There have been significant changes in how we connect with customers within the past couple of years.
Go back a few decades and the most effective way to reach your audience was print, TV, and radio – the big three traditional marketing channels. All a brand needed to stand out back then was a massive budget, which only the larger incumbent businesses had at the time.
Today, the lead-generating power of those traditional channels is rapidly diminishing. The most cost-effective channel that offers great returns is now online content marketing.
The popularity of content marketing shows no sign of slowing down because of the sheer volume of leads this channel generates while minimizing costs. In fact, it costs up to 40% less than paid marketing and produces 3x as many leads. And unlike paid marketing channels (social, search, banners), where the ads disappear when the budget runs out, content stays online until you pull it down.
That means the return continues to grow indefinitely.
There’s no shortage of major brands who are just killing it with content marketing, ranging from comprehensive written content (like Shopify’s blog or HubSpot’s massive marketing resource library) to emotionally impactful videos (like the Olympics promotions from Under Armour and P&G).
Content marketing isn’t exclusive to major brands, either. More than 85% of B2B marketers employ content marketing as part of their strategies, and 76% of marketers plan to produce more content over the next year.
Startup founders and entrepreneurs are increasingly taking note of this low-cost, high-return method for growing their brands and executing successful launches. In this article, I’ll cover five entrepreneurs who managed to build their empires primarily with content marketing.
1. Peep Laja
Peep is the founder of ConversionXL, a blog that focuses on conversion optimization and is largely considered to be one of the best resources in its market. He also recently launched the ConversionXL Institute to offer training and informational resources for those who don’t have the budget or the traffic needed for traditional optimization testing.
Peep launched his blog in 2011 and had some early success with posts that went viral, including the first month when 50,000 visits rolled in. The months that followed were fairly consistent, which is a spectacular feat for a new blog.
By the end of the first year, Peep was starting to reach the 100k visitors per month mark.
Although there were already thousands of marketing blogs crowding the online space, Peep knew he could stand out if he specialized. By analyzing data and researching other blogs, he found a gap that wasn’t yet fully addressed with quality content. Specifically, he created a formula to produce evidence-based, data-driven marketing advice centered around conversion optimization.
He also optimized his posts for traffic based on the types of content that racked up the most shares:
- Long posts between 1,800 and 3,000 words
- Posts with highly relevant images
- Evidence-heavy content in which every claim was backed up with data – either with examples or links to credible research
The surges of traffic came from smart promotion and distribution. At the time, there were fewer social channels available than we have today, so Peep had a consistent list he followed to promote content:
- Direct contact with companies mentioned in the content, which resulted in those companies also sharing the content on social media
- Simplified, concise emails and tweets promoting the post
- The use of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to share content
- Content submissions to Reddit, Stumbleupon, and Hacker News
- Promoting content with the help of influencers (like Tim Ferriss)
- Writing guest posts for other sites to generate referral traffic
A key part of Peep’s success was not focusing on quantity of content. In his first year, he averaged just one post every five days. That figure later dwindled to two posts per month.
While the frequency was lower, the quality was nothing short of epic. It’s that super high-value content that helped him climb to over 100,000 visitors per month from both onsite and offsite content marketing – and zero paid content promotion during that time.
2. Neil Patel
Neil Patel has become a master at building an audience through a wide variety of content marketing that is primarily focused on delivering high value. Over the years, Neil has launched four multi-million dollar businesses, including Quick Sprout, Crazy Egg, and KISSmetrics.
Not only does Neil regularly produce content for each of those channels, but he also consistently posts on NeilPatel.com.
Each of those websites could be made into a case study that highlights the power of online content marketing and the traffic it can generate.
Above, I mentioned how Peep focuses on producing the best quality content. The downside to that approach is that it limits his ability to produce volume. In Neil’s case, he wanted to produce volume without a loss in quality, so he did what any smart marketer would do…
Rather than limiting himself to only what he could produce, Neil outsourced content production for KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg. By hiring multiple freelance writers that could produce quality content, Neil was able to amplify the return of content marketing.
Today, Neil continues to blog on his own, as well as with the help of freelance writers that produce daily content. That content is then posted across several company blogs and guest sites like Inc., Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Search Engine Journal, and more.
3. Dan Norris
If you haven’t read “Content Machine” by Dan Norris, I highly recommend it. In that book, Dan talks about the content marketing techniques he used to launch a successful business. Dan is the founder of WPCurve, a site that connects site owners to WordPress developers for access to unlimited small development jobs and fixes.
Most impressively, Dan was able to grow his business from nothing to more than $1 million AUD in just two years, and he only spent about $180 on advertising during that time. He relied almost entirely on content marketing, producing a wealth of high-value content for his target audience and ultimately bringing them together on his platform.
4. Emily Weiss
In 2010, Emily Weiss launched the beauty blog, Into the Gloss. The quality of the content she shared contributed to a rapid rise in traffic as it gained momentum and became a source of revenue generation for Emily. At that point, she shifted gears into an entrepreneur mindset. She took the team she had developed with Into the Gloss and went from content to commerce.
Emily described the content she created as the heart and soul of her brand. She often shared content beyond the blog via Instagram, and her fans later helped design the line of products she launched in 2014.
Her content marketing generated tremendous feedback, and her product line Glossier was specifically based on that feedback from her audience. For Emily, content marketing wasn’t just a one-way channel for generating traffic to her site. It was a medium through which she could engage her fans and create something they really wanted.
She even took clever approaches to her content: for a solid month, Glossier never branded their Instagram and instead teased out photos before finally revealing the company launch. Her approach to content marketing grew their following to more than 15,000 on Instagram alone and helped solidify her line of cosmetics.
Today, Emily continues to rely on the blog audience, as well as their social channels to drive engagement and solicit feedback for new products to ensure that customers always get what they want.
Her achievement is proof that a highly engaged audience can drive significant success in ecommerce, even from a blog.
5. Joy Cho
In 2005, Joy Cho launched a blog to narrate her journey as a graphic designer in a new city after moving to New York. While she had no specific strategy for the content, she shared the things that she enjoyed. As the blog gained traffic, she began receiving lead requests from prospective clients.
As the stream of clients grew, Joy was able to transition from a part-time freelancer to running a full-time business. In recent years, she has transformed “Oh Joy” into a media lifestyle brand that helps organizations with their own designing and content marketing, typically from a visual perspective.
Her creative use of visual content marketing has earned her a spot as one of Pinterest’s top influencers with more than 13 million followers. The growth of her brand through content has also landed her some top-tier clients.
Target contracted Joy to improve their Pinterest marketing efforts, resulting in a Pinterest board that generated more than 850k followers. She has since earned a spot in TIME Magazine’s top websites in their “Design 100” issue.
How much do you rely on content marketing for outreach and promotion? Share your strategies with me in the comments below:
Guest Author: Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world’s largest and most recognized brands, including Salesforce, Coca-Cola, Target and others, to build their online presence. See more from Aaron at Louder Online, his blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+and LinkedIn.