89% of startups use content marketing.
And there are plenty of reasons for it. It can be highly efficient and cost-effective if done right. If your content is engaging, it can continue to do well over time: It’s the gift that keeps on giving. On the flipside, creating content is time-consuming. Running ads is relatively quick in comparison. In fact, 71% of startups that don’t do content marketing cites lack of time as the reason.
Does that sound familiar?
If so, no worries. The process of content creation involves several elements and actors, and aligning them all can be tricky at times. But there’s hope. Polishing your content workflow can elevate your content game to the next level. And it doesn’t have to be rocket science.
But first things first, let’s define the basics of a content workflow.
What Is a Content Workflow
The content workflow is the process from generating content ideas to publishing editorial material. Following that are the steps of promoting and maintaining your content. These steps are crucial — no doubt — but they are outside of the scope of this post. This piece will focus on the steps leading up to promotion.
While the structure of a content creation workflow will differ from organization to organization, there are some common elements. Here’s a basic idea of what it can look like:
Brainstorming > Assigning > Writing > Editing/Designing > Posting
Let’s break it down into each element:
Table of Contents
First, you need to figure out what you’re going to write about. Typically, you should consider two main aspects here.
- First, does the content resonate with your target audience?
- Second, are there SEO opportunities to be seized?
This is a process in itself that we can’t cover here, but Brian Dean of Backlinko has put together an amazing guide on keyword research here.
Once you’ve got your main topics locked in, you want to build pillars around them. That means creating elaborate core pieces of content first. These are in-depth posts that go over the topic to capture top-of-the-funnel traffic. From thereon, you can build and satellite content around it that covers more specific subtopics. Say that your core content covers “omega 3”, and the satellite content might include things like “best omega 3 supplements” and “omega 3 research”.
Next, you want to put all of this in an editorial calendar. It’s important to keep flexible, but try to get a calendar ready for the coming two-three months.
Next up, it’s time to assign your work to one of your writers. Don’t simply tell them to churn out 2,000 words on a topic, but provide them with a structure. Outline the key points the article should cover, including keywords, target audience, and tone of voice.
Now it’s in the writers hands to work their magic. A solid content brief should make this process smooth for the writer as well as yourself, requiring minimal revisions. Of course, if the writer has some input on the structure — hear them out. Oftentimes, they could have input that elevates the piece. After all — they’re the pros.
If the piece is very in-depth, it might be useful to check in after half the time to make sure it’s on the right track. That way, you will minimize the amount of revisions.
Here’s where good is turned to great. While the writer should do the first round of editing themselves, in the final edits is where you truly summon David from marble. Apps like Hemingway can help you refine the content, and ensure it’s not too difficult to read.
This is also the stage where you should design your piece. Stock-photo content can work great. But what truly elevates it, is custom graphics. This will help improve the reader experience as well as SEO in the long run.
Finally, it’s time to publish. If you’re using a content management system, this should be easy and not require any developers. This task often falls on an editor or Content Manager.
How to Optimize Your Workflow
Okay, so you understand the basic elements of a content workflow. And maybe you already have something similar in place. If so — great. But even if you do, it can in all likelihood be optimized further.
So where do you start? You start by auditing your existing process.
What’s working and what isn’t? It might seem overwhelming to break down the content workflow, but by answering these questions you’re off to a great start:
- Is the workflow and deadlines clearly defined? If so, are they honored?
- Are the roles clearly defined?
- Are the team members able to keep up with the workload?
- Is there a way to get a clear overview of how the progress? E.g. a Kanban board.
If the answer is “no”, or “maybe” to any of these — start there. Especially the last one can be tremendously useful for project management. It doesn’t have to be fancy either — it could be a simple spreadsheet converted into a board.
2. Define team roles
If you don’t have this locked down yet, this is the first thing you have to do. And even if you’ve got things pretty much set up, ensure you leave zero room for ambiguity. When every person knows what they’re supposed to do and when, that’s when things run smoothly. Have weekly or monthly content meetings to ensure this is crystal clear.
3. Write SOPs
SOPs, or standard operating procedure documents, are crucial for scaling processes. Once you’ve got your process down, write down the steps:
Brainstorming > Assigning > Writing > Editing/Designing > Posting
Who’s in charge of idea generation, and how is it done? Who assigns tasks, designs, and edits? Get all this down on paper and make sure the process is followed to create a smooth flow.
4. Honor deadlines
Let the updated process flow for a few weeks or a month. Then you can see where the bottlenecks are. Most of all — see if deadlines are met. If not, why? Is it because of sluggish writers or because of flaws in the process? Can employees keep up with the workload? Get these things defined, and then do what you can to iron it out. It can’t be flawless every time, but it can be pretty darn good.
5. Monitor and optimize
Okay, so: You’ve got a working system down. Awesome. But a content workflow isn’t a set-it-up-and-leave-it kind of thing. It requires continuous monitoring and optimization. Evaluate your content creation process on a bi-weekly or monthly basis to get a feel of what’s working and what’s not. Also keep an eye out for opportunities to streamline the process. Over time, this should make your content workflow increasingly streamlined.
Content Workflow Checklist
Once you’ve done the above it’s time to get your checklist. It’s a simple checklist, but very efficient. Get through it, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a content monster.
- Have you defined your topics for at least two-three months ahead?
- Have you assigned clear team roles for each part of the workflow?
- Are your team members able to meet the workload?
- Have you set clear deadlines for each step in the workflow?
- Have you written SOPs that define each workflow step and associated roles?
- Have you created a system to keep track of the entire workflow?
- Have you assigned a manager responsible for overseeing and optimizing the process?
- Have you set regular meetings to evaluate the workflow’s efficiency?
Once you have answered “yes” to all these questions, it’s time to flip the switch and let it run.
Creating content on a regular basis might seem like a hassle. But it doesn’t require a very complex system. Simply follow the outline detailed above, and you are better off than the vast majority of content producers out there. Over time, you will polish it and soon you’ll have an unstoppable content-machine.