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Content Maintenance Is the New Brainstorm

When I hear the word “brainstorm,” I immediately picture a tornado full of these:

The evil Krang from the kids' cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sits on a blue three-legged stool. He is a giant pink brain with a few tentacles that look like arms, purple eyes, a perpetual frown, and a wide mouth showing a few pointy teeth.
Krang shaped the 80’s kid’s understanding of brain anatomy — unfortunately.

And I just know I’m going to get a calendar invite to an hour long meeting where I’m supposed to come up with good ideas while sitting in a room with blank walls and empty whiteboards.

Brainstorms work — I’m not advocating for their total elimination. I’ve found that the speed-dating style brainstorm works best for my team: write content types or categories at the top of different sheets of paper; hand each member of the team a sheet; and give them three or four minutes to crank out a few ideas. Then call time, shuffle the sheets around, and go another three minutes on your new topic.

But brainstorms are limited. Writers know that to be a better writer, you have to feed your imagination. And studies have proven that creatives drain their mental batteries after about 6 hours of work. So your brainstorm will only ever be as good as your team — and they need to be well-stocked on new material and fresh on their week.

With these facts in mind, how do you find new or relevant ideas for content pieces without tapping a team that’s already spending too much mental energy on answering emails and attending meetings? Content maintenance. Let me explain.

You’ve Got to Maintain to Gain

I double dog dare you to do a Screaming Frog crawl of just your blog, and explain to me why each blog post that exists on your site is valuable. The truth is, we publish as a test, especially during the early phases of growth as a site gains its audience and learns what content that audience needs.

Because a lot of those pieces are experimental, a lot of them fail. Most of the old posts you published when the site first launched aren’t performing well — they don’t garner search volume, no one navigates to them, and they’ve had no social love…ever. As content strategists, we have a valuable cache of content ideas under our noses, but few of us (as far as I can tell) take advantage of it.

Content maintenance involves identifying the pieces that are still actively working in your favor, the pieces that are dead weight, and the pieces that have a kernel of hope.

Steps to Maintain Content

First, take the time to do a content audit on whichever portions of your site are content-heavy. (I recommend breaking them out into categories like “blog,” “sales pages,” “forum,” “support,” etc. so you don’t overwhelm yourself with the entire site at once.) And bonus: I saved you a step — if you took my dare, you’ve already done your URL crawl!

Identify your traffic goals for each piece of content, whether that’s a range of visits, social shares, eyeballs on the page — that’s your call. Just be sure that you define how that particular piece creates value for the site. Then build a sheet of the posts or pieces that didn’t meet your criteria.

For all the poor misfits, there’s a good chance most of them were executed poorly, didn’t receive the social promotion they deserved, or were coming at the topic from the wrong angle.

A small, hairy baby elephant is leaning on their trunk with their front feet tucked under them and their back feet splayed out behind. They look like they've just tripped and fallen in the dirt. A parent's tail dangles beside them, and big play tires are visible in the background.
That moment when you think you are walking and your feet stop working.

Take what you know now about your audience (you have built a few personas, and done some user journeys, and noted trends in customer service queries, right?) and use a little empathy. “If I were one of my own users, what about this piece doesn’t work?”

There will be a few clear answers here, though some of the pieces will be hard to categorize, and some won’t be transparent at all. The most common reasons a content piece fails from a user’s perspective are

  • It doesn’t answer my question.

  • It’s incomplete or not thorough enough.

  • It’s TL;DR.

  • It doesn’t make sense coming from you.

Separate out the wheat from the chaff and don’t be afraid to burn the ones that were terrible ideas to begin with yet somehow made it to the blog.

Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.

Your next steps are that of a good editor: “I read the piece. Here’s what’s wrong with it — why it doesn’t address our audience’s needs. Here’s how we’re going to fix it. And here’s when it will go live again.”

Four progress photos form a large square. Each photo is a top-down view of a sand mandala being created. In the top left photo, a circular board holds mostly yellow sand with a few white lines in it. The bottom right photo is an intricate geometric design in white and yellow sand. The artist's hand and shaping tools are visible in each photo.
Each time you practice a little content maintenance, the more beautiful (and useful) your site becomes.

The key to this content maintenance process is what you do afterwards: track the pieces you salvage, note the changes made to them, record publication dates, and follow up to see how they did. And your team will thank you for being resourceful rather than draining their poor, overstormed brains again.


Previously published on Medium.

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