The 10-Step Content Marketing Checklist

image of checklist

Everyone knows that content marketing is the “new” marketing approach that all the cool kids are supposed to be doing.

Coca-Cola is doing it, IKEA is doing it, Copyblogger has been doing and talking about it for six years now, so it’s a no-brainer, right?

Except, uhhhh, what is it exactly, again?

If I was going to boil it down to its absolutely simplest form, I’d say that content marketing is communicating with potential customers in a way that:

  • An audience actually enjoys paying attention to, and that
  • Demonstrates to that audience that you would be a good person to do business with.

Combining those two “simple” factors can be a little tricky to execute, though.

So today, I’m offering a checklist to make sure you’re building your content marketing on the right foundation.

Just like nutrition, parenting, and the designated hitter rule, there are passionate differing schools of thought on some of these.

But this is my “essential” list for you to build a solid content marketing program on. Check these off, and — based on my experience in my own businesses and those of my students — you’ll have the right framework to create a successful program.

1. Don’t build on rented land

Before you create a single piece of content, think about where that content will live and how audiences will get to it.

Effective content marketing takes work. You’ll need energy, thought, and time to create good content — whether you create it yourself or use a capable professional writer.

Which means that nearly all of the content you create needs to live on a domain you control, using a platform you can do as you please with.

That means you’re not producing the bulk of your creative content for Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. And you’re not publishing on a “website in 20 minutes” solution that forces you to use someone else’s domain.

If your domain isn’t, you don’t own your platform.

If you can’t publish what you please, with the wording, sales messages, and images you please, you don’t own your platform.

About 99 times out of 100, self-hosted WordPress is the right solution here.

I don’t just say that because we sell fantastic-looking premium themes (although we do). I also say it because WordPress is flexible, it’s robust, it’s easy to find excellent developers for, and it makes life very easy for you as a content publisher.

You can absolutely use social sites like Facebook and Twitter to nurture customer relationships and get the word out about the content that you create. (In fact, they can work beautifully for both purposes.) But don’t build your entire business there — it’s a dangerous mistake that can end up costing you hours (or years) of lost work.

2. Craft your cornerstone

In order to create a content marketing platform (as opposed to just writing about a bunch of stuff you find interesting), you need to understand your cornerstone.

The cornerstone of your platform comes from what interests and engages your audience. If you’re just starting out, you can start with what interests and engages you, then observe and adapt from there.

If your site is brand-new, start with about 10 posts that really encapsulate your fundamental beliefs and values about your topic. Think about what you would want every single reader of your site to know about.

If you’ve been writing for awhile but your site lacks focus, look through your most popular material and pull your best stuff into a series of well-focused content landing pages.

These solidly useful pages are a great place to focus your SEO copywriting efforts, because readers love them and they naturally tend to attract links and social sharing.

3. Make your content worth reading

This one is tricky.

I’ve seen marketers assure me that their content was “high quality” because it contained a certain number of words, because they didn’t use article-spinning software to write it, or even because they actually know something about their topic.

There’s a lot of lousy, unreadable content that conforms to those three standards.

If you don’t get likes and shares, if Google suddenly hates you, or if your traffic tends to bounce like a superball, you have to take a hard look at the possibility your content just isn’t as good as it needs to be.

How can you tell if your content is worth reading?

Content is worth reading if people read it.

You don’t decide. Readers decide.

That means you watch what gets the most traffic, the most links, the most social shares, and yes, the most comments.

Content worth reading usually:

Leave any one of those out and you’ll find that content marketing is depressingly, horrifyingly hard.

If, after a hard look, you realize that your content sucks, all is not lost. Partner (now) with a writer who’s great at creating terrific content, but who struggles with some element of business that you’re really good at.

There is no end run around this step.

You either create content worth reading (or watching, or listening to, if you’re doing multimedia) or you don’t. Anyone who tells you otherwise is slowing you down and will lead you to failure.

4. Give your content a secure environment

Having your site hacked is just no fun, and it happens … too often.

But there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself. Make sure your web host takes security seriously. Keep your site software (WordPress or whatever other tool you might be using, including your theme and all plugins) up to date.

I’ve been consistently impressed with a service called Sucuri that monitors your site 24/7 and alerts you instantly if they find any malware. (They can even clean it up for you if it does happen.) We use them to do “security sweeps” of existing sites before we bring them onto our hosting platform, because they do such an excellent job.

