From Ideas to Execution: Crafting a Bespoke Content Creation Process

Content Creation Process

I recently developed a content creation process for eCommerceFuel. In my first three months, I built a process that satisfies two primary responsibilities:

  1. Synthesize the most useful content for our existing members from the internal eCommerceFuel Forum
  2. Publish blog content that will attract 7- and 8-figure eCommerce businesses and encourage them to join the forum

There are a surplus of moving pieces involved in research, strategy, and content production, so I devised a process to help me juggle multiple projects at the same time — without compromising quality.

That's because our target persona (7- and 8-figure business owners) demands very high quality content. If we expect to continue attracting the best and brightest to our community we have to hold our site up to a high standard. And, to ensure it remains consistently relevant, we still need to publish at least once a week.

Here, I'll share how we've created eCommerceFuel's new content creation process from scratch.

Content Creation Process

Step 1: Brainstorm Problems

The first step is actually one of the most fun. I get to interview users, read through the forum, ask our email list, and talk with subject matter experts about the biggest problems eCommerce owners face.

When looking for search engine optimization (SEO) keywords to focus on, it's best to start with real problems first. Worst case scenario, you'll solve an issue that matters to your base (and potential customers), even if Google never ranks your article very well. .

Once created, content can easily be repurposed in new ways, including:

  • newsletter ideas
  • social media threads
  • content upgrades
  • lead magnets

Content Ideas Spreadsheet

Ask Your Email List

One of the easiest ways to get feedback on legitimate hurdles facing our membership is by asking our email list. About a month ago we asked our email list what they’re most interested in and received two dozen responses.

I spent more than two hours going over these submissions, categorizing them, and responding to users. To my delight, I saw mention of a content idea I was already exploring and made a note to email the user once it’s published.

Content suggestions sent in from our email list
Some of the suggestions we received from our email subscribers

Watch Out For the Curse of Knowledge

Every expert in the world suffers from the curse of knowledge. It is a cognitive bias that causes experts to overlook the knowledge gaps and perspectives of average users. In short, when you know something, it's exceptionally hard to imagine not knowing it.

So don't assume you know what users want.

Real users provide firsthand experiences and perspectives that uncover actual pain points which experts often miss. 

Often I set up an interview with a user and expect to talk about a particular subject. But as the conversation unfolds it leads into discussions of bigger problems I hadn't considered. This happened a significant portion of the time — 30%-50% of my interviews. And this is a boon, because some of our best content has come directly from user suggestions.

Stick to Problems You Can Solve

Your audience’s problems are always true (at least for them and where they are in their journey).

But that doesn’t mean you're the right person to solve every problem they have. It doesn't make sense for ECF to write a Migrating to Shopify post — it's just not our bailiwick. There are other developers and agencies who are far more knowledgeable on that topic than we are, and much better positioned to write a well-ranking article about it. 

Take in as much input as you can, but consider what you choose to take from it. You may only use 10% of the ideas your audience gives you. Every idea is useful to at least one member of your audience, but only some of the ideas will be useful for your business's goals and objectives.

I like to start with at least 25-50 problems which are inspired by my audience.

Step 2: Initial Keyword Research

If you’re writing content, but you don’t care about SEO you can skip this step. But since most people creating digital content do, I'm putting this right at the beginning a step two.

Amateur SEO researchers will focus on a keyword's traffic volume, meaning how many people are searching for this term. That’s a great start but there are two key numbers you’re looking for when you’re doing keyword research:

  1. Volume (estimated monthly volume)
  2. Keyword difficulty

Volume matters because that’s all of the potential people who might click to read your article. 

Keyword difficulty also matters because if you aren’t getting onto page 1 you’re probably not going to get much if any of that traffic. And some terms and topic areas are much more competitive.

As an example from ECF: SEO & Financing Inventory are two important topic areas for us. 

“Ecommerce SEO” is an incredibly competitive keyword term.

ecommerce seo Keyword research

We’re not seriously going to go after “ecommerce seo” because it’s very challenging to rank for. We may potentially decide to cover this topic eventually, but it would be purely from the angle of helping our audience — not for ranking.

On the other hand “ecommerce financing” is much easier to rank for, and still has decent volume.

eCommerce financing keyword research

We only need links from 11 websites to get into the top 10 results for this keyword. That’s manageable.

