While there’s an endless supply of articles and posts about what it takes to be a good content strategist or content marketer, and an agency creating content around every corner, there seems to be a notable shortage of articles about what it takes to run a content company. Now, we’re not about to share our trade secrets here either. But we thought it would be interesting (or incredibly boring, depending on your point of view) to write a rundown of the tools we use to get our work done every day. Since our work spans content strategy and content creation (with a heavy emphasis on web writing), our tools, technologies and resources are a pretty diverse lot. And then there’s everything we use on the back-end to keep the business humming along.
Bearing in mind that it’s never really about the tools you use but how you use them, here are the technologies we literally can’t work without. For the TL;DR crowd, feel free to skim for links.
Many of our client engagements begin with a content inventory — a full, quantitative look at every web page and piece of content they’ve published. This process allows us to understand the scope, scale and structure of the client’s web presence, while correlating content assets with key metrics related to traffic, time spent, bounce rate, and so on. Clients are often surprised to learn that their websites have grown to be much larger than they assumed (one client was sure their site housed no more than 25 pages of content, when our inventory identified nearly 300) or that assets that have aged and long since become irrelevant are still accessible if you know where to find them. CAT (Content Analysis Tool from Content Insight) automates the process of crawling the site and integrates with Google Analytics to capture the data we’ll need. From there, we pull a .csv into Excel where we can format, massage, filter and sort to produce a client-friendly report that sets the stage for additional audit and strategy work. We’ve looked at other tools, like Blaze, but for our purposes CAT hits the right balance between helpful and simple.
The content audit is the content inventory’s sexier sister. Our audit process tends to focus on a representative sample of the client’s site (where the inventory catalogs every single page) and scores each page (or sometimes content elements within the page) based on a proprietary set of 15 measures related to content usefulness, usability and alignment with the client’s own content strategy — a strategy that we’ve often had a hand in developing (from editorial mission statement to standards to voice and tone). The scoring system is our own and our main “technology” is good old fashioned brain power, then we present the findings, insights and recommendations in PowerPoint.
CONTENT STRATEGY FORMULATION
For the core of our strategy process, there’s no technology that can replace rigorous thinking, client collaboration and a structured process that results in a clear, consistent, properly documented content strategy (or content marketing strategy.) For the most part, our methodology, exercises, tools and techniques are our own, but we’re not too shy to say that we’ve also borrowed (and built upon) the fantastic thinking and useful templates found in two indispensable content strategy books — Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web and Meghan Casey’s The Content Strategist’s Toolkit.
When it comes to full-fledged, omni-channel editorial calendars, we’re experimenting with SmartSheet — a “spreadsheet simple” collaboration tool that comes with a pre-baked but customizable content calendar template. Otherwise, when clients hire us to author microcontent for their social media presences, a homegrown Excel content calendar does the trick.
When it comes to content for the web, we’re big fans of GatherContent — a well-thought-through tool by which we manage the entire process of website content creation, from structure to writing to review, revision and approval. Plug-ins for common content management systems like WordPress and drupal as well as an open API allow our agency and development partners to import our content directly into their designs. A huge improvement over the traditional ink-on-paper copy deck in terms of both form and function, and an invaluable tool whenever we’re involved in a website revamp.
GatherContent looks like a great way to manage the production of other types of mid- to long-form content — white papers, ebooks, blog posts, newsletters and more. But as of right now, we tend to write these in Word or Google Docs.
CONTENT CURATION & SOCIAL PUBLISHING
We’re not a social shop per se but when our clients call for content strategy for social media, that work often bleeds into management of an ongoing content curation process and a role in content publishing/distribution. A fully-loaded Feedly, Rallyverse and BuzzSumo help us discover and choose third party content that’s suitable to share; and Hootsuite Pro is our publishing tool of choice. This same setup serves us well for our own company Twitter too.
The very same SmartSheet platform we use for editorial calendars provides us with our project management backbone. We put together and publish detailed project plans to guide complex client engagements and give our stakeholders a live window into where we are on their work. And internally, we maintain a living task list that keeps Amanda and me in-synch and on track.
ALL THE REST
If you’re made it this far, you must be really interested in what it takes to run a content consultancy. Or you’re a masochist. So here’s the rest of the rest…
- Dropbox and Google Drive, both for file storage and sharing.
- Basecamp, on occasion when clients or partners use it.
- Microsoft Office, which you no doubt gathered from above. We run both Mac and PC here and our clients are mostly PC, so Office keeps everyone comfy.
- Google Apps for Work powers our email and calendars.
- Quickbooks Online for all the fun accounting stuff.
- WordPress for this site.
- Grasshopper for our toll-free number and incoming call routing.
- Skype for — well — Skyping.
And that just about does it. I’m sure it goes without saying that there are plenty of other great tools out there. And what works well for us right now, may not work for you — heck, they may not even work for us a year from now. But for a shop our size, offering the services we offer to the clients we serve, they not only let us get the job done. They let us get the job done well.
If you’re doing content work at an agency, consultancy or in-house at a company, what are your go-to tools? Drop us a note to let us know how you manage your content business.