10 things about content marketing I wish somebody had told me 2 years ago

The other day someone on reddit asked me how they should go about using content marketing for their business:

I’d like to see some business value to drive traffic back to our main service, increase conversion, you know the drill :) Is this a doomed approach?

To which I replied:

The approach isn’t doomed at all. Your attitude is.

Yes, content marketing will drive moar moneyz to the biz. I can attest to that.

But content marketing and promotion isn’t… shoving your “targeted content” at people’s faces.

That’s called spamming.

Here’s how to do content marketing that doesn’t cross the line:

1. It all starts with “Who?”

It doesn’t matter what you’re in mood to write about.

Because if there is nobody to read it, it’s not content marketing. It’s blogging for fun.

You have to answer each of these questions:

Who are the people that you want to reach?

What do they care about?

The way to answer these questions is to find your audience online and start hanging out with them.

Often ignored, this step will determine the success of your blog, because:

No audience = no email signups = no sales = content marketing fail

2. Always be the first to give

If you want to drive business using your blog, then you have to give something away before you ask to receive.

Help people. Provide value, give away tips that they can apply in their work or business, publish cheatsheets, software reviews, share your experience, etc.

That’s a nice list of ideas I put up, but it still doesn’t give you the specific topics to write about, does it?

3. The scientific approach to choosing topics for your blog

I’m sorry, but “you should brainstorm topics for your blog” is total B.S.

It doesn’t work this way.

Because this means you have to rely on the Universe to instill in your mind a list of topics that a group of people want to read about.

I wouldn’t count on that.

To be successful at content marketing, you have to solve problems with your writing: problems directly related to the problem your product solves. In the same context.

So, how exactly to find problems that you can solve?

Where do people ask for solutions?

On forums.

Whether they’re asking for an opinion or recommendation, 90% of the time, they are looking for help and for solutions.

That’s why the easiest way to create a helpful blog post that I know of is to base it on your answer to a forum post.

Let’s assume you’re set to create content people would share.

But how do you promote your content?

4. The biggest secret about promotion is that… it’s just human to human interaction

It’s not some fancy secret agenda that successful marketers have.

It’s not a bunch of mind tricks.

It’s much simpler than that.

Just go about promotion as you would about starting a normal conversation.

The fact that you spent your time writing on a topic means that you care.

And you will enjoy talking to other people who care about the same topic.

So, go on and find these people.

Talk to them like you don’t have a plan in the back of your mind.

Be genuine, not generic.

Make friends. Build connections.

No business exists in vacuum.

You will not make it without friends.

To “promote” your content join conversations that are related to the topics you write about. Try to help. If you have a blog post that’s relevant and actually digs into more details about the topic at hand, it’s okay to give a link for further reading in context.

And speaking of that…

5. Context. Context is da real king!

One of the most important things I learned about marketing is this formula:

value + context = conversion

Take away the value or the context and you will get zero email addresses and zero sales and zero everything.

If you mention your product in context, people will be interested to learn more about it.

If you mention your blog posts in context , people will click on your links and they will be happy to read. And, when at the end of these posts you have relevant calls to action, they will click.

Context determines the success of any attempt to promote anything.

Context means that it makes sense for people to do what you’re asking them to do.

That’s why I put all my calls to action and attempts for promotion through the DoesItMakeSense™ filter.

e.g. Does it make sense to plug that reference to your post or are you doing it only because you’re desperate to post your link somewhere?

6. Promotion comes in 2 flavours–audience and influencers

Let’s dig a little bit into that promotion thing, because it’s really really hard. I’m still struggling with it.

One group you want to reach out to is people who have a problem that you can solve. They are your audience–the ones who will become your subscribers.

You want them to share and recommend your content to their friends.

However, most of your early fans might have around 100 Twitter followers. They won’t help you make much impact.

To speed up your success, you want to reach out to another group: people who do what you do — the influencers.

Which brings me to the next point:

7. Make friends. You’re not going to make it on your own.

2 000 000 (yes, million) blog posts are published every day.

