Building the idea-to-content pipeline

August 15, 2020

There are lots of articles about how to come up with content ideas – and finding ideas is an important step to creating content.

But once you have ideas, you also need to figure out how to turn them into structured, useful articles that your customers and prospects can consume. That’s difficult, and it’s where intentionally creating, and streamlining, an idea-to-content pipeline can help.

Narrowing down your ideas

Let’s say you’ve come up with a list of 20 ideas for your next article. There are a few ways that we typically suggest narrowing down this list to just a few that make sense to produce, and that can be produced relatively quickly. Consider:

  • Is there demand for your content? Articles that are getting traction on social, active questions from customers or prospects, and keyword data can all be clues that a piece of content is worth creating.
  • Is there lots of competition? We usually make this assessment by looking at the domain authority of competitors who are ranking for the topic we’re writing about, since that’s easy to measure and understand.
  • Is it something you can easily produce? This is an important, but often overlooked part of the idea-to-content pipeline. Even if a content idea is high volume and low competition, if it takes a lot of effort to produce, you may not want to assign as high a priority to it. Clues to whether something is easy to produce include the technical depth of the topic, and the availability of subject matter experts to help you get the ideas down and checked for accuracy. For example, if there’s an expert at your company who can get the main ideas down on paper in a half hour session, that’s much easier than if important bits of knowledge are spread out among 2 or 3 people.
  • How easy is it to maintain? On one extreme, you could produce a complex article that is closely tied to a specific moment in time or event, and contains lots of very specific technical details. That might make sense if you know it will easily get widespread distribution. On the other hand, you could produce something that’s useful but straightforward to keep updated, like a resource guide, and that will be useful for a long time. Things that are easier to maintain are, on balance, probably more worthwhile to build.

Outlining for content marketing

Outlines govern the structure of your content, and our experience suggests that the outline – even more so than the actual content – is a major determiner of the success of a piece of content. To make things easier and more process-oriented, outlines can be structured and populated using data.

For example, when we write an outline on a particular topic, let’s say “carburetor repair”, we’ll use Google’s search suggestions, or other topics we want to write about, or what’s popular on social for a specific hashtag (#carburetors) as suggestions for sections to write.

Knowing what type of content you’re creating (blog, explainer, deep dive) will provide other structural signposts. An explainer outline, for example, will always include some basic contextual sections, while a blog might be a little more idiosyncratic.

For each of these sections, we’ll then populate as much as we can using existing content – whether that’s our own or content that’s already available. Places to borrow from include:

  • Content that’s already popular on this topic, whether you or someone else produced it
  • Content that is related, even if it doesn’t cover the topic exactly
  • Transcripts of webinars, product marketing materials, and demos
  • Notes from interviews with subject matter experts or users

The key is to get to a high-quality, data-driven draft put together as quickly as possible.

Outlining in this way also helps with repurposing. If you think about your content library as a product, can you take other pieces of the product and combine them into something new? For example, if you are writing an article on “cutlery management” for your restaurant clients, can you insert existing content about “bamboo vs. plastic”?

Distribution strategy, and publishing

Even before content is published, distribution strategy is critical for making it successful. Key pieces of distribution strategy include:

  • Picking a title that accurately represents what the content is about, but isn’t unnecessarily boring
  • Writing metadata, like descriptions for Google SERPs and social shares and figuring out which hashtags to use
  • Writing promotional copy, including several different formats of social share. For example, you might want to have “Q&A-style” social copy for several sections of your content, as well as more matter-of-fact copy describing what’s in it or its boldest claims. Each of these pieces of promotional copy is a way of positioning the content to your audience.
  • Finding the content’s audience. Early in the process you probably identified content as being targeted toward people in a certain stage of the buying funnel, or toward a certain job title or role. But the next step is to figure out where these people are (Slack groups? Publications? Newsletters?) and get pointers to your content from there. This can also include finding backlink opportunities and sending a quick note to point a web property manager to your content. It can even include identifying prospects or sales reps who might want to know about what you’ve written.

Conclusion

From topic selection to content production to distribution, you have an opportunity to optimize each step of content creation. Choose subjects that will allow your work to stand out in search results. Outline every piece before you begin writing in order to build substantial content in an efficient way. Fine-tune the details and metadata of your work with an eye toward your broadest potential audience.

Without a workflow system in place, businesses can waste untold hours producing content that hardly makes an impression beyond your office. An idea-to-content pipeline can be engineered to fit your daily business routine, so content creation is always moving forward.


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