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December 4, 2007

Content Creation – Cranking it Out

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Things are running behind so let’s just jump right in. We’re in the Content Creation panel with Ted Ulle, Robin Liss and Rae Hoffman. Actually, that’s a lie. Rae Hoffman isn’t here yet. She’s still being mobbed from her session next door. She’ll be here soon. Maybe. You never know with Rae. :)

Up first to talk about content creation is Ted Ulle.

Work flow must support your priorities. You’re aiming for a simple and seamless experience for the end user and for your maintenance. Simplicity is a discipline. It’s not easy.

It’s about clarity from the start.

He presents his workflow for creating content that supports your business purpose. The formula looks like this:

Content – Ideas
Back end and metrics
Information architecture
Content – full copy
Graphic Design
Web Edit in html

Through this process you want to document every change that you make.

Other things to think about:

Menu and Navigation: Menu labels are content. If you don’t realize that, your site won’t be successful and people won’t find your articles. Menu labels tell people where they are, what they can do, etc. A lot of people are moving towards single word menu labels. Those are better used for applications, not Web sites.
Final Web Edit
Content interacts with layout
Consider CSS – Web typesetting

You can kill good content with bad layout. Or you can boost weak content with good layout. He recommends people study print typography and read the book Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst.

Showing off on your site works against your business purposes. The typical culprits are graphic designers. Don’t let them take your visitors’ eyes away from your content or distract them with eye candy. Watch out for the fancy programmers. Sometimes they want fancy features and to show how well they can code. The programmers are there to support your content. Don’t let them grab your throne. IT folks shouldn’t write copy. (heh.) IT people probably write all kinds of things that are copy on your site. Do your error messages communicate clearly? What does the code look like? The creative people should be writing the auto responders. Make sure the message that’s going out is what you want to say. These things are a big part of the user experience because they can turn people off quickly.

Code geeks should not write copy. He offers up some examples:

Yahoo Directory: Recently, he filled out a form where he forgot to enter in what kind of credit card he was using. The error that came back was "invalid payment instrumental data". What the heck does that mean?

Six figure video investment: Programmer used the anchor text "open demo" instead of "watch demo" or "view demo". He talks like a geek. Your customers don’t.

Despite all your planning, realize that your data queries can be slow, your copy may break the template, your search engine optimization mangles the message, your CMS mangles everything. Know ahead of time that things will go wrong. This is the process.

When things go wrong, thou shalt not kludge. It’s better late than lousy. Expect to make tradeoffs. Keep your priorities straight by referencing the workflow Ted outlined earlier.

Robin Liss is up. And in case you’re worried, yes, Rae finally showed up.

She talks about Reviewed.com. It’s a site that produces reviews.

Just like a car maker, you manufacture a product. What lessons can be we learn from traditional manufacturing?

  • You can’t build a car without blueprints
  • Mr Ford’s assembly line rocks
  • Good tools save you money
  • Specialization= economic efficiency
  • Bottlenecks must be destroyed
  • Quality control everywhere
  • Measure everything

Design your final product with care:

  • Who’s your target audience
  • What’s the purpose
  • Topic Area?
  • Article Structure
  • What does the first draft producer need
  • What supplemental content will accompany
  • How frequent
  • Length?
  • What voice?
  • Objectivity vs Subjectivity
  • Deadline and delivery schedule

Writing the article or filming the video is only the first step in content production. You have to budget time and money for the rest of the process. That’s where Mr. Ford’s assembly line rocks.

The typical Content Creation Cycle looks like this:

Article is assigned, people get materials, create first draft, supplemental materials created, first edit and feedback, 2nd draft creation, 2nd edit. After that it goes to Content Production where they’ll look at CMS Load & html-ization, copy editing, SEO edit, final edit, take live, marketing and finally, revisions and update.

You need to know who’s going to take what step in the content creation process. How long is it going to take? What steps can be removed? What can be outsourced? How much time does each step take? You’re designing a model where you can plug resources into and it will grow.

She talks about blogs having a modified pipeline so the process looks like this:

The piece is assigned, they get the information, they write the first draft, they take it live, they market it and then they update it, if needed. On a blog, each person does all the steps, this is why it’s so efficient. Blogs have "long" form posts that have more editing and more process. With this pipeline there is no outside quality control or editing, but many argue that this is what defines blogs.

Another example where there’s a modified pipleline is when you have 1 Writer & 1 Editor/Boss. Everyone, regardless of how good of a writer you are, should have an editor. It will improve the quality of your content and allow people to focus on their core task.

