Content Marketing

How to Create a Content Development Framework for High-Performing Teams

Struggling to create high-quality content on a consistent basis? What you need is a solid content development framework to streamline the entire process.

Obaid Khan Durrani Obaid Khan Durrani on May 25, 2021 (last modified on May 26, 2021) • 19 minute read

Did you know more than 7.5 million blog posts are published every single day?

You see your competitors join the party and publish content assets left and right. But no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to create quality content at a consistent rate.

The solution isn’t as simple as onboarding more content creators.

The missing puzzle piece is a content development framework that helps you create content at scale, and on a consistent basis.

If you want to learn more, keep reading. 

In this article, I’ll walk you through the two-step process of establishing a content development framework that can help your team become a high-performing content marketing powerhouse, including:

Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Establishing a Content Development Process

Working on a new content asset shouldn’t be a struggle every time.

To avoid having to figure it out as you go whenever you need to create new content, you need to solidify an efficient and repeatable content creation process.

The following is a play-by-play breakdown of what that can look like.

  1. Generate a new content idea
  2. Map ideas to keywords
  3. Understand the intent behind the search
  4. Plan out your topic
  5. Create an in-depth outline
  6. Create the content
  7. Optimize for SEO
  8. Publish and promote
  9. Analyze and update

1. Generate a New Content Idea

Coming up with fresh content ideas can be difficult, but if your team knows how to go about it, it can be easier to brainstorm new concepts.

A good way to start is by understanding your niche or industry, conducting content audits, and seeking inspiration from different sources. 

Truly Understand Your Industry or Niche

Whether you’re creating content for yourself or a new client, the first thing you should do is thoroughly study the industry.

For this, you have to dig deep and try to understand:

  • Key terminologies
  • Nuances
  • Challenges
  • Daily activities
  • Major players
  • History and trends

Even if you’re just creating content for yourself, you have to be an industry expert if you want to provide your audience with unique insights. At the same time, that expertise can help you establish yourself as a legitimate source. 

Conduct a Content Audit and Look at Your Competitors

Once you have an understanding of the industry, you should take a look at your existing content efforts and compare them with your competitors by conducting a content audit

For instance, if you’re blogging, see what competitor blogs have published lately and how you stack up against them.

You can do this manually by going through competitor blogs. You can also save time and come up with more useful data points by conducting a content gap analysis with a content marketing tool.

For example, the content gap tool on Ahrefs shows you a list of keywords that your competitors rank for, but you don’t. 

This is what it looks like:

content gap analysis example

Plug in the URLs of a few competitor websites at the top and your own at the bottom field, and click on “Show keywords.”

This will help you discover new content opportunities.

Seek Inspiration from Different Sources

Aside from looking into data, you can seek inspiration from other sources, such as search, social platforms, forums, or different publishers.

More specifically, you can browse:

  • Reddit
  • Quora
  • Medium
  • Dribbble
  • Behance
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook groups
  • News websites

Plus, you should follow any newsletters, forums, and/or other channels related to your industry.

2. Map Ideas to Keywords

The next step in your content development plan should be to conduct keyword research to find a high-volume term that you can “map” to your content.

An SEO tool like Ahrefs can help with that.

Your goal is to find a keyword that a lot of people are searching for and develop something that provides them with the best answer. 

Ask yourself, “What term(s) would my readers search for to find the information I want to provide through my content?” 

Plug a seed term in a keyword research tool to get a list of keywords.

Google keyword explorer example

When selecting keywords, look at the monthly search volume, keyword difficulty, and all that good stuff. The higher the search volume and the lower the keyword difficulty, the better. 

Specifically, look for long-tail keywords. They have decent search volume and lower difficulty scores, making it easier to rank for them. They also tend to pack higher conversion potential.

semrush keyword research example
Source: Semrush.com

However, depending on your niche, coming across such opportunities can be rare. 

Either way, don’t stress too much over keywords. 

Search engines are constantly evolving to understand users better. 

For that reason, crafting your content around user satisfaction, delivering a pleasant user experience, and building content around user intent can work wonders for SEO

3. Understand the Intent Behind the Search

As mentioned, you need to figure out the intent or motivation that drives people to search for the information you’re writing about.

When doing your keyword research, you asked yourself what terms people would be searching for to find your content. 

Now, you need to find out what kind of information they’re looking for. 

Doing so helps you answer the following three questions:

  • What questions might they have about the topic/keyword?
  • What might be the goals they want to accomplish by acquiring this information? 
  • What would be the best format (listicle, guide, case studies, white paper, etc.) to deliver this information and provide the most value?

