Content creation can be defined as a crucial element in creating stellar content experiences that focus on brainstorming topic ideas, deciding on content formats, producing the content and making it available through your website and other marketing avenues.
Welcome to MTA’s MarTech 101 (#MarTech101) series, where we take a deep dive into the basic ideas, concepts and tools of MarTech. No matter where you are in your MarTech journey, this exploration of the basics is sure to help you do your job even better.
In this installment of MarTech 101, we look at the basics of Content Creation.
Zig Ziglar famously said, “Stop selling. Start helping.” That’s probably how the concept of content marketing was born. Content marketing is no longer confined to the creation and distribution of content. It has evolved into creating content experiences that your visitors will be compelled to engage with and share among their networks. But why is content so important? In the web 2.0 era, content drives every marketing activity. It’s what enables you to address customers’ pain points, and it’s what helps you convert leads into customers.
Content is everywhere.
But as simple as that might sound, establishing a workflow that facilitates the production of amazing pieces of content regularly is a challenge.
In this primer, we will understand the ins and outs of content creation. First, we’ll look at the concept of content creation and the seven most commonly used formats. Then, we will understand what it takes to establish a content creation workflow followed by the details of said workflow. We conclude by looking at two alternatives to creating content in-house and the pros and cons of each of them.
Table of Contents
Section I: The Fundamentals of Content Creation
What Is Content Creation?
“These days, people want to learn before they buy, be educated instead of pitched.”
~ Brian Clark, Founder of Copyblogger
Content creation is a crucial element of the content marketing and content experience processes that focuses on: brainstorming to come up with topic ideas that appeal to your target audience, deciding its content format, producing the content and then making it available through your website and other marketing avenues.
Also Read: 4 Key Components of Content Experience
Types of Content
“Content is anything that adds value to the reader’s life.”
, Entrepreneur, Author Avinash Kaushik~ and Public Speaker
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of content creation, its workflow, etc. you need to know the different types of content available at your disposal. Let’s look at the seven most commonly used content formats that you can use to create stellar content experiences.
1. Blog Posts
Blog posts are arguably the most widely used content formats in modern content experiences. Blog posts are so widely used because they, first of all, help with SEO. They are also easy to consume because they typically tend to be between 500–2000 words long.
Blog posts are foundational to the content strategy as they help organizations spread brand awareness, establish thought leadership and are a gateway to lead generation.
Infographics are visual representations of data and information with the aim of making comprehension simple. As humans are visual creatures, the information presented in infographics is easily understood and retained is known as infographics. A less commonly used visual content format that is similar to GIFographics. GIFographics, as the name suggests, are animated infographics that can convey a lot of information in a limited space and time.
Whitepapers are one of the most common ways for B2B brands to establish authority in their niche. Whitepapers are reports that cover a particular topic in-depth and consist of heavy research with an intention to provide a solution to a specific problem. Typically gated content, users must submit their information (name, email ID, company name, job designation, etc.) to access whitepapers.
Similar to whitepapers, eBooks are another form of gated content but are simpler to understand compared to whitepapers. They also tend to be longer compared to whitepapers. eBooks are proven to be an effective content form for lead generation. Organizations use eBooks to create content such as strategy guides, primers, case studies, workbooks, in-depth guides, buyers’ guides, etc.
We live in the attention economy where a user’s attention is a scarce and valuable commodity. With video marketing rapidly gaining prominence, organizations are making videos a part of their content arsenal. Organizations are successfully gaining the attention of their target market by creating explainer, how-to, product demo, whiteboard, review, customer testimonial, etc. types of videos.
A podcast is an audio (sometimes video as well) form of episodic content where organizations and individuals talk about different topics that appeal to their target audiences. Since podcasts are auditory and don’t require active participation on the listener’s end, they are gaining massive adoption.
A webinar is an effective lead generation strategy. Webinars help brands establish thought leadership by conducting live video sessions where experts talk about a specific topic. Although webinars require a good amount of planning, they yield excellent ROI.
Section II: The Nuts and Bolts of Content Creation
The Prerequisites for Content Creation
“Great marketers have immense empathy for their audience. They can put themselves in their shoes, live their lives, feel what they feel, go where they go, and respond how they’d respond. That empathy comes out in content that resonates with your audience.”
~ Rand Fishkin, Founder of SparkToro
A 2018 B2B Content Marketing Research conducted by CMI and MarketingProfs reports, 63 percent of the businesses either have not documented their content strategy or do not have a strategy at all.
The content experiences you create should not live in isolation. Therefore, plan your content experiences thoughtfully. To build a strong foundation for your content experiences, ensure that the following steps are performed before you begin with content creation:
1. Set Your Content Goals
Like any marketing endeavor, content creation should also begin by setting goals. Ask yourself, what are you trying to achieve through your content? Is it to build thought leadership, spread brand awareness, drive more website traffic, conversions or app downloads?
