Content Workflows: Key to Better Content Creation

content workflows

Content creation has become one of the most important marketing tactics for both B2C and B2B. This guide includes information about the end-to-end content marketing process — including content strategy and management — and provides the blueprint for building a manageable content creation workflow that improves quality, enhances collaboration, and scales as your strategy grows. 

If you’re more interested in zooming into the content creation workflow, skip down to that section using the jump link menu.

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Content plays a crucial role in marketing

Most businesses today create original content as part of their overall marketing effort. Large and established companies will likely have well-developed content strategies and processes in place. SMBs and startups may still be developing their content strategy and building their content workflows, but they also recognize that future growth depends (in part) on their ability to compete as content creators. 

Consider some recent statistics that highlight the prominence of content in marketing strategies:

78%Businesses identified “content creation” as the most important factor in marketing success
70%Marketers actively creating content as part of their overall marketing strategy
63%Marketers identified “content creation” as their biggest challenge
61%B2C marketers that identify “content creation” as their top investment

What’s behind the push toward content marketing? There are a couple of reasons why more businesses are prioritizing content than ever before including:

  • ROI. Content can be one of the most cost effective marketing channels available. Long-form content in particular has the potential for longevity, which decreases cost per click (CPC) and cost per acquisition (CPA) over time. 
  • Web traffic. Content that performs well in SEO brings new traffic to your website and generates leads for your sales team. 
  • Brand exposure. Content that is helpful and informative gets shared across social media and raises brand awareness. 
  • Trust and authority High quality content builds relationships with potential customers and establishes the brand as a reliable source of information. 

Content marketing: an analogy

Another way to think about the importance of content marketing is through a fishing analogy. Professional fishermen may use the highest quality rod and reel, select precisely the right bait, and choose the perfect weather conditions and location to catch a fish. But no matter how skilled they may be, they will still catch only one fish at a time. 

Content marketing is more like fishing with a net. Fishing nets are complex and take time to craft; but once finished, they can capture many fish at once. And while a net may sometimes capture things that aren’t fish (or at least not the right kind of fish), a net will generally provide a higher ROI than fishing with a rod. That’s how content marketing works.

Content management: an overview

You are here to learn about content workflows. Before we get to that, let’s quickly review the end-to-end content marketing process. This will help us understand where the content workflow fits into the overall process, and how it relates to other subprocesses and marketing activities. (Feel free to skip ahead to the section on content workflows if you prefer.) 

The overall content marketing process includes four basic phases: planning, production, coordination, and management. This quick overview of the end-to-end content process should shed some light on how the content creation process relates to other activities in the content marketing cycle.

PlanningContent needs to be planned and strategized. This phase requires an understanding of the business goals and KPIs, as well as research into target audiences, content types, keywords, and competitors. Activities may include taking inventory of existing content, identifying personas, building an editorial calendar, and creating a production schedule.
ProductionOnce a content plan has been established, content goes into production. This typically includes writing, editing, and publishing content, although additional tasks may also be required. See the detailed example of this workflow template below.
CoordinationContent may be published as an article or blog post, but it may also be used in email campaigns, promoted on social media, or used to support other marketing activities. Orchestrating how content gets used and distributed is an important part of the overall content strategy.
ManagementOnce content is completed, published, and shared, it should be monitored for performance, measured against KPIs or benchmarks, reviewed regularly, and revised as needed. Insights gleaned from managing current content can then be used to calibrate future content strategy.

Each phase of the content creation process can be broken down into specific workflows. Workflows are the way we organize people, tasks, and tools to achieve a specific outcome. While there are specific workflows for each phase of content management, the remainder of this article will focus on the content production workflow.

What is a content workflow?

A content workflow is the sequence of tasks that must be completed in order for a content asset to be produced. Each type of content — blog posts, articles, gated assets, webinars, videos — may have its own workflow depending on the steps and approvals required. It’s important to keep this possibility in mind when it comes to the tools you use to manage your content workflows. If your team produces different types of content, you may need the flexibility to adjust or customize individual workflows. 

Content workflows, like all other workflows, include a few basic elements: 

  • Actors (people or systems that perform the work)
  • Tasks (work or related activities)
  • Information (data and documents)

Content production workflows are also defined by boundaries. These should have a specific starting point or trigger, and they must have a result or outcome. Anything that takes place between the starting and endpoints is a part of the flow. For example, a content workflow could be triggered by a request from someone in demand gen or corporate marketing. The outcome may be achieved when an article or blog post is published. 

Defining the start and outcome boundaries makes it easier to track and analyze progress, generate reports, and configure dashboards that give your team more insight and control over the content workflow. 

Learn more about workflows by visiting our articles on the basic components of workflows, how to create a workflow, or the essential features of a workflow management system.

Example content workflow template

No matter which kind of content your team is creating, the workflow will likely resemble the following eight-phase template:

  1. Request received
  2. Review existing content
  3. SEO and research
  4. Outlining
  5. Writing
  6. Editing
  7. Publishing
  8. QA
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Phase 1: Request received

Requests for content may come from team members, consultants, agencies, or other departments. Typically, a request will originate from your content strategy plan, but it’s possible for someone outside your team to put in a request for a piece of content to support other marketing activities. For example, if your company is planning a new branding initiative or drip campaign, you may receive a request for a new article, blog post, or gated asset to complement and support those efforts. 

Common challenges: managing high volume of content requests, missing information

Capturing and tracking content requests from multiple stakeholders can be frustrating, especially if those requests are communicated through email or in passing conversations. This situation can be exacerbated if those requests are coming from outside your organization. 

