Website and content are the two scariest words for anyone managing a website redesign. We’ve been building websites for 16+ years and this is ALWAYS the biggest logjam.
I think we can all agree that content is important, some would even say that content is king! We’re constantly pummeled with articles about content. More content, more content. It’s overwhelming and frankly a little ridiculous.
The success of your website does not depend on the amount of keywords or content you have in there when you launch. What matters is how useful and accessible that content is to your target audience and that you’ve positioned yourself as a resource.
Make your company the go-to resource for all of your client’s needs. How do you do this? It’s simple, solve their problems. Be their content hero!
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on and on about the importance of useful content, or what I call utility content. Instead, I want to offer a 5 step process to ensure your content is organized, effectively written or created, and positioned to perform.
This list will be written from the standpoint of organizing content for a new or redesigned website. That said, you can use any of these on an existing website.
5 Steps to Create Content that Performs
- Self Awareness!
- Fail Well!
Let’s get started…
Superpower One: Control! Take Control of and Responsibility for Your Website Content Efforts
No one person, company, or consultant is going to hold your hand and deliver you to the digital marketing promise land. Let me just ask you one question…
Who Trusts You and Why?
Why do your clients do business with you?
Really think about that. In fact, it’s the first step in our process. Write down all the reasons your clients do business with you. Write down all the reasons they prefer you over your competition. And note anything where your competition has an advantage.
In all of those things, you will likely notice a recurring theme… they do business with you, not your product and not your brand, but with the people. Sure, if you’re Coke or Pepsi, it might be all about the product or brand. But, the vast majority of people will make purchasing and business decisions based on the people they’re working with.
I’m not getting all kumbaya here. I know we’re not going to sit in a circle holding hands and signing songs. This is business. It’s about money at the end of the day. But, people don’t just give up their cash to anyone. It takes trust.
How Do You Manage Trust?
Trust is built by consistently doing what you say you’re going to do. It’s about being dependable, transparent, and useful.
Now, imagine trying to build trust by farming out all of your content efforts. What does that look like? Do people hire you or your words? They hire you because of your words. But, they need to be your words.
I understand that writing is hard. I’m writing right now. This post will take some time to complete. Heck, I still have 4 more steps to cover and I’m not even finished with this one. I’m exhausted, I need a nap. 😉
Writing is Hard
Writing for most people is a tedious and painful process. Even writers will tell you this. And I’m not arguing that you write every single word that gets posted. You will likely need help. But, the ideas need to come from you and your team. The rest is process and can be farmed out as needed to one or more of the following:
- Copywriters and editors
- Marketing consultants and planners
- Advertising firms
- Design and development firms
These resources can be an important part to your success, but, the essence of your content will need to come from you.
Who Are Your SMEs?
Remember, people do business with people. Not because your people are good looking or because they speak or write perfectly. In fact those can be detriments in some respects. People prefer real over polished.
What I’m talking about are the experts. The people in your organization who consistently solve problems. Who are the rock stars? I bet there are a few people who come to mind right away. Those are your SMEs or your subject matter experts.
These are the brains you need to tap into. Some of them may be talented and prolific writers. If so, consider your company lucky, blessed even. The harsh truth is that most of these people will either hide or challenge you to a fist fight if you tell them they’re suddenly expected to crank out content on a consistent basis.
Unless you are confident you’ll get a yes, don’t do this. They will revolt. Make the process simple for them so their answer to your request for help is an easy yes.
Getting Content from a SME Brain
So, how do you tap into those brains? Here are a few ideas to get you started…
- Arrange for regular interviews on specific topics (set a clear agenda and keep the interviews to no more than 10 minutes)
- Ask them a question and film or record the answer
- Email them a question or two (it helps to set a suggested deadline)
- Bring two SMEs together and video or audio record the conversation about a specific topic
Get creative but keep the process easy and rewarding for your SMEs. They have to enjoy this process or you’ll struggle to get what you need. If you’re the SME, send this post to your marketing lead.
From there you should have enough raw content for your writer/editor to generate a useful and well-written blog post. You can also use the video and audio content as a source for your video and podcasting efforts.
