Content marketing is one of the modern keys to success with an online business, and even with offline businesses that want to expand beyond the confines of their zip code. The internet is a great equalizer, at least as long as Net Neutrality exists, and it allows anyone to reach a global audience, with the right kind of work. Content marketing is that right kind of work.
The trouble is, there are so many ways to go about content marketing, and there are so many old articles about it floating around, that it can be quite difficult to identify recent, modern tips. You could end up spending months on strategies that haven’t worked in three years, and you would never know the difference, unless you thought to filter your search results by date.
This article, which I’m posting in early 2017, is intended to focus as cutting-edge, up to date tips as I can compile. Some are based on studies, others on experience, but all are to the best of my knowledge the ideal way to go about content marketing.
I say ways to avoid wasting time and money, so I’m splitting this post up into those two categories. First up: how to avoid wasting time.
When you think of your return on investment, you often think of the money you spend and the money you get back. This is fine for traditional calculations and revenue streams, but what about something as comparatively intangible as content marketing. Your investment might not include any money at all. The thing is, that would make your ROI calculation infinite, which simply doesn’t work. You need to think in terms of time as money.
When you consider an investment of time, you have a few ways to calculate it. You can assign an arbitrary value. You can also figure out the salaries of everyone involved in the blog creation and content marketing process, and pro-rate it for the hours they spend working on that process. If you’re paid $25 an hour and you spend 10 hours a week on content marketing, your initial investment – not counting any actual expenses – is $250 for that week of content marketing. That’s substantial! Many small businesses don’t think about having a budget like that for their marketing.
Now, of course, you can save time by spending money. If your calculation indicates that you’re spending $250 worth of hours per week on content marketing, you can look for somewhere to outsource your blog marketing. If you find someone willing to manage your blog for $150 per week, you’re saving $100 per week: wasting less money.
Alternatively, you can find ways to waste less time in your blog creation process. Perhaps the number one way I’ve seen blogs waste time – and I’ve done this myself – is to think volume is better than quality.
A few years ago, my blogs ran one post a day, seven days a week. It was a substantial investment of time to create all of those posts, so I outsourced some of them, with on-staff writers and ghostwriters. This saved me a lot of time, but converted it to a monetary expense. And I have a secret to share.
Most of those posts? They sucked. The majority of them simply didn’t attract traffic, they didn’t have much value, and they didn’t get backlinks. They existed to fluff up the level of content on my site, but they were little more than a shotgun approach. The idea was that if I produced 365 posts per year, SOME of them had to attract attention. If I created and posted enough blog posts, even at a 2% rate of high-value posts, I’d still have a half-dozen or so good backlink magnets and traffic cores.
Of course, in reality, I didn’t get even that. And you know, if you look at other big blogs in the industry, very few of them are posting at anywhere near that volume. Neil Patel posts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on Quicksprout. Moz posts every weekday, but not on weekends, and they have a dozen or more authors sharing responsibilities. No single author posts more than twice per week, and often they post once a week at most. Some only post once a month. KISSMetrics posts almost every weekday, but they also don’t display publication dates, so you don’t necessarily notice the gaps. They also have a variety of authors working for them. Big sites like Forbes post several times a day, but they’re highly focused on the news, so it makes sense to keep ongoing coverage of individual topics daily.
The key is that any blog that posts more than a couple times per week has a lot of different authors doing it, so no one author is forced to dedicate an exorbitant amount of time to the task.
For smaller blogs, I recommend dialing back on your content marketing a lot. I was posting 7x 1,000-word blog posts on an ongoing basis. These days I post 1x 2,000-word posts per week, and it’s working a lot better.
The thing to recognize is not that I was spamming my niche, nor that I was flooding the market. Rather, each individual post was not carrying much value. The volume meant I didn’t have time to produce high quality content of a longer level. Instead, I was focusing on covering as many topics as I could, hoping some of them would catch on.
Well, what do you think people did when they found a post in the topic they wanted to read? They found my post, they read it, they got very little out of it, and they left. It didn’t reflect well on me, and it didn’t earn me many loyal readers.
