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Content Strategy

My #1 Tip For Writing Roundup Posts That Don’t Suck

By May 27, 2021No Comments

Roundup posts are all the rage.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to create content, and roundup posts give you two strong benefits:

  • You’re leveraging others for your content research and blogging creation
  • You’re leveraging others’ audiences for your content promotion and social media audiences

Problem is, most content roundup posts are totally useless due to poor planning, curation, and execution. 

This post will show you how to salvage the tactic and make roundup posts great again.

What is a Roundup Post?

A Roundup Post is essentially a “roundup” of thoughts or links from other sources. This typically breaks down into two types:

  1. Expert roundup
  2. Content roundup

In an expert roundup, you feature quotes and contributions from as many experts on the topic as you can. These are typically curated in either a listicle format or weaved into the piece journalistically. 

In a content roundup, you’re featuring a list of the top sources for a given topic. This could be the “top Twitter influencers to follow” or the “best content marketing articles this week” or the “best cannabis blogs to follow in 2021.”

The main difference between the two types is the first category requires relationships and outreach, whereas the second type relies only on your own research and categorization.

Both are easy to write, and both suffer from the same problem: lazy execution and low information signal. 

Expert Roundup Post Examples

Expert roundups have risen in popularity recently. 

The idea comes ostensibly from journalism, where a writer may not be a subject matter expert on the topic they’re covering, but they know the right sources and reach out to inform the story. 

In the content marketing world, these types of posts take two forms. In one variety, you simply list the tips given to you by “influencers.” I did this in a CXL blog post on the “future of CRO,” since it was just a list of people’s predictions:

DataBox’s blog also uses this format frequently, reaching out to a database of “experts” and listing out the tips they give in a fairly familiar listicle format:

Sometimes, expert roundup posts don’t look like roundup posts. This happens, typically, when a writer does the foundational research for the piece and simply uses expert insights to beef up the piece or provide more technical or specific angles on the article. 

I used to use this format all the time when I worked at CXL, since so many of the topics were deeply technical. Take, for instance, this piece on “measure user satisfaction.” I already knew something about the topic, and I did a ton of research for the piece. But then I also reached out to the true experts in the field like Jeff Sauro to get his specific thoughts on specific areas I didn’t have as much depth in:

This type of roundup post is fairly indistinguishable from a regular blog post, fully researched and written by the author. The only thing in common is we used a headshot for each expert and never quoted Neil Patel). It’s an additive way of creating content instead of a totally different style of writing. 

And in the (spoiler alert) worst way to do expert roundups, the author simply lists each ‘expert’ opinion, uncurated. This post, called “75 SEO Experts Share Their Best Tips for Increasing Blog Traffic in 2018,” literally just lists 75 quotes, many of which are vague or overlap with other answers:

These posts work wonders for experts trying to get low effort backlinks, but they really don’t provide much value to the reader. It’s an attempt to get free lunch in content marketing (but there’s really no such thing, as someone — in this case, the reader — always pays).

Content Roundup Post Examples

The second roundup format – content roundups – have faded in popularity recently, but do still exist. 

Any time you have a list of resources – almost like a directory – you’re dealing with a content roundup post. One of the most common iterations of this is the “influencer roundup,” where you list the top influencers, top blogs, or top blog posts in a given niche. This is great “ego bait” to try to trigger social shares or links from those you list on your roundup:

Like any content type, the quality of the product depends not only on the format, but on the quality of execution. If you’re lazy, you can simply list those who have the highest social followings. But some companies do a large amount of research to put these together. One past example is PPC Hero’s list of PPC influencers:

While it’s not foolproof, they do have an objective methodology for rating each PPC influencer they include on the list:

This also results in really cool and sharable infographics, which is a different iteration on the common template for roundup posts. 

An older form of content roundup is the post that just lists important content that has been published in a given week or month on a given topic. For example, here are a few sites that do weekly content roundups in the content marketing space:

Here’s an example from LeadG2. As you can see, it’s just a list of links that have come out that week in the content marketing industry:

These tend to be great link building opportunities if you can get on the radar of the curator. As a reader, if they’re well curated, I find a lot of value in them as well. Because there is so much content being published every day, it’s nice if you can get a trusted source to filter up the top things to check out. 

It doesn’t have to be in blog post format, either. One of my favorite newsletters is Tom van den Berg’s CRO roundup. Since I trust his judgement and he finds lesser known articles, I get a ton of value from this newsletter and read it every week:

The #1 Mistake People Make Writing Roundup Posts

If I could sum up the #1 biggest mistake people make when writing roundup posts it would be one word: laziness.

