Newfangled produces a lot of content of each month. I mean, really — a lot.
That’s been the case for a long time, but we’ve recently experienced a pretty significant jump in output. Let me quantify that a little more concretely. Last month (January 2014), we published a whopping 20,000 words of content comprised of one newsletter, one case study, and ten blog posts. Seriously, y’all, that’s basically the length of a novella.
This month so far, between one newsletter, one case study, and nine blog posts, we’re at 12,000 words and counting — we’ve got another case study slated for publication before the end of February. I’m guessing we’ll land right around 15,000 words by the time March rolls around. (By the way, that’s without counting comments from readers, which can sometimes add hundreds or even thousands of indexable words to the site in a given month.)
How on earth does a company of our size (there are about twenty of us on staff), with exactly zero full-time, dedicated writers manage to produce that much content?
Interesting story… and I’ll get to it, but first, let me give you a little background.
A Peek Under the Hood of Our Content Engine
If you’ve known us for any length of time, you probably already know that we put out quite a bit of content, and that we’ve been doing so consistently for years. In fact, we’ve occasionally met folks who’ve somehow developed the misconception that we’re a digital media company first and foremost, that publishing original content for the web is our bread and butter. Of course, it is our bread and butter — just not in the way they think it is.
It all started back in 2001, before content marketing was a “thing,” when we launched our digital newsletter. But it got much more serious, in terms of both output and intentionality, with the addition of our blog in 2006. Like many of you, we learned as we went along, through trial and error, and as technology (and search algorithms) changed. As much as the buzz-wordiness of “content marketing” may make us cringe, we know now that content (along with contacts) forms the foundation of the digital lead development ecosystems we build, and which are in turn the command center for our clients’ (and our own) marketing efforts. Without content, the whole thing falls apart.
But as everyone with a content strategy knows, this stuff doesn’t grow on trees. It takes a lot of time and energy to produce the kind of quality writing that attracts, informs, and engages qualified leads. For a long time, although we were more than meeting our recommended word count of 3000 words per month, it felt like a perpetual struggle.
A big part of the problem was that a disproportionate amount of the whole content creation rigamarole was falling on the shoulders of someone who already had more than enough on his plate: Chris Butler, our COO. Chris is an unusually prolific writer, but he was pretty much running the whole show in addition to writing the majority of the content each month. Over the course of last year, we averaged about six blog posts per month. Not bad, but when you consider that Chris wrote nearly 35% of those posts (as well as the vast majority of our newsletters), you start to see that not only were the expertise and opinions of our larger staff underrepresented, but we also had a recipe for burnout on Chris’s part.
We recognized that something needed to change, but we weren’t sure how exactly to address it. For one thing, we didn’t have anyone on the staff dedicated to managing our content strategy. That meant Chris was the default manager, with everyone else pitching in sporadically. All in all, while a lot of our clients and readers seemed to think we had content production all figured out, we felt like we were just barely getting by. There had to be a better way!
Building a Better Engine
Our solution ended up being fairly simple, although it did require us to devote some additional resources explicitly to content marketing. It began by relieving Chris of the day-to-day duties around managing our content calendar. Because I come from a writing and editing background (with previous experience in book publishing and digital content marketing), it made good sense to pass that off to me.
Next, we identified the handful of staffers who we felt could be asked to produce content more regularly, and we also made it a little more officially part of their job descriptions. This newly minted content team was comprised of folks who were already contributing more regularly to the blog, so we knew they could be counted on to deliver content on deadline, but we also made sure it included representatives from all the major “disciplines” within Newfangled: leadership and big-picture vision (Mark and Chris), project management (Page), development (Dave), visual design (Justin), marketing automation (Chris Creech), and content marketing (me). We also agreed that I would produce one case study per month, which was something we’d previously struggled to do with any regularity (or with the sort of attention to detail we thought appropriate).
In agreeing to join the content team, each member committed to writing at least one blog post per month for the rest of their natural lives. We also planned to assign two posts a month to other members of the development and project management teams, respectively. Everyone else on staff was still encouraged to contribute whenever they could, but this meant that we’d always have at least nine blog posts per month that we could bank on — and Chris Butler would only need to write one of them.
Finally, as a way to foster creativity, ensure topical relevance, and hold the group accountable, we instituted monthly content team meetings. During these meetings, we review the performance of the previous month’s content, bat around ideas for the coming month, and talk about any big-picture concerns related to our content strategy that come to mind. So far, we’ve found this monthly meeting structure to be extremely helpful, especially because it allows us to see more clearly and manage more intentionally our topical spread and scope.
Next, I work with each team member to assign writing deadlines. Chris still helps with the conceptualization of each piece of content as it is being written, and I chip in with editorial guidance and also copyedit each article to make sure our writing is clean and our formatting is conducive to easy scanning. Finally, I help frame each piece for SEO, publish it to the site, and publicize it on Twitter. I also notify all staffers of each new blog post and newsletter so they can stay current with our content and share it via their own social networks.
Already, we are seeing huge improvements in terms of the consistency with which we’re publishing new content to the blog; the diversity of opinions, areas of expertise, and authors represented there; and our social promotion of that content. Having a small group of dedicated contributors to the blog (rather than rotating deadlines among the staff at large, as we’ve tried to do in the past) ensures that each contributor takes his or her role seriously. Finally, putting someone in charge of managing the mechanics of our content strategy in a more dedicated way means we’ve started paying closer attention to SEO, analytics, and big-picture strategy. Moving forward, we’ll use that directed energy to dig even deeper in those areas.
Here’s what we’ve seen over the last quarter:
- We’re now averaging nine blog posts per month (up from six per month over the preceding year), for an average of 10,775 words — just about double last year’s average.
The average number of staffers contributing to the blog has jumped from around three to seven per month.
We are also adding one new case study per month, up from …… usually none.
Between the blog, newsletter, and case studies, the total number of average words being added to the site per month is now 15,000, an increase of about 85%.
Our new process is by no means revolutionary in the larger sense, but it has certainly revolutionized our own internal content production practices, and at a relatively low cost, at that. In fact, for us, this change was mostly about reorganizing the resources we already had at our disposal. More importantly, it no longer feels like a struggle to meet (and holy cow — majorly exceed!) our monthly word count target. This new structure is infinitely more sustainable, and that’s a huge deal.
So, how does your company manage the production of content? We’d love to know what’s working for you — and what still feels like a struggle.