These days, I produce far fewer posts, but I dig into topics a lot deeper. I produce personal experience to back up my opinions. I find case studies to support my facts. In general, I create much better posts, and on average, they do much better than the old posts I used to publish. Plus, I have more time to spare growing by businesses, I have more ability to take on or create guest posts, and I have more freedom in what I create.
Besides, you know how difficult it was to come up with 7+ blog topics per week, every week? That had me pulling out my hair in frustration, running into repeated duplicates and topics with no chance of ranking.
Your takeaway is this: lower volume, higher quality posts rank much better overall. You get a higher Google search ranking, simply based on their quality. Then you get more exposure, more traffic, and more links, which build your site base much faster. This gives you more resources to work with to create even better posts, and the cycle continues.
As I mentioned above, you can always save time by spending money. The opposite is also true: you can save money by spending time. Of course, when time is money, you want to find ways to minimize both.
We already know that one of the keys to getting an effective content marketing engine running is to create fewer, more authoritative posts. That’s what the entire previous section is about. So how do you do it?
Well, one thing you can do is pay professional writers to create your content for you. If you’re aiming for volume, any old writer will do. You can get your content from places like Fiverr or Textbroker or whatever other thin content mill you want to use. The problem with these is that you really do get what you pay for. When you’re paying $7 for 1,000 words, how good do you think those words are going to be? The writer is trying to make minimum wage, so they have to pump out content as quickly as possible. This means it’s going to be superficial, barely valuable, and possibly even plagiarized.
Instead, what you should do is focus on finding high quality writers. You can find good ghostwriters at the high levels of some of the content mills, or through freelance network sites. Alternatively, you can find public writers to pay, high quality professional guest posters, essentially. Hire people to write on staff for you, give them 1-2 posts per month to create, and you’re well on your way to having an excellent, authoritative blog.
Plus, you’re likely going to save money compared to what you were spending on cheap, valueless blog posts. This means you can spend that money on the marketing aspect of content marketing. Each post you publish is going to be great, so you can invest in promoting it around the web. You can spend your time and money on social marketing, on advertising, and on paid promotion. You can network with influencers in your free time.
The other thing you should do is spend some time – and some money – on figuring out what you want written for your blog. This applies whether you’re writing all the content yourself or you’re paying someone else to do it for you.
The monetary aspect here is primarily in tools. A good keyword research tool, a competitive analysis tool, and some other tools will help you get a profound awareness of the kind of content that’s already available in your niche. Remember: competitive niches are difficult to rank in. I know I’m pretty damn unlikely to out-rank a site like Moz. They simply have too much leverage in SEO, too much power, and too much money to spend to dominate their chosen niches.
What I can do, however, is look for middle of the road niches. I can find topics that the big sites haven’t covered, or that they’ve only covered in passing. Topics where I have a reasonable chance to show up in the top 10, even if I’m not in the first position.
Every dollar and every minute I spend on finding high quality topics is worth its weight in gold. Topics I can rank for, that still have some traffic and potential value, are excellent. Plus, using that research, I can find the competition and figure out how to create something better than what already exists.
All of the above tips are, in a way, cyclical. Time is money. Everything you pay someone else to do, you could do yourself, if you wanted to save the money and spend the time to learn how to do it properly yourself. Everything you do yourself, with the exception of generally business-critical functions only you can do as a business owner, can be outsourced if you have the money to hire a trustworthy company.
Content marketing is in many ways a feedback loop. The better your content, the more value you get out of it, the greater the return on your investment, regardless of whether that investment was in money or in time.
Spend your time or your money creating better content. Increase your standards, however you need to do it, to create content other big-name sites might consider publishable or even valuable. Create flagship content. Promote that content, get as much traffic and as many links to it as possible. Leverage that increased SEO value and additional exposure into even better content, and keep the loop going. The better you are at it, the faster you will grow. And grow you will, believe me; even if it starts off slow, it picks up steam, and you can end up running with the big dogs before you know it.
Drew Hendricks is the CMO of Blogpros and a contributing writer to Inc., Entrepreneur and Success.