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Why Content Operations is a Crucial Part of Your Content Marketing Strategy

It’s only June, and my team and I have already published 215 high-quality articles this year.

That’s around 650,000 words, and we’re a team of only five people and an intern.

As a B2B content marketing agency, the posts we publish get engagement, organic traffic. Most of them rank on page 1, and most of all—they drive revenue for our clients.

We’re set and ready to 4x content production in the coming months without losing an ounce of quality.

Meanwhile, people tell me:

  • They can’t find high-quality, specialized writers that can also get articles to rank
  • Their SEO writers only care about ranking and not about empathy with the reader
  • It’s taking forever to brief writers and to get to a piece they like

The reason we’re able to do that is because of content operations.

Today, I’m going to explain to you:

  • What content-ops are and how they’re different from a content marketing strategy
  • Why you won’t be able to scale content without content operations
  • The elements of content operations and what to include in yours

Let’s dive in.

What is “Content Operations”?

Content operations is a term that describes the systems and functioning of a content organization, including human resources, processes, and technology, that allows the department to create content at scale through repeatable frameworks. It’s how you run your content team.

The person who handles content operations (often just the content marketing manager or head of content) will:

  • Have technical oversight of the content stack, evaluate new systems and oversee implementation and improvement
  • Establish, maintain and scale processes for calendar management, topic ideation, content creation, and distribution
  • Create and optimize reports on content marketing performance, efficiency, and impact in line with the marketing department’s goals
  • Analyze acquisition, behavior, and conversion data to make recommendations on improving the content strategy

Without content operations, content marketing becomes haphazard:

Is that article ready to publish?

Who’s responsible for the final approval?

Has compliance checked this piece?

These are all questions that can be answered and managed with content operations. Without content ops in place, it’s easy for marketing mistakes to happen.

Content Marketing VS Content Ops

Content operations are the technology, processes, and systems used to execute a content marketing strategy. It’s how the team works together and ensures content marketing is successful.

Through Content Ops, everyone in the company can have visibility on workflows, editorial calendars, performance metrics, and final content assets that drive the content marketing strategy.

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Invest in Content Operations?

Having some documented process for content is essential at any stage of your business.

Content Ops becomes useful when your content team grows larger than three people. There doesn’t need to be a significant financial investment to begin with. It’s just time at first—the time it takes to document stuff that used to be in your head.

If you’re growing fast, then it’s time to start thinking about your content operations.

Getting the first few SOPs down is a big-time investment, but then you get your team to keep building them. If you already have a content team, then Content Ops isn’t an “investment”—it’s just getting them organized.

Building Your Content Operations Strategy

Content operations will change depending on the team and company.

There’s a big difference between publishing four articles a month and publishing 100. How you choose to manage your content team depends on your size, publication volume and velocity, and channels to distribute content.

That said, there’s something every content supply chain will need to address:

Any digital content operation, regardless of the size, has these five things in play. As your organization grows, processes will get more complex. But there are basics that every content operations team shares.

What Successful Content Operation Teams Have in Common

Successfully scalable content operations require the following elements in place:

1.   A robust project management tool

2.   Processes and a framework that your team can follow

3.   A playbook documenting all apps and workflows

4.   Checks and balances for quality assurance

5.   Reporting processes that deliver meaningful insights

6.   The right people

Below, I break down how to implement each step to build a powerful Content Ops engine.

1. A Robust Project Management Tool

It’s hard to manage content operations without a versatile project management tool. The right tool is going to make or break your content marketing strategy’s success.

If you want your content operation to be scalable, it’s important to have a tool where you can:

  • Manage topic ideation
  • Host and manage the content calendar, including labeling assets from different categories and at different parts of the funnel
  • Manage freelancer availabilities and calendars
  • Organize your SOPs
  • Keep communication about specific pieces in one place
  • Oversee different content stakeholders
  • Track and visualize data time data

For some teams, this tool can be anything as simple as a Trello Kanban board.

Others might require software that handles larger-scale projects (like ClickUp, as an example).

Either way, having a way to manage your content operation is imperative for success.

2. Processes and a Framework that Your Team Can Follow

Content Ops is about having the right balance of manual and automated workflows, where everyone knows what their role is and when they need to come in.

You probably already have a company handbook and a marketing operations playbook, but you also need one for content. Document everything and make sure your team knows it’s the bible that should always be referred to and followed.

While the contents of a content operations playbook will vary for each team, here’s what we include in ours:

Topic Ideation

An essential part of scaling content is not relying only on your creative prowess to dream up potential topics. That’s not scalable, and it’s not something you can put into a process. You need to have a system or filter to put your broader topics through to generate more article topics for the best results.

Keyword Research

Both keyword research and topic ideation can be creative. That said, you should have a system for doing keyword research that you follow each time. Document your process and go through all your steps while you research.

Things you can document are:

  • How you use the different features of your keyword research tool
  • How you turn a customer interview into a list of keywords.
  • What keyword metrics you pay attention to
  • How you identify search intent

That way, when you hire the next person to do keyword research, they can do it the same way as you.

