This article – republished from 2013 – is my take on Sacha Greif’s email newsletter of the same title. He runs an excellent blog on design here, and has several blog posts on starting side projects – here, here, and here. You should check it out.
“Content Marketing” is the buzzword to describe giving away lots of free, useful, and relevant information to attract potential customers to your website.
The basic idea is that customers are looking for answers and information via search engines and their connections on social networks.
If you are the business that provides the content – not does your website get the visitor, but you get the brand boost.
Advertising costs money. Content, however, costs time and creativity. Often small businesses will have more of one than the other. And despite some warnings, there are plenty of industries (I’m looking at you heating & air) that could be a quick, free win for owners willing to produce content.
So what to write/film/etc/etc about? How can you use your website to get more customers? How do you generate leads for your website or small business without wasting time?
The short, vague answer is that you need to provide solutions to people’s problems – whether that means they are vexed, searching, or just bored.
Quick Aside: I’m not devaluing the need for content strategy or personas. Do not fall into one of the myths of content marketing. That said, I think that the main danger is not doing anything at all. Just start, and see what works for you and your audience.
Here are 11 specific topic ideas that I strive to use myself and have observed successful website owners using.
1. Be An Authority
You are already really knowledgeable about some field. Your business is obviously good at something. Explain that something to an imaginary person who has no clue.
The web analytics firm KISSmetrics has a super-effective blog. It drives a lot of customers. They mostly write about pretty advanced topics, but one of their most-read, most shared articles was “A Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics.”
What’s the equivalent in your field? Think of headlines like Beginner’s Guide To _______ or Intro to ______, etc
You’ll not only get more visitors – but those visitors will be more educated, and will make better customers.
I’ve implemented this with my ongoing series on Beginner SEO. I work as an SEO Specialist all day long, and spend my day explaining SEO to clients. It’s pretty easy to just transfer that knowledge into a detailed blog post.
2. Be A Beginner
Same as #1 – but with a twist – you write (or produce video/audio) about your journey to learn about a certain topic. It’s the classic “How I Did ______” Show and tell how you learned something – and how others can do it without your mistakes.
One of my more successful post so far has been my experiment with Reddit Advertising. It’s an area where few people have really even tried it. I tried it, walked through my experience and observations.
3. Talk About Competitors And The Industry
When you are a customer shopping for widgets, you definitely think of yourself as a savvy shopper. You’re the type who sees through the marketing. You know about the industry, and all the competitors.
Guess what? Your customers think the same way. They are already thinking about your competition. They are already thinking about whether they can get it cheaper on Amazon. They’ve heard that your industry is [adjective]. Write about your industry; write about competitors.
Shopify does this really well in my opinion. They have a section dedicated to comparing Shopify with all their competitors in a tasteful, helpful manner.
For this blog, I know that marketing blogs are a dime a dozen. At best, they are poorly written fluff that completely waste your time. At worst, they give you really bad advice. Ironically, that actually gives me something to write about. T-Mobile has re-built their entire marketing strategy around this idea.
4. Your Process
Everybody does things differently. Every business is a black box to those who don’t work in it. You may have a certain method, “behind the scenes” in your industry. Share it – write it up. Here’s a guy who makes knives.
When people are looking for a new way to do [this really specific thing] – you’ll be found. But not only do people find you – it helps to educate them on your process and what they are actually paying for.
For an example, Lufthansa recently did a very well-made and much talked about YouTube video that just shows the behind the scenes of landing an Airbus A380 in San Francisco (see it here). Not only is it really, really amazing – but it emphasizes Lufthansa’s brand of safety and professionalism.
5. Your Failures
It may be embarrassing – but your failures can be some of the most useful bits of knowledge you possess. Share it. Here’s an example from Moz – the industry leader in “inbound marketing.”
I made $17.45 from Google Ads this year from an abandoned blog.
That statement is super-boring…but that $ grabs your attention. Everyone is so curious about money and how much stuff costs or how much profit someone makes – that if you are willing to be vulnerable and talk about real dollars and sense…you’ll probably get some attention.
A perfect example is Neil Patel’s recent article on QuickSprout “What Spending $66,372.09 On Paid Advertising Taught Me“
He not only piqued the interest of lots of readers – but also showed how he could help other businesses by using himself as an example.
The Web is littered with thousands of bloggers writing their opinion with absolutely nothing to back them up.
If you can provide a data set, a primary source, quotes, something – or even just embed a Google Trends chart – you will be in the top 20%. Conversion XL used this method to grow his blog to 100,000 readers in 1 year.
8. Write About What You Can’t Find On Google
This one is very simple.
If you are looking for something on Google – and you can’t find it…or it takes you several searches to find it.
Then you have yourself an article to write. Even if you are a small new site, if you can provide specific information about a topic that no one else has written about, Google will find you and send traffic your way.
Figure out the problem or answer, of course, but then write the title exactly as you would have like to have seen in the search results.
9. Write About Book Knowledge
Every industry has a “hidden library” that only people in that industry know about – but would be really useful for people researching online. These are books or industry journals that are common knowledge to your industry, but not to customers or readers.
Either review those books on your site, or write about the best bits on your website. REI’s Learn section is basically all long-form detailed knowledge that you normally would have to get a book for. Instead, they’ve put all this detailed industry knowledge into HTML. I mean – just look at this section on Snowboards. It’s like they uploaded a book.
The same goes for their section on Paddle Boarding. It’s the resource. It even outranks WikiPedia for some searches, which is pretty impressive!
You might not have the resources to do something like REI. But you most certainly can write synopses or reviews of books that do have that content. Get it online and add an element of #2 to it.
10. Review Products You’ve Used
This idea is very similar to #3 – but make it less about competitors/industry than about very specific products that have made your life better and why. Make it thorough with original pictures, and a good SEO title tag – you’ll get visitors.
This strategy would be especially good for products that are complementary to your product/service. So, plumbers reviewing household drain products. Fitness coaches reviewing equipment, etc.
Again, even in the physical world, your salespeople already have opinions and talking points about products, services, and offerings – it’s an easy win to use those opinions to create content for your website.
11. Write About What People Ask You About
What are common questions that customers, clients, colleagues, bosses ask?
Those questions also get typed into Google. If you answer them, you will get visitors…which will turn into customers.
Keep a running list – turn your site into an almost FAQs of your industry. It might not be Pulitzer Prize winning – but it will bring visitors to your site.
Pick 1 and go actually produce the content. (Note: it doesn’t have to be in written form).