“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” – St Augustine
Since starting my work at Grid Concepts, I’ve been amazed at the sheer level of thought that goes into the management of time – both for ourselves as a digital content agency and for the clients that work with us.
Maybe it’s because my day job at GC involves organising articles, blogs, videos and social media posts into actual calendars, which we use to schedule the actual timing briefings, content development and the uploading of new content online.
Maybe it’s because the sheer pace of the work involved is quite new to me, and I have a newfound appreciation for the time and timing of other people and businesses.
Or maybe it’s just that I bill my services by the hour now!
Long story short, I now know that time is precious in the digital marketing world.
Today, I want to think through some of the ways that time and content interact in this world, and how a good content development plan can help you optimise the quality and timing of your own work as a digital marketer.
4 scenarios where timing and content development intersect
To produce high-quality online content, we develop strategies that organise real people and – importantly – the actual day-to-day work that content marketers undertake.
This can take many forms, depending on the needs of the client. But each situation requires time management skills, and each can be approached with a smart content development solution.
I can think of four real-world scenarios that bring time management to the foreground:
- The client needs fresh and timely content developed according to a schedule.
- The client is looking to optimise their existing website SEO score and relies on an agency to audit and repurpose their web content.
- The client is actively creating new content, but relies on outsourced content writing from an agency or contracted writers.
- The client is the primary ‘voice’ of their own marketing, and are more directly involved in the day-to-day production of content and communications.
For each of these client scenarios, there is a clear goal – produce the most engaging and user-relevant content that we can, working with the team (or teams) that we have.
But you can see how each scenario places different demands on the content development process.
Some scenarios require planning and scheduling for the actual writing of content, while others will involve working with partner agencies and individuals to get new SEO-friendly content onsite.
Some will involve direct engagement with the client, and with information architecture and publishing schedules of real web properties on a day-to-day basis.
Luckily, I’ve got access to some of the best practical SEO research available – the website auditing and analysis that my colleagues provide for the client.
This means that the content side of things is clear – we start out with a strong sense of the topics and questions that will motivate new traffic to the client, and build quality links between these topics as new content gets published over time.
But writing, researching and publishing content still ‘takes’ time, and indeed actual work.
So I want to explore how this time-taking is organised, and how certain tools and techniques can help you schedule your work across these different scenarios.
A good digital content plan organises resources, topics, work and time
Like any good project management solution, a digital content plan handles different resources and positions these resources towards certain identifiable goals.
One of these resources is time, which typically gets counted as billable hours for any number of employees, contractors and agencies.
The challenge: how do you organise these resources (including web assets and internal research) to secure the highest-quality content while also reducing time costs (and actual costs) for yourself and for the client?
The first and best way to organise this work will be to consider what you have at your disposal already. Where does your client rank for relevant SEO terms? What kind of topics do they cover in their existing content? How does this compare with what audiences are looking for online, and what competitors are doing to attract that traffic?
With these ideas in hand, you can begin to plot the necessary deliverables in a Content Calendar. These calendars don’t need to be super complex at first, but they do need to take into account the expectations of the client and the budgeted time to be spent on the work.
I often start with something like this:
And begin plotting the deliverables by their expected or agreed-upon date.
From there I can work backwards to see when I can approach the work involved, and the time it will take for other parties (especially content writers and subject matter experts) to complete their side of the work.
This planning can include tasks such as research and briefings, new content ideas and, of course, quality assurance and SEO optimisation of the finished product prior to publishing.
The value of a good enterprise and project management tool
One this practical content plan has been mapped out, it’s a smart idea to plot your deadlines and milestones in a good project management software.
This is crucial when you’re working in an agency context, and need to coordinate your work with colleagues. My recent crash course in the Contentools platform has taught me the value of planning your content well in advance – luckily, I had some experts on my side to bring me up to speed quickly!
And another tip: even if you’re tracking your progress in an enterprise tool and other company-approved platforms, you can always take some time to organise your own work with a more straightforward personal project tracker like Trello.
A bit of double-handling with these time factors across different platforms can save you a ridiculous amount of time in the long run. And ensuring clear expectations and consistent delivery within these time constraints is the best strategy for keeping work and time costs down for the client.
What then is time management?
I’ve quoted St Augustine’s question about time at the start of this article, because I’d been thinking about it a lot while solving various day-to-day scheduling challenges at work this month.
Augustine settled on at least two answers for his question “What then is time?”
- an objective conception of time, as measured by the ticking of clocks or in the movement of celestial bodies (24 hours in a day, etc); and
- a subjective version, expressed in our everyday experiences with the present, our memories of the past and our anticipations for the future.
I reckon that a good content plan captures both sides of this equation – we use calendars and milestones to organise people and ideas, to create content that genuinely captures the attention and anticipation of the reader. Or, if you prefer, their ‘clicks’.
Still, the challenges involved in bringing this process to life are many and varied, and you’ll no doubt encounter new challenges that can throw your time right out the window. The point is to be prepared for this as early as you can, and to build content plans that are both timely and realistic for the client.