Follow the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound) goal setting philosophy to set your goals. Based on your goals, define the key metrics against which you will gauge your content’s performance. When you identify your goals and their respective metrics, you’ll have the clarity to create content that will help you achieve those goals.
2. Know Your Audience
The next step in the foundational process is to understand your audience. You need to know who is going to consume your content and what are their habits, preferences, behavior and demographic and geographic characteristics. Knowing this will allow you to create content in formats they prefer.
that represent the various strata of your audience. Along with the characteristics mentioned above, also list their job designations, challenges, pain points personasAn effective way to do this is by developing a buyer persona — a fictitious representation of your ideal buyers. Create 3–4 different and content consumption preferences. To develop buyer personas, interview your existing customers, look at your analytics data, and make some assumptions so that you have some room to experiment.
3. Conduct a Content Audit
The next step is to perform a content audit. Take stock of your existing content in a spreadsheet. Make a list and mention the type of content, category, targeted persona, keywords, call-to-action, analytics, and conversion data. If you have too much content on your website, then you can take the top performing content from each category.
An essential aspect of content experience is the environment in which your content lives. While performing a content audit, look at the interface of your web properties and ask yourself whether the users will invest their time consuming your content. Does it compel them to stick around and engage in other content on your website? If necessary, make a note to revise brand guidelines that would enhance the interface of your owned digital properties such as your website and app.
4. Map Content to the Buyer’s Journey
As we have already seen the different types of content in the beginning and have developed different buyer and decision, the next step is to map the content to the buyer’s journey. Generally, there are three stages in the buyer’s journey viz — Awareness, consideration personas.
Here are some types of content that work best for each stage of the buyer’s journey:
- Awareness: Blog post, eBooks, Videos, Checklists, Templates, How-to, Infographic, Social Media
- Consideration: Whitepapers, Demo Videos, Podcasts, Webinars, Case Studies
- Decision: Free Trial, Presentations/Consultation, Coupons, Buyer’s Guide
5. Brainstorm Content Ideas
This is the step where you let your imagination run wild. Open up a notepad and start brainstorming content ideas. Jot down as many ideas as you can. Don’t restrain yourself just yet. To get your creative juices flowing, you can perform the following steps:
6. Create an Editorial Calendar
At this point, it’s time to give your content ideas some structure, i.e. put them into the editorial calendar. The editorial calendar is the content creation schedule that you need to follow religiously. Many organizations make the mistake of scheduling content topics randomly.
This is where the structure aspect of content experience comes in. The content you create should align with your goals and the different types of content articles and infographics (let’s call them blog) .For example, if you are planning to release a 10,000-word gated piece of content on a particular topic, you should also plan micro content) before and after the release of the ebook that cover the corresponding areas of the main topic. This way, the articles, and infographics act as a build-up (or crescendo, if you will) to the major downloadable piece, and once the gated content is released, you can use the remaining “micro-content” to direct users to download the gated content.
The right way to set up your editorial calendar is to look at your goals and schedule content that will help reach your goals faster. Next to each topic, enlist its author, editor, format, publish date, target keywords, Call to Action (CTA), buyer persona, targeted stage of the buyer’s journey, etc.
Determine the frequency of each content. For example, you can publish blogs three times a week, but you can release an ebook once a month. It all depends on your goals and the size of your content team. Also, plan content for special dates and events that are relevant to your niche.
Once your editorial calendar is ready, you are all set to get started with creating your first piece of content.
Also Read: 3 Trends for Content Experiences
Content Creation Workflow
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
~ Mark Twain, American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer
Being a marketer includes performing multiple activities throughout your day, but content creation is one that requires intricate planning and set procedures to do them effectively.
In this section, we will look at how to build a workflow to achieve maximum efficiency at creating content.
Step 1: Research Your Keyword
Choose the latest topic from your editorial calendar. Before you research the topic, research the keywords and keyword phrases. In the editorial calendar, mention at least one focus keyword for each piece of content.
In this step, delve a bit deeper to find more relevant keywords to support the article.
Pick a tool such as Google Keyword Planner, MOZ Keyword Explorer or SEMRush to get keywords that match your target keyword. Choose the ones that have low to medium competition and medium to high search volume as this will increase the chances of your content ranking well in search engines.
Step 2: Research Your Topic
The research phase lays the foundation for the rest of the content creation process. This phase ideally begins by understanding the topic, its intended audience, stage of the funnel, purpose (to drive traffic, generate leads, virality, etc.), format, and intent (to educate, inform, entertain, or inspire). Knowing these details will enable you to set the tone for the article.
Consider beginning your research by typing in the focus keyword in the search engine and take it from there. Ideally, collect information such as quotes, facts, research, etc. from primary sources. If you find it in a secondary source, look for the original resource to ensure that there is no discrepancy in its context. Also, whenever quoting a fact or research, use sources that are respected in the industry as it helps establish the credibility of your content as well.
Note: Going forward in this primer, we will talk about written content, but you can adapt the same framework for other mediums as well.
