The Essential 10-Step Guide to Content Creation (2023)
- Willy Wood
Content is a cornerstone of effective marketing strategy for today’s digital businesses. This is because great content allows you to…
- Create a connection with your audience and earn their trust
- Tell your compelling story
- Generate qualified leads
- Increase conversions and sales
But content creation can also be extremely time-consuming and, if not done efficiently, can be a real drag on your company’s resources. That’s why it pays to create a system within your business that streamlines the process so you can get the maximum benefit from the time devoted to it.
In this article, we’ll walk you through a proven 10-step process for content creation, starting with deciding on what goals you want to achieve through your content and ending up with an analysis of the effectiveness of your efforts.
Implement this system in your business and watch your content marketing efforts start to pay dividends in no time!
What is Content Creation?
Well, content creation is the process of creating content. (Useless tautology alert!)
But seriously, what is content in a business context? Content could be an email, a blog post, a podcast episode, a YouTube video, a social media post, a case study, or a whitepaper. Basically, business content is anything that informs or entertains your ideal customer and simultaneously advances your brand and the goals of your business.
Content creation, then, is the process of deciding what content you should produce to best serve your ideal customers, producing that content, publishing the content in the most advantageous places, promoting the content, and analyzing the results so you can continuously advance your business success.
Why is Content Important for Your Marketing Strategy?
First, content is a powerful avenue for building and maintaining relationships with your potential customers. A prospect who doesn’t yet know and trust you is not going to buy from you if the first thing they see from you is a sales pitch.
So, building and maintaining those relationships through your content is the first step. But relationship building is just a stepping stone to the ultimate goal—turning prospects into leads and turning leads into buyers (hopefully, repeat buyers).
How does content do this? Here are some of the main ways:
- Establishing Authority Status: By producing regular, quality content that grabs the attention of your intended audience and addresses their problems, you position yourself as an authority in your field.
- Building Trust: As your ideal customers interact with your quality content over time, they come to trust you, and by extension, your products and services.
- Increasing Traffic: When people who trust you find your content online, they tend to respond more often to your calls to action.
- Creating More Qualified Leads: People who arrive on your site or on one of your landing pages after consuming your content are much more likely to take action to opt-in or make a purchase.
Does this work? You bet it does!
In fact, a recent research study has shown that creating quality educational content makes customers 131% more likely to buy from your business!
Now, there’s not enough room in this article to do a deep dive into all aspects of content marketing. For that, you’ll want to check out our Complete Guide to content marketing.
But for this article, we want to isolate the content creation process itself and focus on helping you establish a system for creating great content consistently. After all, you can’t do “content marketing” without “content,” right?
10-Step Content Creation Process
OK, now that we’ve established what content creation is and how it can help you achieve your business goals, let’s dig into a proven process for creating and delivering high quality content to your audience.
Step 1: Set Your Content Goals
Whenever you’re trying to achieve anything in life, it makes sense to get as clear and specific as you can right up front. The same goes for your content marketing efforts. Getting clear about your goals saves you time and effort by making sure you don’t get lost going down unproductive rabbit trails.
When it comes to your content marketing efforts, there are broad, general goals and there are specific goals that you want to achieve with every content project.
On the broad and general level, you want to:
- Engage your ideal audience regularly,
- Build a relationship with them, and
- Consistently provide content that provides solutions to their problems.
More specifically, however, you should have a strategic marketing goal for each piece of content you produce. Ask yourself what action you want your audience to take as a result of consuming a particular piece of content.
This action might be as simple as engaging with a social media post. It might be clicking through from a social post to a landing page. It might be opting-in to your email list. Or scheduling a discovery call with you or your sales team. Or buying one of your products or services.
Knowing what action you want your audience to take upon consuming your content should serve as your guiding star as you go through the following steps.
To create specific goals for your content projects, you might want to use the SMART goals process that has become the standard for goal setting in many businesses. If you aren’t familiar with the process, check out this guide.
Step 2: Research Your Audience and Keywords
You can’t (or at least you shouldn’t) create content in a vacuum.
Content should have a purpose, and that purpose is to address the needs of your ideal audience. Obviously, the better you know what those needs are, the better you can fulfill those needs through your content.
Most businesses have one or more ideal customers, depending on the particular products or services being offered. Which is why most businesses create separate ideal customer avatars (also called customer personas) to represent each segment of their overall audience.
Businesses who take the time to get crystal clear about the problems and desires of each audience segment can better create the most effective content to provide the solutions they’re looking for.
In addition to thinking about which audience segment(s) you want to address with your content, you also need to think about what stage of the buyer’s journey these audiences are in. The content you create for someone who just found your company is far different than the content you’ll want to put in front of prospects who are solution aware and are at the end point of choosing a provider to go with.
