptions).
Then, review resources and make sure the owners, contributors, and reviewers won’t be overloaded.
Finally, look at the overall list you’ve put together and cut the list to what you think is achievable in a quarter.
Each month, pull content into the plan for that month based on this quarterly roadmap.
I strongly recommend using Asana for the list, roadmapping, and creation process. This is what Asana is really best for. Notion tables get cumbersome and Google Sheets don’t allow for assigning tasks. Asana isn’t paying me to say this….anymore.
Can I create my content now?
No, but you can move on to the next stage. It’s time to create a GACC brief (list out goals, audience, channels, creative for your content). That process is a whole lot easier now because you’ve done most of the work during roadmapping. You’ve included the funnel stage goal, the audience, the creative requirements, and the primary distribution channel. After your brief is complete, you can create the content—the creation process will be easier and the resulting content more impactful than ever before.
For how to create a GACC brief and more, check out the previous newsletter on creating high impact content. And RSVP for my chat with Jenny. And stay tuned for my next newsletter in this series on content distribution.
For all the templates and examples mentioned, including that beautiful, robust roadmap, subscribe to the paid newsletter (you’ll then find the template links below).
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Content marketing-related content:
Content roadmap template - just like the screenshot, but usable
Content list template - simpler version of the roadmap
Anchor content by funnel stage inventory template - note: you can also make this in Figma or a diagramming tool if the spreadsheet version feels not funnel-like enough.
Audience analysis template - not your typical ICP template, but 1 level deeper
List of content examples - And why I think they’re great
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