How to scale content operations? I’ve heard this question over and over, asked both by agency owners and in-house content managers. Scaling content ops is notoriously difficult because there are so many moving parts, and it’s so hard to create standardized operating procedures for such a creative task as writing. I had the same problem when we decided to up our ante with content creation and publish 32 blog posts per month. Initially, I thought hiring 2-3 full-time content writers would solve the problem – as we were publishing really niche content that required specialized knowledge and hours of training – but it didn’t. The content writers were burning out double time and we were nowhere near hitting the target post number. The number of posts we were able to publish consistently
Then, after another content writer resigned (that was the third one in 3 months, btw.) I sat down one weekend, back to the drawing board, and spent about 40 hours just reading, thinking about it, and talking to other content managers. Then, suddenly, I talked to an…engineer. He told me development projects are arranged in epics.
And that got me thinking and ultimately – I came up with a solution in less than 10 minutes, that now allows us to publish around 40 blog posts per month consistently.
It’s simple, but it requires you to think completely differently about your content operations.
If you hire so many writers, you also need someone to manage them.
And don’t be fooled that you can find writers who will know exactly what to write in a new niche from the get-go, be SEO experts, understand your tool, audience, needs etc.
Investing in building that up in freelance writers is time-consuming, expensive and…risky. Because if they leave, they take all the knowledge away with them.
It’s much better and more scalable to invest that time and resources into training content editors, who will manage your writers and make sure your content is up to a really high standard.
The content Editor is the person that will be responsible for creating super-detailed briefs, including all the images your writers should use, and making sure your writers write according to them.
The briefs need to include:
- All the H2s and H3s to use, optimised for SEO, verbatim
- Talking points for each paragraph in bullet points
- Notes allowing the wirters to write up content without doing much research
- Links to resources they should read to research specific points
- All the internal and external links to include in the content piece, with instructions where and how they should be included (as a do-follow or a no-follow link, under which anchor.)
If that sounds like a lot of work – it’s because it is. But it’s also a lot less work than fixing or rewriting terrible copy done by content writers who didn’t know your expectations.
And even if you hire the best content writers in the world – they will need to know what you want.
A good content editor can write 2-3 briefs per day. A good content writer can’t write that many.
Plus, it gets easier and easier once you develop your Brief Templates:
After the post is done, the content editor should read it and check for quality – whether the post conforms with what the brief and standards.
Then, another person (a native speaker of the language you’re publishing it) should give it a final look with a fresh eye – proofread it for any language errors, as well as checking it against the SEO checklist (are all Alt Text in images there? Are all links that should be no-follow no-follow? Is the primary KW where it should be?)
Content Editor’s Workload
Now, you may be wondering – how much work should you give to your content editor?
If you’re writing long-form posts (2000 words +) for a challenging, technical B2B niche – I’d advise you to give no more than 5 Epics to one full-time editor. That way, they can easily write one content brief per day, and then edit one post. The system of labelling your Epics with publication days will help you organize your work immensely. Simply assign the epics for the 5 days per week to a specific content writer and let them “own” the outcomes.
Writing a challenging brief may take up to 4 hours, and editing a post written based on it – up to 2. The remaining two hours will be left as a margin of error + for any other management or admin stuff, including meetings.
If you’re writing shorter, and less demanding posts for well-known niches (e.g. lifestyle, food, fashion, travel) you can have your Content Editor produce more briefs and edit more posts peer day.
If you find your Content Editor can handle more and is getting bored, you can assign them more posts.
A sub-editor can be a part-time role and they can handle publishing as many posts as they have time for. The final edits and SEO checks + publishing shouldn’t take more than 1-2 hours.
I have used this workflow for about 3 months now and it *works*. The biggest bottleneck is still hiring competent writers and making sure the briefs are clear enough for them to follow, but in general – I believe it is a scalable system for content operations, both in an agency and a startup. It guarantees output of course, not the outcomes in terms of how your posts rank and how many conversions you get from them – that’s something that depends on your content strategy of course.
Let me know what systems you use in your content workflows – and happy writing!