Content creation is the hardest part of content marketing. No amount of reading articles, listening to podcasts, or attending conferences will change that. You need to do the work if you want to make an impact.
Sadly it took me way too long to understand this. I look back on the years I spent out of college and loathe that it never clicked. I understood the theory, but there was a giant gap around actual production.
C’est la vie. Better late than never.
(Looking for the presentation? Grab the deck on SlideShare.)
Get Your Stuff Together
Let’s start by laying some groundwork. First off, we need WordPress. This is where all the magic happens. It’s the hub of our content. Any flavour of WordPress will do. You could be on a shared host, a managed WordPress provider, or even WordPress.com.
Now let’s go through the plugins. If you’re on WordPress.com these won’t apply to you, but you should take note anyway just in case you make the switch.
First up: Yoast SEO. If you’re familiar with WordPress you probably saw this one coming.
Next is the Google Analytics Dashboard for WP. I like this plugin because it puts traffic graphs in your WordPress admin area, and GA configuration options under your Settings. (You’ll still need to go to the Google Analytics site for deep dives and reports.)
LeadIn. Seriously. It tracks what people are viewing on your site, then when they submit a form — any form — it creates a profile entry of what they’ve viewed. It’s lightweight marketing automation.
Jetpack. This one’s debatable. Some love it, some don’t. Personally, I dig that it centralizes so much functionality in one plugin, like social sharing buttons, comment enhancements, and syndication to social media channels.
The next steps apply to everyone, including WordPress.com users. We need to verify our site with the Google Search Console, aka Webmaster Tools. This is Google’s primary method of communication with website admins.
So now we have our equipment. Let’s get into the work.
Set Your Goals For Content Creation
Know why you’re doing this. Why do you want to create content? What are you trying to accomplish? Are you doing this for your business, to build your brand and attract customers? Or are you doing this for yourself, as a hobby or personal interest?
Know what specific things you want to accomplish. Here’s one way to visualize it: Set a goal for your entire year. Then break that year down into quarters, and have a goal for each quarter. Then break those quarters into thirds, and have a goal for each month. Keep going. Give a goal to each week of the month. Then give a goal to each day of the week.
Look at our diagram here. Our goal for the year is in the clouds. It’s ambitious. The further down we go, the deeper in the dirt we get.
Now I know visuals like this can be inspirational but they’re not all that actionable. So I’ve turned this diagram into something you can use. I’ll share that with you at the end of the post.
Hand-in-hand with defining your goals is defining your audience. Who are you creating this content for?
Understand the audience. Understand the reader. Understand the viewer. Understand the listener. Understand the individual. Understand what they want.
The more you understand, the more your content will align with their interests.
Checking for Alignment & Empathy
Alignment means presenting the right content in the right place at the right time to fulfill the needs of your audience while meeting your own objectives. Alignment comes from empathy, and empathy comes from understanding your audience.
We’ll use this funnel diagram to illustrate alignment. You’re on the left. Your audience is on the right.
Let’s start with your intent. What are you trying to do with your content?
- Reach: Build awareness by creating something shareable.
- Teach: Build credibility by helping someone solve a problem.
- Sell: Build conversions by closing the deal (sale, signup, subscription, etc.)
On the other side of the funnel, what’s the audience intent? What are they trying to achieve?
- Discover: Find new, interesting content.
- Learn: Access information that helps solve a problem.
- Decide: Making a choice to commit to something.
Note the alignments here. Interesting content is more likely to be shared. If you want to build credibility, create content that helps solve a problem. If you want to close the deal, create content that helps make a decision.
All of your content needs to fit somewhere on the funnel, drawing people further down through calls-to-action (CTAs).
Let’s take a look at the different types of content.
Types of Content
Shared content is a taste of your work. This content appears on properties you don’t own. For example: Tweets, Facebook updates, Instagram posts, blog comments and guest blogging, webinar appearances, speaking at WordCamps. 😉
Informational content is posts and pages targeted against priority keywords, typically educational or informational content of some kind. Your traffic reports and analytics will give you an idea of what site visitors are interested in, which helps you understand them even more.
Conversion content. Squeeze pages. Landing pages. Product pages. Whatever you want to call them, the purpose of these pages is to get people converted — to subscribers, to members, to customers.
Let’s stick on conversion for a moment. I don’t care if you’re creating content for fun or for your business. There needs to be some kind of measurable metric representing growth.
The simplest form of conversion, the one I recommend you all use even if you’re not planning on using it, is to gather email addresses. Get on an email marketing service or use Jetpack’s email subscriptions. If nothing else it will give you a list of your most active and interested audience members, and that’s valuable information to have on-hand.
I call out LeadIn in the slide because their plugin goes the extra mile to provide context about the individuals who submit forms on your site.
Now we can get into the regimen. There are seven steps, from brainstorming content topics, through monitoring traffic.
1. Brainstorming Topics
What do you know? Start with yourself. Chances are you already have an understanding of what to write about. Imagine you were talking to someone about the subject. Think about the questions they’d ask and the answers you’d give.
What are people searching for? Moz’s Keyword Explorer and Google’s Keyword Planner are good, free starting points. Look for phrases and keywords in the middle ground: medium competitiveness (validating value), medium search volume.
2. Gather Data
Get in the habit of tracking useful things. You can go old-school and use your browser’s bookmarks folder. I’m also a fan of Todoist thanks to their handy Chrome extension. Evernote, OneNote, and Google Keep are all good, alternative options for capturing long-form ideas.
Find information and data to cite in your content. Use Google Scholar to search academic sources. Check Wikipedia references. Link to authoritative websites. Whatever shows that you’re not pulling lone opinions out of the ether.
