It sounds like semantics:
“Content production” vs. “creation.”
Surely, just another fake, douchey concept from average marketers trying desperately to show you how smart they are, right?
Just some more Prime, Grade-A Marketing Bullshit™?
On the surface, yes. Probably.
But when you start peeling back some of the onion-y layers, you’ll see that there’s actually a lot more to the “content production” distinction than meets the crying eye. (See what I did there?!)
In this article, I’ll explain why and convince you that content “production” is actually a better approach than “creation” for most high-growth companies.
And I’ll do it all with minimal made-up jargon, zero marketing bullshit, and a lot more North Star Cursing. Consider yourself forewarned.
Here goes nothing.
What is content production (and how is it different from “content creation”?)
We like to call my company (Codeless) a content production company.
Why? How is that different from a content creation company?
Most content creators and specialists blog. ‘Nothing wrong with it. It’s basically what I’m doing now, showing up every once in a blue moon to write something when the urge strikes.
The problem is that the content landscape in 2021 (and beyond) is very, very different than it was in ~2005 when “content marketing” started to become a mainstream idea in marketing circles.
So in a way, “content production” vs. “creation” also brings up a philosophical difference.
Going forward, high-growth companies need BOTH quality and quantity to compete against the best of the best across the toughest SERPs on the ‘net.
The world is getting hot, flat, and crowded. But not just demographically.
These Fing SERPs today, man. Killing me. So damn competitive. So many smart marketers, at big companies, with even bigger budgets to match.
Not to mention, everyone’s favorite-albeit-tipsy-and-inappropriately-handsy uncle, Big G, keeps favoring Big Enterprise, Inc. Has for nearly a decade already!
Today, there’s more, better content than ever before, pumped out by better marketers, with more sophisticated promotional techniques. That’s I put this lil’ free training together, to help you understand why this is happening and how to react.
Now, I’m not complaining. (Please don’t come after me Google Gods, I mean no harm! 😨)
And let’s be honest with ourselves for a second:
Big brands SHOULD rank better than medium or small ones. They’re objectively better, more widely respected, and more reliable. So I ain’t mad at them, and you shouldn’t be either.
Bitching and complaining on Twitter might help you blow off steam. But it ain’t gonna help you rank any better.
So you gotta adapt. We all do.
THE POINT of all this rambling, is that content production = creating content at scale, at volume, with a larger team, including text, images, video, and audio, across multiple channels like your site, social media, email newsletters, PPC ads, and more – all at the same time in parallel.
Woof. How’s that for a run-on sentence? Grammarly ain’t gonna like that one.
Before we actually discuss how to do that, though, you’ll need to figure out who is going to be doing the doing. Here’s why.
How to structure a content production machine team for maximum output
What’s the old saying?
If you want to move fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together.
That’s some #realtruth right there.
I can write (actually, rewrite) this 3.5k-word article in ~3-4 hours. No biggie. But bigger obligations (tanning, boozing at the beach, etc.) keep me from being able to do that multiple times each week.
Most writers tap out at ~4-8 articles per week. That’s roughly 16-32 articles each month if one writer was busting his or her (equal rights!) ass.
Sidebar 1. Sorry, that was a dumb joke in the last sentence. But there’s a two-word minimum between writing “her” and “ass” in the same sentence, otherwise my boy Ronan Farrow’s gonna get chu.
Sidebar 2. I literally bought a software company so I could double down on dumb jokes like this without some editor or client getting mad at me and removing it. There might be other benefits, but that’s the main one. I am figuratively and literally drunk with power.
Sidebar 3. Pro Tip: Remember that writers aren’t “fast” or “slow” based on their writing ability necessarily, but from their expertise and knowledge about the topics they’re writing. Subject-matter experts might cost more initially but often work faster and with less errors or oversight required in the end.
Ok, back to work.
According to some random person on the Internet (so it must be true!), 78% of companies have up to three people in their content marketing team: content specialist or writer, social media manager, and SEO specialist.
That kinda bears out in real life based on our experience, but you’ll probably need more based on (1) more writers for more content pieces per day/week/month, (2) more project managers to wrangle more crazy writers, and (3) more content specialists for additional content types, like design, video, etc.
- A content writer may come up with ideas, researches and writes content according to the content brief and brand/company guidelines.
- A content marketer’s role involves keyword and audience research. They often work on understanding the customer and creating a buyer persona. They also publish, promote, and analyze content across multiple marketing channels.
- A designer helps to produce visually engaging content such as custom images, vector graphics, and branded content including videos, charts, and infographics.
