Content Marketing

How to Hack Your Efficiency with an Agile Blog Planning Process

how to boost your efficiency with a blog planning process

Peter Drucker said, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

So I assume you’ve heard from nearly every content marketing blog out there how to do the right things. That’s being effective.

For example, here are some things effective blog editors do:

  1. You plan awesome content.
  2. You use a workflow to manage your team and guest authors.
  3. You complement your posts with visuals and free content.
  4. You share your content with social media.
  5. You review your stats to learn from your content.

Excellent. Right? But what if I said you could do all of that stuff you do effectively a lot more efficiently to get even better results from the work you’re already doing?

You can. Here’s exactly how you—and your team—will be super successful with an agile blog planning process.

10 Ways To Optimize Your Blog Planning Process With Agile Content Marketing

I get asked a lot about how we publish content on the CoSchedule Content Marketing Blog.

Since we’re a software as a service (SaaS) company with a content marketing editorial calendar as our product, it makes sense that we’d have some expertise in blog planning. Well, it might surprise you that our planning includes less planning.

No, really.

CoSchedule is a startup that believes in agile development. Our roots stem from a minimum viable product, and we’ve adapted that same philosophy into our content marketing.

It’s a minimum viable process.

minimum viable blog planning process

The idea is simple: A minimum viable process eliminates anything that doesn’t add value to your blog readers’ experience.

This list covers everything we do at CoSchedule before hitting that intimidating “publish” button. It’s how we:

  • Work well together (and efficiently).
  • Create awesome content that fills our audience’s needs.
  • Keep our sanity throughout the entire content creation process.

So here’s exactly how you can optimize your blog planning process in 10 simple steps:

Get Your Team On The Same Page

1. Agree To Change As A Group

Arienne Holland at Raven Tools needed to improve her team’s blog planning process to save them from “WordPress Draft purgatory,” as she likes to joke.

She showed her team how a new process could help them save time, work faster, and stay on the same page. When they agreed to change as a group, Raven Tools reduced their email load by 75%, kept the team more organized, and generally increased their productivity by using the same tool: CoSchedule.

We follow suit with Arienne here at CoSchedule. And you can, too.

As a startup, we change fast. It’s constant. We try something new every week, and if it doesn’t work out, we drop it and start something else.

This is one of the things I love most about our culture: We don’t get hung up on the way things used to be, because we know what we’re doing today is a billion times better than the way we did it yesterday (highlight to tweet).

That starts by trusting your employees to be rock stars at what they do to use their time for the things that will have the biggest impact on the company.

Efficiency Gained: You could be like Raven Tools and reduce 75% of your emails, which will increase your productivity. At CoSchedule, this method helps us publish two 2,000-word posts each week (with around 10 blog graphics and a free download in every one).

Read the full case study of how Raven Tools creates consistent content.

2. Don’t Start With A Workflow

Make sure everyone has a responsibility first. And by everyone, I mean the minimum people necessary to rock a successful blog post.

Whatever workflow you have right now, there is a chance you can improve it by eliminating a few unnecessary steps or tasks. That’s the whole premise of a minimum viable process.

the essential steps for a minimum viable blog planning process

If you remove your current flowchart, what are the bare essentials you need to plan an awesome blog post?

  1. A great idea.
  2. That great idea written greatly as a blog post.
  3. A few awesome graphics to complement the big takeaways in the post.
  4. Putting it all together with a few edits.
  5. Invitations to your audience to check out your blog post.

All you need are these folks:

  1. Blog editor.
  2. Writer.
  3. Designer.
  4. Community manager.

Notice something there? No higher ups. No stakeholders. No extra people at all. Period.

When you put the bare minimum responsibilities of crafting an awesome post before office bureaucracy, you focus on your audience before internal procedure. And your audience needs to win every time.

By focusing on responsibilities rather than tasks (at least initially), you’ll get the feeling for what truly needs to be included in your modified workflow (more to come on that later). The folks who are actually participating in your blog planning process will naturally know what they need to do based on their role.

So if you absolutely need a workflow, you can use CoSchedule’s task-based workflow to make one like this:

use responsibilities instead of workflow for blog planning

Efficiency Gained: Your team’s productivity will increase by spending more time doing the work rather than following a process. When we switched to this method at CoSchedule, I saved at least an hour per post for our blog graphics alone. That adds up when you publish two posts a week.

