If you work with a team of content writers, you know that the going isn’t always easy. Project timelines shrink, priorities shift, and writers go rogue – sometimes all in the course of a day. Any way to save time and set your content creation process to set-it-and-forget-it mode is a godsend to a content marketer.
But there are tons of SEO tools and techniques out there, not all of which are going to be useful to your situation. Whether you’re an enterprise content marketer, freelancer, or agency, there are just four things to remember when thinking about how to streamline your content creation process:
In this post, we’ll dig in and give you specific examples of how to use each of these techniques in your process, no matter the size of your team. Let’s do this:
Of course, the most logical way to streamline any process is to stay organized. You need to know what happens when, and who does what if you want to stay on schedule and hold everyone accountable. Here are some tips on how to organize your workflow, as well as your staff of content writers:
If you’re new to managing a volume of content, you’ll soon realize that having an established workflow is essential. If you’re old hat, we’ve still got some tips for you on how to improve the efficiency and efficacy of an existing content creation process.
Generally, this is what your content workflow will look like:
Assigning > Writing > Quality Control > Posting > Promotion > Maintenance
Let's dig in a little deeper with some details on who should carry out each task, and how.
Assigning and Strategizing
The person typically in charge of deciding what to write and assigning posts to writers will have the title of content strategist, editor, or manager. It’s this person’s job to devise an overall content strategy, and see to it that the plan is executed.
At this stage, you’ll want to first decide your site’s focus topics, and build pillar pages around them. Pillar pages are broad, deep posts that cover a topic comprehensively and aim to answer as many top-of-the-funnel questions as possible. If you don’t have pillar pages for your core topics, these should be the first you assign.
Once you have your pillars in place, you’ll need to create supporting pages that act as middle-of-the-funnel resources for your readers. For instance, if you have a pillar page on “accounting software,” you might have supporting pages on how to prepare your business for tax season or conducting an internal audit.
It might seem obvious, but an editorial content calendar is a big time-saver. It eliminates the guesswork for your writers when moving on to the next post, and allows you to plan creative, social, and any other promotion ahead of time. If you need some help planning your editorial calendar, check out our guide.
Pro tip: The key to conceiving great supporting content ideas is to read your existing pages and ask yourself what else a reader might want to know; what other angles can be taken. You can fast-track this using MarketMuse, which will provide data-based recommendations for related topics to cover.
Next, don’t just tell your writer you need a 2,000-word post on accounting software. Instead, create a content brief that lays out all the details. Read our post titled Building a Better Content Brief to learn how to write a document that ensures predictable, high-quality results from your creative team.
When you send a content brief to your writer, she or he should have pretty much everything they need to know to create a killer piece of content – if you’ve done your job right.
Make sure you’re giving your writer enough time to execute on the brief, taking into consideration that a well-written pillar piece may not get done in a day. Be clear about deadlines, and ask whether the time given will be sufficient. A tight deadline might cause your writer to rush the job, while giving too much time could cause the project to fall through the cracks.
If your writers are working on very in-depth pieces, you can schedule a check-in or two during the writing process to talk about direction and ensure everything is on track. If you’re a more hands-off manager, they should do just fine with a great brief.
Pro tip: When your writers use MarketMuse as they write, in addition to content briefs, they’ll be empowered to dig deeper into topics without guessing. Talented writers armed with the ability to analyze related topics in addition to the main topic is how you get 10X content.
Even the best writers need editors, so be sure there is a designated person doing quality control before you publish or send content to clients. If you don’t have an editor on staff or someone who can review your content consistently, consider outsourcing the job to a freelance editor or agency.
Apps like Grammarly can be useful at catching typos and grammatical errors, but they aren’t going to catch the more subjective or hidden stuff – like clichés, factual inaccuracies, poor flow, confusing logic, and off-brand verbiage.
You can also use MarketMuse to gauge the depth and breadth of topic coverage, which is useful and time saving. Again, though, you’ll need human eyes on this stuff until or unless you have writers whom are very trusted.
Using both Grammarly and MarketMuse together can make editing much easier for content managers or other staffers with busy schedules.
Pro tip: If you have multiple writers on staff, they can do quality control on each others’ work. Writers often make great editors, and your team can learn a lot by reviewing posts written by peers.
This can fall on the strategist, writer, editor, or designer. If each post needs custom graphics and a certain layout, it may make sense for a designer to handle the task. Otherwise, it’s common for writers to post their own work into a content management system.
The person posting your content should know:
- What type of imagery to use
- How many images to use and how to name/tag them
- General tags and categories
- How to use H1 and H2 tags
- Linking preferences (open in a new window? no follow?)
