Ready to get serious about high-volume SEO content production?
Then, you’re going to need to build out your content operations.
Content operations (ContentOps) is the most critical component of building a content factory. It's what drives the actual writing and publishing of content.
Without that, your content strategy is not much more than a one-pager of goals.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through a series of highly actionable steps that you can follow to build out effective content operations.
Since this article is part of a series, we won’t be covering the necessary work that goes into building a content strategy and calendar. The assumption here is that you have all of that ready to go.
And if you don’t, you might want to jump back a step and check part two in our five-part series. Building A Content Factory (Part 2/5): Website Content Planning.
What Is Content Operations?
Content operations is the engine your organization relies on to produce and publish content. The term refers to the combination of people, technology, and processes used to achieve content publishing goals.
ContentOps teams can be responsible for creating all forms of content, from short-form social media posts to animated videos.
In many contexts, though, content operations refers more specifically to the product of SEO-focused blog content (since that often makes up the majority of an organization’s content output). As we move forward, we’ll be using the term in this context.
Content operations has very clearly defined start and end points.
- ContentOps begins when a brief is created and passed onto the writer. This means that strategy and content planning must be completed in advance.
- ContentOps ends once the article is published. This means that activities like content updates and reporting on content marketing ROI sit outside of content operations.
Why Invest In ContentOps?
The main reason that businesses choose to invest in content operations is that there really is no other way to produce and publish high-quality content on such a large scale.
If you’re posting a couple of articles a month, then you can probably manage the whole thing yourself.
But if you’re really serious about SEO as a marketing channel, you’ll need to be doing something in the range of 8-20 pieces monthly.
You need to bring on additional people (writers, editors, VAs) at that scale.
And when you have all of those people and moving parts, you need a content tech stack to manage the whole thing effectively and efficiently.
Once you’ve got that set up, you’ll realize that you need a series of SOP (standard operating procedure) documents to maintain compliance with expectations and to help your people operate your tech stack correctly.
At that point, you’ve already got three pillars of ContentOps. So you might as well approach the whole operation more intentionally and build a formal content operations team from the beginning, skipping all the trial and error.
To summarize, the main benefits of building content operations to support your strategy are:
- Increased efficiency
- Ability to access greater scale
- Enhanced collaboration
- Greater compliance with expectations
Building The Three Core Components of Content Operations
Content operations is made up of three key components:
- People (e.g., the writers who create your content and the virtual assistants who publish it to your website)
- Tech stack (e.g., the project management solution you use to run the whole process or the optimization solution you use to target specific keywords)
- Processes (e.g., your guidelines for using your optimization tool or your tone of voice one-pager)
People are what make content operations work.
We’d be remiss not to mention that artificial intelligence is taking some of the work off of content peoples’ plates, and we’ll definitely be covering the huge role that technology plays in the content production process.
However, as of writing, a good ContentOps affair is still a people-heavy situation.
Your content writers are the backbone of the whole operation.
Without content creators on your team, none of the following stages can occur. So, it's a wise move to invest most of your hiring time in this role in order to create an effective content operations team.
How Many Writers?
The first step is to figure out how many writers you’re going to need.
Nate’s experience dictates that most SaaS writers can deliver one article a week. However, some can easily produce three or more.
So, if your goal is to produce one to three articles a week, then you should be able to get by with one, two, or three writers.
Our advice is to overhire here for a few reasons:
- Many writers say that they can produce a certain volume but often struggle to meet the goals they set or face quality issues
- People fall sick, and freelancers leave
- You might have to say goodbye to some writers who aren’t keeping up with internal requirements
- You may want to produce a couple of extra pieces one month, and it is good to have extra manpower there
A good rule of thumb is to only work to 80% of your capacity. For example, if your three writers can handle ten articles in total, you probably only want to load them up with eight, giving you room for error.
So, here’s a quick formula for figuring out how many writers you’re likely to need based on an average per-writer volume of one a week (four a month):
([Your monthly publishing goal] / 4) / 0.8
So, if our goal is to publish 20 articles a month:
(20/4) / 0.8 = 6.25 (so, 6 writers should be sufficient).
Where To Find Writers
As far as the actual recruiting and hiring of content writers, though, Positional has a great article on where to find them. Here are the top three options:
- Create ads on job boards like Upwork, Problogger, and BloggingPro
- Scope out competitor blog posts and publications in your industry, and reach out to the writers of articles you like
- Post on social media platforms like LinkedIn and ask for referrals from your network
Writer Hiring Process
Hiring writers is a process. You don’t just put out an ad, find the first person who responds, and suddenly have a content team.
If you use the platforms mentioned above, you’ll likely receive hundreds of writing applicants. Then you’ll need to cull through them, decide which ones you might like to work with, and move on to the next stage.
It’s kind of like a sales funnel, narrowing at each stage.