5. Don’t give your great content an ugly apartment

When I first met my husband, his apartment was so horrendous that I almost turned around and ran away. I still have nightmares about that carpet.

Don’t let your site do the same to your wonderful audience.

Your words might be brilliant enough to make unicorns weep, but if you put them into an ugly, amateurish, or cluttered design, your readers won’t come back for a second date.

The right premium WordPress theme can give you a beautiful, professional-looking design at a very attractive price, and has other benefits as well, including improved security and code that doesn’t get in the way of your SEO rankings.

6. Create content that attracts a wider audience

Your “cornerstone” content will help you start to build strong relationships with the people who can eventually become your customers.

Now you’ve got to find readers for that content … which means you’ll create content that’s specifically designed to attract and widen your audience.

This is where you put all your headline-writing skills into practice. Content that attracts attention also tends to have a strong, well-defined point of view.

A little controversy can be good for attracting new readers, as long as you don’t fall into the trap of seeking attention for its own sake.

You’ll still rely on the factors that make your content worth reading — make it useful, make it interesting, make it readable, and put a killer headline on it.

A numbered list or two wouldn’t kill you either.

7. Build an email list sooner rather than later

Content on a public website (like a blog) is fantastic for snagging attention — but to deepen the relationship, nothing works like email.

I’m particularly fond of the email autoresponder as a way to use your very best content to build prospect relationships and create an environment of trust.

Email hits readers in a more intimate way, and it tends to engage their attention more fully. When you want readers to take a specific action, send them an email.

8. Create content on a larger stage

If you feel good about items 1-7, you’re ready to start looking for a larger stage to play on.

This is where guest posting comes in. If you have the chops to write content worth reading, and you have solid cornerstone content on your own site, you’re ready for prime time.

Guest posting puts you in front of a larger audience (or sometimes, just a new audience). You can also do interviews, teleseminars, webinars, Q&A calls, or any other activity that puts you in front of more people.

Just remember to always send your new readers back to that high-quality content built on a site you control — whether that’s your blog or your email list. The smartest guest bloggers build landing pages just for these new audiences, to give fresh readers a great first experience with the site.

9. Don’t go too long without making an offer

If you’re content marketing, you can’t forget the marketing part.

If your content is supporting a business, make sure your audiences know exactly what that business is.

Well-crafted landing pages will explain your product or service to your audience in a way that makes it easy to buy. They focus your prospect’s attention so she doesn’t skip around your site checking out all the goodies. And they keep the “selling” in its own designated zone, away from your primary content. You shouldn’t be afraid to sell, but you don’t need to be a used car salesman either.

Whatever your offer may be, make sure it’s something your audience actually wants (not just what you think would be cool) and that you’ve delivered a clear, simple call to action.

10. Go to social media … once you’ve got something to talk about

Notice how much “how to sell something on the internet” advice starts with getting a zillion Twitter followers or Facebook likes?

That’s the kind of false shortcut that will kill your progress.

Social media audiences will start spreading the gospel about you as soon as you give them something worthwhile to talk about.

Don’t try to rush to Step 10 of the checklist when Step 3 is still giving you trouble. Just like building the foundation of a beautiful house, if you do the steps in order, you’ll have something solid that will serve you for many, many years to come.

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Reader Comments (80)

  1. says

    These are the ways to make your content stand out. Nothing says more about a blog that has unique content and is worthy to read. Heck, people can read somewhere else more with more authority if they want to.

    Be unique and provide value to people’s problems. That is key. All of these points are very valid in today’s world, more than ever. Nice Article!

    • says

      As Samuel has already said, excellent article. This is a good checklist for any content marketer who is interested in running a successful campaign. However, I do feel though that marketing is as important as the content itself. I see repeated content from any reputable bloggers everyday which is overshadowing the excellent content written by many smaller bloggers. But, I guess this is just the way the Blogosphere works!

  2. says

    Absolutely brilliant list Sonia.

    Key takeaway for me: “Don’t try to rush to Step 10 of the checklist when Step 3 is still giving you trouble. Just like building the foundation of a beautiful house, if you do the steps in order, you’ll have something solid that will serve you for many, many years to come.”

    Thank you.

  3. says

    I am 100% behind your first point. You want to control you own content as best as you can. There are so many opportunities online for other people to talk about (for good and bad) your brand that you need to take control wherever you can get it.

  4. says

    I like this post and the #1 resonates with me. You’ve to own the land you’re building a content marketing apartment on. I didn’t realize the urgency of registering my domain name when I started but I’m glad I did now. Thank you Sonia for waking me up to the world of content marketing.

