A prospective client I spoke to to just the other day was considering abandoning content marketing as a growth-lever. That would be a mistake, I told him.
Not only does content marketing work, it’s practically the only traffic strategy guaranteed to work across multiple verticals and price-points, from ecommerce to services, in both B2B and B2C. But only if you’re doing it right. There’s a reason marketing pros charge what they charge: the difference between content marketing done right and done badly can make-or-break a business.
The biggest difference? Pros write for a specific customer, from a deep understanding of his pain, desires, and obstacles, and in that customer’s own language, then they syndicate that content in the places their customer is most likely to see it. Amateurs are often too broad, and write “jargony” or “academic-sounding” prose, then they post it only on their own sites and wait – often in vain – for visitors to show up.
Obviously, it takes years to learn to think like a marketer. But here are two ways you can shorten the learning curve, and make content marketing work for your business.
Think Like a Copywriter
Say you’re marketing coaching to new dads who are also entrepreneurs. It’s tempting to open the laptop and just start writing things like “how to succeed as an entrepreneurial dad”. (That’s a real article from a recent coaching call – I didn’t make that up.) There are least 2 reasons this is going to underperform:
a) It doesn’t define what “succeed” means
b) It doesn’t outline what’s painful about being an entrepreneurial dad
Pros don’t write vague or uninteresting prose. They approach content like copywriting. Say the writer had taken the time to identify exactly who his customer was, and interview him:
1) What are the biggest obstacles these dads face?
Is it making time? Is it having to juggle between earning and parenting? Is there tension within the family? Do they fear resentment from their partners for being “married to the laptop”? What does it feel like when they have to ignore a toddler to take a sales call? Or the other way around?
2) What dream are they chasing?
Are they trying to create the next great startup that disrupts the market? Or maybe just get a lifestyle business off the ground, and grow it to the point where it supports them without much work.
3) What day-to-day things make them cringe?
Is it hard to put the kids to bed and start writing in the evenings? Do they dread the alarm clock that heralds time-to-feed-the-kids-breakfast because they’ve only gone to bed five hour ago? Do they see red when their partner springs “chauffeur-duty” on the last-minute?
4) What do they wish they could “will” into existence?
Do they wish they could create 25 hours-in-a-day, or do they just wish they felt better about balancing responsibilities?
Then you might write something like this: How I Freed One More Day-a-Week for My Son, and Still Crushed My Quarterly Earnings Goals. In other words, good content follows the same principles as good copy:
It’s specific: instead of waxing broadly about “success”, whatever that means, it pins down two specific achievements: exceeding an earnings goal, and making an extra day for your son. That demonstrates you understand the reader.
It offers what copywriters call an “irresistible benefit“: something juicy enough to justify the interruption of this dad’s time and attention reading the article requires. “Have an extra day and not only reach, but exceed an earnings goal? How in blazes did he do that?”
Deeper down, it offers a hint of proof, because the author apparently achieved the promise of the article in his own life. People want to take advice from people who have actually succeeded. Here are a few other examples of articles the owner of the “entrepreneurial dads” business might choose to write:
- How to Be a Good Role Model When You Have to Work All The Time
- Never Miss Another Sales Call Because of a Crying Child – The System That Worked for Me
- The Simple Arrangement That Got Me 12 More Hours Per Week to Work On My Business, and My Wife Was Actually Happy
How are you supposed to figure out what to write about?
- If you have existing customers, get on the phone with them.
- If you have a mailing list, email them, asking them about their biggest dreams and obstacles. If they reply, offer to get on the phone with them. (Are you noticing a theme?)
- Even if you don’t talk to a single customer, simply changing your mindset can help: put yourself in your customer’s shoes, as I did above. I’ve never been a dad, so I may not be 100% correct about what’s in their heads, but it’s a lot closer than if I’d never gone-to-the-trouble.
“But wait,” you might be thinking, “how is more targeted content going to help me if no one sees it?”
There are two big reasons: First, you’re ultimately trying to win the Google-search game with content marketing. To appear at the top of the results for the things people are searching. And Linchpin author Seth Godin reminds us that the law of the “long tail” tells us it’s a lot easier to be the best-in-the-world at something specific than for something super-broad.
Put in another way, you might rank on the first page of Google results for “parenting schedules for entrepreneurs”, but you probably won’t for “entrepreneurial success”. The strategy I outlined above is just a way to get even more specific, and, hence, to rank still higher in your narrow categories. Second, you’re going to syndicate your content…
Fish in Fishing Holes, Not in Fields
If a client tells me a content marketing strategy hasn’t worked for him, I know two things with 98% certainty. First, that he hasn’t been following the “copywriting-style” creation process I outlined above. Second, and practically by definition, he hasn’t been syndicating effectively.
If I asked you the three most popular blogs your customer avatar reads, could you tell me? What about the three most popular podcasts she listens to?
What about the three most popular forums, comment-threads, or sub-reddits?
Second-only-to-writing-too-broadly, amateurs love to post content on their own websites, then wait for people to show up. Pros know the second secret to effective content marketing is “go where the fish are”. Especially at the beginning, that means…
- Identifying the “gatekeepers” or curators for your audience, and guest-posting on their platforms.
- Identifying the most popular podcasts your audience listens to, and getting on them.
James Altucher goes as far as to say you don’t even need a website for the first few months; instead you should cultivate a “content diaspora” or valuable, enticing content on other’s people’s sites. I’m not sure you need to be so extreme, but here’s a heuristic I like:
If you have more than six valuable, specific, enticing pieces of content on your own website, stop until you’ve done at least 20 guest posts.
Guest posting has the obvious benefit of an influencer introducing you to his/her audience, like a referral-at-scale. But it often carries the secondary benefit of “link juice”, which will help your own site rank higher in Google’s search algorithm faster.
Will content-marketing work overnight, or be a “quick fix”? Obviously not. But if you follow the tips in this article, you’ll build a sustained traffic source that will deliver you high quality leads for years to come.