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…the journey continues.
I’ve decided that my monthly updates will include the following sections: lessons learned, stats, milestones, and questions. Going forward I’ll write about something I learned during the month (lessons learned section) at the beginning. This month I learned more about how to set up a content ordering process.
Let’s get into it – but first, here’s the short version (because I have a major problem with writing too many words):
TL: DR; & Summary
I’m making an authority site out of one of my “simmer sites” that I’ve had for over 9 years. I’ll only focus on content for the first year – with a goal of 400 articles by next September. 80% of content will be informational & 20% will be affiliate content. The end goal is 1500 articles at the end of year three. The “Finish Line” for this project is a valuation of $1M.
October 2021: I published a total of 46 articles (but only 13 “counted”), earned a couple of dollars and got just over 800 pageviews to my posts. I’m feeling even more optimistic this month as I refine my process and prove to myself that I can do it.
Things are gaining traction with this site…
Lessons Learned: Building a Content Creation Process:
Up until this project, I’d only conceptually created a content ordering process for publishing “at scale”. I put that in quotes because scale means something different to everyone, but for me it meant doing more than 2-3 posts each month. Which is the most content output I had done prior to starting this project.
So, publishing more than 20 posts, or even 50 posts, in a month requires a totally different process than I had envisioned. I had to develop a whole content strategy that works for me & is practical… not just conceptual.
My Current Content Production Process
While the concept is simple in theory – it’s basically: research keywords > order content > write >pre-publish > optimize, edit & format > publish > repeat (my ROW-POP acronym) – I found that in practice it’s a bit harder to do when you want to ramp up production, but still do everything yourself (the never-ending role content creators play when they’re also the business owner)
This past month I would come up with content ideas, then order content (4-6 articles). Then I would create more briefs and order more content until I got a few returned. Once the content came back, I had to edit and format it before publishing. Since my process is just me playing all the parts currently, when I’m editing and formatting, I can’t do briefs or ordering, and vice versa.
I quickly noticed that this created a feast & famine cycle. As soon as I’d get the content back, I’d start editing – which would inevitably take more time than I had allotted. Because of this, my pipeline of incoming content would dry up and I’d have to go back to creating briefs and ordering.
It was a terrible process and didn’t maximize the small amount of time I have each day to work (I know, I know, I need to outsource… but, as I said earlier, I think my money is better spent right now on content.).
To maximize my efforts, I had to break everything down, again, and look for ways to schedule small tasks that can be done each day that will move the needle over time. If the monthly goal is “X” then I needed something to do each day to get me closer to the goal.
This is the grinding that I talked about earlier…
What I realized is that if I build up a pool of keywords that are ready to go, as well as a pool of content that is published, but ready to edit & format, then I can work on the same things each day and this will create the conveyor system that gets mentioned around here.
My Content Output Schedule
For now, I only block out time for this project on weekdays – any work I do on the weekend is just “bonus”.
Each day, I start out with an hour of work after I drop off my kids at school. During this hour, my goal is to create briefs and order 2-3 articles. If I’m ordering 2-3 articles a day, then I *should* essentially get 2-3 back each day after a few days (accounting for Turn Around Time (TAT) from the writers).
This should give me between 40 and 60 articles each month coming back.
In addition to this, I spend an hour or two after the kids go to bed formatting and editing at least 2 blog posts. As mentioned earlier, I pre-publish all the content as soon as I get it back. So, it’s live on the site and aging. After I edit and format it (to my “No Crap” standards) the date gets updated to the current date and it’s considered done & gets moved to the “data collection phase” of the process.
This just means that I take a look at it in 6-12 months to see how it’s performing, and I’ll update again depending on what I find (more detail will come later about that).
This should give me around 40 articles published each month. It takes me about 20 minutes to update basic content and around 60 minutes for a pillar piece – many days I can publish 3 or more.
*Pre-Publishing & The “No Crap” Mantra
Publishing an article for this project has 4 parts: Proofreading, Editing, Optimizing and Interlinking. After I get a post back from a writer, I proofread it quickly and ensure that there aren’t any obvious spelling or grammar issues, or any errors or omissions form the content (like saying something is green when it’s actually blue…). Then I pre-publish it on the site. This usually means backdating it to the first of the prior month.
I reserve the WordPress post date of the first of each month for content that has been edited, updated or pre-published. Any content that gets “published” will get posted on any day except the first.
This just helps keep me organized for doing my monthly tallies and knowing where content is in the process.
Once I get around to “editing” the content, it may have aged for a couple of weeks, but hopefully no more than five. When I edit, I’ll look for places to add my tone/voice and add any content that I know supports the article topic. This is when I write the intro as well. I have various content formats I assign and follow so there’s structure to the content I publish.
It must flow well and take the reader to the conclusion while being in my voice.
