When we reviewed our blog process at the end of fall 2016 we realized we wanted our blog to create more value for our readers and lend itself to a more stylistic vision we had for our branding. At that point, we had content set and uploaded in WordPress through the end of the year so we had some time to dream and plan.
We thought a lot about what it means to create a remarkable online reading experience for our readers. Each person on our team asked ourselves: “If I was a busy professional blogger (or podcaster or YouTuber), what would I look for in a blog I chose to subscribe to?”
We considered many different formats and approaches to delivering great content, and eventually we landed on the fact that our readers are a sophisticated bunch who want to build advanced knowledge that will help grow their business and pay it forward. We want you, our reader, to come to us for a no-nonsense filling of the information you need to get better every day.
With that in mind, we decided to curate content in a magazine style, releasing one issue a month dedicated to a main theme. That means you can read in-depth on a topic designed to help you run a successful business. Each issue has eight to 12 high-quality articles from our team and experts from across the blogging industry and features real stories of entrepreneurs that we hope will resonate with you.
When we changed our blog to the Tradecraft structure, the planning and writing process for our blog completely changed. As believers in “teaching everything you know” and “working in public” it’s about time to give you an inside look at this blog process.
It involves the whole marketing team, multiple planning meetings, a lot of research, and dedicated writing, editing, and designing time. It’s truly a group effort and I’m excited to share it with you in the hopes it can help you set up structure around your own content strategy.
Creating our year-long content strategy
Once we had decided that our new blog would be based on monthly themes, Barrett and I sat down to come up with a year-long content strategy. We want our issues to be centered around ideas that give you advice, actionable steps, and inspiration to grow your business no matter what stage you’re at in the process. They need to be topics that online entrepreneurs want and need more information on. Basically, we want to be the go-to source for in-depth coverage of every topic a blogger needs to know to grow an online business.
The monthly themes
With those criteria in mind, we set out to create a content strategy for the rest of 2017. We came up with a long list of ideas and narrowed them down based on what we felt were the most pressing for bloggers that could contain in-depth articles for more advanced bloggers as well as basic how-tos for the newer bloggers.
While we have our ideas set through the end of the year we aren’t married to having them scheduled in the timeline we have set as of the beginning of the year. We may decide that November’s issue would actually play well after May’s issue once we get into it, but for now the important thing is we’re ready to roll on each issue as it comes up.
The monthly posts
For each issue, Barrett and I meet for 30 mins to an hour to discuss the articles that will go in that issue. We think about the theme and write down everything we can think of that a blogger would want to know about it– which usually ends up being more blog topics than we can fit into one issue.
I walk away from that meeting with our list and start researching. It’s my job to find what information already exists on that topic and document it. I read through and pull the top three to five blog posts on the topic based on search ranking.
This process helps me know how much research has already been done, if the topic is relevant for our readers, and if I have enough facts to back up our hypotheses and theories. It also helps me understand how to write a better article than what already exists on the topic and then fill in the gaps that were left by the existing articles.
Next, Barrett and I get back together for another hour-long meeting to create outlines for each post. We narrow down that long list of blog topics based on interest, actionability, relevance to our audience, and if there was enough research to back our idea. That usually throws out three or four topics and we’re set for our issue. At this point we’re ready to create outlines. These outlines include:
- A reader outcome– We ask ourselves, “What do we want our reader to walk away from this post with?” Knowing this answer helps us narrow the focus of the post to one main idea.
- Keywords- We think through what readers will be searching for when this blog post comes up. We check the keywords in Moz’s Keyword Explorer to see how they rank and decide from there on the two most relevant keywords to use as much as possible (while still being natural) in the post.
- Main points to hit throughout the blog post– We talk about the angle we want the post to take on the topic and list three or four main points to hit in the post. Occasionally we’ll have enough thoughts on the topic that we walk away with a thorough outline that makes the writing much easier.
- Graphics- We always want to create interesting and exciting graphics for each post, so we take time to come up with what we think Charli can create as downloads, charts, or graphs to enhance the content.
- Call to Action (CTA)- This is the main action we want our reader to take when they finish reading. Do we want them to share the post on social? Do we want them to create something? Do we want them to comment? It’s important to give your reader a clear next step when they finish an article so that you keep their engagement level high.
Once we feel good about the outlines we’ve created, it’s time for the biggest part of my job– the writing.
Blog writing process
The first thing I do when approaching a fresh blog post is to revisit my preliminary research. I re-read those posts and look for gaps in the information that I can fill. Our goal is to create comprehensive guides for our readers, so that means I need to compile research from all over the Internet and then figure out how to add more valuable information on top of it.
