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Online content, especially written materials like blog posts, is a necessity for any business interested in selling on the web. It’s crucial for SEO, for building customer relationships and for making the case for any product or service you want to sell.

It’s obvious that you’ve got to invest time in your content.

What is less obvious is how much time you really need to devote to a content strategy. I hate to be the person who tells you that it depends, but the simple truth is that it does depend. If you’re prepared to put in other resources (like money), you can always cut back on the amount of time you’re spending on content. If you’ve already got clear demographic information about your customer base, you can reduce the amount of time you spend on research for your content strategy.

But There Are Some Figures that Can Point You in the Right Direction

The big chunks of time that are necessary for developing truly successful content can be broken down into the following:

  1. Research and Planning: You need to do a lot of preliminary work to make sure that you’re creating the type of content that will get you the results you need. Furthermore, good planning can reduce the amount of time necessary to actually put together content. A well-researched ebook doesn’t actually write itself, but it does go a lot faster.
  2. Content Creation and Editing: To get content out there, you do actually have to create content. It’s easy enough to outsource a lot of the work, but you’ll at least need to plan to review it. It’s also important to think about what goes into creating specific types of content. A blog requires a different level of work than a promotional video than an ebook.
  3. Feedback and Analysis: There are always improvements to be made, in any type of marketing. Working with online content offers plenty of opportunity for iterative improvement, provided you can spend time on the project.

There are certain general rules that you can work with when thinking about the sort of time you need to budget for writing content.

Content Creation is a Skill

The first important rule is that if you don’t write or create content on a regular basis, it will always take longer. If you write a blog post once a week for the next year, you’ll write much faster at the end of the year than you do now.

As a professional writer, I track my projects fairly carefully. I can write 500 words in a thirty-minute block. It took several years to get to that point and I consider 5,000 words to be the extreme upper limit of what I’ll plan to write in a day. Writing really is hard work. I also track the people I work with on a more limited basis. Many newer freelance writers will write closer to 1,000 or 2,000 words over the course of a couple of hours. Many business owners who are focused on writing one 500-word blog post a week for their websites can wind up sinking six hours into the process. You can already see that there’s a big difference in the amount of time different writers could allot to a project.

Both research and feedback have somewhat tighter ranges: provided you know what you’re looking for, it takes less practice to get the information you need to make decisions. Actually putting together a strategy quickly can be tough when you don’t have experience in the field, but it’s not impossible to iron out a year’s worth of strategy in a week or two even if you’re working mostly from the understanding of what your clients want, rather than experience with content strategy. Of course, training can bring that time frame way down, as can out-sourcing.

If you’re planning to keep your content strategy entirely internal, I’d suggest trying to spend a day a week on it, not including devoting some time to reading up on content strategy.

A Side Note for Other Formats

You’re looking at my numbers right now and wondering if you can cut them in half by doing video or audio content. Setting aside the fact that written content is consumed more widely online (both by search engines and by human readers), I want to warn you against making assumptions.

Sure, you can shoot a quick little video on your phone and have it up on YouTube in a matter of minutes. It’s going to be incredibly informal and unpolished. That may not be insurmountable, depending on the demographics you’re targeting. But you’re going to at least face technical issues, like the fact that no matter how good a smartphone you have, you’re not going to come out with a great recording — you’re going to have weird sound issues.

To do video and audio content that will really help your business, the time frame is actually usually longer than for written content. That’s because you’re likely going to need a written script before you even start shooting. It’s preferable to do multiple takes and have a specialist edit your files so they look like the professional content you need in order to make sales or cement relationships.

I’m not saying that you can’t take an informal approach to your content — but informal isn’t the same thing as unprofessional. If you want people to send you their money, either today or eventually, you need to look trustworthy and professional.

Make the Time or the Budget

The importance of online content is continuing to grow. You need to invest the time in getting building your business’ content. Even if you can’t afford the time to do it all in house, if you’re operating your own business, you need to be in on the planning and feedback stages, for your own good.

Image by Flickr user Ken Teegardin / SeniorLiving.org