Once you know what part of your audience you want to address and what stage they’re at in the buyer’s journey, you need to put in some time to research what types of content would be best to put in front of them.
For content that’s most likely to be found through search, you’ll want to do some keyword research to determine the best keywords to include in your material. A good keyword research tool can tell you what specific search terms have solid search volume combined with lower competition. This means it’s more likely that content emphasizing these terms will rank better in search.
With keywords, you’ll want to avoid the extremes. With broad terms that have a huge search volume, the competition will likely be so fierce you won’t be able to rank for the term. On the other hand, terms that are very narrow might have little competition, but they also usually have miniscule search volume. Either extreme will likely mean that few people end up seeing your content, which kind of defeats the whole purpose, right?
If you’re planning on putting your content out on social media channels, start with your social media analytics. This data will tell you what’s already working (so you can do more of it) and what hasn’t been so effective (so you can course correct).
Other approaches to take include “social listening”—the process of monitoring what people are saying about your brand and your competitors on various social platforms—and keeping an eye on trending hashtags and topics.
All of this prep work puts you in a great position to move into the ideation stage, which is where we’re going next.
Step 3: Brainstorm Content Ideas
Content ideation is a crucial step in the process. Now that you have a clear target and a clear understanding of your audience’s needs, it’s time to generate as many content ideas as possible.
Here are a few ways to generate a ton of great ideas in a short amount of time. You might use a subset of these, or all of them:
- Walk a Mile in Your Audience’s Shoes: Think about what the customer avatar you’re targeting might find interesting or helpful.
- Listen to What Your Customers are Saying: Look at what your ideal customers are talking about on social media or run a survey to your mailing list to uncover their burning questions.
- Find Ideas through Keyword Research: Think about the keyword terms you identified in the previous step. If your prospects are searching for these terms, what kind of content does that suggest?
- Check Out the Competition: Look at the content your competitors are putting out there. What posts and articles are getting high engagement? How might you put your own spin on those content ideas?
- Widen the Input Pool: If you normally use a small in-house team to ideate, think about pulling in others from the company to help you brainstorm. Two groups of people that are often very helpful are your customer service people (because they hear the problems people are trying to solve) and your sales staff (because they hear people’s desires and their objections on their sales calls).
However you go about it, remember that the most important concept when it comes to brainstorming is that “there are no bad ideas.” Whether you’re going through the process of coming up with ideas by yourself or with a team, it’s important to honor all ideas. Don’t reject anything out of hand. An idea that might seem absurd when it first appears might, upon further reflection, be brilliant. But if you kill it in its infancy, it will never have the chance to grow on you.
So, for now, just capture every idea that shows up.
Then, take a break and get some distance between you and the ideas you’ve generated. If possible, don’t look at the material for a day or two. When you feel ready, reconvene and tackle the process of prioritizing the content ideas that you’ve generated.
This is the time to get practical (maybe even a little cold-blooded). A content idea might sound fun to create, but it might be time- or resource-intensive to produce. Another idea might sound good in the abstract, but upon further reflection, it doesn’t really solve a problem or meet a need for your target audience. Another content idea might concern a topic that was trending a few weeks ago, but perhaps its time is already past, and people have moved on.
This is where a good prioritization process can be extremely valuable. People tend to get emotionally invested in ideas they’ve generated. You need a process that takes emotion out of the picture and focuses on analyzing each idea dispassionately.
Take the ideas that survive your prioritization process and move them forward to the next step.
Step 4: Decide What Types of Content to Create
Once you’ve cut down your initial list of content ideas and selected the winners, it’s time to decide what form the ideas will take when fleshed out.
When it comes to choosing the best content type and format for your content efforts, ask yourself the following questions:
- What form makes the most sense for the content? Some content ideas might work best as a blog post. Others might be more impactful as a video, or a podcast episode, or an infographic, or a series of social media posts. These decisions are, of course, also impacted by your ability to create that type of content. If you have someone who’s the face of your company who’s great on video, then you’ll probably want to lean in that direction. If you have one or more excellent writers and your ideal customers engage well with your blog posts, then you’ll probably favor blog content. Leverage your strengths.
- What types of content already exist around your content idea? An easy way to check this is to type your keyword or topic idea into Google and see what kind of content is found at the top of the SERPs. Are the results video-heavy? Blog-heavy? Do they link through to infographics? Once you see what the results bring up, you have to decide whether to match the form of what’s ranking well and try to do it a little better or whether you want to try the contrarian approach of saying, “Everybody’s writing blog posts about this, but I don’t see a good video about it. I think we can create a video that will blow these blog posts out of the water.” Whichever way you decide to go with your response, just make sure you do your homework up front and make your decision an informed one.