- Whether to embed media
- CTAs to add
- Anything else important to you
Having clear guidelines on posting will ensure nothing is overlooked in this crucial yet often hastily executed stage. Once the post is up, it should go through another round of quality control.
Pro tip: Checklists ensure you don’t miss anything when carrying out tasks like posting, so make these types of resources easily accessible for your whole staff.
Once your post is up, you’ll need to draw in visitors. You can promote your content on social networks, via email, with ads, or by getting it featured on third-party websites or newsletters. People who are social and well-connected will naturally gravitate toward this task, often a social media strategist, marketing manager, or public relations specialist.
However you promote your content, make sure it’s effective by using tracking codes so you can see how many visitors and leads each channel is bringing in. This is a key step in promoting your content because it helps you maximize the potential of each platform, and see where the effort just isn’t worth it.
Pro tip: A/B testing with Facebook ads can help you determine your most effective messaging and imagery, not to mention the platform’s unrivaled targeting capabilities let you reach super niche audiences. Take advantage of all Facebook ads offer.
After the glow from a post dies down, it’s common to move on to the next. But it’s important that you maintain and update your entire content inventory because if you don’t, you’re not maximizing the value of that post.
The beauty of content is that it lives on and can continue to bring in visitors for years to come, but the chances of that happening dwindle if you let content get stale.
Plan to review your content on a quarterly basis to ensure all the facts and stats are up to date, and that it’s truly the best, most comprehensive piece of content it can be. Chances are, there will always be room to improve.
Pro tip: This task is an easy one to forget, so be proactive and carve out an entire day in your calendar at the beginning or end of each quarter to complete this. Allow yourself to take a day off from meetings and calls to focus on content – you might actually look forward to it.
Even with a fail-safe content creation workflow, you may run into issues. Next, we’ll talk about how to ensure your writers have everything they need to succeed.
Managing Your Writers
If you have a team of writers, it’s important to have an organizational structure so everyone is clear about their responsibilities and the chain of command. Otherwise, you’ll find that working with creative types is – excuse the cliché – like herding cats. Even if your team is mostly freelancers, they should know to whom they report, as well as the requirements expected of them.
Additionally, you should create process documents that can be used to guide your whole content marketing team:
- SOPs for content creation
- Style guides
- Checklists for curating content
- Training documents or video recordings
Providing comprehensive resources helps your team produce better content and alleviates the time you would spend time looking over their shoulders. Even better—it decreases the time you would spend editing (or requesting changes to) first drafts.
Additionally, platforms like HubSpot keep all your entire digital marketing efforts – including content calendar, email, social media, reporting, and a highly capable CRM – in one place, which makes organization as easy as possible. It also helps all departments see what’s going on, requiring less back-and-forth among your team and better collaboration.
We’re big advocates of HubSpot, but if you’re not quite ready to make the transition and still need a project management platform, Trello is a great option. Subscription options range from Free to Enterprise, so it works for everyone from freelancers to content managers with large teams.
This is probably the most over-used word in digital marketing today, so what do we mean by “optimize?”
Simply, it entails analyzing your content or process, identifying ways to improve it, and implementing those changes. It’s not a one-and-done task – optimization is something you do continually to make your content marketing strategy efficient and high performing, because you have a lot to learn from your past efforts.
Optimize for your focus topic
Your blog shouldn’t be a scattershot of topics, nor should it be monotonous. Decide what your primary focus topics are, then create pillar pages for each of them. Each smaller post you write should relate to (and link to) one of these pillar pages. This is called topic clustering, and the strategy is known to garner SEO results in this post-Hummingbird world.
But it’s not just another strategy to shoehorn into your current plan, because thinking about your content in terms of topic clusters should help you stay organized and on track in your creation process. For instance, you might write supporting content for your main pillar piece four times per month, and your secondary pillars two times per month. This ensures that each topic is getting its appropriate coverage, signaling to Google that you are an authority in your targeted areas.
If you have a lot of old content that doesn’t neatly fit into one of your current topic clusters, never fear. MarketMuse’s Content Optimizer easily points to subjects related to your focus topic that you need to add or elaborate on in your content to be seen as an authority by search engines. Just enter your focus topic and URL, hit “Analyze,” and get all the data you need to update that post.
Optimizing your content for topical authority, as opposed to keywords, is a more intuitive and logical approach because it makes you focus on what your audience wants to know, which is an easier code to crack than determining how search engines weigh different keywords.
Optimize your process
Optimizing your content is easy with the right tools, but there isn’t any software out there to help you optimize your process. There are, however, metrics that you can keep track of to help you determine:
- How much time it should take to create content, whether a blog post, graphic, or video
- What resources are generally required to create and promote your content
- Where time is being wasted (flaky writer? inefficient process steps? ineffective channels?)
