Does your company’s content marketing process start at writing? It seems like a natural place to start, and obviously writing is an important part of the process–but if that’s where you’re starting every time, you could be missing out on opportunities to create better content that reaches further. Below are ten things you can do before pen ever touches paper (or rather, fingers touch keyboard) to create more effective content marketing.

1-5. Research (lots of it!)

Research is such a huge, vague topic that I’ve split it up into five sub-sections–you’re probably doing some of these, but not all:

Keyword research is probably already a part of your content marketing strategy. If it’s not, it certainly should be. The idea is to find keywords that people are already searching for and work those into your article, making your chances of being found via search engine much better in the long run. We’ve got a step by step article on using keyword research and SEO when planning your content marketing strategy, to get you started.

But make sure you’re digging into the overall topic, and not just the keywords. Look at the context of the topic in the larger industry. Look at recent events. This can help you take the keywords you’ve got and create a fresh, compelling spin on it. If you’re stopping at keyword research without going this extra step, you’ll probably have a hard time breaking through the noise.

Look at what others have done. This will come naturally from researching into the topic as a whole. By looking at what others have done, and the accompanying social shares and comments on those posts, you can learn about what audiences are reading and want to read. Conversely, by looking at the articles that are on similar topics but don’t have very many comments or social shares, you can see that something about that article didn’t quite fulfill a need.

Think about how you can do it differently. This step, again, comes naturally from the one before it. If you’re looking at a successful post, read it carefully. What could you add to that post? What do you think was the weakest area of it? If you’re looking at a post that wasn’t successful, look at what it was missing. Basically, think about how you can one-up the content that’s already out there.

And make sure you can cite your sources. Being able to back up statistics and studies that you cite makes your article (and thus, your company) more credible, well-reasoned, and trustworthy. I know that, personally, I’ve become curious about a statistic before, gone to find sources for it, and wasn’t able to…which then makes the original article (and its writer) seem suspect.

6. Compile influencers

This isn’t something you’ll want to do with every single post–at least, not with the same influencers. But, as you’re thinking of a topic, you can think of people with large audiences (and credibility to go with them) who might be interested in either being quoted in the article, or in reading the article.

Almost everyone is willing to be quoted–the key is being specific with your questions. Instead of emailing someone and asking what they think about content marketing, for example, ask them what their top three tips for small business owners just getting started with online marketing are. That’s much easier to write a quick response to. And when people are quoted, it makes them look good, so if you send them a quick link to the article once it’s live, chances are they’ll share it, helping the article gain traction.

For the other tactic, don’t just email anyone and ask them to share your article. Instead, maybe seek out a few key people who have curation as a large part of their brand; people who regularly post link round-ups at their sites or send them out via email. Again, keep it short and sweet. Aim for 3-5 sentences–just tell them you thought it might be of interest to their audience (and why), one or two things their audience might learn from it, and thank them for their time.

7. Brainstorm the perfect headline

The headline is often an afterthought, but it can make or break a post’s success. Instead of coming up with one or two options to choose from, bring your team together with this list from Buffer and come up with a headline option for each formula. It’ll be hard, yes, but you’ll have a much larger list of headlines to choose from, your chances of having a highly clickable headline are higher, and you can slightly adjust your article to match the headline you come up with.

8. Think about social media

You’ve probably already got a social sharing schedule in place, but now it’s time to go one step further. Instead of just thinking about how the article will be tweeted three times on the day it goes up at times X, Y, and Z, go a step further.

Using plugins like Ivy from Filament or SumoMe, you can make it easy for people to highlight and share bits and pieces from within the post itself. Once you’ve installed the plugin, it’s up to you to make sure little pieces of shareable content are worked into the article. Make sure you’ve got a few choice quotes that clock in at less than 140 characters–less than 100, if you want to leave room for the link and your username. Then, when it goes up, highlight those sentences and tweet them out, so that they’ll be highlighted for future readers. Boom: instantly boosted social shares.

9. Outline

Outlining might already be a part of your writing process; if it’s not, add it in. Outlining lets you not only write the article quicker, but it gives you a chance to change the structure of the article and spot any omissions. It also gives you a good place to note down where tweetables (see step 8), quotes from influencers (step 6), or well-researched statistics (step 5) should go, letting you collect all of that ahead of time so that when it’s time to write, you can just…write.

10. Create a larger purpose for the post

You’ve got an idea for one post–which is great. But can you make it more than that? Can you create a post before and after it (or just two posts after it), and turn it into a series? Will it be able to be repurposed into other content? Thinking about this before the fact, instead of after it’s already written, can let you spot small tweaks to make now, that make it easier to get more mileage out of this post later.

That’s a lot–do I have to do this every time?

You don’t have to do every single one of these every single time, but incorporating two or three into your pre-writing content marketing process can make a big difference. The idea is to keep your company from falling into the dreaded “we’re blogging because we have to” trap.

As with everything, we don’t suggest going in blindly. Try picking 1-3 of the above, incorporating it into your next round of content marketing, measure the results, and see what happens. If the results are better than your average, keep the tactics. If they’re the same or worse, don’t. Either way, keep experimenting–because that’s how you find something that works.

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