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Creating great content consistently isn’t easy. This is especially true when you’re juggling multiple projects, time gets tight, and you start cutting corners to hit deadlines. Performance declines accordingly.
It’s a downward slope. Stay on it long enough, and you might find content marketing axed from your company’s budget.
So, what’s the solution and how do you prevent that outcome? What’s the secret to making sure every piece you publish is the best it can be? And how do you enforce quality across a team of in-house and guest writers? Start by developing strong editorial guidelines.
Different companies may have different names for their style standards and expectations. For example, Help Scout calls them editorial values. Here at CoSchedule, we call them our standards of performance. Whatever term you use, the goal is the same: establishing and documenting a set of core principles that all content must follow.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
This is a quote from writer and historian Will Durant. It’s likely you’ve heard this sentiment expressed in some shape or form before. You will become known for the things you do often, and not just things you aspire to achieve..
As a marketer, this means if you consistently publish quality content, then your audience will come to know you as a trusted source. Since trust is hard won and easily lost, it’s important to deliver quality in everything you publish.
That sounds simple enough, but it’s easier said than done. That’s partially because understanding what constitutes quality in the first place is subjective. Clearly defining what quality means to your company gives every content creator something to aim for and helps remove the ambiguity around what’s expected from them.
Our aim is to publish the most complete content we possibly can. Ideally, our readers shouldn’t have to read another post on a given topic. If we’ve done our job correctly, you’ll be able to find all the information you need to get a job done or learn a new skill.
This content tends to be long. While blog posts should only be as long as they need to be, it’s tough to create complete content around a topic while staying under a word count. For this reason, we ignore word counts, and pay closer attention to the completeness of the information we provide.
Does this mean everyone should follow our example? Not necessarily. When we reviewed our top performing content, we discovered our top posts adhered to this principle. Content that underperformed, however, was often clearly less complete than something someone else had published. Data and observation drove our decision making.
You’ve probably heard of the Skyscraper Technique. You review the top-performing content on a given topic, then create an article that covers everything in one place. This process once worked well, and it still can today, but it has a few shortcomings (which Ryan Law from Animalz discusses here):
Researching existing content is still a sound practice. It helps you come to understand your competition, know which information is most relevant to the topic, and determine what’s missing that you can provide. That last point is crucial for creating content that stands out.
This process starts by reviewing the first page of Google search results for our selected topic. We then review each piece for the following items:
We then consider what information we can bring to the topic that no one else can (or, at least, that no one else has). Inventing an original solution matters less than providing sound guidance, but we always want to do more than repeat what someone else has already said. By understanding topical gaps in existing content and leveraging our own perspective and expertise, we’re able to create content that is both complete and original.
A lot of marketers have a love/hate relationship with search engine optimization. The common argument is that you should write for readers, and not search engine algorithms. However, we side with the belief that you can do both. Ultimately, Google (and others) want to serve users the best content they can, and by making your pages easy for it to understand, you can make sure you show up when people search for solutions to their problems and questions.
But you need to be smart about how you approach keyword research. Here’s our own approach (and why it’s so important for our content marketing strategy).
Content planning for CoSchedule starts with both topical and keyword research. We prioritize the topics we cover by several criteria, including:
Before we dive into keyword research using a variety of SEO tools though, content ideas might come from any of the following sources:
Then, we’ll begin researching keyword data around each topic. This entails uncovering a primary keyword phrase and a set of secondary terms that help round out details within that topic. Those terms will then be placed naturally throughout the post.
Lots of content tells you what to do. Not enough shows you how to do it. This is a major source frustration for us (and the inspiration behind a lot of internal rants). So, we do our best to practice what we preach and make every piece we publish actionable.
“Actionable” means different things to different people though. A piece of advice that has practical application to the real world might be considered actionable. In a content marketing context though, we believe it’s valuable to do more than offer advice, by showing readers exactly how to implement it.
In short, if we ask readers to implement a piece of advice, we do as much possible to show them how to do it.
We incorporate actionability into our content using a few different simple approaches:
Getting this right takes time. However, one single actionable piece of content may be more valuable to your readers (and therefore, your business) than ten pieces that only scratch the surface of any given topic. While how-to content is commonplace, actionable follow-through can still be a key differentiator.
The best content on a topic your customers don’t care about is useless. It’s important not only to build an audience, but to build the right audience. That might seem obvious, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of writing about topics that seem relevant to an audience, but are too distant from your product to be of actual business value.
That’s why we pay close attention to topical relevance when selecting what to write about. The marketing world is big, and there’s a lot of stuff we could cover. However, if we’re going to get the most from our limited resources, we want to make sure we spend the majority of our time writing about the things our audience cares about most.
Anytime we publish a piece of content, we ask:
A more concrete means of determining relevance is to check who else is covering that topic. If sites or companies we consider peers, friends, or competitors are covering it, then that’s a strong indicator it’s relevant. Of course, we take things on a case by case basis though, using our best judgment.
This is what works for us. However, every company (and marketing team) is different. Your standards of performance should reflect what’s unique about your company, philosophy, and approach.
Don’t know where to begin? Here are some starting points to consider:
We have tons of resources on our blog that can help you execute 10X content that will build your business:
Best of luck creating and implementing your own editorial guidelines. May they keep your brand consistent (and your content manager happy).
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