After an editing pass, the post moves to the “optimizing” stage of the process. This is where I discovered I’m wasting time…
Houston, I have a problem
If I’m committed to my “No Crap Gets Published” mantra, then I have an issue here. This part of the process was taking me one to two hours for even basic content. I was almost rewriting whole sections and, on average, was adding 1400 additional words to each piece of content.
Doing this at scale wasn’t going to work.
I read a post on the FatStacks forum where someone said they realized that they (I’m paraphrasing here) suck at picking the winners and the losers out of the content they publish. An article they thought would perform well didn’t and likewise something they just thought would “fill a gap in the topic” ends up bringing in a few thousand pageviews each month.
I think we’re all in this boat to some degree – and I experienced a similar thing when doing t-shirts for my POD business.
If we can’t pick the winners, then we need to give each piece of content a fair shot. BUT, since we also can’t pick the losers, we can’t spend too much time on each one trying to make it perfect.
Since I don’t know if my time spent getting my article to 100% Awesome will be worth it, I recognized that I had to quantify when something is good enough and learn to live with that being “not crap”. I settled on 80%. If I think an article is 80% of the way to being perfect, then I have to be satisfied and move to the next one. Pareto has been right on this stuff for way too long to ignore…
Here’s what 80% looks like for me:
- Edit/proofread – one quick pass.
- Add intro = 100-200 words that’s personalized (I only add a table of contents to content over 2500 words)
- Add sections / glaring omissions = only important stuff that has been missed
- Minimum of 80% score on Frase.io (this is where I add keywords & sections that the AI says I need) – takes the most time but has shown good results.
- Add images – 1-2 minimum per article for now.
- Publish (update the date)
- Request Indexing
That’s it. I try and limit myself to 20-40 minutes per post.
This must be the way.
As listed above, once an article has been “optimized” I add images, publish and then request indexing in GSC. I don’t do any promotion at this stage – at some point in the future, I’ll start scheduling social media posts and other ways to get links/traffic. But not yet. It’s a distraction until I get more words up – IMO.
The images all get a watermark (a little about this below) and alt text.
That’s it, that’s my whole process that I created during this month. It took actually doing the work to realize how it needed to be structured and where I needed to speed things up. I’m glad I’m doing this myself because I’m learning a lot about how to make it fast but still publish quality at scale. This will payout big once I start outsourcing my parts.
It was nice to get a holistic view of the content workflows. This will ensure I get the type of content, at the quality I want, published quickly.
Before the stats reveal, I think I should also touch on a few things I learned about creating content workflows.
Things to Consider when Ordering Content:
Here are a few things to consider when outsourcing content (whether to a freelancer or an agency):
- Freelance vs. Content Agency – both have pros and cons. If you have the time to manage writers and individual timelines, a freelancer is usually cheaper than an agency. But an agency will handle a lot of the administrative “B.S.” so you don’t have to. But they usually cost more and take longer (YMMV).
- Cost – Pay too little and you may get junk back (plagiarized, AI-written, word salads) pay too much and you’ll go broke before you make anything back. It’s a balancing act.
- Experience – how long have they been writing or how long have they been in business? Can they handle bulk orders, little direction, or various types of content? These are some of the questions you should consider.
- Niche Expertise & Content Types – are they versed in your niche (or is it a hard niche to write about if you don’t have experience)? Can someone do a little research and find the answers they need to write the articles you want? You’ll pay a higher price, usually, for niche expertise. But is that worth it to you? Can the writer create the types of content you want?
- Turn-Around Time (TAT) – You may find someone who fits all the criteria you need from the above points – but if it takes them 4 weeks to write an article, is it really worth it? You need to know how backed-up the writers/agencies are. Most of them are pretty loaded currently.
I would love to find some niche expert freelance writers for my sites that only charge 3 cents a word, but I haven’t been able to do that yet. So, I’m stuck doing a mix of freelance writers and content agencies.
Before you outsource any content, you need to establish what you want to get out of it. Is it more time, is it reduced cost or is it a shift in management? Each goal will have a combination of solutions, but it’s good to know what you want before you start outsourcing.
I learned that I was constantly underwhelmed by the content I was getting back until I started ordering at scale and from there was able to figure out what was wrong in the past – in my case, I was trying to pay too little for content and not giving a detailed enough brief. I was expecting a lot out of writers who weren’t paid enough for what I was expecting. Part of it was level-setting my own expectations.
If you pay a bit higher price you can often get better content with less detail on the frontend – so it’s a balancing act. But if you have really good briefs, you can sometimes get back good content, at a low cost, because they just have to “fill in the blanks”.
During the past month, I found that the writers on WriterAccess had good TAT. Most everything was coming back to me within 4-5 days for each article. It’s also cheaper, in some cases, to get quality content if you have detailed briefs that they just have to follow. But some writers still didn’t deliver on time or that great of content… So you need to watch it and block/cull the writers that don’t perform.
