Content Creation - Cranking it Out Location: Salon C
Constant content creation is the fuel for your website. Whether you live 'n die off search engine referrals or natural type-in traffic you understand the need for minty fresh content.
This panel of content gurus will look at how to keep the creativity flowing and managing the content process.
Speakers: Robin Liss, Founder and President, Camcorderinfo.com Ted Ulle, Partner, The MEWS Group Rae Hoffman, Principal, Sugarrae Internet Consulting
First up is Ted, aka tedster on WebmasterWorld. He tackles the question: Does ALL your content fit?
The only way to achieve that is to make your workflow support your priorities. You're aiming for a simple and seamless experience for the end user. Simplicity is actually a discipline and it's not easy - "I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn't have the time."
Always keep your business purpose of your venture #1. How are you going to do that? He presents a workflow: 1. Web strategy first (SEO) 2. Immediately after that is content. You'll have rough ideas. - Back end and metrics, information architecture 3. Content - full copy at least for the launch version. - Only now do you go to the graphic design people - web edit in HTML. Some people put emphasis on graphic design way too early in the process. Don't do that. 4. Edit your content again in HTML. It's going to look different on a web page. Through this whole process, we want to document every decision we make. That's a pain but you want to do that on a site of any size because it will come back and get you.
Menu and navigation: this is part of the architecture process. - Menu labels ARE your content. They tell people what you are & what you can do. - Single words or longer phrases. A website is not an application so consider longer phrases that are descriptive. If they are, you can tell a story and communicate what you have to offer. - Another thing is that if you have too many choices, your visitors will not make a choice at all. Never more than 7 choices at one level of importance. He prefers 5 or 6. This is actually something Ted has tested heavily.
Final Web Edit: - Content interacts with layout. Look at this. - Consider CSS in typesetting for the web. You can kill good content with bad layout. - You can boost weak content with good layout. - Most people on the web have never learned about print typography, but you should. (Recommended: Robert Bringhurst Elements of Typographic Style.) Your web page is not a print page but it does have similarities.
Where do "Seams" come from? We want a seamless experience. Seams = someone showing off. It works against your business purposes. Some of these "showing off" culprits are: - Graphic design and eye candy - Fancy Programming Features (I think about Digg's shout feature here) - IT people shouldn't write copy. Do the search results make sense? (Think about that. Do they make sense to the average user? Do your error message communicate clearly? Usually web editors are so enmeshed in their website that they are blind to these kinds of errors. What about auto-responders?) These are a big part of your user experience.
Code Geeks should not write copy.
Example: Yahoo Directory. Last week, Ted went to the Yahoo directory to pay for the website to be reviewed. The first thing he did was that he filled out the interactive form. But he forgot to fill out a drop down box with regards to payment. Yahoo's error message was "Invalid Payment Instrument Data." In other words, "what are you telling me?" Example: Six figure video investment Their programmer wrote "Open Demo" for a video that should be watched. He's thinking like a geek, not like an average user.
Example: PHP/MYSQL menu "Search produced no results" even if you clicked on a menu link.
Despite all your planning, know that your data queries can be slow, your copy breaks the template, your SEO mangles the message, the CMS mangles just about everything, and things WILL go wrong. This is the process.
When things go wrong, thou shall not Kludge: It's better to fix it late than never (better late than lousy!) Expect to make tradeoffs, and keep your priorities straight. How do you do that? Well, if you heard what he said in the beginning (and I blogged this!), you know that you've DOCUMENTED this.
That avoids building the Frankensite.
Robin Liss is next. I met her on the shuttle bus this morning. She's very nice! She reviews cool stuff (reviewed.com) and doesn't get to keep it. (So sad.)
Her presentation is entitled High Value Content Production Workflow Strategies - in other words, a guide to creating content for non-spammers.
Here's how we make our content: just like a car maker, you manufacture a product. What lessons can we learn from traditional manufacturing in the ways that cars are made?
Key lessons: - You can't build a car without blueprints. - Mr. Ford's assembly line rocks. - Good tools save money - Specialization = economic efficiency - Bottlenecks must be destroyed - Quality control everywhere - Measure everything Design your final product with care - audience, purpose, topic area (this is the critical one), article structure (standardized or open), what does the 1st draft producer need (products, tickets, facts), what supplemental content is necessary (videos, photos, links), how frequent, length, what voice, objectivity vs. subjectivity, deadline and delivery schedule. Answer these questions for individual content pieces, site sections, or entire sites.
Writing the article or filming the video is only the first step of content production. Make sure to budget time and money for the rest of the process.
Mr. Ford's assembly line rocks: more information - For the Content Creation, we assign the article - then people get materials, then they create first draft, we create supplemental content, they get feedback, they create a second draft, and then there's a second edit, and then you're Producing the content - CMS load and HTMLize, copy edit, SEO edit, final edit, take live, marketing, revision and update. This is a content pipeline. We want a constant flow. Ask: who takes what responsibility? How much time does each step take? What steps do you need or not need dependent on content type? What can you outsource (copy-editing)? What about in-house? If you understand it for 1, it can scale to 2 or 20 people.
A modified pipeline: blog. Assignment > Materials and information acquisition > 1st draft creation > take live > Marketing > Revise and Update. That's why blogs are such an efficient form of content. Blogs, however, are weak. Some pieces are longer form. There's no outside quality control. You can certainly add editing steps but many argue that this is what defines blogs (no outside editing).
So she shows a modified pipeline where there are 2 people involved: 1 person writes and 1 person edits. This has built-in quality control. Even the best writers have to have their work edited and it's best to have as much editing as possible. It may be necessary to go into more than 2 edits, especially with less experienced writers. It may be efficient to add a 3rd person in the CMS load and HTMLizing. The point is specialization: focusing on the core tasks.
