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Mastering Content Creation: Best Practices for Effective Content Marketing

Mastering Content Creation: Best Practices for Effective Content Marketing

Dive into four essential best practices for crafting actionable content that drives online success and effective content mastery.

We’ve all read the stats that show the importance of creating compelling content, but too often, our hard work doesn't perform as well as we think it should.

How effective is your content marketing? Have you cracked the code?

If you haven’t, you’re not alone.

Mastering content creation is absolutely possible if you take the right approach.

In this article, we outline four best practices with detailed, actionable steps to create an air-tight content production system that gets results.

Let’s get started with the first step.

Best Practice #1 - Start with user data

Mastering content creation is all about the user. Many marketers start with a content marketing strategy and try to make everything else fit. This is going about it backward. An effective marketing strategy is data-backed and user-driven. And that requires some deep diving before you start talking content strategy.

Here’s how to go about it:

Gather your data

The first step you should take is gathering all the user data you can. Unfortunately, data is often spread out among different teams and systems. Because of this, you may not know how much user data is available to you.

Start by gathering as much information as you can. Good user data comes from:

  • Unsubscribe explanations
  • Social media comments
  • Demo-call recordings
  • Sales call transcripts
  • Sales call recordings
  • Survey responses
  • User Feedback
  • Case studies

Create a data repository 

Once you've gathered your data, the next step is to organize it in one place.

You can choose any tool you like to create your repository. Tools like Notion, Airtable, Google Drive, and Dropbox are all contenders. 

Whichever tool you choose, you need to ensure a few things for your repository to function like you need it to:

  • Be accessible to all teams across departments
  • Be able to tag by topic, theme, and format
  • Have a user-friendly interface
  • Be searchable

If your system is too complex, no one will use it, defeating the purpose of it existing in the first place. Keep things clean and organized so you and other teams can find things quickly.

Here's an example of a simple content repository built in Notion.

screenshot of an example content repository built in Notion

(Image Source)

A customer data platform (CDP) is a more advanced content repository method that allows you to collect and consolidate first-party data. 

Diagram of a customer data platform

(Image Source)

You can then use this data to personalize content according to user preferences and where they are in the sales funnel.

Best Practice #2 - Analyze what you have

Creating content with no official plan is one of the most common marketing sins.

It’s understandable. You’re told you need to create content, so you do. But without data-driven decisions and a content strategy, you’re not getting very good mileage.

Instead of scraping everything you’ve been developing for years, start with what you have.

Here are the steps you need to take.

Conduct a blog audit 

A blog audit is when you go through all of your published blog posts and see how they are performing. 

The process will be similar across SEO tools. Regardless of what tool you are using, the end result should be a list of articles that gives you:

  1. The traffic history of each piece
  2. Metadata of each piece
  3. Blog post URL
  4. Bounce rate 
  5. Backlinks

This information is crucial when it comes to building your content strategy, which we’ll discuss in our next section.

The overall goal of this content audit is to figure out:

What pieces are performing well - you’ll want to write more like these

What aren't doing well - you don’t want to create any more of these

What posts were doing amazing and now aren't - you’ll want to update these

What gaps do you have in your coverage -you’ll want to create new content to fill these

example of an export spreadsheet from a blog audit

(Image Source)

Conducting a content audit ‌starts with sketching out your strategy blueprint. No guesswork. No wasted time.

Analyze your platforms 

Next, you want to analyze the performance of your platforms.

There are many different content avenues to choose from. It’s very difficult to do all of them well. It’s impossible to do all of them at all if you are a small team and working on a budget.

So, you’ll need to prioritize.

To decide which platforms should be your focus, use a similar auditing method as described above. 

This means pulling data from all of your social media dashboards, looking at email open and click-through rates, subscriber numbers, shares, views, etc.

  • Which channels are enjoying the most growth with your current efforts? 
  • Which have the potential to shoot up in growth with a little more focus?
  • Where are people resonating the most with your content? 
  • What demographic is sharing your content the most?

Do a deep dive and make your decision based on data.

Choose no more than two platforms to start‌ with. Focus on growing them the best you can. If it makes sense in the future, add more.

Best Practice #3 - Use the pillar/cluster model

Now you have enough information to build your game plan. 

The work you’ve done so far guarantees:

  • You know what content format to choose based on what’s already doing well
  • You can offer solutions to your target audience’s problems
  • You can speak to your target audience’s pain points
  • The content you create is relevant to your audience
  • You know what channels to distribute content on

These are the insights that allow you to master content creation. Now comes the fun of building your content plan with your new-found knowledge. 

Here’s where to start.

Choose a pillar

A content “pillar” is a substantial piece of content around a certain topic that can be broken down into many other pieces.

A pillar can be:

  • Educational video
  • In-depth reports
  • Meaty articles
  • Podcasts
  • Ebooks

What you choose for your pillar should be based on the research you’ve done up to this point. What's your target audience viewing the most? Where are you getting the most traffic?

