Content Marketing

This is page nine of a Growth Marketing guide. Start with page one to understand what you need to learn for your business model.

Useful content marketing advice

Most content marketing advice is garbage. It's usually obvious, low-hanging fruit.

This page tries to be different. It's a whirlwind tour only of what's critical to acquiring customers through content.

I'll cover:

Why content marketing

The more that customers must know about your product before they are comfortable buying, the more they'll first seek educational content on it.

And they'll do that through Google. (Or, if they're senile, they'll do it using Bing.)

Search engines take them to blogs. Blogs are therefore how companies surface their knowledge — without paying a dime. 

The best part about blogging is it pays dividends: Your posts don't lose value (unless they become outdated), and may in fact rise in search rankings over time.

I consider blog posts the long-term capital investment of growth marketing. You'd be careless not to have it your marketing portfolio.

And here's the kicker: Even if you fail to acquire users with your blog, your content can at least improve retention among existing customers. Because great content that educates and entertains them increases their loyalty to your brand.

That's why this page takes content marketing so seriously: it's high leverage.

The guide you're reading now is an example of content marketing. I talk about my approach to growing in this podcast interview!

Growth objectives

In general, you blog to:

Enough preamble. Let's dive into how and what you should write.

Editorial objective

The first rule of content marketing is to write for quality. Until you've established quality in a reader's mind, they won't read closely. Instead:

And rightfully so. Most blogs are bad. There's been so much content marketing, and content is published so frequently, that people default to skim-reading for highlights.

The antidote to skimming is quality. When readers recognize quality, they slow down. They treat you like a good book.

You can establish your quality in as little as an opening paragraph.

Defining quality

Quality stems from four factors:

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Quality and growth

Content quality is not only important for fostering reader loyalty, but also for increasing short-term growth:

To repeat: Quality is key. Not publishing frequency. Not clickbaity-ness. Not metadata. It's quality that leads to SEO growth and long-term reader loyalty.

Examples of quality writing

I'll put myself up for scrutiny. Here are my blog posts.

What to work on

Choosing your big projects

Mental models

Navigating life strategically

Fearing competitors

How to handle the stress

Not being annoyed

The power to stay rational

My favorite stuff

Shows, films, artists, podcasts

How to punctuate

Writing clear sentences

What to write about

There's only so much I'll say about quality since this is first and foremost a guide on customer acquisition. So let's now switch to what you should write about. 

Content marketing topics should fulfill four criteria:

  1. You have something useful or interesting to say about the topic.
  2. Your potential customers commonly Google for information on that topic.
  3. The topic can segue into a pitch for your product.
  4. The topic has SEO potential.

Here are five tactics for ensuring that the first criterion is satisfied:

  1. Repackage content

    Find the news aggregators (e.g. Reddit, ProductHunt) that are influential in your market. Monitor them for content that flies under the radar — due perhaps to an unenticing title, boring intro paragraph, or poor writing. Then rewrite that content into something more engaging. (And credit your sources.)
  2. Roundups

    Sign up to receive notifications from every blog, newsletter, Twitter influencer, and Quora topic in your market. (If you signup for these alerts using Throttle, it'll aggregate all this spam into periodic email summaries.)

    Whenever a topic trends throughout these digests, consider writing a roundup review: Summarize what's happening in a concise, easy-to-reference post.
  3. Competitor piggybacking

    Make a list of the companies in your market. Then subscribe to their blogs' RSS feeds. (RSS links are usually found at the bottom of a blog.)

    Paste the RSS links into Blog Social Analyzer. It'll show which of your competitors' posts received the most Tweets and Facebook Likes. This is an effective proxy for determining which type of content most successfully appeals to their audience, which can otherwise be difficult to assess.

    Then write about these same topics but add something unique to warrant your entry into the blogosphere.

    (If you don't mind paying, you can signup for Buzzsumo to simplify this process: Enter relevant keywords into Buzzsumo's Most-Shared Posts feature then copy the results into a spreadsheet for later referencing.)