Here’s the broad process:
- The writer fills in a short application form
- You review applicants and filter out the ones you want to trial
- The writer completes a short writing trial for you to assess if they’re a good fit
- You review the trials, provide feedback, and move forward with those writers you’re happy with
- The writer gets their first official brief, and the official writing relationship begins
For instance, here’s what the application form looks like for content writing agency lowercase.
All applications are then plugged directly into the hiring board built on monday.com, which has several stages that represent the steps discussed above (each with an automated email send programmed for application communications).
Once you’ve got your writers up and running, you’ll want to plug in an editor or two.
Your editor’s primary job is to uphold standards, holding writers accountable to your guidelines across style and positioning, as well as engaging in a bit of grammar correction and copyediting when it's called for.
The best editors also act as coaches for your writers. They provide actionable development feedback to help them grow as writers and produce better content each month.
Beyond that, you may have editors be responsible for certain technical tasks, such as:
- Including more internal links to other existing blog pages
- Using optimization tools like Clearscope or Positional to improve rankings and ROI from content efforts
- Adding titles and alt text to images
Virtual assistants aren’t a must, but they can help you take a lot of repeatable work off of your plate. They’ll create a more streamlined content creation process and free you up to focus on higher-value tasks such as optimizing your content marketing strategy.
The biggest thing you’ll want your VAs to be handling is publishing.
Publishing is the act of taking the content your team members have labored over and getting it live on your website.
It sounds like a relatively simple task, but the truth is that many content management systems (CMS) make this harder than it should be.
When copying over content from Google Docs or Microsoft Word to your CMS, there is often a lot of additional formatting work that needs to happen. This is pretty tedious, so it is best outsourced to a virtual assistant.
A few other tasks you might also hand over to VAs include:
- Coordinating and communicating with the design team to fulfill image creation needs
- Following up on writer and editor due dates and keeping the content calendar on track
- Compiling the data you require to generate content reports
Having a couple of graphic designers on board isn’t a bad idea, either.
For many topics, you can get away with screenshots or simply source images from other sites (make sure you provide source links).
In other cases, having a freelancer or two available to create different types of images, like a custom infographic or graph based on first-party data that you’re presenting, is a fantastic way to improve the visual experience of your content.
Depending on the scale of your operation and how much content you’re looking to produce, you might consider adding a layer of management above the whole thing (e.g., Content Operations Manager).
This isn’t necessary but it would be valuable for someone like a Head of Marketing or startup founder to take content production almost entirely off of their plate.
Additionally, you might hire a content strategist to perform some of this work but still retain ownership of the ContentOps team yourself.
Content strategists can perform tasks like keyword research, preparing content briefs, and answering queries about search intent or topic direction that might pop up from the writing team.
2. Tech stack
Your tech stack is what helps you really streamline content operations.
It’s where all of your people live, collaborate, and communicate and where you track production across the content lifecycle.
This can be as complex or as simple as you like.
For example, you might opt to purchase a robust content operations platform designed specifically for your use case or use a free task management solution or Kanban board.
Your project management tool is the heart of your ContentOps tech stack.
It guides the entire content production process, allowing you to see exactly where every piece is in the process.
It's where you’ll access all of your brief, draft, and SOP documents (though they’ll be stored elsewhere), and it's where you writers, editors, and VAs will all communicate with each other.
The project management software landscape is saturated, and finding the right solution is a bit of a Goldilocks situation.
ClickUp seems to be the most robust solution for managing ContentOps and is where most content agencies end up gravitating toward for its flexibility. It's probably overkill for smaller operations, though.
On the other end of the scale, Trello is a great solution for Kanban-style content production management. The biggest benefit is that Trello’s free version is super usable, so it's a good, cost-effective way to get started.
It does, of course, offer much less flexibility in how you set it up.
Common middle grounds are Asana, monday.com, and Airtable. All of these solutions are quite affordable, and you can generally add external parties (e.g., writers) as guests to save you from paying for more users.
Whichever platform you choose, a good practice is to set yourself up with a stage-based workflow using the following stages:
- Brief Creation
- First Draft
- Editor Review
- Second Draft
- Final Approval
Once a person has finished their respective task for that stage, they move the card forward to the next one. For example, once the writer completes their first draft, they drag the card over to Editor Review.
Here are a few additional tips for getting the most out of your project management solution:
- Add all of your content documents and SOPs to the card so team members can access everything in one place
- Choose a project management solution that integrates with the other components in your ContentOps tech stack as much as possible to streamline workflows and eliminate double work
- Create automation recipes in your project management tool so that when a card is moved to the next stage, it is automatically assigned to the relevant person, and a notification is sent
- Use automation to send due date reminders to help keep timelines on track
- Create checklists in each card to help writers double-check that they’ve met all of your requirements
Your writing team will require a brief for every article they’re asked to produce.
At the most basic level, you can just provide them with the keyword you’re targeting and let them take it from there.