I wrote the eCommerce Financing: How to Grow Your Business When You Need Cash article based on both what our users asked for and the keyword SEO volume and difficulty. This post is currently ranking in the 16th position without any link building campaigns. 🌟

eCommerce Financing ranking data

Don't Be Discouraged By Keywords With Low Traffic or High Competition

If there aren’t enough people searching for your keyword it’s probably not a good use of your marketing time or budget. Move onto the next idea.

Identifying highly competitive or useless keywords is a blessing! You saved yourself weeks of work planning, scheduling, writing, editing, optimizing, and tracking content that’s not going to do much for your business.

Last month ECF did initial keyword research for a topic and found the problem we assumed was a huge issue for scores of people only has 10 searches a month. 👎

It’s just not worth our time to go after such a low amount of searches. We only sunk a few hours into research and confirmed it was a road we didn't want to go down.

Step 3: Create Content Brief

Many writers skip their content brief and jump straight into writing an outline. If you’re working for yourself that’s probably fine. But if you are working with a team you want to agree on a direction ahead of time.

That’s what a content brief is. It’s a map that covers what you want to talk about, what the framing should be, if there are any important resources to link to or from, and if there are any topics to avoid.

Research The Problem

The content brief is where you should collect all of your research. At ECF we start by researching our own community forum to understand what our members are saying about the topic. Then we do some competitive research to see if they included an angle or point we didn’t consider.

Based on information we gather, we suggest themes, topics, and points for the writer to include in their article. 

We make suggestions in the content brief, but they're not requirements. I might spend two hours putting together a content brief but a writer can spend 8-20 hours writing a full draft. If they identify additional points, or one of my suggestions doesn’t fit I trust their judgment.

Here’s what the research portion of a content brief looks like:

Content Overview for How to Optimize Your Amazon Listing

Dive Deep into Keyword Research

The content brief is also the place to do more in-depth keyword research. In step two we verified there’s at least one keyword that has enough volume for us to be interested.

The next part of SEO research is coming up with a few variations on that keyword. Sometimes when you start writing you realize the topic goes in a slightly different direction than you initially thought. That’s when it’s useful to have a few alternate keywords.

For a recent Amazon post I gave my writer one target keyword and two alternate keywords.

SEO & Keyword data

In this specific case, while reviewing the outline (Step #5) we realized we have a ton of content about Amazon SEO and not a ton about optimizing your listing. So we pivoted and split the topic into two articles. The first on Amazon SEO and the second on the original topic optimize amazon listing.

By having a few alternate keywords ready you have a backup plan for when a topic is too big, too complex, or just goes in a new direction.

If you don’t do this you may have to rush the SEO research process or the writing process and produce lower quality work. I’d rather do an hour or two of work ahead of time to make sure we have some alternate SEO keywords. 

As a bonus, if we decide not to use these keywords you can use them as inspiration for future pieces of content.

Verify Search Intent

While you’re collecting a few alternate keywords it’s worth verifying the search intent. That means you shouldn’t assume what users mean when they type in “counterfeit products on amazon”. 

I originally assumed that it was Amazon sellers trying to figure out what to do about counterfeit products. But upon pulling up the search engine results page (SERP) it’s not clear. It could be sellers looking for what to do. But it’s also Amazon investors, consumers reading articles about the largest retailer, and other scenarios I don't know about.

Search engine results page (SERP) for "counterfeit products on amazon"

This is a muddy SERP. It’s not clear what the user is searching for. 

Once we dug into the SERP we realized that around 30% of the searches are merchants. So even though the keyword has 300 monthly search volume it’s realistically only 100 merchants. That's an ok number, but not as good as 300 monthly searches. 

So, we decided to punt this piece. We’ll may come back to it at some point. But we have more important and pressing topics on the plate in front of us to waste resources on a keyword with unclear search intent.

Step 4: Assign Writer

We have a team of freelancers who are eCommerce experts as well as members of the ECF community who run their own stores and enjoy writing. 

It’s important to assign a topic to a writer with a natural aptitude. For very crunchy pieces I typically assign Patrick Mulligan, who is a store owner and has done this math for his own business.

