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.