Scaling Quality Content

Posted by iPullRank

As someone who is fortunate enough to get invited to speak at numerous conferences I pride myself in not reusing presentations unless someone specifically
requests it. However, for the SEO audience, there has always been a huge disconnect between the concepts of quality and scale when it comes to content. To
some degree, this makes sense because until 2011 content quality didn’t really impact Organic Search performance. 

Fortunately, we’re now in a post-Panda
era where Google has effectively killed the “SEO” page through a combination of FUD and algorithm improvements. I, for one, love it, because it gives us the
opportunity to step our game up and deliver higher quality web experiences. As a result I’ve made it a bit of a personal goal to share approaches to
achieving quality
at scale that drives measureable results with my Scaling Quality Content presentation. Let’s talk about how we can make things
users actually want that help us hit our business goals.

Here’s the deck. Over the several times I’ve presented it, it has gone through many iterations where I’ve added things based on new tools that I’ve
discovered in my own client work and things that have been highlighted within the industry; hence the version 1.4. I’m not going to highlight every single
slide, just the ones where I’ve made key points.

Everybody’s talking about content

The Content Marketing conversation has reached a deafening pitch within the past two years. Content Marketing software companies like Compendium and
Eloqua have been acquired for hundreds of millions of dollars. Smaller tools like Contently have been effective at raising multiple rounds of funding and every single marketer
you know, myself included, has uttered the phrase “Content is King.”

And why not? The
statistics are staggering, with 92% of
marketers reportedly doing content marketing and 58% of B2B marketers (60% of B2C marketers) planning to increase their content marketing spends this
year! So what makes content marketing such a magic bullet? And why so much talk about an
old practice that has just become new again?

It’s simply because the idea of Content Marketing has been
sold very well. Some people are seeing great results.

Eloqua and Kapost partnered up to
release a study on Content Marketing ROI
wherein they compared Paid Search, which they call the most efficient digital marketing channel, with Content Marketing. The study concludes that over time
the quantity and cost per lead (CPL), therefore your ROI, from Paid Search will remained fixed if your budget remains the same. However, your CPL for
Content Marketing drops substantially over time since content is a brand asset that will continue to compound traffic from multiple channels if you
continue to invest in it.

These are the types of expectations that have been set by the
marketing of Content Marketing. Marketers expect the gobs of traffic, links and
likes, but instead users effectively respond like this:

Your content launches. You get no shares, no likes, and your traffic looks like a half cycle of a sine wave. You think you’re playing the long game so you
keep at it, but months turn into quarters and quarters turn into years, while the reaction remains the same. Why doesn’t it work like it does in the movies?!
I’ll tell you why…

It’s pretty simple. You’re not making usable or useful content that anyone wants or cares about. It’s also pretty hideous. Someone would be ashamed to
share or link to it especially when your awful piece of content is competing for attention with the hundreds of thousands of other
great examples of content marketing every single
day. Oh yeah, and Buzzfeed. You’re competing with Buzzfeed too.

There’s no excuse for bad content in 2014

As much as we, as SEOs, want to hold onto the glory days of content spinning and farming out product description copy to Mechanical Turk, that era is
over. Luckily for us though, the post-Panda era comes at the same time that traditional journalism stands on its last legs, and there are more graphic
designers than there are available creative roles.

We are now in the era of the marketplace where sites keep springing up that allow marketers to handpick the writers, graphic designers, developers
and even data scientists they want to work on their project based on their portfolios and reviews. Marketplaces breed
competition, so you can get high quality work at rates that are much lower than you would expect.

That said, a common question that I hear at every conference is “how do I make content for a boring niche?” or “how do I come up with content ideas?”

I find that one particularly perplexing because there is more data out there than ever before. According to an
IBM study from 2011, we were creating 2.5 quintillion Bytes
of Data every day.

Three things. One, I don’t know how many zeroes that is. Two, that was in 2011. And most importantly, three, much of that data is people’s attitudes,
interests and opinions on virtually every concept imaginable.

