Content marketing and SEO has slowly moved to the idea of quality plus scale. But it wasn’t like that when we started CopyPress.
The first iteration of CopyPress as a company launched in 2011. That was an interesting time in the content space. Panda, Google’s update that devalued low-quality pages, rampaged the search space that year. Despite this major change in how Google approached quality content, the market was still commoditizing content. Early on at CopyPress, we saw a long-term opportunity to focus on two things:
The two things hadn’t really been approached in the online marketing space at the same time. Marketers shopped for either Quality OR Scale. The idea was that quality at scale was simply too expensive.
We felt differently. Everything about the online marketing space was showing that the future would be quality content AT scale. The content channels for marketers were expanding, and integrating content across channels was becoming increasingly important. There would eventually be a day where people at the top of organizations realized that they couldn’t silo quality into only certain channels.
Despite the pain of years of slow change in the marketplace, we were right.
Content has slowly transitioned to the quality PLUS scale concept, with many leaders in the space taunting that 2021 is the year for quality at scale.
Source: Rand Fishkin on Twitter
Scaling Is Cool, but How Do You Do It?
I think the biggest hurdle in scaling content production is the cost. Getting the C-Level to buy into becoming “the source” for content on topics in your industry can be tricky. How do you present ROI on an activity you have only tested in limited samples?
Once you get past that hurdle, you now have to figure out the actual production of your content at scale, which you will find is many times harder than you had planned. You have to think about all of the following:
- How do you vet and hire content creators?
- How will you manage them, their deliveries, and feedback?
- How will you make sure you can unify the voice across ALL content?
- How will you plan the content to be created?
- How will you create KPIs for what you are creating?
- How will you monitor and report on the activity?
- How will you iterate over time to focus on what you are doing well and change what you aren’t doing well?
We’ve seen lots of organizations attempt to scale content internally and fail. They tend to discount one of the above questions in their planning. By looking at what CopyPress has learned and built over the last decade, we can get a pretty strong blueprint for any organization to scale content production.
What We’ve Learned About Selling the C Level
The C Level speaks the language of results.
Specifically, C Level marketing leaders speak the language of ROI. So if you want to sell C Level leaders on the value of investing in quality content at scale, you are going to have to speak this same language.
Large scale content programs are actually easier to sell than smaller campaigns. Why? Because it is easier to set a baseline against probable wins than it is with a smaller campaign. It is a lot like projecting the batting average for a baseball player. If you ask me to baseline the batting average for a baseball player for a 3-game series, I will likely be making guesses and be wildly off. However, if you ask me what a batter may average over a season or more, I can use past data and the large potential sample size to be much more accurate.
CopyPress has seen a pattern in the last decade that follows a general rule of thumb:
- 33% of the content you create is going to be a dog. It isn’t going to perform and will need iteration.
- 33% of the content you create will perform around expectations.
- 33% of content will outgain expectations.
We will get into expectations when we discuss KPIs, but depending on your role selling content to the C Level, you really want to base these expectations on what you control. Are you the SEO agency? Then you need to stick to traffic generation. Your work should drive sales, but there are a ton of factors from the website to the conversion funnel management that are outside of your direct control.
If you want to gauge ROI potential, utilize the following tools and apply them over the potential content creation goals:
Content you currently have on the website – How much traffic and sales does it yield? What is the time on site and conversion rate for these pages?
Content on your competitors website – Use a system like ahrefs to give you a general idea of traffic they are gaining and value of that traffic in terms of paid search. Use your own internal metrics to estimate conversions and sales.
Get rich data on the topics and keywords you plan to approach. Find out how many people are searching for topical clusters (more on this later) and what the potential traffic from these audiences could be for the website. Use your current data to figure out the percentage of global search volume you can anticipate for your content program. For example, if you generate 7,000 unique visitors from a group of keywords that have a monthly search volume of 700,000, you are getting a 1% CTR on your content. You can safely apply this metric at scale. The final number is unlikely to be exactly your target, and timing is a factor, but this is a very straightforward estimate of potential traffic acquisition.
What We’ve Learned About Hiring Creators
There are lots of ways to hire vetted creators. Upwork, content marketplaces, and traditional hiring all work. However, it is important to realize that the systems used to vet and rate contractors across systems is not standardized and highly subjective.
In order to scale your own system, you are going to need to build a vetting process of your own. This would work as a baseline vetting process for creators and a latch-on process to any existing third-party systems.
The best vetting process is being willing to pay creators for a structured test. In order to make this work, you need to make sure you have a style guide, some basic training or FAQs, as well as a few examples of content that fits the desired end product.
I recommend using Notion or Airtable for managing most of the process we are going to review, and vetting is no different. In Airtable you can create a form tied to your base to allow vetted creators to submit their work easily, and for your in-house team to review, grade, and comment.
