A Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing for Startups: 25 Tips for Success

Content marketing. It’s a buzzword that’s been around for a few years now and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

But what exactly is content marketing?

Well, here’s a definition from the Content Marketing Institute:

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.

We can break it up into three main parts:

  • It’s about creating and distributing content
  • The content must be valuable and consistent
  • You need to have an audience in mind

You can’t go wrong if you run a company blog and tick those three boxes. Here’s the funnel a reader should ideally go through when visiting your blog.

content marketing sales funnel

Look at startup blogs like Intercom, Wistia, and Groove. They’re all gaining a ton of leads via content marketing.

How?

Simply put, they’re creating valuable, quality content that people love. By providing this content, they get a constant stream of readers, some of whom turn into quality leads and customers.

Alex from Groove wrote an article about how focusing on content has helped them.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth noting for anyone thinking about their own business growth: content marketing has been, without a close second, our most effective strategy for growing Groove.

Alex Turnbull, Groove

It’s helped them go from $0 to an astounding $240,990 in monthly recurring revenue (at the time of writing). Pretty amazing!

Why does it make sense for my startup?

There are many reasons for startups to get into content marketing. Whether you’re a bootstrapped founder starting or you run marketing for a startup that’s just closed a Series C, running a company blog can benefit your business.

Before you get carried away, don’t think it’s all rainbows and unicorns, though. It’s not. Running a blog takes time, effort, and loads of creativity. Not to mention money.

It’s up to you and your team to outweigh the benefits over the costs. Here are some reasons to get started.

Content marketing helps spread the word.

As you likely already know, getting the word out about your startup isn’t easy.

You build your product, get excited, launch, and…nobody cares. Your beautiful product looks like death valley, nobody uses it, and a feeling of hopelessness overcomes you. It’s a cruel world out there, people.

In the beginning, the same thing happens with your blog. You publish your post, share it on social media, and…nothing. Zilch, nada. However, the magic with a blog happens over time, not overnight.

Content marketing helps Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Running a company blog is all about trying to befriend Googlebot. Make it easy for her to crawl your blog, and she’ll reward you by ranking your site higher in Google searches.

By using the power of SEO, my startup has managed to rank highly for keywords like ‘content marketing kanban’ and ‘startup content marketing‘.

content marketing search engine optimization

The better your SEO, the more likely you will rank highly on Google. Being higher on Google means you can generate more organic leads. These are people who are looking for what you’re providing already.

It works the other way, too, though. If you make Google bot unhappy, she’ll rain terror on you. She gets mad at you by linking to spammy websites, targeting a keyword too many times, or hosting an inactive blog.

But instead of getting petrified, you can leverage this delightful, automated software program by getting to know them well. You can also utilize analytics tools to determine how to improve your strategies. You can use tools like Google Analytics and Hotjar to assist you in knowing how your performance is faring.

Don’t make her mad, ok?

Content marketing helps influencer outreach.

In the digital world, it’s tough to form relationships with people. Particularly influencers. They get hundreds, heck, sometimes even thousands of emails a day with requests to connect or share people’s content.

Having a quality company blog helps you out when it comes to outreach. You can ask influencers for quotes to put into your articles. This helps form a quality relationship without asking for something unreasonable.

But if you’re having challenges doing outreach by yourself, you can get the help of an agency to do it for you. Many companies have done this for years, forming great partnerships with blog owners and influencers. You’ll surely get positive answers in no time.

They’re providing you with a quote, and you’re helping them reach an even wider audience. It’s a win-win.

Content marketing helps you build email lists.

A list of quality email addresses is a fantastic way to spread the word about your product and articles.

You can do this through email marketing. Creating compelling content via email newsletters with attached promotions and discounts or an invitation to subscribe or sign up will expand your email list that, in time, will be your primary sales force.

The magic with collecting email addresses is that these people want you to send them emails and information.

However, you should ensure you’re clear about what they’re signing up for. Seth Godin talks a lot about this kind of ‘permission marketing.’

In order to get permission, you make a promise. You say, ‘I will do x, y and z, I hope you will give me permission by listening.’ And then, this is the hard part, that’s all you do.