When requests come from different players, key information may also be missing or incomplete.

Solution: public forms and/or shared inbox

A standardized form can provide access to your request pipeline and make sure that all relevant information is included in the request. Forms can be restricted to your team or company, or they can be made available to external stakeholders. Requests received through the form can be automatically routed to the appropriate party for approval, or automatically added to the production queue if certain conditions are met. 

Shared inboxes can also add visibility and control to content request management. A single inbox that provides access to your team can make it easier to view and assign requests as they arrive. 

See how a marketing request template can simplify and organize your content requests
Try the Template

Phase 2: Review existing content

Once you’ve identified a content need — either from your content strategy or from a request — you will want to review your existing content library. For companies with few content assets and smaller websites, this will be straightforward. For businesses with more complex content libraries, this review may take a little more effort. 

The point of reviewing your existing content is three-fold. First, it makes sense to see what other assets you may have in order to avoid duplicate work. Second, a quick review will also prime your writer for correct positioning and messaging. Finally, reviewing related content can lay the groundwork for your cross-linking strategy by identifying pages that should link to (or be linked from) your new content.

Phase 3: SEO and research

Most of the time your content will require some research. At a minimum, you will want to look at keywords and SEO opportunities to give your content the best chance at ranking and earning traffic. It’s also a good idea to take a look at competitors or other content that’s currently ranking well for the topics and keywords you’re targeting.

Common challenge: skipping this step

Content team members who are crunched for time or up against a tight deadline might be tempted to skip this step. This is especially true if they are already familiar with the content topic. When it comes to content performance, even a little research can go a long way to making content more relevant and discoverable in search.

Solution: setting rules

Some content workflow management tools will allow you to set rules or requirements for steps such as this one. By setting a rule, you prevent content from moving into the next phase of production until some information has been added. In this case, you could require data on target keywords or a list of top performing URLs from competitors.

Phase 4: Outlining

Writing high quality content takes time and effort. Creating an outline prior to writing can help ensure the content aligns with the overall content plan and user intent as evident in the search results. When content writing is outsourced, marketing teams may want to review and approve outlines before contractors or agencies move forward with writing.

Phase 5: Writing

Whether or not an outline approval is required, the next step in the content workflow will be writing the content. Typically a set period of time is allowed for writing to be completed, whether it’s done in-house or outsourced.

Common challenge: managing deadlines

Keeping an eye on deadlines can be a headache for busy marketing teams, especially when content is being produced for multiple channels and from multiple content creators.

Solution: automations and dashboards

Look for a workflow management tool that allows you to automate notifications and/or email alerts for items that are approaching or are past their due date. If you’re managing lots of moving pieces, configurable dashboards can also quickly and easily highlight the status of works in process and any items that are approaching their deadline.

Phase 6: Editing

Now that the first draft is ready (either from you or someone else), it’s time to review. 

The editing phase is critically important. For teams that work with multiple writers or agencies, messaging, positioning, and tone will likely need to be reviewed and aligned. In some cases, the marketing team will want to complete a fact-check to make sure the content is accurate before it’s posted to their website. After all, it’s their reputation that’s on the line. Adjusting CTAs and adding images may also take place during this phase. 

Items that require revisions will be returned to the writer for additional work. 

Common challenge: approvals, missing elements

Once content has been reviewed by an editor, it may make sense to require a formal approval before it is published. This helps bring accountability to the content workflow and ensures content quality and consistency. Approvals can require extra work, so look for ways to make this step as easy as possible. 

In some cases, editors will find that important elements of the content are missing from the draft. For example, some editors may prefer to have CTAs, images, and internal links identified in the draft. 

Solution: automation, rules, reports

Items that are ready for editorial review can be automatically routed to the editor or reviewer, and notifications can be configured to let them know when an item is pending their review. This helps prevent bottlenecks and/or items falling through the cracks. 

Rules can be implemented in the workflow system that require writers or editors to identify content elements such as CTAs, image copy, or SEO elements such as meta descriptions and slugs. In addition to making sure these elements are completed prior to content being published, reports can be generated that make it easy to see how CTAs and other elements are distributed across multiple content assets.

Phase 7: Publishing

After content has been reviewed and edited, it is ready to be uploaded into your CMS and published on your website. The steps in the publishing workflow will depend on the tool or platform your team uses. Integrating your content tools with your workflow management software can make it easier to track and monitor this phase of the process. 
Common integrations include WordPress for content publishing, as well as social media apps such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter for sharing content once it has been published.

Phase 8: QA

Once content is published live on your website, you may want to require a QA phase in order to make sure that the content renders as intended and that there are no broken links, typos, missing CTAs, or other issues with the live page. Usually a quick review, the QA phase can identify and resolve any issues that might prevent your content from performing well. 

Note: some teams require the QA phase to take place prior to publishing, and other teams require QA prior to and post publishing. How (and when) you QA content will depend on your CMS, your editorial process, and your team’s capacity.

See how a content marketing template can help your team move beyond spreadsheets
Try the Template

Improve your content with workflow management

Although no two content workflows are the same, most of them do share a common structure, similar phases, and common problems. Effective workflow management can minimize or eliminate many of these issues:

Reliance on spreadsheetsWorkflow template, drag-and-drop interface
Missing informationForms and rules
Delays or missed deadlinesAutomation
Lack of visibilityDashboards and reports

A workflow management system with the right features can resolve these common issues and help your team build a content production process that stays on schedule while enhancing the quality and consistency of your content.

See why more companies choose Pipefy to organize and automate content workflowsWhy Pipefy

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