What We’ve Learned About Unifying Voice
When it comes to unifying your brand voice, style guide creation is key. Many companies have brand style guides for design-related work, but a smaller percentage have worked out the details on a unifying document to guide all of their copy. Further, a single style guide isn’t going to cut it at scale.
One of the most unique things about CopyPress in our early years was our insistence on creating style guides for customers for every content we were tasked to create. This was not some genius idea we had, but rather something we incorporated because we were having so many issues transferring what the client wanted into the finished product. As we began to scale with larger and larger campaigns, it became clear that doing so without a detailed style guide for every single content type was unmanageable.
The style guide lays out everything that a creator needs to know about the approach to content and the customers’ voice. The style guide is also used by editors and QA professionals to make sure that we are sticking to the agreed-upon details of the project. The style guide is the Bible for any content creation program, and it is often missed in project planning.
The style guide should also be a living, breathing document that can be changed as new challenges or brand changes arise. If you find a large number of creators repeating a similar mistake, it needs to make its way into the style guide.
What We’ve Learned About Planning Content Concepts
The concepts you want to build content around are going to need to be based on the channels you are trying to drive traffic from. We could build an entire series around just this topic. However, there are some basic concepts that I think are important to review from our experience at CopyPress.
Create a content calendar. Segment this calendar based on content types and channels.
All of your content shouldn’t live in one place. A blog is great, but it isn’t the place to keep your evergreen product-focused content. A knowledge base or resource center is also great, but not the place for timely information or updates on your product and brand. Blogs, resource centers, newsletters, eBooks, white papers, and design content all have specific reasons for existing, and based on your approach, may need their own place to live.
Linear keyword research is a flawed methodology for content ideation. Linear keyword research is your basic traditional method where you go through a list of keywords to find high value terms for your business. The issue with linear keyword research is that an article doesn’t rank for one singular keyword. Some SERPs are very similar. Linear keyword research leads to redundancy and can also keep you from making accurate traffic projections.
Use your current data to point you in the right direction. All traffic isn’t created equal. Find the conversion-driven traffic you have today and plan content using topics around those conversion drivers. You shouldn’t discount the need to improve conversion for other topics, but a great place to start is what you know works.
What We’ve Learned About KPIs, Monitoring, and Reporting
KPI creation is where most content campaigns at scale go wrong. Assumptions are often made about what raw traffic or readers can bring in terms of conversion. If your content marketing team has no input into the website design and sales funnel, it doesn’t make sense to have raw sales volume be a KPI for content marketing. Remember, I am the guy that preaches that all marketing gets measured by sales, and that is true on the macro. However, when developing a new channel that has never existed, a lot of work has to be done before the conversion can even be addressed.
CopyPress won’t work with a customer whose only KPI is sales if they don’t have an in-house marketing and development team tied to the campaign, as well. We are a content creation company, and while our work can and often does have an impact on sales, it is a heavy lift for content to overcome all other issues on the website.
It is in everyone’s best interest to have deep and meaningful conversations around KPIs. I think KPIs need to be iterative, and heavily based on the data and resources you have access to.
Similarly, raw ranking data is not a great KPI either. Content is a part of SEO, but is not SEO.
Once KPIs are set, you now need to build monitoring and reporting to keep your stakeholders informed.
Here is a basic format for how I approach a search focused content campaign:
Store content cluster we are writing around. A content cluster is a grouping of keywords.
Store all keywords associated with this cluster.
Monitor ranking, CPC, and traffic estimation from third-party tools.
Build roll-up data at each level to show growth as time goes on.
Ahrefs now has comparison dates in their system for their Top Pages, and this is a useful out-of-the-box report to get you halfway on this setup.
What We’ve Learned About Iteration
KPIs, style guides, content concepts, and overall focuses for content development need to be iterated over time. The landscape and company needs change over time, but more importantly, you need to monitor the data and see what is working and follow that path.
Iteration doesn’t mean throwing out content concepts that don’t work. Sometimes you need to simply make some basic changes to existing content to make it work. The more data you have on content performance, the better decisions you can make.
Most companies don’t go this route. They run a “test” on content concepts, and if they don’t “work,” they pivot completely. This ties back in with our conversation about KPI creation, but also is an issue with the general silver bullet approach to find winning marketing channels.
CopyPress made all of these discoveries on the scaled content process through pain and suffering. We did more wrong than right. You can learn from the issues we have had to build a superior system for scaling your next content marketing project.
One last note on cost. Most companies do not take into account the full cost of scaling a content system when planning. Often, their budgeting will be limited to the creation of content alone. You have to account for labor and hours associated with vetting creatives, style guide creation, editing, QA, and deployment of the content.
You can learn from the issues we have had to build a superior system for scaling your next content marketing project. To discuss your next content marketing campaign goals or challenges get in touch and set up a good time to speak.