Great content is at the heart of every great marketing strategy. Nowadays, there is no such thing as marketing without content. Trying to do marketing with little or no content is like trying to hammer a nail in with a floatie.
Content marketing is, well, marketing. There is no marketing without content—the two go hand in hand. So before we go into marketing channels, acquisition tactics, etc., it’s important to have a clear strategy for your content marketing
What is content marketing?
According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
In other words, instead of focusing on constantly pitching your product and talking about it’s features, you need to provide real, raw, helpful content to your future customers. Helpful, free content will then build awareness, reputation, and a desire for your products.
Content could take the form of blog posts, guides, courses, videos, podcasts, or any other kind of consumable information.
With the rise in popularity of content marketing, more content is being produced than ever before. Everyone seems to have a blog, and for people just getting out of the starting gate, it seems more daunting and intimidating than ever to succeed with content marketing.
But content marketing is still the most effective way for any startup to grow. To understand why, we must (once again) look at the customer journey and specifically at the goals for each stage:
- Goal: website visit / social media follow
- Goal: acquire email
- Goal 1: qualify
- Goal 2: educate
- Goal: free trial / demo
- Goal: paid plan
- Goal: share with friends
- Goal 1: annual plan
- Goal 2: upgrade to higher tier plan
For your customers to come to your website, follow you on social media, give you their email, get educated on your product offering, or consider a free trial or demo, it’s all dependant on content.
Content marketing is, and always will be, a key factor to getting customers.
All content can serve two purposes:
I’m not saying it’s either/or, but in general, content is created with one of those two things in mind.
“Why would anyone want to drive more traffic and not want to generate more leads,” you may ask.
I’m not saying the content won’t generate more leads, but certain content will work more in your favor to drive traffic and some content will do nothing for you to drive traffic but will drive leads.
For example, how can you create a lead if all your content is out in public for your audience? The only way would be for them to opt in to your newsletter, but that won’t be your most effective lead generation tactic. In fact, the biggest thing your newsletter will do for you is to get people BACK to your website.
Conversely, how can you drive traffic to your website if all your content is behind a form? 99% of your visitors will bounce if all you have is gated content.
So, you need to create content that serves both of those purposes, which are to drive traffic and generate leads.
The last thing the world needs is more copycat content. Don’t write about something just because someone else wrote about it. Don’t shy away from having an opinion just because you don’t want to come off as controversial.
Write about something that no one has before. Write about something with a perspective no one has seen before. Write something that will be refreshing to your readers.
Many marketers hear that the most successful companies blog once a week, so they pump out 500 words of subpar blog posts every week so they can check the box and feel like they’re doing a good job. Then, readers come to the site only to be disappointed with yet another bland, unhelpful, and short blog post that wasted their time.
Make a habit of focusing on the quality and length of the content, even if you do it infrequently. There’s no point in trying to deliver something to your subscribers every week if the content is crappy.
The most common mistake that people make with content is scaling prematurely. As with everything in business, you need to nail it before you scale it.
Always, always, always focus on quality and length before quantity and frequency.
Hiten Shah’s rule for content marketing is “Quality + Quantity = Eyeballs. And in that order.”
To be frank, the truth is that demand for content is low, so limit supply. There are literally thousands of pages on google full of free content. Every day, links to blog posts, podcasts, interviews, and guides show up in social feeds.
Don’t worry about scaling up the amount of content that you produce before you’ve figured out the winning formula for you and your audience. Quality first, then quantity.
Again, Quality + Quantity = Eyeballs, in that order.
The internet is noisy enough. Your audience doesn’t need any more half-baked, 500 word listicles. Taking a slower, more thoughtful approach to all the content you produce will do yourself, your audience, your industry, and the internet a big favor.
Benji Hyam coined the term “mirage content” to describe the fluffy clickbait blog posts you may be tempted to write so you can check a box and feel good about putting fresh content out. This content is a dime a dozen, do you want your brand to be a dime a dozen?
Always, always, always write quality before quantity.