- When is the best time to distribute content or send emails
- Why certain content ranks, while other content does not
- Who is your audience
Time-tracking apps, such as Harvest or Toggl, can give you an idea of how long each piece of content takes to create, from writing to distribution, and can also tell you how many team members worked on that blog, graphic, or video. These apps can also key you into any people or processes that tend to create a bottleneck, but it’s helpful to communicate with your staff to determine this. Their input is invaluable when streamlining your process, so be sure to ask them regularly if anything is holding them up.
Experimenting with things like email send time, time of content distribution, and channels and recording all of your data gives you great insight to optimize all of these areas. A/B testing is also a great way to determine your optimal timing and distribution, as well as most popular topics. To find your best audience, Facebook’s A/B testing capabilities are (currently) unmatched.
What is technology for, if not to save us time? Use your human resources wisely, and automate the rest using platforms that turn daily to-do’s into literal no-brainers.
We’re going to plug HubSpot once again for this, because the platform allows you to schedule your blog content, social media posts, and emails, so you can set up weeks’ or even months’ worth of content in one sitting. (Caveat: Set an alert or reminder when a post is about to go live. This gives you time to review any content that may have become outdated or inappropriate since you first uploaded it.)
Automation is especially helpful when curating social media posts, and programs like Sprout Social were developed specifically for this task. For instance, if your business wants to jump on the #tbt (#ThrowBackThursday) trend, you can find and curate several posts in advance and then throw them in the queue.
Time-saving strategies like these help you capitalize on efforts by finding content weeks in advance rather than a day at a time. Just be sure to (forgive the rhyme) review your queue.
Bulk your tasks
While not technically automation, you can take a cue from these programs and take care of your content tasks in bulk.
For example, you’ve decided that part of your content strategy involves highlighting individual employees every month. For each piece, you snap high-quality photos of the employees and then have a short interview with them. Instead of snapping one employee’s photo and then packing up until next month, you send out an email in advance asking several employees to sit for their photo shoots. Between poses, you ask them questions and record their responses, transcribing them later. Months down the road, your employee profiles are ready to deploy with minimal polishing.
Likewise, take a look at the editorial calendar when composing content to see when similar topics are scheduled. If the research you do for the current topic could serve both, there’s no need to duplicate your efforts. Bookmark the research and key takeaways that you need for that future piece and save yourself a few steps in the writing process.
You can take this approach with any content that you plan to produce as a series - webinars, infographics, client spotlights, product features, etc. Producing your content in bulk gives you a bank of material to draw from, letting you focus on more complex projects.
Your writers won’t be hurt if you reach for a little outside help. In fact, they may even appreciate the outside perspective that comes from hosting guest content, writing interview-based posts, and leveraging user-generated content.
With the experts
Incorporating expert guest blog posts into the calendar is another way to generate content without having to create it yourself. Reach out to subject matter experts in the industry and ask them to share their unique perspective with your audience. Many influencers are willing to do this because it promotes cross-pollination—meaning, it has the potential to expand both yours and the influencer’s audiences by reaching both at the same time.
Make sure that any subject matter expert or guest contributor is scheduled far in advance, just in case unexpected circumstances cause them to miss the deadline. Also, always have a few backup items ready for publication.
If you can’t get an expert to write a post (which will probably be common) you can ask them if they’ll participate in a Q&A with someone on your team. This can be quickly transcribed into a blog post, or recorded and turned into a video or podcast. Minimal effort on both ends and a killer piece of content? Can’t lose.
If your site or business is highly visual, you could score some great user-generated content. Thanks to Instagram, everyone is a photographer these days, and sometimes simply offering exposure is enough to attract aspiring visual artists. For example, you could ask that your customers submit photos on social media (“Show us your cute pet!”) and then share a few of the funniest ones. This gives you easily sourced content, but the bigger benefit is user engagement.
You could also pre-source material for your written content by requesting that readers email you their questions, which you’ll then explain in an upcoming post or article. Be careful with this strategy, though. If you request that customers submit written content, such as essays, for example, you could become mired in the act of reading submissions and looking for the right one. Similarly, any kind of content that requires editing or further work before publication should be avoided if you’re short on time.
When thinking about ways to develop and improve your content creation process and workflow, try not to overthink it. All of the techniques discussed here are intuitive and adaptable, so just remember to organize, optimize, automate, and collaborate to save you time without giving up quality.
Data-based content outlines are one surefire way to help your team create high-performing content. Our machine learning software automates specific recommendations that remove the guesswork and provide your writers with a head-start on content creation. You can find more details on how to do this by reading our case study on how we helped Neil Patel double his traffic and rankings: