4 Steps to Building a Traffic-Generating Content Machine
Each week, we publish over 30 articles across our various client projects.
Every article is 1,500 to 2,500 words, SEO optimized, interlinked with existing content, meticulously copyedited, published right on time and promoted to all of its relevant channels.
Pulling off this level of production isn’t the result of frenzied coffee fueled all-nighters, or a huge team of project managers. It’s the result of a system, one that allows two of our content marketing experts to coordinate working with 20-plus writers to deliver high-quality, ready-to-publish articles on time every week.
But most sites struggle to publish even three articles per week on time. They might want to pursue an SEO-focused content strategy, but they don’t know how to publish on a consistent basis.
We’ve spent the last six months obsessing over creating the most efficient content production process possible, while retaining our high standards of content quality.
What we’ve developed is a system that any company can use, whether they’re working with freelancers or in-house writers, to publish great articles on a consistent basis every single week.
In this article, we’ll show you how you can:
- Create a plan for content creation
- Work with writers who deliver amazing articles with minimal work
- Develop clear content guidelines to simplify editing and writing
- Manage all of your writing production with simple productivity tools
By the end, you’ll have a system you can use to produce great articles on a consistent basis. You never have to let your content marketing fall through the cracks again.
It all starts with the plan.
Step 1: Create a Plan for Content Creation
The biggest mistake we see sites make, and the main reason they fail to publish on a regular schedule, is that they don’t have a clear plan for the content they’re going to create.
They’re used to content being a “we’ll do it when we have some free time” endeavor, and since they never lay out a clear plan, they never get into a good system of content production.
Your first step to publishing consistently great articles is to have a content plan.
This is why when we start working with a new site, the first thing we do is to spend two weeks researching and getting aligned on what the content plan should be. Producing articles at random just to “get something out there” isn’t a strategy, it’s a waste of time. You need to know where you’re going with your content, what you’re building to, and what kind of schedule you need to keep.
How should you plan it? One method to follow is the Wiki Strategy outlined in our earlier post. This ensures you’re creating SEO-focused content that feeds into a well-linked system of pages, and helps prevent you from ever running out of new topics to talk about.
What we like to do first is find all of the keywords we could go after as outlined in the Wiki Strategy, and combine them into one master spreadsheet. Here’s part of the spreadsheet for Cup & Leaf:
What we usually include in this spreadsheet is:
Keyword: The keyword that we’d be targeting with the article.
Difficulty: A scale of 1-100 for how hard it is to rank for the keyword according to ahrefs, with one being the easiest.
Volume: A rough measure of how many people are searching the keyword according to ahrefs.
Disqualify: A yes/no column for if we should ignore the keyword for the content plan because it’s not relevant. Caffeine in chai tea, for example, has an auto-answer from Google, so I don’t want to waste time on an article about it:
Scheduled: A yes/no column for tracking which keywords we’ve already scheduled in the content plan.
Then from that master topic list, we start planning out the content week by week:
Lay out your content plan like this with a week number and a due date to help you make sure that you have a clear deadline for each article. As you get close to the end of your current planned list of topics, go back to the master topic spreadsheet and copy some more over, marketing a “y” in the scheduled column so you don’t accidentally double-write anything.
The plan is only the first step though. Next you need writers who will help you execute on it.
Step 2: Work with Amazing Writers
Once you have a plan in place, you need writers who can help you execute it.
This is where most sites run into problems. They either try to do all of the writing themselves and never get around to it, or they hire cheap writers who produce mediocre articles and then they wonder why no one is reading their blog.
One solution is to commit to getting the writing done yourself. This works for some people, but you have to be honest with yourself. If you haven’t been finding the time to write three articles a week for the last six months, are you magically going to find that time for the next six months?
Maybe, but you’ll almost certainly have to take that time from another project. If you can’t free up your time on your other efforts, then it makes the most sense to hire a great writer or two to work on the content for you.
But this is where many sites run into issues again. They go on Upwork or another freelancing site and look for writers who can bang out articles for $25 to $100, since they want to save money on content production.
Writers charging in that range, though, usually won’t produce the great content your site needs to stand out. You don’t want to get a cheap logo design, cheap product materials or cheap site code, and you don’t want cheap content either.
Instead, you should look to hire writers who charge more of a premium for their content. Depending on the complexity of the articles we’re working on, we’ll usually pay $150 to $500 per post to make sure we’re getting an in-depth, well-thought-out resource on the subject, instead of another thrown-together listicle.
Price is frequently, but not always, an indicator of the quality of writing you’re going to get, so we’ll typically reach out to a few writers at once in the price range that we expect for high-quality content, and then get a few samples to read for ourselves or send to a client. Whichever writers are the best fit are the ones we’ll end up working with.
But you still have to find the writers. The best way we’ve found to do that is to have a running hiring call for writers, which we then turn into our Preferred Writer Network.
We now have the contact info, pricing and expertise of over 1,000 different freelance writers, which makes it quick and easy for us to find someone with the expertise we need and reach out to them.
So what makes an amazing writer? It might seem obvious, but there are a few details newer content managers might miss:
- They are great at writing (of course)
- They hit their deadlines
- They communicate any blocks, questions or problems they run into
- They appreciate and incorporate edits and suggestions
- They don’t need hand holding or micromanaging
- They look up other posts on the blog for interlinking and referencing
A great writer for your site should surprise and delight you with the quality of content they’re delivering. If they don’t, then you either need to try to find another one, or increase how much you’re willing to pay.
Once you have a plan and writers in place, you need to create guidelines they can work within.
Step 3: Create Clear Writing and Editorial Guidelines
“Write an article about X” isn’t helpful. It might work for you, as an expert in your niche, but for a hired writer who doesn’t fully understand your business, your customers or your goals, writing and editorial guidelines are essential for making sure you get good content.
A set of guidelines and questions like these can help new writers quickly figure out how they should be writing your articles, and avoid any unnecessary back and forth.
The main information you want to provide is:
Tone and voice: Is your blog fun? Serious? Sarcastic? What kind of tone do you want the content to be written in?
Competitors: What other blogs are your readers reading? What content does yours need to beat?
Target customer: Who are you trying to reach? Who should the writers be writing for? What are their problems, questions and interests?
Takeaways: What should the blogs drive towards? Sales? Email signups? Social shares? What’s the goal of each post, besides being informative?
Links: Where can they find links they should be including in posts? Is there anything, like a downloadable bonus, that they should definitely be including?
Styling: Do you have certain ways you like your images, pull quotes, lists and other styling elements in your posts? How can the writer fit your design guidelines?
You might have other details you want to include too, but at the very least, answer these questions for yourself and put them in a document you can hand over to new writers.
Step 4: Organize Your Content With a Project Management Tool
The last step for getting your content machine rolling is to set up a project management tool that will help you keep everything in order.
We’ve settled on Asana as our tool of choice, but you can also duplicate much of this using Trello.
The first step is to set up a dedicated project for the editorial calendar, using the “board” format instead of the “list” format:
Then create columns for “Planned,” “Drafting,” “Editing” and “Ready to Publish”:
One note here: Do not store article ideas in Asana. That’s how your board turns into a huge mess, and Google Sheets is a much better place for keeping future ideas. Only add cards to the board that you are actively planning on working on, not all of the future ideas you come up with.
Next, you can copy over your content plan from the spreadsheet simply by downloading it as a CSV, and then importing it to Asana using the import tool:
You’ll be able to set the due date you added in the spreadsheet as the card’s due date, and the keyword will become the card title. You can also add the email address of the person to whom you want to assign the card to the spreadsheet, so that they get assigned the card when it’s added to Asana.
Once the cards import, you’ll have your editorial calendar almost ready to go! As you start working on cards, they’ll move through the flow like this:
And once they’re finally published, you can check off the card to remove it from the editorial board!
The last thing you’ll want to do once the articles are imported is to add subtasks for the important parts of the process. Depending on how complicated your editorial system is you might have more subtasks, but we like to keep it as simple as possible, usually with only a few steps:
- First draft
- Editorial review
You can tag your writers in the subtasks so they know when everything is due, and so you have a common place to discuss each article individually without anything getting lost in email.
As tasks get checked off, everyone on the card will get notified, and you’ll be able to keep moving them through the system. If someone misses a deadline, it’ll be easy to follow up with them to see what’s going on, and you’ll have a central place to store any links that are relevant, like research and the working draft.
This is also why having a great writer from the start is so important. You want someone who can send you an article that requires very little editing, not one that you’ll have to spend hours going over. Especially when you’re producing 30-plus articles per week like we are, there’s no time for having to fix tons of errors. You want great writers you can rely on.
Those are the main steps of how to set up a content machine that regularly produces great articles. Combined with the Wiki Strategy, and assuming your topic is one that can bring in a lot of SEO traffic, you’ll be well on your way to turning SEO-focused content into a major acquisition channel for your business.
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