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10 Steps to a More Successful Blog Editorial Strategy

Joe Pulizzi is absolutely right: 2012 will be the year that organizations realize the value of original content over content curation.

At Technically Media, we’ve helped museums, non-profits, and others develop blog editorial strategies from scratch. To share an idea of our approach, we point to brands and organizations that have implemented the delivery of useful, original content to their customers. These include American Express’s OPEN Forum, which provides small business adviceKISSmetrics, which offers tips on using its product; and OKCupid, which shows off findings from its treasure trove of data.

Your organization can become a content publishing thought leader. But, as we know from experience, an editorial strategy is harder to implement than it appears on the surface.

In the last year, we’ve worked with our friends at the National Constitution Center, a non-partisan museum based in Philadelphia, to develop Constitution Daily, a daily news and analysis publication that is helping the Center establish itself as the leading authority on constitutional issues.

Since then, we’ve identified 10 actionable steps to create a successful blog editorial strategy that goes beyond traditional press releases and company news. A solid editorial strategy can cultivate a captive audience — and help your business convert them into paying customers and donors.

1. Start with executive buy in

Ideally, this occurs before any project is kicked off. A smart executive knows that blog editorial strategy is an investment that often does not produce immediate results. Make sure executives understand the timetable for success and can convey the strategy’s long-term importance to staff. The entire organization should be able to answer the question, “Why should we have a blog?”

2. Define an audience

Much like web designers establish a scope of features for a new website, creating a successful editorial strategy requires a clearly defined audience. Define whether the blog’s audience is already being reached or is aspirational, then create user personas and define what actions constitute a successful conversion for your organization. For some businesses it will be as simple as a newsletter sign-up; others may consider a purchase a successful conversion. Be honest with your audience personas — reaching baby boomers in the Midwest may be more difficult than targeting connected technologists in the Northeast, if measured by the scale of population and its percentage of internet users. Measure success accordingly; all the page views in the world won’t matter much if you’re reaching the wrong audience for your products and services.

3.  Establish an editor-in-chief, who has the authority to publish without oversight

To paraphrase Truman, the buck has to stop somewhere. There needs to be a single editor who can assign blog posts, manage contributor relationships, and market output. In the museum world, exhibit designers often process content through several rounds of edits before it is seen by the public. Online content, however, necessitates a faster turnaround. Make sure content can be posted in a matter of hours and not days. Having a single point of contact simplifies the workflow and lets your staff content experts focus on what they do best: writing.

4. Analyze where content exists already

If you look hard enough, most organizations already have assets that can be made into compelling online content. This was especially true in the case of the National Constitution Center. The Center has a stable of constitutional experts, years of collected exhibit artifacts, and holds special events frequently. We encouraged the organization to incorporate Constitution Daily into its existing, everyday workflow. With some guidance from an editor-in-chief, an organization such as the Constitution Center can quickly transition and reuse exhibit display text. Or, it could use a digital camera to record short, unedited, and off-the-cuff interviews with event participants, which can drive interest with little operational overhead required.

5.  Create post types and templates

Whether with top 10 lists, case studies, or interviews, it’s important to establish a handful of compelling content formats that your organization can create. Working with an editorial strategist who understands online media can help you establish tried-and-true methods for determining what types of content will work best for your business and provide you with examples of successful standards.

6. Write a handful of “evergreen” information resources

Before you launch your publication, you have the benefit of time. Once the ball is rolling, however, it’s easy to get caught up in the weekly cycle of needing enough content. Take the opportunity early on to write several well-researched “evergreen” posts — content that lives on outside of the news cycle and trends — which you can optimize for online searches that you anticipate your audience will conduct. To help you determine the most appropriate keywords to use in an evergreen post, use Google’s AdWords keyword research tool and select a few relevant terms that have a good balance of search volume and competition. If a tidal wave of content has already been written about the Second Amendment, for example, where it’s harder to compete because of sheer volume, maybe there are niche topics unique to your organization where you can provide incredible value. Try to include these search phrases in your headlines.

7.  Develop a content marketing plan

Taking the phrase “content marketing” quite literally, once you write posts, how are you promoting them? Do you have a social media strategy for your blog? Does your company have an existing newsletter you can use to distribute your content? Will your blog posts appear on your site’s homepage? To further this goal, make sure your editor is building relationships with internal stakeholders, as well as external experts in your field, so you have a network of people who can help give your new content some extra audience attention.

8. Court guest contributors

For many businesses, building a “content department” is not an option. Depending on your brand, it’s often easier to court guest contributors than to do all the work in-house.

For Constitution Daily, we reached out to law schools, professors, secondary educators, and guests of the Center to contribute to its blog — often done in conjunction with an author’s promotional tour. Think of your blog as a late night talk show: Offer your guest author an opportunity to contribute a story in exchange for a brief promo at the end of the post. Everybody wins.

9. Have an editorial calendar

It’s never fun to scramble to post to the company blog “just to have something.” Avoid last-minute scrambles by planning out your content for several weeks in advance. For Constitution Daily, we often post about civic holidays like Martin Luther King Day or anniversaries like the repeal of the 18th Amendment. This allows us to keep the site active with quality content, and enables our content team to be more flexible when current events need to be covered.

10. Measure and adjust

Once you have a content marketing plan, a stable of guest contributors, and post types set, test and adjust your strategy using tools like Google Analytics or KISSmetrics. Keeping a close eye on the numbers will allow you to make educated decisions and help frame the growth of your blog to executives. Just don’t get too caught up in the data and lose sight of the big picture.