10 Ways to Write Better Blogs (Without Actually Writing Them)
Jasmine W. Gordon is a copywriter at Lean Labs. She's written for digital audiences for over 5 years, and her background includes agencies, tech startups, health care, big data analytics, energy, and more. Jasmine loves new marketing statistics, optimization studies, and live music.
Too busy to write your own blogs? You're not terrible at time management, I promise. You're actually in the majority. Quality content takes time, and time is a non-renewable resource for leadership.
Up to 57% of CMOs are outsourcing "content writing, design, editing, and even distribution." The use of content agencies and other sources of assistance is particularly high among technology-oriented B2B brands. If you're reading a blog post by a CEO, CMO, or CTO, there's a very good chance they may not have authored it at all.
But how do you ensure really great content out of your freelancers or agency? How can you outsource blogs, eBooks, whitepapers, and other resources and receive content you're proud to associate with your name?
In this blog, you'll learn how to improve the quality of your content, even if you're not the one authoring it.
By the way, this isn't actually a blog about how or where to outsource your content.
We previously dove deep into the inbound content agency versus contractor debate on the Lean Labs blog, which you can find here: Content Marketing Services: Agency Vs. Freelancer - Which Is Best?
1. Take an Active Role
An active role for you might not be the same as your colleague. However, it's definitely valuable to define your role in the content process ASAP. The last thing you want is to overcommit, become a bottleneck, and find yourself in active avoidance of an enormous pile of content that needs your input before it can be published.
If you're too busy for your end of the bargain, you won't be publishing regularly. And that's not a good recipe for marketing success.
Be honest with yourself and your content helpers in terms of how much you can take on. Is it four hours a week? Eight hours a month? Based on this knowledge, you can block time to blaze through some or all of the following:
- Content idea generation
- Style guide creation
- Content approval
- Phone interviews and "brain dumps"
Super tight on time? If you only have 1-2 hours a week to commit to your content, we recommend you focus on the following:
- Resource creation (see #7)
- Brain Dumps (see #4)
If you're building a new relationship with an inbound agency, you may realistically need to offer up more time in the first few weeks. However, once you've developed a system with a team you can trust, you can focus your efforts where it matters most—conveniently sharing your expertise and promoting your awesome ghostwritten content.
2. Insist on Experience
There's some serious debate over just how much your freelancers or agency need to know. At Lean Labs, we tend to err on the side of "more knowledge is power." Fielding writers with deep vertical expertise results in better-quality blogs that customers, social media users, and Google LOVE.
All of that said, it can be challenging to find authors or agencies with the perfect expertise if you're in an incredibly niche vertical or highly-regulated industry. It's not impossible, however, and we believe it's worth your effort.
In addition to subject matter expertise, your content quality can benefit from each of the following forms of knowledge on the behalf of your content helpers:
- Well-defined content processes
- SEO knowledge
- Journalism knowledge
- Marketing strategy
- Competitive research
In short, the more expertise available to you, the better. You'll likely get MUCH better results from an agency or writer that has a background of successful content marketing in your industry than someone whose capabilities begin and end at good grammar.
3. Build (or Find) a Process
If you're overwhelmed, the last thing you need is to try and work with contractors without a well-defined process. Having expectations in place can make things go much easier. In fact, defined processes are among the top reasons the busiest executives look to agencies.
While needs can vary, you may choose to ask the following questions about custom-built or predefined processes:
- How often will I receive content strategy updates?
- What factors inform your content strategy?
- What are deadlines and/or turn-around times for approved content concepts?
- How quickly is feedback integrated?
- Will I communicate directly with writers or an account manager?
- Do you have the bandwidth for short turn-around assignments?
- Who will be sourcing images, and how?
- Who will be publishing the content to my CMS?
- What about legal review (if relevant)?
4. Do Brain Dumps
If you only take away one tip from this list, this should be it: Brain dumps are your friend.
If you're outsourcing your content, you don't have time for writing detailed outlines. Outlines can be as time-consuming as the writing stage.
Instead, you should focus your efforts on conveniently "dumping your expertise" on a periodic basis into resources that your writers can use to run with, and translate your knowledge into blogs, eBooks, and more.
Even if you're working with subject matter experts, these resources are incredibly helpful. Someone who understands your industry may not initially get the nuances of your unique value proposition (UVP) or experience. Taking the time to do a "brain dump" can be the difference between technically accurate content and compelling brand stories.
