It’s no secret that we recently opened up our content production team to external clients (previously it was a part of Skyrocket that served only our outreach team) but after much persuasion from various clients we decided to look at how we might be able to help brands and other agencies to produce content that people actually want to consume.
In this post, I want to cover some of our internal processes and look at how to build a scalable content production process in your organisation. To many content is ‘creative’ and I agree however, behind that creativity needs to be a fundamentally well-oiled process that keeps things flowing. This isn’t about automating to the point where quality suffers or plotting to squeeze writers fees, it is about adding structure.
I rarely agree with Michael Martinez but I do agree with his questioning of why people continue to pump out “search friendly” content with little thought for users so I am really not going to be showing you how to drive down the cost and drive up the volume of content. I aim to cover how to add structure, organisation and financial and time efficiencies to this creative process.
Note – this post will cover “management” of content creators, if you are looking for some tips on efficiency as a one-(wo)man content production department then take a look at “How to write a blog post in 60 minutes“.
How to bring scalable content production into your organisation
[shameless pitch] The following is the process we use to create an efficient and largely scalable model for content production within Skyrocket SEO. It can by and large be deployed in most organisations. However it isn’t without its challenges and initial financial outlay – if you want to leverage a world class creative team, and would rather hand this off to avoid the hassle – you can of course hire us. [/shameless pitch]
Step 1 – Content Ideas
I fully recommend the establishment of a creative/content ideas team in your organisation, even if they also work as writers. I believe it is important to separate the function so that ideas can be devised then organised and approved before being written. There are so many instances where you just need some ideas without a piece being written…whether that be to pitch as a guest post or to show your client or manager a new content calendar.
If you leave this process to the link builder in your team or an unengaged client, you’ll likely end up with a set of article titles that read like a keyword research report. I am of course generalising here but my emphasis is on the importance of dividing the labour in this process in the most sensible and efficient way.
Handing this over to the experts, you reduce frustration within your business as someone who “likes spreadsheets” isn’t forced to ponder what the writer should write about next – utilise them for other things. The most qualified person gets the right job. No matter how good a writer is, if the brief sucks the end result will be little more than a well-executed turd.
Step 2 – Structured briefs
You could let everyone in your organisation, email you or the writer a lengthy, inconsistent and clear as mud email with assignments for them OR you could put together a form which brings much needed structure to the process. We use Google Docs which allows us to create a form that perfectly fits our requirements and which passes the details through a spreadsheet that our content managers can then work from. This is simple, free and easy way for us all to track everything.
From there it is a copy and paste task into our system and the communication with the particular writer.
Our form covers:
- The title/working title
- A brief description of the piece
- The type of piece required e.g. blog post, whitepaper etc
- The appropriate “language” (we only work in English at the moment but obviously whether that’s US or UK really matters!)
- The target audience
- Goals for the piece
- Special instructions
Keywords to be used – we took this out because we found writers were focusing way too much/worrying about including keywords and quality suffered
One big reason content production at scale fails is because it is too ‘fluid’, call me a bureaucrat but I love forms in almost every business process because it helps even creative minds to focus their thoughts. I want the person ordering the content to succinctly describe what they are looking for from the piece and be forced to answer the questions to give our writers the information they need. Too little detail at this stage gives too large a scope for completely the wrong output at the other end.
The result of all this… fewer rewrites (faster turnaround, lower costs), happier writers (lower contractor turnover) and lower costs (less time is spent pondering, deliberating and going back and forth).
Step 3 – Assign
I think one key thing that sets us apart from other content service providers is that we are proud of our freelance content creators. We don’t pretend to have an in-house writing team, we hire contractors as a conscious strategic decision because we feel it offers significantly higher quality content as it allows us to approach, recruit and retain really talented writers who are subject experts. We test and fully vet all of our writers to ensure they are a good fit and have a working knowledge of the subject area they are going to be working in for us.
At Skyrocket SEO, I am lucky enough to have 2 content managers (Alison and Theo) who have developed excellent relationships with all of our writers. They know each writers strengths and can assign an article in lightning fast time, confident in the knowledge that the writer is going to do a great job.
Failure to assign to the right person will likely result in project failure as the writer won’t be specialised in the area (meaning more research, time and “money” they’ll need to spend = frustration and often a higher charge to you!). I will be covering this and other reasons why a project manager for your content is so essential for this to be successful.
We have a bespoke ordering system where we can upload briefs and notify writers when new work is coming their way.
Step 4 – Get it written
This isn’t really an action for you to be taking because now the assignment is in the hands of the writer you’ll need to count on them to get it done. If you have set them clear deadlines then you can relax in the knowledge that this will be getting done.
Step 5 – Quality control
At Skyrocket SEO we have two layers of quality control that ensure a piece is unique and hits the exacting standards we require for all of our output. This means that we have 2 independent editors who will check the work of the writer and offer constructive feedback where necessary.
The first editor (can be a virtual assistant of sorts) will fire up Copyscape and run the piece through to ensure no plagiarism has taken place, after that it will be sent to a second editor (who really needs to be qualified) will perform a full readability and higher-level quality check – this means spelling, grammar, structure and content all go under the microscope. Rewrites may or may not take place at this stage.
This is by and large the start to finish process that we use for all sorts of content projects. Obviously within each of these steps there are various sub-steps which may or may not be needed (approval from the legal department for example). I wanted to leave the model flexible so that you could then develop and tweak to fit around your organisational needs.
Establish clear communication channels
We have our bespoke ordering system which allows writers, editors and our content managers to all talk to each other and pass content through the various stages without a single attachment. Email and spreadsheets worked just fine for us when it was all internal but now we need much clearer visibility for our external content clients hence the move to our new system.
However you choose to do it, make sure you are consistent and have everyone’s buy in and commitment when it comes to communication. We had no end of issues about a year ago when writers were missing emails because they’d only check their inbox once a week for example.
Have a content project manager
I have touched a little on the importance of hiring a content project manager and they truly are invaluable in making scalable content production happen.
- They take responsibility for all the moving parts (maximum efficiency)
- They develop relationships with your writers and editors (creating a cohesive albeit virtual team)
- They take the strain – if your job is something else then your content production is always going to play second fiddle – neglect leads to inefficiencies and likely project failure.
I’ve said it once before but I’ll reiterate it here, we always pay our writers a fair rate, squeezing writers inevitably leads to lower quality content as writers (understandably) rush in order to make the piece worthwhile for them.
That being said, we have agreed set rates with all of our writers and editors on a per unit basis e.g. 1 piece of content. In return for regular work, some writers who often charge a higher rate are happy to fit into our requirements. In an ideal world, we’d pay everyone their ideal rate but I don’t run a charity and it makes it very difficult to scale something that has wildly different variables. It helps us keep a firm eye on costs and it helps to avoid any time-tracker happy freelancers who want to spend 5 hours on an article if it only needs 2.
Where to find freelance writers
This is a common question that I get asked and in truth we don’t have one magic answer for you. We find our writers in all sorts of ways…
- Ask for introductions – Writers often know writers, this has been a big source of building our bank of freelance content creators.
- Find writers on the Problogger Job Board & oDesk - there are of course other places to find freelance talent but we have found these two to consistently provide the highest quality writers (if you do a bit of sifting through applicants!).
- Seek people out – using Followerwonk we have managed to track down a number of niche writers to work with.
- Keep your eyes open – see a blog post you like, get in touch with them.
Any questions? Let me know in the comments below…