60 Marketing Tools I Can’t Live Without as a Full-Stack Marketer in 2018

According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound report, 26 percent of teams say their biggest marketing challenge is identifying the right tools for their needs.

I’m surprised that number isn’t higher.

As a serial freelancer, I’ve worked with a lot of different teams (and experienced a lot of different marketing stacks) and I must say, the majority are either using tools for the wrong use cases, just hacking things together and/or simply have zero knowledge about the marketing tools landscape.

I understand why this happens.

There’s a million tools for every use case, so how the hell do you know which one is actually the best. It’s not like you can just stop, drop and test every single one of these tools.

That’s time consuming AF.

Another problem is you don’t know whose reviews to trust since a lot of influencers (and especially “review” sites, like Capterra and G2Crowd) will recommend a tool without even having used it, just to get the affiliate fee or ad revenue.

The good news is: I don’t feature ads on my site, and I’ve used A LOT of different marketing tools, so I’m here to help you make your marketing tools decision easier — hopefully.

In this post, I’ll list all the marketing tools I like, need and love, as a full-stack marketer and detail my reasoning behind each one.

Website Tools

Content Management System (CMS)

If you can edit your website in a dashboard without writing code, then you’re using a CMS to manage your site.

CMSs vary dramatically in features, functionality, ease of use, price and so on and so forth.

I made my first website in Wix. I’ve tested SquareSpace. And I’ve experienced Weebly, Joomla and Drupal.

There’s, without a doubt, a definitive winner in the CMS category, and I’m not the only one who thinks so…

WordPress.org

wordpress org

Anyone who knows me knows I am extremely pro-WordPress.

I love WordPress because it puts the website — your biggest outward-facing marketing asset — in the hands of your marketers, who should be managing your website in the first place.


(If you need convincing, read this phenomenal, compelling piece on TechCrunch)


Not only is WordPress extremely user-friendly, but it’s also infinitely customizable and there’s a massive support community.

Need WordPress help? Jump in one of thousands of Slack groups, like Online Geniuses; visit the millions of WordPress blogs or the official codex; and/or hire one of the millions of experts on various freelance marketplaces.

WordPress is also an open-source project, which means it’s not going to get acquired by a conglomerate and disappear.

Today, it powers nearly 32 percent of all websites, and it has more market share than all of the other CMSs combined (59 percent).

And these aren’t just self-hosted mommy blogs. There’s a long list of reputable, well-known, high-traffic websites using WordPress, such as TechCrunch, NY Times, Beyonce, Quartz, Bloomberg, Disney and Target — to just name a few.

Last but certainly not least, WordPress websites also look phenomenal, when you hire the right designer.

WordPress Hosting

If you own a website, then you’ll need to get website hosting, which costs a monthly or annual fee. Fees can vary greatly depending on the provider you choose.

In the last seven years, I’ve used/tested:

  • GoDaddy
  • Bluehost
  • HostGator
  • MediaTemple
  • WP Engine
  • Flywheel

The winners?

GoDaddy and MediaTemple.  

GoDaddy Managed WordPress Hosting

GoDaddy Managed WordPress Hosting

If you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of traffic or a big budget, I highly recommend GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress Hosting.

Here’s why:

  • 24/7 support (Chat and phone)
  • Extremely affordable
  • Very easy to install and setup WordPress
  • Simple, user-friendly dashboard

I used GoDaddy when I was just getting started, and I had a phenomenal experience.

I remember crashing my site a few times, in the beginning, and every time, a native English speaking, super nice support rep quickly fixed whatever issue I was having at the time.

While I still use them for all of my domain purchases today, I no longer use them for hosting, because I wanted a larger hosting plan.

MediaTemple

MediaTemple

Enter MediaTemple.

I’ve been using MediaTemple for around two years now, and I’m very happy. Here’s why:

  • Phenomenal, easy, headache-free support (Chat, call)  
  • Value/Price (I get 10 site installs for $60/month)
  • User-friendly backend

My Dislikes

I don’t like WP Engine because the backend is a clusterfuck and its customer support doesn’t meet my expectations, both of which lead to me getting a migraine and therefore, cranky.

I do think you get a free SSL certificate with WP Engine though, which saves you an $80-$100 annual fee, but I’d rather pay for an SSL than have to deal with its dashboard on the reg. It’s also kind-of pricey.

wpengine

Flywheel seems to be a very small team, and the support was just awful when I used it. (As you can see, support is very important to me because you’ll need support — trust me).

As for HostGator — don’t even get me started. There’s just so many reasons I hate it — two of which are: Support doesn’t respond for weeks, if ever, and the UI is TERRIBLE and confusing.

hostgator

Lastly, Bluehost was just unmemorable to me.


One more resource

I experienced Kinsta for the first time last month, and I was very impressed with page speed, but it is on the higher end of the pricing spectrum and I have no idea what its backend looks like. Support seems good, but I have no direct experience using it myself.


WordPress Themes

I highly recommend buying a premium WordPress theme for your website.

A good theme will make your site look polished and professional as well as allow marketers to make updates to it, without hiring a developer every time they want to change something.

Selecting a good WordPress theme is overwhelming and difficult though because there are so many options and you don’t know what the backend is going to be like until you buy it.

I use the same four themes every time I build a website.

jupiter theme

Artbees’ Jupiter theme is my go-to for quickly designing beautiful websites.

It’s smart to find a theme you like, and stick to it, because every theme has a bit of a learning curve. So if you use the same theme every time, you’ll get faster every time.

I like Jupiter because:

  • It has phenomenal support.
  • It allows me to create all different types of visually appealing websites.
  • It’s easy to use.
  • It’s constantly updated.
  • It’s reputable, meaning it’s not going to disappear.

You can buy Jupiter on Themeforest for $59.

JNews

For blogs, I like three different themes, one of them being JNews.

JNews is good for more enterprise-y blogs, although I’m sure you could customize it to look less enterprise-y.

I found the theme easy to learn, but I’m not sure what support is like, because I didn’t need it when I was using this theme for a client.

You can buy JNews on Themeforest for $49.

15Zine

15zine

15Zine is a hipper blog theme. I just used it to build this site. And I used to use it for my blog as well.

The theme author is great — very responsive to questions and comments posted on his Themeforest page.

The thing I don’t love about this theme is I found myself needing to do a lot of custom CSS to make it look the way I wanted.

You can buy 15Zine on Themeforest for $59.

Garage

garage theme

Garage is another cool, easy-to-use blog theme, and I’m pretty sure it’s by the same author of 15Zine.

I found Garage a lot easier to use and more customizable, without having to use a lot of custom CSS, which is nice. There were just more features in this theme.

You can buy Garage on Themeforest for $59.

Themeforest

themeforest

Themeforest isn’t a theme, but it is the best marketplace to find themes. If you don’t like my suggestions above, or need a different type of theme, check out Themeforest.

WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins add functionality to your website. There are a few staple plugins I always use. Here they are.

Yoast SEO

yoast seo

Yoast SEO is a free plugin that adds a section on the backend of every page/post, where you can add a meta title, meta description, custom slug and focus keyword for SEO purposes.

This plugin is free.

Easy Table of Contents

easy table of contents

Easy Table of Contents is a free, regularly updated WordPress plugin that adds a simple table of contents on long blog posts.

While not the most visually appealing, it’s definitely the most functional plugin I’ve used for this purpose. And you can customize it to look prettier than it is out-of-the-box.

AddThis

addthis

I use AddThis to add floating social share buttons to my blogs.

The plugin is smart too, in that it shows the social media sites that are most relevant to each visitor, as opposed to showing the same buttons to every visitor.

The plugin is free… for this feature anyway.

Convert Plus

convertplus

Convert Plus is the best pop-up plugin. It allows you to add beautiful, custom CTAs to your header, footer, in-line and as slide-ups at the bottom of your page/post.

And instead of a recurring monthly fee, it’s only $24 — one-time. You can’t beat that!

WP External Links

external links plugin

This free plugin forces all external links to open in new tab, without you having to manually do this for every link. Really nice feature for blogs!

Title Experiments Free

ab test titles

This free plugin allows you to test multiple headlines on blog posts.

Codecanyon

codecanyon

Codecanyon is the sister site to Themeforest. It’s the premium plugin marketplace.

Ecommerce Websites

Shopify

I highly recommend Shopify for those looking to build an ecommerce site because it is the leader in the space, and it integrates with everything.

For example, if you wanted to start a dropshipping store, you could integrate with Oberlo in one-click.

Oberlo offers you a massive range of products you can dropship from Alibaba, and because it’s connected your store, you never have to update inventory.

The small downside of Shopify is its monthly fee, but you’d have to pay that in hosting anyway.

WooCommerce

woocommerce

If you’re just making an affiliate site, I’d use WooCommerce, which is what I did for this affiliate store I’m toying with.

Payment Gateway

Stripe

stripe

I don’t feel like Stripe needs an introduction.

Online Course/Membership Sites

Podia

podia

Podia is by far the best software for creating an online course or membership website.

It has the best interface, the best support and the best price.

Landing Pages

If you’re using WordPress and Jupiter, like I recommend above, then you may not need landing page software.

This is because you can create a landing page template in Jupiter, and use it every time you want to create a new landing page.

LeadPages

If you aren’t using Jupiter, or it’s difficult to make landing pages with your current site, I highly recommend LeadPages.

LeadPages, by far, is the easiest tool to use to create good-looking landing pages.

It also has a robust library of templates and an academy, where you can learn everything you need to know about building high-converting landing pages.

Analytics

Google Analytics

google analytics

Google Analytics is free website tracking software, which I think just about everyone is familiar with at this point.

Hotjar

hotjar

Hotjar allows you to record website visitors’ experience on your website; add surveys and polls to specific posts and pages; and view heatmaps.

Personalization

RightMessage

rightmessage

I haven’t personally used RightMessage, but the software, created by Brennan Dunn, has definitely piqued my interest.

It allows you to easily personalize your website to different audiences, depending on their locations, referral source, behavior and more.

Social Media Tools

Social Media Management

Buffer

buffer

I’ve tried so many different social media management tools — from CoSchedule, Sprout Social to Hootsuite — and I’ve always found myself going back to Buffer.

You just can’t beat Buffer’s price and how easy it is to use. My only complaint is that I can’t usually schedule Facebook posts from Buffer, because Buffer usually messes up the way it looks.

I feel like the other tools in the space are trying to do too much, and it makes their interfaces clunky.

Facebook Ads

AdEspresso

adespresso

AdEspresso streamlines the Facebook ad creation process by allowing you to upload all of your images and copy variations once, and then it A/B tests all the different variations.

As the campaign goes on, it auto-optimizes it based on which headlines, copy descriptions and images are most popular with your target audiences.

YouTube

TubeBuddy

tubebuddy

TubeBuddy is a browser extension that adds additional features to YouTube. You can conduct keyword research, see other videos’ and channels’ stats and so much more.

Marketing Automation / Email Marketing

Drip

drip

 

Drip is my No. 1 choice for email marketing/marketing automation, if you can afford it.

I believe that email marketing should be personal, 1-1 messaging, and Drip does just that.

Instead of creating lists, you tag your subscribers, and then create a new “list,” based on those tags, every time you send a message.

I also like its focus on plain-text emails, which I think get higher conversion rates because they look like normal emails as opposed to HTML emails.

Mailchimp

mailchimp

Mailchimp is the email marketing software I used since sending my very first campaign, back in 2011.

It’s come a long way since 2011.

Now, I can create autoresponder sequences and A/B Test subject lines along.

To me, it’s the easiest email marketing software to use and the cheapest.

Revue

revue

Revue is perfect for sending “editorial newsletters” or curated newsletters.

Install the Chrome extension. Save articles throughout the week. And then drag those links into your email to send your list each week.

You can even charge users for membership or sponsorships now too.

Content Marketing Research

Keyword Research

Moz

moz

Moz is great for keyword research.

Input a keyword and out will pop:

  • Keyword suggestions
  • SERP analysis
  • Search volume for given keyword
  • Difficulty to rank for given keyword

It ain’t cheap though!

Keywords Everywhere

keywords everywhere

Keywords Everywhere is a free Chrome extension that tells you the search volume of any keyword you Google, and it will also give you keyword suggestions along with their search volumes in the right-hand sidebar of your search page.

Ahrefs

ahrefs

Ahrefs is more robust than Moz, which is nice, if you’re looking for more features than Moz has to offer.

Content Research

Buzzsumo

buzzsumo

Buzzsumo is awesome for finding good content ideas as well as influencers in your niche. This guide by Brian Dean will you help you use it.

Outreach

Yesware

yesware

Yesware is my favorite email tracking software. It’s only $15/month, and it includes templates (canned messages) and a CRM (premium feature).

Reply.io

reply io

Reply.io is perfect for large-scale outreach. I used it when I was doing a big link-building campaign for a scholarship page I was trying to build links to.

Crystal Knows

crystal knows

Crystal Knows is a web app/Chrome extension that tells you, in grave detail, about someone you don’t (or maybe do) know.

It collects all the available information on the person by scraping their blog posts and online presence and gives you information about the person’s personality; what your relationship would look like working together; and templates on how you should email them, based on what you’re emailing them for.

ContactOut

contact out

ContactOut is a free Chrome extension that tells you people’s emails, when you view their LinkedIn profile.

Clearbit

clearbit

Clearbit is a Chrome extension that also helps you find people’s email addresses. You can use it in your Gmail account.

Streak

streak crm

Streak is a free Gmail CRM. I like it because it’s right in your inbox.

Design

Design Tools

Adobe Creative Cloud

creative cloud

I use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop a lot to edit photos and customize vectors I buy from DepositPhotos and Creative Market.

Sketch

sketch

I like to use Sketch for editing screenshots and other simple tasks. It’s super easy to use.