Some ways that thought leaders can translate their experience into raw material for content include:
- Phone interviews
- Audio recordings
- Mind maps
- Written documents
If you think better in written form than speaking, don't commit yourself to organizing, editing, or polishing the content. Focus on getting your ideas out, instead. Your writers should be able to handle the rest.
5. Give Feedback
Even highly-experienced, professional content writers make mistakes. During new partnerships, there's always a period of adjustment as your helpers learn your tone, UVP, and preferences.
HubSpot's Patrick Shea is a firm believer that taking the time to define the main point, target length, and recommended resources for blog posts can go a long way.
Other tactics can include:
Framing feedback in a general context: Specifying that "you prefer research from Acme corporation to this brand because they're our competitor" will save you time over stating "remove this link."
Incorporating feedback into resources: We dive into resources in point #7, but as you discover preferences and requirements, be sure and document these notes for writers.
Being clear from the start: Great writers and agencies have a thick skin. Providing tons and tons of constructive feedback in your first few weeks of collaboration can guarantee better product in the future (and lower time investment on your end).
6. Enlist Your Colleagues
If you're too busy to create content, what about your colleagues? Requiring one blog a month from each member of your team is unlikely to break anyone's schedule, and it can quickly fill your content calendar.
However, some serious flexibility in this area can benefit you, your writers, and your market metrics. We recommend considering the following approaches to ease your load:
- Consider using your coworkers for idea generation, editing, approval, and content promotion.
- Play to people's strengths: your chief engineer might not be able to write an eBook, but they can make a mind map.
- Provide your writers with contact info for internal subject matter experts.
- Reward your contributors or create internal content creation competitions.
To learn more, check out 12 Ways to Leverage Experts to Create More Content in Less Time.
7. Invest Your Time in Resources
There's a saying that "smart people make smart processes."
This is incredibly true when it comes to content outsourcing. Committing yourself to the few hours it will take to develop awesome resources for your writers can ensure that everyone is prepared to succeed from day one.
If you only have time to create one resource, it should be a style guide. Before you set ghostwriters loose, develop a document that answers the following questions:
- What style should be used (APA, Chicago, AP)?
- What is our brand voice?
- Who are our buyer personas?
- What makes our organization different (unique value proposition)?
- Who are our subject matter experts?
- What do our customers have to say?
- What resources should writers use (and avoid)?
- What is the preferred length for blogs?
- What are our frequently asked customer questions?
- How should links and content be formatted?
Not all of these questions will be applicable to everyone. Perhaps most importantly, a great inbound agency will make this process incredibly easy for you by working through these topics in the onboarding stage of your relationship. Using these questions as a guide can help set your authors up for success.
8. Keep Your Finger on the Metrics
Great contractors and inbound agencies are metrics-driven. You should be working with collaborators that monitor the success of your content and integrate insights in continuous improvement cycles. They may deliver reports and strategy adjustments on a monthly basis.
While individual relationships and affinity for metrics can vary, this is one area where you should be involved. At a minimum, understand what's working for your prospects and customers by reviewing reports and how you're progressing towards your goals.
9. Use Relationships to Get Opportunities
As your incredibly awesome ghostwritten content starts to hit the web, people will notice. Your pals at the Chamber of Commerce may pay you compliments. You may get a message from a LinkedIn connection thanking you for the insights.
Digital PR is important in this day and age. Landing guest blogging opportunities, a column in the local business journal, or quotation invitations can get your brand and content a ton of powerful exposure.
As you begin to develop thought leadership, stay on top of invitations to expand your platforms. Provided your agency or authors have the bandwidth, using your relationships for expanding your distribution and mediums is a huge win.
10. Stay On Top of Distribution
Marketing experts speculate that the success of your content is 80% distribution and 20% quality. Even if you've outsourced your business page social media management, you should still take an active role in content distribution and promotion.
This means actively pursuing the relationship-building opportunities discussed above, as well as promoting your ghost-authored content on your LinkedIn, Twitter, and other channels. It means promoting your content (when appropriate and polite) in professional LinkedIn groups and other communities you frequent.
As you develop great relationships with your ghostwriting team, your role in content approval should become pretty effortless. Use the newfound time in your schedule to act as your content's public advocate.
Developing Ghostwritten Content You're Proud to Call Your Own
There's no shame in outsourcing your content. In fact, it's probably the wisest move for many CMOs, business owners, and other busy professionals. High-quality ghostwritten content will yield far better returns than hastily-written or sporadic publishing, especially if outsourcing allows you to focus your efforts on marketing your brand.
By investing your time wisely and learning how to efficiently guide the content creation process from afar, you've got the potential to really win at content marketing.