And these pieces can be strung together to form a series, eBook, or white paper. In fact, it’s often easier and more effective to create the smaller pieces first and put them together as a long form content piece than to start long form content from scratch.
At this point you might be asking “this is great for blog posts, but, what about my page content?” All of your content should solve a problem!
If it’s content on a services page, it should explain the problem and how your service offers a solution. Offering explanations of how from your SMEs will help your clients to make their decision. It’s no longer about features and benefits, it’s about real solutions that help people with real problems.
“I Thought This Was about ‘Owning It!'”
Yup, all of this should lead you to one main conclusion. No one knows you, represents you, and connects you to your target audience better than you. Own your content. Take pride in the content you produce.
I asked an expert on content marketing if content marketing can be completely outsourced. His answer is on point…
“I do think it is feasible to outsource content creation. Developing excellent content is a challenge for time-starved professionals who may not possess creative talents. There is no reason that a productive, effective, and synergistic relationship cannot develop between a business and outside resources. Another advantage to utilizing outside resources is access to fresh and diverse creative treatments that might not reside in a static internal team.” – Mark Schaefer, Author of KNOWN and the Content Code.
The key words of his answer to me are “synergistic relationship.” This means you need to be involved. Owning your content means you are accountable in some way for the creation, distribution, and success of your content. If you rely on a scapegoat, you will never achieve your goals.
The content for your website isn’t marketing’s problem. It isn’t your web design firm’s problem. And it isn’t the CEO or even the intern’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem. Create and perpetuate a culture that celebrates content.
If you do not, you will fail. You’ll fail not because content is hard but because your competition is working on their content. And when you fail, you will face this challenge to “own it” once more. How many times will you not accept this challenge???
Shampoo, rinse, repeat.
Superpower Two: Self Awareness – A Content Audit and Team Assessment
Content doesn’t have to be all blood, sweat, and tears. Not everything needs to be unnecessarily difficult. Everything in life can be hacked, from our DNA to our content efforts.
Know your strengths and weaknesses, and find the shortcuts that help you to produce great content. You most likely have a good bit of content already or at least a good base. You just need to know where to look and what to do once you find it.
A Content Audit
I put together a simple content audit. There are many out there with a lot more steps that go way deeper. I don’t want you to be overwhelmed. I just want you to know what you have and what the next steps are.
The purpose of this exercise is to take stock of all of your content assets. This can include but is not limited to:
- Website page and blog content
- Print and marketing material content
- Presentations, videos, podcasts
- Client emails and other correspondence
You’ll want to inventory all your content and assess each piece based on the following:
- Location – the URL or physical location of this content so anyone can find it quickly
- Title – It’s official title or a working title you plan to use in the editing phase
- Description – a quick description of what it is and who it’s for
Once you’ve completed your inventory, start cleaning house. What are the obvious pieces you can trash right away? No sense in spending any extra time on content headed for the trash can. Get rid of them!
Content Assessment and Planning
Then, go back through what’s left and start assessing each piece:
- Usefulness (Scale of 1 to 10) Based on:
- Brand Viability (Scale of 1 to 10) Based on:
- SEO Value (Scale of 1 to 10) Based on:
- Does this piece contain one of your target keywords or phrases?
- Can it be modified to have more SEO value?
- Can you target a more competitive “long tail” phrase to get better results?
- Pro tip: use a tool like www.SEMRush.com to see what keywords a competitor’s similar page or post is ranking for. Then, find a way to expand or modify those keywords to offer even more to your target audience. For example, their post might be “An Overview of Widget Specs” where yours could be “5 Practical Uses for a Widget” or “5 Mistakes You’re Making with Your Widget.” I’m oversimplifying but I think you get it.
- Next Step
- After answering the questions above, should you keep it or trash it?
- If you keep it, what are the next steps and who will be in charge?
- Next steps could include: editing, rewrite, merging with other content, etc.
- Where will this content go in your existing or new website? Align this with your sitemap (see below).
And remember, this is not about getting into the weeds. This is about a quick but complete assessment of what content you have and what shape it’s in. This will then determine what is missing and what additional work needs to be done.
At some point, you’ll also want to take stock of your human assets. This can occur before the audit, during the audit, after the audit or all three. It really doesn’t matter. You’ll know who you need at various points in the process.
