To be able to execute on a really well thought out content strategy you're going to need help. Help from writers, a content marketer, or an editor. There's no shortage of any, but there is a shortage of great talent who can really help you grow.
In 2015 companies spent an estimated $145 billion on content marketing alone. That spend is estimated to reach $313 billion by 2019, the boom is in full swing.
With that boom comes entire armies of people looking to get a piece of the action- copywriters, content creators, content marketers, social media managers, engagement experts, CROs, SMOs, SEOs...the list is endless.
So it's crucial to create a framework for hiring team members and freelancers who can hit the ground running, or be developed into rock-star talent.
Without a clear plan that you can develop overtime you'll lose sight of your goals, and become frustrated- frustration breeds failure.
Develop a publishing sweet spot
Thankfully your business sells a product or service, and is not an actual media company. This means you're free to focus on creating a system that develops high-value content, and not fill an endless calendar.
There is no benefit to publishing more than 2-5 times per week, according to Hubspot (the publicly traded in bound marketing and sales platform). So don't feel pressure to churn out a ton of content of questionable quality, just focus on what you can excel at.
Where brands can really do well is by finding a publishing sweet spot, this will allow you to condense all of the content opportunities into a handful of powerful articles every 30 days.
Hubspot claims the sweet spot for publishing content is about 20 times per month. That number can vary depending on your niche, budget, and bandwidth. At the end of the day only about 20% of your content will produce any real results, so by focusing more on quality you can increase the efficacy of that top 20%, and still get great results from the relatively poor performing remaining 80%.
Most small companies can easily focus on quality by publishing 10-15 times per month. Now all you need is a rock-star team to help get it done.
Through all the conversations I’ve had with incredibly capable marketers and entrepreneurs they all struggle with the same issue- talent. While they can easily work to learn more about their customers and test to find high converting channels, they can’t get a grip on the human element- the qualitative strength of their editorial team.
The struggle is indicative of the larger issues surrounding content marketing:
1) Talent glut- mainly how to identify the right writing talent, who can do more than just write.
2) Low cost of talent- marketers understand the value of a well executed content strategy, yet some writers are willing to write for very little. The mismatch can create a lot of confusion for marketers and writing talent.
3) Frustration- after realizing you get what you pay for. "Should you have paid more or less?"
Across the board stakeholders feel like they’re not getting the most out of their content marketing- something they’ve been told is a cheap and easy and way to grow their business.
Remember, cheap is a relative term- if you’re not paying for top quality content then you’re going to waste time getting it to do anything for your key performance indicator (KPI) metrics. If you pay for top quality content and you don’t have clear guidelines, a mission, and funnel to capture the inbound traffic, then you won’t be able to quantify the results that you're investing to see.
With a great content team in place you can easily leverage the tactics outlined in the following sections to generate real value for your next customers before they've even opened their wallets.
Defining a Content Strategy
One crucial step that companies often miss when first starting, or restarting, their content marketing initiatives is taking a look at the big picture. Most know that they need to produce some content, but they don’t think long and hard about the desired end result, nor do they back-track to see how many moving pieces they need to keep track of.
In that way, the content strategy serves as the buffer between your company and your audience. It’s also the lens that you want your future customers to see you through, and discuss the problems you solve. From there it becomes very easy to define a voice, without losing focus of what matters- leveraging awareness to drive conversions down the funnel.
With that in mind you can create transparency for the entire team, allow for more fluid collaboration, and streamline the project management aspect of content marketing.
In the appendix is a content strategy template that I've used for clients and personal projects. Feel free to copy it. But before doing that take a look at what each section of the content strategy should accomplish.
Editorial mission statement
This is where you define the ultimate goal of your content channels. This part isn’t about making money or conversions. It’s about creating great content for your niche, and supporting the larger goals that your company might have.
Defining a voice
What will your blog posts, videos, and white papers sound like? How will you breathe life and give a personality to the words, and images you create?
