Content Marketing
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This is the last page of the Startup Growth handbook. Begin here.

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Good content marketing advice

This page teaches you to leverage blogging, user-generated content, and SEO to increase user acquisition — without paying for it.

This is not like other content marketing advice you've read. Most of that is garbage.

I hope this page stands out as uniquely worth your time.

In a nutshell

The more potential customers need to know about your market before purchasing, the more they'll proactively seek educational content on it.

And they do that through Google. Which takes them to blogs.

(Or, if they're a decade away from dying, they'll do it using Bing.)

Blog posts are therefore how you surface your company's knowledge in search results. Without paying a dime. In fact, if you pay an SEO agency, they're often a scam.

The best part about blogging is it pays dividends forever: Your posts don't lose value (unless the content is outdated), and may in fact rise in search rankings over time.

And here's the best part: Even if you don't successfully turn blogging into a user acquisition channel, at least you can blog to improve retention among existing users: Great content doubles as education for your customers. 

Empower them with content and you'll increase their loyalty to your product.

In this section, I'm covering what you should be writing, how to distribute your posts, and how to incentivize that which matters most: conversion.

Julian's blog

If you want a few examples of how I write blog posts myself, here ya go:

Business
Running an agency

Retaining your sanity.

Mind
Knowledge & IQ

What it means to be smart.

Mind
Persistent anger

Being emotionally mature.

Mind
What to do in life

How to choose big life projects.

Business
Startup competition

Worry less about competitors.

Content marketing strategy

In general, you blog for some combination of these reasons:

Convinced it's worth your time? Good. 

Blogging for quality

Here's the key difference between writing ad copy and writing blog posts: When writing ads, people are smarter than you think — they've seen ads since the day they were born and know when they're being sold to. 

So you have to work really hard to stand out. 

But with blogging, people are dumber than you think — they skim, don't appreciate your arguments, give you zero credit that you aren't just trying to just sell them stuff, and generally have no patience.

And rightfully so. Most content marketing is in fact garbage. So I don't blame them.

The antidote to reader skepticism is writing extremely informative content with extremely engaging introductory paragraphs.

Blog post quality is especially important for two reasons:

Blog topics

While I don't cover how to write, I am going to cover what to write.

So how should you source quality content marketing topics for your blog? 

  1. Repackage under-the-radar content

    Find the news aggregators (e.g. Reddit, Hacker News, ProductHunt) that are influential in your market. Monitor them for high-potential content that previously flew under the radar due to an unenticing title, boring intro paragraph, or poor writing.

    Then rewrite this content into something much more engaging. Credit your sources.
  2. Roundup posts

    Sign up to receive notifications from every blog, newsletter, and Quora topic. If you signup for email alerts using Throttle, it'll turn these sources of potential spam into a weekly digest that'll keep your inbox clean.

    Whenever you notice a topic trending throughout your digest, write a roundup review: Summarize what's happening in a concise, referenceable post.
  3. Competitor popularity piggybacking

    Make a list of the related companies in your space. Then get the RSS links for all their blogs. This link is usually found at the bottom of their blog's post listing.

    Paste the RSS links into Blog Social Analyzer. It shows you which of your competitors' posts received the most Tweets and Facebook Likes. This is a fantastic indicator of which type of content best appeals to your target audience

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

    (If you don't mind paying $79 for access, you can signup for one month of Buzzsumo to simplify this process by just entering topical keywords into Buzzsumo's Most-Shared feature and copying all the results into a spreadsheet.)
  4. AnswerThePublic.com

    Enter your market's key terms into this tool, and it'll show you what questions people are commonly asking about it. Then write blog posts that answer these questions!

    Similarly, browse through your customer support emails to find which questions surface most often.

Blogging: Narrowing topics

Ideally, you select topics to write about that you're genuinely interested in. That's the only way to consistently write insightful content. When you're interested, it shines through the persuasiveness of your writing.

Prioritize the topics that interested you based on two growth-related factors:

You're always going to face a tradeoff between conversion potential and audience volume: The more niche your content is, the better it'll address long tail search queries, and the better conversion will be.

If you have an expensive product for which each customer is particularly valuable, it's worth spending time writing a lot of content disbursed among many small niches.