Canva

canva

Canva is a free, super easy-to-use design tool.

Stock Photos / Vectors

DepositPhotos

depositphotos

DepositPhotos is like Shutterstock, but I think it’s cheaper — one of the reasons I use it. You can usually catch bulk deals too once in a while.

Creative Market

creativemarket

 

I like to purchase cool backgrounds and custom icons from Creative Market.

Unsplash

unsplash

Unsplash is a resource for free, beautiful, royalty-free images.

Mockups

UI8

ui8

UI8 is great for Sketch and PSD mockups and wireframes, etc.

Sketch App Sources

sketch resources

Sketch App Sources provides free mockups, wireframes, UIs, etc. for Sketch. It’s the sister site of UI8.

Branding

99Designs

99designs

I’ve used 99designs every single time I need a logo — except once (because my friend Tony made me one instead).

It’s only $299 for a logo that you are guaranteed to love or you don’t pay. You’ll get about 30 options from different designers, who will edit it until your happy with it.

Customer Support

Chat

Slaask

slack support app

Slaask is my customer support tool of choice because it integrates with Slack.

Knowledge Base

Elev.io

elevio

Elev.io is knowledge base software. I like it because I think it has good UX and lives in useful places on your site.

Calls

Aircall

aircall

Aircall is just like Google Voice, but more professional.

Freelance Software

Payments

Invoice Generator

invoice generator

This free tool easily creates invoices for you.

Bonsai

bonsai

Got a lot of freelance clients you need to manage? Check out Bonsai. It’s by far the best way to manage all of your proposals, quotes, contracts, invoices and more. Clients can even pay you on your invoices as well with Bonsai.

Project Management

Trello

trello

I use Trello for project management and editorial calendars, but you can use it for pretty much anything.

Communication

Google Apps for Business

Google Apps for Business is how you set your professional email up with gmail. It’s what I use for my professional email. You’ll also get your own Google Drive.

Here are a few referral codes I have for a free trial:

  • AWWAHA9L9EJHLJ
  • 4DLLCJ96CFQLPX

Productivity

Bookmarks

Pocket

pocket

Pocket is my favorite read-it-later app.

Time Management

Timing

timing mac app

Timing is another Mac app. It’s like RescueTime but better.

Zonebox

mac timer

If you like the Pomodoro Technique, consider these two tools for Mac users.

Notes

Ulysses

ulysses app

When I’m not writing in Google Docs, I’m writing in Ulysses. It’s an awesome Markdown writing app for Mac users.

What tools do you use?

Tell me in the comments below. =)

PS: I’ll continue to update this list, as I use more cool tools.

How I would do content marketing for Slack

Slack is no longer the shiny new toy that everyone loves.

In fact, if you’re a remote worker, it may even be making you sweat.

Either because the app is eerily similar to punching a clock…

“Not posting status updates like ‘Going on a lunch run’ or ‘Good morning’ was freeing. It feels a little like punching the clock.” (source)

Or because, on average, you check Slack every six minutes, and therefore, get no time for deep work…

rescuetime slack

 

“Overall, this opened my eyes to how often I habitually open Slack without actually getting anything done.” — team member who didn’t use Slack for a week

And according to RescueTime, on an average day, workers only have one hour and 12 minutes of productivity time that’s not interrupted by communication tools.

As a remote worker, I used to LOVE Slack. In fact, I joined a million Slack groups when it first came out, because it felt amazing to feel so connected and less isolated from the world.

But then, quite suddenly, I started to hate it for the very reasons I listed above. I want to love Slack again. I really do. So I’ve been thinking about these big, hairy problems they have.

In Stewart Butterfield’s infamous “We Don’t Sell Saddles Here,” he says:

“Look at it hard, and find the things that do not work. Be harsh, in the interest of being excellent.”

I believe he was referring to the product itself, but I don’t think Slack has a product problem. The product seems to work flawlessly, for the most part.

What Slack has is a content marketing problem. If you go to Slack’s website, and scroll to the footer, you’ll find the obscure blog link, which finally links to something other than its product-focused Medium publication.

slack blog

The blog looks nice. The imagery is pretty. The content is finally a bit more nonchalant.

But overall, in the interest of making Slack excellent, I have to be harsh and say: Its blog still sucks. The content is fluffy, non-actionable and hidden.

I am not one to complain without offering a solution though, which is the purpose of this blog post. In it, I lay out — what I think — is a phenomenal content marketing strategy for Slack.

Even if you don’t think Slack has a content marketing problem, you’ll still learn how to develop a stellar content marketing strategy, so don’t give up on me yet.

So keep reading… if you want to learn a lot.

Introduction

 

slack

Brand

Slack is the 800-pound gorilla in the messaging app space.The nice thing about Slack is that A LOT of people/businesses already are aware of, or are currently using, the app. It’s been Inc’s Business of the Year in 2015, and it gets a lot of positive press.

Slack has a great brand personality, an influential founder and forgiving users, who never seem to get mad at the brand when it goes down. Its minimal website is visually appealing and offers a good user experience (UX).

Goals

As I’m not actually working with anyone at Slack, I don’t know what its internal business goals are, so I’m going to make some educated guesses.

According to SimilarWeb, blog traffic hasn’t been very consistent. Worse than that though is its below average time on site, which hovers at 1 min. 1 sec.

slack

The thing that troubles me about this is that nearly 50 percent of its organic search traffic is searching for “slack blog.”

 

slack blog

That means people want to read stuff Slack writes, but when they get to the blog, they leave after just one minute!

Slack’s goal then should be to increase dwell time by dramatically improving the content it produces.

Setting

Slack’s current content lacks depth and substance. Aside from its beautiful new design, the website does not showcase a memorable brand personality or any influential writers with decent followings, like HubSpot does.

This piece of content is a step in the right direction. I would transform it into a meatier, more actionable how-to post that featured screenshots of exactly how to maximize these Slack features though.

 

first round review

I see another opportunity with this interview.

 

slack blog

Notice the dry interview style. This is lazy reporting. In fact, you could’ve just recorded it, and got it transcribed with Rev for ~$12. Why not take a play from the First Round Review playbook and weave actionable advice together with a compelling story?

You have a gorgeous blog and a loveable brand (which means syndication would be easy if your content was good). You created a messaging movement, so now, it’s time to be forward-thinking in your content marketing strategy as well.

Now, in my opinion, time for the most important (or exciting) chapter — the chapter on blog content.

Many brands publish as if they’re PR Newswire, which is not a good thing! No one cares about brand-centric content unless it’s about a really sick company, and there really aren’t that many.

Chapter 1: Blog

slack blog

One of the best things about Slack being Slack is that you can talk directly about your product and not sound spammy or have trouble getting syndicated elsewhere.

Right now, it feels like you’re just creating content to create content. It doesn’t feel like it really has your audience (and their problems) in mind.

Here are the topics and content types you should focus on, based on the problems I’ve personally had and have read others have with your product.

Content Topics

Productivity/Time Management

This topic is pretty self-explanatory. Think Zapier-type content that focuses on app integrations and unique best practices.

People/Culture

Use Slack for a while, and you’ll notice A LOT of internal cultures are REALLY messed up. I think Slack should teach companies how to build healthy internal cultures, which leads me to my next topic idea…

Professional Etiquette

Teach readers how to chat with each other professionally.

Management

This also ties into my “People/Culture” category idea. Basically, teach users how to be better managers on Slack.

Work

I see this category being broken down into: Remote work, deep work and work-life balance.

Slack

This category would be more directly related to the app itself, such as press releases, helpful product feature updates and announcements.

Content Types

Marquee/10x content

  • Original data pieces
    • Surveys
    • User data analysis
  • Onsite guides that double as ebooks, like this
  • Epic blog posts
    • Actionable how-tos (often)
    • Opinions, commentaries, thought leadership (rare)
    • In-depth, well-curated lists
    • Useful case studies
  • Product-related news
    • PR
    • Announcements
    • Features

Depending on available resources, if you could get one epic blog post up per week, you’ll be off to a great start.

As you execute, you’ll learn which content your audience enjoys the most and double down on that.

Once more resources become available, I’d kick things up a notch — from publishing 1 epic blog post per week to publishing 3 epic posts per week.

You’ll find specific guidelines for blog posts that will make your content more Internet-friendly as well as information about creating your editorial calendar in Chapter 2.

Then, in Chapter 3, we’ll discuss distribution — the other half to succeeding with content marketing.  

Chapter 2: Governance

slack strategy

It looks like your current content is randomly produced by outsourced freelancers.

While I’m an advocate of growing blogs with stellar freelance writers, I’m also an advocate of having someone in place who will ensure there’s a overarching vision for the channel as well as a true purpose for every piece that gets created. Right now, I’m not seeing either.  

While I’m not sure what Slack already has in place, this is something I would include in its strategy.

Create style guidelines.

Flesh out your grammar pet peeves and any jargon that should (and should not) be clarified.

If you want an example, check out MailChimp’s guidelines.

Remember, this should be a living document. And it’s okay if the voice is a little different across channels.

Here’s an example of a style guide I made for SitePoint.

And here’s a folder with a bunch of different publications’ style guides.

Write for the web.

As part of the above guidelines, make sure that your content is easy to read.

People look for online text to be easily scannable, so think about ways to break up text with shorter paragraphs, bullets and illustrations.

Your current blog is nice in that the text is very narrow, making it easier to read. It’s bad in that there are not many, if any, visuals to break up large walls of text, which can be intimidating for readers.

To see an example of content that’s perfectly formatted, scan a few blog posts on First Round Review.

Create an editorial calendar.

You’re ready to start prioritizing content tasks and getting into a cadence with publishing blog posts and new social campaigns.

To organize everything, you’ll need an editorial calendar. See example screenshot below.

editorial calendar

To start, I’d have an editor with a vision ideate a long list of killer pitches, and then send them out to her network of killer freelance writers to produce outlines (and then posts) for each.

Chapter 3: Distribution

slack distribution strategy

If you don’t properly distribute your content, then producing the content was a waste of time. Of course, use good judgement. This doesn’t mean promote your overly brand-centric content that no one will care about.

Every piece of content should have a custom distribution plan attached to it. Here are a few distribution tactics to consider, depending on the value of the asset.

Social media

You obviously want to share your content on social — more than once, especially on noisy outlets, like Twitter, where content has a really short shelf-life. Make sure to use different images and headlines every time you share the same piece of content.

Paid social

In order to guarantee your content is seen on social, you need to utilize ads, especially on Facebook. Put your biggest investments into the assets you know will succeed. Also, consider tools, like Quuu and AdEspresso.

Email

If you have a list of subscribers, notify them of your new piece of content via email.

Outreach

If you’re articles are great, then share them with influencers.

PR

If you published a piece with original data or insights, share them with media outlets, whose audiences would enjoy the information.

Syndication

If you publish a great piece of content that an online publication would likely publish on their site, email the editor and ask them if they’d like to re-publish your content.

Forums

Utilize places like Reddit, Web Designer News, Hacker News and Designer News to distribute your content to a wider audience.

Quora

Answer questions that your post answers on Quora, and put a link to your site at the end. You’d be surprised how well this drives traffic.

In-app notifications

Like how Yesware does!

yesware

 

The way to succeed at distribution is to think of it before you even write your post.

You have to think about how each piece will do on social and whether or not editors would want to syndicate it or whether it’d be popular on Reddit.

If you don’t, then your content may very well not do as well as you initially hoped.

Chapter 4: Measure

metrics

Measurement is one of marketers’ top challenges.

While you have the benefits of robust analytics, content is an art, not just a science, so don’t go on data alone. It’s just not that black and white.

Good editors will have a sixth sense about which content will do well and which won’t. Trust them.

That said, you still need to track what’s working and not working, so here’s a few (qualitative and quantitative) metrics I track.

Quantitative

  • Unique visits: If you get a lot of visits, but have a high bounce rate, this could mean you didn’t bring in the right audience or you did, and your content wasn’t good enough to keep them on your site.
  • Dwell times: How long does a visitor stay on your site? You want at least a three-minute dwell time so consider creating visually appealing, lengthier content. If dwell times are low, it likely means your content is not good.
  • Social shares: This is a vanity metric, as a lot of people share content without ever clicking the link. What this metric can tell you is how good your headline is, when the right time of day to post is, whether you posted on the wrong outlet or not and whether the image or social copy was compelling enough.
  • Sources: You want to know where your traffic came from so you can double down on those distribution channels in the future.

Qualitative

Consider installing Hotjar, which records visitors’ experience on your site and allows you to create unique “user polls” based on visitor behavior and the page they’re on.

Questions you should consider asking include:

  • If you could change just one thing in [name], what would it be?
  • What other content would you like to see us offer?
  • How would you rate this article on a scale of 1 – 10? (NPS Question)
  • If you could change anything on this page, what would you have us do?

This will give you better insight into what is or isn’t working with your content.

Again, don’t blindly make decisions solely on historical data. Let your content team use their intuition and create content that they also intuitively feel will do well.

Conclusion

By now, you know where you’re at in regards to your current content and how you’ll use each channel to reach your goals.

First and foremost, create/revisit your editorial calendar, and make sure every single piece of content has a clear purpose. Prioritize pitches based on what you think will do best (be most easy to promote and gain lots of traction).

And if you need someone to generate a long list of ideas for you — each one with a clear purpose and actionable advice — then hit me up at lah at freelanship dot com. I’m more than happy to help.

How to improve Demi Lovato’s website and monetize her audience

You know what really bothers me?

Celebrity websites.

They suck, and they absolutely shouldn’t.

justin bieber website

For one, many feature homepage sliders, as if no one has updated the site since the 90s.

Others blast music before the site even loads, as if people want audio to autoplay on websites.