WordAgents is a content agency that I’ve used for the past year – but only like 20 articles over that time. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the content I get back since starting this project – I’ve gotten 90 back already. They do this for a living so my directions can be vaguer. A lot of my “low priority” content goes to them as bulk orders. It’s literally a spreadsheet with the type of content, word count goal, target keywords, secondary keywords and a few details. They run with the rest (including editing, plagiarism checks and revisions).
However, WordAgents TAT has been 10-12 days currently. Plan accordingly.
I’ve been happy with the results from both. I’ve found what content should go on each platform and how much work I need to put in to get back the content I want. I’ll probably keep using both for the future. And in the meantime I’ll look for more freelancers that are in my price range and know a little about the niche.
I think that’s enough about the content creation process.
What else did I do in October?
I know I said I was only going to focus on content for the next few months, but there are a few things that I had to do to ensure I’m on the right track with this site. I didn’t like having everything undone – because I am getting some traffic already.
Created a Logo
I know it’s not necessary and could be considered a waste of time, but I spent some time this month creating my brand identity collateral.
What does that mean in English? It means I created a logo, icons, headers and variations of each for light and dark backgrounds. I also created a few designs I could use on hats, t-shirts and other swag that I’ll have on the site in the future.
As I mentioned earlier, this is going to be a brand that I’m proud of, so I want to wear my own swag when I go to events in my niche. This also forms a cohesive brand on all platforms including YouTube when I start publishing complimentary video content for the best-performing articles.
Since this is what I do with my POD business, it didn’t take me too long to create everything. I’ve been thinking about the logo for a few years, so I knew exactly what I wanted – I just had to do it. It only took me about 4 hours to do everything on a Saturday (I had to do the weekend because that’s one of the few times I can focus for that long on my side projects).
Sadly, that was near the end of the month and my time would have been better spent publishing content that had already been pre-published – but I made the choice and I’m happy with the result (of the logo, not the lack of published content).
Setup Lasso & Link Whisper
Since I wanted to have the ability to add affiliate links in nice boxes on my info content, I needed to finish setting up Lasso. I did that this month.
I also spent a little time putting some keywords into Link Whisper so I can get better link recommendations as I add more content. This is an on-going project and isn’t done. But I did spend some time on it.
Created a Template on Canva
The whole reason I created the logo when I did was because I wanted to add watermarks to the images I include in each article. This helps the visual content side of things.
Because this is a niche I participate in, I use many of my own photographs for my articles. (I’m a bit of a subject matter expert because of this which speeds up the content creation process and helps with content marketing – In a future update I’ll explore my ideas around picking a niche).
So those don’t get stolen (too much) without attribution, I wanted to watermark them with my logo… that’s what started me down that path.
Once the logo was done, I created a featured image template and some in-content image templates in Canva. This way I can upload my photos, or stock images, and download a formatted and branded image quickly.
It wasn’t necessary, but I like the feeling of “completion” I get from adding a branded image to a post before hitting publish.
Okay, I’m done talking about what I learned. Here are my stats for October…
Results for October:
See my past post that explains the difference between Published & Pre-Published content.
- Pre-Published Articles: 33
- Published Articles (Not Crap): 13
- Total Published Words: 20,282
- Pageviews (note: I don’t count traffic to the homepage or category pages): 816
- Revenue: $3.70
- RPM: $4.53
- Content on Order: 3
- Words Banked: 129K Words
- WordAgents: ~98,000 words
- WriterAccess: ~31,000 words
- Expenses: $25** (total investment budget is $20K – once I hit that I have to work on my own or fund content production from revenue)
- Valuation: -$20K @37X (it’s less negative now!)
I don’t want to overlook this fact: I published 46 total articles on my site in October! That was with everything else going on in my life and with my “process building”. I think I should be able to do well in November and going forward – even with the holidays looming.
**a quick comment about expenses; In September I had planned on splitting my portfolio expenses based on my focus – so this site would have gotten 50% of my expenses. I decided that wasn’t fair. Going forward I’ll just allocate the portion that applies to this site specifically.
- Articles Total: 37 (over 25 milestone)
We were so close to having a few more milestones reached in October. There over 70 articles published on the site but I’m not counting 33 of them yet… If I could have just stayed up later for a couple of nights, we would have been there!
If I stay on course, I should have over 100 posts on the site by next month.
The total pageviews in October were over 1300 but since I don’t count the homepage or category pages, I had to deduct a few (and yes, I’m already excluding my own views in GA). That was disappointing, but we’re still heading in the right direction.
I also had one day with traffic over 50 pageviews and it was 42 cents in revenue. So, I’m inching closer to that 50-cent day!
Goals for Next Month:
- Published Articles: 57
- (Preview): I already have 42 articles ordered as well as 5 of my 33 pre-published articles completed in the current month – things should be awesome.
I think that’s enough for now.
Until next time…