This graphic from Semrush gives a pictorial example of a Pillar article and subsequent cluster content. 

pillar page topic breakdown example

(Image Source)

Whichever format is right for you, your pillar topic should be complex enough that you can build several more pieces of content around it. While also providing enough information on the pillar itself.

For example, this article from SoFi on joint bank accounts provides a detailed explanation of the pros and cons of these types of accounts, as well as how to go about opening one. 

SoFi FAQ section within a blog

(Image Source)

It also includes an FAQ section at the end that could be used as a topic for cluster pieces.

Create a quarterly content calendar

You may be used to working with a content creation process that is only a couple of weeks ahead. It’s better to work quarterly.

In planning your content calendar, focus on creating one pillar per quarter. The rest of the quarter is spent building content around that pillar.

As an example, take your first month in your first quarter, January, Q1.

Your focus is to create 1–4 subtopic blog posts around your pillar for that month.

How many “clusters” or subtopic content pieces you can create each month of the quarter will depend on your budget and capacity.

If you can’t produce four articles a month, that’s okay!

Set your output to a realistic rhythm. Quantity is a secondary factor if you are producing high-quality content.

In the end, you should have a tidy content calendar that allows you to publish clustered content around your pillar at a comfortable pace.

Example of a content calendar

(Image Source)

Don’t waste time on producing content you don’t need just so you can feel like you’re producing more. If it doesn’t serve your reader or your marketing goals, it doesn’t need to be produced. 

If you’re only creating one or two valuable pieces of content per month, that’s plenty. You can break those larger pieces down and get value from them again and again. We’ll talk about how in the next section on distribution.  

Pro tip: if you have extra capacity in your content calendar, include blog updates. Updating the star performers you found during your blog audit is low-hanging fruit and will allow for some quick wins as you build more original content. 

Have a distribution plan

Distribution is the part of the content creation process that often gets overlooked.

Some may post URLs of published blog posts on their social media accounts and call it a day. This is no longer enough. And frankly, it’s a terrible waste of the high-quality content you are producing.

Since you’ve already done the work of analyzing the platforms that are working for you, as we discussed in Best Practice #2, you know what channels to focus on.

As you write your pillar and cluster pieces, build the distribution content into your plan. 

For instance, if you find your best-performing channels are LinkedIn and Facebook, your entire content calendar plan for Quarter 1 (3 months) could look like this:

Content Creation Plan Q1

  • 6 articles (1 for every chapter of ebook going more in-depth on the topic)
  • 6-chapter Ebook (Pillar)
  • 12 social media ‌posts
  • 6 LinkedIn carousels 
  • 3 original graphics 

From one pillar comes a variety of types of content for you to distribute across channels.

Again, you can adjust according to your capacity and budget. However, working with a plan will yield far more results than working with no plan. 

Pro tip: make your content as accessible as possible. For example, add voiceover to videos to make them more engaging and accessible to diverse audiences. This simple addition can significantly elevate the impact of your content marketing strategy.

Best Practice #4 - Develop repeatable systems

Now that you have a structure to create your content, you want to build systems that make your content creation process seamless and repeatable.

Here’s how to do it.

Templatize your content briefs

Every piece of content you create should have a brief that includes all of the pertinent details for the piece.

Example of a content brief

(Image Source)

Usually, this includes:

  • Interlinking opportunities
  • Primary keyword
  • Target audience
  • Article Outline

Your brief can be as nuanced as you like. The important thing is that once you have your system down, you can templatize it.

Content briefs can take a lot of time if you don’t have a system. A brief template allows you to have a pre-existing structure that you can edit as needed. This keeps your content pipeline running quickly and smoothly. 

Build a spreadsheet

The ole’ tried-and-true spreadsheet will keep your entire content plan organized. Start by creating a spreadsheet for each quarter.

Each article you plan to produce for that quarter should have its own tab.

Each tab should include:

  • Your content brief
  • Writer resources
  • Assigned writer
  • Due dates
  • Metadata

With this method, your content team will have all the resources they need in one place. It’s easy and repeatable, without fuss or confusion.

Write a style guide

Writing a style guide will take some time upfront but saves a massive amount of time later.

A style guide will address branding and tone, as well as the myriad small editorial decisions that arise in any content creation process.

With an accessible style guide, onboarding new writers becomes a breeze. You can simply hand off the document to any new hire or freelancer and have confidence that your brand voice will be met.

Wrapping up

The best way to master content creation is to start with user data. See what matters to your existing audience and what their pain points are.

From there, analyze the content you already have and what works for you. Use this intel to make data-driven decisions about how to build your content game plan using the pillar/cluster model. 

Organize your content marketing strategy around quarterly goals. With your process in place, build a templatized, repeatable system to keep things running smoothly. With the right structure, you'll become a master at effective content marketing. 

Soon, you'll check all the boxes next to your main business objectives and smile at the results pouring in. 

This post was submitted by a TNS experts. Check out our Contributor page for details about how you can share your ideas on digital marketing, SEO, social media, growth hacking and content marketing with our audience.

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