You have your editorial calendar open and realize that you need six blog articles, two infographics, and an ebook in a week.
This is the life of content marketers. You are always looking ahead, faced with one of the most insurmountable obstacles:
When it comes to writing, you can't just throw content together and hit publish. This approach yields low quality content and can diminish your credibility as a content creator and your brand's credibility within your industry.
The time factor is a major concern. In fact, the research below shows just how time intensive writing content can be:
- Orbit Media Studios’ 2017 survey found that the average blog post takes three hours and 20 minutes to write.
- HubSpot’s 2017 research found that most marketers spend one to two hours writing a 500 word blog post.
- ClearVoice's Content Marketing Survey from 2017 found that time is the top challenge marketers face.
- Statista’s 2017 research found that 25% of bloggers spend between two and three hours per post. What’s more, 27% say they spend a whopping four to six-plus hours on each post.
- Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs’ 2018 report found that 41% of B2B marketers do not think their leadership team gives them ample time to produce content marketing results
In other words, you're likely wrestling with time on a daily basis. But you don't have to be.
Here are five steps you need to follow to create high quality content in a faster manner:
1. Perform a Content Audit Now, Not Tomorrow
No matter where you are in your strategy, the best place to start is performing a content audit. When you get a better understanding of the content your company already has on hand, you experience several benefits.
A content audit matters because you can:
- Find ways to get more mileage out of every piece of content.
- Gain a big picture overview of your previous campaigns.
- Identify missteps and previous wins to inform your strategy moving forward.
- Share the big picture with your whole team.
The last point is especially important for when you're aligning sales and marketing to develop a smarketing approach. For example, your sales team can share pre-existing informative content to nurture leads and fuel conversions.
When you break down silos and share your audit with other departments, they can chime in and make suggestions on where to steer future campaigns.
A content audit will eventually help you speed up your content creation process in many other ways. When you look back at your content and measure what resonates the most with your audience, you don't get stuck with writer's block. Your successful content should influence your future strategies and campaigns.
Plus, you aren't taking shots in the dark and guessing on ideas that might not work. When you're stuck in a cycle of just writing content for the sake of filling up your blog, you are investing too much time in lower quality and potentially misguided content.
2. Fill Your Calendar
An editorial calendar is essential because it helps you strategize and organize full campaigns. It also gives your content team one resource to collaborate on.
The most effective editorial calendars include the following columns:
- Scheduled publish date - when will the blog go live?
- Working title - what is this article about?
- Summary - what sections will this article include and what will each subsection cover?
- Keyword - what keywords are we optimizing for with this article?
- Topic bucket - which of the X category does this article align with?
- Topic cluster/tags - what pillar page can this link to and what relevant tags are going to be used?
- Buyer persona - which persona are we writing this for?
- Buyer's journey stage - which stage does this article fit into?
- Editorial stage - which stage (ideation, internal review, creation, published, etc.) is the article in?
- Campaign - what content offer campaign is this article associated with?
- Author - who is writing this article?
- Notes - what other information is important to know?
- Document link - a link to the Google Doc on your team’s drive.
- Live link - a link to the live blog post once it’s published.
While it may seem like building an editorial calendar takes a long time, the small time commitment upfront for planning saves you a lot of time later on when you're writing.
You're not wasting time with your content team figuring out what article needs to be published next or getting stuck without ideas. Your calendar is your GPS, keeping your team on the right course.
3. Build a Process and Follow It
One of the main reasons you and your content team are barely hitting your deadlines and publishing goals is because you either have a bad process or don't have any process at all.
The best brands live and die by their content marketing process.
If your process lacks structure and is not intuitive, there will be a lot of wasted time and confusion on your team. Don’t settle for a subpar system. Your process needs to be clear, simple, and focused on walking your content team members through every stage of writing - from ideation and creation to measuring and amplifying.
Every content team needs to build a content creation process that fits their needs and keeps everyone on the team on task and moving content forward.
>A strong content process consists of the following stages:
- Ideation stage - the content marketer fully develops a clear concept and explains what the article is going to accomplish and how.