- An SEO executive gets search engine content optimization on point. This includes everything from the right H1s and H2s, properly formatted images, meta descriptions, inbound links, and keyword checks.
- Project managers/operations need to provide some adult supervision to the above to make sure they all actually work together and deliver what they’re supposed to, by when they’re supposed to.
Now, these roles can be in-house, outsourced, or both. It’s usually both. There are pros and cons to structuring in-house vs. freelance vs. agencies, but it usually comes down to a mix of who’s the best at:
- Org product(s) and positioning and tone preferences (in-house)
- Scale and horsepower (agencies)
- Flexibility (freelance)
You should have at least a project manager and editor or content marketer in-house, even if working with external resources. That’s because good writers often make bad editors and terrible managers. (A post for another day.)
According to another random entity on the Internet, 84% typically outsource the actual “creation” part. Largely because it sucks. And also the hardest. And also the easiest to become a variable expense so you can ramp and and down as needed.
Getting the right people on the boat is only Step 1, though.
The second, and arguably more important Step 2, is to create a content production process that gets everyone swimming in the same direction.
And that’s what we’ll tackle next.
What is a content workflow? The anatomy of a well-drilled content production process
“Pods” sound nice in theory.
Good on paper. Build a little multi-disciplinary team that compliments each other to work on one project or client or vertical.
The way you actually optimize the output from that pod is arranging it across any old production schedule.
Scaling quality content, consistently, across a large team (45+ writers and counting), requires what marketers and ‘creatives’ often fear most:
That’s the key. The secret when there is no actual secret. The place where your favorite Snack Oil Marketing Influencer would insert some silly metaphor.
Just good, old-fashioned, Buy American, Industrial Revolution-type stuff that would make your boring old Six Sigma relative proud.
(We can make plenty of ‘Murica jokes here, but at one point in the year 1944, America’s Great-Depression-tattered manufacturing went on to out-produce Japan’s plane building “in all the war years combined. As a result, half of the world’s war production came from America” during World War II. Ahhhh, the glory days of American Supremacy.)
But let’s actually go back further in history, to an even better example of an assembly line production process to mimc:
(Ha! Bet no one saw that coming after a WWII reference.)
French cuisine is rightfully held in high esteem. Yet, it’s Escoffier’s Brigade System that has arguably had the greatest impact on fine dining worldwide. (That is, until Covid19 + pathetically reactionary politics forced sales to plummet 90%.)
The rise of the à la carte menu in French hotels at the time — or the ability for consumers to order anything they want across sometimes dozens of items — created a logistical nightmare. What was good for consumers, was arguably counterproductive to efficient cooking.
So Escoffier’s Brigade System was a revelation, providing the flexibility for different roles to be working on multiple dishes at the same time, coming together and going out to diners quick enough to still be all warm and yummy.
The Brigade System was largely modeled on the French Army, with your Executive Chef and head chef (Chef de Cuisine) standing at the pass, calling shots as new orders rolled in, while also inspecting (QA!) meals before heading out the door to customers. Meanwhile, heads of each discipline — Saucier (saute), Poissonier (fish), Patissier (pastry), etc. — could focus on cranking out their respective areas of expertise without worrying about the bigger details of how they all come together for one person or one table.
This is exactly how you should model your own content production process.
Here’s how our typical production schedule and workflow looks, allowing the flexibility to scale up or down from a handful each month to hundreds:
- Strategy/SEO – Keyword research, topic identification, outlining content opportunities and needs (sections revamped, new content added to existing, brand new, etc).
- Strategy/SEO or account/project managers – Content prep (content templates, briefs, etc.) that outline search intent + questions to answer, other specs for what needs to be added or updated, semantic keywords via MarketMuse, Clearscope, SurferSEO, etc, internal links to add, and assign to writing teams.
- Writing & production – Different writers and writing teams based on type of content. Difficult or opinion or industry-specific, maybe more expensive internal or in-house writers / agencies. More scalable content, easier to outsource = cheaper writing teams. You’ll want a dedicated internal editor here, possibly also a secondary copy editor depending on volume.
- Images and other media assets like video: Internal designers or external team handling everything – you’ll typically run into issues splitting up design-based stuff across multiple teams or contractors/agencies because they ultimately won’t align perfectly.
- SEO or marketing-savvy account/PM: Upload, format, optimize — using Wordable of course! — double checking grammar and plagiarism in Writer, your content grades from MarketMuse, Clearscope, etc. internal links, image compression or whatever else for speed, etc)
- Publish + promotion: Earned, Owned and Paid – link building, your own resources, paid social distribution in that order. Again, another post for another day.