Step 3: Plan Your Piece
Collate all the data and information in a document and organize them in a proper sequence. Write an outline for the article.
For example, create different sections such as introduction, body (main topics with subheadings or lists) and conclusion, and start filling in the stats and quotes from the research or anything that you think that would give the article some structure.
Your content will be well-received if your reader is engrossed while reading it. Engagement is the third pillar of content experience, and you should pay special attention to it as it decides whether your readers will stay on your website or not.
While planning your content piece, decide what hooks are you going to use to engage your readers. For example, we have used quotes of industry experts at the beginning of every section in this article to engage our readers. The quotes work as perfect segues as well. Similarly, decide the lead magnets that you are going to use and the downloadable piece you are going to promote in the article. Always come up with new ways that will entice the user to engage and share your content among their peers. For instance, you can experiment with interactive content such as polls to engage users with your content.
Step 4: Produce Your Piece
Once your outline is set, it’s time to produce your magnum opus. The process starts with writing the first draft (or recording a scratch track for audio and so on).
Pick a section from the outline and start writing. Do not think about grammatical errors or writing eloquent sentences at this point. Your aim should be to get your thoughts onto a physical medium. Add the stats and quotes wherever necessary.
As online readers tend to scan the content, add visuals and subheadings to enhance readability.
Stick with conveying one idea in your content for easy comprehension.
Tip: The content you’re producing should ideally talk to one person. Tim Ferriss wrote his best-selling book, The 4-Hour Workweek to help a couple of his friends get out of the rut, and we all know how the book achieved fame in such a short period of time. The more focused you get, the more information you will be able to include in the content.
Step 5: Edit and Publish the Content
After writing the first draft, let it sit for a while before you get to the editing process.
Start by correcting any structural or grammatical errors the content might have. You can use a tool like Grammarly to make the process easy but do not over-rely on such tools.
Once the grammatical corrections are rectified, read it as your target audience would. This is a crucial step as it helps you spell out jargons or modify your language to be more relatable with your audience.
And finally, depending on your team structure, get it proofread by the editor to make the necessary tweaks.
In the age of information overload, your content needs to be easily discoverable. Don’t make your audience work for it. Before uploading your content to your Content Management System (CMS), categorize it effectively so that your readers will easily find it. For example, rather than classifying it by publish date or content format, segregate it by topics as readers will exactly know where to find what they’re looking for.
Once the final version of the content is ready, upload it to your CMS and hit publish!
Section III: Modes of Content Creation
Content Creation: In-House Versus Outsourced
“Tools are great, but content marketing success is about the wizard, not the wand.”
~ Jay Baer, Founder of Convince & Convert
Organizations are often perplexed with whether to create content in-house or outsource it to an agency or freelancers. Time, budget and expertise are the three most important factors when it comes to deciding this.
Let’s look at the three different available options for creating content:
1. In-House Content Creation
Here, you produce content in-house with the help of the content team. The team usually consists of a content marketer, writer, graphic designer, and an editor. Of course, the team structure varies where the team can be much leaner or larger based on your requirement.
1. The approval cycles tend to be shorter
2. In-house content creation is generally cost-effective
3. The in-house team is often well-versed with the industry and company’s offerings. Therefore, you can be assured about the quality of the content
1. Building and nurturing a content team is a challenge
2. On short deadlines, the company can run into a bottleneck if the team doesn’t have the bandwidth
2. Content Agency
An alternative to creating content in-house is outsourcing to an external agency where the agency takes care of your end-to-end content creation requirements with little involvement from you. You can work out a deal on a monthly retainer basis where the agency will deliver a fixed number of content pieces.
- It is very easy to scale-up or down your content efforts with an agency
- With little involvement, you essentially pay for the time and resource that you’d otherwise spend in creating content
- An experienced agency can bring you results through their distribution network as well
- Content agencies are particularly an expensive solution
- It is challenging to get authoritative content unless the agency has been in the same domain for a good chunk of years
- Deadlines could get delayed if the agency is serving multiple clients on a lean team
The rise of the gig economy and remote working culture has brought the concept of freelancing into the limelight. Freelancers are an excellent alternative to both an in-house team and an agency, as you can outsource only a specific aspect of content creation without the involvement of any gatekeepers.
- Freelancers are often expert in specific niches. Therefore, you can be sure that the content you’ll get is of high quality
- Freelancers are quite cost-effective as compared to agencies
- Excellent freelance writers can skyrocket your content efficiency
- It is a challenging task to find competent freelancers
- You can’t treat them as your employees; therefore, additional fees might incur if you want some changes made to the final piece
Delivering seamless content experiences to your audience facilitate you to drive traffic to your website, nurture your prospects and eventually convert them into customers. It takes time to build your content creation workflow, but once it is in place, it can reap tremendous benefits for you. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
How do you plan to get started with content creation? Do you have any questions related to the process of creating content? If so, do let us know on Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook; we’re always listening!
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