Content Creation

Sometimes companies find writers, give them a topic, and then wonder why the writers aren’t delivering what they expect or why the content isn’t ranking. There’s a whole process for getting writers to execute your vision.

Below is an example of the content creation process for your reference:

  • Strategist provides brief with rough outline
  • Writer completes the outline, adding anything they deem needed to fully cover the topic
  • Strategist approves outline
  • Writer creates first draft, sends back to strategist
  • Strategist gives it a quick check to make sure it aligns with the goal, hands it over to the editor
  • Editor provides feedback for style and content and sends back to writer
  • Writer creates second draft based on editor’s feedback
  • Editor finalizes and approves content and sends to project manager for uploading

However, the most important part of this is having a thorough brief.

Brief Creation

The content brief is a standard document that includes all the information a writer needs to execute the vision for the piece of content. Brief templates vary by organization, but most content briefs should include:

  • Primary keyword
  • Secondary keywords
  • Topic
  • Working title
  • Narrative angle
  • Internal links & anchor texts
  • Reference materials
  • Outline or required subheadings

Other items that can be added are:

  • Clearscope report (or another on-page optimization tool report)
  • Checklists (for writer, strategist, editor, project manager and whoever else is involved)
  • The goal of the piece
  • Distribution plan
  • Stage of the funnel
  • Target persona
  • Production Timeline

At the end of the day, your content brief should be adapted to your content creation process.

Content Uploading

Documenting your process for uploading can be simple—ours is a little more complicated because we have clients with different needs and different CMSs. But, it still helps to have an SOP down if you ever need to have someone else upload your articles the same way as you.

Tip: When uploading, have a process for adding internal links to new blog posts from old ones.

Content Distribution

How do you distribute content after publishing?

Who adapts the copy for each platform?

Do you repurpose the content?

What platforms, communities, or Slack channels do you share your content in?

Have a content distribution checklist at hand and go through it with each content piece.

3. A Playbook Documenting All Apps and Workflows

Have one shared place where your team can find SOPs for all parts of the process.

We keep ours in a Google Spreadsheet called “SOP Tracker” which includes columns for the SOP role and another for keywords so anyone can find their SOP easily.

We also have a “Writer Knowledge Base” that our freelance writers can refer to when they need to learn how we do certain things, like adding alt texts to images in the Google Doc.

(Initially, we called it the Writer Onboarding document, but we found that the writers never remembered to check it, so we rebranded it as a knowledge base. This empowered writers to answer questions independently.)

Thinking of how the different stakeholders navigate and search for answers should guide your SOP management.

4. Checks and Balances for Quality Assurance

When there are a lot of people involved in the content production process, it’s easy for quality issues to fall through the cracks.

Ownership might get blurred at scale and without control—a misspelled name gets published, or an asserted “fact” turns out to be wrong. Be sure to include a system for checks and balances.

One way we like to do that is by including checklists for everyone involved. The last point of each list is checking if the previous person completed their checklist.

5. Reporting Processes that Deliver Meaningful Insights

As a part of your marketing strategy, you’ll already have set your KPIs to track. As your content operations team grows, so will your KPIs. It’s critical to maintain control over them and have clear visibility over the impact of your content work.

This is what will allow continued buy-in from executives and help you increase your budget when you need to. Everyone involved needs to know how Content Ops is moving the needle for everyone else.

But you’ll want a process for aligning your content reporting with your marketing and sales teams’ goals.

What metrics are meaningful to them?

Different tools and data platforms sometimes show discrepancies in data.

What’s your single source of truth?

If you’re tracking conversions, which goal is most important?

If you’re tracking traffic, are you looking at page views, sessions, or users?

Have a system to make reporting clear and valuable for your content team and all other stakeholders involved.

6. The Right People

Of course, your Content Ops teams won’t be much without the right people in the right places. All the processes in the world can’t make up for people in the wrong positions.

You can’t automate strategy, insight, communication, and people management.

Additionally, it would help if you had an SOP champion to make sure everyone follows and builds on your SOPs. The worst thing that could happen is having a library of SOPs that nobody ever uses.

Your people and company culture will get the rest of the content team to follow and maintain your content operation.

Getting Started with Content Ops: Final Thoughts

The most crucial part of content operations is that everyone has visibility into the framework and is empowered to follow the rules and processes. If you take the time to set the proper foundations and encourage your team to document everything they’re doing, you’ll be on the right path toward success.

Take the 2-week test: if you or your content lead were to go on vacation for two weeks, would your company be able to continue creating content? Would they know exactly where each piece of content is and what’s needed of it?

If everything is too much “in your head” or unorganized, nobody would know where to pick up after you. You wouldn’t be able to really take that time off if you wanted to keep publishing.

Ideally, the next best thing you can do is ask yourself:

  • Is my current content system scalable?
  • What are all the stages in my content strategy?
  • How can I identify clearly in which stage each piece of content is?

Map it out into a document, and you have the beginnings of your content operations playbook.