When smaller or producing lower volume, you can get away with consolidating a few of those steps with the same people. For instance, one solid content marketer doing keyword research, briefs, and QA-ing pieces for publish.
But again, don’t cross streams. (You’re going to have to Urban Dictionary that one yourself.)
Don’t have writers, edit, manage other writers, or vice versa. Otherwise, output will collapse and quit faster than, well… you know.
If you’re still reading, haven’t been completely offended, or clicked the back button in anger at my potty mouth, then let’s keep moving down the rabbit hole into a content production example to see how this works in real life.
Content production example: How do you scale quality content?
Here’s where the rubber meets the road.
Where “blogging” and “content production” deviate.
Again, both are good aims. Both have their place.
It’s just important that you realize different techniques require different content with different goals.
We acquired Wordable ~halfway through 2020 and traffic was decreasing each month since the start of the year. But just a few months later, we easily ~2X’d traffic with just one simple push.
First up, there was a lot of solid content already on the Wordable site from the previous owners who did a good job mixing classic SEO-y content with more interesting interviews, etc.
But for this project, we decided to zero-in on the most trafficked posts that we could scale out ASAP to get traffic (and therefore, revenue) trending in the right direction while working on other stuff in the background (like completely rebuilding the app).
SEO 101: We were already ranking and performing well for this stuff, helping us better understand where we’re already topically authoritative, and providing a blueprint to build upon.
So go into Analytics to see the top performing content pieces (based on Entrances from Organic Search). Then, cross-reference with top keywords inside Ahrefs, Moz, SEMrush, or some other trendy LEGENDARY keyword research tool that hipster SEOs are using that old farts like me don’t know about yet.
Here’s what 5 minutes of research provided:
Good stuff so far. The top ranking post has a volume of 25,000 (!) with several other multi-thousand volume keywords we can hit with one piece of content (!) and only a keyword difficulty of 19 (!).
A literal gold mine.
Digging further into our Top Pages, and you’ll start to quickly spot a similar pattern:
We’re already ranking pretty well for lots of higher volume, lower difficulty terms that are super related to one another (specifically: Google Docs features).
If you’ve just scanned this far down without reading anything above, then congratulations, you made the right choice.
If you’re still reading every word up to this point, (1) I’m sorry, and (2) you’ve probably noticed that I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. BUT, even my slow, sophomoric brain can pick up these clues:
✅ Multiple keywords sharing similar demand (i.e. search volume) indicate a rich Fing vein. Remember: SEOs can’t create demand, we only harvest it.
✅ We’re already ranking well, alluding to some recognized topical authority so we should be able to rank sooner with similar content (than others). Thanks muh brudda ‘G!
✅ Similar topics and search intent = similar content templates and briefs to streamline content production.
Now, because I’m a greedy summabitch, I want ALL those keywords for myself. Golem-style. I’m also going to add a keyword difficulty cap filter because while our site is decent, it’s not YUGE.
Yes. This is what I’m talking about.
Now, we create a template for all of these pieces, along with individual creative briefs to make sure our content optimization will eventually be on point.
Here’s a picture-perfect example for “how to make a timeline in Google Docs”:
You can also get as nerdy as you want with these. For instance, we also instruct & train writers on how to prepare each individual section of a content piece.
So if they’re trying to come up with an acceptable angle for one of these articles, we want them to specifically choose one of these five. And NOT deviate, because that’s what creates inconsistently!
The end result?
We were able to pump out dozens of articles within just a few weeks that all look pretty similar in style and subject matter. That’s the point. And while these articles won’t ever win us some (largely worthless) industry award, that’s also NOT the point.
This content brings in new, unbranded traffic from problem-aware, but brand-unaware peeps. AKA opening up that top of yo’ funnel. We’ll use other deeper, more insightful, more captivating content to convert them at a later date.
Please reference Exhibit A below, while excusing that Fugly design staring back at you:
Now, how can you tell if this is working?
Give it a few weeks after publishing, and jump back into your favorite keyword research tool.
Look up new keywords you just started ranking for, with no historical value or starting point (meaning you weren’t previously ranking for this topic). Cross-reference the content to make sure it’s new, too. Then look at where you’re currently ranking and how quickly you climbed up.
Going from not ranking at all, immediately jumping up to the first or second page? That’s a good thing to see.
And that’s how you drive compounding growth with ease in a short period of time.