Interview Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). This one took me a while to wrap my head around because I’ve always operated under the notion of “figure it out yourself”. But here’s the thing – you don’t need to be the expert.
Squeeze knowledge out of smart people. Ask a lost of questions. Start discussions. Post questions on public forums, in online groups, or run a survey (Google Consumer Surveys, SurveyMonkey, Typeform). Use email, hop on Skype, meet for coffee, or pick up the phone.
3. Plan Your Content
I’m of the opinion that all content starts with writing. The final form doesn’t matter. If you’re doing A/V, you need a script; if you’re creating an image asset, you’ll need a brief.
Start with the title. Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator, Portent’s Content Idea Generator, and Title-Generator.com are helpful for kickstarting that ol’ idea motor. (Added tip: “Power Words” are like cheat codes for your headlines.)
Outline your content. Jot down the main points you want to convey. Don’t worry about perfection, you’ll just muck things up and make changes anyway. I’m a fan of pen and paper — whassup, Leuchtturm1917 notebooks? — as it helps me avoid fussing with formatting and the like.
Get down to writing. Google Docs and Microsoft Word Online are both free to use, and there’s nothing wrong with writing directly in the WordPress editor, as Buffer’s Kevan Lee does. (I’m writing this post directly in the WordPress editor, BTW.)
Find a featured image. Obligatory list of sources: Unsplash, Compfight, Stocksy, Creative Commons Search. I’d go for abstract field photography over lousy corporate stock photos any day of the week. Just don’t forget to credit the image author.
Review your stuff. The Hemingway editor and Grammarly apps are indispensable. Both are free with optional paid upgrades.If you’re running a self-hosted WordPress site with Yoast SEO, set your target phrase as the Focus Keyword. The Yoast plugin will evaluate your content and provide a rating (red/yellow/green) for how well optimized it is.
Don’t forget the call-to-action. Every piece of content should end with an instruction for the next step. It could be a top-of-funnel conversion (“share this with your followers”), a middle-of-funnel conversion (“read this next”), or a close-the-deal conversion (“subscribe” or “join” or “buy now”).
Content does best when it’s native to each channel. This means editing or revising content to fit with wherever you’re posting it. I know that automation is tempting, but it too often looks janky and unprofessional. Here’s where I recommend publishing:
WordPress.com is a good fit for personal bloggers. It’s a mix of written and visual content. If you’re using Jetpack, WordPress.com users can follow your blog.
Medium is a popular choice for business, arts, culture, and technology. It’s suitable for long-form written content peppered with video and images.
LinkedIn Pulse is all business. It’s long-form written content, like Medium, with a distinctively corporate vibe.
SlideShare is similar to LinkedIn Pulse but set up for presentations instead of long-form written content. The integration with LinkedIn serves double-duty for building up your professional profile.
Twitter is the universal water cooler. It’s ideal for short-form content, links, and increasingly video and images. If you want to get serious about Twitter, think about its “moments” feature, i.e. trending hashtags, and participating in conversations as they happen.
YouTube is the de-facto standard for publishing video content. It’s a mixed bag of quality, and if you’ve been on the web for more than a year you know how bad the comments can be. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for maximum reach of video content YouTube is the place to put it.
Facebook is personal. It’s friends, family, acquaintances. Video content is gangbusters on here, but keep in mind that videos are usually viewed without audio. Keep your videos short — a couple of minutes — and keep it engaging. Images are good if they’re beautiful and high-res.
Instagram is personal, too. Original images and video with minimal text, unless it’s beautiful typography. Instagram is a good fit for showing off consumer products or creative work. Hashtags are the key discovery method for Instagram.
Pinterest is for curation. It’s like scrapbooking on the web. Build up your Pinterest boards with a mix of content. Include a dollop of your own content mixed in with related images that you’re collecting.
Use Buffer to speed up your content sharing. Go over your re-published content. Use Buffer to highlight excerpts and images from your posts. Focus on the content curation and let Buffer handle the scheduling.
Once you’ve published (and re-published) your content, it’s time to reach out and let people know about it.
Create an outreach list for your most epic content. I’m talking big assets – reports, tools, anything that would merit PR involvement. Craft personalized messages for reporters, journalists, and influencers. (Tip: BuzzStream was built for this; also see Hey Press and Help A Reporter Out.)
If you interviewed or surveyed people for your content, reach out. Let them know where to find the content and ask them to share it with their own audiences.
If you cited other websites in your content, let them know. Give them a shoutout on Twitter or send them a quick note via email.
7. Gauge Success
Turn to Google Analytics, or the WordPress.com Stats if that’s your thing, to see what the results of your efforts are. If you’re using LeadIn, keep an eye on the tracked contacts.
Keep in mind that success won’t be immediate. Traffic will grow slowly over time, and that’s okay. You’re in this for the long haul. The more you publish, the more you learn, the more you improve, the more your traffic will go up and to the right.
Putting It All Together
At the beginning of this post I said I’d give you an actionable version of the goal-setting diagram. Here it is. Use this Google sheet as a template to set your goals.
You could probably use it for some other things too. 🙂
Want to write with substance? Here’s how. Need inspiration? The Daily Post from WordPress.com has you covered. Copyblogger.com will help you become a better content marketer while Blogging University (also from WordPress.com) is a good alternative for hobbyists.
Want to create and promote content like a rockstar? Check out this post from Mack Collier. His process is similar to the flow I’ve described above.
And, of course, there’s Content Marketing Institute’s library of resources.
Otherwise: Drop your questions and suggestions in the comments.