By Dawn Papandrea published July 25, 2016

How Cleveland Clinic Became One of the Most Visited Health Care Destinations

cleveland-clinic-amanda-todorovich-CMYAmanda Todorovich started her content marketing journey at Cleveland Clinic in 2013 with a three-person team, and a vision for its blog to become a leading health and wellness portal. Under her leadership, Cleveland Clinic’s Health Hub blog (now called Health Essentials) grew from 200,000 monthly visits to 3.2 million monthly visits in just 18 months.

Today, Health Essentials has over 4 million monthly visitors, making it one of the most visited online health care destinations – which is especially impressive given the crowded field in the industry. Its social media following is also impressive, with more than 1.5 million Facebook fans and 550,000 Twitter followers.

That success led to organizational changes, including the merging of the digital team with the offline creative staff to form one cohesive content marketing department, which now numbers 24 employees.

That’s a lot of talent (and content!) to manage, which is why Amanda is one of the finalists for the 2016 Content Marketer of the Year. Here, she shares some of the best practices that she’s developed during her tenure at Cleveland Clinic.

Editor’s note: After publication, AmandaTodorovich was named CMI’s 2016 Content Marketer of the Year!

Don’t publish more; just get better

When Cleveland Clinic’s blog launched four years ago, the team was publishing three to five posts per day, and that hasn’t changed, says Amanda. And this focus on the same amount of content – not more, but better – is a theme that runs through so much of what Amanda and her team are doing.

“What has evolved are our standards, and how we decide what to publish and when. It’s been about refinement, and listening to the data,” she says.

Cleveland-Clinic-Published-Article

Here’s a look inside the editorial process:

1. Have a well-thought-out content plan

It’s not as simple as publishing something simply because it’s ready to go. In fact, Amanda says the team now spends a lot more time strategizing and making decisions up front about which stories should even be written.

It’s not as simple as publishing something simply because it’s ready to go says @amandatodo #contentmarketing Click To Tweet

For every piece they are considering, they think about these three questions:

  • Is this something we have covered?
  • Is it specific enough and actionable?
  • Who is going to do this?

“We want to have a good balance of content in a variety of specialty areas; some pieces have mass broad appeal versus some that are geared for a smaller portion of our audience. Plus, we want to be hitting our traffic goals,” she says.

Amanda goes on to explain that, to hit their traffic goals, they consider things such as seasonal trends. For instance, if they know a week is typically going to be light, they try to create content they know will “hit it out of the park” to compensate and hit monthly goals.

On the other side, Amanda adds that the team knows not every piece will resonate with a wide audience so the team needs to manage expectations and not expect that every piece will be a winner.

2. Reuse content in a smart way

Many of the blog posts are evergreen so they can be reused. As one example, they are constantly resurfacing older content in social.  For instance, if a celebrity announces that he or she was diagnosed with a medical condition, chances are there is previously written content that can easily be shared. The actual blog post would not be updated, but the social post would refer to the celebrity.

Because so much of their content is evergreen, they also prioritize updating older posts to make sure the research is up-to-date.

They also work with the Cleveland Clinic News Service, an in-house team that produces video packages for broadcast media every day, so the blog team can repurpose these videos for the blog.

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3. Getting an expert to sign off

“Everything we publish is reviewed by a medical expert,” she says. There are also about 40 physicians who contribute articles about once per month to the site. “It’s a huge undertaking. On any given day, there are hundreds of posts in production because we are at the mercy of their schedules. We’re sensitive to the fact they are taking care of patients first and foremost, so we try to spread around our requests,” she says. That’s also one of the main reasons why building ample time into the production schedule is important.

4. Testing, testing …

Amanda says nothing is published haphazardly to see what sticks. Before they publish, they test content with Atomic Reach, which evaluates an article and gives it a target score. “We can change a headline or rework a paragraph, and then rescore it,” she says.

“We’ve definitely developed a formula of things that work and don’t work, such as ideal character counts, and the way we treat photos. We’ve tested and iterated our way to that formula. But, just when we think we figure it out, the rules change.”

5. Strategic sharing on social

As the team readies an asset for publication, they carefully select the social channels they’ll use and the optimal times to disseminate the content. The best time of day varies for each platform and might depend on the topic, which is something they’ve learned by analyzing performance data over the years, Amanda says. For instance, a nutrition-related post might perform best if it’s shared on Facebook at 4 p.m. to coincide with the time people are thinking about dinner before they leave work, she says.