A content team could look like this:
- Project Lead – someone who is in charge of assigning tasks and chasing deadlines
- Writers – these could be in-house team members or hired guns, whatever works best to achieve your goals and stay on budget
- Editors – it’s best to have someone other than the writer do the editing
- Web or Graphic Designers – you may want to create infographics, presentations, or web templates for specific types of content
- Web Developer – these are the people who build the thing that holds the content, it helps to keep them in the content loop so they are building the appropriate content containers.
For smaller operations, this could all be done by 2 or 3 people. For larger organizations, it could be a team of anywhere from 5 – 15 people. The size of the team doesn’t matter as much as their ability to assist as needed with the “Next Step” tasks.
Superpower Three: Organization – Turn Your Audit into a Content Task List
Don’t just crank out random content. Content for content’s sake doesn’t work. Get organized!
I love this quote from my interview with Rebecca Lieb…
“You are, after all, doing this (content marketing) for a purpose, aren’t you? Content marketing can be a lot of fun and a very successful tactic, but much more so when strategy is behind it.” Rebecca Lieb, Author of The Truth About Search Engine Optimization and Content Marketing.
Time to strategize! After your audit you should see a list of to-dos. They’re all listed in your “What’s Next” column. You’ve also identified the team necessary to make your content come to life.
Now, here’s the thing. This Get Organized phase could be happening before, during, or after a website redesign. Ideally though, it needs to happen before. Hear me out.
Maybe you’ve put out an RFP for a new website. Or your board tasked you with getting the IT team to overhaul your existing site (bad idea, no offense IT people but you don’t wanna do it anyway).
Regardless of where you are in this new/revamped website process, you’ll eventually have to answer the question “what about the content?”
Remember, your content is what gets you found on search engines. It’s what makes you a hero to your clients and it’s what leads someone down the path to conversion, i.e. becoming a fan, client, subscriber, member, etc.
Why then is content always an afterthought??? Seriously, it happens all the time. This is completely backwards!
You’re not doing yourself any favors by putting off your content. In fact, by ignoring, punting, or delaying your content needs, you are actively undermining your marketing goals. Why would you do that???
Yes, this is the preachy section of the article. But, I’m not sorry. This is important. If you follow these steps, you will thank me later.
Your Content Task List
Once you’ve identified what content you have and what needs work, you should start to see gaps and holes. These are the areas where you’re falling short on content. An easy way to be clear about what those holes are is to make two lists…
- What are your goals (more on this in the next section)?
- What are your client’s goals?
Then, find where these two intersect and you have your content priorities as illustrated in the super fancy Venn diagram below…
Your Website’s Sitemap
Now take that list of priorities and start to build a sitemap out of it. A sitemap is nothing more than a list of pages and posts that will make up your website.
You can use an excel spreadsheet, a PowerPoint, or just an outline in a Word doc. It really doesn’t matter. Use whatever works best for you. Here’s a ridiculously simple sitemap example…
- About Us
- Our Team
- Widget Repair
- Widget Storage
- Widget Maintenance (Category)
- Widget Storage (Category)
- Contact Us
- Widget Warehouse
Now, you might be thinking, “why didn’t we start with the sitemap?” And that is not an outrageous thing to think.
But, here’s the thing: how can you know the makeup of your website without first identifying what content you have, what content you need, which content needs works, what your goals are, and what your target audience’s needs/goals are?
You can, but it won’t be very complete or effective. Every page and post in your sitemap needs to align with a conversion goal.
For example, About Us –> Services –> Contact. Or it could be Post about Widget –> Widget Page –> Purchase –> Thanks.
And each of those pages needs to be of value to the user. I bet you thought your About Us page was just about your founders and maybe the awards you’ve won or your “mission statement.” Nope, everything needs to speak to your target audience and lead them down the conversion path.
The rest is filler. Bury it if it absolutely needs to be on the site. Otherwise, delete it. It’s not doing anyone any real good.
Step Four: Visualization – See the Goals You Can Achieve and Measure
Seeing your goals is important. Knowing your objective keeps you focused. Without goals, you’re just shouting to the wind and hoping someone hears. Also, goals help you grow and pay the bills.