For really long pieces that need visuals to explain complex concepts I typically assign those to Courtney Newport who excels at design and visual hierarchy.

When I started building this content creation process I asked each writer to select three topics from a list of 12. This helped gave them some agency right from that start, and gave me a better idea of what content might align with their natural skill set.

And yes – I assign two articles a month to myself! 🙋 I try to tackle one long piece and one short piece. The shorter content usually covers something I’m doing at ECF, such as re-engaging a cold email list. And the long content is a deep dive into a forum topic that needs clarity.

Assign writers their topic at least one month before the completion deadline. That should give the writer ample time to complete their piece, including outline review and drafts. But be sure to plan time after their submission date to request revisions and fix any issues before your publication date.

Step 5: Create Outline

Every writer’s process is different so I don’t force any sort of structure to the outline. Some writers have minimal outlines and others have lots of details included.

The main point is to review the outline for flow. Do they address the problems in a logical order? Did they miss any critical points? 

The point of the outline is to make sure the writer understood your content brief and started paddling in the right direction. If they’re paddling in the wrong way, you can course-correct before they've sunk hours of time into an article you don't want. The earlier you notice the better.

Typically I expect an outline within a week.

Step 6: First Draft

The first draft is usually the hardest part for writers. I’ve always been a believer in the shitty first draft. Getting through the first draft without any concern for quality helps me finish it faster. 

Ultimately, done is better than perfect, so I rarely criticize writing quality at this point.

When a first draft comes across my desk I review a few key areas:

  • Flow: Does each section logically connect to the next section?
  • Context: Should we explain a concept or should we link to another website to explain the concept?
  • Graphics: Could a complex concept benefit from the use of a graphic as explanation? 🖼️
  • Visual hierarchy: Are there large blocks of text? If so, I suggest we break those up with bold, italics, bullet points, and pull quotes.

There’s no point writing quality content if users aren’t going to read the whole article. Editing the first draft makes sure that this piece is structured in a way that a user can get through the entirety of the piece, understand the core concepts, and have next steps to take.

Find a Unique Angle, Perspective, or Data 🛡️

On the first draft I also make sure the article has have a unique angle, perspective, or data that we can share.

In the age of AI content, anyone can easily copy our content, spin it, and get something with 70% of the quality up on their site in less than an hour. That’s why it's important more than ever to ensure we have something unique to ECF in the article.

We’re lucky to have a plethora of information in the forum and successful store owners in our target persona that we can poll for information. We can also quote these in-the-trenches experts in our articles. 

A unique angle or piece of data protects your content from direct copy and makes you a source for high-quality information — which gets links to your content, boosting it even more. 💡

I typically give writers one week to edit the first draft and deliver the second.

Step 7: Second Draft

The second draft is usually 98% complete from the writer’s perspective. This is usually the fastest edit and doesn’t require much more work from the writer.

I primarily check for:

  • Copy edits: Correct for proper nouns and capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and grammar.
  • Internal linking: Confirm there’s at least one internal link to another post on the site.
  • Call-to-Action: Make sure there’s a unique CTA at the end of the post
  • Community protection: Check that we have permission to use quotes from people in the forum. If not, we change their name to “ECF member.”

Create a Formula for CTAs

The goal of these articles is to help our users and attract new users to the forum. We can’t do that without a CTA. A compelling call to action is crucial. Without it, the article is only doing half of it’s job.

But I can’t personally write every CTA. So we made a formula — something any of our writers can follow:

  1. Create a heading with the number of relevant forum discussions on the topic.
  2. Write a paragraph that sums up the article.
  3. Finish with a sentence that contains two CTAs. One should link to an application, and the other should link to an ECF landing page.

For the heading, they can should start with a search on the forum. For a topic related to “Amazon” you can see we have over 3,000 discussions.

eCommerceFuel Forum categories

Writers should be able to sum up their article on their own well enough, but I tell them exactly where their CTAs should link.

Here’s what a complete call-to-action looks like.

eCommerceFuel call to action

Unless the writer forgot something I will usually just make edits directly and let them know when I’m done.

Step 8: Load into WordPress & Forum

The final step for the writer is to load the post into WordPress and the forum.

Loading an article into WordPress and the forum takes 1-2 days.

