Four recommendations to build a strategic and measurable system for content

Four recommendations to build a strategic and measurable system for content

A lot of organisations I work with are getting the results they want with their content. They are putting increasing time, effort and money into creating more content but aren't getting a return on that investment. In this article I'll share four key elements to help scale your content output while being confident in the quality of that content. Quality or quantity? You can have both with a strategic and measurable system.

In my previous role as Head of Content for a software and tech company, I built a strategic and measurable system for content. In the last 12 months of that role we published and delivered:

  • 2 weekly newsletters
  • 44 webinars
  • 9 online masterclasses
  • 8 content templates
  • 122 articles

That was on top of other content for across the business and maintaining and repurposing existing content too.

For that to be possible with a small team we invested in our content operations (people, processes, tools) and refined them as we scaled the output.

As I've worked with and coached teams since starting Fourth Wall Content, there are patterns in the challenges they face when it comes to getting results from their content. This is true across different sizes of business and across varying sectors too. I've helped improve content ops at charities, agencies and public sector organisations.

As I learn about their current content ops and do a diagnosis, I then make recommendations for improvements. While those recommendations vary depending on the context of the business and team I am working with, there are four things I always recommend from my own experience that helped achieve a consistent output of high quality.

1. Create and maintain a content inventory

A content inventory was a cornerstone of what we achieved. Everytime we published something new it was added to the inventory so it was a 'living' document that was always updated and used every week. As we scaled our content I added new categories to the inventory based on audience segmentation and business goals. This was such an important artefact when we added people to the team or used freelance writers. Whenever we published something new I could easily find related content to build out user journeys based on a theme, pain point or product feature. For example, if we published a new article on content governance I could find all of our previous content about governance and include those as links in the newsletter and as 'related content' links in the new article itself. The inventory also allowed us to manage reviewing and updating content. I could also connect relevant content based on the stage of the marketing funnel it related to, using content to nurture our audience.

When I talk about content inventories to clients they sometimes see it as a lot of work so I try hard to explain how it will save time long term even if it takes a while to set one up based on their existing content. I've been coaching some community managers with a Government team so they were starting with nothing. That's the perfect opportunity to create an inventory from the very first piece of content. It really is a huge helping hand for connecting your content and creating meaningful and relevant journeys for your audience.

2. Commit to a predictable publishing cadence

It takes a lot of time and effort to get content through a workflow from planning to publishing and maintenance. Having a predictable publishing cadence helps build a content planner. If you add in the days you publish different content, you immediately have a calendar of activity and can work backwards from those dates in terms of deadlines. Examples are:

  • sending newsletter on set days
  • hosting webinars on specific days
  • publishing articles on the same days each week

By doing this ut made publishing predictable and we could be proactive rather than reactive. It also created an expectation from our audience too. On the very rare occasion where the newsletter wasn't sent at the usual time and date, we would get people contacting us to ask if they had missed it or accidentally been removed from the list.

There would be unavoidable delays and issues but our content plan was as fixed as possible while being able to change as needed. We sometimes paused publishing in response to world events, but having the plan meant we coudl easily reschedule content as needed.

Working in this way meant that we moved from getting to a certain day and rushing to get something published (like the newsletters) to being able to write, approve and schedule content in advance. Which leads nicely to the third recommendation.

3. Have at least one month of content ready

Having a month of approved content ready to go takes away the pressure to get content done. Instead of feeling like you are always playing catch up (I know that feeling well) and can't get on top of things, you are able to plan ahead, be more strategic and again be proactive instead of reactive. It can take time to get to this point as you will have to deal with other requests from across the business. If you are using other people to create content, like community members, you can't guarantee they will hit their deadlines. There are lots of reasons and circumstances that you can't control that could delay your content plan.

When you have approved content ready to go, you can react to the unknown with less stress and more confidence. If someone doesn't deliver their content on time you can bring something forward in the content plan and push theirs back until they are ready. This is where the content inventory comes back into play too if you are changing the focus of your newsletter one week at short notice, for example.

Having content ready also meant we could make the most of automation for the tools we used by scheduling content. I would setup workflows and email automation for events weeks or sometimes months in advance. Articles would be loaded in the CMS way before they were published and social media content was scheduled at least two weeks in advance too. Of course we always had to review that what was being published was still accurate and relevant but that wasn't as time consuming as being reactive and scrambling around to get stuff published.

While I think working a month ahead is helpful, we did eventually get to being almost three months ahead eventually. That's not three months of approved content but rather one month of approved content, other content approved for the following two months, some content in progress but all content for those three months planned and agreed.

4. Get the right data to measure the performance of content

The quantity versus quality conundrum. We could publish more and more but if it wasn't serving a purpose then it was wasted time, effort and money. To have confidence in the performance of your content you need to be able to measure it and that means having data and evidence.

It took a long time to find the right tools and datasets to be able to measure the performance of our content accurately. We trialled different systems and that meant a lot of time being onboarded to those tools. Sometimes they were fit for purpose immediately and other times we had to keep trying new systems. Examples here are the tools we used to send our newsletters and our CRM too. We wanted to automate workflows and nurture sequences.

Although it took a while to get the data we needed it was time well spent because we could then use that data to make informed decisions about future content. I was able to report back to the business about:

  • what specific items of content performed best (against different criteria like sign-ups, downloads or leads generated)
  • themes and topics that attracted the biggest audiences
  • content types that generated the most leads
  • gated content that resulted in the most amount of form submissions

That in turn meant we could increase our output with confidence that it was achieving business goals and meeting the needs of our audiences.

Of course, these four things are by no means all that is needed to build a strategic and measurable system for our content. There were lots of challenges along the way and it took a long time to get to the point where all of this was in place. Investing in our content operations made a high volume of content possible, guided by a strategy, business goals, audience needs, editorial themes and content principles. We were spending time, money and effort on the right things and could report on progress, failures and successes at any given time and about any piece of content.

Are you looking to improve your content ops? Maybe you're publishing content but not getting the results you want? Do you need a more strategic and measurable system for your content? Perhaps I can help, please get in touch.

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