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

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 it 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

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

content marketing sales funnel

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

How?

To put it simply—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 all the way from $0 to an awesome $240,990 in monthly recurring revenue (at the time of writing). Pretty amazing!

Why does it make sense for my startup?

There’s a ton of reasons for startups to get into the world of content marketing. Whether you’re a bootstrapped founder starting out, 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

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

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.

At 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’re going to 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. Linking to spammy websites, targeting a keyword too many times or hosting an inactive blog are all reasons for her to get mad at you.

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.

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

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

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

You should make sure you’re clear about what they’re signing up for, though. 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 a key way to create a community behind your startup that loves what you do, and will help you spread the word.

Content marketing creates value

The key thing to gaining traction on your blog is to create value for the reader.

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. Creating that trust helps you turn them into brand advocates and/or customers.

But… Content marketing takes a lot of time

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

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

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

content marketing traffic

3 tactics to level up your startup blog for content marketing

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

Have a plan in place

As Benjamin Franklin supposedly once said ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’. 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 gives you and your team a chance to sit down and plan out what you’d like to write about for your readers.

There’s more than one way you and your team can get a plan together. Here’s a few ideas.

Plan out with a Kanban

You may have heard of the company Trello. It’s a popular service which 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 built specifically for content marketing teams.

Use a spreadsheet

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

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 a 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, there are a ton of templates you can use. There’s ones from CoSchedule, Contentacle and Sharaholic.

Power of the popup

Ok, so nobody actually enjoys putting popups on their site (I hope), and nobody enjoys clicking the close button. However, you need to collect email addresses somehow, and popups, scrollbars and welcome mats are great ways of doing just 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 a bunch of 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 amazing 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 actually getting something.

Syndicate your content

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

Maybe it got a ton of engagement and people loved it, but you know it could get a ton 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…well…be social, they often send out your content for you in email digests.

This means your content will gain much more interest, which in turn helps you to 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, and this drives more traffic to their website.

content marketing syndication

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

Content Marketing for Startups

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.

defeat reality by Jaume Escofet jpg

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.

1. Why?
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.

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, 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 and Semrush are two of the 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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

The Beginner's Guide to Content Marketing for Startups

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!

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.

2 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing for Startups: 25 Tips for Success”

  1. Hi! Good article.
    I’m curious about one thing: since it has been 3 years from then, do you think it still makes sense to operate with newsletters and emails?

    • Of course. Email is still one of the most fruitful things you can do to market your startup. So, keep growing your list even before you starting to build your product.

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