Online publishing is accessible to most people nowadays. It’s easy to grab a domain, install WordPress or other CMS on a server and start creating content. You don’t even need that to build a thriving online publishing business, as thousands of Instagram or Tik Tok influencers can easily prove. But, whether it’s a one-man operation or a big corporation, one thing common to all successful online publishing operations is that they have a strong editorial workflow.

What is an editorial workflow

Editorial workflows are established and documented processes that define how a publication will create, edit, publish and manage content. This document is important as it affects all the team members involved in the editorial process, from content strategists and writers to SEOs, photographers, illustrators, video editors and social media teams.

An editorial workflow also affects your capacity to implement your content strategy successfully, populate your editorial calendar and meet deadlines. So there’s no single way to develop an editorial workflow. It must be tailored to your publishing needs and your team’s capacity.

Having a solid editorial workflow in place is a key element to help you meet your goals for your content. It’s the blueprint that allows for the implementation of a plan.

Why do you need an editorial workflow

Having a solid editorial workflow in place has several advantages for an online publishing operation of any size:

  1. Content quality and/or quantity will be significantly improved. Editorial workflows will allow you to increase the quality and/or quantity of your content. Depending on your objectives and goals you could optimize your workflow to prioritize publishing fewer but more impactful content, or focus on covering lots of topics at the expense of not reaching the highest possible quality.
  2. Reduce operational inefficiencies. Working without an established workflow means that for every single piece of content you’re either developing a process as you go or reusing a process that may not be the best fit. This produces operational inefficiencies and wasted time, which has a clear revenue impact in the form of missed sponsorship and advertising opportunities for not being able to meet deadlines.

The thing that you need to remember is that, whether you know it or not, you already have an editorial workflow. It may not be a documented and established process, but it’s the way you’re conducting operations.

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It could be something as simple as reporting > writing > publishing, or it could be something more complex, involving edits, SEO and promotion. But the fact remains that your team already uses a workflow.

So the first action to optimise and improve that workflow is to document it. How?

  1. Sit down with your colleagues and collect a list of steps and actions within each step. Don’t just focus on creation, but expand it to include content strategy, topic ideation, research, promotion, or governance. In short, don’t focus just on content creation, but on the whole lifecycle, from idea to update, deletion or merge.
  2. Assign ownership and a timeline for each step of the process. This exercise alone will allow you to identify bottlenecks, parts of your publishing process that lack resources or expertise and prevent your publishing operation to perform at the best of their ability. For example, you could identify that there are too few team members responsible for editing and publishing video and that’s impacting your ability to produce more videos for your social media channels.

Other things you’re missing without a documented editorial workflow are when a step is skipped, and how often. You could also assess whether this workflow is followed by everyone or if different departments follow different processes.

This kind of disorganization that comes from not having a documented editorial workflow process has a toll in time, energy and results.

Having clear, documented workflows with defined and balanced responsibilities for all team members will allow you instead to:

  • Have a clear editorial process they can follow every time to produce content. Workflows can be tailored for types of content and media. A long-form article, a sponsored post and a short social media video will not follow the same workflow necessarily, but each time you want to produce a video, you’ll have a clear consistent plan you can follow.
  • Clarify responsibilities and deadlines for each step in the workflow. Designing a workflow with your team will allow you to set realistic expectations for them to complete their responsibilities in the allocated time.
  • Facilitate increasing content output. Having visibility over the workflow and the resources needed for each step can allow you to scale your operations easily, knowing where to put additional resources to avoid chaos and confusion.
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Key steps for a strong, SEO-focused editorial workflow

Each publisher needs to find the editorial workflow which is best suited for their content, goals and resources. While there are best practices and common ground between different approaches, each process can be different and will be optimised to achieve different goals.

What we present here is our approach for an editorial workflow focused on SEO results following a topic cluster strategy.

  1. Research and plan the topic pillar and topic clusters. This is the strategy phase, in which you look for the topics that you want your site to rank for in search engines. This stage involves a lot of keyword research, to balance search volume and keyword difficulty. With this information, you can map out your content pillar and the different topic clusters with supporting topics.
  2. Assign roles in the production. Knowing the scope of the project now it’s the time to assign resources to content creation. Knowing who will do what will allow you to build a content calendar where you can balance how fast you can produce quality content that people will be interested in.
  3.  Content creation. This is the part where content is developed, in two separate stages:
  4. Produce a brief. Expanding on the keyword selected and the topic idea that will target that keyword, the brief would address items like what’s the target audience, which internal links should be included and what should be the angle of the article. At this stage, it is useful to incorporate tools like MarketMuse or SurferSEO to help you craft SEO-oriented articles that also meet the audience’s needs.
  5. Develop content for distribution. This is an optimization stage, using schema or other formats which will allow it to reach a wider audience.
  6. Publish. The moment of truth. In this stage, we include not just the act of making the content go live on the site, but also any promotion strategies that you can use to enhance discovery by your audience.
  7. Adjust and optimize regularly. Content can’t be published and forgotten. A governance stage must exist where it is regularly reviewed. During these reviews you can take one of these 4 actions: leave as is, adjust and optimize, merge and delete or archive. Inaccurate or outdated content can be damaging to your brand.
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Considerations for an optimized editorial workflow

Any workflow can be improved or adjusted to conform to your goals and editorial approach. There are some considerations you should include in your planning to make sure your workflow is as solid as possible:

  • Produce guidelines for the different formats that are needed for your content strategy. Each format will need different guidelines. It’s not the same to write a blog post than to write a podcast script.
  • Have checklists that the editorial team has to follow. If possible, divide each step into checklists so that the process is clearer and there’s a proper handoff between colleagues.
  • Identify gaps or what content can be reused. Look at your existing content to work smarter and identify which topics your audience is interested in but you’re not covering and also which content you have already covered and could be re-worked, expanded, or updated.
  • Schedule time to revisit old content for optimisation and performance improvements. As we said, you probably have a lot of content published already. Working on improving your existing articles and making it more evergreen, or updating and expanding it can be a quick and easy way to improve your performance.

A solid editorial workflow can have a big impact on your performance

Whether you’re a one-man operation or an established company, whether you focused on an obscure niche or a more popular topic, having a documented editorial workflow can help you optimize your publishing process, eliminate inefficiencies and scale your operations without causing disruptions. But the fact is, you already have an editorial workflow, even if you don’t know it. By identifying your current editorial process you can work on developing a new workflow or optimise the existing one to make sure it allows you to reach your full potential.

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