Seth Godin

Permission marketing is crucial to creating a community behind your startup that loves what you do and will help you spread the word.

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Content marketing creates value.

Creating value for the reader is critical to gaining traction on your blog.

Asking yourself, ‘Will this article create value for my target audience?’ is the number one thing when brainstorming blog topics. If you create value, you create trust. Building trust helps you turn them into brand advocates and/or customers.

You can do this effortlessly if you know your target market’s pain points. That’s why it’s crucial to identify your target market from the get-go. From product development to distribution, you should have your specific audience in mind. What do they like, when do they go online, and what will tickle their fancy? These are questions you should remember.

But… Content marketing takes a lot of time.

If you think your blog will be an overnight success, think again. Running a popular blog takes a whole load of time. Sometimes it takes years to see any traction.

You must be patient because time is the most crucial investment in content marketing. But you can see exponential growth once you capture your target market’s attention.

It took Geraldine Fishkin 2 years to see any traction. At that time, Geraldine could’ve given up.

Instead, she kept posting content and eventually got a break. Now she gets millions of views a month! Pretty awesome stuff.

content marketing traffic

Three tactics to level up your startup blog for content marketing

A successful blog generates quality leads, helps build a valuable email list, and keeps a community of loyal readers. Here are some excellent tactics you can use to increase the chances of your startup’s blog being successful.

Have a plan in place.

As Benjamin Franklin supposedly said, ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’. That is a good saying—and it applies to your blog too.

Having a content plan in place is a great idea.

A great plan helps you prepare for the future of your blog. It also allows you and your team to sit down and plan what you’d like to write about for your readers.

You and your team can get a plan together in more than one way. Here are a few ideas.

Plan out with a Kanban

You may have heard of the company Trello. It’s a popular service that allows you to plan things out on a kanban. Think house renovations or a company project.

The cool thing about Trello is that it’s flexible and easy to use.

You can use it for whatever you like, and it’s the reason many startups (like Front) have started using it for their roadmaps.

content marketing kanban trello

You can use it for your content planning, too, if you want.

Trello doesn’t give you some of the powerful tools you find in other services, though. Services such as CoSchedule, Contentacle, and Kapost are explicitly built for content marketing teams.

Use a spreadsheet

Ugh. I didn’t want to write about this, but you could use a spreadsheet for completeness.

Spreadsheets weren’t at all designed for planning content. They’re clumsy and annoying to update. But they are free, and most people know how to use them.

content marketing spreadsheet

You can download a template from Hubspot, Curata, or Convince and Convert.

Use a paper template.

Some people prefer to plan out with paper and pen, and that’s ok. It’s kinda fun when you get your highlighters, and Post-it notes out.

content marketing planning

If you’re a creative person and you’d prefer to plan on paper, you can use many templates. There are ones from CoSchedule, Contentacle, and Sharaholic.

Power of the popup

Nobody enjoys putting popups on their site (I hope), and nobody enjoys clicking the close button. However, you need to collect email addresses somehow; popups, scrollbars, and welcome mats are great ways to do that.

If you’re looking for a quick way to install popups, I’d recommend SumoMe. It comes with a bunch of options and is super easy to install.

If you’re not so keen on that, try out OptinMonster. They have many options for popups, although there’s no free tier.

content marketing popup

Above is ours at Contentacle. As you can see, we offer something valuable in return for the email address instead of going head first and saying how unique our weekly digest is.

Create an eBook, guide, or course in return for an email address. That way, they’ll feel more like popping their email in because they’re getting something.

Syndicate your content

Sometimes your content doesn’t reach many people. Perhaps it wasn’t exciting to your email list, or you didn’t get much love from influencers.

Maybe it got a ton of engagement, and people loved it, but you know it could get more.

Either way, syndicating your content to LinkedIn or Medium is a fantastic way to expand your reach to the right people. Because social networks are built to be social, they often send out your content for you in email digests.

This means your content will gain much more interest, which will help you increase traffic to your blog and your homepage.

One startup that does this well is Buffer. They tend to syndicate their most popular content to Medium, which drives more website traffic.

content marketing syndication

They usually syndicate the same day, which is great for them because they’re a popular startup, but I’d say to wait a few weeks for startups earlier on.