Depending on your answers, your keyword can fall into any of the following main categories of intents:

  1. Informational – your target audience is looking to gain some knowledge (e.g. how-to posts, ultimate guides, etc.).
  2. Commercial – the goal is to conduct market research and compare options before making a buying decision (e.g. review and comparison pages, case studies, etc.).
  3. Transactional – the target audience includes potential customers who are ready to purchase something (e.g. product pages, sales pages, etc.).

However, marketers have started to realize that intent can go much deeper.

For that reason, we now further classify content into:

  1. Inspirational – the searcher needs help coming up with new ideas and potentially getting over a creative block (e.g. live videos, slide decks, etc.)
  2. Entertaining – the audience is searching for something entertaining. They don’t necessarily want to gain any knowledge (e.g. animated explainer videos, podcasts, etc.). 
  3. Educational – this is similar to informational intent, but goes one step further. The intent is to gain some long-term knowledge that can be applied practically (e.g. courses, eBooks, etc.).

Pinning down the intent will ensure that you answer all the right questions for your target audience.

Editor’s note: Find out who is visiting your site by downloading this free Google Analytics Audience Overview dashboard template and get insights on visitor location, engagement, common devices, and more.

Google Analytics Audience Overview Dashboard

4. Plan Out Your Topic

Once you’ve studied your audience, found your keyword, and understood the intent, think of the creative angle that you want to take with your content asset.

It’s important that you don’t just write about the keyword itself. 

Instead, go one step further and figure out how you want to cover the topic. 

Think of it this way: You conduct searches all the time and select one result over others. What makes you choose that result? What scenario or insights does the headline propose that made you click it? 

Your topic, or headline, is a glimpse of what subject matter your content will provide—and it will compete with every other headline on the SERP. 

Coming from a creative angle, can you make your topic more compelling.

For example, let’s say you’re writing about email marketing. 

You could just write a “What is Email Marketing? The Ultimate Guide In 2021” post. 

Or, you could break down Morning Brew’s email marketing strategy (which led them to getting acquired by Business Insider at a reported valuation of up to $75 million) and give readers a play-by-play roadmap of how they can emulate or experiment with the strategy. 

The title? Maybe something like “How Morning Brew Used Email Marketing to Gain 2.5M Subscribers and a $75M Valuation”. 

So, when it comes to topic creation, you should brainstorm multiple perspectives, headlines, purposes, and stories to come up with the right angle. 

This helps you ensure that your content is either insightful, interesting, or entertaining—or better yet, all three. 

5. Create an In-Depth Outline

With your keyword, intent, and topic ready, it’s time to conduct some research and craft a detailed outline.

This is the most important phase. 

Once you have a good outline, creating the actual content becomes easier.

To create a helpful outline, make sure that you:

  • Conduct ample research on the topic.
  • Break down what you want to talk about in different sections (H2s, H3s, etc.) and organize your thoughts.
  • Write down the main points, benefits, ideas, etc., that you want to discuss in each section as bullet points.
  • Come up with alternate headlines and/or section headings.

Here’s a screenshot of the outline I made for this post:

Content outline example

Notice that not only is it properly formatted, but it also includes important notes that are allowing me to basically glide through the writing process. 

If I were to abandon this blog post and come back to it months (or even years) from now, I would simply pick right back up where I left off, knowing exactly what insights, point of views, and overall substance I wanted to share.

Only because the outline is that detailed.

6. Create the Content

With a solid outline in place, you essentially have a fool-proof recipe that will enable you to cook an amazing dish without any hiccups.

Here are a few things I keep in mind (or try to do) when writing content:

  • Make the Flow Clear and Natural – convey your thoughts in the simplest way possible. 
  • Keep the Reader Hooked – every line you write should lead the reader to the next one to keep them engaged throughout the content.
  • Incorporate Visuals – to improve the overall value and increase your chances of showing up on Google images (where over 20% of all web searches in the US take place), include some visuals (infographics, charts, screenshots, GIFs, memes, etc.).
  • Cover Everything – as long as it doesn’t go out of the scope of your topic, don’t leave anything out and avoid fluff. Make sure that you’re targeting the original intent you identified.
  • Include Benefits and Examples – it is best to include 2-3 benefits to solidify a point (or provide deeper context) and provide examples to solidify the reader’s understanding.
  • Include Expert Opinions – you can interview subject matter or industry experts and include their quotes and insights in your content. 
  • Stay Assertive – maintain an assertive tone throughout the content to make it more impactful.
  • Make it Scannable – make your content easy to scroll through with plenty of line breaks, bullet points, and sections.
  • Edit Away – depending on your resources, you can have a single or multiple rounds of edits.