Content creation & editorial process
At a high level your content creation & editorial process should look like this:
Like other parts in this document the content creation and editorial process can be a moving target. As you develop more content a sense of what works, and what doesn't will become an integral part of your editorial process. You'll become more efficient, and consistent at creating narratives for your audience to follow.
Even if not crystal clear, your editorial process should work to execute the following:
1) A focus on quality, and a unique angle driven by tangible results
- Use target SEO keywords to help drive initial content creation.
- Create a great title around that keyword.
- Use high quality, engaging images
- Be controversial- support opinions with data and expert opinions.
- Be funny, engaging, witty, and tasteful.
- Tell a better story- attach dry topics to human interest stories
2) Create a pool of story ideas
- Use Trello to track content from ideation through to distribution.
- Ask writers to pitch ideas and keep the pool full. Combine these ideas with other popular stories, the content needs of your audience, and your SEO strategy.
3) Create a calendar
- Include important dates, seasonal, monthly or weekly trends and create content accordingly.
4) Create a list of niche experts, and influencers- these should be people who you can easily reach out to for comment, and can help distribute content.
- Once you’ve built an effective list, create some content ideas just for them.
5) Create content that features other people- these can be sites, apps, companies, or individuals in your niche. Reach out and ask them to link to it, or share via social media.
Developing a Style-Guide for Content Marketing
This is arguably the toughest part to nail down mostly because style and taste are subjective. So much so that there are entire books dedicated to helping you define your own. Included in this book is E.B White’s classic “Elements of Style” as well as deck featuring Groupon’s style guide.
While Groupon's growth story is questionable, they absolutely nailed copywriting as a business. There is no doubt that they knew how to sell via email, social, and their website. Don’t reinvent the wheel, read the "Elements of Style" and Groupon's style guide and copy them shamelessly.
Develop Content Silos
Content silos are all the different types of content you will publish. These can be blog posts, guest posts, videos, and pod-casts. Typically these fulfill a generic need of your audience, and can be attached to a specific set of keywords that you're looking to rank for. Another method is to divide them by channel, or by the customer phase, and attach those to specific keywords.
I like to divide my content up by channel. This helps me think more about how the content will be consumed by users of these platforms.
Search: SEO focused content- high utility- Listicles and How To's
Twitter, Facebook, & Forums: Data driven & research intensive pieces
· Deep dives
Pinterest & Instagram (sometimes Facebook): Lifestyle & entrepreneurship- aspirational/inspirational
Facebook: Human interest
Other blogs and publications: Guest posts/freebies- content geared especially towards an individual or organization who can help distribute content in exchange for links, clout, or karma.
Simply put, this is how you’ll get eyeballs on your content. Think about all the possible channels where your content can be distributed.
- Social Media
- Outreach and link building
- Content Partnerships & Guest Posting
- Publishing Apps- Medium, Flipboard etc.
- Paid Content Distribution
- Paid Demand Generation
Metrics for Success
This is essentially the three types of engagement addressed in part 3, but specific to your brand and marketing specific KPIs. For example you may not see the upside in a Facebook share, but many of your potential customers do use Facebook on a daily basis. You'll need to establish what this type of engagement is worth so that you can properly evaluate performance.
This is also where you will begin to define how to move customers into your funnel.
Use services like Buzzsumo, Google Trends, and Moz Content to get a sense of what’s worked for others in your space. Take some time to figure out whether you can add value by emulating this content, if not brainstorm some alternatives that play on the same underlying themes. Do these underlying themes fulfill the content needs of your audience? If so, then you probably have a hit on your hands.
Use sites like Ahrefs, and Majestic SEO to get a sense of where your competitors are getting their back-links from, how much traffic they’re generating from search, etc.
Breaking your audience down is tough especially if you’re just starting out. But if you have some information about existing customers you can back that out into some generic assumptions about their age, life-stage etc. If you don’t you can still make some basic assumptions based on what you know about the space.