For the rare situations where you can’t find data that you want there are many platforms for creating custom data and discovering new and different content

Ultimately, it’s never a question of whether there are enough content ideas or producers to go around. It’s always a question of whether you, as a
marketer, are creative enough to capitalize on them in a way that is useful, usable and/or entertaining for your audience and helps you meet your business

But that’s just it! For many SEOs or performance marketers, creating quality content is undiscovered territory. Overnight, we went from data wranglers and
tactical magicians to low-budget creative agencies. Our fail-fast attitude made the jump with us, and Content Marketing’s “make something, put it out, see
what happens and improve” ethos is very much in alignment. As a result we skip a lot of useful steps.

Oftentimes I see the terms “Content Strategy” and “Content Marketing” used interchangeably. Even in “Epic Content Marketing,” a book written by Joe Pulizzi
of Content Marketing Institute, he has a long list of terms that he believes are synonymous with “content marketing” where he mentions “content strategy.”

I could not disagree more. And
many others feel the same.

A brief explanation of the difference between the two disciplines comes with two quotes from “Content Strategy for the Web” author Kristina Halvorson. She
describes Content Strategy as “a shared set of goals, guiding principles and success metrics that guides the creation, delivery and governance of content
across an organization” and Content Marketing as “multi-channel custom publishing.”

Let’s unpack that for a second. If you have an idea for an infographic, make it and release it, you have performed content marketing. If you, however,
identify and understand your audience, business goals, metrics by which content will be measured, ensure that the content is both useful and usable for
your target audience, plan out the metadata and CMS requirements, develop or adhere to a brand messaging architecture (voice and tone), develop a process
and identify resources for creation, release, and maintenance of the infographic, well, then you’re doing content strategy.

Content strategy is the answer to scaling quality content that performs

I like to think of Content Strategy as the operating system of digital marketing campaigns. Similarly, I think of Social Media Strategy as just
channel-specific Content Strategy. This
content lifecycle image by Erin Scime of dopeData does a
great job of illustrating how CS works operationally, but it’s better explained in the context of workflows that I’ll be discussing later on.

Additionally, there are a few other things that should be kept top of mind when creating quality content at scale.

  • Diversify content types -
    We need to expand our idea of what content types are available for use in content marketing as well. As soon as we start talking about content
    marketing it is generally assumed we’ll be doing blog posts, white papers, infographics and video. That’s it.

    Everything you see in the above image is content. Invest in big content types and repurpose them into the smaller more readily used content types. For
    example, MozCon as an event is a giant piece of content that is repurposed in the form of blog posts, SlideShare decks, videos, data, memes, infographics,
    user generated content, press, animations and in some cases products and tools as well. 

    Take a step back and think about what type of content your audience would love before just settling into blog posts, white papers, infographics and videos.
    Think about how you can be a content
    purple cow in your space.

  • Focus on the ROI -
    If we don’t look to move the needle on the content we’re creating we are wasting time. As of late I’ve seen a lot more people talking about content marketing as a branding play, more than a direct response play. Ever the
    skeptic, I read that more as a way to continue to justify doing content marketing that doesn’t perform vis a vis Display Advertising.

    The reality is we are marketers and our content isn’t all about altruism for users. We need to make strong business cases and build content based on models
    that perform. My
    MozCon deck from 2012 has a bunch of tools, tips
    and tactics for calling your shot and building strong content pitches. Later on in this post you’ll be introduced to some formulas for predicting content
    success as well.

  • Map content to the user journey and KPIs -
    Understanding the user journey and how it aligns with the content touchpoints is incredibly important for measurement purposes and for driving conversion. It simply doesn’t make sense to measure everything in the same way.
    Measuring an infographic based on sales will lead to some very disappointed bosses or clients.

    Instead determine the most relevant KPIs for content by mapping them to the stage in the user journey that makes the most sense. For instance, it makes
    more sense to judge a buyer’s guide based on sales and the infographic on links and shares.

Content planning tools

When developing your content strategy there are a number of tools that will help streamline the process. Some of these tools may be familiar, so I will just
highlight the use case from the Content Strategy perspective.

  • Screaming Frog
    URL Profiler
    - When performing Content Audits you’ll need to take a detailed inventory of the URLs on the site. Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider is by far my favorite
    crawling tool for this purpose. However URL Profiler has also popped up as an option that fits the content auditing use case a little better due to its
    readability scoring and content classification via the
    uClassify API. It pulls link and share metrics via APIs,
    but can’t quite stand up to the Frog’s SEO auditing-specific features or user interface.