Some, like The Weeknds, do this annoying interactive scrolly thing.

 

the weeknd website

And others are just basically blank. I’m looking at you, Drake.

 

drake website

Worst of all, none of them offer a cohesive experience for the user. You are forced to go to one website to order uncool merch, then another site to order tour tickets and then, tabloids to get the latest scoop.

My thinking is celebs must assume they don’t really need websites, since they have YouTube, Spotify, Instagram and Twitter, and I think that’s a massive missed opportunity, which is why I reached out to Demi Lovato’s manager to redesign her website.

Of course, he never returned my emails, so since I already invested so much time building a mock site and proposal, I figured I could at least share my concept redesign to see what everyone else thinks about it.

This is Demi Lovato’s current website.

 

demi lovato website

Here are my problems with it.

It’s totally cluttered. The site has zero priorities. It’s just trying to cram everything together, with no clear order or flow of information.

It’s visually unappealing.

It links out to weirdo landing pages. When you click on the “Out Now” button in the hero slider, it links to another site that looks terrible.

 

demi lovato website

Which will lead you to another site to purchase the song. If that’s not friction, I don’t know what is.

Her “News” tab is a total PR center.

 

demi lovato news

This is not the kind-of news her audience wants. Something more personal would be 1000x better.

Her tour page has way too many CTAs. What’s the difference between VIP and RSVP? I’m assuming the ticket icon is for tickets.

 

demi lovato tour

If you visit this page, don’t click the “VIP” or “Buy” buttons because it redirects you to Facebook (super annoying!), which is not what a user expects either of those buttons to do.

Her bio page feels very impersonal. It should be more like a formal about page.

 

demi lovato about

The music page is awkward and kind-of useless.

 

demi lovato music

I also don’t think people are visiting Demi’s site to listen to music. They’re going directly to Spotify, iTunes and/or YouTube to do that.

Why is there a login? As a user, I have zero information about what’s going to happen if I register.

 

demi lovato login

And don’t even get me started with the store.

The store features a weird dropdown menu with two labels: “New Album Bundles” and “Merch.”

 

demi lovato website

“New Album Bundle” takes me to her “shop,” which looks totally different than her website, and it doesn’t even take me directly to a landing page for an album bundle.

demi lovato merch

“Merch” takes me to a totally different website — FanFire — where I guess she hosts her merch.

demi lovato merch

Would you buy any of the above? I wouldn’t, and I really like Demi Lovato.

I’m not doing this to be a Debbie Downer or mean.

I’m doing this because I think Demi is freakin’ legit, and it kills me that her website experience is so not. Not to mention, I HATE massive missed opportunities, and I think this is the epitome of a massive missed opportunity.

Here are the three massive opportunities I see for Demi Lovato… and all celebrities for that matter.

Like what I’ve done. I’m available for one website project starting immediately. Learn more here.

How to Find Good Freelance Content Writers

Unless you’ll be the only person writing posts for your blog, you’ll need a handful of good freelance writers.

I recommend outsourcing writing to multiple freelancers as opposed to hiring one in-house writer because:

  • You’ll get more high-quality content faster.
  • You’ll never be without content, in case a writer gets sick or misses a deadline.
  • The variety is good for the blog, especially if these writers have followings.

Finding good, affordable freelance writers isn’t a walk in the park though. You can’t just post a gig on Upwork, and expect to find legit writers that way. It just won’t work.

Here’s how you actually find good writers.

Where do I find good freelance content writers?

Look for writers on popular blogs.

The absolute best way to find good writers is to discover them through posts they’ve written. Once I find them, I send them an email or LinkedIn or Twitter message.

Here are two blogs I’ve poached from in the past.

The Muse

freelance content writers The Muse is a very popular career advice blog for young people, which means it isn’t easy to get published there.

Because it isn’t easy to get published there, I know these writers will be better than the overwhelming majority.

They’ve basically already been screened for me. I like that. I also like recruiting from The Muse because the majority of the writers are students or fresh grads, which means affordable rates.

They’re also more receptive to feedback and are a pleasure to work with usually.

Last but not least, Muse writers usually have followings, which is nice, because then, they’ll likely promote their posts that you publish. #winning

Because there’s such a large group of writers for The Muse, I filter who I reach out to with the following criteria:

  • They should be a recent grad or current student. Not a career coach.
  • They should have written more than one post. You can see how many posts they’ve written by clicking on the author name.
  • I have to obviously like the post. You MUST read the entire post to get an idea of what you’ll be getting.
  • I Google their name to see what kind-of online presence they have and also to find their contact info.

Sumo

freelance content writers

 

I’ve also successfully poached good writers from Sumo.

This is another popular blog that gets a lot of hits and has high content standards, so again, the writers are basically pre-screened for me.

Noah Kagan is also pretty cheap, so I know these writers will be affordable.


Look for blogs that feature good content that is similar to the content you’re trying to create, and poach their authors.


Look for popular Quora writers.

Go to Quora, and search for a broad topic, like Excel. As you can see in the screenshot below, there’s a tab to the far right, labeled “Most Viewed Writers.”

freelance content writers

Click that, and voila, the top experts appear.

freelance content writers

If you scroll down, there’s also an “Up and Coming” tab. Review this too.

Next, simply read some of their answers to see how good they are.

I like this approach because syndicating posts on Quora is an awesome distribution tactic, and top writers will easily get their answers pushed to the top.

If the person seems like an older subject-matter expert, or a popular influencer, I don’t contact them because they won’t be affordable and/or don’t blog as a job.

Where do I find bad freelance content writers?

The worst writers I’ve ever worked with have come from job boards, especially Problogger.

I had to sift through SO many applications, only to end up with complete crap.

Job boards and freelance marketplaces just aren’t the place to find good writers. I promise you.

How does the hiring process work for freelance content writers?

You can usually find writers’ email addresses or LinkedIn profiles by simply googling their name, if they don’t have a link to their personal website in their bio.

If they do have a link to their personal website in their bio, then you can use an extension, like Email Hunter, to find their personal email. If you find their LinkedIn account and would prefer to email them still, then use Contact Out to find it.

Once you have their email, it’s time to reach out.

I would write something along the lines of this:

Hi, [Insert first name]!

LOVED your post on [Insert publication name]!

I really loved how you [insert what you loved about the post].

I’m the [insert job title] for [insert company/blog], and I’m hiring freelance writers. Are you available to take on more work?

If so, what is your standard rate for a [X-word] post?

I’d love to tell you more, if you’re interested. Either way, good or bad, please let me know!

Lauren =)

Once they say yes, send them a link to your style guidelines, and explain exactly the type of writing you’re looking for, with specific examples.

Ask them how often they can write for you — usually it won’t be more than one post per week — depending on depth of the post.

Good writers will be impressed that you have a style guide and workflow process. They like the structure and knowing what’s expected of them.

Once you get a good feeling about them, and agree to a post rate, give them a few pitches to choose from, and ask them when they can have this back to you by.

This is basically a paid test. If they do well, then try to negotiate a bulk-price retainer.

For example, if they charge $250 / post, and they can write four posts per month, then ask for a five to 10 percent discount if you sign a monthly retainer.

What are typical freelance content writers’ rates?

They vary from writer to writer and based on how much experience the writer has — and obviously how good they are at what they do.

Rates are usually per post, but I have worked with clients that pay by the hour for research-heavy content.

You usually pay after the post is complete, but don’t make writers wait until it’s published. That’s not fair to them.

For writers you find on The Muse, you can expect to pay between $250-$300 per post.

For writers you find on Sumo, you can expect to pay between $400-$500 per post.

More established writers, like myself, charge a lot more than that.

For instance, one of my more prominent clients pays me around $1,000 per post, and my two other writing clients pay me $4,000 per month for three in-depth posts per month.

What can I expect freelance content writers to do for these rates?

The only thing I’d expect writers to do for the above rates is research and write and occasionally pitch their own ideas.

You’ll need to handle promotion, distribution and uploading/formatting/publishing in WordPress.

How do I manage freelance content writers, and stay organized?

 

editorial calendar

Use Trello.

Here’s a Trello template you can copy.

Trello is super simple to understand, but here’s a guide, if you hit a roadblock.

You can invite writers to use your Trello board, and update you throughout the process there, or you can communicate via email.

Usually, there’s some mix of the two.

The Self-Made Fallacy: Most of us Owe Our Success to Privilege

This is another post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, and never got around to it.

Today that changes because I have a fire lit in me like no other.

You may have read Forbes recent feature on Kylie Jenner, who they say is on track to be the youngest self-made billionaire ever.

If you haven’t, go read it. It’s actually really well-written (surprising coming from Forbes, I know) and pretty insightful.

I don’t dislike Kylie Jenner or the Kardashians. I think they’re very intelligent women, who capitalized on an opportunity — just like any smart person would — if they were in their shoes.

What I do dislike is Forbes and other media outlets use of the word “self-made.”

According to Dictionary.com, self-made means succeeding in life unaided.

With that definition, it’s pretty clear that just about none of us are self-made successes, although that’s the story we love to tell ourselves in America.

“Anyone can make it.”

While I do believe this, I also believe we’re all starting at different places in life, and sometimes it can feel impossible to catch up. In fact, sometimes it is impossible to catch up.

And reading these sensationalized stories, cleverly titled things like, “How 20-Year-Old Kylie Jenner Built A $900 Million Fortune In Less Than 3 Years” and “How I Went From Underemployed Waitress to the Top 1% of Millennials in 6 Months,” (Yes, I’m guilty) makes readers think succeeding in life is easy.

The reality is, it isn’t. It’s a fucking struggle.

And the other reality is, the overwhelming majority of successful entrepreneurs, places like Forbes write about, are the product of generations of privilege that facilitate success.

I’ll use myself as an example.

Growing up, my father owned two dry cleaners, which my grandfather, who was also a small business owner, loaned him the money to start.

My father’s businesses afforded me the opportunity to attend a pricey Catholic school my entire life, and while I was definitely not rich, especially compared to my friends, I lived a very comfy life.

I excelled in school, because it was my sole focus. My job was to do well in school. I was showered with presents — like diamond earrings and Bloomies shopping sprees — when I got straight As (I always got straight As).

When I finally had to get a job at 16, I worked for my dad, so it’s not like school still didn’t come first.

I was able to join every club I wanted to. I enrolled in pricey SAT prep classes, and I was fortunate enough to be able to apply to numerous colleges (application fees are damn expensive!).

While I am a proud dropout, and I’m definitely anti-education, I won’t lie…

I’m not sure I would’ve discovered what I love to do if I hadn’t attended college for at least a little bit. And I’m not sure if I would write as well as I do today, if it wasn’t for two teachers in particular — my middle-school English teacher, Ms. Beyer and my college journalism professor, Prof. Speere.

Because I was accepted into the journalism program at UCF, I was fortunate enough to be there at a time when the school still had a student-run newspaper — Central Florida Future.

Writing for the Central Florida Future paved the way to more published writing opportunities, and because most professors worked for the local newspaper, Orlando Sentinel, I had an “in” to getting published, if my writing was up-to-snuff.

And because my dad supported me throughout my first few years in college, I was able to undertake two unpaid internships that secured me a hell of a lot of identity capital.

And because I had all that identity capital (that a career specialist at UCF pulled out of me and put onto a resume), I was able to talk a local print shop into hiring me full-time before I had to move home because I couldn’t afford to live on my own anymore.

Again, my dad saved my ass.

He let me live with him until I landed an impossible-to-get waitressing job at a fancy restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. The only reason I landed the job was because I was well-spoken, pretty and professional — all characteristics I have due to privilege.

While I waitressed, I freelanced for someone my dad knew — the local small business next door to him. The experience I gained freelancing for her helped land me a high-paying job in Boston, which I was promptly fired from three months later.

Fortunately, connections I made at that job, got me my next job, and the rest is history. I’ve been steadily increasing my income ever since.

So while it looks on the outside that I became a highly paid millennial overnight, it’s actually been seven years now in the making.

Kylie Jenner has been on tv since she was 10, thanks to her sister Kim’s dream of producing a reality tv show. If it wasn’t for Kim wanting that, and then their mother, Kris, doing everything in her power to make it happen, Kylie would not be on the brink of being a billionaire.

The article even states:

Steered by their mother, Kris, each scion had a moneymaking scheme, from mobile gaming (Kim) to modeling (Kendall) and even socks (Rob), but the teenage Jenner felt adrift.

“I struggled for a minute with finding something to do on my own,” Jenner says. With her mother’s guidance, she started making seven figures as a model, notching endorsement deals with British retailer Topshop and Sinful Colors nail polish, among others.

Because Kris helped her land modeling gigs, Kylie was able to fork up the money to invest and build a company of her own.

“I said, ‘I’m ready to put up my own money. I don’t want to do it with anyone else,’ ” Jenner recalls. She used some $250,000 of her earnings from modeling gigs to pay an outside company to produce the first 15,000 lip kits. An intuitive marketer like most of her family, she spent months teasing the kits on Instagram, then announced the launch via social media just a day before they went on sale–November 30, 2015. The kits sold out in less than a minute. Resellers started offering the $29 product on eBay for up to $1,000. “Before I even refreshed the page, everything was sold out,” Jenner says.

While it’s completely impressive what she’s done, don’t be fooled, her success is facilitated by her extreme privilege.

The majority of us aren’t hot enough, or connected enough, to make six-figures modeling.

I used to think you didn’t need money to make money, but I’m starting to think I might be naive. You need some sort of resources to get started — whether that’s a house over your head, a laptop to build a website, or a parent’s business to grow to make a name for yourself.

Even Gary Vaynerchuk isn’t self-made, in the sense that he was fortunate enough to have his dad’s business to grow in the first place.  