She also highlights a 6 person pipeline which is color-coded to the point where I’m afraid I’m going to launch into a seizure. Seriously.

Good Tools Save Money:

Content Management System
WYSIWIG tools save production time and money
Dreamweaver
Plone
Moveable Type
Own your CMS
Investing money in your CMS is going to reduce editorial costs long term

Work Flow Management Tools
Google Calendar
Lots of spreadsheets.

Find the right writer for the right task. Know the difference between Short Form vs. Long Form, Journalistic vs Opinionated, and Edgy vs Straight. Switching tasks takes time. When doing large projects, different parts of the article might go to different people.

Find an online copy editor to pay per word, find a basic HTML guru to do the CMS input, and hire a part time or full editor to improve your quality and manage workflow

Destroy Bottlenecks

  • Time in minutes, hours or days that each step in the workflow takes
  • Constantly track these times and look to improve them
  • Create an "article flow" or "article patter" by reducing bottlenecks
  • Ways to create an even flow
  • Add more staff to a bottlenecked area
  • Outsource a bottleneck area
  • Have staff to double duty
  • Reduce the staff time spent on a the over-producing area
  • Make sure that there are article in every step of the pipeline, track this with Excel and Google Calendar.
  • Give deadlines not just for when the article is finished, but when an article needs to move through the content creation process.

Quality Control Everywhere

Robin says her reviews are syndicated on the WashingtonPost.com. They better not mess up!

Error free content = credibility
Grammatical, factual, and analytical errors should all be watched for
More eyes – less errors
User comments are a great way to find errors.

Measure Everything. Measure all processes. Measure the time each step takes. Measure word count. Measure when people hit deadlines. Measure average number of articles produced y day, week, month. Measure what content gets high traffic.

Robin says when hiring contributors make sure to make it clear that you own all the rights to all the content. Put plagiarism protection clauses in your contracts. Be as specific as possible, try to put those blueprints in the contract. You get what you pay for. Cheap original content will cost more money in the long term when you have to edit it. Try your best to be original in your content, produce what others aren’t. Blogs are a great way to dip your toe into original content production
Quality, quality, quality

Next up is Rae Hoffman.

[Disclaimer: Rae Hoffman is the fastest speaker in the known universe. She also mumbles. I think I got every 5th word she said. My apologies.]

Rae’s company is looking to create content to get links. She’s not trying to get into the Washington Post yet. She calls content is the single most effective ways to differentiate your site from the masses, develop traffic and develop good inbound links that will proper your sit to the top of the engines and keep it there.

Good content published on a regular basis can get you links, develop traffic, help position your site an as authority, help develop repeat feed increased subscribers, increase your chances of traditional media mentions, help your mentions in social media, and much more.

[RAE, SLOW DOWN!]

There are three main ways Rae gets content developed for sites:

Freelancers
Pros: Cheapest, no commitment, use as needed.
Cons: Trial and error for quality, availability issues, no commitment

Full Time Remotes
Pros: No overhead costs, dedicated, more skills for less money
Cons: Distance management, training barriers, just a paycheck

Full Time In House
Pro: Easier to manage, easier to train, dedicated
Cons: overhead costs, more expensive, must have long term needs.

Find good freelances at elance.com, writerfindcom, seo-writer.com, guru.com, gofreelance.com

Find good full time remotes at Craigslist, Problogger job board, SEOmoz marketplace, local papers, local job boards, tjobs.com

Find good full time in house: local paper, job boards, Monster, Craigslist, Careerbuilder or Workopolis.

Knowing what to look for in a content developer will depend on the type of content you plan to develop and what type of industry you work in. They should have good organizational skills, ability to work independently, ability to follow instructions, can think for themselves, good to stellar writing skills, ability to hit deadlines, basic HTML skills, the right writing tone for your site, a great sense of humor, expertise in a certain area, journalism specific skills, basic promotional skills, etc.

Training Content Developers

People need to know that your content exists. Train your writers to promote their own work as much as possible. Develop media lists for the topic area your writer is working on for them to be able to push their best pieces to. Encourage your writers to become active in the community by interacting with others in their industry. Teach your writers about social media and encourage them to become knowledgeable of, if not involved with, social media sites and their demographics when writing towards them. Encourage writers to pitch stories to traditional news outlets within the niche to get exposure for your site. Train writers to link out when it makes sense and to follow up with notifications to companies or people who have been mentioned or citied in the article they’ve written once it has been published. Explain to your writers how to use Google News alerts to stay abreast of important happenings.

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One response to “Content Creation – Cranking it Out”

  1. Elise Phillips writes:

    Thank you for your hard work… and your sense of humor.



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