    - When collaborating with multiple people on content ideas acts as a virtual whiteboard that allows you to use a variety of built-in assets such
    as post-it notes and process imagery. You can also bring in assets from across the web or your own machine. The drag and drop interface and the various
    different board types to work on make it very easy for everyone to get their ideas out. Their tagline “Google Docs for visual people” very succinctly
    explains what it can do. 
  • StoryboardThat
    - Whenever you’re developing video or cartoon content everyone has a different idea in their imagination of what will be created. Creating storyboards
    helps get all parties on the same page. StoryboardThat features scenery, shapes and character assets as well as a drag and drop interface that makes it
    really easy to spin up stories in a comic strip format and shoot them over to your team.

  • Balsamiq
    - The popular wireframing program makes presenting layouts for content pieces such as new site sections, microsites, apps, and infographics a piece of
    cake. Balsamiq is one of the quickest most efficient ways of communicating ideas for experiences visually and its collaboration features make it
    incredibly easy to come to a consensus of how to build the right thing.

  • Gliffy
    - Gliffy is very similar to Balsamiq, however it also features a lot of assets for building workflow diagrams and documenting processes. I use this
    specifically for building out the visuals that support content governance models.

  • Trello
    - Already a popular project management tool, Trello is also great for editorial calendars. Check out the Trello “Power-Ups;” they provide a calendar

  • Great content has great structure

    If you look at
    my first post on Moz and then look at everything else I’ve written after that, you’ll see a marked difference in the layout and
    structure. That was because then-Moz CMO Jamie Steven encouraged me to read
    this post by the incomparable Cyrus Shepard. In the post Cyrus
    quantifies the performance difference between two posts of otherwise equal quality by the same author and proves that the post with better structure
    substantially outperforms the post that appears to be a wall of text.
    Establishing a style guide for content creation is a critical step to ensure that the
    structure of all content is homogeneous following the same best practices.

Finding good ideas

Earlier in the deck I make the point that there is no excuse to not come up with strong content ideas. Here are a few things you can do to help with the
ideation process.

  • Build personas and user journeys
    - Unless this is our first time meeting, you know that I believe it’s absolutely critical to understand who your content is for. The practice of
    building personas helps the team frame its content ideas in a way that supports your business goals, but is also useful to that target audience.
    Building personas is a way to really be mindful of the user needs and to standardize what your company believes and is targeting. For more on this

    see Personas: Understanding the User Behind the Visit


  • Use
    - If you don’t want to go through the process of building personas, and you just want to build ideas based on the users you’ve already captured you can
    take a shortcut and use Followerwonk’s word clouds. Take two or more keywords in the word cloud to identify what a segment of your follower base might
    be interested in.

    Based on this word cloud, followers of FTD are mostly interested in Social Media and also love music and sports. Therein lies an opportunity to create some
    sort of fantasy sports game powered by social media. FTD could survey their follower base for ways to fine tune that idea further.

    There’s one caveat that I’ve noticed with Followerwonk though. Sometimes the sample size of the followers it uses for the word cloud is quite low. If you
    run into that problem you can use
    SimplyMeasured’s free twitter follower report
    and dump all of the twitter bios into TagCrowd and generate a word cloud for up to 10k followers.

    Additionally, you could use
    Tribalytics to segment your followers into meaningful groups.

  • Bottlenose Sonar
    - A few years back,

    upon discovering the correlation between spikes in search volume and social chatter

    , I built a tool for identifying co-relevant terms by search Twitter to get ahead of them before they show search demand. Twitter has since updated its
    API numerous times and I haven’t updated the code. However Bottlenose has built something far more robust called “Sonar” that allows you to uncover
    those same insights with a much more beautiful UI.

    Similar to how you can use the word clouds in Followerwonk you can identify two or more co-relevant terms on the graph and come up with a content idea.
    The beauty of this tool is that you can see precisely who tweeted the two ideas together and reach out to them for buy-in, shares and links.