Again, I’m not knocking Gary Vee, Kylie Jenner or myself. What each of us has done — on totally, totally different scales — isn’t easy. It takes motivation, grit, determination, resilience, aptitude and a whole lot more.

But we as a society need to stop buying into these “self-made” stories, and we, as fortunate individuals, need to be eternally grateful for the lives and opportunities we’ve been afforded.

More successful people (and media outlets) need to trade in the “self-made” narrative for a more accurate depiction — that the only way to climb your way to the top is by standing on the shoulder of giants.

How to Start a Blog: The Ultimate List of Proven Blog Examples


Pre-PS: Here’s a G-Docs worksheet you can make a copy of to figure out what you should blog about. It’s ungated. You’re welcome. =)


Everyone and their mothers are trying to make money blogging these days. In 2015, 28.3 million Internet users updated a blog at least once per month, and by 2020, the number of U.S. bloggers is expected to reach 31.7 million. (source)

If that doesn’t make you want to give up on blogging, then keep reading. In this post, you’ll learn how to develop an interesting blog theme, and get inspired by a long list of blog examples — with some ideas I haven’t seen shared anywhere before. I truly believe if you can produce really phenomenal content, then any of these types of blogs I mention will drive the traffic you need to monetize it down the road. Onward.

How to Develop a Theme for Your Blog

What should you blog about? You can’t just decide one day that you want to blog. To do it right, you need to research, plan and strategize, which is actually a lot of fun! Sometimes even more fun than the actual writing.

Step 1: Brainstorm.

 

brainstorm

The first (and best) way to jumpstart the brainstorming process is by asking yourself questions. The second is by researching.

1.1: Ask yourself questions.


Here’s a G-Docs worksheet you can make a copy of to figure out what you should blog about. It’s ungated. You’re welcome. =)


What type of people like you and why?

This is important because you want to target an audience of people, who will love you and your personality, stories and advice. Describe these types of people, and jot down what they say they love about you.

What advice do people ask you for?

Think of anything and everything. For instance, my friends come to me for:

  • Career-related advice (Resumes, LinkedIn profiles, etc.
  • Internet help (Things they can google)
  • Website help (Design, WordPress, marketing)
  • Negotiation advice

Don’t limit this question to your family and friends though. Consider what your co-workers ask you for help with or what they say you’re good at.

What are you currently learning or what have you learned recently?

Think books, articles, courses… Could you teach anything you’ve learned from any of the above? What do you want to learn? Learn about it, and document your journey with actionable advice.

Have you experienced any major life changes or experiences recently or will you in the near future?

Most of my friends are getting married and having babies (kill me). Maybe you could blog about the journey to your wedding day. You could document your journey to help others:

  • Save money while wedding planning
  • Learn about tools/resources that make the process easier
  • Tips on dress shopping
  • Etc.

(There could probably even be a funny blog from the male’s perspective going through the process.)

What do you like to talk about?

What meaningful thing(s) could you discuss for hours on end. For me, it’s:

  • Predatory student loans
  • Unpaid internships
  • Millennials
  • Jobs/Careers
  • College/Higher education
  • Marketing
  • Websites/UX

Based on my above interests, I could create a blog called, “Is it me or the world that’s all wrong?” (I’ve been saving that title for a book I want to write!) My imaginary blog could feature:

  • investigative stories that educate readers
  • opinion pieces that outline solutions to various problems
  • feature stories about people experiencing these problems
  • how-to posts that teach readers how to solve these problems for themselves

What am I already doing?

What are you already doing that you could “document,” or write about that people would find interesting?

Think about the blogs and books you read (or podcasts you listen to) and why.

Why do you read the blogs you read? What do the authors do that draws you in and keeps you coming back? Take inspiration from them, and make note of what you like about each.

What is something that no one else is doing? Why?

Do you see any big gaps in the market?

Or even if there is competition, could you do something different that makes your blog blow the current ones out of the water. It could be a better design, better writing, more experience, etc.

There are definitely gaps. I see a decent amount, which I’ll list out soon.

Just ask yourself: Has this idea been done before? Is the niche saturated?

If so, how could I do this differently and way better? People just want better, so give them better.

It doesn’t matter how much competition there is – if you can give them better, and promote it well, you’ll win.

What are you good at?

Maybe you’re funny.

You could be the next Sarah Cooper.

Maybe you’re phenomenal (or terrible) at dating.

You could be the next Carrie Bradshaw.

Help people get better at whatever it is you’re good at. Ask your friends, family and teachers — whoever — to honestly tell you what you’re good at.

What’s your story? What have you achieved that others can learn from?

My waitress story and my job interview story are good examples, and they’re kind-of what got me into offering career advice.

Both of the examples I linked to are based on real life experiences or rather “experiments” I tried that succeeded.

What experiment could you try?

A great example of this type of blog is Gaps and Detailed.

What would you enjoy writing about? Why?

This is the most important question. You must enjoy what you’re writing about in order for it to be good.

If you were to visit Quora, which questions could you answer well?

Which topics would you filter by? Look for actual questions that you’re excited to answer.

Additional Questions:

  • If you were to visit Reddit, which subreddits would you join and why?
  • What [online] communities/forums are you a part of and why?
  • Who do you enjoy hanging around with and why?
  • What was the last thing you Googled, but didn’t find a good answer for?

1.2: Conduct user research.

You could:

You could ask survey/poll participants the following questions:

  • What blogs do you read? Why?
  • Which newsletters do you subscribe to and why?
  • How do you find what you read?
  • What topics do you enjoy reading about? Why?
  • Do you have any ideas for me? Why did you suggest that/those?

Step 2: Check for demand.

After you have a long list of ideas, it’s time to see what’s already out there on the topic. You want to make sure there’s demand for it. Here’s how to do just that.

Google

I’d start by googling.

For example, if I wanted to start a blog on dating or relationships, I’d google “best relationship blogs” or “best dating blogs.”

Then I’d check out all the links on the front page (maybe even the second and third) to see what comes up. Check out the number of search results at the top and the related queries at the bottom of the SERP. Is there any gap you could fill?


Pro-tip: Install “Keywords Everywhere” to see the SERP volume for those queries.


Visit AllTop

To add more blogs to your research list — making sure you’ve done as much due diligence as possible — visit AllTop, which is a massive blog directory.

Search or click on the category you’re looking for, and check out the blogs it lists. Bookmark, and make note of the ones you like and the ones that seem to be the most popular.

Check SimilarWeb

Take a handful of your favorite blogs — or the ones that seem to be the most popular — and input the URLs into SimilarWeb, which is a free website analyzer tool. SimilarWeb will tell you how popular the blog is (or isn’t).

Here’s an example of a report:

similarweb

As you can see, this site is really popular, meaning A LOT of people are looking for helpful advice on the topic.

Check Google Trends

google trends overview

Checking Google Trends to see if search demand is increasing or decreasing is a good idea too. If it’s decreasing, you may want to stay away from it. Use good judgement.

Search social media.

Search Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Are people talking about the things you want to potentially write about? What are the saying? Is it positive? Negative? Neutral?

Visit BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo finds the most popular content for any keyword phrase you enter. Utilize the free trial. It helps with content ideas. There’s also a cheaper knock off version, which you can find here.

Check Amazon book reviews

Search for your topic idea(s) on Amazon, and look for books on it.

For instance, I could type in “content marketing” or “content marketing books,” and read the reviews for a couple of them — the most popular ones — so there’s more reviews to read.

When reading, look out for what information readers say is missing from the book.

Read both positive and negative reviews, and if you can, preview the book’s table of contents for ideas on blog post topics and categories.

Step 3: List 20+ blog post ideas.

ideas

If you’re having trouble deciding on a topic still, this exercise will help. And even if you’re positive or dead-set on what your niche/topic will be, still complete this exercise.

All you have to do is open up a blank G-Doc or grab a pen and paper.

Then jot down a list of potential posts you could see yourself blogging about and doing well with your target audience.

The goal of this exercise is to simply see if you can generate enough ideas to keep your blog going for a while.

The good news is: If you’re still stuck, I have a list of blog theme ideas for you along with proven examples.

A List of Niche Blog Opportunities

Journeys

Are you going on some type of “journey” that a decent amount of other people are going through or are about to go through too? Document it.

Share the good, the bad, the ugly and the outcomes.

People will respect you and root for you if you’re honest and genuine. (Of course, there will always be trolls, but just tell them to say it to your face ;).

Prime examples

GrooveHQ: Startup Journey Blog

groovehq blog

This blog post explains the Groove’s blog theme and how they came up with it.

While they’re taking a break from blogging right now, the business had grown to $10 million per year in revenue all because they documented their startup journey. This worked because startups are (or were) the coolest thing since Justin Bieber for nerds.

I mean even Ashton Kutcher is an investor. The majority of entrepreneurs can’t secure, or don’t want to secure, funding, hence the reason their blog theme: “Our Journey to $100,000 a Month” worked so well.

It worked because:

  • There was a massive audience/demand for this type of content.
  • It’s based on REAL life experiences/experiments.
  • The writing is good.
  • It’s super niche and was definitely original at the time.

Smart Passive Income

 

smart passive income

Some bloggers, who I never totally believe are telling the truth, write “income reports.” Here’s another example of an income report on Melyssa Griffin’s blog.

Opportunities

  • Big, scary move: My friend is vlogging about moving from Orlando to New York. A lot of people dream of doing this but never pull the trigger. Maybe she’ll inspire some viewers to actually do it.
  • Job hunt journey: What about documenting your job hunt? Test different cover letters, resumes, rate the companies on their application processes… This would be super popular.
  • First-time preggers: As a totally single, probably never-giving-birth millennial, I think this might be interesting. As long as you include actionable tips, experiences — stuff that will be useful to other women who are considering getting pregnant or just became pregnant.
  • Learning journey: What are you learning that you could teach people as you go?
  • Other ideas:
    • Dropping out of college
    • Taking a gap year
    • Getting out of debt
    • Fitness/diet/weight loss
    • Wedding journey
    • Preparing for college
    • Relationship journey(s)
    • Gaining professional experience
    • Internship(s) journey
    • Income growth journey
    • Marketing journey

Interviews

tribe of mentors

This is one of my favorite opportunities, but it’s quickly become saturated, so your interviews would have to be really badass to catch on.

Prime examples

First Round Review

These 4,000-5,000-word stories are actually interviews of “nerd” celebs its target audience idolizes and respects. They’re so good because the stories weave in actionable advice that teach its audience how to do something to better themselves or their companies.

Mixergy

“Mixergy is where the ambitious learn from a mix of experienced mentors through interviews and courses.”

Andrew Warner charges to read and listen to his interviews.

The Every Girl Career Profiles

I think this site is fluffy AF, so don’t copy it. Just get inspired by its category “Career Profiles.”

Opportunities

  • Blog/publication editors: Talk to prominent editors about how they prefer to be pitched, their editorial workflows, etc. Something like this but way better.
  • Unknown millennials killing it: Think social media manager at Uber. Think coder at Facebook. These people are easier to get a hold of and would probably be honored to do an interview. They’re clearly smart. Ask about their processes. Ask how they landed the job. What experience did they have before they landed the job? What advice do they have for others? Etc.
  • Writers on how to write: Pick popular bloggers on Medium or somewhere else, and ask them good questions, like about their writing workflows, how long it takes to write, how they generate ideas, etc.
  • Professionals in modern careers: How did they pick up in-demand skills that colleges don’t teach? How’d they gain experience? What do they do every day? Make a modern day careers database.
  • Behind-the-scenes peeps: Think of the producer of a Demi Lovato video or the interns at Conde Nast.
  • People who are about to blow up: Make friends with people you know are about to blow up because then you get in with them before everyone else tries to.

Honest, genuine reviews

It is SO hard to find a genuine review site that you can actually trust.

Websites, like Capterra, write these tech “reviews,” comparing different types of technologies, software and tools, just to make money off clicks, leads and premium ad placements, regardless of whether the product is actually good or not.

There is a major need in the market for a genuine person to conduct real reviews that they aren’t paid to write.

Prime examples

Capterra

This site is really popular and kind-of untrustworthy, in my opinion. But look through its categories for inspiration anyway.

What software/technologies could you test and center your blog solely around?

Sleepopolis

Read more about this mattress review site here.

Siftery

A bit more complex than I’m thinking but similar nonetheless.

Opportunities

Marketing software reviews

According to HubSpot, 26 percent of marketers biggest challenge is choosing the right technologies for their needs.

Take a look at this graphic for category ideas, then once you have enough reviews, you can bundle them into comparisons. soi-blog-top-challenges4-1

Indie courses

Everyone only ever reviews courses from conglomerates, like Udemy, Udacity, Lynda, etc, and that aggravates me because those courses usually aren’t good.

Here’s an example that launched on Product Hunt recently.


Hot Tip: Visit UberSuggest.org, and type in “reviews.” Filter by “Shopping” and sort by search volume or competition. This will give you a ton of ideas.


Curate or Syndicate Content

A super easy way to get a blog up and running is by looking for good content and “syndicating” it on your site. This could be like a Flipboard magazine.

Blogs that syndicate content:

Tips

  • Get permission before you post
  • Make sure you say “originally posted on…” and hyperlink to the article
  • Use a tool like Paper.liRevue or Flipboard

Local Blog/Guide

I see a massive opportunity for WAY BETTER local news sites and blogs. Seriously, how old-school are the majority of them?

I stole this idea from here → Read this post!

I bet Airbnb would acquire *good* blogs like these. #justsayin You could include all kinds of content, like:

  • Social events
  • Meetups
  • Networking events
  • Feel good news/stories
  • Local stories about local SMBs killing it
  • Local deals
  • Lists
  • Best Starbucks/coffee shops
  • Best places to meet people
  • Column where people ask questions

Funny Content

Who doesn’t love laughing? I’m noticing more and more satires and funny comics/illustrations.