  5. says

    Hi Sonia!

    I love reading this checklist and learnt new things and certainly having a checklist before writing any article is easy to analyse at the same time what will happen with what you have crafted.

    Thanks for sharing great list :-)

  6. says

    This list comes at the perfect time. This is something I have been struggling with for the past several months. I have been thinking ways to make my website more effective in promoting my business. I didn’t want to go through the process of a redesign, but I can make some small changes and redesign my content.

    Thanks Sonia! You always there to help when I need it.

    • says

      Thanks Clara!

      This came out of a Q&A call with our new group of Teaching Sells members, there seemed to be a real need for an outline of the foundation. Maybe now more than ever, because the online world has become so complex.

  7. says

    Great post – I find that #9, looking to sell via your content is often the one that gets overlooked.

    Of course, content marketing isn’t about direct selling – but it doesn’t mean that you should forget about looking to sell to your audience completely when the relevant opportunity comes up!

  8. says

    Putting your content in the right environment is a lesson I am finally getting tons of benefit from. When I started blogging two years ago, I didn’t give my contents the superb environmentbit deserved. I suffered long before I did something about it this year and guess what? Just changing the look of my site to the powerful genesis framework theme took my content marketing efforts to a whole new level. Traffic increased, bounce rate dropped from 78% to 5%, page views increased from 2000+ monthly to 13000+, subscribers increased with about 25% monthly.

    Most times reading these posts, one might be tempted to think all these tips don’t work. Put like the saying goes, nothing convinces better than RESULTS!

    Thank you Sonia for a nice chacklist and great work to you guys at Copyblogger Media. Thumps Up!

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing this great article. Full of insights and thoughts. And I personally love #10. Nowadays a lot of bloggers/businesses are using the power of social media.

  10. says

    I love this list, althought I am still working my way through the lower levels. I think patience is key – don’t be in a hurry! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your blog audience. Nothing bothers me more than the ‘Put up a blog today, make money tomorrow’ hype that runs around on the internet.

    Sonia, I agree with your comment in response to Clara too – the online world is incredibly complex. Maybe that’s why bulleted lists and how-to posts do so well! :-)

    • says

      I really think it is. Everyone is so distracted and there’s so much swirling around — clarifying your point into a nice list is really doing your audience a service! :)

  11. says

    Awesome post Sonia. I especially liked #1, #7, and #8–too many bloggers are hosting with, not marketing their content through different channels, and not capturing their visitor’s email address to keep in touch with them.

    You almost touched on it a couple times (with the email section plus the idea of not waiting too long to make an offer) but have you written a post on that all-too-important-yet-often-overlooked page: the “thank you” page (the page people see right after joining your email list)?

    That’s probably the best place, among other things, to place a great offer. Because at that point your visitor is about as hot a prospect as they’re probably ever going to be, and even if they never read an email from you again they will see the thank you page. And if they don’t buy right then–hey, they’re still on your email list so you can send them those autoresponders and get more chances to impress them with your content and make offers to them.

    Anyways, that’s just something that a lot of bloggers haven’t taken full advantage of that could be expanded on to make a great post.

    Thanks for all the awesome info today Sonia!

    • says

      We don’t do that, so I haven’t written about it, but you make a very good point and I think I’m going to try it. :) I’ve got just the product in mind, actually …

  12. says

    Step 8! That’s where I was. However, I forgot some of the first seven and landed up hardly.

    I was going to get on another Guest Post Sprinkling round on blogs without any goal or anything but thanks to you, I’ll be spending some time on building my blog properly first.

    Great post. And thanks! :)

    • says

      Definitely have a strong foundation first! That way you squeeze the absolute most out of those guest blogging opportunities.

      Thanks for kind words!

  13. says

    This is an Awesome Checklist Sonia! I like point #1 and #3, these two are very important. I have also discovered that a blog design also tells on how well your blog perform.
    Am glad I read this post.

  14. says

    ‘The best time to plant an oak tree is 20 years ago – or today’ – that’s one of your comments that stays with me when I try and rush or feel frustrated. Thanks Sonia – awesome post!

  15. says

    Awesome list Sonya. I can see your husband’s carpet and it’s a terrific visual for my blog homepage.
    This is also a great example of evergreen content. I could probably read this article every couple months to see if I’m making progress.

  16. says

    Sonia: This should be mandatory reading for any entrepreneur who does marketing today.