Most people have read too much terrible content so they are conditioned to skim, don't appreciate your arguments, and generally have no patience.
The antidote to readers’ skepticism is writing extremely informative content with extremely engaging introductory paragraphs. Blog post quality is especially important for two reasons: Sharing and SEO.
The better the post, the more people read to the end and share it with others. And the more engaged readers sign up for your newsletter or convert into users.
The better the post, the less often people hit the Back button on their browser after arriving at your post through search results.
Here's why this matters: When someone finds your page through a Google search, Google will monitor how quickly the Back button was pressed to determine how high quality your post was and whether people stuck around.
The higher the quality, the higher your search ranking.
Again, let’s ask ourselves, what would a customer-first marketer do? They’d ask their customers.
Your customers will have plenty of ideas for you.
One of the keys to consistently producing quality content is to have a well-defined process. I highly encourage you to modify this for your own process, but this 7-step process should be a good starting point for you.
Step 1: Identify potential topics: Get in a room and brainstorm. Google different reverent keywords and phrases and write down the headlines for top results. Do some keyword research in a tool like Ahrefs. Record what your customers say. Go to well-performing blogs and ideate off of their posts. Identify topic gaps.
Step 2: Pick a single topic: Write down a single prompt to start writing from. You could use a question, a headline, a problem, or a category as a starting point.
Step 3: Research topic: Find relevant industry research sources, quotes from thought leaders, statistics, well-performing posts with a similar topic, and create an outline.
Step 4: Create content: Brain dump and fill out your outline with content. Try to work through it in order. This is where quality really comes in. Reference your research sources and write about what they didn’t, cover the angles they didn’t, and expand on what they said.
Step 5: Review and publish: Check your piece for grammar, spelling, and sources. Reorder or rewrite as needed. Create a compelling headline that will drive clicks without being clickbait.
Step 6: Promote and distribute: Post to the website, Medium, social channels, your email list, relevant communities and websites, and anywhere else you can think of.
Step 7: Track performance: Keep track of views, time spent reading, traffic sources, and shares. Revisit periodically to see how many backlinks you’re getting, spikes of traffic, and how traffic grows over time.
A content mix is a set of content formats that you use on a regular basis. Since you likely won’t be able to do every kind of content, it’s important to choose the right combination.
Here’s the content mix I recommend for every SaaS business:
1. Blog posts
2. Long-form pillar content
3. Product focused, visually stimulating guides
These three content types will serve your customer journey well. Blog posts will create awareness. Long-form, designed, gated content will create leads. Product focused, visually stimulating guides will qualify and educate, pushing people to convert into a free trial or demo request.
Blog posts are going to serve the purpose of the Awareness stage of the customer journey by getting someone to your website and they’re going to be pushing anonymous leads to the next stage of the funnel, the Acquisition stage, where you capture their email.
When creating blog posts you either want to focus on making them to be shareable or searchable. Many people don’t put much thought into the blog posts they write. They’re largely just a reaction to a competitor’s blog post or something that randomly came to them. The two best ways to get your content discovered and read are through search engines and in social networks or online communities. So you want your blog posts to be easily indexed, optimized, and ranked for keywords so that they show up when people search in google. Or you want the blog post to be shareable so that it gains traction on social networks and has a high share rate to get new organic exposure.
Here’s a couple strategies for writing effective, shareable blog posts:
1. Tell a story
2. Take a stance on something
3. Share a controversial opinion
4. Be SUPER tactical
5. Give insight into something in a new way
6. Write a “guide” that’s extraordinarily long
7. Write something “surprising” that’s unorthodox or interesting to your industry
8. Be transparent, like sharing an experiment, revenue numbers, or a project you’re working on
And here’s a couple strategies for writing effective, searchable blog posts:
1. Answer common questions
2. Include commonly searched keywords and phrases in the title
3. Be very topically focused
4. Create quality “listicles” that are keyword packed
5. Write industry-specific content
6. Write on something in response to something that recently happened (tech controversy, policy change, technology advancement, news piece)
7. Write “how to ____,” “why ____,” and “what is ____,” content
A quality blog post title is just as important as the quality of the content itself!