Oh, and here’s a resource I wrote on how to be funny.

Prime examples

Opportunities

  • Marketing
  • Freelancing/Outsourcing
  • Cold Emails from hell
  • Really bad marketers (Marketers from hell)
  • Millennials
  • Remote work
  • Social media
  • Productivity
  • Funny kids
  • Pets
  • Corporate BS
  • Work communication tools (Email, Slack, etc)

Email Marketing Blog

I’ve yet to find a really great email marketing blog.

I find articles here and there, but I can’t find a definitive source on email marketing that I enjoy and learn from a lot.

The closest thing is Ramit Sethi’s Growth Lab and I Will Teach You to Be Rich, which blogs about a lot of other topics too.

Opportunities

Teach something

Regardless of the topic you focus on, you should always be teaching people stuff.

But what I’m talking about here is focusing on teaching readers a specific skill, a group of related skills and/or how to use a specific technology.

Prime example

Double Your Freelancing Brennan Dunn teaches marketing automation, how to double your freelancing rates and how to use complicated software, like Drip.

Opportunities

Look up the fastest growing, most in-demand skills.

Research popular, upcoming software that has a learning curve. Here are three places to check for ideas.

Here are some ideas off the top of my head:

Design

  • Webflow
  • Sketch
  • Framer
  • Figma
  • InVision

Professional software

  • Office 365
  • Google Drive
  • Slack / Chat apps
  • Email apps
  • Gmail
  • Astro
  • Calendar apps (Fantastical)
  • Trello

Dev/technical software for non-coders

  • Github

eCommerce software

  • Shopify
  • Bigcommerce
  • Jumper.ai (Social commerce)

Marketing

  • Writing software (Scrivener)
  • Popular WordPress themes
  • Productivity focused on automating everything
  • Zapier
  • If This Then That (IFTTT)
  • General Internet skills for old people
  • General social media skills for old people
  • Voice search SEO
  • How to create videos (for marketers/non video experts)
  • Etiquette (How to win connections and not creep people out)

Processes/Strategies (“Templates”)

Are you super structured? Can you teach people how to get more done or how you do stuff so fast by teaching them all of your processes?

You could also teach readers by observing and breaking down other people’s processes.

Prime examples

Opportunities

  • Reading
  • Planning
  • Setting and reaching goals
  • Personal growth
  • Hard skills
  • Editorial workflows
  • Content marketing strategy creation
  • Any actionable process that leads to a positive outcome

Relationship sagas

I think there should be a blog like Sex and the City or a modern day version of The Carrie Diaries.

Ok, so I won’t lie, this is kind-of like my dream blog to write, but I have absolutely zero dating life currently, so it’d be really boring if I penned it.

Fun fact though: In college, I did have an active dating life, and I had my own relationship column called “Knights with Benefits.” It was SO MUCH FUN!!!

Prime examples

Modern Love Column

If you don’t read this column every Sunday, wo/man, you are SO missing out.

All my friends are engaged

This book slays me. It’s by the millennial writer Jen Glantz.

Bullying

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hated high school, and I was in the “popular” group, which is NOT the cool group once you get older, kids. screen-shot-2018-03-22-at-8

Prime Opportunity

You CAN sit with us

I don’t know about you, but I am SO SICK of mean people — online especially.

My girlfriend and I wanted to create a blog called “You CAN sit with us.”

Its purpose was to (hopefully) make bullying look lame by sharing our life stories from high school and show how life actually plays out after it. I bet someone like The Girl Scouts would buy a blog like this, if it proved popular. Maybe even Beyonce.

Oh, and the video that inspired this idea is an absolutely phenomenally moving TED Talk by Monica Lewinsky.

It’s a MUST-WATCH!

And that’s how you start a blog, folks.

Here’s why people are ghosting at work. The reason will surprise you, unless you’re a job seeker.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, but hesitated.

The change of mind?

The trending LinkedIn post, feeling sorry for employers getting ghosted by candidates.

While the author offers a variety of stats and facts that supposedly explain why candidates are ghosting companies, his article fails to actually feature any responses from candidates themselves, hence this article by a former job seeker and veteran freelancer.

My opinion?

Maybe candidates aren’t showing any courtesy because companies so rarely show them any.

According to a CareerBuilder survey, a staggering 75 percent of people said they didn’t hear back from a position they had applied for in the past year.

I can attest to that stat. I’ve felt that pain many times.

It wouldn’t bother me that much, if companies’ application processes weren’t so outrageous these days.

Take Noah Kagan, founder of Sumo.

Before a bunch of us commented on this absurd LinkedIn post, Kagan had his “chief content officer” recruit candidates by forcing them to succumb to a “challenge” to have a chance of becoming a writer for the Sumo blog, which gets a substantial amount of traffic.

It was six months ago now, but basically it promised the “rare opportunity” to work with the self-proclaimed king himself — Kagan — who became popular after being hired as No. 30-something at Facebook and promptly getting fired.

All you had to do was apply by writing a ridiculously long, high-quality post, promoting it to your LinkedIn network and getting people to like it. You submitted your application by commenting on some post or something like that.

If you’re feeling an annoyed tone in my writing, it’s because I’m annoyed.

In 2014, Kagan invited me to apply for a freelance writer position — similar to the above position I just described.

You can see the emails below.

First, after inviting me to apply, he asked me to fill out an obnoxiously long application.

noah kagan

Then, in the next chain of emails, after I already wrote an in-depth post for him to review, he made me fill out ANOTHER application “because the role was so popular.”

noah kagan

After I completed that form, Kagan promptly ghosted me.

That stung.

I should’ve known this was a joke because I bought his AppSumo deal, classily titled “How to do less work by leveraging free interns,” which taught purchasers how to automate their hiring process and basically screw applicants.

Flash forward to 2017, and Kagan’s chief content officer emails me, asking if I’m interested in working as a writer for Sumo.

I have a ridiculously large portfolio including a long list of reputable sites, so I was flabbergasted when he told me he wanted me to write an in-depth, high-quality post for Sumo as part of another Sumo-challenge.

noah kagan

I replied, saying yes, before I realized the challenge paid $200. I haven’t written an article for the ridiculously cheap price of $200 for the last six years.

Here was the challenge:

noah kagan

I began to undertake the challenge, but then I started to have flashbacks of 2014, when Kagan led me on and wasted my valuable time. (Yes, other people’s time is valuable too! Shocker, right?!)

When Chris wouldn’t give me the style guidelines, which was stupid because I’d have them IRL, I began to get a bad, ANNOYED feeling in my stomach, and I told Chris I couldn’t do the challenge.

 

I gave him my reasoning, hoping he’d realize how rude this challenge was, but instead, I received the following response:

Classic Kagan-manner.

That’s the first time I stood up for myself and acknowledged my worth as a highly skilled, more than talented candidate, and stopped letting people like Kagan waste my precious time.

I call out Sumo, because they basically started the trend of absurd application processes.

But Sumo is far from the only one pulling these stunts.

Another job I applied for at Later had me complete a quiz, using the buggy software, Hundred5, before I could even apply for the job.

I took the test because I wanted to see what it is was like (I’m an avid early adopter), and it was bad.

The questions were about as good at HubSpot Academy’s exams, which, if you’re familiar, questions often could have multiple answers, and really smart marketers can easily fail it.

The test was timed and had about 15-20 questions. When it came time to submit the quiz, the software bugged out and who knows if my answers/application were even submitted. I didn’t receive an email confirmation either.

What a waste of time.

Want another example? I’ve got one.

Mailerlite posted on WeWorkRemotely that it was looking for a freelance content marketer or something similar to that.

All you had to do was sign-up for a Mailerlite account, and create a campaign.

Here’s my application:

 

mailerlite

They opened the email three times (I’m sure it was a forwarding address), and clicked on three links, not including my resume or anything of substance.

Wonder what they were trying to do? Hire someone or acquire more users?

These are just a handful of hundreds examples of how inconsiderate companies can be during the hiring process.

Think I’m just a complainer and making this stuff up? I wish I was.

Take this phenomenal article in Columbia Journalism Review, which highlights the gross application processes of many widely popular publications, including but not limited to: Bustle, The Outline and GQ.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the Spring of 2015, GQ asked freelance writer and editor Beejoli Shah to produce a four-page front-of-book section for the magazine. She was responsible for conceiving every element, from lists to profiles to Q&As, and naming writers she thought would be right to tackle each piece. She had two days to do it, although it usually takes editors several weeks. And she would not be paid.

Shah didn’t work at GQ, although she hoped to. The FOB she made wasn’t real: It was an edit test, the screening exercise nearly every publication requires candidates to complete at some point in the hiring process. Shah, an experienced journalist, knew a test was inevitable when she applied for the senior-level Culture Editor position, so she devoted 36 hours to writing 900 words of FOB ideas, plus 3,000 more addressing the other three portions of the edit test. “It was a nightmare, but I wanted that job so badly,” she says.

After returning the test, she met briefly with another editor, which felt promising. A month later, he told her the magazine was “unclear” about their plans. That was the last she heard about the position. “I get that there are a million people taking the test, but to me, that shows how little the hiring process is valued,” she says. “I don’t think people realize how much work is being asked.”

This isn’t just happening in creative jobs though. It’s happening in every industry, including programming.

Quartz at Work wrote about this in April.

The post is by a computer programmer, who was asked to build a food delivery application for a fictional restaurant as a way to test her coding abilities.

“I was a bit shocked. The time commitment for building an entire application from scratch can be substantial, and the homework assignment didn’t pay,” she writes.

What did she do? She did exactly what I did to Kagan — she gave up and rescinded her application.

“After a long weekend of work, I was so exhausted and miffed that I gave up. I told the interviewer I wasn’t interested in the job, but the reality is that I was dismayed at the interview process.”

In the words of Trendwatching, we’re in the era of “Glass Box Brands.”

I’ll let them explain what that means.

glassbox brands

 

Back in the day a business was a black box. For outsiders, it was pretty hard to see what was going on inside. The brand that was visible to the outside world was whatever you painted on the outside of the box. People came and looked at it. They either liked it or they didn’t.

In 2017, a business is a glass box. Outsiders can easily see inside. They can see the people and the processes. They can see the values. They can even see what the people inside the box feel about what they’re doing.

Do you see how this relates?

Maybe you don’t have negative reviews on Glassdoor or Indeed because you paid for them to be removed, but let me be clear, industry professionals talk, and if your hiring process is like any of the ones I’ve outlined above, then you’re likely the next company to get ghosted.

The data confirms this.

“If your application takes longer than 10 minutes to complete, you are missing out on 50% of qualified job applicants.” (Source)

ideal job application

And according to another study from recruitment company Appcast, recruiters can boost conversion rates (candidates viewing a job ad who go on to complete an application) by up to 365 percent by reducing the length of the application process to five minutes or less. The study tracked 500,000 job seekers looking at online applications across diverse platforms and more than 30,000 completed applications.

Takeaway

Something everyone seems to forget — job seekers and companies — is that jobs are mutually beneficial relationships for the talented.

If you are phenomenal at what you do, you have leverage. Never ever forget that.

How to grow your traffic by 29% next month

My fellow content marketers will likely disagree with what I’m about to type, and it may very well be contrary to what you’ve heard, but…

Content marketing is not necessarily a long-term strategy, in the sense that you can see results in a obscenely short amount of time.

I know this for a fact, because I’ve done it multiple times.

Last year, I ranked a brand new piece of content for the keyword “Excel shortcuts,” which gets 8,100 monthly searches, just one day after publishing it.

The result? Site traffic increased the following month by a whopping 29 percent.

 

The startup I did this for had a domain authority (DA) of 25 at the time and is far from a brand-name “unicorn.”

That wasn’t a fluke either. Before that, I spearheaded a blog for SitePoint, increasing its traffic from nothing to 100,000 weekly uniques in three months through, again, content marketing.

Most startups struggle with content marketing and give up before they ever succeed at it, but I’m here to tell you, it works — it works like a freakin’ charm — when you do it right.

In this post, you’ll learn my step-by-step process for substantially increasing site traffic with content marketing.

Before we begin, please note content marketing is not a growth hack, in that it costs money. Content marketers who get results don’t come cheap, and they usually require a small budget for additional resources as well.

Now that we got that out of the way, moving forward!

Step 1: Identify an epic idea.

Your idea is the foundation of your content marketing campaign, so, like any good foundation, it must be solid to grow.

This is where a lot of people go wrong. They don’t spend enough time coming up with a good idea. Or they don’t know their audience well enough to know the difference between what their audience thinks is epic and what they — as the company founder — think is epic.

All I’m saying is spend some time, regardless of how well you think you know your audience/industry, confirming that this is in fact an epic idea.

The Anatomy of a Good Idea

A good idea is: popular, relevant to your business, easy to promote and better than everything else out there on the topic. Let me elaborate with my “Excel shortcuts” example.

Popular Topic

The startup I did this for is a small online course provider. Its best-selling courses, by far, are its Microsoft Excel courses, so we knew anything around Excel would likely do well.

I confirmed this notion with Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool, which reported that “Excel shortcuts” was searched for 8,100 times per month.

Competitors were also having success with this keyword, so I knew there was opportunity there (Thanks again to Moz).

Strategically Relevant

Not only did we choose this topic because it was popular, but also because it was strategically relevant to the business.

Its Excel courses are created by top Excel “gurus,” and they had a lot of success on Groupon and other daily deal sites, so if they had a reputation, it was surely for Excel.

Additionally, the startup wanted to sell more Excel courses, so it was an easy way to get highly targeted visitors, some of whom converted to customers.

Easy to Distribute

If I don’t think a piece of content is going to be easy to promote then I nix the idea.