Of course, you will and should have your own writing process. 

These are just things I’ve found that work well with written content. You should try everything, mix your own stuff, and experiment to find your unique style. 

7. Optimize for SEO

Creating and optimizing your content can take place in tandem.

However, just to be sure that you’re doing everything right, make sure that your content ticks the following boxes before it’s published.

Use Proper Formatting

Make sure that the content follows your editorial guidelines.

An on-page SEO practice is to use proper heading levels (H2s, H3s, and H4s). 

Also, make sure to break your content into digestible bits. As a rule of thumb, you can stick to 2-4 lines per paragraph. This will make it easy for readers to scan through your content.

Targeting the Topic, Not the Keyword

As mentioned before, don’t get caught up with keyword usage. 

Instead, focus on making your content the most relevant, in-depth, and engaging asset on the topic. 

In other words, focus on semantic SEO.

That entails simply staying on topic, creating good content, and using certain terms that are related to what you’re writing about.

To ensure that your content is 100% topically relevant, I recommend running it through Clearscope. It’s a content optimization tool that generates a list of the most commonly used terms in the top-ranking content.

It then grades your content based on how many terms you’ve used (with A++ being the highest), like so:

Clearscope content analysis example

Remember to include those terms in a way that seems natural and doesn’t affect the quality of your content.

Editor’s note: The Google Analytics Landing Page SEO dashboard template allows you to track the strength of your on-page SEO by showing you which pages on your website drive the most organic clicks, sessions, and more.

google-analytics-seo-dashboard

Further Tips

Here are a few additional optimization tips: 

  • Use the keyword(s) naturally throughout your content.
  • Compress visuals to improve page speed.
  • Insert internal and external links.
  • Do not end any section on a bullet point or image to avoid being abrupt.

Finally, make sure that your content goes through a fresh pair of eyes before it’s published.

8. Publish and Promote the Content

You need to plan out (and in some cases, even execute) content promotion in advance.

To that end, apart from the main asset, you also have to develop additional content that you’re going to use to promote it, including:

  • Social Snippets
  • Subject Lines
  • Outreach Emails

Furthermore, plan out and execute how you’re going to promote your content i.e. through which channels and at what frequency.

9. Analyze and Update

Once you’ve published your content, consistently gauge its performance to see if all that hard work is paying off.

Has it started to rank?

How much organic traffic is it racking up?

Is it driving visitors to take any desirable actions?

In other words – is it achieving the broader online marketing goals mentioned in your content strategy?

Track the relevant metrics using Google Analytics or any other web analytics tool.

Here are some common content performance metrics you should be looking at:

Databox survey results showing most important content performance metrics

See if there’s any way you can improve or update your content over time to keep it fresh and get better results.

Editor’s note: This blog performance dashboard helps you monitor the performance—organic search traffic, Google Search rankings, CTRs, and conversions—of old blog posts you’ve recently updated

updated-blog-post-performance-dashboard

Stage 2: Scaling Your Content Team

Having a content development process is just one part of the puzzle. You also need a solid team akin to a well-oiled machine to create content on a consistent basis and achieve your goals.

Here are some hiring, onboarding, and outsourcing tips that will help you scale your team, and ultimately, your content marketing ROI.

  1. Build a diverse team
  2. Balance full-timers and freelancers
  3. Hire topics experts
  4. Create a smooth training process

1. Build a Diverse Team

If your entire content development strategy – from ideation to analysis – is being executed by just one person, you might not make as much progress as you’d like.

To really move the needle, you need to hire different people, who bring unique skill sets and backgrounds to the table, and build a diverse team.

All high-performing content teams should have:

  • Content Marketers – writers who can craft high-level, optimized content and dive deep into content strategy.
  • Editor/Content Manager – eagle-eyed professionals that can make good writing great, manage projects, and build marketers up through feedback and training. 
  • Graphic Designers – you need someone who can design stunning brand assets and also turn data into insightful visuals.
  • SEOs – someone who can conduct keyword research, optimize websites, perform content audits, and report on performance.
  • Content Coordinator – finally, you need someone to plan and manage your content campaigns, coordinate with clients/stakeholders, and keep everyone on the same page.

Other important things that need to be taken into account are outreach or digital PR. Given your current resources, phase of growth, etc., you can either divide these tasks up among your team or hire someone new. 

However, the important thing would be to establish a process that works, such as link building, and then build a team around it.

Aside from that, based on your type of business, you have to decide how many of each profile is right for you. 

For example, if you’re a SaaS, you could bring in 1000s of monthly visitors with just two writers and an editor. 

