Content marketing has become the lifeblood of online marketing. For the third year in a row, it has been voted the most commercially important digital marketing trend over at Smart Insights, with twice as many votes as big data or marketing automation.
Over the decades, Moore's simple and brilliant law was proven to apply not only to semiconductors, but also to computer memories and camera pixels. So some began to think it would apply to anything digital. But web content turned out to be a monster that could not be contained by such a petty fence. It does not just double every couple of years. In 2010, Google's Eric Schmidt announced that more content was produced in two days than in the previous two millennia. Who knows how fast it is growing now? And while content quality might not be rising as fast as that, the market value of web content management should double by 2020, from 3.5 to 6.9 billion dollars.
Even the slowest learners have caught on that they are invisible without a presence in social media and blind without web analytics. More than a third of all companies have written down their content strategy. It also means that it is getting harder to be good at content marketing. But don't tell me you have better things to do than promote your startup. Startups need content marketing more than anyone else. If nobody hears about you, you will not sell no matter how great your idea is. If you really cannot find the time, then find the money to hire someone who will do it instead of you. Whatever method you decide upon, you absolutely have to have content marketing.
In fact, that is what I am doing right now. If Startup Buffer is to become the greatest startup directory in history, people should hear about it. And yours truly is just one of the channels that make it possible. To promote the site and to help the legion of content creators out there, I have summarized my experience and other people's advice into 25 tips on what to keep in mind when you launch into content marketing.
First of all, you need to know why you are doing your content marketing. Incredible as it may sound, there are many website owners who have great content and know how to use Facebook to bring a couple of thousand visitors to their site every day, but then fail to convert visits into sales. You must know how to make money off of it, otherwise it is a pointless exercise in vanity.
2. Be genuine
Your blog posts should not be just a vehicle to get more visits. Your startup will provide something new or better, right? And you have the expertise to make that happen. Well, prove your expertise by writing blogs that will inform and teach other people. Content marketing is writing about what you know best. It will help you state your ideas more clearly, make a name for yourself and become an authority in your niche, and do good along the way. Content marketing will be a by-product of your writing, not the other way round.
3. Share the news
Let them know what is happening right now. Don't rehash old news; be relevant. As soon as you hear something helpful, share it with others. It will not be a secret for long anyway, so it is better if you are the one spreading the news. People will come to think of you as someone in the know, so they will subscribe to keep up with the important things happening in your niche.
4. Be persistent
Most startups fail because their owners lose courage and quit, put down by the fact that there has been no interest in their product or service for several months. It usually means they did not really believe they were doing something valuable in itself, but they thought they would make a quick buck. The same thing applies to content marketing. If you give up after a couple of blog posts have not attracted the attention you expected, did you really have something relevant to say in the first place? Be patient. The average time before you earn something is usually longer than 12 months.
5. Find time
High-quality content marketing requires a lot of time. It will be the biggest part of your investment, so be ready for it and do not falter. In fact, if you really put your heart into it, time spent is time earned.
6. Build trust
If your readers perceive you are freely giving away valuable insights and then genuinely listening to them, they will be your best marketers. It means that you should not delete the comments that are saying your content is not that great. Respond to them instead, reinforcing what is good about your content, admitting any flaws and sharing the ways you will improve in the future. Also, building trust means posting photos of yourself and your colleagues or place of work. Your visitors should see you as a real person, not an article-churning machine.
7. What they want
What is your audience looking for? Don't write only for yourself. As a startup, you have a target audience with specific needs and interests. Build personas if it makes it easier for you to visualise your potential customers. Or just ask around. But you need to know what makes them tick.
8. What they don't want
The reverse of point 7: what is your audience running away from? Find out about the problems of your potential customers. It is much easier than finding out about their needs, because people are usually very vocal about what irritates or frustrates them. And maybe you can provide some helpful advice. Don't think about selling them stuff, think about helping them.
