If you keep running up against content marketing stress, low engagement, and overall dissatisfaction and frustration with your content creation process, it might be time to reevaluate your strategy.
Setting yourself up for success and producing effective content are within your reach if you know where to start. Follow our 10-step guide to optimize your content creation process and find a system that truly works for your business.
The importance of a working process
The key to your success is finding a content creation process that works for you and your team. A working process is essential if you want to achieve key marketing goals, such as:
- Driving traffic to your website.
- Improving online visibility.
- Capturing leads.
- Building brand awareness.
- Educating and engaging your audience.
- Gaining credibility.
But the critical importance of the creative process is easy to overlook, especially when lofty goals and clever ideas capture everyone’s attention.
It’s not hard to connect the dots between a lack of process planning and a lack of success. After all, without a written plan of action, how are creative teams and strategists supposed to succeed?
A Content Marketing Institute study found that, although 91% of respondents said they use content marketing, only 37% had a documented content marketing strategy in place. Not surprisingly, 84% of respondents who considered their content marketing efforts unsuccessful did not have a documented strategy.
On the other hand, the majority (62%) of marketers who considered their efforts successful did have a plan that likely made those achievements possible.
By starting with a documented content marketing strategy, marketers can establish a realistic and productive content creation process that supports their overarching goals. This type of framework can include bite-sized activities and key milestones that all members of the marketing team can work toward.
An established content creation process can have a lot of benefits for the marketing team and organization at large. It can:
- Minimize process-oriented communications: If creative team members and project managers are on the same page, there’s no need for complicated email chains and back-and-forth communications to iron out simple details.
- Improve resourcing and expectation-setting: Content marketers who know what’s around every corner will be able to more accurately forecast how long a new project will take and what type of resources will be required. This can demystify the creative process and support clearer communications with other internal stakeholders who may not know what to expect otherwise.
- Help creative team members be more creative: When writers, designers and other creatives aren’t burdened with process planning, they will have more space and energy to do what they do best — generating innovative ideas and producing top-notch work.
- Align content creation activities with big-picture goals: As mentioned above, strategically driven and high-quality content can support core marketing goals, ultimately driving brand loyalty, audience engagement and sales.
Follow these steps for a successful and effective content creation process
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you optimize your content creation process, plus some helpful content creation tools and resources to add to your arsenal:
1. Determine your goals
Before you can begin whipping up wonderful content, you have to think about why you’re doing it in the first place. And before you can start getting results from your content marketing, you need to define what results you’re aiming for.
When developing your content creation goals, make them SMART. That’s code for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Here’s what that really means:
- Specific: Your goals should have enough detail to express what you want to accomplish and what steps it will take to get there.
- Measurable: You’ve determined which key performance indicators will be measured from start to finish.
- Achievable: You’ve confirmed that you have all the resources in place to be able to achieve your goal.
- Relevant: Your content creation goals support broader marketing objectives as well as key business goals.
- Time-bound: You’ve identified a timeline during which you’ll carry out your goal-driven activities.
If you aren’t entirely sure where to start with your content goals, consider these types of questions:
- What action do you want an audience member to take after a positive interaction with your content?
- Are you more interested in positioning your brand as a thought leader or directing readers through the sales funnel?
- What kind of content is already successful for your business or your competitors? Why is that, and how can you use this to inform your goals?
Helpful tool: SEMrush is a keyword research tool that can help you see how you stack up against the competition and decide which keywords are worth pursuing when you’re creating new content.
2. Establish your team of content creators
Your content creation team can be made up of a variety of specialists, or you might work with jacks-of-all-trade who can do a bit of everything. Depending on the content type you’re looking to produce, you may need the time and talents of:
- Content writers.
- Graphic designers.
- Social media managers.
- Voiceover artists.
But boots-on-the-ground creatives aren’t the only ones involved. Don’t forget to include other important members of the marketing team who will steer the ship, such as:
- SEO experts.
- Project managers.
- Creative directors.
- Content strategists.
- Marketing managers.
Where do all of these people come from? Well, when it comes to building your dream content team, you have several options. You can:
- Divvy up content creation responsibilities among members of your existing marketing team.
- Onboard new content marketing experts to build a powerful in-house team.
- Outsource to a content marketing agency that will do the heavy lifting for you.
There are pros and cons to each. For instance, an outside agency might possess all the capabilities you’re looking for, but you’ll need to make room in the budget. Shuffling around your existing team means everyone’s up to speed on your brand and can get started right away. But with additional work added to everyone’s plate, you’ll have to decide what projects to abandon.
At the end of the day, no matter which avenue you choose, it’s essential that all stakeholders in the content creation process are on the same page. From the get-go, everyone should understand the various aspects of the SMART goals you’ve established, and how they fit into the content creation process.
Helpful tool: The resources within Google Workspace are great for real-time collaboration and keeping the content creation process organized when things are in motion. Stakeholders can update the content calendar in Google Sheets, editorial team members can streamline the review process using Google Docs and project managers can neatly organize files into Google Drive folders.