  • Quora
    - This underrated social Q&A site is a breeding ground for great content ideas and often data to back them up. People pose questions and can invite
    experts to answer them. At any given time you’ll find startup founders or Fortune 500 employees offering a lot of transparency into their companies.
    You’ll also find people that are incredibly passionate about whatever it is they do giving you detailed insight that is hard to find elsewhere.

    There is a lot that can be repurposed from Quora, but you can also pose questions to gauge the interest or reception of a content idea. Moreover, Quora
    also gives you a list of people that are interested in the topic that you can use to help promote the content.

  • Keyword Research -
    As the

    SEER Interactive team often says “Don’t Hit Enter,”

    when performing searches and you’ll uncover a number of relevant content ideas with built in audiencs. Ultimately, modern keyword research should take
    steps forward to
    map keywords to the user journey in order to align
    with the content strategy. Either way the collective human experience that keyword research represents viable content concepts. Consider Ubersuggest
    and Soovle in addition to the Keyword Planner.
  • Yutongo
    - Yutongo is a marketplace platform for crowdsourcing ideas. It allows for your internal team to join the platform for brainstorming or you can setup
    your idea challenge and bring in outside creative thinkers to submit their approaches to solving your creative problem.

Data collection sources

At this point you have your ideas, you know what you’re building and who you’re building it for, but you need data to build out the experience. There are
many ways get existing data and build custom data. Here is a shortlist of data collection sources.

  • SurveyMonkey Audience
    - When you have identified your target demographic and you want to know specifically what they think you can run a custom survey with SurveyMonkey’s
    Audience product. I really love how SM presents the data once its collected and how they explicitly collect demographic data on the user so you can be
    sure that your question has been answered by the people you expect.

  • Google Consumer Surveys
    - Google’s answer to SurveyMonkey Audience is good product for custom surveys as well, but it’s built on the back of the Google Display network. This
    is an important distinction because that means Google is inferring demographics based on their database of affinity rather than having them explicitly
    captured from user inputs.
  • Google Consumer Barometer
    Google’s Consumer Barometer product gives data and insights into user behavior when making purchasing decisions. You can use different features and
    demographic data points to get a complete look at who is doing what and why for a variety of product types.

  • Google Public Data
    - Google’s Public Data product aggregates data from a variety of world government and public data stores to present interesting data experiences such

    life expectancy charts per country


    European minimum wage comparisons by country

    . You can also upload your own DSPL-formatted datasets and choose build visualizations yourself.
  • Marketing Charts
    - Need marketing stats right now? Marketing Charts is a curation site of relevant marketing statistics and charts. I find this especially useful when
    building business cases or quick data collection for infographics.
  • Data Search Engines
    - There are a variety of tools that I’d classify as data search engines. They all approach have a unique approach to data presentation and some are
    better than others for certain data types. Whenever I’m looking for data I pop in a few searches into them all until I find what I’m looking for.

    • Zanran – ZanRan is one of the few that is a proper search engine. Search for queries like “Teenage pregnancy US” to
      find data stores and charts specific to your data needs.
    • DataMarket – DataMarket is also a search engine that returns interactive charts based on the data you’re looking
    • Get the Data – Get the Data is a Q&A site where data mongers can ask other data mongers the right places to find
      the data they need.
    • Data360 – A data journalism site that lets the data speak for itself. You can almost always find the data behind
      current events here.

Quality outsourcing

The biggest difficulty in committing to building quality content at scale is sourcing that content and assuring its quality. Naturally, there should be
people whose job it is manage this process, but for the actual sourcing here are some platforms that make it much easier.

  • 99Designs
    - How would you like dozens of creative people to compete for your project? How would you like all of them to have to submit finished work and you
    choose to award a winner based on who submitted the work that you loved the most? How would you like that process to be relatively inexpensive? Then
    you’ll love 99Designs. 

    The 99Designs network can design apps, websites, branding, books and more. Obviously, the higher you set the prize on the project, the higher quality
    creative professional you’ll get. Also, if you don’t want to hold a design contest, 99Designs offers a
    1-to-1 project model as well.

  • Dribbble
    - As a designer portfolio site Dribbble, on the other hand, is all about the 1-to-1 project model. You can search for the type of designer you need
    based on skillset and location, look at their work, their availability and then reach out to suggest a project. Be warned, you can lose hours just
    looking through awesome work on this site.

