Not long ago, blogging was something to be done in one’s spare time. A hobby to document the goings on in our lives.
But a full-time job? Aw, hells no.
Times have changed, though, and blogging now falls under the umbrella called content marketing. At Unbounce, we started our blog before we even launched the first version of our product.
Today we have a library of 967 posts, 293 contributing writers, 9 internal writers and editors and ~300,000 unique page views. I’m paraphrasing here, but didn’t Notorious B.I.G. say something about more page views resulting in more problems?
The point is, Unbounce has grown fast, and like any team that grows quickly, we’ve experienced some growing pains. This is true for our blog and content production, too. Here are a few examples:
- We spend a lot of unnecessary time hand-holding and responding to queries from people who clearly do not read our blog.
- We run into instances where people miss their deadlines or the first draft needs way more work than what we expected.
- There’s limited transparency into what posts are being worked on and at what stage they’re in.
- It’s hard to know which content to prioritize, because we’re trying to achieve many objectives.
- There is no tool to handle our workflow from pitch to publish (currently we use a jigsaw of many tools including Google Sheets, Google Docs, Trello, Word and WordPress).
While we still have a ways to go, we have taken major strides to improve our blog production process and address the pain points above. We hope insight into our fumbles and successes will help guide your content marketing forward (plus, we’ve included a free download of the pitch framework we use).
Cutting down on hand-holding
Since our ideal contributor is a marketing expert with previously published work who actually reads the Unbounce blog, there really shouldn’t be that much hand-holding.
A quick audit of our editorial process revealed that we’d often send and receive upwards of 10 emails before even getting a first draft in our hands. This is a bit obscene, not to mention time-wasting.
So based on that discovery, we cut our back-and-forths down by making sure to include all of our expectations right up front:
While it’s been a bit of a transition getting some of our more seasoned contributors to get on board (including internal contributors), we end up with a working first draft much quicker than before.
If you’re working with external contributors, include your expectations up front.
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Amping up our pitch requirements
Remember when you were first learning how to write an essay? You were instructed to craft a thesis, and then build your outline from there, mapping out important sections and highlighting concrete evidence to back up your thesis.
This is what we like to see in a pitch, too — detailed and well thought out. There are three primary reasons for this:
- It gives us a good understanding of the writer’s abilities and understanding of the topic they are pitching.
- We spend less time back and forth with the writer, since a thorough and well-crafted pitch typically results in a thorough and well-crafted first draft.
- It weeds out a lot of people — because we ask for a lot of work upfront, we deter folks who either don’t have the time commitment to write for us or who aren’t sure how they’d like to contribute. Sometimes friction is a good thing!
We recently updated our pitch document to include additional fields, such as for keyword research and creative assets required. It’s a big job filling out the pitch document, but doing so results in search engine optimized content with custom feature images and value-added CTAs, and that makes us and our readers happy.
Want better content?
Adding Trello to our workflow
When I first started on the content team, we had one editor. Capable, resourceful and incredibly talented, Amanda was the blog’s lone wolf.
The problem with being an island, though, is it can sometimes lead to a lack of transparency. We’ve mentioned our Core Values before, but transparency is one we haven’t touched on yet on the blog.
At Unbounce, transparency relates to how we operate both internally and externally. Internally we ensure all departmental decisions, processes and progress is easily accessible by all employees. Externally, we are honest about our intentions, our successes and our failures.
Adding Trello to our process was a huge step in moving toward a more transparent editorial process, since it lets anyone with a stake in the blog know exactly which stage each post is at.
We often have a dozen fully fleshed out pitches awaiting our review every two weeks — and most of them are great. The problem is, though, that it can be hard to choose which posts to move forward with and when.
To combat this, we created a Blog Post Selection Criteria spreadsheet to help apply a value to each potential post. The ones that score the highest are prioritized above the others. Below is a snippet of our ever-growing and changing criteria:
Finding a tool that works, from pitch to publish
Although we’ve implemented solutions (or at least improvements) to address many of the pain points we experience, we’ve yet to come across a tool that can accommodate our workflow from ideation to publication.
Yes, there are many great editorial calendar software options out there, but handling pitches from external contributors seems to be a tricky ask. And while some enterprise-level tools may offer that type of customization, they’re not cheap.
For now, we’ll stick with our Frankenstein-esque process, until we find a tool that ticks off all our must-haves. (BTW, if anyone needs a great startup idea…)
Always be optimizing
Just like everything else we do here at Unbounce, optimizing our blog is an ongoing process, especially as we grow.
If your organization has its own blog (and the struggles that go along with) we’d love to hear how you’ve optimized the process, so leave us a note in the comment section!