Chances that somebody with 30k followers is going to notice you and decide to talk to you are like the chances of winning the lottery.

Influencers are busy. You have to be the one to reach out to them.

You have to be proactive.

I used to think if I wrote something great, people would just find out about it and start sharing it and it would magically go viral.

That’s not the case.

Viral content was made viral.

The creator asked dozens of other blogs to share it to get that kind of exposure.

So, make some influential friends.

Email them personally or reach them on Twitter.

And before you go and write the worst cold email, let me remind this again: Be genuine. If you didn’t have to promote anything, how would you approach the influencers?

For more info about approaching influencers I highly recommend Brian Dean’s blog and this particular post 1

8. Spend 80% of the time promoting the content you’ve got

You’ve probably heard that one before.

And you’re probably going to ignore it, like I did.

But the truth is that you need a little bit of valuable content and a lot of traffic.

But getting traffic requires you to get exposure.

And getting exposure requires you to research and reach out to the right people at the right moment.

Promotion takes a hell of a lot of time.

Emailing influencers and getting their responses takes time.

Reaching out to your audience on forums takes time.

If you’re stuck on creating content or, worse, you’re writing a book right now, and you think you shouldn’t promote it yet, I have to stop you.

And share some bitter first-hand experience with you:

9. No audience (email list) = no sales

I’m sure you’ve heard that you have to build your list first.

Trouble is, you’ll ignore that piece of advice because you don’t know why it’s so valuable.

I thought that I had to have some kind of product first, because… it doesn’t make sense to try and gather an audience when you have nothing to sell to them, right?

Well, WRONG–I wrote a book that didn’t make it big, at all.

And then I helped in pre-selling another book to a very very small list but with a decent conversion rate.

In the first case I didn’t have a list to promote to, so I was expecting random people to buy it.

In the second case, me and Rumen did a launch sequence on an existing email list and it worked beautifully.

The moral?

You will not sell an info-product to people who don’t know you.

Or any kind of product, for that matter.

Start with the audience. Get a list of people who like the way you write and are interested in the topics you write about.

Then write a book, or a course, or do a workshop or whatever you enjoy doing.

10. Start as the big fish in a small pond

I could talk on a load of topics. I could talk about copywriting and marketing in general, about email marketing, about customer support, about blogging, about writing, about editing, about creating info-products and whatnot.

But that would mean my audience is just about any business owner out there.

And I’d be the small fish in a big big pond.

But then I could also talk about all of these things in the context of startups.

I could talk about copywriting for startups, email campaigns for startups, customer support in a startup, content marketing for startups, creating lead magnets that could grow the email list of a startup in beta and so on.

The pond would be times smaller.

That’s why I chose to talk about startup landing pages only (copywriting) on my blog. I noticed there was a specific problem that I could solve.

Start as the big fish in a small pond, as the go-to resource for one small audience.

11. Bonus advice: Screw the 1000 words per day rule

Although I’m a doer myself, I don’t believe in doing things for the sake of doing. And I don’t believe in writing for the sake of writing.

When did quantity become more valued than quality?!

In my experience, publishing something valuable, well-researched and edited many times is much better than getting on the treadmill. I like to take the time to soak in more knowledge and experience to share.

Writing 1000 words per day is not being productive. That’s keeping yourself busy so that you can feel productive.

And while we’re at it, screw editorial calendars, too.

There. I said it.

You don’t really need these kind of things, unless you’re in the news business.

How can you get started with content marketing and promotion today?

1. Go to Quora. People there seek help.
2. Find one question on a topic that you’ve written about/want to write about
3. Write a helpful reply. Include your link where appropriate. If you don’t have a link, wait for the reaction of the person/community. If you get upvotes or somebody says “Thank you”, you did your job. Go to your blog and transform that reply into a blog post.

That’s it.

Further reading

And if you liked this post, I’ve got good news: I’m going to keep on sharing my experience growing a successful blog from scratch.

To get more blogging tips straight from the trenches, click here.