There are two main types of goals for a typical website (with some overlap):
Growth as a Website Goal
Growth can come in many forms. Most typically it’s an increase in numbers of some sort. This could be the numbers of newsletter subscribers, growth in content produced, or simply growing the number of visitors to the website.
Growth for growth’s sake is silly. It’s vanity. Growth goals need to be a metric tied to internal business goals. For example, if your goal is to grow your newsletter subscribers, you should know why and what it takes to get there.
Let’s say that you send out an email blast once a week to 1,000 people. And 100 people click a link to an article listed in the newsletter. Of those 100 people, 5 click through to your contact form. And one of those people becomes a closed deal.
So, you can now tie the growth goal of more newsletter subscribers to an actual conversion goal, a sale.
Conversion as a Website Goal
Speaking of conversion, that is the ultimate goal of any website. Don’t believe me? Check this out…
- Non-profit website, conversion goals:
- Newsletter signups
- Membership signups
- White paper downloads
- Community College, conversion goals:
- Online applications
- Newsletter signups
- Tour requests
- Community Church
- Contact form submissions
- Signups for fundraisers
- Downloads of sermons
These are just a few samples of how even an organization that isn’t selling a product can have very important conversion goals.
Now, using the newsletter example above, you can create a realistic conversion goal.
Remember, 1,000 email recipients, 100 article clicks, 5 contacts, 1 sale.
So, if you want to grow your leads to 10 with 2 closed sales, you’ll need to grow your newsletter to 2,000 subscribers.
Each conversion goal you create needs to be tied to a realistic plan. To simply say “we want more sales” is not a conversion goal. It’s a wish. (there’s a song lyric in there somewhere but I can’t think of it, help!)
Content drives conversion!
Don’t believe me? Maybe Gini will convince you…
“How effective do you think a website would be without content? Sort of effective? Kind of effective? Super effective? Not all effective? I’m going to give you a hint: it’s “not at all” effective. Gone are the days of publishing our sales brochure online. Today our websites are living, breathing beings that need to be cared for and cultivated almost daily.
That could be writing blog posts, updating your frequently asked questions, cultivating a media room, providing lead magnets, producing videos, publishing a podcast, distributing a newsletter, or creating bigger pieces of content, such as white papers or research. Whatever helps you achieve your business goals is what you should publish on your website. Your goal should be to create the very best page of content that exists on the web for your topic. If you do that, your website will be a lead generating machine for you.” — Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich and author and founder of Spin Sucks
Content – that annoying thing you keep putting off – affects and drives your bottom line!
Step Five: Fail Well – Learn from Your Duds
Failure is not a bad thing. It’s an opportunity. I hate that I’m about to quote Steve Jobs but here goes… “if you don’t fail, you’re not trying.”
The question is what do you do with the failure. Do you bury it under the rug and hope no one notices? Do you find ways to avoid all failure in the future? No, you learn from it. This is how you fail well!
Error Prevention vs. Learning How to Succeed
Failure is an opportunity to improve your processes. More importantly, failure is part of your process. In his book, 10x Marketing Formula, Garrett Moon talks about the cost of error prevention (read this book is you want to take your content to the 10x level).
Error prevention is the “strategy” where everyone avoids making any mistakes, not because it makes for a better product, but because the main goal is to avoid responsibility, reprimands, whatever.
As Anthony Kiedis says in Point Break, “that would be a waste of time.” All that time spent avoiding errors is time taken away from creating great content. Instead you want to create content faster, test it often, and make corrections as needed.
The quest for perfect is a fool’s errand. Print that and post it anywhere content is meant to be created. You’re not writing the great American novel. This is marketing. Here’s a refresher…
Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. – American Marketing Association (AMA)
Offerings that have value. That’s what I’ve been going on and on about in this post. Offerings that have value. Your goal is not writing the most beautifully written prose that would make F. Scott Fitzgerald blush. It’s creating offerings that have value.
To profit from your failures, you need to set realistic goals (see above) and see which content performed and which did not.
A Completely Made Up Case Study
To illustrate my point, here is a completely made up case study.