3. Understand your audience
Once you have a trusty team of content creators and marketers in place, you’ll need to decide who you’re trying to reach with your marketing messages. By knowing exactly who that is, you’ll be in a better position to:
- Create tailor-made content that resonates with your target audience.
- Support long-term relationships with loyal customers and followers.
- Find and attract new leads.
- Boost brand awareness.
Developing a buyer persona for each of your primary client demographics will help clarify who these people are and what they’re looking for in your marketing content.
To do this, conduct some research through interviews and customer data analysis to get to know each persona in detail. Figure out their likes and dislikes, and what motivates them to choose a company like yours. Articulate how your products and services can solve their top challenges or fulfill their desires. Then summarize your findings in a concise deck that you can share with the content creation team.
Rather than taking a shot in the dark with every new piece of content, content creators can consistently produce great content that’s specifically aimed at your target audience using this valuable reference. A buyer persona will clue content creators in to what tone, style and marketing messages should make it into each piece of content — and what they should leave out.
Helpful tool: Download Brafton’s free buyer persona template and use it to summarize your key discoveries. It will help you put together a detailed yet concise resource that will serve you well throughout the content creation process.
4. Get planning
At this point in the content creation process, you’re ready to lay out a timeline for content production. An editorial calendar or content calendar is the best way to keep track of your progress and deadlines.
Your content calendar should be precise and feasible, with specific deadlines noted for each step along the way. With a blog post, for instance, be clear about how much time you’ll allocate for each of these phases:
- Topic pitching.
- Topic approval.
While specificity is helpful, remember to build enough wiggle room into the timeline so that the creative team can adapt if other urgent priorities pop up.
With all the steps and their associated deadlines sketched out, you’ll be able to assign different members of the team to each task. For instance, you might have the writer pitch topics and send them to the marketing manager for approval. Plus, you will want to involve another set of eyes in the editing and proofing process.
Once the plan of action has been communicated to all involved, some people can get right to work while others will wait for the passing of the baton. Ensuring all team members have visibility into the current status of a given project will help minimize process-based communications.
But don’t let this initial planning session be the only time the content creation team groups up. A weekly or bi-monthly meeting — or even a single email chain or group chat — can keep everyone connected and prevent any major disruptions or miscommunications.
Helpful tool: Airtable can help you build content calendars and organize all of your projects in one place, making it perfect for keeping track of various stages in the content creation process.
5. Do your research
The research process will help you prepare for the brainstorming you’ll need to do next.
During this phase in the content creation process, think about your buyer personas and what this target audience will want to see in your content. Additionally, check back in with your overarching goals and consider what gaps you could fill with new content.
With this in mind, you can turn to a wide range of sources for research and inspiration:
- Conduct keyword research to find opportunities to optimize your content for search.
- Explore trending topics that are popular among your target audience.
- Look at what industry publications and competitors are talking about, and consider how you could fit into the conversation.
- Brush up on the latest industry news and research for valuable insights.
Whether you’re producing SEO-driven blog content or social media posts, research can help you ground your digital content creation ideas in what’s actually relevant right now.
While the person who will ultimately create the blog article, social media post or other type of content will do much of the research on their own, it’s not a bad idea to involve other team members at the outset of the project. For example, an SEO specialist could generate a report with keyword research and other insights the writer can use to inform the direction of the article.
Bringing several perspectives into the research process will help ensure that the team comes up with the most thoughtful and successful content possible.
Helpful tool: Google Trends is a handy resource that you can use to explore high-volume search queries and popular topics. Gathering this type of research will ultimately help you during the next step.
6. Start the brainstorming process
Once you have a sense of which keywords you ought to target and what types of content will deliver the biggest impact, it’s time to start brainstorming. Now, you can focus on developing specific topics and ideas that will work best for your brand and content strategy.
Each content idea should be rooted in what we’ve covered up to this point: your marketing goals, your target audience’s needs, your keyword research and more. While this will require you to focus your creative energies a little more narrowly, it should help produce a valuable list of ideas with supporting evidence that they’re worth pursuing.
Creators will each have their own ways of coming up with ideas. Sometimes, letting each person work their magic can be the most efficient way to go.
But it can also be beneficial to host a brainstorming workshop that brings together different team members — especially if you need to produce a lot of content in a short amount of time, or if you’re hoping to land on an innovative idea for your next campaign.
After you have a solid set of ideas, send these through the appropriate channels for approval. For instance, a marketer who is responsible for writing and designing infographics might pitch 3-5 ideas to other stakeholders who can choose which ones to move forward with.
Any ideas you don’t use right away can always be stashed away for later. Who knows? You might look at that off-the-wall idea a few months later and realize it could be a great spin on a trending topic.
Helpful tool: HubSpot’s Blog Ideas Generator works wonders if you have a topic but you’re totally stumped on how to approach it. All you have to do is enter a couple of keywords and let the generator spit out a few potential titles to get your creative juices flowing.
