The Five Simple Steps to Awesome Content Development

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Written by Digital Surgeons,
• 11 min read

“content, Content, CONTENT. MORE CONTENT, BETTER CONTENT. NEED CONTENT.” -Marketing Stakeholder

Yes, that’s a direct quote.  

While it’s been 20 years since Mr. Gates declared it king, the confluence of shrinking attention spans, banner blindness, and consumer-controlled social media have made content more valuable, and discussed, than ever.

Inbound marketers dream about evergreen long form articles, viral infographics, and shareable video, but in reality, just 38% percent of B2C marketers and 30% of B2B marketers find content marketing effective.

Providing valuable information to consumers in order to build brand affinity and increase the likelihood of a future purchase is hardly a new marketing device, so why are us marketers struggling so mightily at crafting killer content?

I’ll posit that part of the problem in many organizations is the lack of a standardized framework that breaks content development into clearly defined stages of completion. Ad-hoc content development will always miss integral components required for content to be effective to the bottom-line of a marketing budget.

If you create an awesome podcast, but no one in your target audience hears it, did it really make a sound?

These are five simple steps that I’ve found incredibly useful in codifying content development for both our B2B and B2C clients at Digital Surgeons, and for my personal and firm-wide thought leadership.  

1) Planning

Your organization is all-in on content, but you’re staring at a blank editorial calendar. The first step is to develop a plan that includes what you are going to create, when you are going to create it, and where it’s going to live. But most importantly the plan needs to have a firm, established why for each of these questions.

Too often brands play “follow-the-leader” and blindly follow the competition to determine the concepts, mediums, and platforms of their content strategy.    

Tools like Google Trends and Buzzsumo are often cited as solutions that allow B2C content marketers to discover culturally relevant trends and capitalize on what’s hot. While I use and value both, I caution that an over-reliance of these tools leads to even more “me-too” marketing and causes brands to hop on trends once they are over-saturated and no longer really trends.

Think of it like an earthquake. Your brand needs to pick up on cultural trends when the slightest amplitude shows up on a richter scale and ride the wave. Don't announce an earthquake is happening once everything has shaken off the walls and the dog has wedged himself under your bed.

For B2B brands, timeliness is largely measured by your ability to match content to the timing of industry-specific conferences, events, and seasonal objectives.

Marketing a retail product? In the 4th quarter your content better help your audience hit their holiday sales numbers.  

But this brings me to a larger point, timeliness does not automatically equate to value.  

Trends will come and go, 2014 was the year of the Buzzfeed-esque “listicle” and in 2015 there was some audience push back toward long-form articles.   

For me, it’s less about becoming an evangelist to one form, more about understanding your audience to create content that provides entertainment, value, and utility.  

If the research that informs your planning process doesn’t include a thorough investigation of what your audience cares about, the platforms they will be on, and what medium best appeals to them, you’ve lost the battle for winning content before it began. It will never be authentic, organic, or serve the customer or business — it will never be good content.    

2) Production

Time to create the content.  

While the familiar image of a literary icon pounding away at a typewriter in pursuit of the truth is romantic, this solitary Hemingway-esque archetype should have little to do with modern web content creation.   

Sure there are always going to be times when writers need to put their heads down and churn out words, but content creation needs to be a team sport.  

Just look at some of the fantastic web storytelling the New York Times produced last year for evidence of the power of collaboration. Ten Years After Katrina combines words, videos, rich-audio, and data visualizations to draw the reader into the neighborhoods of a city recovered, but never the same. Dear Architects: Sound Matters tells its story almost entirely with sound to compare and contrast the sonic landscape of some of New York’s most famous buildings with those of a library or office.

Today’s browsers support an incredible array of multimedia, to limit content to 600 word blog posts is to miss the chance to design interactive content experiences consumers will never want to block.

These fantastic stories are born from writers pairing with designers, analytics, animators, developers, photographers, and videographers. Stories are best told through conversation, best achieved when people of different backgrounds pair their creativity and reinvent how we consume the web.

To level up your content production:

I recommend a “content salon” that functions like a newsroom.

The type of content you are creating will determine the multimedia skills required (video, audio), very rarely can one person do it all. Irrespective of the media, certain skills are an absolute must:  

Visual Design – At the end of the day, someone will always need to create compelling visuals. Images cause engagement metrics to skyrocket across all social platforms  Looking for stock resources? Try Awesome Stock Resources for a useful round-up. But whenever possible, aim for tailored, relevant designs that will leave a lasting impression for the user. When designing for context, empathy is so powerful. If a user is on the go, craft imagery that addresses or alleviates their painpoint. The more the visuals can speak to the content and says “you get me” the higher the chance for meaningful engagement.