Content Marketing for Startups

Content marketing has become the lifeblood of online marketing. For the third year, it has been voted the most commercially important digital marketing trend at Smart Insights, with twice as many votes as big data or marketing automation.

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Over the decades, Moore’s simple and brilliant law was proven to apply to semiconductors and 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 such a little fence could not contain. 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 the 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 on social media and blind without web analytics. More than a third of all companies have written down their content strategy. It also means 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 cannot find the time, find the money to hire someone who will do it instead of you. Whatever method you decide upon, you have to have content marketing.

That is what I am doing right now. If Startup Buffer is to become the most splendid startup directory in history, people should hear about it. And yours truly is just one of the channels that make it possible.

defeat reality by Jaume Escofet jpg

To promote the site and help the legion of content creators, 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.

1. Why?
First, you need to know why you are doing your content marketing. Incredible as it may sound, many website owners have great content and know how to use Facebook to bring a couple of thousand visitors to their site daily but 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 inform and teach others. Content marketing is writing about what you know best. It will help you state your ideas more clearly, make a name for yourself, 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 around.

Be Genuine
Disaster by jiwasz jpg

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, please share it with others. It will not be a secret for long anyway, so it is better if you spread the news. People will think of you as someone in the know, so they will subscribe to keep up with the essential 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 believe they were doing something valuable in themselves, 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 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 most significant part of your investment, so be ready for it and do not falter. If you 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 you should not delete the comments saying your content is not that great. Instead, respond to them, reinforcing what is good about your content, admitting any flaws, and sharing how you will improve. Also, building trust means posting photos of yourself and your colleagues or place of work. Your visitors should see you as a natural 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 visualize your potential customers. Or 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 discovering 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 look more attractive if presented as a colorful chart or infographic. More varied content will attract more varied visitors. Make them go, “Aaah.”

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10. Lure them
Once you get the hang of it and create unique and alluring content, you can afford to bait your visitors. Require them to provide their e-mail addresses so they can access more of your outstanding content. With the proper wording on your part, they will feel that giving away their data is an excellent bargain for getting what they would be ready to pay to read.

11. Measure your success
There are dozens of free tools to learn more about your visitors. Some have been around for a long time because of their great value. Google Analytics is probably the best tool to learn much 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 to your site. Ahrefs and Semrush are two good tools to monitor and measure your SEO.

Epic Notes by Dave Fayram jpg

12. Have a content marketer
If everybody in the company has agreed, they will write a blog post “now and then,” which spells certain death for your content marketing. If possible, there should be dedicated employee who spends all their time 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 repeatedly, but that is how you get traffic. There is no way around it. And that is how you reach your targeted customers.

Google Search Console

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.

Intense double rainbow by Wonderlane jpg

16. E-mail
If you are not mindlessly spamming people, e-mails can be very useful. An enjoyable 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 being used (CC Attribution license or CC-BY), missing out on eye candy is just pure laziness. 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 be a quick way to bring people to the site, but it is the other way around. You start with content marketing, and once you become big, you turn to paid advertising.

19. Recycle
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 distill 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 the main character surpassing obstacles. You must have had your fair share of obstacles as a startup owner. 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. However, once people click on them, they are taken to another kind of content. “Ha! We got you! But instead of discussing The Game of Thrones like everyone else, we will discuss 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.

The Beginner's Guide to Content Marketing for Startups

25. Write a lot
Research has shown that Google gives greater weight to longer than shorter content. Even better, longer content will provide more inbound links and shares on social networks. So write away!

Next Steps

Content marketing for startups far outweighs the cost in time.

It helps them spread the word about their service or product, means they can share value instead of a ton of adverts, and helps them collect quality leads in the process.

If you’re reading this and you’re thinking about setting up your company blog, here’s what you should do:

  • Think about your target audience. Before writing a word down, think about your target audience. What would they want to read? How can you give them loads of value? Think about this as a team.
  • Find out which platform best suits you. Most startups go for WordPress, but it’s not for everyone. Find the one that suits your needs the most.
  • Think up some blog posts. The first step to any blog is to think up some titles. Start with topics you already know about, and then branch out.

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