This might seem like a thought exercise, but unlike most strategies you can tweak this as you learn more about your customers. As you produce more content you'll be able to better segment your audience, and develop better content for each of your content silos. Like other things in your business, the more data you throw at audience segmentation the smarter it will become.
Driving engagement on other channels that don’t lead directly back to your product or blog
Things like quizzes and user generated content are fantastic ways to get to know your audience better. Since it usually takes place on a social media platform, app, or another site you aren’t really asking them to step out of their comfort zone. The data you collect here can help you refine your content strategy, or even push these users into your direct marketing funnel.
This indirect path can lead to many insights you otherwise wouldn’t have, so don’t dismiss it because of the upfront costs, or because it doesn’t create a linear path to the forms of engagement listed in part 3.
Building your content team
As the saying goes your business is only as good as the people who work in it. Same goes for content- inspiring content starts with hiring people you believe in. Follow these steps to help you zero in on your ideal hires for all the roles on your team.
1) Do not hire anyone from a traditional media background without getting a real sense of how much they know about voice, social media, conversion, SEO, and engagement. At your typical media company there are entire teams dedicated to these various functions- lean content marketing teams can't afford such luxuries.
Another important quality to look for is the work ethic, and ego. The last thing you need is a yes man/woman. You need someone who is going to think creatively, and objectively about creating the kind of content that moves readers, and not something to fill an empty slot in your publishing calendar.
You’re also looking for the kind of person who will do the work required because they’re curious, and self-motivated. If you can smell the ego and bullshit through the phone, then pass.
2) Try to avoid hiring anyone who will write for less $50-75 per post. It’s better to save your money, or flat out ask them to write for free. There’s a 99% chance that the person writing an article for $30 isn’t going to put in the time and effort required to consistently write good content for you, because they’re really trying to make $150+.
If $50 is all you can afford, consider a performance based compensation bonus as a sweetener. If this performance is tied to traffic or social media shares, then hiring someone with enough reach, or experience will make distributing the content way easier. Some writers can charge upwards of $400 per piece which can get a bit pricey especially if it doesn't move the needle the way you expect. Negotiate to find the fairest deal for both parties.
Ultimately the goal is to avoid a mismatch between your writing talent and your internal marketing/content team. Your content marketing efforts should be showcasing the best aspects of your company, and this is easily achieved in an environment that encourages creativity, playfulness, and spit-balling. The right content team will obliterate any obstacle placed before it- be it tight deadlines, poor conversation rates, or diminishing budgets, and have a blast doing it too.
How to find and hire great writers
Finding the right writers is difficult for a number of reasons:
a) not everyone can write well
b) not every writer can write well for your business
c) if they could do a &b they’d charge through the nose
d) if they’re not charging through the nose you have to wonder what their real motivations are.
Ideally you should hire writers who know their worth, but don’t overcharge, because they usually have a much bigger goal in mind outside of just writing/blogging. They can be published authors, experts in your field who regularly give talks, other entrepreneurs, and creative types who see the opportunity to further hone their craft.
There are literally hundreds of writers that could be a great fit for your content channel especially if you’re working with a healthy budget. But since we’re focused on growth, ROI is the main focus. You should be aiming to hire those writers who will need the least amount of hand holding, who are fun, and who inspire you to work harder.
These writers are usually ones who can think like an entrepreneur or creative marketer- the types of people you don’t have to hover over, go through their work with a fine comb, who understand the value of unique content, and who will work to promote their work along with you.
Again the focus here is really on people who don’t put their ego before their work, but whose pride shines through their work so clearly that they really should have one. These people don’t make excuses, are creative, and are consistent.
Consistency can come in two forms- through steady work, or in flourishes that you can plan for. It doesn’t matter how or when they work hard, it just matters that they do.
You should be looking for a writer, editor, or content marketer who can speak with confidence about what bad content, or bad content marketing, looks like. They'll be able to hit the ground running on day 1.
Where to find writers?