- Approval stage - the content team reviews submitted ideas and approves/adjusts ideas.
- Creation stage - the assigned writer outlines and drafts the article.
- Editorial review stage - the content team edits, proofreads, optimizes, and schedules the article for publication.
- Publish stage - the article is fully approved and scheduled to go live.
These stages are reflected in the editorial calendar. They should also be incorporated into a content creation template. For example, our content team uses a blog article worksheet that consists of the following sections:
- Ideation stage:
- Working title
- Buyer persona
- Buyer’s journey stage
- Challenge/goal this article addresses
- Why this keyword is a good fit
- Content format
- Overall intent of the article
- Links to similar content
- New angle
- Additional notes
- Creation stage:
- Outline/Draft area
- Featured image
This saves time in the end because the writer has a crystal clear idea of what their focus is throughout the entire process. They do not lose sight of the goal of the article.
Plus, it helps you as a writer pace yourself throughout the entire process. Just like the adage goes, the best way to eat an elephant is taking one bite at a time.
4. Brush Up on Time Management
At this point, you can see that process plays a huge part in content creation. It takes a bit of time upfront, but it ultimately speeds up the writing time, especially if you master time management during the creation process.
Despite what many people think, you can't simply sit down and write a great article in 45 minutes. Typically, you outline, write a rough draft, edit, proofread, and finally publish. This is why, as the research above shows, a blog article often takes hours.
Time management techniques are essential when you're writing content. There are several productivity apps and methods that may help you trim minutes from your drafting process.
For example, the Pomodoro Technique is a method that breaks your work into short intervals. You simply set a timer for 25 minutes (or whatever you prefer), then you focus solely on doing that task for that full timeframe.
After the timer goes off, set another timer for five minutes to take a short break. Walk around, check your Twitter, or grab another cup of coffee. Then, at the end of your short break, back to the 25 minutes of focus.
After four sessions of focused work and short breaks, take a longer break for 15 or 30 minutes. Then, start all over with 25 minutes of focus again.
There are plenty of other productivity and time management systems worth trying. Getting Things Done is among the most popular systems being used.
The Value of Deep Work
Your time management skills will yield excellent results if you cultivate an ability to do deep work. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,
explains that deep work is the ability to focus on a task that is cognitively demanding without distraction.
On the other hand, there is shallow work, which is not cognitively demanding and is often performed while distracted. So when you're sitting down to write an awesome article, you need to focus on deep work.
Newport warns readers of attention residue - that sense of feeling your attention divided by many tasks, which is caused by switching between tasks. To prevent attention residue, you need to structure your workday around extended periods of deep work and avoid multitasking.
Other Writing Productivity Hacks
There are plenty of other strategies you can adopt to speed up your writing process, such as:
- Set word count goals for a block of time.
- Establish psychological triggers for each stage of your writing.
- For example, brew a cup of coffee before your start your rough draft, and go to your favorite room for editing.
- Prioritize and identify time estimates for each piece of written content.
I use a Bullet Journal for planning my daily and weekly to do lists. Each task will include an estimated time to complete and a number to indicate priority for the day. As I complete tasks, I cross them off and record the actual time it took to complete.
This helps me stay on task and hit my deadlines without feeling stressed and overwhelmed. When you see a prioritized to do list, you don't feel pressured. You feel ready.
Always reflect on where you stumble and where you thrive. For example, if you notice it takes you longer to write in the late afternoons, shift your priorities and try writing in the morning.
5. Refine and Improve
Once you have your processes, planning documents, and strategy in place, you should be checking in with yourself and your content team on a regular basis. If something isn't working, speak up and ask for input from others.
My team and I meet regularly to share what is working, what is impeding our process, and what other strategies and tactics might help us speed up the process. Then, we measure how our changes impact our content creation process.
Remember, there is no set-it-and-forget-it when it comes to content marketing. Always reflect on setbacks and successes, and stay flexible as a team.
With process, strategy, and time management skills, you’re ready to cut down on your writing time and add more mileage to each piece.