Writing – Never underestimate the power of great writing. Hire journalists and creative writers who can extract the essence from your product and customer teams and convey it in a clear, powerful manner. Well-written content will amplify the relevance it has to your target audience. If someone searching for late-night food delivery comes across copy that makes their taste buds salivate, the moment of want instantly becomes a moment of need and you heavily increase the chance that the moment of discovery becomes one of new customer acquisition.

Analytics – If the devil is in the details, the key to capturing desire is within the data. Don’t have a sophisticated analytics and social listening team or platform? Scrape the reviews of both you and your competitors on social media and review aggregation sites to identify consumer pain points and immediately start creating content that provides solutions for those pains. Addressing common brand questions or misunderstandings with your content will immediately increase its value.

3) Coordination

Coordination isn’t the sexiest step of the process, but it is absolutely necessary. Without proper coordination, it’s easy to let an infographic, article, video,  or podcast slip through the cracks.  

A comprehensive marketing system like Percolate will manage your content from end to end, allowing for seamless team collaboration, scheduling, and distribution.

For a more affordable alternative, I highly recommend Trello. Trello is an e- kanban of sorts that you can use to visualize the workflow for every piece of created content, plus it can be used as an editorial calendar.

I’ll break down a thought leadership editorial board to demonstrate just how Trello can be used to coordinate content development. Being this board is only for guest article creation, it is relatively simple, but the tool can scale to be used across organizations for more collaborative content campaigns.   

In the first column, cards denote article ideas. Within each card, I can comment, add links, include attachments, and set due dates. When I want to collaborate with anyone else, I merely add them to the card and they will have everything they need to work with.  

Once I've decided to move forward with an article, the card is moved into the queue, then into writing once I begin crunching the keyboard.  

This is where trello gets really useful. In the columns below you can see how the workflow progresses and it becomes very easy to track whether an article is being edited, is ready to be pitched, pitched to a third-party and awaiting feedback, or has been accepted and scheduled. Once again, if I need to tag anyone on my team for feedback, edits, or design, I merely add them to the card.   

Once an article is accepted, it goes to design for any necessary header images, inline graphics, infographics. Once the design work has been completed, it gets built into our CMS to post excerpts and images on our owned media and link to the third party. Once it goes live, the card is moved into another column to denote it’s time for social listening.  

It may seem simple, but it's a lifesaver for status checks. To be effective, content must be a part of a continuous output. Trello allows me to juggle what feels like dozens of articles at once through different stages of their lifecycle.

Most importantly, Trello boards allow anyone else working on content to jump in and out at any point and provide assistance — once again, content creation is a team sport.    

4) Promotion

More content is created than ever, don’t let yours get lost in the deluge of content marketing about content marketing.

Smart promotion boils down to utilizing the right mix of channels to stimulate reach, depth, and relationship across all your communications channels.

Content discovery platforms like Outbrain may heighten your content’s visibility across the web, but I challenge marketers to think past paid promotion.

No one wants their hard work to be displayed as clickbait absent of contextual relevance. Bottom of the page recommendations feel like a scam, and are subject to much of the same “banner blindness” that led you to move part of your budget to inbound marketing in the first place.

Instead, focus on building communities around your content and engage with everyone that engages with it — they have spent their time with your content when there are billions of other multimedia they could have checked out, acknowledge and validate their interaction.

Time spent community building will more than pay off when you have a pre-built audience eager to consume what you publish.  

5) Optimization

Marketing is all about continuous improvement, and content is no exception.

You’ve invested the time and resources to plan, produce, coordinate, and promote your content — now it’s time to figure out what worked, and more importantly didn’t.  

To optimize your content marketing strategy, determine important KPIs and track repeatable metrics for each and every piece of content to measure your success at meeting these KPIs.  

Based on your brand or business, consumption, sharing, or sales metrics may be weighted differently but each are critical parts of your overall content success.  

Google Analytics remains the industry standard for gathering and tracking web-based analytics related to consumption. To determine who is sharing your content, I recommend Buzzsumo.  Sales metrics can be derived from your CRM.    

It’s absolutely imperative that you understand the type of content that works best for you, determine answers to these questions (and many more):

  • What types of content work best for me and on what platforms?
  • What word count causes content to perform best?
  • Do visual articles or how-to articles create more leads?
  • Are those sharing my content in my target audience?
  • What domains drive the best traffic to my content?
  • Who are the influencers consuming my content?

Breaking content development into these 5 simple steps has been valuable for ramping up my content creation, let me know @jaytrose how you create your content!