Content Marketing is all about creating content that aligns a brand’s interest with end-user value. Churning out random content that does not follow any rationale or which cannot be implemented with repeat-ability is merely hoping to get lucky with search engines. Such an ad-hoc approach may well work at times. Still, it is impossible to use this to build a sophisticated content marketing capability that requires generating high-quality content, consistently and at scale.
Instead, companies must look to gradually implement all the building blocks of a mature content marketing capability that includes content planning, ideation, production, promotion/distribution, and analytics.
The current post focuses on building the content ideation capability as part of this transformation journey and in particular, develops an argument for creating a full-time content ideation role in specific business environments.
Content Ideation-what is involved?
To better appreciate our argument, consider some of the key activities involved in the ideation phase.
Title research or idea identification
A well-researched title narrows down the focus of consideration for you to start building an outline. This research involves multiple techniques including (but not limited to)
- Using topic generators,
- Tracking news aggregators
- Using bookmark managers (e.g. Feedly, Evernote, Pocket, etc.)
- Using personal notes
- Tracking competitors’ content
- Analyzing the past performance of similar titles (from your own analytics data)
- Reviewing content audit reports to identify gaps in your existing content
Completing these activities consistently and in a time-bound manner is no mean feat, and certainly not when editorial calendars expect delivery of multiple content items per week.
To ease down on making content calendar ideas check out here.
Just because you have identified an idea, does not mean that it can be immediately taken in for further development. Not every idea can be approved when it comes to maintaining commercial feasibility.
This is a crucial differentiator between content writing and content marketing. Careful evaluation needs to be done of multiple factors including delivery schedule, availability of internal subject matter experts, the topic under consideration and availability of external resources, availability of substantive qualitative and quantitative information to build a compelling argument, and so on.
The idea approval process requires team members to collaborate on this decision making, but ultimately, the activity needs to be owned by a single resource for accountability purposes.
- Keyword selection-In most mature marketing environments, the SEO team, own keywords to target based on analysis of multiple factors including alignment to a brand’s portfolio of offerings, current business focus, ease of ranking, and so on. From a content perspective, it needs to be ensured that every piece of content targets a unique keyword, that there is no duplication of focus keywords, and that content for higher priority keywords is given priority. Even with proper planning tools, ensuring this alignment can be a significant challenge when creating content at scale.
- Editorial calendar alignment-Chances are, ideation is being done to fuel a specific content schedule that requires a fixed number of content items of specific formats at particular intervals. A simple such configuration could be three long-form blog posts per week for internal sites and a couple of shorter version articles for third party sites for SEO consumption. How do you ensure that the content ideation process is aligned with this schedule? It ends up being a fairly crafty project management activity to manage time in order to ensure that ideas are completed to the required stipulation within time and budget constraints.
Coming up with titles is just the start and must be followed with a reasonably detailed content outline/synopsis.
Consider the case where a company outsources content writing services. Writers need to know what line of thinking to follow when converting a title into final content. This involves the original idea development to build an outline and explicitly specify details including
- Purpose of the article and the kind of value it must provide to the audience
- A high-level structure including the various sections you expect to be in the final draft
- Level of detail as expected by the target audience
- Third-party references if any that you would like the writer to mention in advance
- The tone of writing (professional, humorous, academic, etc.)
- The theme of writing (use case, best practices guide, framework guide, hands-on demo)
- Keyword usage
- Interlinking suggestions (which other content items to link to)
- Related keyword suggestions (which other keywords, apart from the topic focus keyword would you want to be in the final draft)
- Use of images (e.g. most clients ask for an image every 400-500 words but this may be too much or too little depending upon your context)
- Suggested word count
Each of these activities requires intensive due diligence for the end product to be apt. For example, how do you define content value? A takeaway message from a piece of content with a well-defined persona may be easy to explain. But how do you articulate this for a generic article with a broad target audience? These are all questions that are best answered by a resource already familiar with the business and who can conveniently summarize this for third party writers.
Sample Job description of a Content Ideation Specialist
- Track content usage (formats, themes, re-purposing factors) across the content portfolio and suggest content ideas including format, theme, and core argument. The format does NOT have to be a blog post all the time!
- Track search query performance data from Web Search Console and Bing and identify keywords relating to promising queries
- Track performance data from web analytics software to assess past content performance and identify follow-up content ideas to popular posts
- Use operations data (e.g time to produce, writer availability) to filter out ideas that may not be possible to deliver as par of marketing calendar schedule
- Participate in internal brainstorming meetings to narrow down content ideas
- Prepare level 1 content outlines (to be completed in full by actual writer) that indicate the purpose, and expected message of the content
- Regularly coordinate with internal stakeholders and subject matter specialists to catalog and prioritize content ideas
- Track industry trends and competitor content to identify high-level content themes for ideation
Isn’t this the same as a content marketing strategist role?
The discussion above may naturally lead readers to question as to how the activities outlined above differ from developing a content marketing strategy and for which, there is already a content marketing strategist role?
The answer lies in appreciating that content marketing (not writing) involves not just ideation but also other activities, including
- Content planning (very, very different to content ideation) where you define the high-level what, who, how, where, when of content marketing
- Actual production including writer identification and engagement
- Content operations including project management and workflows
- Content promotion (channel selection, messaging focus etc.)
- Analytics-driven content optimization
A strategist’s role of influence extends far beyond ideation while the purpose of the content ideation role is to focus solely on conceptualizing and developing content ideas in line with the editorial calendar schedule.
Content ideation is a largely creative activity and best done as a continuation exercise. The research aspect exposes a resource to crucial related information that could be easily reused for future content articles or for refining the existing pipeline. Shuffling the ideation resource across other non-related activities (e.g. actual content writing, production management, analytics, etc.) may well end up diluting the final content quality in terms of its depth and end-user appeal.
For brands looking to adopt content marketing as a long-term marketing strategy tactic, allocating dedicated resources to creating compelling ideas will soon become imperative. With the sheer volume of content requirements, content ideation and content writing roles would develop much clearer demarcation with the ideation part largely remaining in-house, and the writing part outsourced where applicable. Further, as the benefits of streamlining content ideation processes sets-in, a dedicated content ideation role will emerge as the centerpiece of quality conscious, commercially focused content marketing teams.