  • Content Marketplaces
    - If there’s anything that you take away from this post it should be that there are high end creative people that are ready and willing to take on your
    content projects. Sure, you can buy a article from one of the lower end providers, or you can spend a few hundred and get a great piece of writing
    from people that have bylines in the New York Times.

    • Contently – All of the high end content marketplaces offer workflow management tools and editorial calendar tools that connect the authors and publishers
      and allow for direct connections to their respective Content Management Systems. Contently, however, now offers analytics for content placements and has designers on their platform as well. Before you join you can find portfolio profiles based on the topic by using this
      advanced search query – “ intitle:stories for [keyword].”
    • Skyword – Skyword is virtually identical to Contently, but it may be a little cheaper to get started
      depending on your business type and how many sites you’re talking about. They are also very SEO-minded so they have keyword research tools built-in. They
      also integrate with BigStock to make adding licensed imagery easy.
    • Newscred – Newscred offers the type of content quality and similar workflow tools to those at Contently and Skyword, but
      their USP has more to do with content licensing for re-publishing. They also integrate with paid promotion tools like Taboola and Outbrain.

All of these platforms are viable content sources; it’s up to you to decide which one’s nuanced differentiation best supports your use case.

  • CopyPress
    - Hands down CopyPress is the best low commitment content development marketplace. From copywriting to high end interactive pieces they leverage their
    vetted community to turn out remarkable content. Whereas the previously mentioned tools require a subscription to their software, CopyPress content can
    be purchased as one-offs.

  • PlagTracker
    - Depending on the volume of content you’re creating and launching you may not have the resources to scour the web and ensure that the content is
    original. PlagTracker is a tool to ensure that content is original. They also have an API so marketers may plug these checks into the process

  • Grammarly
    - Checking grammar at scale is no small task. Grammarly is a tool that speeds up the editing process by programmatically identifying grammatical errors
    with far more accuracy than what is built into Word. To my knowledge, you cannot tap into the tool programmatically, but I guess it’s good that they
    are more focused on APA than API. Grammarly also features its own plagiarism checking tool as well.

  • Example Outsource Workflow

    Lists of tools with use cases are fantastic, but what’s more important is that we develop repeatable workflows to achieve efficiency. Here is an
    example of how the tools align with the process for an outsource workflow.

    • Audit Phase - First step is reviewing any existing content quantitatively and qualitatively to see if anything can be repurposed or
      needs to be updated or cut. You’ll use Screaming Frog or URL Profiler for this.
    • Strategy Phase – In the strategy phase you’ll use Quora, Bottlenose, Followerwonk and SurveyMonkey Audience to define your idea and
      collect data on your users. You’ll use Murally to brainstorm with your team and Trello to layout the components of the campaign and manage the project.
    • Planning Phase - You’ll lay out your storyboards and wireframes with Storyboard and Balsamiq and determine how you’ll source your
      content through 99Designs, Contently and Dribbble.
    • Creation Phase – You’ll create your content using 99Designs, Dribbble and Contently and then assure its quality using PlagTracker and
    • Maintenance – You’ll add your content to the maintenance schedule board in Trello.

DIY quality content

I totally understand that we don’t all work agencies or enterprise businesses with four or five figure content budgets. Fortunately, if you can write, make
a spreadsheet and upload pictures then you can make remarkable content yourself. Many of the tools for this should already be familiar and I’ll
specifically highlight the ones I hear the least about.

  • WYSIWYG Infographics
    - Infogram and Piktochart have already made their rounds through the SEO
    space. Both tools allow users to create infographics built on templates with a drag and drop interface.
  • Google Fusion Tables
    - Another SEO favorite for data visualization,
    Google Fusion Tables allows users to visualize spreadsheets.
  • iCharts
    - Similar to Google Fusion Tables, iCharts allows for the creation of data visualization based on spreadsheets and connect data sources via an API.
  • Dipity
    - Dipity allows you to create interactive timelines by simply uploading pictures and placing copy. Timelines can then be embedded into landing pages.

  • Storybird
    - Storybird allows users to create interactive books from their existing assets or by uploading pictures and writing copy.