She has a digital camera site and 6-10 people are involved: editor in chief, managing editor, writer, product photographer, product tester, and copy editor. This is not a cheap model at all. You can use part-time contributors to save you money. There are many quality controls in this process and it's highly efficient because it uses specialization. You can't have a writer test a camera when the writer is not familiar with the camera. This group produces about 525,000 words a year - about 1 novel a month.
CMS tools: - Look for WYSIWYG editors that work (FCK editors) to save production time and money - Dreamweaver - Plone - MovableType - Own your CMS - Investing money in your CMS will reduce editorial costs long-term
Workflow Management Tools - Google Calendar - Lots of spreadsheets
Finding the right writer for the right task: - Short form vs. long term. Bloggers may not be able to write technical articles. - Journalist or Opinionated. - Edgy vs. straight - Switching tasks takes time. 15 minutes of productivity are lost when you switch tasks. - When doing large products, different parts of the article might go to different people.
Production and editing specialization - Find an online copy editor to pay per word - Find a basic HTML guru - Hire a part time or full time editor to improve your quality and manage workflow.
Look at your pipeline: analyze to reduce bottlenecks. - Time in minutes, hours, or days that each step takes in the workflow process. - Constantly track these times and look to improve them - Create an "article flow" or "article patter" by reducing bottlenecks. - Ways to create an event flow; add more staff to a bottlenecked area, outsource, have staff to do double duty, reduce staff time spent on over-producing areas, make sure that there are articles in every step of the pipeline (track it with Excel and Google Calendar), give deadlines not for just when the article is finished but for every part of the pipeline.
Quality Control: - Our reviews are syndicated on WashingtonPost so we can't mess up. - Error free content = credibility - Watch out for grammatical, factual, and analytical errors - In our pipeline, at least 6 quality control edits are made to an article. You might need more or less. - More eyes = less errors: a great thing to do is to print things out. - User comments can be a great way to find errors, but don't let out too many or you'll lose credibility.
Measure everything - Process - The time each step takes - Word count - When people hit deadlines or miss them - Average number of articles produced by day, week, and month - When content gets high traffic
Final tips: When hiring contributors, make sure you own all rights to the content. Sign release forms that you own all rights, international or domestic. Put plagiarism clauses in contracts. Be specific as possible. You get what you pay for. Cheap original content will cost money in the long term in editing and correction. Try your best to be original in your content and produce when others aren't. Blogs are a great way to toe into original content production. Focus on quality!
[Rae looks a bit confused. She must be nervous that she's up next.]
Rae finally comes up since Robin spoke forever and I only blogged half of what she spoke about. No, I'm serious.
Okay, so Rae speaks a mile a minute. And I thought Robin was bad. I guess I'm totally wrong on that. At least Rae has accompanying slides.
We produce content and try to produce the best content. The goal is to be better than the competitors and have returning visitors. Content is the single most effecitve way to differentiate your site from the masses, develop traffic, and develop good inbound links that will propel your site to the top of the search engines and keep it there.
It can develop links, other traffic referrals and website citations, increase feed counts, mentions in traditional and social media, develop partnerships with affiliate and advertisers, and positions your site as an authority.
There are three ways to get content developed for your website: - Freelancing (pros: cheapest, no commitment, use as needed; cons: trial and error for quality, availability issues, no commitment) - Full-time remote writers (pros: no overhead costs, dedicated, more skills for less money; cons: distance management, training barriers, and just a paycheck) - Full time in house (pros: easier to manage, easier to train, dedicated; cons: overhead costs, more expensive, must have long-term needs) Rae continues apologizing for speaking so much. I don't forgive you, Rae. My fingers hurt.
Where do you find them: Freelancers: elance.com, writerfind.com, gofreelance.com, guru.com, freelancerspace.com, seo-writer.com (it's not that spammy) Full-time remotes: craigslist, jobs.problogger.net, SEOmoz, local papers, local job boards, tjobs.com Fullt time inhouse: local papers, job boards, monster, craigslist, Careerbuilder, workopolis.com
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. Keep in mind: good organization skills, able to work independently, able to follow instructions, able to think for themselves, good language skills, good writing skills, ability to hit deadlines, basic HTML skills, the right writing tone for your site, a good sense of humor (especially important for linkbait), expertise in the area you need a writer for or the ability to learn quickly, journalism specific skills, for video content: someone who is personable and not afraid to be on camera, and basic promotional skills.
Training content developers: having someone who can write awesome content is only a part of the equation. People need to know that your content exists to talk about it. Train your writers to promote their own work as much as possible. - develop media lists for the topic area your writer is wroking on for them to be able to push their BEST pieces to - encourage your writers to be active in the community by interacting on forums, blogs, etc. - teach writers about social media and become involved in them. They need to know who they're writing for (not to lead the social media campaign). - explain to your writers how they can take angles on pieces to receive traffic and citations from big sites that they may not normally appeal to with their straight niche writing. - pitch to traditional news outlets to get exposure for your site with a byline that includes your site information in addition to citations in the form of links if they also publish online. - train your writers to link out when it makes sense and follow up with notifications to companies who are linked to - explain to your writers how to use Google news alerts to stay abreast of important happenings in the sector so that they can write about them and to alert other reporters about existing topics making news. (Rae mentions that she has an alert for "sugarrae" so she can monitor her brand. That's why I added this to this coverage post. I figure Rae should see the commentary we say about her. Hi Rae!) [Lisa whispers in my ear, "I don't know anyone who speaks as fast as she does."]