Writers are everywhere, you just need an interesting way to discover the great ones.
If you don't have one already, create an email address specifically for jobs, and use this email to create all of your job ads.
Next, create a job ad on your job board of choice.
I like to use Indeed, Craigslist, Linkedin, Angelist, Media Bistro or Jobscore to post my writing gigs. It doesn't really matter where you post your ad, it just matters that good writers frequently use it to find jobs. For example, I've had minimal success finding writers on sites like Fiverr, and UpWork but have found great graphic designers, social media, and public relations help there.
Next, grab some pop-corn, a life-vest, and prepare for the flood of applications.
You're going to get a lot of crazies, and super lazy people. But amongst all the chaff are some very talented people who'd love to write for you. So how do you figure out which ones to work with?
-Cut anyone who hasn’t linked to their profile, shared previous articles, goes on about their achievements without any sort of humor or creativity, or flat out overlooked your requirements for application. Also cut anyone with weird names- This might be a discriminatory hiring practice but you don’t want to open your blog up to Mike Hunt jokes do you? Mike Hunt also needs a better pen name.
-Read over the profiles and hone in on the writers who really stand out. Do they have a large body of work? Do they have tons of domain expertise, or is it a college kid trying to live out their dream of making money in their underwear?
Invite them to chat over the phone for 15-20 minutes. If it becomes too difficult to nail down a time, cut them. I hear Skype and Google Voice work well, but technical difficulties can make for awkward interactions.
-On the call immediately jump into their experience, needs and wants. Be sure to have read at least 2-3 of there articles and say something interesting about it. This is a sure fire way to get the writer on your side, and excited to work with you. From there go into the opportunity and what it will entail.
If there’s any sort of perceived attitude cut them. This is typically an indicator of either poor work ethic, a general lack of interest, or lack of giving a shit that ll make it a nightmare to work with them, or worse have you pay for lack luster work.
-Ask for a writing test, for which you’ll agree to pay 50% of their fee. If you like what you see hire them, and publish the piece. The goal here is to weed out hacks (not to growth hackers). If the writer is fired up there’s nothing they won’t do to help you grow.
Note: if the writer is coming recommended from a colleague, friend, or otherwise trusted source, skip the writing test. You both have better things to do.
The "Lean Content Canvas"
Once you've put some serious thought into all the moving parts of your content strategy, plug them into this simple and easy to use template.
Full disclosure: this is copied directly from the the book "Lean Analytics".
I think it's a super efficient way to visualize all the moving parts of your content marketing strategy so that you can begin to spot opportunities, and potential hurdles. This hyper-focus on the details will make sure that you're doing everything to create great content, consistently, and sustainably.
Ash Maurya, the creator of the Lean Canvas, describes it as a "living, breathing plan, not a hypothetical tome of nonsense you throw out the minute you start actually working..."
1) Problem- The issues facing your audience, and that your content addresses.
2) Customer Segments- What are the various audience segments. You should be able to copy this directly from the personas section, and combine it with your keyword research.
3) Unique Value Proposition- This should be the information you're providing.
4) Solution- This is how your unique value proposition will solve your audience's specific problems.
5) Unfair Advantage- What does your product, team, or approach to content bring to the table that your competitors would be unable to replicate quickly enough? This can also include writing, video, or photography talent? Have you hired a heavy weight who's really excited to work with you? That relationship can be crucial in creating great content that your competitors won't be able to match.
6) Revenue Streams- Can you monetize your audience? Of course you can! Either by funneling them to your product, or through advertisements, native advertisements, sponsored emails, or sponsored social media posts.
7) Cost Structure- How much does it cost to create content, purchase great photography, edit, and distribute your content? Are you paying for distribution, how much?
8) Metrics- It can be measured through the various forms of general, engaged, and converted engagement.
9) Channels- These are all the different ways you can reach your audience: social media, search, content discovery, media mentions, content partnership, guest posts etc.
Read More: How To Become a Niche Media Powerhouse