  • Kuler
    - Color-coordination is key in creating beautiful content and many people simply have a problem with color theory. Have no fear, Adobe’s Kuler product
    allows creative to share specific color schemes they’ve identified and you can search for the right scheme to fit the look and feel that your content

  • Adobe Edgefonts
    - While the web has made great strides in improving, there are still many typefaces that are unavailable. Adobe TypeKit and Google Fonts API had a baby
    called Adobe Edgefonts which gives designers more choices to choose from in quality fonts. Use it to build experiences with better typography.

  • HackDesign
    - I know what you’re thinking. “I’m not a designer. Where do I even start with all of this stuff?” Good question. HackDesign is free design course that
    comes to your inbox weekly and helps your understand design concepts.

  • Example DIY Workflow

    Again, developing repeatable workflows is incredibly important to achieve scale. You’ll notice the Do-It-Yourself workflow is not much different from
    the outsourced workflow aside from the creation phase. In this case instead of identifying places to source content in the Planning stage we are
    creating the content ourselves using a combination of Kuler, and Storybird.

Communicating with creatives

Every time a marketer asks for a “simple, clean design” or misuses the term “flat design” Steve Jobs shoots an angel with a plasma cannon controlled from
an iPad. Ok, maybe that’s not as succinct as the bullets on slides-kittens thing, but you get the point.

The simple fact is that as marketers we don’t necessarily speak the same language as creatives and that often results in disconnects between what we expect
and what we’ve communicated. In my post ”
What it Takes to Get Remarkable Content Done” I had a discussion with
a Creative Director that I used to work closely with and we developed a deliverable called the Data Viz Brief.

I discuss the brief in-depth within the post, but it contains the personas the piece of content is going after, the story/background for the piece of
content, the data and copy, examples of the look and feel and a wireframe for how we’d like the content laid out.

The data section includes the specifically curated data points that we want to add to the experience as well as all of the raw data we’ve collected. This gives the
designer more latitude to be creative beyond ideas we may have initially come up with. This is key because designers want to be able to contribute to the
project in meaningful ways rather than just being told what to do and what to copy.

The wireframes are a key component in helping to manage your own expectations of what will be created. Not only does it give the designer a good framework
to create within, but it also gives both sides the opportunity to hammer out the best idea for the content before any pixels are placed. Ultimately, the
end result of the brief you’re seeing screenshots from became
infographic you see here.

Content promotion formulas

The good people at
BuzzStream wrote the (e-)book on content promotion. Naturally, content promotion organic or
otherwise requires money and/or effort and it is well worth the in-depth read as it outlines a fantastic process for doing so.

What I specifically highlight in the talk are the formulas BuzzStream presents for goal setting, knowing how much budget is required per Paid Media channel
and how much effort is required for link building outreach.

  • Goal Determination Formulas –
    Determine the goals for your content with these formulas based on how content has performed historically.

    • Download Goal = Goal Leads / Qualified Lead Rate
    • Visitor Goal = Download Goal / Conversion Rate
  • Spend Per Channel Requirement Formulas
    - Determine what type of results you can expect based on your spend in a given channel.

    • Views per Dollar = Views / Spend
    • Conversions per Dollar = Views per Dollar / Conversion Rate
  • Outreach Requirement Formulas –
    Determine how much effort you must put forth in outreach to hit your placement goal based on your response rate.

    • Outreach Target = Goal Links / Response (or Link) Rate
    • Initial List Length = Outreach Target / 20%

These formulas inject some much needed predictability into the content marketing conversation and are ideal for developing quick business cases and
projecting ROI.

Wrapping up

Take a step back and look at your Content Marketing programs that have failed. Think about how your goals could have been better met by using higher
quality content creation sources or determining clear ownership of tasks and quality assurance. Think about the times you “just shipped it” instead of
spending a little more on making “it” something that was usable and useful. Those are all situations where content strategy would have given your work a

Scaling quality content requires a large helping of Content Strategy added your Content Marketing. Quality at scale is more about process and resources
rather than technical tricks and agility. Better marketing starts with better experiences and better experiences start with content strategy.

Content Strategy is something I help brands of all sizes do effectively every day. Before I go, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or privately
about your experiences, why your content marketing campaigns have fallen short and/or how I can help out.

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June 14, 2014  Tags: , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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