You can’t, I repeat, CAN’T force people to digest your content. In fact, I just read a quote by Jerry Seinfeld that speaks to this perfectly:

“There is no such thing as an attention span. There is only the quality of what you are viewing.”

How to Know if Content will be Easy to Promote

Check Quora.

Quora is a phenomenal way to identify desire and promote your content once it’s ready.

Look for questions that your piece of content could answer on Quora.

 

Have many people have asked about it? How recently? How many people are following the question?

Not only was there a lot of questions about “Excel shortcuts,” but they also had a healthy following.

Visit Reddit.

I won’t lie… Reddit scares me. It’s so volatile and extremely unreliable.

With that being said, I have had some success on Reddit, especially when it came to this “Excel shortcuts” piece.

Before we created the content, I checked out the Excel subreddit. As it turns out, the subreddit was poppin’. Look at these numbers…

This looked like a perfect place to drop a link to the “Excel shortcuts” piece when it was ready, and as it turns out, it was! (I’ll explain how I did that later.)

Ask: What blogs or publications would syndicate this?

To get syndicated on [Insert publication] means to get a post on your site re-published on another site with a link back to your site in order to reach a larger audience.

For example, the Excel piece was syndicated on Business Insider and Lifehacker Australia.

In a perfect world, you’ll have a healthy mix of mainstream and niche blogs/publications on your outreach list.

From my research, I knew that places like Lifehacker and Business Insider LOVE the topic of Excel, and they also LOVE to syndicate really good content, so I figured I had a good chance of getting a “yes.”

I was pretty certain Lifehacker and Business Insider would be a good fit, but I confirmed my suspicions by visiting both sites and searching for “Excel.” You can see what I paid attention to in the below screenshots.

As you can see, I reviewed three things:

  1. The number of articles published on the topic. If they don’t publish on this topic often, it probably isn’t a good fit.
  2. The most recent date of content published on the topic. If they haven’t blogged about it since 2013, then they’re likely not a good fit.
  3. How popular the related content was. Some sites have a view counter, like Business Insider. Others have a like button. And you can always see the number of comments. Beware: Some sites inflate these numbers, so use good judgement.

You’ll also want to find the publication’s guest post/syndication policy.

I had been syndicated on Business Insider before so I knew Business Insider had a contributor program. Usually, you can find this out by googling some sort of the following:

  • Your Keyword “contribute to our site”
  • Your Keyword “guest column”
  • Your Keyword “submit content”
  • Your Keyword “submit your content”

I also found this comprehensive list of sites that accept contributions.

Pay attention, and actually read the guidelines because your content must adhere to its editorial standards.

For example, while HubSpot writes about Excel content, its guest blog policy states that it won’t syndicate content.

While I know HubSpot makes exceptions to this rule for really big influencers, I didn’t think they’d make an exception for us and did not try to get our piece published here.

Above and beyond better

If there is a really phenomenal piece of content already out there on the topic, meaning its: comprehensive, well-written, visually appealing and there’s really not much you can do to improve it, don’t create it.

When I have a new idea, I conduct extensive research on the topic. I Google about nine different versions of the query. I look on page two, three… and click on just about every result.

I look at every link because, usually, pieces of content do some things well and other things poorly.

For example, one layout might be horrible to look at but have great content. Another piece of content might be poorly written, but looks beautiful.

Here are a few things to pay attention to when researching:

  • The structure/flow of the content. Is the information presented in the most digestible order for readers?
  • The quality of writing. Could you present something clearer or more compelling?
  • The way it looks. Could you make your content look better than the content you find?
  • The information presented. Is the information accurate, backed by reputable  resources and relevant at this point in time? What’s missing or could be expanded upon?

Outcome

By the end of step one, you should have a pitch document, which is a simple document that scopes out the content project and answers all the pertinent questions, including:

  • Working title
  • Content type/structure
  • Brief overview
  • Brief, bullet-point outline of what to cover
  • Best examples

Step 2: Bring idea to life.

Consider all of the things you have to do in order to bring this piece to life, and type it out.

For example, with the Excel piece, based on the pitch example above, I had to do the following before I could share this piece of content.

  • Research: Gather all the Excel shortcuts for Mac and PC while also collecting all of the other information I outlined.
  • Write: Write the introduction and conclusion.
  • Test: Fact check the shortcuts.
  • Edit: Clean up copy, if needed. Plagiarism check.
  • Format: Format/layout onsite content.
  • Design: Design infographic and cheatsheet.  
  • Optimize: Make sure content is optimized for search engines.

Think about all the steps ahead of time so you know what resources you need from the onset. This way your production workflow is more efficient and your project is more likely to launch on time… or even early.

For this project, I acted more like a project manager than a “writer” or “content creator” because I was juggling a ton of projects at the time and had a budget to outsource.


Before I elaborate on how I outsourced/managed this project, I have a quick note: If this was a text-heavy piece, I would’ve done things differently. I’m much pickier when it comes to outsourcing text-heavy pieces because it must be truly amazing to hold readers’ attention, and most “writers” can’t deliver.


A Content Production Workflow Example

Research

Our paid marketing intern conducted the research for this piece. He gathered all of the shortcuts, along with all the information I asked for, into an organized spreadsheet so it could be fact-checked quickly.

When you hire a VA or a paid intern, it helps if you’re very specific when you ask for what you need. I’m not saying micromanage. I’m just saying, be detailed in describing what you’re looking for. Don’t tell them how to accomplish it though, unless you’re training them.

Also, be sure to assign a deadline and hold the person to this deadline. Negotiate a stipulation for late content so they know you’re serious about it being delivered on-time.

A highly diligent, organized college student is perfect to complete a research task like this.

They’re affordable, hardworking and easy to communicate with.


Side How-To

How to Find Legit, Affordable College Students

I’ve tested a lot of ways to find affordable freelance students, but these are the student recruiting tactics that worked best for me.

Recruit journalism students.

Not only are journalism students trained to investigate (which means they’re killer researchers), but they’re also taught how to write well.

Most importantly though, they subscribe to an official Code of Ethics as a journalist.

Where do you find journalism students?

  • College publications. Look for a list of college publications, and visit their websites. Email the editor, and ask them to forward your gig description to their contributor list. They usually will.
  • Professors. Google for a list of the top journalism schools. Visit their sites, and find the right person to email on the faculty or directory page. Here’s Stanfords.
  • College job boards. Some colleges have job boards, where you can post jobs for free, like Columbia.
  • Other college blogs. Check out The Muses writers, who are sometimes students, and reach out. Also, scour college publications, like Her Campus and New York Times’ college student column, and reach out to a few of the writers you like.

Write

The introduction and conclusion only needed to be a few sentences each, so I wrote those myself.

Test

Once the research is done and the spreadsheet delivered, we moved onto testing every single shortcut in the spreadsheet.

One person with a Mac and another person with a PC (and up-to-date versions of Excel) verified each of these shortcuts before moving forward.

It’s always good to get a second pair of eyes on content before it goes out, but don’t be excessive. You know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen, right?

This step also includes a plagiarism check. I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker tool.

Design

As soon as the shortcuts were verified and the descriptions approved, I outsourced the infographic and cheatsheet to a designer on UpWork.

I found a great, affordable designer, who I loved working with and continued to work with for a long time after, on UpWork.


How to Find Good Designers on UpWork

Invite freelancers.

After you post your exciting job description to UpWork, make sure you “Invite” freelancers to apply. This makes a big difference in the quality and quantity of proposals you receive.

Use the filter feature to find exactly who you’re looking for…

I decided who to invite based on:

  • Portfolio of work
  • Rate
  • Amount earned on the platform
  • Job success rate

As you can see above, Viktor had earned a lot on UpWork and had a 100 percent success rate. That’s really good, so I hired him.

Look for affordable high-potentials.

I didn’t love everything in Viktor’s portfolio, but having worked as a freelancer on UpWork before, I knew a lot of clients have poor taste and ask for tacky things a lot.

I felt like this was the case with Viktor, and it was. His work continued to evolve the more we worked together.

Try to see the potential in people.

Provide a clear scope of work (SOW).

I gave Viktor the organized spreadsheet and provided examples of infographics I liked via a Pinterest board link.

Don’t do what’s convenient for you and send a million messages. Create a G-Doc that’s simple, to-the-point and includes links to styles you like. Make your freelancer’s life easy, and they’ll love you (i.e. move mountains for you).

Don’t nickel and dime them.

Viktor quoted me $175 for the infographic and cheatsheet.

In all our time working together, I’m proud to say, I never tried to bring his already super-low rates down more because his work was definitely worth the $175.


Format and Upload

Ideally, you should think of the microsite design earlier than now. Most of the steps overlap, so it’s bit difficult to order the steps perfectly.

How will your microsite look? How will your blog post be laid out?

This usually requires: dev, design and marketing, depending on how your team is organized, the size of the company and what type of content management system (CMS) you have.

In my example, the dev team coded the microsite because we have a custom CMS, and I don’t code.

I think marketing should’ve own design for this though since the visual layout is so vital to the success of a piece of content and whether or not it is optimized for conversions.

Once the formatting is determined, it’s time to upload your content to the CMS.

Optimize

Last but not least, optimize your content by adding a:

  • Meta title
  • Meta description
  • Slug
  • Focus keyword

Resources for writing good titles:


In a perfect world, you’d have a plugin that allows you to A/B test titles.

Step 3: Distribute content.

Once your microsite is optimized and tested, it’s time to start promoting it!

A Distribution Strategy Example

This is the order in which I distributed the Excel piece.

Share on Social

According to KISSmetrics, a piece of content should produce 20+ snippets that you can share on social media throughout the next few weeks and even months.

Snippets can be anything from pull quotes to facts or tips extracted from the content.

I usually open a blank G-Doc and brain dump a bunch of social media posts based on which platform I’m sharing it on. For the Excel post, we focused on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Next, I create six image variations (which were optimized for each platform) so each post has a different (perfectly sized) image, and it doesn’t look like we’re promoting the same exact piece of content every time.

Finally, I used a scheduling tool, like Buffer or CoSchedule, to drip out the link over the next few weeks and months.

After I shared organically, I created a Facebook Ad campaign, using AdEspresso, which automatically optimizes your Facebook ads and tests different variations.

While I don’t have the specific ads we ran for the Excel content piece, I can tell you we tested 36 ad sets, ran it for 10 days and paid $223.25. The result? Sixty-eight leads, which cost $3.28 per lead.

Facebook was also our No. 1 referrer that month, which had never happened in the history of the company.

Submit to Reddit

This is where things really started to pick up for us.

I submitted our content to the bustling Excel subreddit, and it was quite popular, which gave me some leverage when I decided to email Business Insider.

By leverage, I mean that I had cold, hard proof that this would be a popular piece to syndicate to their enormous audience.

Reddit is a fickle beast though. Here’s how I approached it.

If you’re familiar with Reddit, you know that it’s wildly frowned upon to submit your own links or links you’re affiliated with.

With that in mind, I read the entire left sidebar on the subreddit.

Once I read every single link in the sidebar to learn the rules, etiquette, etc, I personally messaged the moderators of the subreddit, telling them about the piece of content we worked really hard on and how it would be invaluable to their audience.

I shared a link to the content piece so they could verify the quality of the content. Turns out, they liked it and said I could share it as long as I put “Advertisement” in my title.

The post did really well. It received 254 upvotes and 35 comments.

Email Business Insider

It was time to try to get this syndicated on Business Insider.

At 1:13 p.m., I sent the email below to the general contributors’ email:

By 1:17 p.m., I received this email.

Our content blew up on Business Insider:

This syndication opened the doors to also getting syndicated on Lifehacker Australia and Business Insider Australia, which sent a healthy dose of traffic as well.

Cross Post

Something else I always do, just because it takes so little time and because it helps sometimes, is submit links to social bookmarking sites and syndicate it on places like Medium and Quora.

The social bookmarking sites I usually submit to include:

  • Visual.ly
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Flipboard

There are Many Other Ways to Distribute Your Content

Every piece of content should have its own unique distribution strategy, which may or may not look similar to what I outlined above, so don’t blindly follow my tactics.

Utilize the ones that will work for your audience.

That is how you increase site traffic by 29% in 1 month.

So that’s everything — the step-by-step process we used to increase site traffic by 29 percent in one month.

It took a lot of hard work from multiple people to make this thing the success it was. And while I was confident this piece would do well, I *never* guaranteed that to my client. At the end of the day, the most important pieces of the puzzle were in the hands of other people –people I didn’t even know — so I couldn’t promise anything.

Before we shut this party down, let me say: Content marketing may not be right for you — it’s totally possible. Content marketing isn’t a universal panacea.

If you’re unsure if it is or isn’t, there are a few questions you can ask yourself.

  • Do I have the budget to produce a phenomenal content marketing campaign?
  • Can I think of any good content ideas that my audience might enjoy?
  • Are people in my space (bloggers or competitors) already writing about this?
  • Is there a demand for content in my industry?

Answer those questions, and use good judgement. Once you do, you should know which path to choose.

The Shocking Truth About Your Content: It Sucks.

In the past week alone, I’ve had three prospects tell me they need my help with distribution.

The thing is they don’t need my help… with distribution.

They need my help with content.

But… we’re publishing consistently…

But… we don’t have a lot of resources…

But… our posts are long…

But… our content is good…

“…We’re just not focusing on distribution.”

Insider Secret: Distribution is ridiculously easy when your content is good.

Fun Fact: Every single one of my blog posts that were syndicated were syndicated because the publication’s editor or writer EMAILED ME.

I RARELY do outreach.

I HATE asking for things, hence the reason why I despise (and don’t do) “link building” and all outreach that involves emailing someone I don’t know with a shitty piece of content that they are never going to link to or share because it sucks. And then my name is associated with shit from there on out. No thank you, ma’am. Not for me.