Content production metrics: Analyzing, measuring, and improving your content production machine
I’m not going to lie. I’m starting to get a little tired writing this.
Focus is dwindling. Eyes are blurring. Blood sugar crashing. I must be in desperate need of a refill.
So let’s blow through these last few points, because they’re each in need of their own 3,000+ word post, and we simply don’t got no time for that right now.
The best way to make process (not paragraph or phrasing!) changes as you go is to regularly re-review content performance. That means weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual review of your process-oriented, leading indicators, like:
- Top keywords: Your top traffic, lead, or conversion drivers. Keep these puppies happy with regular promotion, links, and content updates.
- Slipping keywords: Stuff you used to rank well for, but are starting to slide, and probably in need of a revamp (more on this in a sec).
- New keywords: Your new ranking topics from new content. How’s it progressing, does it need more internal or external links, or social promo to keep drive through plateaus?
- Content ordered/updated: Raw numbers, lengths/word counts, etc.
- Links built and/or paid spend: Raw numbers, clicks, CTRs, CPCs, etc.
Unfortunately, the bottom-line marketing & business metrics that you’ll be judged on… are largely out of your direct control.
Hah! The joys of marketing. There’s a reason CMO’s don’t last long. Because all of the stuff you used to control — product, placement/distribution, pricing, etc. — has largely been relegated to only promotion (and even then, largely the two subsets of advertising + promotion).
And the work of content marketers can often take ~1-2 years to ROI. Or, like, halfway through your CMO’s tenure.
So that’s why we’re focusing on what we CAN control – leading indicators and inputs to maximize or leverage your outputs.
Good keywords target > better writing > content optimization scores > link building/distribution > ranking improvements > traffic increases > lead gen (trials, bookings, whatever) > better sales > your fat bonus check > promotin’ on up to a bigger cubicle > getting the hell out of your current role without the door smacking your behind and moving to a better company > hit repeat.
Now, to circle back to number two (slipping keywords) and number four (content ordered/update) to tie a nice, neat, tidy bow.
Every month and/or quarter, re-review performance of top X page URLs and use a ‘balanced scorecard’ to figure out what needs to be updated. As in:
- Content: Out of date info, new features, better examples, new CTAs, broken links, more insightful commentary, etc.
- Page-level optimization: Better match current search intent, content scores, etc.
- Content/topic authority on site: Best is to use something like a MarketMuse inventory here to gauge, improve your site architecture or internal linking, improve
- Off-page promo: Domain & page authority links vs. competition on each respective SERP (Ahrefs, etc.)
Then, filter all of this stuff into your ongoing content planning. You can create new batches each interval of URLs to update, or URLs that need more links, or URLs that are fine for now and revisit next quarter.
Work these into your production schedule along with new content. Sometimes it’s easier to have specific content writers or teams for these different batches or content goals, too.
So you have your “content update” team vs. your “new content” team. You can break these down further if you’re doing BIG projects (“New content” team is made up of writers that do ebooks vs. writers that do pillars vs writers that do product updates or whatever).
More on this next time.
Conclusion: Why content production matters, and why you should be doing it ASAP
The real difference between “content production” vs. “creation” or “blogging” sounds like a simple case of semantics on one end, and an average marketer’s fanciful wet dream on the other.
(Is “nocturnal emission” really more PC? I’m not quite sure…)
The truth is somewhere in the middle:
Like a freaky, sweaty blend of 50 various Shades of Grey that relate to how you build out content teams, assemble a content production system, and promote the living hell out of your digital content to skyrocket to the top of the SERPs.
It requires a top-down approach, as opposed to a bottom-up one, where writers kinda write whatever the hell they feel like, underqualified “editors” (heavy on the air quotes) rewrite what the writers just wrote, and micro-managing founders rewrite what the “editors” just rewrote, taking weeks to publish a single lousy 1,000 words.
This last example is literally the only one I haven’t completely made up in this entire article.
The good news and silver lining and green shoots and what not, if there was one, is that rolling up your sleeves to do this hard work — of building out a content production machine — can help you easily outpublish your navel-gazing, rewriting competitors, before they ever realize their Social Charlatan’s gospel is completely bogus.
That’s a worthy goal. And as good a place as any to end this on.
*A special note to our readers*
We’re proud to report that no Karens, French, editors, fake celebrity pastors, or scum-sucking “marketing influencer” leeches were harmed in the making of this article.
Actually, on second thought, that last group can still piss off.
Sincerely, ur BFF,
– Bradley, XOXO