- What is the appropriate scale for the content project? Will a single piece of content do the job, or will it take a series of pieces to cover the topic well? If the topic is going to require a series of videos, blog posts, or social media content, you’ll want to plan in advance how to chunk the material and how to sequence it for best effect.
- Is the content you’re planning on creating timely or evergreen? If timely, you’ll have more of a sense of urgency to get it published while the topic is fresh. You’ll likely have deadlines you’ll need to meet and, if the deadline is tight, you’ll need to marshal your resources to meet that deadline. Timely content sometimes demands an “all hands on deck” approach. With evergreen content, on the other hand, it’s usually more important to focus on the quality of the content than it is on a specific publication date. Some forms of content lend themselves especially well to evergreen content—lead magnets, pillar posts, ebooks, case studies, and whitepapers, for example.
- What kind of resources will you need to devote to creating this content? “Resources” includes the time to create the content, the money it will cost you, as well as people resources (Will it require a designer? A video editor? A sound editor?).
Step 5: Choose Your Content Creators
A content creator is anyone who is involved in the process of creating content for your brand and business with the goal of attracting and engaging your target audience.
If you’re a solopreneur, guess what? You are responsible for all aspects of content creation for your business (as well as being the CEO and chief bottle-washer). On the other hand, if your business is larger, you may have a whole team of people dedicated to various steps of content creation. Some of these people may be employees and others may be freelancers hired on a per-project basis.
The more content you need to create regularly, the more it makes sense to hire one or more content creators as employees. On the other hand, freelancers are a good option if you’re not quite at the place where you can afford the salary and benefits an employee would cost you (since freelancers work as independent contractors).
And, of course, you can mix these two models. You might have one or more in-house content creators that you supplement with freelancers when a particular skill set is needed that you don’t have on staff or for overflow work when you have a need for extra content.
Finally, don’t overlook the option of soliciting external contributors such as subject matter experts and thought leaders in your field or even highly engaged members of your audience community. A guest blog post from a thought leader or an enthusiastic review or testimonial from a happy customer can be great additions to your content mix.
So, decide which people will need to be involved with the current project. Need a blog post that you will just plug into the existing blog template with a few images? Then you might just need a content writer. Need something more elaborate, like a slick promotional video? You might need a script writer, an on-camera narrator, a videographer, and a video editor. For these more involved content projects, each person will need to know what their part of the process entails and when their work will need to be finished to meet the overall deadline.
Step 6: Build a Content Calendar
In today’s business climate, your company needs to be a non-stop content generation machine. Consistency is key. Your audience will be much more loyal if they come to trust you to produce valuable content on a regular schedule.
And to ensure that you provide that consistency, you need to have a master plan to follow. This is where your content calendar comes in.
You will likely have primary pieces of content, like a monthly newsletter or regular blog posts, that you know will need to be slotted into the calendar on an on-going basis. Start by scheduling these pieces.
Let’s say that your company is committed to posting one blog post per week on Tuesdays. You can go ahead and add a generic “blog post” placeholder into the calendar for every Tuesday moving forward. You may actually only have specific topics assigned one or two months in advance, but no matter what, you know that you’ll be posting to your blog on Tuesday.
Then, you may have other content that is tied to those primary pieces of content and needs to be slotted in. For example, you may need to create social posts on several channels that are designed to drive traffic to that week’s blog post. These need to be created and ready to go as soon as the blog goes up. For example, you might schedule three social posts for each blog post, spread out across Tuesday through Friday.
And then you’ll need to schedule in the evergreen content the company needs to publish. Let’s say you’re creating a new ebook or an online course that you hope to sell several times a year on a cohort basis. All of this content needs to be created, so you need to find the best time in your schedule to get the work done.
Step 7: Create Your Content
This is the stage of the process most people think about when they hear the phrase “content creation.” And most people would probably be shocked to see that it has taken until step 7 in our 10-step process to arrive at the point where the content is actually created.
But we hope you can see that doing a good job with the six previous steps has set you up to confidently create your content, knowing that what you’re about to create fits into the content strategy of your business, that the ideas have been vetted, that the form and scope of the content has been carefully selected, and that the right people and resources have been assigned to the job.
Now, it’s (finally!) time to create the content itself. We won’t go into the creative process itself in this post, as your content creators will be experts in their own processes. You’ll just want to ensure that there’s a repeatable workflow that your content creators use that involves outlining and drafting the content and reviews of the material by editors and managers tasked with approving the final version of the content before it’s published.