    Enter your product's keywords into this tool, and it'll show you which questions people commonly ask about it. Then write blog posts answering these questions.
  5. Google Trends

    Go to Google Trends. Look at the search volume trends for keywords related to your industry. Is anything gaining in popularity?

Narrowing topics

With your potential topics in hand, prioritize according to three criteria:

SEO tips+

There's surprisingly little you need to know about SEO. You don't have to buy a book. First, read my content marketing post on TechCrunch.

Second, skim this:

There's a ton of SEO advice on the Internet that is a waste of your time. Because most other SEO tips are trivial optimizations with diminishing returns. 

Remember the most critical SEO tip: Write quality content. Google finds ways to measure this then uses it as a top ranking factor.

To learn how long it takes to rank on the first page of Google, read this.

Titling posts

A quick note on titling posts: The clickbait syntax is played out and makes you look like spam. Enough with the "You won't believe how X did Y!"

Instead, aim for specificity and authenticity with a title format such as:

[Keyword]: [Post's unique angle, including one or two subtopic keywords.]

Don't choose keywords at random; choose ones people are actually searching for.


Converting readers into customers

So far, you've learned the editorial objective (quality) and how to source topics.

But how do you write posts so they compel readers to turn into customers?

The first step is recognizing that visiting a post exists among a chain of events:

  1. Someone visits your post.
  2. They skim your opening paragraph and/or table of contents and/or section titles.
  3. If they're intrigued, they may proceed with skimming the full post.
  4. If the post resonates with them and you pitched your company effectively, they may choose to learn more about you by clicking to your homepage.
  5. They skim your homepage.
  6. If they're intrigued, they may convert into a user.

Each step matters as much as the next. Consider this: Writing a high quality post that isn't also optimized for conversion is arguably a waste of time. If they had a great time reading but then left, was there a point?

I'll now walk you through the methodology for encouraging blog readers to visit your homepage. (The Pages portion of this handbook covers homepage conversion.)

It boils down to three things:

Keep them reading

First, to prevent people from bouncing altogether, make their reading breezy:

Prevent sales aversion

Next, prevent them from being turned off by your inevitable product pitch.

I have three principles for preventing sales aversion:

Notice how I pitch my own blog and Twitter handle throughout this handbook.

Pitching newsletters in particular

When pitching for newsletter subscriptions instead of signups, comfort readers that they won't be spammed. Because they normally are, and they're tired of it.

Two tactics for reducing the fear of spam:

If your newsletter successfully converts subscribers into customers, it's worthwhile pitching it alongside your signup prompt. But if your newsletter is merely a neglected experiment, it's more efficient to concentrate your call-to-action on purely signups.

Encourage further reading

Finally, to motivate users to eventually get to your homepage, keep them reading.

The post a visitor lands on might satisfy their Google search, but it might not be the best post for converting them into a customer. Perhaps its topic is a step removed from the core of what your company provides.

Therefore, link to your best converting posts from all your posts. And don't bury these links at the bottom of the page; inject them naturally into your content.

(Like how I naturally linked to this handbook's Pages page a few paragraphs up.)

Essentially, aim to continually feed readers quality content until they encounter a post that finally strikes the chord needed to convert

Conversion and exit rates

To identify your best-converting posts, check Google Analytics for which pages are followed by the highest conversion rates.

Conversely, avoid linking to posts that do a poor job encouraging conversion: Check Google Analytics for which pages have the highest exit rates. (Exit pages are those last read before leaving a site.) You don't have to completely hide these posts, but deprioritize cross-linking to them from your other posts.

(Unfortunately, using Google Analytics is outside the scope of this handbook.)

Where we are

So far, I've covered:

Next is getting people to read your posts to begin with. AKA acquiring readers!

Content marketing

If you blog and no one reads it, you didn't blog. You wrote in your diary. 

Blog = diary + marketing.

Don't forget the marketing.

Blog marketing happens through both internal and external channels.

Internal channels

External channels

Guest blogging+

Guest blogging consists of asking other blogs to post your content then link to your own blog from it.

This gives your company exposure to new audiences while also helping increase your site's SEO ranking — since you're being linked to by another site.

