In this edition of Ask an SEOZack from Wichita writes to us:
How does an SEO specialist write a content brief for an industry expert with very little writing experience?
Or how should my company structure the content writing process when we have an SEO person, industry expert, and content writer/editor? “
Great question, Zack. Before we dive into the content summaries, I have a question: Why would someone with little writing experience type?
Writing is a skilled profession.
Sure, some have a natural talent and affinity for it. But many people would rather get dental work done without anesthesia than have to write an article, blog post, or other form of content for their work.
Time and time again, I’ve seen forcing subject matter experts to write—even on subjects they care about—fail in every respect.
Your subject matter expert tends to spend a lot more time on the job than a skilled writer.
Marketing may have asked them to do so. Perhaps they are almost completely bought in because they love the thought-driving potential but still struggle with the frustration of the writing process.
They are nervous and can become resentful because this is just another task on their to-do list.
So let’s tackle this piece first.
Preparing subject matter experts and SEO writers for success
I’ve been writing likes for over 15 years now. This is the first thing I always ask of a new author I fancy:
“How can I make this easier for you? What would you like this process to look like?”
Then I’ll ask questions to see how best to extract their subject matter knowledge and expertise from their heads and into my own.
- Have you ever worked on an outline or even a rough draft that you wanted me to handle?
- Want to make me a bulleted list of all the important information you want to see listed?
- Do you have 15 minutes to jump on a call and I’ll pick your brains out?
- Want to send me voice notes? doodle? smoke signals? Let’s do it.
The first thing you can do to prepare subject matter experts and writers for a productive and collaborative relationship is to give them the freedom to define their own processes.
I used to create content for the Polar Expeditions brand. For content creation purposes, I regularly interview polar experts. Most of these people worked on Arctic and Antarctic expeditions for a good part of the year.
Have you ever tried to interview a polar bear researcher in Russia who only uses a payphone once a week?
How about a penguin scientist (it’s a real thing!) who spends months at a time circling Antarctica collecting penguin poop and feathers for DNA studies?
Here’s the thing: Whether writing as pole experts, software engineers, C-level executives, SEO thought leaders, or real estate agents (just to name a few), I’ve found that every subject matter expert has their own preferences on how to engage those Knowledge.
Some experts get too nervous about interviewing to do well in a face-to-face conversation about the topic.
Others love nothing more than to chat about their area of expertise.
What is important is that subject matter experts understand a few basic things about this relationship.
Here is what you as the leader of this initiative need to convey to the expert, as well as include in your joint process:
1. Trust that the author is here to help you.
Dear expert sir or madam: This will not be a revelation. We bring in writer(s) who specialize in crafting content optimized to tell your story in the best way possible.
Their goal is to write a post that matches your level of experience.
She’s literally here to make you look good.
They’ll save you time and help us get all that knowledge of the super important topic out of your head and onto paper in a way that search engines and readers alike can discover and appreciate.
2. You choose how we work together.
Want to submit an outline, forward some articles or research that inspired you, schedule an interview, and share previously published work? Let’s do.
Or do you need project management help, a video conferencing platform, or help scheduling appointments?
We’ll put resources in place (budget permitting) to make it easier to tell your story.
3. You have the final say on everything.
Yes, it can be intimidating to give permission to someone else to write like you.
What if they make you look bad?
Don’t worry: you, as our subject matter expert, get the final approval on anything that comes out in your name.
And to you as the leader of this process: make sure review and approval is already built into your editorial workflow so you never miss this essential step.
Some quick notes about the process
If we were to boil this down to a step-by-step process, your process might look something like this:
- Research the topic and consult with the topic expert and SEO team at Feed Creation – more on that in a minute.
- Assign the brief to the writer.
- Arranging for the transfer of knowledge from a subject matter expert to a writer.
- The writer creates the first draft.
- Subject matter expert reviews to ensure content quality, depth and all important information.
- If not, there may be a review at this point.
- Once the writer and subject matter expert is satisfied, it goes to the editor for revision. *
- Any other revisions requested by the editor are completed.
- Time goes.
*Zack, I noticed you said “content writer/editor” in your question, I hope that’s a typo. These are not the same person.
Your content always needs a second set of eyes before publishing.
The editor will check writer’s work, perform copyright checks, refine search, ensure content aligns with your brand’s style guide, and edit it to use language, tone, structure, and more.
In large organizations, the editing process may include separate editors for mechanical editing, subject editing, copy-proofing, and proofreading.
Or, one person might deal with a few types of modifications.
What matters is that your company understands what is involved in the deployment process and that each of these checks is built into it at some point.
That’s what it takes now to win in competitive SERPs where experience, authority, trustworthiness, accuracy, and other qualities of top-performing content are the stakes of the table.
Now, to your question on how to create an SEO specialist’s feed.
Tips and tricks for creative SEO content feeds
I’ll tell you a secret that a huge number of people make mistakes.
Nobody cares what you have to say; It’s all about what your audience needs to hear.
Often, the writer is handed a brief that is little more than a laundry list of things the expert (or more often, his colleagues in marketing and public relations) wants to say.
- Tell them about all our features.
- Be sure to mention these selling points!
- Don’t forget that we won both of these awards last year.
- Can you leave that quote from our CEO there?
- Here are two case studies that should be mentioned.
This is how bona fide corporate-generated content becomes that guy at the party who’s hooking you up and talking about himself and how awesome he is until you pretend to take a bathroom break and come home early.
Don’t be that guy.
A good content feed includes a “here’s what we want to say” part of that.
But it also includes:
- the purpose of the widget; What goal do you want the reader to achieve or what problem do you want to solve.
- Notes on the author’s style and tone of voice, with examples if applicable.
- The desired shape and length of the piece and whether that is flexible.
- Who is your audience and why do they care about this topic.
- What will be the learning outcomes or next steps.
- SEO insights into how people talk about the topic, what questions they have, who else they rank for, and more.
- Opportunities to achieve featured snippets or place multimedia in SERPs have been identified with content formatted or structured in specific ways.
- Reliable sources of background information.
Your writer can take that understanding of what you’re looking for, who it is, and what it should look like and add all that rich insight a subject matter expert should share.
This is where the magic happens.
Bring it all together for expert-curated, SEO-friendly content
If I had to wrap this up in one sentence, my answer to your original question would be: Get everyone involved in your content creation process to do their best work.
Don’t make subject matter experts worry about a blank screen if they don’t feel like typing.
Don’t expect your writers to know SEO by nature; Invest in those who do or in their training.
Don’t ask writers to read an expert’s thoughts or write PR.
If you want to produce high-quality expert content at scale, treat your content workflow as a publishing process.
Ensure all parties have the necessary input; That your vision of SEO, company goals, audience needs, and expertise are reflected in a clear writer’s brief.
Then let them do their thing.
Support your content creators with an editing process that prevents any headaches over copyright or other errors that could harm your brand.
The results are worth it when you have a steady stream of well-written, expert-led content that’s optimized for discovery and conversion right out of the gate.
- How to create an editorial calendar for content marketing
- Managing Freelance Writers: How to Find, Train, and Retain Top Talent
- Content Marketing: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners
Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, hand-selected by Search Engine Magazine. Do you have a question about search engine optimization? Fill out our form. You may see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
Featured image: Shutterstock.com/Zofot