The team also leverages its social audiences to further tweak post-publication. They use different headlines on Facebook and Twitter when an article is first published. The immediate feedback they get from these platforms helps them determine what the permanent headline should be.

6. Evaluate and learn

The process comes full circle the next morning at the daily team meeting for the blog team when they take time to review these types of things:

  • How much traffic did they get?
  • How did individual pieces of content do?
  • What were some standout moments on social that should be discussed?

“We look at data and traffic every day; it’s not just something we put into a report at the end of the month. If something is trending and we need to react to it, or if something has a lot of comments that might drive a follow-up story, we’re on it,” Amanda says.

We look at data & traffic every day; it's not something we put into a month-end report says @amandatodo Click To Tweet

A lot of the goals the team has are self-imposed because they want to push themselves to do better. They want to create the same amount of content but improve the impact of that content.

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Reinvest in content

Once Health Essentials’ readership reached a critical mass, Amanda says serious discussions with the CMO began about how to start monetizing the traffic. They began by incorporating Google ads, which was a low-risk way to test reader reaction.

Once they started to see progress, Amanda says they explored options for strategic partnerships, and formalized a major one in the first quarter of this year with About.com. “They handle the selling of ads, but we worked with them to define a policy and list of advertisers we would not allow. It involved the legal team, another layer of complexity,” she says.

Although monetization is still not the main driver of their content marketing strategy (brand awareness still rules) it’s empowering to contribute to the marketing budget and the bottom line in a meaningful way, Amanda says. Even better, that revenue is being reinvested into continuous improvements on Cleveland Clinic-owned web properties.

Rally around common goals as team dynamics change

Amanda says she couldn’t be more thankful to work with a team that shares a passion for good content, but merging offline and online worlds is not without its challenges: “We all want our work to be world class – that’s the big unifier.” Training, cross-functional team projects, and team-building exercises and retreats have helped the groups bond as well.

Another thing that Amanda says keeps everyone on the same page is Cleveland Clinic’s microsite called OnBrand, which provides a detailed manual on voice, style, tone, and writing guidelines for Cleveland Clinic. OnBrand continuously updates the guidelines and assets for all content producers, including the physicians who write. “We’re a big enterprise and we work with a lot of agencies and vendors. We wanted our brand story out there and to make it accessible to everyone,” she says.

OnBrand-website-example

Help others, and embrace the help you have

Amanda’s team is hardly an island. They have partnerships with several groups throughout Cleveland Clinic. For instance, the team talks to the corporate communications team each day to understand what issues that team is covering. The partnership is such that the blog team can tap into the spokespeople the communications team may be using to help with their stories, and they can offer existing pieces to supplement what is being shared about the daily topics.

As Amanda is called into more non-marketing meetings to share her insights, it solidifies her belief that it’s a great time to be a content marketer. In fact, she says, the number of cross-departmental projects her team touches has increased year over year. From human resources to recruiting to public relations, content conversations are happening throughout the enterprise.

That being said, perhaps the biggest career lesson Amanda has taken away from her years at Cleveland Clinic is that you can’t do it all yourself. “Trust your team. Use their expertise. The more you can share successes with your team and leadership, the more support you will get.”

See how more of the best brands on earth are conquering their content marketing challenges. Download our e-book: Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples.

Editor’s note: A special thanks to Ardath Albee who scoured the planet looking for the best of the best content marketers. She was instrumental in helping us find our 2016 Content Marketer of the Year finalists.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Dawn Papandrea

Dawn Papandrea is a freelance writer based in Staten Island, New York, specializing in content marketing, personal finance, and higher education. She's a regular contributor to NewsCred (a CMI benefactor), in which she covers the digital marketing industry. Her work has also appeared in national publications and websites including Family Circle, Parents, WomansDay.com, CreditCards.com, and many others.

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  • http://seomarketergr.com Georgios

    Number 6. Evaluate and learn, is the best strategy of all things. Congrats very nice article

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    thanks for sharing

  • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

    Good stuff. We always point to Cleveland Clinic as an example of smart content strategy in healthcare marketing. Well done. Amanda is great.