Here's how to get other blogs to post your content: Don't ask for permission first. 

If you do, the good ones will say no or ignore you altogether. Because saying yes before reading your content is committing to spending time rewriting your post if it turns out it's bad once they get it. 

So, instead, write content then send it for consideration. If it's quality, this is like handing bloggers candy: You did their writing work for them this week.

Be sure the content is appropriate for their blog. Mimic them:

Copy all of it. Make it easy for them to copy-paste your content then hit publish.

To get in touch with blog editors, use a free tool like Clearbit Connect to find a site owner's email. Or look at the site's contact page for the editor's email.

Guest blogging has trade-offs

Consider this: When you post to your own blog, you can embed compelling call-to-actions to best incentivize newsletter subscriptions and purchases. And you can A/B test these CTA's to optimize them over time. And you can cross-link to other posts.

In contrast, posting on a third-party blog relinquishes control over A) optimizing for conversion and B) updating the content to keep it relevant over time.

These trade-offs are significant, so I recommend guest blogging only as much as is needed to seed your own blog's audience. Your guest blogging ratio is up to you.

Here's the point

Three content marketing takeaways:

Social media marketing+

Should you actively post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.?

Broadly speaking, organic social media is typically the lowest-ROI customer acquisition channel. Only do it if you're a great fit for it, otherwise your marketing efforts are better spent on SEO-driven content marketing.

Specifically, unless you’re a lifestyle brand (e.g. fashion, beauty, sports), it'll likely be difficult to build an organic audience on any social network.

Because it's lifestyle brands that naturally lend themselves to aspirational imagery and stories. And that's what most reliably commands social engagement.

Non-lifestyle brands (e.g. drywall distributors) do however have a couple alternatives for attempting to publish engaging content:

These tactics can be time-consuming. And they're not a surefire path to success.

You'll also need to grow your followers so that you're not sharing in a vacuum. To do this, you'll need to aggressively ask your site's visitors to follow your social accounts. 

But that call-to-action distracts from more valuable CTA's such as signing up for your product or newsletter.

And that's core problem: opportunity cost. 

If you have a limited amount of marketing resources and aren't a lifestyle brand, I'd focus on other customer acquisition channels first.

User-generated content+

You are not the only one who can produce content for your marketing efforts.

Sometimes your users can do it for you. On a bigger scale.

User-generated content (UGC) can catapult a business' growth. It's as close to a silver bullet as you'll ever get. 

Unfortunately, it's not relevant to most businesses. Only if your users organically create compelling content through the natural use of your app do you have a free and scalable means of increasing SEO and virality through UGC.

Otherwise, you're wasting your time.

Some examples of companies with genuine means for UGC include:

What separates these companies from most others? Well, for UGC to work, it should be at least in part why users use your product to begin with. 

In the examples above, you use those products for the purpose of sharing content. Therefore, users are naturally motivated to share lots of content.

In contrast, do not artificially force UGC into your product and expect users to take advantage of it. Consider the following examples of forced UGC that will fail:

If users don't use your product to share content in the first place, move on from UGC. If they do, congrats. Approach UGC with the same content marketing principles discussed earlier on this page: encourage quality and encourage conversion.

Leveraging UGC

If you're a fit for UGC, optimize the following to increase its growth potential:

Remember, just like blog content marketing, UGC marketing exists along a chain of conversion events. Optimize each event.

How to get better at growth

I'll train you or your company in modern growth marketing.

Here's how it works:

Go here to learn which growth topics we teach.

We also run our own growth agency:

That was intense

Now you know most of what I know about acquiring customers. It took me four years to acquire this knowledge. Then another four months to articulate it.

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And if you liked the quality of this handbook and want to learn how to play piano or write fiction, get excited because subscribers get those guides months earlier:

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Want to see my other handbooks? Check out Build Muscle and Write Well.

Julian's blog posts

What to work on

Choosing your big projects

Mental models

Navigating life strategically

Fearing competitors

How to handle the stress

Not being annoyed

The power to stay rational

My favorite stuff

Shows, films, artists, podcasts

How to punctuate

Writing clear sentences

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