And don’t forget to make SEO a key component of your content team’s workflow. You identified the best keywords for the project earlier in the process. Content creators should now deploy those keywords to their best effect using SEO best practices. This ensures that more of your ideal customers find your content once published.
And it would be remiss of us to fail to mention the usefulness of new AI content creation tools such as headline generators, outline generators, and article/blog post generators, with OpenAI’s ChapGPT leading the way currently.
These tools aren’t great for creating final draft-quality material (yet, anyway), but they certainly can play a role in the early stages of the creative process, where they can generate rough-draft quality material in a matter of minutes, saving your content creators tons of time that they can then use to fact check and revise that material and polish it to shine.
One caveat: keep in mind that content creation is a living, breathing process. No matter how careful you’ve been in the previous steps, it’s always possible that, once you get into the creation of the content itself, something just doesn’t work.
Maybe conditions have changed, and the content is no longer timely, or maybe the angle you thought would work simply doesn’t produce the effect you desire.
That’s OK. It happens. Just be ready for it and be flexible. It’s no sin to circle back to a previous step in the process and work up another idea. Better that than pouring a ton of work into a piece of content that doesn’t achieve the desired goal.
Step 8: Schedule Your Content
A lot of businesses create each piece of content one at a time and schedule those pieces to go out upon completion. This is a huge waste of time and a missed opportunity for efficiency.
A much better approach is to use the scheduling capabilities built into some of your assets. For example, scheduling your emails in advance through your email service provider and your blog posts through your website platform. You can also use tools like Hootsuite to schedule a week or more’s worth of social media posts all at once.
Having a dedicated block of time for this work and a dedicated person to do the work means that a collection of content gets scheduled all at once for the entire week (or even longer) in advance instead of always needing to stop other work to get into the proper program and schedule a single piece of content.
Step 9: Promote Your Content
OK. You’ve planned your content. You’ve produced your content. And now you’ve released it out into the world. Time to kick back and let out a deep sigh of satisfaction, right?
Now it’s time to make sure that content reaches the intended audience so it can achieve the goals you identified for it from early in the process. You’ve put too much work into this content to let it sink into anonymity.
This is where your promotion plan kicks in.
Promoting your content might include:
- Sharing it on Social Media: Share it to your page. Share it to someone else’s page. Share it in the groups you belong to. Tag relevant people and businesses.
- Emailing Your List: The people on your in-house email list are your besties. The ones who gobble up everything you put out and then ask, “Please, sir, may I have another?” So, make sure you alert them anytime you put out new content.
- Posting It on Your Blog: When your new content is in some other form (a podcast, for example, or a video), you can easily produce a written version to go on your blog.
- Sharing It on Other Platforms: You can also publish your content in places like LinkedIn, Quora, or Reddit. Just be aware of their rules. Some of these platforms are not OK with you being too promotional, so adjust as necessary.
- Using Paid Ads: It might be worth the expense of using pay per click advertising to drive traffic to a piece of pillar content or a landing page.
Step 10: Analyze Your Results
The final step in the process is to analyze and adjust.
Once your content has been out in the world for a while, it’s time to step back and analyze what worked and what didn’t.
If the content was a bust, go through everything you did to plan, create, and promote the content. Where did things go off the rails? Was the idea itself not as engaging to your audience as you thought it would be? Was the idea solid, but the execution poor? Or maybe the content itself excellent, but the promotional plan flawed. You can only do better next time if you find the problem areas and address them.
And don’t just analyze your failures. Many businesses miss a golden opportunity when their content succeeds. They get so busy patting themselves on the back that they don’t go through the same rigorous process of analysis that they did with their failures. If they did so, they might be able to isolate the aspects of the project that led to its success. And if you can do that, you know what to repeat next time around.
And that brings us full circle.
Upon completion of each content project, your analysis should feed more data into your strategic approach. Do you need to adjust one or more of your content goals? Do you need to add a new one to the mix? Make the necessary changes and start through the cycle again.
Content Creation: The “Long Game” for Business Success
There are many pathways to business success. Positioning yourself as a leader in a niche is one effective strategy. Networking, especially with influencers, can pay big dividends. List building and nurturing that list is another tried-and-true approach.
But whatever other approaches you try, make sure that regular content is part of the mix. Few strategies have better long-term potential for growing your business.
Don’t expect immediate returns though. Sure, you might get lucky from time to time and come up with something that goes viral. But most of the time, content marketing is about playing the long game.
The more good content you put out there and the more consistently you do so, the more attention you’ll create among your target audience, the more they’ll grow to trust you and look forward to your next piece of content, and the more likely they’ll eventually turn from prospects into paying customers.
If you work the process we’ve laid out here, the process will work for you.