Look, blogging is hard. Content creation is expensive, and every piece of content requires effort and knowledge to write. It’s sometimes tempting to follow a template and outsource the highest points of effort (research and writing). 

Content directors sometimes look at roundups as a way to lower the cost of content production, which they certainly do. 

Just think: if you can hire a generalist editor to simply source free quotes from experts around the world, you obviously pay less for each blog post.

An in-house employee can maybe write 10k words a week. This would be a remarkable rate, assuming the content quality is high. This is 4-5 good blog posts nowadays. 

Now imagine if, for every 2,000 word blog post, 1,500 words come from expert contributors. For those same 5 blog posts, then, the in-house employee only has to write 2,500 words. This leaves a lot of extra time for editing, updating old content, promoting content, and other tasks that add value.

So if you look at it myopically, your goal and incentive would be to minimize the total amount of time spent on a blog post. When this is your goal, roundup posts are written like this:

  • Pick a topic based on a keyword (“how to write well” for example). 
  • Reach out to list of 20-30 “influencers” based on their social following (which you can find on Buzzsumo or Ahrefs and get their contact information on VoilaNorbert or LinkedIn). 
  • Ask a generic question like, “what’s your #1 tip for writing well?” 
  • If you’re trying to save extra time, do so using a Google Form & an automated outreach email.
  • Collect quotes and simply list them out sequentially in your blog post
  • Format post in WordPress and press publish
  • Reach out to everyone who contributed and ask them to share on Twitter or their social media

You may already see the obvious problems with this, but if not, let me spell it out for you:

The quality of your answers depends on the quality of your questions. 

If you haven’t done the preliminary research to ask good questions, you’re going to get vague and generic answers. In addition, anyone you reach out to can feel the lack of depth in your request. It’s immediately obvious that you don’t actually care about the insights from a given expert, you just want to outsource your content research and production. This, subtly, gives the expert permission to give a half-assed answer. 

Now you’re left with 30 half-assed, generic answers from people who don’t have skin in the game or passion for the piece you’re writing. So then you list them out with little editorial work and try to get some social shares on Twitter. 

How many of these people are thrilled to help you promote content that they themselves aren’t particularly proud of?

So you lose on two ends: you produce mediocre content and you limit your potential promotion reach. 

You were a penny wise and a pound foolish.

Note: roundup posts aren’t the only form of lazy content. Ryan Farley wrote a great piece on the “fake case study.” Any time you try to cut corners, it tends to result poorly for the reader.

My Process for More Effective and High Quality Roundup Posts

There are four things you need to write better roundup posts:

  • A good editor
  • An editorial cabinet
  • A journalistic approach
  • A solid content strategy

1. Hire a Good Editor

Here’s your first requirement for good roundup posts: Hire a professional writer or content editor to head up your program.

If you don’t have this in place, then don’t write shitty roundup posts.

This can often be the same person as your content strategist, especially at the early stage of a company. But the important thing is you need someone with skin in the game who acts as both a resource coordinator and gatekeeper / upholder of content standards. 

2. Build an Editorial Cabinet

Then, find a sustainable, respectful, and interesting way to work with your experts. I like the “editorial cabinet” technique, where you have a database or list of experts – true, authentic, genuinely vetted industry experts and practitioners, not just people with large social followings, which don’t correlate with credibility. 

In my experience, I’ve simply used a spreadsheet to organize experts by their given specialty. I can then pick and choose whom to reach out to when I’m writing about a given topic. You could also use a CRM if you have a bigger or more complex content marketing program.

The experts you want are practitioners, not just influencers. Maybe they are small business owners or subject matter experts who write answers for fun on Quora. If they exhibit passion on the topic, that’s even better. This could be them appearing on podcast episodes or running their own blog on the topic. This way you know they’re already writing and passionate about their topic and can produce quality content. 

Create an Expert Database: the G2 Method

If you’re running a small content marketing program like we are at Omniscient or I am for my personal blog, it’s easy to keep a list of personal contacts in a spreadsheet. 

To be honest, I don’t even do this for the Omni blog or my personal site: I simply know off the top of my head who I want to talk to. Even at CXL, I usually knew off the top of my head who I wanted to ask about a given topic. But what happens when you scale a content program and have like 10 writers working on different topics?

