Scaling content marketing by developing content operations capabilities

For companies looking to do content marketing at scale, creating ad-hoc blog posts or other marketing collateral is of little use. There needs to be far more structure, method, and purpose to how content is budgeted, planned, produced, promoted, and analyzed. This is because you are likely going to base a large chunk of your marketing strategy and budget on using content marketing as the key acquisition tactic (as opposed to being paid advertising focused). 

In this article, we discuss how companies can scale their content marketing efforts by building holistic content operations capabilities that can potentially turn content marketing into a genuine performance marketing tactic.

What exactly is Content Operations?

Content operations can be thought of as the missing link between content strategy and delivery. While strategy involves figuring out how you will do your content marketing, operations focus more on actual delivery and within constraints of time, budget, and resource availability.  

Many companies may not be using it as a succinct term but they surely depend upon content production processes, technology, people etc. Content operations is nothing but formally organising the use of these capabilities in support of delivery of an overall content marketing strategy. 

The need for building a formal content operations capability arises when you realize that running one-person content writing shops that churn out ad-hoc content mainly for your website is not a scalable or even profitable way to generate actual leads with content marketing.

The three building blocks of a content operations capability

So what exactly constitutes content operations at a conceptual level? What are the key building blocks/template items involved that companies can adapt to their business environment to do content operations? We define three key ones here-

content-operations building blocks - processes, people, tools and technology

1. Processes

Imagine trying to create multiple blog posts, whitepapers, case studies, social media content etc. without a clear process on how content items will be ideated, approved, produced, and promoted. No professional department with a defined budget, acquisition targets and time constraints would ever be able to deliver in this environment!

So the first building block in content operations is to define your processes. Consider the examples below-

  • Content structure planning (which topics to focus on, target audience definition, formats to leverage, themes to work on, audit templates, topic cluster design)
  • Content ideation (the process for identifying and approving content ideas)
  • Content production (how you interact with content writers including outlining process, keyword optimization, graphics work, checks against legal compliance issues, custom audit templates etc.)
  • Content promotion-What channels will you leverage to promote content? Will they be only organic channels or do you plan to use paid advertising too? 
  • Content analytics/optimization-What will be the criteria to assess the performance of content assets in terms of driving traffic, engagement, and conversions? How will you objectively score your content assets so you can prioritize optimization work?
  • Workflows (development and approval) – What are the various roles involved from ideation to promotion? Who does what?
  • Writer/Agency engagement-Where do you source your writers from? Are these external or internal domain experts? If it is a dedicated agency, how do you manage the relationship? (Key result areas, payments etc.)
  • Cost/Performance tracking-How do we track the costs of various resources used in the content marketing team? For example, if a content item takes time from strategist, SEO, writer, graphics guy, analytics person, how do we effectively track their time against individual assets?  What sort of metrics will be selected to evaluate the overall content marketing team?

As you would expect, when progressing beyond ad-hoc article writing, developing a clear view of these processes is critical to planning resources and securing budgetary approvals. 

2. People

Once we know the processes, the next step is to come up with a structure for your content team. People are an important asset of any content operations team as they help bring about the processes and technology involved. 

You must have a set of well-defined roles and responsibilities that are specific to your business context, rather than just use job just titles borrowed from other companies. 

Some key roles to consider would be

  • Content strategist – He defines campaigns, formats, themes, prioritize content, ensure requests are fulfilled in a timely manner and quality blog posts are produced.

You can also check out the role of content marketing strategist here. 

  • Project Manager – operational and administrative responsibility of delivery of various content projects
  • Content ideation specialist-focused on content ideation
  • Content writer He is the one who actually writes content
  • Domain specialist-Provides technical validation and depth
  • Content optimizer-Ensures that the content is properly published (images, interlinking, meta tags, keyword usage, audit complete etc.)
  • Graphics designer
  • Content promoter-Responsible for actual content promotion campaigns on social and paid channels
  • Analytics specialist-Digs into data to provide feedback on key content metrics. Also does keyword research and ensures appropriate keyword utilization across content assets
  • Content operations Director-This role takes the overall responsibility for running the content marketing function including resource management, project oversight, timely delivery, and most importantly, of delivering the desired business outcomes within constraints of time and budget.

Almost all of these roles are critical when scaling content marketing efforts. You could, of course, break these down or combine them as per your business context, but it is unlikely that serious companies who are committed to using content marketing for the acquisition will cut corners here. 

3. Technology

Selecting the right tools and standardizing them in line with your specific business needs is critical. It is completely undesirable to have individual team members using their tools for performing day-to-day operations, or worse, doing things manually. Technology awareness in terms of capabilities needed and products available on the market is key.

Secondly, the range of tools available specifically for content marketing is truly diverse. You should focus on specific needs based on the processes you defined earlier and also the capability levels of operational resources. 

Why standardize the tools used in content marketing?

As you scale content marketing, selecting, and operationalizing a common set of tools is critical. Not only does this offer the ease of integration, but also has significant economies of scale in larger teams. Moreover, the tools you select must closely align with your specific business needs as per your own process list.

Some of the key areas to consider would include-

  • Content ideation-Evernote, Pocket, Feedly,, etc.
  • Tools for research and writing (e.g. Google docs)
  • Content collaboration (Trello etc.)
  • Content inventory and classification 
  • Content audits 
  • Calendar management 
  • Keyword research- SEMRush, AdWordsPlanner, WordStream, etc.
  • Keyword portfolio management
  • Tools for measuring the impact and advanced analytics-Google analytics, Web Search Console etc.
  • CMS and Digital Asset Management

Summary – Content operations is critical to scaling content marketing

Readers who are aware of how paid advertising teams are structured would likely better appreciate the arguments made above. You have a defined set of processes for which channels will be activated for media buying, the ad operations team which does all the configuration, the creative team and finally the optimization team that is tasked with ensuring that advertising budgets are efficiently utilized.

Content marketing is no different. The only way to succeed is to work at scale and with a structured approach having crystal clear delivery targets. This is the core essence of content operations.  If you haven’t started upon these activities, you must begin now!

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