In this edition of Ask an SEOZach from Wichita writes:
“How would an SEO specialist write a content summary for an industry expert with very little writing experience?
Or how should my business structure its content writing process when we have an SEO specialist, an industry expert, and a content writer/editor? »
Great question, Zach. Before digging into the content summaries, I have a question: Why does someone with very little writing experience do the writing?
Writing is a skilled trade.
Of course, some have a natural talent and affinity for it. But many people would rather get dental care without sedation than have to write an article, blog post, or any other form of content for their job.
Time and time again, I have seen that forcing experts to write – even about topics they are passionate about – fails on all fronts.
Your subject matter expert tends to spend a lot more time on the article than a skilled writer.
Maybe the marketing asked them to. Maybe they’re semi-purchased because they love the thought leadership potential, but they still experience frustration with the writing process.
They are stressed and may even hold a grudge because it is just another task on their to-do list.
So let’s tackle this piece first.
Setting up your topic experts and SEO writers for success
I’ve been writing ghosts for over 15 years. Here’s the first thing I always ask of a new author I’m ghosting for:
“How can I make it easier for you?” What do you want this process to look like? »
Then I’ll ask questions to figure out the best way to get their knowledge and expertise of the subject from their head to mine.
- Have you ever worked on a sketch or even a draft that you want me to get started with?
- Would you like to give me a bulleted list of all the important information you want to see included?
- Do you have 15 minutes to jump on a call and I’ll get your brains?
- Want to send me voice notes? A doodle? Smoke signals? Let’s do this.
The first thing you can do to prepare your 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 a polar expedition brand. For content generation purposes, I regularly interviewed their polar experts. Most of these people have been 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 reaches a phone booth once a week?
How about a penguinologist (it’s a real thing!) who spends months at a stretch scouring Antarctica collecting poo and penguin feathers for DNA studies?
Here’s the deal: whether writing as polar experts, software engineers, C-level executives, SEO thought leaders, or real estate agents (to name a few ), I found that each subject matter expert has their own preferences on how to share this knowledge.
Some experts become too nervous about being interviewed to succeed in a face-to-face conversation on the subject.
Others like nothing more than to discuss their area of expertise.
What is important is that your subject matter experts understand a few key elements of this relationship.
Here is what you, as the leader of this initiative, should convey to the expert, and also incorporate into your shared process:
1. Trust that the writer is there to help.
Dear Sir or Madam Expert: This will not be a presentation. We use one or more writers who specialize in creating optimized content to tell your story in the best possible way.
Their goal is to write an article that matches your level of expertise.
They are literally there to make you look good.
They’re going to save you time and help us get all that super important knowledge out of your head and put it on paper in a way that search engines and readers can discover and enjoy.
2. You choose how we work together.
Do you want to send a plan, transmit articles or research that have inspired you, schedule an interview, share work already published? Let’s do it.
Or do you need help with project management, a video conferencing platform or planning assistance?
We will put in place the resources (budget permitting) to help you tell your story.
3. You have the final say on everything.
Yes, it can be scary giving someone else permission to write for you.
What if they make you look bad?
Don’t worry: As the subject matter expert, you get final approval for anything that comes out on your behalf.
And for you as the leader of this process: make sure that review and approval are truly integrated into your editorial workflow so that this essential step is never missed.
A few quick notes on the process
If we had to boil this down to a step-by-step process, yours might look like this:
- Research the topic and consult with your subject matter expert and SEO team when creating the brief – more on that in a minute.
- Assign the brief to the writer.
- Organize the transfer of knowledge from the subject matter expert to the author.
- The writer creates the first draft.
- Reviews by subject matter experts to ensure the quality of content, depth and all the important information is there.
- If not, there may be a review at this point.
- Once the author and subject matter expert are satisfied, they are forwarded to the editor for review.*
- All other revisions requested by the editor are complete.
- Go time.
*Zach, I noticed you said “content writer/editor” in your question, and I hope that was a typo. They are not the same people.
Your content always needs a second look before publication.
The editor will fact-check the writer’s work, perform copyright checks, optimize for search, ensure content conforms to your brand’s style guide, and edit language usage, tone, structure, etc.
In large organizations, the editing process may involve separate editors for mechanical editing, substantive editing, editing, and proofreading.
Or, a few types of changes can be handled by one person.
What matters is that your company understands what the publishing process entails and that each of these checks are built into it at some point.
This is what it takes now to win in competitive SERPs where expertise, authority, reliability, accuracy, and other qualities of top performing content are table stakes.
Now to your question on how the SEO specialist will create the brief.
SEO Content Tips and Tricks Creative Briefs
I’ll tell you a secret that a lot of people get wrong.
No one cares what you have to say; it all depends on what your audience needs to hear.
Too often, the author receives a brief that is little more than a long list of things that the expert (or more often, his marketing and public relations colleagues) want to say.
- Tell them all our features.
- Be sure to mention these selling points!
- Don’t forget that we won both of these awards last year.
- Can you drop that quote from our CEO in there?
- Here are two case studies you should mention.
That’s how content created by well-meaning companies becomes that guy at the party that corners you and talks about himself and how awesome he is until you pretend to take a bathroom break and you come home early.
Don’t be that guy.
A good summary of content includes a bit of that “here’s what we want to say”.
But it also includes:
- The purpose of the play; what goal you want the reader to achieve or problem you want to solve.
- Notes on the style and tone of the author’s voice, with examples if possible.
- The planned size and length of the piece and whether this is flexible.
- Who your audience is and why they are interested in this topic.
- What will be their learning outcomes or next steps.
- SEO insights on how people are talking about this topic, what questions they have, who else is ranking on it, and more.
- Identified opportunities to achieve snippets or media placement in the SERPs with specifically formatted or structured content.
- Reliable sources of information for context.
Your writer can take that understanding of what you’re looking for, who it’s for, and what it should look like and add all that rich information for the subject matter expert to share.
This is where the magic happens.
Bringing it all together for SEO-optimized, expert-led content
If I had to sum this up in one sentence, my answer to your original question would be this: Get everyone involved in your content creation process doing what they do best.
Don’t force your subject matter experts to worry about a blank screen if they don’t feel like writing.
Don’t expect your copywriters to know SEO inherently; invest in those who do or in training your own.
Don’t ask writers to read your expert’s mind or write PR stuff.
If you want to produce top-quality, expert content at scale, treat your content workflow like a publishing operation.
Make sure all parties have the necessary input; that your SEO insights, business goals, audience needs, and expertise are reflected in a clear writer’s brief.
Then let them do their job.
Support your content creators with an editorial process that will avoid any headache-inducing issues regarding 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 optimized for discovery and conversion from the get-go.
Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO tips column written by some of the top SEO experts in the industry, who have been handpicked by Search Engine Journal. Do you have a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
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