Creating content isn’t a one-and-done, check-it-off-your-list type of task.
Sure, you can write and publish a blog post and call it a day.
But successful content requires a thoughtful strategy — and it takes time. When launching into a new content strategy, I always advise my clients to slow down, start from the beginning and take it step by step.
Creating an effective content strategy
I was recently a guest on the Become a Media Maven podcast with host Christina Nicholson. In the episode, together we outlined a 12-step process to create content.
For the sake of simplicity, I zoomed in and focused on creating blog posts.
Let’s get started.
1. Do a brain dump
Open up a blank document, and start logging any content ideas you have. Think about:
- Frequently asked customer or client questions and feedback
- Common misconceptions about your industry
- New ideas, research or developments
- Interesting statistics
- Customer testimonials or personal stories
Note these ideas can be directly related to your product or service, or you can consider your broader industry as a whole.
If applicable, share this document with your customer service, marketing and PR teams and ask them to jot down ideas that align with their experience and team goals.
No idea is too big or too small.
This part of the process is important because it creates momentum — suddenly you see there are so many topics and angles to consider when creating content. It’s an easy win, and a great first step to build on.
2. Create a series
Once you have a hearty list of ideas, take a look and see if you notice any trends or any ideas that could be tied together into a recurring series.
For example, with my longest-running client, Muck Rack, I’ve created several long-time series we regularly publish on the blog, including:
- This month in bad PR pitches: This is one of our most popular and widely shared series.
- Meet the Muck Rack team: This highlights team members and links out to the company’s job listings.
- Day in the life of: This series showcases PR pros and journalists.
- Case studies: These customer testimonials are essential to our sales team.
3. Build out a content calendar
Start placing your content ideas on a calendar to determine your content cadence. This can be a literal calendar (paper or digital) or in Excel, Google Sheets, Word or even a task management tool like Trello (my go-to!).
As you build out your calendar, consider:
- How often do you want to publish new content?
- Where are you posting it?
A word of warning: This part of the process is fun for those who like to plan, but it can take some major patience as you play around and figure out what tool works best for you.
4. Conduct SEO keyword research
When you’re writing a blog post, consider your goals. Who are you trying to reach and where? Many blogs want to leverage Google search (aka show up in search results and get clicks!).
The world of SEO is a whole rabbit hole, but even if you’re not an expert, you can do some light keyword research. The best place to start: Google itself.
Enter your article topic into Google and peruse the results. For example, with Muck Rack, my team worked on an article explaining how PR pros can choose a media database. When you type “choose a media database” into Google, take note of the top-ranked articles. What topics are they covering? What areas are they missing? Use these insights to help build your outline.
You’ll also want to consider the “people also ask” section to see if you can answer those questions in your article as well as the “related searches” at the bottom of the page.
For more details on SEO, you can check out this how-to article I edited when I was the managing editor at The Write Life.
5. Consider who’s writing or producing the content
Now that you’ve done your research, it’s time to consider who will write or produce your content. Are you going to write it yourself, tap someone in house or do you need to work with a freelance writer or managing editor?
If you’re a founder, I highly recommend not taking this task on yourself. Although it can be tempting — you’re an expert after all — I’ve talked to so many founders who become overwhelmed, fall behind and even give up on their content strategy. And remember: The key to a strong content strategy is consistency!
For example, before I began working with Karen Swim, the president of Solo PR Pro, she aimed to write and publish posts to the group’s blog each week.
“It kept falling to the wayside because I got too busy,” she said. “We still produced content weekly, but it didn’t always go out on time, or I’d scramble to write a last-minute blog post. This bothered me. I couldn’t be as strategic as I wanted, which is important because the blog is like the front of our house — the part of us that everyone sees.”
Be realistic with yourself and create a content production plan that’s sustainable for your business — and you.
It sounds easier than it is, but it’s time to put pen to paper — or fingers to the keyboard.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to writers who are creating content for a brand is to consider their audience. Ask:
- Who is my audience?
- What do they need to know?
- What do they already know?
- What’s important to them?
If you’re writing a “how to” guide, your article might be longer and more in-depth (like this one!). If you’re simply sharing a new piece of information, keep it short and sweet!
As you write, use frequent line breaks, subheads and bullet points to break up your information. (Remember: Most people are probably reading from their tiny phone screen, so you’ll want to avoid big, overwhelming blocks of text.)
7. Edit and prepare for the piece to go live
Once the piece is written, it’s time to start editing! This isn’t just about adding a comma here and there. You’ll want to fact-check and ensure the information is accurate. You’ll also want to edit for readability, making sure the post is clear and organized.
Some of the most common edits I make include:
- Writing or rewriting subheads.
- Looking for places to cut extra words.
- Making sure we’re adhering to a client’s editorial style.
- Checking for consistency in tense.
This part of the process may require going back and forth with the writer once or twice.
8. Brainstorm 10-15 headlines
Headlines are incredibly important for blog posts. It’s often a reader’s first impression. You want to make sure it’s informative and interesting — and that readers will want to click!
I brainstorm 10 to 15 headlines for each blog post I produce for my clients. Overall, the process takes me around 30 to 45 minutes per post (but I swear it’s worth it). You’ll almost always realize your first idea is never your best.
Here’s a little behind-the-scenes look at a headline brainstorm for a post I did about why companies need content managers:
- What is a managing editor?
- What is a managing editor? (Plus, why your business needs one)
- Let a managing editor spearhead your brand’s content strategy
- Build a robust content strategy with a managing editor at the helm
- Transform your brand’s content strategy with a managing editor
- Let a managing editor transform — or build — your brand’s content strategy
- Upgrade your content strategy with a managing editor
- Why every business needs a managing editor
- Why every business with (or without) a content strategy needs a managing editor
I went with the last one because it was interesting and clicky and targeted my ideal audience.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to write an SEO headline, too! This headline is more straightforward and will include any target keywords you identified in your keyword research.
For the article I referenced above, the target keyword was “what is a managing editor,” and the SEO headline I wrote was, “What is a Managing Editor? Plus, Why Your Business Needs One.”
9. Upload to your site and add visuals
Once the post is perfected, it’s time to upload it to your site. WordPress is my go-to content management system (CMS), but I’ve worked with several others through the years, including custom ones.
During this step, you’ll want to add visuals, including illustrations, images or infographics. The goal is to add some life to the piece so readers don’t zone out with a huge, intimidating block of text.
10. Click publish
Set the content live! Or you can schedule it to publish if you’re working ahead or want it to publish during a certain high-traffic time on your site.
11. Market and distribute over time
Once live, you can start sharing your blog post through your social channels and/or via your email list.
Note you don’t have to share your article immediately — or even within the same week it goes live. You can share it and reshare it weeks or even months later depending on the content and your overall strategy.
12. Repurpose the content
Now, you’ve shared the content. You’re done, right? Nope! One of the smartest things a business can do is repurpose their content.
I do this a lot for Muck Rack. For example, they’ll release their annual State of Journalism report. My team will then publish a summary of the report, and we’ll also spin other articles from the report that focus on specific facets of the report.
You can also do this across mediums. For example, if you release a podcast episode, turn it into an article, publish clips to Instagram or share the video recording of it on YouTube. Hint, hint: That’s how this blog post came about! From a podcast episode.
Now, the content process is complete — except not really because the key to an effective content strategy is to consistently publish new content. For that, refer to your content calendar and keep creating!
Want to learn more about what it takes to create good content? You can keep tabs on me by signing up for my content newsletter. Every two weeks, I’ll give you the lowdown on what I’ve been up to and share some of my favorite articles, resources and gigs in the content world.