Content Marketing was unanimously voted as the most commercially important digital marketing trend for 2015 in a survey conducted by Smart Insights.
Built on the core principle of creating value, it makes a prospective buyer stop, read, think and ultimately behave differently. Now, if you are new to content marketing and are just starting off, your first step should be to set up a blog which publishes great content in the niche that you operate in.
We launched Zenward, Mindvalley’s newest yoga platform a little more than 4 months back and like any other Mindvalley business, publishing great content formed the core of our business strategy. For this purpose we built the Zenward blog that would provide useful tips, advice and inspiration for yoga lovers from around the world.
In this post, I am going to share 4 simple hacks we used for building our blog and producing epic content on a continuous basis. These hacks also increased our productivity while operating under the constraints of a small team with limited resources.
Basic Content Planning
We set out asking ourselves basic questions that would help us create a content plan for our blog.
What kind of content do we want to share?
We decided that we would start off writing blog posts and then move on to video posts, infographics and interviews
How often do we want to publish content?
Twice a week, in the first phase after launch.
What should be the length of the content?
We had two types of posts in the beginning:
Long Posts: 2000–3000 words
Short Posts: 800–1000 words
Outsourcing Content Creation
The next step was to decide how we wanted to implement the above content plan.
The important question we asked ourselves here was, do we want to outsource content creation or keep it internal within our team?
The answer to this question lies in your content plan. i.e. How much content you plan to generate in a week/month and the stage of operation of your business.
Our content planning process made it clear that we wanted to start off publishing at least two times a week (eight posts a month) and over time increase that to four times a week (16 posts a month). Considering our business was in its early stage of growth and we had a small team, creating content while also focusing on other commercial tasks was not going to be feasible, if we decided to write all of it ourselves.
This is when we took the call of finding experienced external writers in the yoga niche through a job posting on Problogger, a community that offers podcasts, e-book, jobs and all other resources to help bloggers around the world.
You can download the Problogger Job Application here
We paid $50 for a 30-day job posting, and received over 500 top quality applications in less than three days!
Now came the critical part of actually combing through all of these applications to find candidates who would fit our criteria. What helped us here was this: unlike most other job posts on Problogger which ask you to apply by simply writing to a given email address, we did things a little differently.
We created a simple Google questionnaire that had two basic fields:
- Email Address
… And four questions that would help us understand the applicant better:
- How many articles and type of article (long/short) will you be interesting in writing per month in the budget provided?
The responses we received helped us approximate the market rate for blog posts within the yoga niche, and ensured we were not overpaying. This is crucial when you are new to your industry and are not certain about the market rate for writing content.
- What is your background/previous experience with yoga?
This gave us an insight into the past experience of the writer. If you are entering an industry with high market sophistication (like yoga), it would be best to choose bloggers and writers who have extensive experience since they will know what works and what doesn’t in that niche, which is critical. Go for writers with lesser experience when you are entering a less sophisticated market so that it gives you enough space to experiment.
- What blogs/publications/newspapers have you written for in the past?
This acts as a litmus test for selecting your final candidates. Writers who have written for famous publications in the past will generally be better candidates but this is not always the case. So use responses to this question as a preliminary filter—but not the only one.
- Why should we pick you?
This will tell you if the writer is personally driven to apply to your blog or is treating it as just another online job posting. The candidates who finally made the cut in our case were those who had taken the extra effort to study Zenward as a brand, our vision for yoga, and then stated how their writing aligned to this vision.
Creating a Google questionnaire ensured that responses to the above questions automatically filled itself in different columns and we did not waste any time in compiling 500 responses!
We assigned an overall score to each applicant based on their responses and then selected our top 10 applicants.
Then came the next crucial step: we asked each of the applicants to write us a paid test article by choosing a topic in one of the categories that would ultimately be a part of the Zenward Blog.
Sourcing paid test articles from the shortlisted applicants helped us in multiple ways:
- It ensured the bloggers took this exercise seriously especially since we were valuing their time and effort.
- We were able to use these articles to judge their writing style, ability to deliver relevant, high quality content and if they were able to include insights from their personal yoga experience.
- It helped us get started. We could immediately publish a few of these articles (which matched the required quality) on the blog and start driving traffic to it, much before we launched it to our lists.
Most importantly, the test articles gave us a clear and practical way to judge who we wanted to hire to write for us on a regular basis. The final four candidates in this case were established yoga journalists, teachers and bloggers who shared the same vision as us both for Zenward and for yoga overall.
Communication & Workflow
The next most important step was clearly communicating our expectations so that everyone was on the same page:
The writers were sent an email with the terms of the agreement which included information such as:
- Number of articles to be published every month
- Commitment period for writing for the blog
- The price per post (long as well as short) that we were willing to pay
- Payment period
- Credit and copyright to the content once written
… Along with processes and guidelines to be followed for writing every single post such as :
- What every post must have (killer titles, headings and sub headings, bold and italic fonts, conclusion, call to action, links to previous posts, etc.)
- Relevant pictures for the content
- Optimizing the post for SEO
- Process for uploading it for review
We then created a weekly workflow, mapping out the key tasks involved in each step of the production process such that it is organised, repeatable and scalable.
Your workflow will completely depend on your content plan and team structure, but the important thing is to clearly define responsibilities and timelines to ensure there is predictability.
Idea Generation & Tracking
In order for the above workflow to be effective, it became crucial to avoid duplication of effort, since all four writers would be working on their respective articles at the same time and submitting it on the same day every week.
For this purpose we created a simple google sheet with the following tabs:
The content ideas tab is where we add in key themes for future blog posts. It has ideas that come out from:
- Current trends
- Keyword research
- Customer feedback
- Moments of inspiration
The Editorial Calendar is one of the most important sheets that ensures that everyone including the bloggers as well as the internal team are on the same page.
Fields to be updated by bloggers on a weekly basis:
- Due date for uploading each post
- Type of post (long/short)
- Name of Blogger writing the article
- Content Idea or Theme of the post
- Title for the post
- Objective: What the post is trying to convey?
- Keywords that we want the article to rank for based on SEO research
Fields to updated by the intenal team on a weekly basis:
- Final link to published article: this is especially useful during repurposing content
- Social Shares (Facebook/Twitter/Google+)
- Leads generated through the article, based on visits to our free or paid offer for subscribing to Zenward
- Average visit duration
The final tab on the Reference Articles sheet lists down great articles published by other blogs that can be used as ideas for future content.
You can view and download this template here.
The Zenward blog has been running for a little over three months now, and we are constantly experimenting with new ways to increase the value for our visitors.
Here are two things we have learned in the process:
- Before you start writing, define a clear goal for each post and make sure that you have a complete SEO strategy to support it.
- Creating high value content is important, but useless without a good distribution strategy to complement it.
Through this post, we wanted to share a few simple things that have helped us build our blog from scratch. If time and limited resources are the only things that have stopped you from starting a blog for your business, then we hope you found the tips shared here valuable.