Another fun fact: I don’t have a ton of best friends at large media outlets who are just waiting for their phones to ding with another blog post from me. In fact, when I have successfully reached out to pitch a piece of content, I’ve emailed the general contributors’ email.

It’s actually smarter to do this when you have a great piece of content because it’s typically a forwarding address going to multiple editors in different departments. I PROMISE you, they read every email. I know they do because I get responses (and I track the opens).

The reason you don’t is not because you suck at distribution. It’s because you suck at content.

I think people like to believe distribution is the problem because it sounds a lot easier and a lot cheaper (think $2/hour VAs building lists of unexpected targets and building alias emails to pretend they’re the CEO themselves — thanks Tim Ferriss and Noah Kagan; NOT) to solve than actually creating good content in the first place.

So because everyone in charge appears to have little to no clue what constitutes good content, I’m going to break down every single element of good content and then provide you with a ton of examples of good and bad content from around the Internet.

We’ll also have a brief chat about consistency — stuff you probably haven’t heard before.

If you decide to give this good content thing an honest shot…


(and you can easily and cost effectively run an experiment to see if I’m right by outsourcing one badass piece of content to a GOOD writer and then MANUALLY emailing the *right* publications’ general contributors’ emails. Track the email, and wait to see if you get a response. It shouldn’t take more than a day usually.)


… Or if you just want to know if your current content does actually suck (or if I’m just a super mean person on the Internet with no basis for my argument), you’ll want to read this section to learn which metrics to review.

Before we dive into all that though, let me briefly explain why you need good content AKA why good content will help you reach your marketing goals.

Why publish good content?

Aside from the very important reason that content is a public facing entity that your audience will associate with all aspects of your brand?

Or aside from the fact that, “78 percent of consumers believe that companies focused on custom content are more trustworthy than companies that simply churn out generic content?”

Aside from the fact that you never get a second chance to make a first impression? (First impressions are incredibly important; 48 percent of consumers report that they are more likely to become loyal to a brand during the first purchase or experience.)

Or aside from the fact that your content is an opportunity to build an emotional bond and connection with anyone who engages with it? (Which is HUGE, considering just 7 percent of consumers think brands positively or meaningfully contribute to their lives and 63 percent say they only buy products and services that appeal to their beliefs, values or ideals.)

So yeah, aside from those facts, which most people in charge consider secondary, here’s the main reason why you should publish good content (that most people will care about anyway).

Because Google’s algorithm looks for good content.

According to Google, RankBrain is its third most important ranking factor.

“RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query.”

And according to top SEO expert, Brian Dean, RankBrain is only going to become increasingly important in the year to come.

Here’s an excerpt from Dean’s post, which I HIGHLY recommend reading:

RankBrain is a machine learning system that helps Google sort their search results.

That might sound complicated, but it isn’t.

RankBrain simply measures how users interact with the search results…

…and ranks them accordingly.

For example, let’s say you search for “cold brew coffee” in Google.

The #4 result looks especially enticing. So you quickly click on it.

And when you get there…wow! It’s the best darn article about coffee you’ve ever read. So you devour every word.

RankBrain is going to take note…and likely give that #4 result a rankings boost.

On the other hand, let’s say that you do the same search. But this time, you click on the #1 result without even looking.

But the content is TERRIBLE. So you bounce from the page after a few seconds. And you click on the #4 result to find something about coffee that’s actually worth reading.

RankBrain will also notice this. And if enough people quickly bounce from that result, Google will boot it from the #1 spot.

As you can see, RankBrain focuses on two things:

  • How long someone spends on your page (Dwell Time)
  • The percentage of people that click on your result (Click Through Rate)

Let’s ignore No. 2 for the purpose of this post, and focus on No. 1 for a moment.

Dwell time refers to how long a Google searcher spends on your page.

Google confirmed it pays A LOT of attention this, saying RankBrain measures when “someone clicks on a page and stays on that page, when they go back.”

And again, as Dean points out, an industry study by SearchMetrics’ supports this statement, finding that the average dwell time for a top 10 Google search result is 3 minutes and 10 seconds.

As I’m sure you know from reviewing Google Analytics, a 3+ minute dwell time is good. Therefore, it’s not surprising that pages with high dwell times rank highest.

If you spend a long time on a page, you probably like the content on that page. And if enough people feel the same way, Google will rank that content higher to make it easier to find.

So good content = Rank high on Google

The Elements of Good Content

It’s original.

You know your idea is original if you include original data or insights, if it’s covering something a lot of people haven’t written about yet or if you’re presenting a different viewpoint and actually adding something different (and of course valuable) to the conversation.

If you have nothing new (or valuable) to say, don’t write it at all.

It’s better.

Have you heard about The Skyscraper Technique?

If you haven’t, it’s an SEO tactic, where you find content that’s ranking well and create something better than it.

You should have this mindset for EVERY post you publish. Your writers should do EXHAUSTIVE research to make sure they are writing something way better than everything out there — stuff even on the second and third page of Google.

Better can mean a lot of different things, but usually, it means more comprehensive.

The best content covers an entire topic in-depth.

Google’s No. 1 job is to deliver the best search result, and the best result is not usually a piece of meatless, keyword-stuffed content. Instead, with comprehensive content, searchers get everything they need from one place — it’s like a one-stop shop for content.

A study by Brian Dean confirms this.

It’s fresh.

Fresh content is good content.

Your content pieces are living documents and should be updated as such. And no, I don’t mean automatically changing the dates at the top or bottom of your post to say it’s updated everyday, when I (and Google) know that’s a damn lie.

It’s beautiful.

Or at least enjoyable to read.

Be honest: Which content piece below would you rather read just from the look of it?

I’m willing to bet the one on the left.

Because it has lots of white space, making it easy to focus on the content, and there is a nice mix of content (video, various images, quotables). Oh, and the font is big enough to read without clicking zoom a million times.

I’m not even going to get into the one on the right because it’s too much of a hot mess.

One last tip before we move on though: Stay away from overused stock imagery.

It’s trustworthy.

I’ve worked with SEO consultants who would try to remove links to sources in articles I wrote because “It’s SEO best practice.”

This may be “SEO best practice,” but it is most definitely not the overall content best practice, which overrides SEO best practice

Link to your sources to back up your arguments — to prove to your readers what you’re saying is true. And don’t link to the homepage. Link to the actual piece of content where you found your information.

You should link to data, facts, expert quotes and whatever else will make your content stronger and more compelling/convincing.

Just make sure you’re linking to *good* sources.

To identify good sources, use good judgement, and ask yourself:

  • When was the last time this source was updated?
  • Who wrote it? Might they have a motive for writing it?
  • Does the piece seem unbiased?
  • Where are they getting their information from?
  • Do a lot of people trust this site?
  • Did you verify this source’s information with Google to make sure the information in question is consistent with other sources?

It’s reader-centric.

“The problem with most content is that it is created for the boss. It isn’t created for the audience you are trying to reach, engage and convert.” (source)

I’m totally flabbergasted by how many people in charge don’t see the benefit of creating nonchalant content — i.e. content that isn’t directly about them. It’s something that should be common sense.

Let me be frank: Unless you’re a really cool brand/company, no one is going to care about your brand-centric content.

This is the very problem content marketing was created (and proven) to solve.

By genuinely helping your target audience, instead of spamming them with ads and promotional junk all about YOU, YOU, YOU, they are naturally going to like you more and more over time as you increasingly gain their trust.

I mean c’mon, guys, this is like life 101. What did Dale Carnegie teach us in How to Win Friends and Influence People?

He taught us that you will make more friends in two months by being interested in others, than in two years by trying to make others interested in you (And the harder you try, the more annoying you become and the more turned off they get.)

The only way to make long-lasting, quality relationships is to learn how to get over your “me-first” mentality and be genuinely interested in/helpful to others.

Not only does branded content repulse customers, but it also repulses writers and editors, who see this type of junk way too many times per day. Therefore, one of two things will happen when you try to build links and get PR mentions with branded content.

  1. Editors will ignore you, and make sure to flag your email as junk.
  2. Editors will let you know you can pay mad money for a native ad or sponsored post on their site, and send you their media kit. (FYI: Sponsored ads aren’t cheap, folks! In fact, I’ve been quoted no less than $15,000 by a few places.)

Reader-centric content teaches your audience something they care about learning that is nonchalantly related to your industry.

It’s actionable and relatable to readers and helps them solve a problem(s). It helps them learn something new that they didn’t before.

Reader-centric content helps people without expecting anything in return except the gift of knowing you’ve helped someone learn something about whatever it is you’re passionate and knowledgeable about.

It’s well-written.

To understand what well-written means, check out the examples of *good* content below, and/or read this brief article on writing tips.

Good Content Examples

Zapier

Zapier is “a blog about productivity, workflow automation, company building and how to get things done with less work.”

This is the perfect nonchalant blog theme for Zapier because its product is workflow automation (If this, then that) software that saves you time on mundane tasks.

Its audience is a smart group of folks. They’re developers, entrepreneurs and marketers — all of whom are obsessed with efficiency, also making this the perfect theme for them.

Here’s a post I pulled from the Zapier blog and broke down each component that makes it good content.

A Guide to Optimizing Gmail: 30 of the Best Tips, Tricks, Hacks and Add-Ons

It starts with a great headline.

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” —David Ogilvy

Zapier writes phenomenal headlines, combining headline best practices in every title, including:

  • Using numbers – people love numbers
  • Using superlatives, such as best
  • Using rationale, such as tips, tricks and hacks
  • Using trigger words, like guide – readers love to learn
  • Using a keyword, like Gmail, that works for your specific audience
The introduction is compelling, and easy to digest.

  • Make your readers feel their pain/problem you’re about to teach them how to solve.
  • Tell readers what you’re going to teach them.
  • Organize sections into a clickable table of contents, which scrolls to each section.
The main section/body is well-formatted.

The body is the longest part of the post.

During the average page visit, site visitors only read 28 percent of the words, which is why Zapier is smart to make their posts easily scannable by creating clearly defined headlines and breaking text up with helpful visuals, such as screenshots.

They also make their blog posts more scannable by using bullet points. Here’s an example:

 

H2 headline

Zapier’s first H2 — “Optimize Your Inbox” — is good to begin with because it’s the promise they made to readers in the blog post title.

H3 headline

The headlines nested under “Optimize Your Inbox” are H3 headlines.

Images

Zapier loves screenshots because they’re teaching people how to do things in their posts so screenshots make the most sense and obviously add to the content.

I use Nimbus to take screenshots.

The marketing is nonchalant.

 

You’ll notice that Zapier has a scrolly, MINIMAL sidebar that offers readers the opportunity to try Zapier for free. It also has a nonevasive slide-up box as well at the bottom.

Finally, the post ends with a question to drive engagement (comments).

And finally, once you reach the bottom,  there’s a signup form, with my information (prepopulated), making it super easy for me to register for Zapier, in a non-annoying way.

First Round Review

First Round Review is *the* standout startup blog. Instead of taking the tired approach of having its investors/partners write about startup trends, First Round Review’s Camille Ricketts had a better idea.

On First Round Review, the biggest distinguishing factor is the way the meaty content focuses on other people, regardless of whether they’re affiliated with First Round or not.

“Because so many talented entrepreneurs are drawn to this idea that if they work with a particular VC they will get all of this awesome service in return, it’s becoming a huge selling point for VCs,” Ricketts said. “If they see that excellent content is coming out of First Round and that we’re really knowledgeable about certain things and we have a lot of connections, they’re much more likely to work with us, frankly.”

Let’s break down another post — this time on First Round Review.

Influencers Aren’t Born, They’re Built — Here’s How

It starts with a big, beautiful image.

According to Jeff Bullas, articles with images get 94% more total views than articles without images. And in one of Jakob Nielsen’s usability studies, he discovered that pictures of people are one of the most engaging forms of web content.

Not only does this post have a giant, beautiful image of the person the article is about, but it also provides context for its readers.

Look at the San Francisco bridge in the background. It gives readers a taste for the result they’re going to get → becoming an influencer.

The introduction is compelling because it makes you feel like you need this person’s advice, and it plays on the exclusivity hack (i.e. you can’t get this information anywhere else.

It’s well-formatted.

 

 

 

The marketing is nonchalant and relatable.

 

Bad Content Example

The Ladders

The Ladders reminds me of Inc — all fluff, no meat and questionable advice.

Let’s break down one of its posts.

9 types of people who never succeed at work

Before I begin breaking down this poor piece of content, I’d like to point out that this is a blog by a company that touts helping professionals who make more than $100,000 per year.

I would think its blog then would cater to a higher reading level. And, people, remember URLs are part of your design — keep them short and visually appealing. Also, avoid numbers.

You can see my comments in the marked up screenshots below, but here’s the TLDR version of why this is bad content.

First, it asks for way too much stuff up-front. Like you on Facebook? How do I know I even like you yet?

Second, it uses irrelevant imagery, and imagery that won’t appeal to its audience.

Third, the post is mislabeled because this post offers NO advice whatsoever.

Fourth (and big one here), the author does not link to his “facts” so how do we know these are correct?

Fifth, the format is inconsistent and the headings do a poor job of describing each section.

Sixth, the post ends with a weak solution that benefits the author, not the audience.

Overall, this post delivers absolutely no value to readers, and that’s why this post is a prime example of bad content.

 

What about consistency?

How do you consistently push out good content all the time? I thought we were supposed to post four or five times per week.

In my opinion, it’s much better to post good content less than mediocre content more.

If you want to be consistent about something, be consistent in QUALITY, like Wait But Why, which has nearly 600,000 subscribers and gets nearly three million visits per month.

Subscribers and anyone familiar with Wait But Why *know* that when they see a link from this domain, the content is going to be badass — every time.