More so, what if you happen to run a content agency (hire us ahorita) and work with several different clients in different spaces?

Here’s where I think G2 has been super innovative. They have two external databases, one where people can sign up to give quotes on an area of their expertise, and one where they can sign up to be guest writers.

I’ve also been told they have an internal database where internal subject matter experts are tagged and can give interviews or quotes for more technical pieces. It’s like they made their own GLG consultant network, where content marketers can pick the brain of an expert at their own companies. Brilliant.

As far as I can tell, Tracey Wallace innovated this method while she was editor in chief at BigCommerce. Their program was one of the first I’ve seen to marry expert contributions with truly great editing and high quality standards. 

3. Act like a Journalist, Not a Lazy Blogger

When you reach out to them, don’t send emails asking them for their “number ONE tip for acquiring leads,” or other basic, lazy questions. Act like a journalist. Get on a call every once in a while. Do a ton of research and reading, and then begin emailing them with tailored, respectful, and interesting questions. Ask the right question for the right person, not generic one-size-fits-all prompts. Ask follow-up questions if it helps you get better answers. 

Use their answers in the blog post you’re writing.

Here’s how this could look:

You’re writing an article on managing a guest post program. You have some experience in this area, but you’re not a core expert. You wouldn’t be comfortable teaching a seminar on this topic, so you begin with some assumptions of your own, but then embark on deep research yourself.

Through basic content research (reading interviews, having conversations, watching conference talks, reading blog posts), you come up with an outline and an angle. Now you have a skeleton for your piece as well as some very specific questions you need answers to, such as:

What are the tradeoffs to working with guest writers? Is there a downside?

  • How do you encourage good guest writers to publish with you before you’ve built an established blog?
  • How do you balance the unique voice guest authors bring with the cohesive style guidelines you’re trying to enact on your blog?

Now, and only now, do you reach out and see if you can trouble your ‘cabinet advisors’ in that area to ask a few questions.

If they’re willing, you email them some questions, or maybe you get on a call and record it and transcribe it later. In any case, you’ve got a couple good quotes to add to the article.

This is just my opinion, but the more curated your cabinet of experts, the better. The goal of this tactic is actually to create better content, and a promotion boost is only an emergent property.

If you look at it only as a promotion boost, your incentive structure will lead you to the bottom, writing uncurated lists of “100+ experts give their #1 tip on giving expert quotes.”

I’ve been included in tons of these uncurated lists, and let me tell you two things:

  • No one likes reading them
  • Even though I’m included in the list, I’m not going to share it. I feel no affinity for the editors that include me in uncurated roundup posts, and I don’t want to subject what little audience I have to uncurated laziness.

4. Have a Solid Content Strategy in Place

No tactic will work in isolation without having a smart content strategy in place. 

Content roundups and expert roundups have their place in a cohesive content marketing plan, but in almost every case, they shouldn’t be your only way of operating. Sure, a blog isn’t a publication (in most cases), but readers will still notice if you’re only shelling out shitty, poorly curated roundup posts.

So make sure you’ve already invested in a balanced content roadmap that is complete with product led content & keyword research, buzzworthy content to build an audience, and thought leadership. Your content strategy then only relies on roundup posts as either a) a complement to your buzzworthy content approach or b) as a way to boost your content with additional voices and angles. 

Any content calendar that solely relies on expert roundups is going to plateau (if they ever get results in the first place). 

Conclusion

Roundup posts, like any technique, aren’t inherently good or bad, but rely solely upon how you execute them. This type of content is commonly done poorly, but if you do it right, it could be extremely valuable content that helps you make money and get subscribers. 

In my opinion, they’ve become remarkably lazy in recent years due to content directors trying to reduce costs and content marketers trying to outsource their work and research. But they don’t have to be done this way.

When done correctly, you can build a roundup post that is built on truly differentiated content. You just have to lead with a focus on quality and take the other benefits (social media promotion, reciprocity, etc.) as secondary benefits. 

Your goal, whether it’s your first roundup post or your 50th, is to create great content that your target audience actually wants to read. If they’re not signing up for your email list so they can read more, you’re doing something wrong. 

Getting an amazing editor, picking only true experts, acting as a journalist, and integrating these posts into your broader content strategy will help.

Alex Birkett

Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital and senior growth marketer at HubSpot where he works on user acquisition and helped reinvent the way the company approaches organic marketing. He was previously a growth marketer at CXL and Lawn Starter.