I wrote this post for hiring managers interested in learning about how I strategize, execute, and manage content marketing projects that drive substantial growth for companies.Step 1: Identify Goals
I ask questions to uncover ideas for projects that serve the goals of both the marketing department and the company.
What is the company trying to achieve as a whole? What are the marketing department’s KPIs? How can I fuse the larger mission of the company with the specific goals of marketing and sales?
For example: The goal of one company I worked with, Localytics, was to reduce churn by focusing on customer success. The goal of Localytics’ marketing department was to increase pipeline revenue. Localytics had an adequate amount of email leads but the majority of these leads didn’t convert into pipeline.
To solve this conversion crisis while contributing to the company’s mission of prioritizing customers, I devised a content strategy that made our current customer’s feel loved and showed our email leads that our product was worth learning more about (and worth sharing more personal information for).
This strategy consisted of interviewing our customers and having them share their growth story with our audience. Here is one growth story we did with our customer HSN. (I guided the company’s intern to create this initial piece.)
We sent this story to relevant leads in our database and distributed it around the web. This story nurtured leads in the ecommerce industry like HSN and strengthened our relationship with HSN’s team. Since that piece was published, HSN has continued to advocate Localytics at speaking events and on LinkedIn.
Rob is a strong writer who brings a unique perspective and great ideas to the table. We only worked together for a short time, but in that time he displayed a great ability to think strategically about our content strategy and offer suggestions on ways we could amplify and differentiate our content. He was a quick learner and made sure that our content strategy was mapping to the KPIs that were most important to the company. Kristin Cronin, VP of Communications @ Localytics
Step 2: Identify Potential
I use tools that help me discover topics worth creating content about. I also look for success in historical content projects that were abandoned due to low resources.
What are people searching for? What type of content is getting shared and linked to more? Does the type of content I want to create exist already? If yes, can I make it substantially better? If no, why hasn’t a competitor pursued this idea? These are some questions I ask to determine which type of content to produce.
To see what people are searching for and how much they’re searching for it, I use a tool called Ubersuggest. This tool provides keyword suggestions and shows you how many times a specific word or phrase is searched for in a given month. It’s especially useful for content projects that have organic traffic as a KPI.
To see if good content already exists for ideas I have, I use a tool called Buzzsumo. This tool shows you how popular content is based on the amount of social shares and backlinks it has. After using this tool, I’ll check the quality of discussions happening around the content on social platforms and other communities.
Outside of using these tools, I also research how effective content is that has already been published by the company I’m working with. Creating a new project isn’t always the best idea. Resurfacing an old project that was abandoned due to low resources is often a smarter move.
For example: StackShare, a software comparison site that publishes content for developers, published guest posts by big companies like Dropbox and Medium before I joined. These guest posts went viral in many different communities. The reason StackShare stopped publishing these stories is because they lacked internal resources.
When I joined the team, I decided to revamp this old initiative rather than creating a completely new one from scratch. The content was already validated. All that was needed was a process, an editor, and someone to manage the guest posters and get them interested in publishing on our blog. That’s where I came in.
Step 3: Set Expectations
I create a one-page project outline that describes what kind of content I’ll create and what that content will achieve.
This one page document is shared among the team. Ideally it generates feedback that helps me identify holes in the plan. If I have the privilege of receiving feedback — sometimes I don’t, teams are busy — I rework the plan before creating the initial piece of content.
Here’s what’s usually included in the one-page document:
- Summary: One paragraph that explains what the project is and who it’s for. Links are included to similar projects on the web. This helps team members visualize the deliverable.
- KPI: I choose the primary KPI. Sometimes it’s organic traffic and new links. Other times it’s free trial signups or gated content downloads. It depends on which part of the funnel is being targeted and what the company’s business model is. For instance, a publisher interested in pageviews for ads won’t have the same KPI as a SaaS company.
- Goals: What is the number attached to the KPI and what does the conversion funnel look like? These numbers hold me and the team accountable. For a company going after free trial signups, a funnel for a piece of content might look like this Unique Pageviews (1,000) -> Free Trials (50, 5%).
- Timeline: I break down what will be accomplished and delivered by the end of the second week, first month, third month, and sixth month. How much content are we producing and at what tempo? What results can we expect to see?
- Distribution: Where and how will we share and promote the content? In the document I list the primary channels we’ll target and how much traffic/conversions we can expect from each.