7. Create your content
You’ve made it to the all-important step in the content creation process: production! Now, youre ready to bring your creative vision to life.
When it’s time to begin creating content, the good thing is that you’re not starting with a blank slate. We’re already at step 7 (!), meaning a sturdy foundation has already been laid out for what you’re about to build.
And the building blocks themselves — keywords, brand messages, etc. — are sitting in a neat little pile just waiting to be pieced together into cohesive, quality content.
If you’re in charge of producing the written content or visual content, here are a few best practices to remember:
- Trust your personal creative process and instincts, but do so in a way that satisfies your brand’s style guidelines.
- Strengthen your main points with evidence from trustworthy sources.
- Remember to cite your sources for any statistics, quotes or other facts that are outside the realm of general knowledge.
- If you’re inspired by a certain trend, find a way to put a unique spin on what others have done.
- If you’re using any content that you didn’t create, such as a graphic element or video clip, make sure you have permission or the right to do so.
If you’re someone reviewing creative work, it’s just as important for you to uphold these practices during your quality control process. Stolen graphics and sloppy copy can be a brand’s downfall.
Helpful tool: Canva is an amazing graphic design tool for people without the time or expertise to create everything from scratch. You can choose from a vast array of templates for practically every application and tweak them with your brand colors, fonts and other elements. You’ll have eye-catching visuals ready to go in no time.
Your digital content is approved and ready to go — time to publish!
But first, you’ll have a few items to take care of in order to do this successfully. Each content type has its own nuances; let’s use a blog post as an example.
When transferring content over from a Google Doc to a content management system (CMS) like WordPress:
- Make sure to maintain any formatting for things like hyperlinks, bulleted lists and subheadings. This won’t always happen with a basic copy-paste.
- Include a meta description and title tag with your blog post.
- Add captions and alt text to any images you’re using.
- Assign the appropriate category and tags to your post.
- Make sure the author appears correctly.
- Preview the blog to ensure everything looks just right.
- Publish your content immediately or schedule it to go live at a later date.
If you’re publishing social media content on Instagram or Facebook, however, there will be different considerations. You’ll want to ensure you’re tagging the appropriate accounts, assigning the geographic location and uploading the right images.
Whatever type of content you produce, make sure your audience can easily find it on your website. Blogs, case studies and other website content should live on a blog feed or resource hub that’s clearly labeled in your navigation or drop-down menus. Social media icons that link out to your various accounts can be tucked away in your footer or more prominently displayed. Otherwise, site visitors who want to engage with your content will have a tough time getting to it.
Helpful tool: Planoly is an all-in-one Instagram content calendar and publishing assistant. You can upload draft pictures and captions, preview how your feed will look prior to posting and receive notifications when it’s time to copy-paste the content in the social media app itself.
Now that your content is live on the appropriate platform, it’s time for distribution.
Why does this matter? Well, unless you spread the word about your amazing infographic or insightful article, how will anyone know it exists?
There are a lot of ways to distribute content, including sharing it across social media, incorporating it into your email newsletters and even amplifying it through other content discovery channels. You can also run ads that promote gated resources or eye-catching posts. Whenever possible, take advantage of outlets that support visibility, shareability and engagement.
Helpful tool: WordPress plugins like MashShare help you add social sharing buttons to your website content so that readers can more easily share it with their own networks.
10. Optimize existing content
As time goes on, the existing content on your website will age. The topics might get outdated and the optimization strategies may no longer work as the digital content ecosystem evolves. But that doesn’t mean all your hard work has turned into something completely useless.
You can re-optimize past content to make it more relevant, useful and actionable to your target audience — and to boost its search performance overall.
Starting with a content audit will help you identify the best opportunities for reoptimization. From there, conducting a fresh round of keyword research and weaving new and more relevant keywords into the copy is an easy way to give an old blog post a facelift. Strengthening the overall message, providing better examples and working in the latest data points are all other ways to make your once-good content relevant again.
Helpful tool: MarketMuse uses artificial intelligence to analyze existing content and point out which high-impact keywords should be used. With these insights, you can optimize existing blog articles and landing pages to improve your site’s ranking.
It’s not exactly difficult to optimize your content creation process and across-team workflows. But it does take a committed and systematic approach.
To sum it up, here are the 10 steps you can follow:
- Establish your content goals.
- Get together a team of content creators.
- Learn about your target audience and what they’re looking for.
- Develop a content plan with milestones along the way.
- Conduct keyword research to find high-opportunity keywords.
- Brainstorm topic ideas and how to approach each piece of content.
- Produce the written and visual elements of your content.
- Publish the finished product where your audience can access it.
- Distribute your content through appropriate channels.
- Audit and optimize existing content.
Once you’ve laid the groundwork, though, it will be well-worth it for everyone involved.
Editor’s Note: Updated January 2021.