In our experience, the content creation process used by most brands, agencies, and freelance writers is flawed, which is why many companies struggle to produce high quality content that they’re actually proud of and feel is a good representation of their brand.
The flaws of the typical process, which we’ll discuss below, stem from issues related to who is tasked with writing, what information they’re given, feedback coming too late in the process, and an overreliance on SEO tools to drive the direction of content. As a result, brands end up with poor quality, beginner level content that lacks original ideas from the brand’s perspective.
So, in this post we’re going to explain why we think this is so common and share our process, which we feel produces better results.
Table of Contents
- Flaws of the typical content creation process
- Our step-by-step content creation process for producing unique or advanced content
- Content Ideation: Generate topic ideas through in-depth interviews and keyword research
- Content Interviews: Interview subject matter experts from within our client’s organization for each new content topic
- Content Writing: Get feedback and align on content at multiple stages of the process
- Measurement: Track content performance to see how it contributes towards your marketing goals (and make adjustments accordingly)
Note: While content creation can apply to many different content formats and channels ranging from podcasts and webinars, to infographics and templates, to social media content and video content, this post will focus on our agency’s process for creating long-form written content for blogs and SEO.
Flaws of the Typical Content Creation Process
Whether they’ve tried to hire writers in-house or worked with outside freelancers and agencies, very often companies are disappointed by the quality of content they receive.
This can take a number of forms, such as:
- The content is too beginner level for their target audience or industry (e.g., a brand selling to IT directors producing content with basic tips on IT that any long-time professional would certainly already know).
- The content fails to communicate the nuances of the brand’s actual perspective on the topic.
- The content lacks substance and is full of “fluff”.
Through working with dozens of brands, hearing about their experiences, and seeing direct work products of other content writers and agencies, there are two key reasons for why we think this is:
- Writers are expected to come up with ideas and arguments on their own.
- Strategists and writers let SEO tools dictate the direction of their content.
Let’s begin with digging deeper into each of these issues to help you understand what not to do when creating content.
1. Writers Are Expected to Come Up with Ideas and Arguments on Their Own
Particularly when companies outsource content to freelance writers or content marketing agencies, a common process involves writers being given a topic, and then tasked with coming up with all the arguments and ideas themselves for the piece of content. We call this “the Google Research Paper,” because it resembles a student writing a school paper by Googling a topic and summarizing or regurgitating what others say on that topic.
By definition, content produced this way lacks originality and fails to communicate any unique ideas or stances that a brand has on that subject, which is fundamentally misaligned with the goal that many brands have to be a thought leader in their space, impress readers, or generate leads and prospects from their content.
Furthermore, there is often a lack of communication and feedback throughout the writing process, so by the time key topic experts from within the company see the content, they’re thoroughly dissatisfied because it fails to say anything unique, interesting, or representative of their thinking on that topic.
As we’ll discuss below, at Grow & Convert we solve this by interviewing the experts at our clients’ companies for each content piece we create, and getting feedback at different stages throughout the process to ensure alignment. This allows us to express the company’s expertise on each topic to create unique and engaging content.
2. Strategists and Writers Let SEO Tools Dictate the Direction of Their Content
With the rise of on-page SEO tools, it has become common practice for writers and agencies to use these on-page optimization tools or even AI-based tools to dictate the outline structure and subtopics (i.e., content briefs) that are discussed in their content.
The problem with this is similar and related to the problem of writers self-researching for their articles on Google. On-page SEO tools simply pull the topics and keywords that are being discussed in the content that’s already ranking for a keyword. Again, by definition this leads to discussing the same ideas (and in this case even the same subheading structure!) that everyone else is on that topic.
Now, if you’re specifically doing SEO content — content that you optimize to rank for keywords in organic search — addressing these topics on some level is a necessary part of the process. But it shouldn’t dictate the entire direction of the piece.
Instead, content creators should prioritize the unique ideas and perspectives of the brand on that topic first, and use on-page SEO or keyword research tools later in their workflow to support ranking performance. This is what we do at Grow & Convert to ensure the content we create for clients does not fall into the trap of saying what everyone else is saying on a topic.
In the rest of this post we’ll walk through the content production process we use that avoids each of these flaws, and link out to in-depth articles that dive deeper on each step.
Our Content Creation Process for Producing Unique or Advanced Content
1. Content Ideation: Generate Topic Ideas Through In-Depth Interviews and Keyword Research
When we start working with a new client, we begin the engagement with a series of calls where we chat with team members from different departments, some of whom have direct interaction with customers (e.g., sales team, customer success).
The goal of these calls is to gain a holistic understanding of:
- The details, features, and use cases of their product or service.
- Their top competitors, competitive advantages, and unique differentiators.
- Their ideal customer personas (specific verticals, company sizes, decision makers, etc.) and the specific pain points that their product or service solves for those customers.
Outside of speaking directly with customers, which often isn’t an easy option, this is the best way to quickly identify topics that will (a) resonate with and be searched by potential customers and (b) have a tie-in that actually allows us to sell our client’s product or service through the content.
Note: The type of content we do for our clients is lead generation and conversion-focused, so this goal guides the questions we ask in our initial interviews. If the goal of your content marketing efforts is more focused on brand awareness, for example, the questions you ask could be more tailored to informing ideation for that. But regardless of the type of content you plan to create, interviews with people inside the company are the best way to get great content ideas.