So, you put out a Services overview page. You love what was created. It catches all the right buzzwords, makes your organization look great, and thoroughly explains all of the technical wizardry you specialize in. Do you see a problem here?
The page is deployed. You’ve even linked some of your posts to this page and promoted that page on social media. What do you think would happen? Is that an offering that has value?
Who are you writing this page for? I would argue a page like this is written to please one of the more anal retentive members of your team. It has value to them. Are they part of that Venn diagram below? Yes, but not the priorities part.
You’ve crafted content for the wrong person and I guarantee you it will not perform (unless your target audience is just like that anal retentive person).
So, take that content and do a rewrite, this time for the target audience and in line with your marketing priorities. Also, make sure you add a call to action…
Calls to Action and Measurable Results
Remember, every piece of content should serve a purpose and be a stepping stone to the next thing. That next thing is tied to your marketing goals.
So, taking the made up case study above, we’ve established that content written in technical speak with lots of buzzwords and no perceivable value is going to fail. Remember, the point is to learn from failure.
So, if your manager or CEO or whatever powers that be are adamant about the type of content you should create, be prepared to test that content.
You telling them something will not work is much harder than showing them that something did not work.
Post that content and measure page views, bounce rate (when they get to the page and then bail), and conversion rate (when they click to the next page in your funnel). You can get all of this information in Google Analytics.
You can then take those numbers to the powers that be and show them how this content affects their bottom line. They will listen to this.
Failing at Blog Posts, Video, Podcasts and More!
There are lots of things you can fail at. I failed at writing a grammatically correct sentence just then. Big deal.
Don’t fear failure. Fear stagnation. The companies succeeding in the digital marketing game are the ones taking chances.
Another super useful tidbit from the 10x Marketing Formula is where he describes starting a podcast. I’m paraphrasing bigtime so read the book if your want the full tidbit.
10x Podcast Planning Example
You want to start a podcast because everyone’s doing it. And you just know people will eat this stuff up! So, you gather your team, write a marketing plan for podcasting, develop an editorial calendar, and invest in the best podcasting tech available.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to try one episode first? Do a simple podcast using any digital recorder. Take a SME and bring them to a quiet room. Have a structured discussion on a topic that will resonate with your target audience and record it.
Then, edit it a bit, give it some lead in music, maybe take out any weird parts, and load it on a post with a written transcription below the media player. Promote the post to social channels, your email list, and anything else you normally use.
Then, give yourself a testing period and determine what success looks like. Is it pageviews, comments, conversions? Whatever ties to your goals discussed above.
You can also send this podcast out to valued clients and ask for their feedback. You will learn tons from this one podcast. And you’ve done this on a shoestring budget.
So, for minimal time and money investment, you know whether or not podcasting makes sense for your organization. You can run through this same process with video, whitepapers, eBooks, etc. Create quickly and test thoroughly, then invest or trash.
Podcasting Tip from the Master
I interviewed Kerry O’Shea Gorgone a while back. She is the podcast master at MarketingProfs. If you want to hear what a good podcast sounds like, listen to hers.
I asked her what makes for a good interview and I love her answer…
“When I talk with someone for the podcast, I’m always thinking ‘how can this person help my listeners?’ ‘What can he or she teach my audience that will improve their marketing?’ That desire to help and teach is at the heart of every conversation I have for the podcast.” – Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, Lawyer, Teacher, Podcaster at Marketing Smarts with MarketingProfs
There’s a lot in that little quote. But, it’s more of the same theme. Solve problems. Be a resource!
Being a Hero… It’s a Process
Thanks for coming on this content hero’s journey with me. It was fun and I’m stoked you stayed until the end. I’ll leave you with this thought. Digital marketing is a process. And content is a big piece of that process.
Content is not something you do once. Content marketing is an ongoing endeavor. So, don’t hold your website hostage. Instead, when it comes to your content…
- Own it! Take control of and responsibility for your website content efforts.
- Self Awareness! Perform a content audit and team assessment.
- Organization! Turn your audit into a content task list.
- Visualize! See the goals you can achieve and measure.
- Fail Well! Plan for failure and learn from your duds!
Now get to it! You have work to do! If you need our help, you know where to find us. 🙂