Blogging: Titling posts

A quick note on titling your posts: The clickbait title syntax is played out and makes you look like spam. Enough with the "X Y’s you’ve never heard about!"

Instead, aim for specificity and authenticity with this title format:

[Major Keyword]: [Post's unique angle that includes one or two subtopic keywords]

Examples:

Blog SEOExpand

Is that really all you need to know about SEO? 

Yes. You can be highly successful without ever reading another post on SEO. 

Most other SEO tips are micro-optimizations with diminishing returns. There's a ton of SEO advice on the Internet. And most it will be a waste of your time. 

Just focus on writing really great content that people rabidly consume. And use keyword research to determine what you write about.

I update this handbook as I uncover more

Twitter is legitimately the only place I announce updates — so that I can avoid sending my email subscribers too many emails. Come say hi :)

Content marketing distribution

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 post marketing happens through the following channels:

Internal distribution

External distribution

This guide will soon be expanded with advice for getting to the top of link aggregators. Signup to be alerted when the new content is released:

External distribution: Guest blogging

Guest blogging consists of pitching another blog to post your article and link back to your blog at the bottom of it.

This gets you exposure to new audiences. And it increases your overall SEO presence — since you're getting linked to.

Contacting blogs

When proposing a guest post to another blog's editor, don't ask for their permission upfront. They'll often say no (or ignore the email) because saying yes means committing to spending time rewriting your post when it turns out you can't write well. 

Instead, write the post upfront then send it to them. This is like handing them candy: You just did their job for them today.

Ensure you send them appropriate content. Mimic their own posts:

Mimic all of it.

A foolproof post topic to send an editor is a modern update on an old post of theirs that was very popular on social media.

Guest blogging is not the holy grail

Even if your guest post is accepted by a major blog, guest blogging isn't a holy grail.

Consider this: When you post on your own blog, you can design big call-to-action elements to incentivize newsletter subscriptions and other conversions that matter. And you can A/B test these CTA's to optimize their performance.

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

Consider the tradeoffs.

Speaking of conversion, that's our final topic for this Blogging section.

Blog conversion

Every blog post has a chain of conversion events:

The latter is now our focus.

Keep them engaged

To handhold a reader to the point of conversion, they first have to be engaged:

Hide your post's publishing date to avoid ever appearing outdated!

Circumvent sales aversion

The more words a visitor reads, the more likely they are to convert once they reach your CTA.

To get them to read a lot, your post has to not only be useful and entertaining, it also can't be a giant advertisement.

Focus on writing sales-free copy with just one or two contextual mentions of your product. Then conclude the post with a strong call-to-action that feels natural.

Don't make the CTA stand out too much

A strong CTA doesn't necessarily mean one that visually stands out like a sore thumb.

Whereas CTA buttons on landing pages must stand out so users know where to go next, people don't visit your posts to convert. They come to read.

So when you inject a giant, red CTA box in the middle of your post, it gets ignored. It triggers the reader's "Oh, right, this is just an ad" reflex.

Instead, your CTA — whether it's for a product or newsletter signup — should look like an organic extension of the content. Look at how I do it throughout this handbook. And check out the bottom of any blog post at julian.com/blog.

Before asking someone to subscribe to your newsletter, preview what they can expect from accepting the risk of being spammed by you: Embed a screenshot of what your newsletter looks like. This de-risks the signup decision.
Another newsletter conversion tactic is giving people a sense of control: Let them choose whether they'll be emailed by you weekly or monthly. Merely offering this choice has been shown to increase conversions.

Incentivize further reading

Every blog post must include links to more of your posts. 

If the reader isn't yet ready to convert, but they liked your post enough to see what else you've written, these additional posts may nudge them further toward conversion.

Essentially, keep feeding them content until they finally stumble into a post that hits the right notes to convince them to convert. 

To determine which posts do the worst job at incentivizing further reading, check your web analytics tool to see which pages have the highest exit rates. (Exit pages are the last pages visitors looked at before leaving your site.)

An exit rate that's high relative to other posts means the content wasn't good enough to get them to continue reading or to convert. Consider either improving these posts or flat-out removing them. You can't risk sending readers to dead-ends.

User-generated content marketing

Content comes from one of two places: your team or your users.

