A recurring theme that I hear from digital marketers, and in SEO agencies in particular, is that they struggle to create enough high-quality content to supplement their link building campaigns.
This can be for a number of reasons. One that seems to come up a lot is the cost of producing lots of content; another is that they find it difficult to actually create good-quality, linkable content. Does this sound familiar?
Over the past few years, the search landscape has seen some huge changes, and as a result, the way that search engine optimisation campaigns are carried out has changed.
Gone are the days when you could rely on the likes of directory submissions and blogroll links to start getting your sites ranking. The emphasis isn’t around just link volume, but towards quality, and more importantly, relevance.
This shift has seen the majority of link building strategies move towards a more content-led approach. There’s less of a transactional emphasis and more focus on long-term relationships.
This is all great, but it creates some fundamental issues from a back-end process point of view. SEO agencies and consultants have to think more like PR agencies now. Whereas before you would often see web development companies using their existing technical knowhow to widen their service offering to include SEO, it’s now more common to see this happen with PR firms.
The reality is that technical SEO is losing a lot of its value from a consumer point of view. Businesses know that they can get on-page SEO and internal architecture work carried out by freelancers for a cheap cost and still receive a high-quality service. The same can’t be said for content and link building. This is where you need a specialist.[newsletter]
Creating a Content Roadmap
Before I get into some of the different approaches that you can take with your content creation, I want to stress the importance of planning. No matter how you go about your content creation, there must be a strategy behind it.
Over the years that I’ve been working on content-led SEO strategies, I’ve always ensured that there is a clear theme behind our content strategy. There needs to be metrics surrounding it for measurement and also a transparency to the campaign for the client to see.
To do this, I start by carrying out as much analysis as possible. Getting as much data around the niche that you’re working in will pay dividends in the long term and give rationale to your decisions. Here’s what I look for:
- The content that is performing well within the industry (I use BuzzSumo, Topsy.com, Google News, Open Site Explorer and BuzzBundle).
- Who the top content curators/aggregators are (I use a combination of Citation Labs’ Link Prospector, some advanced search queries, Alltop.com and Reddit).
- Who are the most respected authors/content creators within the niche (I use Social Crawlytics, Majestic SEO, some clever XPath and BuzzSumo).
Once I’ve gathered all of this data, I have some brainstorming sessions with my team to find some angles that we can create to get results from our content creation. We will choose some top-level themes (usually no more than three) and plan some rough titles into a content roadmap three months at a time. These titles can be very rough and will often slightly change, but it will give you some clear direction at least.
I’m not going to go into all of the detail around creating a content roadmap because that's a separate post in itself. Everyone has their own preferred way, so manage it how you feel most comfortable.
So now onto the solutions to content creation…
Option 1: In-House Content Team
Many agencies, both small and large, will have in-house content creation teams. The effectiveness of their teams will vary on the approach that is being taken. The biggest issue that I often see with agencies is that they will often create more content just to have extra links showing up on their monthly client report.
If it’s just a numbers game for you then you’re better off paying for content from a cheap online service and spamming it across loads of fake blogs. Doesn’t sound so great when you put it like that, though, does it?
I get it; your client is really focused on looking at the number of links built each month as a KPI. The only issue with this is that link building isn’t all about numbers! There needs to be a little education from your side to show your client that actually, one link from an authority site is better than twenty from lower-quality sites.
If you have an in-house content team, get them thinking like a PR team would. Forget about links and think about delivering the best possible experience for your readers possible. Don’t just write generic content in the hope that you will be able to place a link into it, post it and move onto the next one. This isn’t realistic.
Running a churn-and-burn attitude to your content creation is probably costing you more money than it’s worth. You need to be getting your content placed on the right sites and you need to be writing content that will appeal to their readers.
Stop looking at SEO metrics like DA or PR and start focusing on the audience that you’re aiming your content at.
And yes, I know, not all industries have huge, engaged audiences that will start sharing your content across social media. This doesn’t always need to determine the success of your content; you just need to get it in front of the right audience. Around 95 percent of my clients are from industries that you would typically class as being boring industries. We’re talking B2B industrial businesses. How many people do you think share our articles about the latest machine valve on Facebook?
Links will come if your content is right. Don’t look at every single piece of content as something that must gain links for it to be a success. I often create content with the sole purpose of opening up a bigger opportunity. This is exactly how I’ve managed to build links from the likes of Forbes, Yahoo, et al. through to my clients’ websites.
Option 2: Build a Team of Freelance Bloggers
One of the issues that often arises with having an in-house content creation team is the ability to create content that shares advanced information related to the niche. The reason is that your in-house copywriters may not be experts on solar energy, machinery lubricants and rainwater harvesting.