On the other hand, if you’re a content agency, you’d need a dozen writers to manage client work and then another handful to maintain your content strategy. 

2. Balance Full-Timers and Freelancers

Hiring full-time employees comes with the benefit of having a resource you can always rely on. However, having a few freelancers/contractual resources on your team can also go a long way in maximizing your team’s output and managing your budget.

A smart strategy is to keep both, i.e. have some full-time employees on your pay-roll to handle some of the load, while outsourcing the rest to vetted, competent, and high-level freelancers.

Having access to these varied resources gives you more flexibility to plan your content development efforts. 

Ideally, you should also have at least a few resources on standby. That way, if your in-house team is unable to handle the current workload, you can immediately outsource that extra work and get it wrapped up without any delays.

3. Hire Topic Experts

A common variable among top-ranking content is it’s all highly in-depth and delivers amazing value that isn’t easy to replicate.

And a person who doesn’t really belong to the field they’re writing about can only go so deep.

Sure, sometimes you can get lucky with secondary research (think round-up posts). 

But what about topics that are highly technical, dive deep into the depths of an industry, or offer some life-changing advice to the readers (YMYL pages)?

I highly recommend having content like that created by people who actually know the ins and outs of the industry or niche you’re writing about.

Experts, using their practical and/or academic knowledge, can offer:

  • Greater clarity
  • Actionable and sound advice
  • Real data and examples

Here are a few examples of niches/industries that should definitely be handled by topic experts:

  • Health – a doctor, psychologist, nurse, pharmacist, or nutritionist should be handling these topics.
  • Finance and Accounting – you’ll be better off with a writer who has a background in finance and some professional experience with bookkeeping/accounting.
  • Real Estate – ideally, your writers should have been realtors at some points in their lives. Their expertise will be reflected in the tone and choice of words.
  • Software Development/Coding – someone with an education in computer science or someone with coding experience.

The only drawback? Topic experts can be a bit expensive. 

But they’re totally worth it.

If you’re unable to find such resources, at the very least, try to hire people who have ample experience in developing content for that niche.

4. Create a Smooth Training Process

Finally, it’s important to have a smooth training and onboarding process in place.

For a content development team, here’s what it entails.

Clarifying Roles

Start by solidifying the exact set of roles and responsibilities each person on your team will play.

This will help set clear expectations right from the start. Furthermore, it will ensure that you get the most out of your team members by playing at their strengths.

In addition to handing over simple job descriptions to your team members, also describe the significance of their roles and the impact they can make.

Communicating the Content Development Process

Every time someone new comes onboard, sketch out the complete content development process for them.

This includes:

  • Training them on your project management process
  • The unique steps that you take along the way
  • Different people that they’ll be involved with
  • Any do’s and don’ts that make your process more efficient
  • The steps they need to take to overcome certain obstacles

Some steps may vary for full-timers and freelancers, but the core content development process should be the same for everyone.

Sharing Editorial and Brand Guidelines

You need to share your editorial and brand guidelines with every new member that joins your content team.

Go through every rule individually and entertain any queries that the newcomer might have about it.

Your editorial and brand guidelines should be saved on the cloud and accessible to everyone at all times.

A good approach would be to create a single onboarding guide with everything in one place: their job description, editorial/brand guidelines, a breakdown of the content development process, access to tools, etc.

Provide Consistent Feedback

Professional development never ends.

If you want your team to improve consistently, make sure that your team members receive consistent feedback.

Either you or any team lead should be able to help them hit the ground running, get better at their craft, and continue to make a difference.

Share training resources and actually invest in the training. 

Wrapping it Up

If you can truly solidify a content development framework like the one detailed here, scaling it will be the easy part. 

As mentioned earlier, creating a new content asset from scratch shouldn’t be a struggle every time. Make the process as repeatable as possible. For that reason, templates, checklists, and an overall great process are your best friends.

As you progress, you will notice what works well and what doesn’t, ways to improve the process, etc.

Keep in mind that iteration is key here, and it is important to make adjustments as you go. No single process will work just as efficiently for every team, and no processes are set in stone. A framework will help you build a foundation and provide a structure to follow but will be tweaked over time as skills grow, progress is made, and goals change. 

Finally, you should monitor the performance of your content team to identify any room for improvement. You can always use Databox to gather insights on your content marketing efforts and see if they’re paying off.

About the author
Obaid Khan Durrani
Obaid Khan Durrani Obaid Khan Durrani is the Founder & Creative Director of Planet Content. His focus lies on content strategy, 2D animation, and taking the boring & annoying out of marketing.
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