Recommended Reading:

Plan Great Content As A Team

3. Capture Every Idea…

Anyone on the team might have an awesome idea for a post. Make sure everyone has the opportunity to add it to your list.

That means one list for all of your blog ideas—a list everyone on your team can check out whenever they want.

And why separate your idea list from the tool you use everyday to execute your blog planning process?

Use a drafts bin like the one in CoSchedule as your hub for ideas.

capture every idea when you plan your blog

Efficiency Gained: Some folks like to write in notebooks, others in Evernote, still others in spreadsheets. After you capture your idea initially—wherever it is—put it with everyone else’s. Teams have told us that consolidating their content marketing tools for ideas, communication, blogging, and social media with CoSchedule has saved them more than 2 hours per post!

Recommended Reading: 10 Easy Blog Post Ideas To Fill Your Editorial Calendar

4. …Then Find Your Best Ideas

While you let the entire team throw ideas your way, you might not turn them all into blog posts. And that’s just fine.

The point is that you have everyone involved in your process so they’re part of something bigger—a team. Every idea can snowball into something even more magical—and this idea of not limiting people to a flowchart is how you can get by without a workflow to begin with.

your ideas + audience needs=great content

One way we find awesome blog ideas at CoSchedule is by simply combining what we want to talk about with what our readers want to know. So we take our topics and combine them with the solutions our readers crave.

For example, we like to talk about blog planning at CoSchedule, and 22% of our readers say their biggest challenge is finding time to create content. Outcome: How To Actually Plan Your Blog And Save A Ton Of Time.

We do that in 5 unique ways at CoSchedule (and you can do this, too):

  1. Ask your customers why they signed up. They’ll probably mention a challenge you can talk about.
  2. Check out your blog post comments. Sometimes, folks will give you a little love, which gives you the opportunity to ask what else you could help them with.
  3. Every event is a learning opportunity. Webinars, conferences, and meet-ups are great for finding inspiration—and when the audience asks questions, those are gold you can mine for your content, too.
  4. Listen to your audience on social media. Listen to Twitter chats in your industry, or point blank ask your audience a question to understand what they’re going through.
  5. Piggyback on your previous success. Check out your best performing content and find a new angle on the topics your audience loves (and by the way, you can do this with your competition to blow their content out of the water and steal their audience).

You can read all about that process on Mention’s blog: How To Find The Best Blog Ideas That Will Have People Craving Your Content.

Efficiency Gained: You and your team spend time creating content that fulfills the needs of your business while providing super helpful content your audience will love. That’s making great use of your time rather than guesswork. When we started really honing in on this at CoSchedule, we grew our email subscriber list from just over 16,000 to 31,174 in 5 months, increased our traffic by 104% month over month, and influenced a high number of readers to become paying customers of our content marketing editorial calendar.

5. Help Your Team See The End Result

Headlines aren’t always enough to know exactly how your idea will transform into an awesome blog post. Sometimes, you and your writer will come up with even better ideas by working through a blog post outline.

This can be as simple as bullets you’d like to cover or even subheads. Collaborative outlines will help you and your writer know what to expect, which keeps you on the same brainwave as your content comes to life.

Here’s what to work through to turn a great blog idea into an awesome post:

  • Topic, idea, and value proposition.
  • Headlines.
  • Background of how the idea was born.
  • Stories that tell the idea.
  • Resources that add some factual relevance.
  • Links to the source of your idea.
  • Key messages or the big takeaways.
  • Image ideas.

Efficiency Gained: You and your writer are on the same page from the get-go while eliminating possible rework and minimizing your editing time. Win-win! I’ve used this method to outline my posts like this in 10 minutes, researched the big points for about an hour, and wrote 2,000-word posts all in one day. You can do it, too!

Recommended Reading:

6. Write Emotional Headlines That Inspire Action

You’ve heard it a billion times from your mom growing up (well at least I did), “Make a good first impression.”

Your headline is your first impression. And by writing a perfect headline for your posts this early in the process, your writer has even clearer direction of exactly what you want them to cover.

plan your blog to make a good first impression

And there’s some psychology and data behind writing an awesome headline that will help you capture attention and create a great first impression right from the get-go.

It’s the halo effect. Norman Nielsen Group covered this topic on Web design, and loosely translated, this is what it means for your blog:

If readers like one post on a blog, they’re more likely to judge the entire blog favorably in the future. Conversely, if readers have a particularly bad experience with a blog, they’ll predict that the blog will treat them poorly in the future as well and, thus, will be reluctant to return to the blog.

