Before I tell what you will learn in this blog post, I’ll tell you now that it won’t be another ‘How to do content marketing’ post. If that’s what you want you can go to the pros at Hubspot, Buffer or follow Neil Patel, Jay Baer, etc. I’ll simply show you some hacks that worked for our startup, Slidebean, when we decided to get serious with our content strategy, and that increased our blog traffic by 110% in 50 days.
Get real with your situation
A strategy that suits our company and its need and resources (including a tight budget). We can’t be checking every stat out there, attending every webinar or reading that endless list of copywriting blog posts we’ve bookmarked.
Get real with content marketing
Still, working in a startup doesn’t mean that it’s ok to just wing it. Yes, we have many things going on at the same time: a blog to feed on a weekly basis, social networks to attend to, a team to manage, a product to take care of... and, oh yes, above all we have a cash register that needs to keep (or start) making that ka-ching! sound we love so much. However, content can do much more for this than you can imagine.
Do your research and get a badass strategy in a few days
If you’re anything like me, the word research might make you feel like a cloudy Sunday afternoon. But cheer up, only good things will come from it! Done right, it shouldn’t take long (3 days for us). This means you could be looking at a reborn, fully empowered content strategy 3 days from now!
A content strategy means that your entire blog could change drastically, so if you’re not really up for it, don’t even bother continuing with this read.
On to it, then! Try thinking of this as a team effort. Gather a small group of people to do this with you. Even if they only actually work on it an hour a day, involving others will not only make things happen faster but it will enrich the end results.
1. Choose the topics and competitors you want to analyse
Think of 3 topics/verticals your blog should talk about. Make sure to list topics that:
a) are relevant to one or more of your audiences (ideally the audience bringing most of your revenue)
b) your team can talk about it with real-life experience
c) are somewhat trending right now
For this, we turned to our dear friend, the spreadsheet, and I encourage you to do the same. You can download ours at the end of the article (feel free to borrow!).
Create one sheet for each content vertical, and make another sheet specially for your competitors. Don’t forget to check what they are talking about and if they talk about topics you haven’t written before, add them (create more sheets). This doesn’t mean that you’ll be talking of all the same things, but it’s good to give them a look and get ideas from them. Scratch that, it’s a must!
Who else is talking about the topics you’ve listed? Go to the sheet of topic 1 and write down, in column A, the names of your other competitors (let’s call them content competitors); the blogs that talk about the same topics than you. For this, we used our Pro account at Buzzsumo, an awesome tool that analyses what content performs best for any topic or competitor. Search your first topic with different related keywords. For example: we thought of the topic “startup”, so we looked for “startup, tips”, “startup insights”, “startup life”.
As a result, you’ll have a list of articles written by blogs that have talked about that recently (we chose “Past 6 months”) and filter them by Total shares. Take some time to go over the ones that really catch your eye.
Now, in column B add the following:
Number of Shares (from Buzzsumo)
Characters in the Title (use the LEN formula to calculate it)
Word Count in the Article
Writer Persona: is it a personal opinion, a team experience, or is the writer speaking as an expert in the field?
Title Keyword: What’s the keyword on the title. A few examples:
Article Type: What’s the article about?
A Trending Topic
A Case Study
About the product.
What’s next is pretty obvious, and it’s easy too! Complete the cells with the info of each article. In Slidebean, we chose about 15 articles per website/blog. And it ended up looking something like this:
When you’re done with one blog, continue with the rest below.
2. Build a Summary
This is when things start getting interesting. The Summary sheet takes the data on the rest of the spreadsheet and makes it easy to digest. Luckily for you, we already took care of creating the formulas (download at the end of the article). We focused on 4 variables from the articles we researched:
Does the Title Contain Numbers?
The columns in this sheet represent the different content verticals chosen to do the analysis with. In our case we had:
The last column is just f0r direct competitors, also analysing the type of content they’re are publishing and their impact.
For each one of them, the spreadsheet will automatically calculate the following numbers:
How many articles were analysed for each variable.
How many total shares per variable.
Average Article Length (using a web word counter).
Average Title Length (using the LEN function in Excel)
Word Length of the most shared article.
Character Length of the most shared article’s title.
3. The final stretch: drawing your conclusions
Before analysing your data, try asking yourself these questions: Are there any gaps? Is no one talking about one of the verticals you’ve listed? Is someone talking about something too broadly? Could your company talk about that in a more specific way? Hold that thought.
Now, try answering these questions by using the data of your summary. Do the same for each vertical. For example: “For vertical 1, on average...
Title characters: what is the best length?
Word count: what is the optimum number of words for the entire article?
Writer persona: who’s behind the words?
Title keyword: is it a question? Does it include the word “tips” or “lessons”? Which one drove more shares?
Article type: is it a trending topic article? A case study? Tips? Announcement? Lessons?
Numbers: does the title include numbers?
Write down your conclusions on a board, a piece of paper, a document... anywhere. And share them with your team. Proudly! Here’s how ours looked like:
Confused? I’ll explain it briefly. As I mentioned before, we focused on 4 variables: writer persona, title keyword, article type and numbers (if the article title had numbers in it). For each resource, we made three types of results.
- Good results, which we got by dividing #shares/#articles, are symbolised with a blue check. And, as you might guess, a blue cross means bad results.
The level of saturation of the resource, that is the # of times the resource was used by the other blogs altogether, is represented in the board by the word “sat”. In all cases, we dismissed the variables that were saturated, even if they had proven good results (for example too many ‘Tips’ articles on the startup vertical).
Finally, a green cross means our direct competitors are using that resource, and a green check means they are not (Hooray!).
Still confused? I’ll translate our conclusions for one of our topics:
Online Marketing vertical
Writer persona: Personal
We found that the marketing articles with most shares were pieces written in the first person. We also noticed that articles written as a team work well too, but most articles were written this way, so… dismissed. The “expert” kind of writer wasn’t giving much results so, why bother?
Title: Questions and Top Best / 50 characters
The title keywords that worked best amongst the articles we analysed were Questions, Affirmations and Top Best, but we dismissed Affirmations because it had already been too used. Questions and Top Best were a great finding! Not only they brought great results but also there were very few articles of that kind out there; now this is what I call a nice gap :)
We also discovered that the optimum length for an online marketing article is around 50 characters.
Article type: Case study and Trending Topic
As far as types of articles are concerned, we noticed that Case Studies and Trending Topics were the way to go for online marketing. They had lots of shares, weren’t saturated in general and our direct competitors didn’t use them much.
- Numbers? Nope!
While adding numbers in titles of articles about Startups and Design has proven to generate a good number of shares, in Online Marketing titles… it’s seems to be a no-no.
Defining the strategy: choose your verticals
It’s time to define the topics that you’ll be working on. By now, you have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
If you’ve ever come across our blog before, you’ve seen that the verticals turned out to be three: Startup Insights (for our biggest audience), Online Marketing (for being the clear role inclination of our users) and Slidebean Academy (or Design - as it is after all a design tool).
The results: 110% more traffic
Putting this guide is practice means giving it a look every time you create or re-publish a blog post and also taking notes of the results.
Below, you’ll see some screenshots of our Google Analytics from before implementing the strategy (orange) and after (blue). Both periods of 50 days.
Keep track of when you started working by the new strategy and select the period of time since then. Click on Compare to > Previous period, and voilà!
Amazing, uh? In my next blog post I’ll tell you all about how we manage our daily content track (which we actually call Awesome Content track).
I really hope this guide is useful to you and your team. I can’t wait to hear about your results! You’re welcome to leave your questions or comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.