How to scale production without sacrificing quality
By Tracey Wallace
In my welcome email for this newsletter, I ask new subscribers what their biggest content marketing problem or conundrum is. And I get a ton of answers back to this, y’all!
In fact, I’ve started making a Google Sheet to house them so I can see if I can track trends. More on that another time.
One of the more common questions I get asked is how to scale up production (as a team one 1) without sacrificing quality.
This is a question after my own heart! Because when I left journalism and joined the content marketing world, my first reaction to a lot of the content that was being produced was, honestly, disgust.
Most of the content was in listicle format, didn’t cite sources, was click-baity in nature, and played off any trending moment to try and create some kind of relevance for the brand.
There was no real education. No real research. No real quality behind the content at all.
And that was clear in the lack of organic search traffic to the site. In fact, the only channel driving a ton of traffic to that blog was from Outbrain––which puts click-bait-y articles at the bottom of news articles to try and drive traffic.
And it worked, really well––because the click-bait titles were really good. But the content wasn’t, nor was any of it relevant to the SaaS company the blog was supposed to serve.
Now, that was an extreme case. Low quality content can happen and not be that obvious.
But in general, I follow the rule my high school English teacher set about the research papers she assigned us: “If you wouldn’t want to read your own work, it’s probably not very good.”
For content marketing, you could change that to: “If you wouldn’t want to read your own blog, it’s probably not very good.”
Quality is both an art and a science in this way.
So, how do you scale production while maintaining quality?
Well, you have a set rules and guidelines of course––and a repeatable process that allows you to scale.
Here is what works for us at Klaviyo. Some of these guidelines––like interviewing sources (for real interviewing them, not just sending questionnaires), and citing sources not older than 3 years and making sure they are the original source (or just using our own data to source and cite)––are ones I’ve carried with them from my journalism days.
Sometimes, it helps to look outside of your own industry to figure out how to scale quality, and some media companies have certainly figured it out better than some SaaS companies.
In our content, we include:
- POV: A strong point of view in all of our content, making bold claims that we back up with data and interviews.
- Proprietary data: The inclusion of proprietary data within 60% of all of our content, with well-made data visualizations to reinforce that we, and only we, have the necessary data to own the conversation.
- If your organization doesn’t have this kind of data at the ready, you can use Statista or other data sources to pull it, and become a reliable source of data-baked recommendations.
- Premium access: The inclusion of at least 2-3 partners, customers, experts or influencers in 80% of our content to increase our premium feel, giving readers access to insights from folks few other brands can interview.
- This isn’t just about premium access, of course. This is also about quality and being able to tell a story that no one else can––i.e. Add to the conversation about the topic rather than regurgitate what has already been published.
Now, how do you systemize this?
It starts with your brief.
My team’s briefs require the following:
- Why this topic, why right now?
- What’s our POV / hypothesis?
- Audience for the topic
- Competing content for the topic
- Existing resources on the topic
- Supporting research / evidence to reference:
- Folks to interview
Before any writing gets done, our content marketers fill out a brief that answers all of the above (and more honestly, because we include SEO information, too).
This information helps the writer (internal or freelance, in our case) understand our overall POV on the topic, what we want referenced (and gives them a starting point), sends them in the direction of folks to interview, etc.
It basically kick-starts the research project for them, and helps to ensure that we get a quality piece back.
Now, this is important, because to scale production, you likely can’t write everything yourself. So, you need a repeatable process that can be used across writers to get a similar quality return on the copy.
This isn’t all…
We also ask for an outline of the content from the writer before the writer begins the piece. This helps to ensure that we are all aligned on flow, topics to be covered, etc.
This step isn’t necessary with all of your writers, but I highly encourage it for any new ones you bring on for the first few months. It helps to reduce the number of drafts you get back that are waaayyy off target from what you’re looking for.
Then, once a draft comes back, we send it through a “strategy edit.” In this edit. This is not a line edit. Instead, we want to check, address and edit the:
- Strength of the argument
- Strength of the headline
- Strength of the intro
- Strength of the interviews
- Strength of the brands used as examples
- Strength of the data and the correlation we are making
- Strength of the overall storyline
From there, we will either send the piece to copy edit, or back to the writer to clean it up before the final copy edit.
So, this is how we manage quality at scale.
- We have baseline requirements for our content: That it has a strong POV. That it includes proprietary data to back up claims. That it includes interviews with at least 2-3 people.
- We have a briefing process that we run internally to help get us and a writer on the same page for the topic.
- We have an outlining process requirement for any new writers to ensure they can take a brief and translate it into an outline that passes muster.
- We then do a strategy edit on the draft when it comes back, prior to copy edit, to ensure the piece hits our needs and goals.
You can create statuses and stages for all of this in your project management tool.
- Does it add time to how long it takes to publish a piece of content? Absolutely.
- Does it ensure that what you publish is high-quality nearly every single time without you having to re-educate, re-explain, and/or rewrite entire pieces? Oh, absolutely!
And in that way, it saves soooo much time!
P.S. Freelancers and in-house writers will like working better with you, too! All of this is about documentation––and putting steps in place to make sure everyone is on the same page so no one is wasting time. That makes everyone happy!