9. Spoil them
If what you want to say can be illustrated, draw the illustration. If it can be better conveyed by a video, film the video. Dry numbers will look more attractive if presented as a colorful chart or infographic. More varied content will attract more varied visitors. Make them go "aaah".
10. Lure them
Once you get the hang of it and create very impressive and alluring content, you can afford to bait your visitors. Simply require them to provide their e-mail addresses so they can access more of your wonderful content. With the right wording on your part, they will feel that giving away their personal data is a great bargain for getting what they would be ready to pay to read.
11. Measure your success
Nowadays there are dozens of free tools to learn more about your visitors. Some of them have been around for a long time because of their great value. Google Analytics is still probably the best tool to learn a lot about your return on investment (the sales you made because of your content, minus your cost of producing that content). Another crucial indicator is the number of backlinks towards your site. Ahrefs is a good tool for that.
12. Have a content marketer
If everybody in the company has agreed they would write a blog post "now and then", it spells certain death for your content marketing. If at all possible, there should be a dedicated employee who spends all their time on making articles, videos and presentations about what you offer. Even in a small startup, there should be enough marketing work to keep them busy.
13. Educate your writers
If you are not the one writing your blog, you should talk to your content creators. Show them examples of successful content marketing that they should look up to. Make it clear what they are supposed to do within your sales system: whether they should explain a product to someone who has no experience with it or whether they should write a general article about your niche etc.
14. SEO, SEO, SEO
Your artistic soul may suffer because of those pesky keywords that you should repeat again and again, but that is how you get traffic. There is no way around it. And that is how you reach your targeted customers.
15. Social media
Social media are a great way to attract new people and get the attention you need at the start. Look around the web, there are thousands of tips and instructions on how to succeed there.
If you are not mindlessly spamming people, e-mails can be very useful. An interesting method to build content marketing includes a concrete example of an e-mail written to generate backlinks. And, of course, e-mails are the vehicle for your newsletters.
17. Be visual
Add images to your text, like I'm doing. They make the text look ten times better. And with tens of thousands of images on Flickr that only have to be attributed to be used (CC Attribution license, or CC-BY), missing out on eye candy is just pure laziness. Apparently, people remember more than 80% of what they see, while they remember just 20% of what they read. That's why icons are so popular.
18. Don't pay for them
Avoid paid traffic, at least in the beginning. Paying for ads on Google and elsewhere might look like a quick way to bring people to the site, but it is the other way round. You start with content marketing and once you become big, you turn to paid advertising.
Reuse your content in a different medium. Do you have a series of blog posts on the same subject? Merge them into an e-book! Or distil their wisdom into short phrases and post them on Twitter. Or turn them into a video. The possibilities are endless.
20. Hang around with stars
Find others that have succeeded in what you are trying to do. You should network with influential blogs and sites in whatever way you can. Offer them things they need, even for free, as long as they mention you. It will pay off royally.
21. Mind your style
Get someone to proofread your articles. It will make you stand out among the badly written texts (99% of articles out there; do they think nobody notices?). You can also use a free tool to check your text for common errors.
22. Who are you?
Who are you? Why did you start the startup? True stories sell. As I have learned while making documentaries, all you need for a great story is a main character surpassing obstacles. As a startup owner, you must have had your fair share of obstacles. Let others know about them and let them learn from your hardships.
23. Be interactive
Entertain your visitors by engaging them in activities. A quiz would be a great idea. Fortunately, there is a free tool for that.
24. Don't trick them
Some content marketers use links or landing pages that attract visitors by promising random fashionable content. Once people click on them, however, they are taken to another kind of content. "Ha! We got you! But instead of talking about The Game of Thrones like everyone else, we will talk about the benefits of dedicated servers." It never works, as people will feel betrayed. You do not want tons of visits and not a single conversion.
25. Write a lot
Research has shown that Google gives greater weight to longer content than shorter content. Even better, longer content will provide more inbound links and more shares on social networks. So write away!