- Budget: How much will paid promotion cost? How much will freelancers cost? What is the cost per piece of content. These questions are answered.
A one-page document suffices most of the time. For projects that require the team to build a completely new platform to publish on, more than one page is needed.
Step 4: Set Standard for Quality
I consider the meaning of each element needed to bring the initial piece of content to life and oversee the creation of each element.
Contrary to common thought, quality can scale alongside quantity. But for this to happen, the genesis piece of content must be a product of critical thinking, collaboration, and iteration. Every element must be expertly crafted. After all, this is the piece that inspires pieces to come.
To make sure the genesis piece is of the highest quality, it often makes sense for me to create the initial piece of content myself. I’ll do all of the work in my wheelhouse of expertise — research, writing, interviewing — and assign other work to freelancers or teammates.
For this project that required the company to create a new publishing platform, I worked with our designer and developer to think through UX and graphic design. I then acted as project manager, assigning change requests and new tasks through JIRA.
For content pieces that are text-heavy, I use two tools to validate the quality of the writing.
To make sure the content is easy to read I use Hemingway and the Flesch-Kincaid grade level test (aiming to achieve a level of 8.0 or lower). According to copywriting masters, this is the grade level to aim for. It means the writing is easy to read and understand.
To make sure the content is optimized for search, I use Yoast SEO for WordPress. If the company is not using WordPress, I use a CMS-neutral SEO grader and my own knowledge of SEO best practices.
By creating the first piece of content up close, I’m able to get a firm handle on the process, allowing me to create good documentation for internal and external resources to scale the project.
Step 5: Create Documentation
I document the process I used to create the first piece of content. This streamlines outsourcing and handoffs to teammates.
Scaling a successful content marketing project is not possible without documentation that is organized and easy to follow. Without documentation, other people working on the project waste time learning things I’ve already learned to make the content valuable. Documentation allows for other contributors to create and not experiment with processes for how to create.
For every content marketing project I create a document that includes the following:
- Process: What does content creation look like from start to finish — from ideation, to creation, to distribution? Everything is outlined in detail, step by step.
- Templates: I provide templates that help content creators properly format and organize their ideas into the preferred file format. And for projects that require email outreach, I provide email templates with variables within the copy.
- Style Guide: This complements the company’s existing style guide (if there is one).
- Resources: What tools and online resources will help content creators create great content? I link to these resources and provide access to necessary SaaS tools.
This document is usually created as a Google Doc so it can easily be shared with freelancers.
Another important document is the content calendar that provides an overview of what content is in progress and who’s creating it. Usually one content calendar works for many different content marketing projects. Having more than one calendar complicates things.
Step 6: Outsource
I find freelancers and industry experts through marketplaces and LinkedIn. Then I manage them the way I’d like to be managed.
I freelanced after graduating from college in 2011. Then I started freelancing again from 2016 to 2018. My experience as a freelancer has brought me into contact with a variety of managers from many different companies.
Half of the managers I worked with were great at collaborating with me and giving me the resources I needed to create great content. They also explained how the content I created would contribute to a greater company vision which made creating content more meaningful to me and, frankly, less bitter about working at “economical” rates.
The other half of the managers I worked with simply assigned topics to me and never provided any constructive feedback. It seemed they lacked vision and, even though some paid well, I ultimately ended contracts with those managers because I didn’t feel included in the project.
These experiences taught me what it takes to properly manage freelancers and get them excited about working for you at a reasonable rate.
I use many different tools to find freelancing talent but my go-to tool is Upwork. This is the first successful freelancing marketplace and it makes freelance management, payment, and milestone tracking incredibly easily.
When Upwork isn’t a good option, I’ll assemble a team of freelancers outside of Upwork using LinkedIn search and other professional networks. To streamline payroll and track progress, I’ll use a freelance management tool like Hubstaff.
Even though I’m often compelled to create most of the content myself, I understand that freelancing is necessary to create great content at scale. You can quickly ramp up the amount of freelancers you use if you have good documentation and the right people.
Over the years, I’ve become good at creating something in a few weeks with freelancers that would take me months to create on my own. An example of when using freelancers is a good idea is an SEO content project I did for MaxCDN.
For this project and others, following the six steps I outlined above made content marketing projects successful and led to faster company growth.