You can use CoSchedule’s free headline analyzer to make your headlines rock:

  1. Choose a keyword your audience is looking for, and use it in your headline. At this point, your writer then knows to use that keyword as their main source of inspiration for the post.
  2. Focus on a headline type that works. We analyzed 1 million headlines at CoSchedule and found that “how to”, list, and question headlines perform the best.
  3. Write a positive headline that helps readers attach emotionally with your idea the second they read it. This is how you can tie in what you want to talk about and what they want to hear: “How To Do ___ That Will Help You Become ___”.

Efficiency Gained: In our headline analysis, we found 89% of content that is created is never shared more than 100 times. The higher the emotional value in those headlines, the more likely it was that folks would share those posts more than 1,000 times. Essentially, your efficiency comes from optimizing your content for maximum reach.

Recommended Resources And Reading:

7. Plan With Your Editorial Calendar

86% of bloggers plan to publish more content. That’s a ton of you!

You’ve already done a ton of leg work to make sure the content you create will be awesome. Your editorial calendar provides the publishing consistency your team needs as you mature your blog planning process.

  1. Figure out how you’ll tell your story using content marketing. Think of your content like chapters in a book. Those chapters are how you’re telling your story—put them in order how you’d like to tell it (plus, you’ll find a ton of great ways to repurpose your content later on).
  2. Find the publishing frequency that works for you and your team.
  3. Trust and empower your team to know what to do for their responsibilities.

Efficiency Gained: Just by seeing content on their editorial calendars, CoSchedule users have told us that they publish more content more often. Our editorial calendar at CoSchedule helps us meet our deadlines, work together in a single tool to eliminate some manual processes, and helps us know what’s coming up so we can work ahead. Bloggers who use CoSchedule to plan their content have told us they save an hour per blog post just by knowing what do work on ahead of time.

Recommended Reading:

8. Edit Like A Pro With Psychology Of Persuasion

Your job is to publish content that converts. That is the ultimate purpose of any marketing, and it’s no different for content marketing.

So for the time being, forget about editing for grammar and punctuation.

Start off your editing process by understanding the elements of any great story: A hook that keeps your interest, a climax that has you at the edge of your seat, and a happy ending.

You already know about the halo effect from writing an emotional headline: It’s the first impression. Well, the peak end rule tells us that readers judge their experience based on its peak and the end, too. So like making a good first impression is memorable, make your climax and ending awesome, too.

plan awesome content with the peak end rule

But the hard part is that you never know when that ending is going to come. Research shows that most blog readers only read the first 100 words. So your headline and introduction may very well be the entire impression. But there are 16% of readers who actually read entire blog posts.

The point: Edit for all of this, and you will influence your readers to do what you want them to do no matter when they leave your content.

  1. Work with your designer to create visuals that complement the content, not distract.
  2. Hook your readers from the get-go.
  3. Make your first 100 words irresistibly lead into the rest.
  4. Give your readers a gift.
  5. Make it immediately shareable.
  6. Give them a way to share the big takeaways from your content.
  7. Rock your conclusion. Ask for a share, and give them a way to do it.

When you’re done with that, you’re almost ready to hit the publish button.

Efficiency Gained: Optimizing your posts based on psychology and data means that the hours you put into creating content will get the best results for your effort. When we started optimizing our content at CoSchedule based on this information, our subscribers grew 104% in 5 months. Editing for content quality has greater rewards than editing for grammar (though that does have its importance, don’t get me wrong).

Recommended Reading: How To Increase Blog Traffic: 5 Ways To Make Contagious Content

Send The Invitations To Your Party

9. Plan Your Perfect Social Media Sharing Frequency

If your content is the party, social media messages are the invitations to attend. So yes, this is something you can do before your content publishes.

There’s an unwritten etiquette for every social media network’s appropriate publishing frequency. By this, I mean how many times you’ll share your content with the specific social networks.

social media sharing schedule for blog planning

You can use this exact model with your own CoSchedule social media schedule to maximize your content’s reach:

  1. On publish
  2. Same day as publish
  3. Day after publish
  4. Week after publish
  5. Month after publish
  6. Next ____

Efficiency Gained: This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard someone from CoSchedule talk about optimizing your social media schedule. We’ve experienced 3,150% more clickthroughs through this super easy method, and our customers have actually told us this saves them about an hour per post while getting at least 75% more traffic.