Once we’ve completed these calls, we plug the most common use cases, questions, and problems that customers are trying to solve into keyword research tools to identify keywords that we’ll target with unique pieces of content. These keywords make up our SEO content strategy and, once agreed upon with our client, are added to an editorial calendar.
For further reading on this step, check out the following articles:
- Content Ideation: How to Identify Content Ideas That Convert — This post shares examples of questions that we ask different departments during our series of kickoff interviews. It also shares additional tactics that will help you brainstorm ideas and aid in content planning.
- How to Create a Successful SEO Content Strategy: 2 Factors That Are Often Overlooked — This post discusses common (and critical) issues we see with the SEO content strategy used by most businesses, and summarizes our agency’s approach to SEO content for various business types (SaaS, B2B, B2C).
2. Content Interviews: Interview Subject Matter Experts from within Our Client’s Organization for Each New Content Topic
For each new content topic that we write about, we interview one or more subject matter experts from within our client’s organization. This is the key part of our process that solves the “Google Research Paper” problem discussed above, allowing us to:
- Include arguments and ideas that are above the knowledge level of the customer, not below.
- Get unique insights to include and guide the direction of the content.
- Communicate our client’s brand’s actual perspective on the topic.
- Cover the necessary SEO subtopics thoroughly in order to outrank competitors in search engines.
To prepare for content interviews, our strategists will perform a “SERP analysis” (a review of existing search results for the target keyword), so they know what others are already saying on the topic and they can draft a list of questions to guide the conversation to get information on what our client’s brand thinks about the relevant issues, how the client’s product or service approaches solving the problems at hand in a unique way, and more. Interviews are then recorded (Zoom) and transcribed (Otter.ai) for use during outlining and drafting of the piece.
3. Content Writing: Get Feedback and Align on the Content at Multiple Stages of the Process
The next step is to have the writer digest or organize the information from the interview into ideas that can form the piece. The first step in our process for doing that is an outline. Despite resistance from some of our writers (lots of writers, including myself, like to jump right into drafting), we’re adamant about having a multi-stage writing process that includes an outline phase prior to drafting.
At this step, the writer will summarize:
- The intent for the keyword and any relevant findings from their SERP analysis.
- Title ideas and the angle they plan to take for the article to differentiate it from existing top results.
- Any unique insights from the interview that they plan to include.
Then, they’ll outline the article in varying levels of detail, depending on the piece, at which point the account strategist or editor will review this document and provide feedback to ensure there aren’t any crucial gaps in topics getting covered, issues with the angle, etc. We find that this significantly reduces the need for lots of rewriting once drafts have been completed.
Because of this pre-work, editing the draft typically focuses on ensuring we:
- Get the introduction right (i.e., avoiding generic statements, including compelling details that entice readers to keep reading, etc.).
- Back up points made throughout the piece with appropriate depth and examples.
- Fix any grammatical errors.
- Maintain clarity, conciseness, and the appropriate tone and style.
Note: Two additional aspects of our writing process are that we write unique pieces of content for each target keyword (one piece for one keyword), a strategy which you can learn more about here. And we use on-page SEO software to optimize our articles as a final step in the writing process, not as an initial step to determine the outline.
4. Measurement: Track Content Performance to See How It Contributes towards Your Marketing Goals (and Make Adjustments Accordingly)
It isn’t necessarily intuitive to think of measurement as a part of the content creation process. But content creation without measurement is like cooking food that never gets tasted — you don’t know if it’s actually good or not.
From our perspective, tracking content performance is in fact essential to the creation process because:
- It’s what tells you whether or not what you’re doing in the previous steps is actually contributing towards your goals.
- It allows you to adjust your process, such as the kind of content topics you’re focusing on, to do more of what’s working and less of what’s not.
The metrics that you choose to track will depend on the exact goals of your content efforts. Most commonly, companies and agencies track and report on metrics such as traffic, keyword rankings, and email marketing signups. Fewer track and report on conversions from content, although in our experience, conversions are something that many companies actually would like to see from their content efforts.
At Grow & Convert, we track and report on the following for our clients:
- Conversions: We track and report on conversions using the Model Comparison Tool in Google Analytics.
- Keyword Rankings: We use Ahrefs rank tracker to monitor rankings progress for each article’s target keyword.
- Overall Pageviews and Organic Traffic: We set up traffic dashboards in Looker Studio that measure overall pageviews and organic traffic to our articles.
In tracking multiple metrics, and particularly keyword rankings and conversions, we’re able to double down on the topics that produce the best results for our clients.
Check out our article on tracking conversions in Google Analytics 4 to learn more about how to measure conversions from SEO content.
Learn More about Our SEO and Content Marketing Agency
- Our Agency: If you want to hire us to execute a content marketing strategy built around driving lead generation and sales, not just traffic, you can learn more about our service and pricing here. We also offer a PPC service for paid search, which you can learn about here.
- Join Our Content Team: If you’re a content marketer or writer and would love to do content marketing in this way, we’d love to have you apply to join our team.
- Our Content Marketing Course: Individuals looking to learn our agency’s content strategy and become better marketers, consultants, or business owners can join our private course and community, taught via case studies, and presented in both written and video content formats. We include several details and examples not found on this blog. Our course is also built into a community, so people ask questions, start discussions, and share their work in the lesson pages themselves, and we, along with other members, give feedback. Learn more here.