    I also just installed Genesis Generate theme, which I like a lot – it’s very clean and elegant.

  17. says

    Nicely laid-out list. Even I can see my through this! Except for the step about finding someone to partner with – Mediocre writers are a handful a dozen but the really make-an-impact ones, notsomuch. I need to find me one. Cheap. (Oh, I kill me. )

  18. says

    Thanks for taking the time to write this post. I enjoy reading this. It also has helped me brush up on a few things I had forgotten. Getting back into the “game” after two years sure had put me at the start of the line; however, this piece has cleared many things on my mind; it left me motivated to get back on the “horse.” Thank you!

  19. says

    Thanks for a useful post Sonia. At point 7 – I signed up to your mailing list (see it works !) – prodigious link building in there too.

  20. says

    Not much else that I can add that already hasn’t been said except that this is why I’ve invested in Genesis themes and Premise. You guys rock!

  21. says

    Hi Sonia,

    Great article and very valuable points especially to people who are just starting out. But I would make some edits…

    1. Don’t build on rented land. Definitely the only right start, and WordPress is usually the best option. No arguments here :)

    2. Get a nice house. When I stumble to a new site, the design is the first thing I notice. Maybe 30% of all sites send me away immediately, and about 40% will get me to read a few headlines before leaving. Why should design come before great content? You can capture leads with a single landing page if your visitors aren’t running away from you… Another reason why people will leave without looking at your content is slow loading; pay a little extra to get a host that doesn’t have 3000 other sites on the same server with your site :/ So, pay for a premium theme or spend a few months building your own (which is what I did), and get a decent host, just don’t scare people away with a website that looks to be from the 90s and takes longer to load than making a cup of coffee…

    3. Produce great content that captivates your ideal audience. That means: great headline, interesting and entertaining content, content about your core ideas (cornerstone content), worth sharing, and just overall something you’ll want to showcase for months and years to come. I wouldn’t break this into separate steps; content that isn’t worth reading won’t work as cornerstone content.

    4. Capture email. Don’t worry about your ranking on Alexa, Technorati, or even Google. Do your absolute best to get visitors to give their email to you. Sure, you can use other sales funnels and you might want to measure success with sales. But really, my advice is to optimize email capturing as soon as possible… And an email list that you don’t use, is a worthless email list; get subscribers to engage you back (and eventually to buy from you).

    5. Cast a wider net. Guest posting, interviews, personal networking… Whatever method you use, building your audience should be a priority as soon as you have something to direct that audience to.

    Sure, you can break this list into smaller steps. I just think some of them come in chunks :)

    Let me know what you think :)

    Peter Sandeen

  22. says

    Great article Sonia. If I where to add an additional point it would be as follows – however it’s really just expanding upon point 3.
    Small businesses need to allocate one individual to blog for them. Once they have set ‘guidelines’ for blogging in place they should have absolute faith in this individual and allow them to get on with it, with minimum supervision. As soon as blog entries needs approval the creative process is ruined. Blogging by committee will never work. It goes without saying that the person chosen must be the right person for the job. You would be surprised how many times I have walked into a business and found the office junior is running the blog.

    Another point would be not to write the articles with search engines in mind. You end up with a glossary of terms you want to be found for and not something that is even nearly readable. If you blog about your industry enough and blog about recent news worthy items, which people will be searching for anyway, you will be found.

  23. says

    Wow, a seriously good read, and I think Tito Phillips Jnr’s comment there has really helped hitting home the need for a premium Theme. I couldn’t agree more, I have been trying to help a guy using a site on and it is just not worth it, Have your own place is the first important thing I advise people to do.

    • says

      We’ve found the same — it’s a “basic” point, but if you don’t deal with it up front, it just creates work and problems later that you’ll have to resolve.

  24. says

    Great post on content marketing. I was drawn to:

    Point #5 – Don’t give your great content an ugly apartment
    Since I purchased a theme from StudioPress, I’ve been receiving more blog followers and writing opportunities. One client told me he liked the ‘clean’ lines and creativeness of my website. Also, my new theme fits my personality better.


    Point #8 – Create content on a larger stage
    I started guest blogging again, but this time I’m reading blog comments and speaking to blog owners before I approach them with a guest post idea. I want to make sure I’m a good fit for a blog owner’s target audience. I also believe it’s a good idea to develop a business relationships with people. Get to know them and find out how you can be of service.

    Thanks for this thorough list!

    • says

      Thanks Amandah!