Recommended Reading:

10. Optimize Your Shares For The Best Results

The psychology of social sharing tells us that certain types of content tend to draw more social shares than others.

  1. Support the things your readers care about. 84% of people share content that supports a cause they care about.
  2. Help your readers connect with other people. 78% share because they feel the need to connect with others.
  3. Help your readers feel involved. 69% of your readers share because they want to feel involved with people they don’t regularly stay in touch with.
  4. Help your readers define themselves. 68% share content that gives them purpose.
  5. Entertain your readers. 49% share because they found your content fun, interesting, or exciting.

There is even more data that suggests useful content is shared 34% more than anything else. Interesting content trails with 29% more shares, while surprising content get 16% more shares than the rest.

social media performance for blog planning

That same data also hints that social media messages with images get 14 clicks while plain text messages only get 3 clicks. If that’s not enough to persuade you, Buffer saw 150% more clickthroughs by simply including images in their social media posts.

So you can get a lot more engagement with your content by using CoSchedule to share images with your social media messages.

Efficiency Gained: You spend a ton of time creating content. This data backs exactly what Jay wrote about in Youtility—create helpful, useful content that solves your readers problems. When you do it right from the get-go, your readers will actually want to share your content with their audiences. And when you optimize your own social messages to draw on these emotions, you can influence more shares to broaden your reach.

Recommended Resource: Free Social Media Plan Template To Become A Social Media Rock Star

Bonus! Wrap Up Your Blog Planning Process

11. Review What Went Well

There are a few things we do at CoSchedule to understand if what we did was successful or not.

As a startup, we try not to waste any time doing things that aren’t working. So immediately after we publish, I become an analytics junkie and can’t stop looking at these things:

blog planning measurements for success

  • Social media shares.
  • Pageviews.
  • Free content downloads (and email subscribers).
  • Product signups.

Think what you want about some of these so-called vanity metrics, but here’s how I’ve found this all plays out:

Social media shares are a good first indicator of your content’s performance. If shares are high, pageviews are probably high, too. If pageviews are high, it’s likely that the content is converting readers into subscribers. And once readers are subscribers, they are more likely than anyone else to convert into paying customers.

We meet as a marketing team every Friday afternoon to talk through the big wins of that week and the week before. We run through all of these metrics to learn what was successful, then we use that knowledge to evolve the following week.

Yes, we really change a lot of what we do that fast.

Content is data. Making your decisions based on data is the only way to run an efficient content marketing team.

And you can start your research, too, by starting with your CoSchedule social sharing analytics.

Efficiency Gained: Last month, our social sharing analytics from CoSchedule taught us to publish fewer posts with more supplemental content like checklists. The result? 146 more email subscribers in one week. Though your situation will naturally vary from ours, imagine what you could learn by reviewing your content’s success and immediately turning that data into action.

Recommended Reading:

12. Turn Your Minimum Viable Process Into A Simple Workflow

Now that you’ve created content with nothing but understanding who will be responsible for writing, designing, editing, and sharing, you probably learned a ton of things you could do even better.

Now hop into your CoSchedule editorial calendar and use that knowledge to create a simple, task-based workflow for your team. That will remind you to do all the things you just learned to optimize your content.

At CoSchedule, we do this all the time: When we learn a new tip that will help us improve our content’s effectiveness, we just add it as a task in our editorial calendar for someone to do just to make sure we don’t miss out.

Efficiency Gained: Education without action is meaningless. Recently, I read a blog post about increasing blog traffic, and I discovered a simple takeaway: Leave an easy way for your audience to share your content at the end of your posts. We tried it, and it’s definitely improving our social media shares with just a few more shares for every post. My next step is to add that to my workflow to make sure I don’t forget about it.

Recommended Reading:

How Will You Optimize Your Blog Planning Process?

There are tons of ways to do enhance your blog planning process and strip unnecessary elements from your workflow. And you don’t have to take my word for it.

If there is one takeaway (or maybe more of a challenge!) that I’d like to leave you with, it’s this: Review your planning process to understand the bare minimum things you could do to create, publish, and share awesome content. Then learn from that process and build your workflow from the ground up.

Will you take the challenge?

Continue the conversation on our Facebook or Google+ pages.