I pull up the outline Barrett and I created and start filling it in with the research I find as well as our own advice, opinions, and strategies. I always compare it to writing research papers back in high school and college.
Were you taught the “state a fact, back it up with research, and then explain why” strategy to research papers? It takes the mystery out of writing and gives it more of a “plug and play” feel. Just add transitions and you’re done. Just kidding!
There’s so much more nuance, complex problem-solving, and creativity involved than that, but thinking of your blog posts that way gives you an excellent structure. From there you can add your flare, turn-of-phrase, and writing and teaching style that makes you unique. It gets even better if you can add in stories and anecdotes about your readers and customers here and there to illustrate your points on top of the research framework.
One way we’ve found helpful to think about an outline of a post is like this:
- Opening anecdote or story
- Thesis of the article
- The problem many people experience with this topic
- Step #1 to solving the problem or argument #1 to support your main point
- State the fact
- Back it up with research
- Explain why
- Step #2 or argument #2
- Final step or argument
- Moral of the story (tell ‘em what you told ‘em)
- Call to action
Tactically speaking, I go through my research-filled outline and start writing the sections I’m most comfortable with. Many times that’s the actionable section that makes up the core of a post where I give tips or steps for you to follow to reach the goal of the post. Thinking through those action items first gets me in the right mindspace to go back and write the beginning of the post.
My overall goal is to get to a point where I’m researching each post for one to two hours and writing for four hours. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Some posts are just easier to write than others and that will always be the case. But I like having the goal out in front of me with each post.
Once I’m done writing, I plug the post into our handy blog post template we use to standardize all of the elements of every post we write. It has space for headline options, keyword research, a meta description, social media posts, and more.
When I’m done filling in the template blanks, it’s off for editing.
As editor of Tradecraft, it’s Barrett’s job to read through everything we write with a creative and critical mind. On top of grammar and punctuation fixes, he’s looking for ways to add more value to the post be it in content or images.
Barrett’s analytical mind is so useful in this stage. When he steps back and looks at the post as it relates to the whole Tradecraft issue he always comes back with great ideas to make it more valuable to our reader. He is relentless in helping us create at our highest level and his editing style and abilities keep us on par with that goal.
After he lets me know the editing stage is finished, I hop back into that document and adjust, add, and challenge his edits when necessary. The process ends up creating an incredibly fulfilling back and forth that results in a great end product that none of us could have created by working in a silo.
At the same time Barrett is looking at the post from a content perspective, our designer Charli is also looking at the post from a design perspective. Charli is in charge of creating interesting graphics, extras, and the design for Tradecraft.
For example, we had an idea for a Venn Diagram for another article in this issue. Charli took it for a super basic image to a fun, stylistic graphic that fit our new branding.
We really lucked out when Charli joined our team. I love brainstorming graphic ideas with her and seeing the spin she puts on them when all is said and done. We would not be able to create Tradecraft without her level of professional, creative, and strategic design skills.
The final stage of Tradecraft happens when we hit publish. I set each blog post to fall in line with our table of contents and schedule them for the morning of our release date. Publishing also includes setting up an email sequence for our readers who enjoy taking our issues at a slower pace.
Set up your own blog process
Now, we recognize most of our readers won’t have an entire of team of people to focus on creating blog content. Instead, you’re more likely the only person on your team and that’s ok! We didn’t share our process to make you feel like you’ll never get there, but rather to give you inspiration for creating a process that works for you.
As a single blogger you‘ll most likely have to scale this blog process down a bit to make it work for your schedule and flow, but you absolutely have the ability to set this same type of blog process up for yourself.
For example, you can set aside separate time to plan a year-long content strategy, brainstorm individual post ideas, research and outline, write, edit, and publish. The same core process works no matter how many people are working on your content.
Don’t settle for working in a silo just because you’re a solopreneur either. If you’re in a mastermind group you can ask one of your group members to be your editor and vice versa. As your business continues to grow, you can outsource design for your blog content if you work ahead. Be creative and design your process to cater to your workflow.
So that’s it! That’s everything it takes to create a single blog post as well as how those add up to a full issue of Tradecraft here at ConvertKit. When your goal is to create a high level of valuable content on a consistent basis, it’s going to take this kind of planning, strategy, and goal setting.
Since we moved to our issues format with Tradecraft, we’ve been able to deliver more highly focused content. Changing up our blog process was exactly what we needed to bring focus and fresh perspective to our blog here at ConvertKit.