      My first blog was in a *really* ugly apartment, *and* on the typepad domain, so I have traveled these troubled paths myself. 😉

  25. says

    Great stuff here.

    Identifying and engaging authoritative influencers, understanding the who, what, when, where and why your content is valuable is so important. Understanding these things 3, 6, 12 months ago and in real time will go a long way to maximize the impact of the content you distribute tomorrow.

  26. says

    Great checklist Sonia. Most importantly you’ve taken that ‘buzz word’ content is king and put it into a blog checklist. Thanks Sonia.

  27. says

    This list is a great way to motivate people and help them understand that their sites is a perfect marketing tool. However I have yet to find a good list or article to helps them see how much time and effort it takes. Most new sites I’ve dealt with tend to lose their push when they don’t get a lot of visitors after a few weeks. Anyone else tend to notice that? Got any tips?

  28. says

    I totally agree with # 1. You don’t want to waste the product of your tears, sweat and blood on a “rented land.” It surely is very painful to lose all your good works simply because it was taken down for no apparent reason at all.

  29. says

    Hi Sonia. Just a tip: it’s not Ikea, it’s IKEA. That company’s name is actually an acronym for the owner’s initials and the location of his first workshop in Sweden. Just as you wouldn’t spell it “Ibm” or “Cia”, you also don’t spell it Ikea. I love your posts. Thanks for your work. See you in the Third Tribe.


  30. says

    Hey, Sonia, this is a killer list! Point #2, and pulling existing content into cornerstone landing pages – sheesh! Have I been blind? I’ve been looking at these and reading these and loving these for AGES, yet did it occur to me to organize my content that way? No. But I have seen the light, thank you, and it’s next on my list. I already know a few groupings I can make that will make so much more sense out of my blog. Thank you!

  31. says

    Sonia, many thanks for this great list. Number #5 is something which has become clear to me of late. I updated my site layout from a standard WP theme to a custom premium theme. One of the major things that I have noticed is that there has been a massive reduction in bounce rate from 40% to less than 10% and a huge increase in average time on site. This gives me more of an opportunity to give value to my readers.

    I am still in the camp of content is king and if you have poor content no manner of marketing techniques will bring you success, but if you have great content then using solid marketing strategy will grow your audience and result in a greater number of conversions, thanks for sharing your insights.

  32. says

    Absolutely top tips – great post. Haven’t seen such a clear informative explanation prior to reading this. I’ll be favouring 1-10. All of them! look forward to your next post. Thanks again.

  33. says

    With the step to write well – and you know if there is engagement… could there be a time when there is no engagement because the audience isn’t big enough? what percentage of visitors should be engaging in some way? Thank you!

  34. says

    Hi Sonia!
    Thanks for this check list. Since reading it, I start to discover that I wasted the last 6 years of trying to build an online business totally. I have been on the right track at first with a content managing system/ community that teaches you ultimately the same as you write about here. Only, your approach tells people in a few words clearly what to do and when to advance to the next step. Very often I am prone to “saddle up the horse from the wrong end”, meaning you would need first traffic, done by on and off page seo in order to rank high enough to get those essential click through-s. Obviously, I have been mislead or confused for a good few years now. So thanks for the clarification :)

  35. says

    I think, on top of those tips, the most important thing is to write articles that are worth reading and worth sharing. And this has been the biggest obstacle that i am still facing until now. Your words “You don’t decide. Readers decide.” really slaps me in the face. All along, i think i always focus on writing articles that are worth reading for me, not my readers. But thanks to your awesome tip, now i realize that i’ve done so many mistakes in the past.

    Thanks Sonia for your great post.

  36. says

    I have started investing my time in content marketing from the past 2 years and the benefits have been significant to say the least. Although I am still learning new techniques, I have managed to build a huge repository of quality content that I can use and re-use. In fact, I now find myself focusing entirely on content creation and distribution to promote my business and have almost completely put SEO on the backseat.

  37. says

    Hi Sonia, appreciate this useful checklist.

    Similar to the advice given on building your email list early, I am of the opinion that it is also important to build your distribution channels early, especially social media. Of course, we do not need to keep promoting our earlier articles incessantly through social media, but I think you can start early by curating articles, and engaging in conversations with your targeted audiences. Similar to an email list, it takes time to build an engaged community on social media as well.

    A caveat though: I don’t recommend anyone to prioritise social media on top of any other steps you mentioned in the checklist.

    Please correct me if I’m mistaken about it, thank you!

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