For the past year, we at Articulate have been constructing an efficient and repeatable process for producing and promoting remarkable content for our blogs and for our clients.
The key point here is “efficient and repeatable.” Our blogs, Bad Language and Turbine, have been around for a long time, but we updated them only sporadically.
We found it easier to recommend marketing and copywriting techniques to clients than to do it for ourselves (we were, in a sense, like a doctor who smokes).
The following hard-won tips are derived from a lot of trial and error; basically, we’ve stumbled in the dark so you don’t have to.
What’s in a name?
First thing’s first: you need a name. Giving a formal name to a project helps to crystallize your intentions and attitude toward the entire effort. Coming up with the right phrase shouldn’t be easy; it’s part of the process of starting to flesh out the skeleton of what you want to achieve with your blogging system. We went with “Articulate Blog Studio” for a few key reasons:
- It’s a project, not a task. Our original (and ongoing) aim was to develop a basic, repeatable methodology that we could test on ourselves, but which could then be scaled and applied to clients. So rather than refer to a specific blog, we made it a companywide project.
- It’s a creative process. Though elements such as content planning, delegation, editing and promotion can be standardized, the process of writing itself has to remain creative and flexible. We didn’t want to sterilize the system to such an extent that our content became formulaic, hence the choice of “studio.”
- It’s important to the business. The name helps us underscore that our house blogs are an important part of marketing ourselves. It supports the idea that we have to be our own first and best client.
Put someone in charge
There has to be one person leading the offensive—someone who has the authority to make decisions about content, editing, schedules, and assignments.
Collaboration is great, but if you want to get your blog to ever get going, there has to be someone that can push the button and start the experiment.
You can’t do everything at once
Looking at large-scale, high-quality publishers such as MarketingProfs and Jezebel can be both awe inspiring and intimidating. They have reams of quality content coming out daily; their social media promotion is both clever and timely, and it elicits great response rates and interactions; they send out daily and weekly newsletters and snappy emails; and on and on.
But you cannot do everything overnight; and if you try, you’ll fail at everything. So, sure, brainstorming is great: Go ahead and come up with all the goals, metrics, and processes you want to implement, and you should absolutely list them all. But, then, put them to one side. And, instead, focus on what you want to get right first.
We decided to start with two main objectives:
- Make sure that posts were regular and consistent—no more ad hoc posting.
- Increase the number of guest posts on relevant third-party blogs and measure the impact they made in traffic and conversions.
The questions are harder than the answers
The hardest part of building our blog studio was figuring out what exactly it was we had to figure out. It was a bit like trying to build a house without blueprints. So, we inverted the problem.
Starting with the goals that we had decided upon, we set about listing all the obstacles that were preventing us from achieving those goals now. We then turned those obstacles into questions that could be answered.
Every company will have a few unique obstacles of its own, but the following questions are pretty much universal:
- Who is your audience?
- How often can you realistically post? Bear in mind that HubSpot suggests you “publish as often as you want to get found,” and that the more often you blog the better the return on investment. Also remember to be realistic.
- Which days will you post on?
- How many hours are you willing and able to commit to blogging each week?
- How long do you want blog posts to be? There is a lot of debate about optimum post length. Think about your audience and your topics and decide on an experiment: Maybe you will decide to publish one one-thousand-word post per week and two 300-word posts. Or two 750-word posts a week. Whatever you settle on, be specific. You can always change it later when you start getting metrics back on visits and click-throughs, but you need a tangible target to start with.
- Who is in charge of assigning posts?
- Who do you have who can write posts?
- How are you going to edit and review posts?
- Who is in charge of scheduling and publishing posts?
- Who should be brainstorming topics? And where should you keep those ideas?
- What sort of project management or collaboration tool will suit your organization?
Write for the right readers
That first question, about your audience, is one that took us several months to answer fully. We started out with a rough idea and tried to ensure we published posts for potential clients, current clients, and other fans of the blog (on Bad Language, for example, that would be writers and marketers).
As we delved deeper into the inbound methodology, however, we realized that approach was too arbitrary. We needed to develop buyer personas that would form a direction and focus for our editorial calendar.
Once we had these personas (which took a while to refine and get right, as they should) we started to build a rolling editorial calendar that would focus on each of our four personas for a fortnight at a time.
This strategy is still evolving; in focusing on audience personas, we don’t want to neglect other readers who are not necessarily potential customers but who can help us by promoting content and engaging with it.
Crucially, defining your audience means not only thinking about who they are but also what you want them to do. Why are you writing for this ideal audience? Do you just want them to get to know your brand? Do you want to drive readers to landing pages? Are you showcasing your expertise?
You need to know why you’re blogging to these people; otherwise, you are just spending time and money with no way of measuring if it’s worth it.
Experimentation cannot fail
The absolute most important thing about building a blogging system is getting it up and running as soon as possible.
You may not have answers to all of your questions. Some answers might be based only on speculation to start with. That doesn’t matter. As long as you start somewhere, you can then begin to learn and refine.
Say you aim to publish three posts a week but people keep failing to stick to deadlines and you just can’t come up with enough ideas. That’s not a failure. Instead, it’s likely a sign that you need to scale your system back to two posts per week, discuss with the writers’ managers how to prioritize their blogging work, and research new sources of inspiration and keywords for topics.
There is no such thing as failure as long as you are paying attention to how the system is working, and you’re adapting it to respond as you want it to.
And as we’ve learned after a year of trial and error, that process never ends. Experiments can fail, but experimentation does not.