Producing content internally will only get you so far. User-generated content (UGC), however, can catapult you. It's as close to a growth silver bullet as you'll get.

If your users organically create compelling content through their use of your app, you have a free and scalable means of increasing your SEO presence and virality.

Examples of companies with organic UGC creation include:

When to not do UGC

UGC only applies to a very small subset of products.

Don't artificially force UGC into your product experience and expect it to steamroll into a sustainable growth channel. 

To do UGC properly, it must be — at least in part — why users are using your product. 

Consider the following examples of artificially forced UGC that will inevitably fail:

In neither of these examples do users get concrete value out of sharing the content they created with your product. It's not why they signed up.

How to leverage UGC

If you fit the organic UGC mold, optimize these factors to increase growth potential:

Social media marketing 👎Expand

I'm going to try to convince you to ignore social media for growth purposes.

Here's my rule of thumb for social media: Unless you’re a lifestyle brand (e.g. fashion, beauty, extreme sports), you'll have a particularly hard time building an audience on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or any other social network.

If you're not a lifestyle brand with aspirational images and stories to share, you have two options for attempting to building audience on social media:

Neither is a surefire path to success, and the latter is a tremendous time investment.

So don't pursue social media thinking it's a reliable user acquisition source. Think of it as high-potential only if you're willing to invest a lot of time and have a product that lends itself to captivating multimedia.

And your multimedia will actually need to incentivize conversion. If your content is unrelated to your product, you won't have organic opportunities to pitch yourself.

Further, let me walk through the opportunity costs of emphasizing social media.

Reality check

I'll guess that 95% of corporate Twitter handles are vacuums with fake followers.

People rarely organically flock to a company's social media presence. They have to be incentivized, and usually incentivization is a lot harder thank you think.

Why? Because unless your brand has a unique voice and consistently posts differentiated, high quality content, no one is going to care what you have to say. 

Remember, people have Buzzfeed and reddit to get their fix of addicting content. They don't need your marketing intern spamming them with glued together "inspirational" images.

Hence, for most companies, building a social following entails aggressively bugging people to follow you. 

But there's opportunity cost to that.

Should I ask people to follow me?

So let's say you decide to pursue social media not necessarily to build a new audience, but at least to further engage your existing audience.

Is this a good idea?

No. 

At least, not unless you're already crushing it (i.e. high engagement) with your social media presence. In which case, you know each additional user is likely to be engaged.

Because here's the larger problem: Any time you take precious website or newsletter real estate to coerce people into following you on social media, you're actually doing it at the expense of coercing them to subscribe to your newsletter instead.

(You can't do both and expect it to be equally effective. Pick one key CTA at a time.)

Newsletters are the best way to engage existing customers: Your content is shoved into their inbox instead of ignored in an endlessly scrolling feed of social content.

Sure, kids barely use email. But adults — you know, the people with money who can actually afford to buy your goods — use email more than ever.  

So the opportunity cost of asking for a social media follow is getting one less newsletter subscription. And newsletter subscriptions equate to dollars.

All that said, there's still one solid growth-related reason to always maintain some social media presence: to demonstrate social proof. 

Do it for social proof

Okay, I'm done poo-poo'ing social media now 😂 I just really don't want you wasting your time on it when you could be, say, A/B testing a landing page instead.

Okay, so. Consider this: Whenever a customer emails you thanking you for your great product, ask if they could publicly share their affection on Twitter or Facebook (preferably also with a photo of the product). 

Then get a link to the post. 

You're now going to retweet or share that link on your social media account so potential customers see it when they Google your company name and check out your social media presence. 

Many people do this to see if you're a legit company with people talking about you. In fact, the smaller your company is, and the more expensive your product is, the more prospective customers will look for indicators of social proof before purchasing.

You're done

You now know most of what I know about growth! As I lean more working for clients, I'll update this guide.

If you subscribe below, I'll ping you when the updates are out.

For now, I want you to kick serious butt with all this knowledge. That's why I went so in-depth: I don't want to see founders confused as to how to pursue growth anymore.

If you implement this advice and crush it, tell me on Twitter. I'd love to hear about it!

Oh, and if you liked the quality of this guide and want to learn how to play piano or speak Chinese, get excited because email subscribers get them two months early:

Interesting in building muscle? Check out my already-released Muscle Guide.
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