Don’t aim for clickbait, aim for keyword optimized titles that leave just enough to the imagination.
A few example formats to follow:
<Major Keyword>: <Post's unique angle that includes one or two subtopic keywords>
How to <keywords> in <#> steps
<#> Rules for <keyword> that <benefit statement>
In general, try to stay between 8-12 words for the best results.
Long-form pillar content is for the Acquisition stage of the customer journey to acquire someone’s email and is going to push people down the funnel to the Nurture stage.
Many people will dispute whether or not this kind of content should be “gated” behind a form.
The way marketing is going, gated content is becoming irrelevant. Potential customers today are more educated and skeptical than ever before. As my friends Dave Gerhardt and David Cancel say at Drift, “Customer experience is the new marketing and helping is the new selling.”
The entire purpose of gated content is to acquire an email address. A better alternative to gating content behind a form is to offer all your best content for free, and use it to build a subscribed email list.
Someone reading your content and then intentionally giving you their email to get more content in the future is a much better experience and also higher intent to buy than filling out a form with some (probably) fake information just to get the content.
Here are some types of content you could create:
1. Getting started in <your product category> guide
2. Case studies of your customers
3. The Ultimate Guide to <something your customers care about doing>
4. Checklist (one page pdf)
5. Cheat sheet (one page pdf)
6. Original Data and Research (State of <industry> <current year>)
7. Templates (Fillable pdf, Google Doc, Google Sheet, Google Slides, etc.)
Again, writing the titles are very important.
A few title formats for example:
The <complete/ultimate/epic/etc> guide to <keywords>
The <keywords> cheat sheet
<Keyword> 101: how to use <keyword> for <keyword>
The <#> best <keyword> examples in <industry keyword>
Product-focused, visually stimulating guides will serve the Nurture stage of your funnel and educate your customers about your product.
Specifically, it’s important to realize that not everyone knows how they would even use your product. As marketers, we always have to remember to throw out all assumptions and start from the ground up. We assume that because we talk about how great our product is and all its features that people will know how it can help them and all the cool stuff they can do with the tools.
You have to educate your customers every step of the way.
Some great product-focused content could be:
1. Getting started with <your product>
2. How our customer <customer name> uses <your product> every day
3. <your product> vs the competitors (an honest, in-depth review)
4. How to use <your product> to do <use case>
5. Solutions brochure
6. Why use <your product>?
One of my favorite tactics from Gary Vee is his way of repurposing content. In his blog post, “Content on content on content,” he talks about how they made an article from a video, that was made from a another article, that was originally based on a video.
It’s basically content inception, and it’s genius. Essentially, what he’s doing is taking a story and tweaking it to fit different mediums. Especially when creating written, audio, and video, why not use the same story for all three?
One approach for content repurposing is to create content solely for one medium, say the podcast (because that’s the easiest for you to create), and then create a blog post based on the podcast episode film yourself doing the podcast episode, split up the sound bites into tweets, and then drop your podcast episode, video, and blog post into a Medium post.
Steli Efti, co-founder and CEO of Close.io, describes how they first created their content marketing strategy. After a while of writing all the blog posts himself, he hired Ramin to edit and publish the rough drafts that he would come up with. Steli started to become the bottleneck, so Ramin finally asked Steli just to record himself talking and Ramin would come up with the rest.
“So we did that for a while, and it worked really well, but at some point I realized, ‘If I just stop saying ‘the blog post’ in the recording, and I stop referring specifically to Ramin, we could also use this raw material for a podcast or something.’ And then I realized, ‘Shit, if I just use a webcam, I could have video, audio, and a blog post.’”
Remember, more content is being produced than ever before. So focus on creating quality content. Creating all sorts of types of content can seem daunting. Repurposing content for different mediums will save you a lot of time, resources, and money.
In the next chapter, we’ll go over more about how to use content to attract customers with the right channels.