A better approach, though, is to provide a few notes about:
- What topics and subtopics you’d like to cover
- How the topic relates back to your products
- Expert insights or advice to include
The reason this exists under the “tech stack” umbrella is that there are a number of helpful tools out there that can help you build a brief content outline. SEOwind, Narrato, and Surfer are all good options to investigate.
It's worth noting, though, that what these tools do is essentially scrape the top-ranking results for your search term and generate a loose outline that ensures you cover all the key points.
This is valuable, but it's not enough to just regurgitate what’s in the SERPs.
A better practice is to have your content strategists and/or writers research and analyze competing pages and determine what should and shouldn’t be covered in your own article, with a specific focus on adding value to the content they produce.
If you’re not using one of the brief creation tools we discussed above, you’ll also want to build a brief template document to help you streamline this stage (Google Docs is the go-to here).
With good content management and a well-organized structure in place, you should be able to use a free solution like Google Docs (which is pretty much the standard in the content production world) for all of your drafting and editing needs.
Optimization tools allow you to plug in a blog post you’ve written and determine the likelihood that you’ll rank for the target keyword.
This is based primarily on the inclusive of long tail keyword variations and semantically relevant terms, but most solutions consider factors such as content length and use of headers and images.
We’re using Positional to optimize this article, targeting the search term “content operations.”
On the right-hand side, we can see that adding one more image, as well as injecting a few of the NLP (natural language processing) terms into our content, will help our overall score.
Having done that, we’ve upped our score to 777, improving our chances of ranking for our desired keyword.
Having your content creators or editors run each article through an optimization solution like this not only improves overall content performance by upping the likelihood of ranking for your target search term but also that you’ll show up for additional related terms.
Most content teams will handle publishing manually, meaning a VA will go into your website or CMS and copy over the content from Google Docs.
If you’re using a formal content operations solution for the creation stage, then you might be able to tee up an integration to publish directly from that software.
Otherwise, there are a few handy tools out there that can help solve the formatting issues that come with uploading (specifically when working in WordPress). Wordable, for instance, is a great option.
Separate from the content operations tech stack itself, but equally as vital, is your knowledge base.
This is the software solution where all of your SOP documents (to be covered very shortly) live and where your team goes to make sure they’re nailing expectations, such as your desired tone of voice.
Both are valid approaches. Google Docs is free, but Notion and Slite offer more flexibility in terms of formatting.
Finally, you’ll need to build out the content processes you want your team to follow.
The best move here is to create a content governance hub (using the knowledge base discussed in the previous step) so everyone on your Content Ops team has access to all required SOP documents when they need them.
The first document you’ll create is a broad overview of how your company and product fit within your wider industry and differ from competitors.
This should be a one-pager. You don’t need to go into a ton of detail.
You just want to provide enough information to get the writer up to speed on how the topics they’re writing about relate to your product and how they’ll be used by your target audience to solve the typical challenges they face.
On that note, this is a good place to link out to any ICP (ideal customer profile) or customer persona documents you have.
Tone of Voice & Content Preferences
Your second SOP is your style guide.
It describes the tone of voice you want your content to take on based on your company’s broader branding and style and what you think will resonate with your target reader.
Some companies opt for a very conversational tone. Other brands prefer to be succinct and direct. Still, others lean into a humorous or antagonist style.
There are no wrong answers here, but you do need to communicate your preferences so that your writers can meet your expectations and so your editors can ensure those guidelines are upheld.
The style guide also details any specific preferences you have, such as:
- Whether or not you want to include a table of contents at the start of the article
- Preferences related to the use of internal and external links
- Spelling preferences (e.g. UK vs. US)
- Guidelines for the use of images
Depending on the scale of your ContentOps outfit, you might consider creating multiple style guides for the various content types you’ll be creating.
For instance, your brand might want to be more conversational on LinkedIn posts but stay succinct and concise in your blog content.
Guidelines For Using Your ContentOps Tech Stack
Finally, it's a wise investment to create guidelines on how to use the various software solutions you’ve integrated into a ContentOps tech stack.
This will help ensure your team members follow best practices and help you get the most out of your investment in these tools.
For example, you might build SOP docs that detail how to optimize an article using your chosen optimization tool.
P.S. If you end up using Positional, Nate recommends aiming for a score of at least 60-70.
You should also consider writing a brief document on how to reach the right people on the right team via your various communication channels. This is especially important as the team grows and roles become more complex.
Driving Results Out Of Content Operations
If you’re set on publishing SEO content at high volumes, a well-built ContentOps team is going to be a linchpin for you.
But it's not just the team that matters.
It's the combination of your people, your teach stack, and well-designed and documented content processes that help you produce and publish better-quality content that delivers SEO results.
If you’ve followed the best practices discussed above, including optimizing your article using a solution like Positional, you should have a good shot at owning some page-one search results.
To really boost your chances, though, you’ll want to get all of your links in order.
This, conveniently, is the topic of the next article in this series: Building A Content Factory (Part 4/5): How To Get Free Backlinks.