I used to think the same thing every time I saw a blog post from Sumo. But now, because they are focusing on QUANTITY, naturally, the quality has sort-of tanked.

If you read this Inbound Original, then you’ll know a lot of the posts they’re writing aren’t actually for its audience, they’re for search engines.

sumo blog

Notice how the SEO articles get significantly less traffic than the ones meant for people. The ones meant for people are still badass, so I only visit every other Monday from now on to find the new growth study.

The rest are not worth my time because obviously they’re not for me — they’re for Google.

I understand where Sumo’s coming from here — trying to optimize for long-term SEO traffic — but I can’t help but wonder what those SEO-articles dwell times and bounce rates will be like.

Who knows. Maybe they’ll be great, but I’m still with Wait But Why and Ali Mese on this one: [highlight color=#f723c7 ]I will only publish content when I have something important to say.[/highlight]

I recommend doing the same.

Content Metrics

For those of you who still aren’t convinced your content is bad, let’s look at the data.

I would look at Google Analytics (GA), and install Hotjar, if you haven’t already.

In GA, I would review time on page and bounce rate.

If time on page is less than two minutes on average, that isn’t good. If bounce rates are high, that also isn’t good.

As for Hotjar, I’d install heatmaps on my blog post pages to see how far down people are reading my content.

Next, I’d install video recordings so I can see how people are actually engaging with my content.

And last but not least, I’d add a poll to my blog posts. To improve your content, Hotjar recommends asking visitors the following questions:

  • If you could change just one thing in [name], what would it be?
  • What other content would you like to see us offer?
  • How would you rate this article on a scale of 1 – 10? (NPS Question)
  • If you could change anything on this page, what would you have us do?

I also forgot to mention one other place I like to check. And that’s the popular read-it-later app Pocket.

If you visit the explore tab, and search for the topic your blog post is about, sometimes your post will pop up in the results. It will proceed to tell you how many saves it has, like in the screenshot below:

This gives you an idea about how many people want to revisit your post or actually take the time to read it when they have more time. I think that speaks volumes.

Do you still want my help with distribution?

If you’ve read this far, I hope I’ve convinced you that you don’t need help with distribution. You need help with content.

Many of you will ignore my advice, and patiently wait for the traffic gods to send an influx of visitors your way. All I can say is: Don’t hold your breath.

As for the small fraction of you, who want to actually make a productive change to your content that produces results, hit me up, and I’ll see if I can help.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. Always happy to respond to *nice* people.

How to Keep Track of Your Work Accomplishments

Modesty is a virtue that doesn’t pay the bills.

Since 2011, I have not so quietly boasted about my career-related accomplishments.

Over the past seven years, I’ve landed 15 job interviews in 30 minutes, gone from underemployed dropout waitress to the top 1% of millennials and even designed a website for Flo Rida.

To date, my writing has been published in places like: CNBC, Fortune, Business Insider, The Economist, TIME, and many others. And I’ve been featured in outlets like: Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Inc and The Boston Globeall of this despite not graduating from college or dropping out of an Ivy League school.

I am proud to say, since dropping out, I’ve consistently had a steady stream of work and have been able to dramatically increase my rates year over year (YoY), even in the middle of a terrible economic downturn.  


I do not say this to brag. I say this to prove to you that you can do the same exact things I do — regardless of your age or current situation — as long as you’re motivated, persistent and resilient.


I achieved all of the above by relentlessly focusing on three key things:

  1. Producing results.
  2. Documenting those results.
  3. And sharing those results (cough: achievements).

Focus on just those three things, and I promise you, you’ll always be employed and handsomely paid for your work.

Surprisingly, No. 1 is usually the easiest for people.

It’s No. 2 and No. 3 that people don’t do — either because they believe modesty is the best policy, don’t know they should and/or think they aren’t doing anything worthy of being documented and shared.

To these three excuses, I say:

  1. Modesty is a virtue that doesn’t pay the bills.
  2. Now, you know.
  3. You definitely are doing something worthy of being documented and shared.

Why track my achievements?

If you still don’t believe me, here are a few more reasons (in no particular order) why you should document and share your accomplishments.

1. To land a raise/promotion.

If you want a raise, you’re going to have to provide value AND present that value to your employer BEFORE you ask for a raise.

This is why so many people fail at negotiation. They approach it all wrong.

You know you deserve a promotion/raise because YOU know what you’re doing all the time, but your boss probably doesn’t. And never expect your boss to just reward you because you look like you’re working hard. Fat chance.

If you want a promotion/raise, you need to showcase your previous results to prove you deserve one. The best way to do this is to agree to a few key performance indicators (KPIs) with your boss.

This way, after 3-6 months of meeting and exceeding your KPIs, you can confidently walk into your boss’ office with LEVERAGE.

Your leverage is your previous, consistent results for the business (AKA your achievements).

2. To interview better.

When you don’t document your achievements on an ongoing basis, you’re very likely to forget the vital details that show how valuable you are.    

By doing this, you’ll be able to quickly impress recruiters and hiring managers with how much you’ve accomplished.

3. To write your resume fast.

Recently, I redid my resume, and it only took me one hour — maybe even less. That’s unheard of for me. When I created past resumes, it took forever.

So what did I do differently?

Well, the year prior, I decided to start tracking my achievements/results in a G-Doc and a Trello board.

I didn’t have to dream up bullet points because I had a long list of them right there in Trello and Google Drive. Easy breezy!

4. To combat a bad performance review.

Let’s say you receive an inaccurate performance review from your boss that makes you look bad.

Regardless of the reason, if you’ve been producing results for the business, and you’ve been documenting those results with screenshots, emails, feedback, etc., then the proof is in the pudding — you’re actually killing it — and you can easily prove this with your documents.

5. To prove your past experience.

Companies have no shame about firing you without two weeks notice (which is why I always wondered why employees are expected to give advance notice, but I digress).

And before you know it, everything you did in your previous role is obliterated. You lose access to company programs, software and equipment, and then you’re SOL.

The only way to get another job is to prove you’ve produced results at your last job(s). So unless you want to be unemployed for a while, document your freakin’ results on a consistent basis!

6. To stay motivated.

When I have a bad day, I take a look at my Trello board of accomplishments, and it makes me feel a lot better. Seeing my achievements and past results keeps me motivated when I’m down, and it can do the same for you.

It’s easy to forget the small (yet big) wins, when we’re caught up in the chaos, known as life, and so, we rarely take any time to celebrate them before we move onto the next challenge.

Celebrating your achievements helps you develop a more positive outlook on yourself and your life, increasing your self-confidence, which is quite important in the professional world.

7. To stay productive.

When you’re tracking what you’re doing daily/weekly, you’re forced to face the truth, which may just be that your productivity is tanking.

Obviously, you want to figure this out before your boss does, and a great way to do that is by documenting and reflecting on your day and/or week. What did you get done? What deadline(s) did you miss (or meet)?

What should I document?

Everything. Yes, everything.

Don’t be shy. You’ll be tracking this stuff privately so no need to hold back.

Also, you can always go through these with a fine-tooth comb (and a career coach) later. The more you have, the better, because while you might not consider something valuable, a recruiter might.

I learned this when I visited my college career center.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my resume wasn’t showcasing any of my valuable experience, and so, naturally, I wasn’t landing jobs. It wasn’t until a career coach (verbally) extracted my experience from me by asking damn good questions.

Consider the most commonly asked interview questions, and then reverse engineer accomplishments from them.

To get you started, here are a few suggestions of items to document.


Note: This list is far from definitive. Remember: Document everything.


  • KPIs: Track all of your KPIs with whatever analytics’ tool(s) you use. Take screenshots of charts and graphs to prove it. Record how long it took to reach/exceed goals, how you did it and other important details.
  • Mini testimonials: Collect (screenshot/copy) any and all good feedback from peers, superiors, clients and/or social media connections. You can use these as testimonials on your site and in interviews when someone asks you: What would previous bosses say is your greatest strength? Or other similar questions.
  • Difficult situations: A common interview question is: Tell me about a time you faced a challenging situation with a coworker and how you resolved the issue. So if/when you have a challenging coworker situation on your hands and resolve it amicably, document it. Detail how you reached the resolution.
  • Daily tasks: One way to quantify your resume is by stating the number of times you’ve done something in a given timeframe. This shows recruiters just how much work you can handle. So record all the tasks and projects you’ve completed/managed each day/week and how you managed to complete these things on time. No task is too small to document.
  • Awards: Anytime you receive even the smallest of awards, document it. Nominee? Document it. Employee of the month? Document it. Recognized by a club or volunteer project? Document it.
  • Outside activities: You can put stuff on your resume that doesn’t happen at work. Maybe you are the leader of an industry meetup group. Document everything you do for it.
  • Professional development: Complete an online course? Write it down. Read a book? Write it down. Join a professional club or online membership? Write it down. Learn how to use a new tool/software program? Write it down.

How do I start tracking my accomplishments?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed the first time you sit down to brainstorm and gather all of your past experience — especially if you’ve never done it before.

Things will get messy, but remember, this isn’t the final product. It’s just the very first step, which is always ugly at first.

There are a few different ways you could do this. There is no one best solution, so just do the one that feels right for you (of course, you could try each method as well).

1. Ask yourself questions.

I put this first because it might be the easiest way to recall your past accomplishments.

All you do is answer the list of questions below.

  • Who did I work for? (Freelance and full-time or part-time jobs)
  • What did I do for them?
  • What posts did I publish?
  • How many views, reads, shares, etc. did my posts get?
  • Where was I featured?
  • Where can I find “mini-testimonials?” Who have I impressed and why?
  • What courses did I take?
  • What books did I read?
  • What tools did I use?
  • What professional memberships/sites/groups do I use or am I a part of?
  • What new skills did I learn last year(s)? How did I learn them?
  • What challenges did you face this year at work? How did you overcome them?
  • What processes did you improve or make more efficient?
  • What did I do that was above and beyond my normal job duties?
  • How did I stand out among other employees?
  • Was I ever recognized by a supervisor for a job well done? When and why?
  • Did I win any awards or accolades?
  • What new processes did I implement to improve things?
  • What problems did I solve?
  • Did I ever consistently meet or exceed goals or quotas?
  • Did I save the company money?
  • What made me really great at my job?
  • Who did I meet / network with?
  • How was my performance measured, and did I reach/exceed any performance targets?
  • What did your boss say he/she wanted you to achieve when you were hired?
  • What do you feel you’ve accomplished, regardless of what your current boss or colleagues may think?
  • Have you done something that got better results than your employer had been getting before?
  • If asked what made or makes you really great at your job, what would you say?

2. Braindump.

When I did this for the first time, I had to go pretty far back in time because I waited so long to do it.

To refresh my memory, I opened a G-Doc and created 12 headings — one for each month of the year. Then I typed everything I could think of into that G-Doc — including even the bad things that happened that year.

If you want an idea of what this looks like, here you go:

You may be wondering if I remembered all this stuff from scratch.

I didn’t.

Fortunately, I work online so I could dig through my digital history to see what I’d been up to. It wasn’t the fastest process, but it worked for me.

I reviewed:

  • Social Media (To see what I posted about throughout the years. I usually post about my achievements on these networks.)
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • LinkedIn
  • Google Drive
  • Emails: Look for any thank-you emails or emails detailing any projects or achievements.
  • Medium
  • Quora
  • Trello
  • Previous resumes and portfolios
  • Performance reviews
  • Productivity tools, like Timing

3. Ask your superiors, peers and mentors for feedback.

Ask your internship supervisor or boss to review your resume, if you have a good relationship. It can be eye-opening to hear/read what other people think your accomplishments are or what you did that was most valuable to them.

How do I track this on an ongoing basis?

This process is not a one-and-done type of thing.

It’s SO much easier, if you briefly write down what you did at the end of each day in your journaling/document app of choice.

I prefer Google Docs, and just organize it by folder. For example:

2017

  • Jan 2017
    • Jan 1-7 2017

When big things happen — like getting an article published or exceeding my KPIs on a big project — I document this in a Trello board I call “My Life.” Here’s what it looks like:


Note: Here’s a Trello board template of “My Life” for you to make a copy of, if you like this format.


The nice thing about Trello is that you can take screenshots and download metrics reports, etc., and upload them to a card.

For example, whenever we did our monthly marketing report meeting, I would download the PDF file and upload it to my Trello board, titling it: “May Monthly Marketing Report.”

Remember, it’s important to have proof for this stuff because you’ll need it when you go to build your resume and portfolio.

Now, what do I do?

Reflect on your experiences.

Now, it’s time to reflect on your past experiences. I use labels in Trello to color code how I felt about each experience.

The labels I use are:

  • Identity Capital: This is stuff that is good for your resume and talking about in interviews. It’s your tangible experience.
  • Held Back: Were you held back at a job or two? How so?
  • Important: When important stuff happens.
  • Pivotal Person: Did you meet someone who was pivotal to your career?
  • Pivotal Moment: Did something atypical happen that changed your path for better or worse?
  • Pivotal Achievement: This is referring to a huge achievement that helped you leapfrog ahead in your career.

Using these labels helps me figure out what type of experiences I want to avoid in the future.

I’ll ask myself: Did I like doing what I had to do to get that achievement? If the answer is no, I remember to steer clear of similar situations in the future.

Try to connect the dots, and make sense of the big picture.

Look for strengths and weaknesses.

Notice what you love, what you hate and what you tolerate.

Pay attention to what you love and/or dislike about your superiors, coworkers and culture.

Look for patterns and trends.

Your career is constantly evolving, but it’s important to make sure it’s going in the direction you want. If it’s not, you know it’s time to do something about it.

Read these resources.

That’s the end of this post, but if you’ve been following along and completed this project, I recommend you keep going, and complete these articles’ exercises as well:


And here’s that Trello template again.