The solution to this is to work with the experts within the niche. Instead of investing time into training your in-house team around a specific topic, which can take a lot of time and a large amount of resources, simply partner up with someone who has this existing knowhow.
This approach can even be used to supplement your in-house team’s efforts and add an extra promotion channel. If you think about it, partnering up with a niche-relevant blogger will not only give you the ability to create high-quality, relevant content, but it will also allow you to tap into their personal connections within the industry and utilise their social media channels and community standing.
This was something that I tested out as a pilot on my travel blog, Melted Stories, and it worked really well. I built up a team of four travel bloggers, one of which is a published author, and paid them per post written. This also included original photography, which is a big bonus.
Finding the right bloggers for your team is vital. I tend to factor the cost of this into the project when we begin, but I’ve also bolted this on retrospectively after a chat with the client. Here’s a few ways that I tend to go about searching for good bloggers:
- Visit Alltop.com, pull off a list of all the top blogs within the niche and get in touch with some of the blog owners to see if they’re interested in being part of my content team.
- Post up the details of the project with some rough budget guidelines within niche-relevant communities and forums. I actually built my travel blog’s team from a post in a Facebook group.
- Search through leading publications to find some regularly contributing columnists and reach out to them.
- Search for influential social media users within Followerwonk to find bloggers with a big social following and reach out to them.
- Check out this article that I wrote for Moz that digs a little deeper into this.
Pricing can vary depending on the niche and the writer. Some of the bloggers that you approach may not have done this before so you will have a lot of room to negotiate. I’ve paid anywhere between £40-200 for a post, but longer content could be even more – it all depends what you want, so make sure that you’re very clear about this at the start.
One thing that I would recommend doing with this option is to add all of your writers into some form of project management system. I usually use Basecamp or Trello and just add in the bloggers to the project. This way I can assign them tasks and deadlines for content, plus I can stay up to date with payments and invoices, etc.
Option 3: Generic Freelance Writers
If you don’t have an in-house team of writers and you’re running on a limited budget, you may want to explore the use of working with freelance writers that don’t specialise on one specific topic.
General copywriters are a lot easier to come by but the vetting process can be a little tougher. On top of this, the costs are going to be much lower compared to a niche-specialist blogger (but not always).
There are loads of places to find copywriters and here are a few of the places that I look at:
- Post up a job to oDesk with a detailed brief for what you’re looking for from your writer and set some clear budgets. Interview candidates and make sure you get some examples of their work.
- Check out Writtent.com and go through their list of writers that you can work with.
- Do a quick Google search – I’ve found freelancers this way tons of times.
One of the issues that you may have going down this route is communication. I’d strongly recommend using project management software to keep everything in order and give a clear path of communication between all parties. Alongside this, you’ll want to share the content roadmap with each of your writers to give them enough time to plan out their work.
Option 4: Content Outsourcing Services
This has to be my least favourite option because the quality is generally lower (but not always) and you have a real lack of control over who will actually be creating the content.
Essentially, you get what you pay for when you use content creation services. If you’re paying $15 for a 500-word article, don’t start complaining when it’s not compelling, engaging content! On the other hand, you can work with agencies that have in-house PR teams to get your content produced and this will be of a very high standard. The only downside is that it will be very pricey.
I’ve used a ton of different content creation services with varied success. Here are a few different ones:
One of the real advantages to using services like this is the turnaround time and extra capacity that you can take advantage of. If you’re working with your in-house team or freelancers to create content, then there’s going to be an upper limit to what can be created. Through using external content creation services, you can bypass this issue and increase your content creation volume.
Option 5: Have Your Client Produce Content
I like this option. It gives your client the power to be a part of the content creation process and establish themselves as thought-leaders within their field. This works particularly well within B2B industries.
Alongside this, you’ll be able to build the reputation and authority of your client over time and open up more opportunities for the SEO campaign in the future. I work with a lot of B2B clients where this is a part of the core strategy – in some cases, the client (and some of their team) produces all of the written content for the campaign. From a client point of view, this helps to reduce costs, and from an agency point of view, this lets you focus more on the deployment of the content. The only downside is capacity and having a lack of control.
If I work with a client where they are producing content then I will ensure that I spend some time with them to go over the direction and angle of the content. Creating some content guidelines and tying this into the content roadmap is a good idea. Again, linking up your client’s team with your project management software will help keep everything in order as well.
This doesn’t need to be the sole resource for content creation either, and I always try to encourage my clients to have some kind of input into the content creation process.
- Make sure that you create a content roadmap at the start of your campaign and update it regularly.
- Focus more on developing high-quality content rather than just going to a cheaper, quicker option.
- Build a team full of niche-specific bloggers and tap into their existing following.
- Try and get your client on board with content creation and establish them as thought leaders (especially for B2B industries).
- Use project management software to manage and plan the content creation process with external parties.