The no-BS guide to great content marketing: part 1

Last October, I teamed up with the guys from Tech Drinks Québec to organize a content workshop. Our startup's mother agency, Spektrum, hosted the event in their downtown office. A few dozens of peeps showed up, and in return, I showed them why and how we leverage content at our startup. All in all, it was a cool experience.

Yet I felt like I didn't cover enough of my admittedly broad subject. My main goal was to get a few important points across:

Content marketing is more than a fancy buzzword. It's well worth your time and money, and here's how you should go about it.

I'm writing this to make sure I fully reach said goal.

To do so, I came up with a whole new slide deck & a two-part guide to creating great, effective content. You're now reading the first part. In it, I'll outline my detailed definition of content, and I'll dive into the reasons why you should hop on the content marketing train.

Looking back, I noticed a few relevant examples were missing from the workshop presentation. So this post will contain real examples from my experience at Snipcart. It'll also include a few references to other successful businesses.

Feel free to follow along with the slide deck for funny gifs and supporting visuals.

A quick word about me

I'm not a guru.

I've always loathed gurus and self-proclaimed experts. They deal too much in absolutes, and we all know only the Sith do that. I'm not here to impose methods or reveal permanent truths. I'm just a guy who happens to love what he does, and who also loves to share his learnings, experiences and ideas. I found this to be one of the best ways to learn for myself too. You can call me Franck.

Now let's quit the chit-chat and get into it.

Content marketing: a brief definition

Content marketing could take many forms. Blog posts, ebooks, infographics, white papers, videos, webinars, slide decks, podcasts, interactive resources — you name it. But the three following attributes are inherent to my definition of content.

1 - Consumption value

Content should either 1) solve a problem, make life easier, teach something or 2) entertain, inspire & make people laugh/smile. The key is to provide value for the audience consuming the content. Best case scenario, you produce content that includes #1 + #2. "Storifying" a technical/informative post is a good example of doing just that.

2 - Online distribution

Content is distributed mostly through web-based channels:

  • Social media
  • Blogs
  • Websites
  • Forums
  • Newsletters
  • Online communities
  • etc.

3 - Measurable conversions

Content is web-based; its results are easier to measure than most traditional marketing efforts. A few examples of measurable content conversions:

  • Sign-ups
  • Key page views
  • Phone number calls
  • Social media engagement
  • Newsletter subscriptions
  • Search engine rankings
  • etc.

And since the web is more democratized and open than legacy communication channels, it's also cheaper than investing in these (TV, radio, print, sponsorships, events, etc.).

Why you should invest time and money in content

All right, now that we've got the what handled, let's examine the why. I listed the four top reasons why, in my honest opinion, content is crucial for modern businesses.

1 - It boosts SEO Rankings

Executing a content marketing strategy is sure to have a positive impact on your business' search engine rankings. Google likes websites publishing quality content, especially written content, on a regular basis:

  • Adding new, optimized pages, widens your site's architecture and improves its authority.
  • Creating and promoting well-crafted content augments & strengthens your external (referrals, backlinks) and internal link structure.
  • It sends more social signals your way.
  • It's a great opportunity to rank for targeted mid to long tail keywords.

Just take a look at these 200+ Google ranking factors. You'll quickly realize content helps with a whole lot of them.

Needless to say, I encourage every startup and business to start blogging and build site authority ASAP. It'll pay off in the mid to long run; I guarantee it. But I urge you to always prioritize quality over keywords. Google is progressively doing the same thing anyway.

At Snipcart, we started blogging seriously in 2014 with no clear SEO or keyword targeting strategy. We simply began by featuring cool customers, showing helpful product tips & integrations, and talking about our lessons building a developer-centric startup. A year and a half later, we were on Google's first page results for many major keywords such as "Add shopping cart to website". You can read more about it in this post:

How We Harnessed our Blog to Fuel SEO & Product Adoption

2 - It amplifies relationships

Quality content takes business relationships to next levels. It builds up relationships with partners, potential customers, actual customers, and team members. This all leads to positive outcomes:

  • Trust will increase between you and your customers, between your team members (content requires collaboration), and between you and your business partners.
  • Some customers will turn into vocal product ambassadors on their own.
  • Online and offline word-of-mouth marketing will start to spread organically.

For instance, our startup relies heavily on online product mentions/questions (e.g. on Twitter or specific forums) and user feedback to fill our content pipeline. We like to turn potential users' interest and active users' pains into full-on blog posts. People tend to engage way more actively with our content — and our product — when we do that. Some developers even started advocating for our solution on their own, going as far as helping others use it. Marketing ROI doesn't get much better than that. Again, more related insights in the following post:

How Content & Support Helps Us Turn Users into Product Ambassadors

3 - It improves the brand image

By providing steady value to a targeted audience, you'll eventually position your business as a passionate, expert actor in your industry.

But getting serious with content is also an excellent opportunity to embrace transparency and capitalize on it. Startups like Buffer have built a huge, caring following thanks to their openness. It's a chance to get real and expose your philosophy, your culture, and your values. This approach will inject a much-needed dose of humanity in today's online business interactions.

And of course, the more your quality content is consumed and shared, the more your brand image improve. While this aspect of content is somewhat qualitative (as opposed to data-centric), it's way too important to be left aside.

With Snipcart, we craft regular "startup lessons" posts exposing our raw experiences (and failures) building our product and our key takeaways. I love writing those posts. It feels like kicking our business' door open for our audience. It feels real. Here's a recent example of us reflecting on a flawed growth strategy:

Drop the Mic: Why We're Quitting the Startup Events Bandwagon

4 - It drives leads & revenues

Bundled together, the three previous points inevitably lead towards growth and revenue. Why? Well, consider the following statements. With great content, you:

  • Build a magnetic, authentic online presence and a loyal, targeted following.
  • Build more honest, mutually profitable relationships with your partners, team members, and customers.
  • Get more exposure and advocacy throughout different online and offline channels.

All this good stuff translates into more leads, more signups, more conversions, more customers, and, yes, more revenues.

Now allow me to share a few numbers from our startup to support this last claim. Since 2014 at Snipcart, we:

  • Doubled our overall traffic on our website
  • Increased organic traffic 4x
  • Increased our referral traffic 2x
  • Increased the number of keywords our site ranks for from 50 to 160 (SERP <20)
  • Grew our paying user base 10x
  • Grew revenue 30x, sped past breakeven point and landed in the profitable zone

And no, this isn't all due to content marketing. We started by building a product we knew would solve real developer pains. Then we made sure to offer steady, quality developer to developer support. Because even great content can't do much good for a shitty business or product. But great content for a great product? You get the metrics above. Or something like that. ;)

Conclusion: so now what?

Okay, so let's sum things up a bit. The two key points I'd want to leave you with are these:

  1. Content marketing can take many forms, but has three characteristic attributes: consumption value, online distribution, and measurable conversions.

  2. Content marketing is definitely worth investing time and money in because it boosts SEO rankings, amplifies business relationships, improves the brand image and drives leads & revenues.

I hope this post and its supporting examples convinced you of the value content marketing has for modern businesses. And if it did, well, I'm guessing you'll enjoy the next article. Now that I've outlined what content is and why you should be doing it, it's time to tackle the how.

So I'll be writing the 2nd part of this guide: an actionable workflow for creating quality content, complete with a list of useful tools to research, craft, distribute, and analyze content. I'll be sure to share this right here and on the newsletter (subscribe here) when I'm done.

If you learned a thing or two here, or enjoyed the examples, would you mind sending a tweet my way? I'd surely appreciate it. Got any feedback or questions? Either hit the comments or shoot me an email.

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