If you want to make sure your post looks correct on the front-end, it can take a little while to load the post into WordPress. Realistically you can expect at least one technical complication (like the blockquotes aren’t working) and that can slow down the process, so it takes up a full day.

With the community forum you also have to make sure you’re tagging and quoting users correctly so the quotes automatically refer back to the original post.

With a short 1,000 word post this doesn’t take long but our posts are often 3,000+ words. 📚

Step 9: Publish or Schedule Post

The writer is 100% done at this point. The rest of the responsibility is on me.

I typically have the post in WordPress a few days to a week before the post is planned to go live.

This gives me time to check these final details:

  • SEO Keyword: Confirm the keyword set in Yoast is correct.
  • SEO Optimization: Try to get a 🟢 rating in Yoast for SEO.
  • WordPress structure:
    • Add a “read more” tag
    • Add Yoast Table of Contents
    • Add a featured image
  • Slug / URL: Create a short & meaningful slug (URL)
  • Meta description: Use ChatGPT to write a meta description

The most important step is the SEO keyword and setting the slug. Once you set a slug you really don’t want to change it. If you mis-categorize a post you can easily change categories. But if you have a bad or ugly URL, those are hard to fix and old URLs can be indexed by Google, creating a bad experience for your users.

This step takes ½ of a day.

Step 10: Share

Phew! Getting any 3,000 word post across the finish line is a huge win. 👏 Give yourself a pat on the back and get a coffee. ☕

Once you’re done taking a break it’s time to share the post. This is important to help new users find your content and attract links from other content creators.

I try to share content in the morning. So I might spend the day before creating all of the content so I can share it on several platforms the following day.

Here’s an excellent example from Courtney, one of our writers:

The most important metric is reach. Getting likes and retweets helps, of course. But reach is what we really want when we immediately launch a post.

Step 11: Log Keyword

Right after sharing the post I add its keyword to our 2023 project in Ahrefs.

This empowers us to track the keyword and, more importantly, shows us aggregated stats of all of our keyword progress for new content this year.

I’m a fan of tracking your website keywords as an overall (focusing on all keywords you’ve ever worked on) as well as on a yearly basis. This is around 3 months of work and we’re just getting started. In the next 6-9 months, I'm planning to double down on the keywords that immediately popped.

Keyword data for 3 months of work

This is the final step after publishing the article.

The rest of the steps are technically follow ups a few weeks after publication.

Step 12: Check Indexing [Follow Up]

A week after publishing the post I like to check in Google Search Console.

Sometimes Google has trouble discovering and indexing your content. If you’re not able to find yourself in Google you might not be indexed.

We noticed this issue with a few of our new posts. I was expecting our Amazon post to do really well right out the gate but for weeks it didn’t seem to rank at all.

Finally, I went to Google Search Console and noticed that the page wasn’t indexed at all. 

URL is no on Google error in Google Search Console

And I actually noticed an additional five pages that also weren’t indexed properly. I clicked “Request Indexing” and within a week all of these pages are now discoverable. 🙌

Always keep a close eye on Google Search Console! I’d recommend a monthly check. You’d be surprised how often you can catch an issue before it becomes a huge mess.

This step is currently aspirational for us. We do add links from other posts if it’s easy to edit them in. But if it requires adding a paragraph or two for context we don’t spend the time on that.

We're currently more focused on producing a large volume of thorough guides (like this one!). But we are keeping a list of older content to be updated and will link to new posts when that happens.

If you are going back through old posts to add links Clearscope has a great SEO webinar about internal links.

My top two takeaways are:

  • Vary your anchor text. 🔗 It will help you rank for more keywords
  • Include your internal links towards the top of your content. They’ll be more impactful there. 📈

Final Thoughts: Content Creation Process

Content creation plays a vital role in driving growth and engaging audiences. At eCommerceFuel, the focus is on delivering high-quality articles to attract 7- and 8-figure eCommerce businesses. 

We developed a content creation process to maximize output without compromising on quality. 

By prioritizing user needs, proactively researching keywords, and setting the direction of each piece with a comprehensive content brief we make content that resonates with our audience and ranks well in search engines.

If you’re thinking about establishing your own content creation process, reach out. I’d be happy to help you build a process optimized for your business's needs.

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