50 Things We’ve Learned About Content Marketing

content marketing advice

We’re lucky to work with some of the top SaaS brands in the world.

The opportunity to chat strategy with some of the best minds in the industry and get access to dozens of Google Analytics installs is not something we take lightly. Our insights are informed by experience and data.

Today, we present to you 50 of the most important things we’ve learned about content marketing over the last few years. These are the ideas that propel the best blogs on the web—and can help you level yours up too.

  1. Content that lives alone, dies alone. Blogs are libraries, not publications—therefore, a single blog post is rarely enough to rank for a competitive keyword.
  2. Tactical content reaches tactical readers. Strategic content reaches strategic readers. Understanding the difference makes it much easier to reach the right people.
  3. Strategic content doesn’t look like content marketing. The posts tend to be shorter and published less frequently, but are broadly powerful.
  4. The fundamental problem with content marketing is that non-subject matter experts are writing for subject matter experts. There are a few ways to work around this but nothing beats the simplest approach: develop subject matter expertise.
  5. Writing is an art, but content is an acquisition channel. Use writing as the foundation upon which to build complementary skills.
  6. Write directly about your product. Providing generalized information covered in pop-ups and CTAs isn’t nearly as effective as getting right to the point. People need solutions.
  7. Nail the writing/promotion ratio. More than 50% of The Atlantic’s monthly traffic comes from content not produced that month—that’s more than 15 million visitors each month. Spend at least as much time promoting content as you do creating it.
  8. The thing that makes a blog great is often the thing that makes it hard to replicate. Unless your market is not competitive, find a formula that sets you apart. As we like to say, do it better or do it differently.
  9. Content marketing is getting expensive because we make too much of it. Understand the unit economics of a content program that consistently delivers a return. And when in doubt, slow down.
  10. Most blogs fail because they don’t stick with a strategy long enough for it to pay off. The greatest risk of failure is lack of execution, not disruption. Content is changing, but not so fast that you need to alter your strategy more than once every year or two.
  11. Stay the course even when there’s no buzz around your company and your formula. Expect plenty of tedious work.
  12. The best traffic is silent—organic traffic doesn’t typically trigger shares, tweets, comments, etc. Be content with silence, assuming it’s delivering readers and customers.
  13. Compounding growth wins. And compounding growth takes time.
  14. 100,000 monthly readers is a SaaS benchmark. Very few ever achieve it. It requires a sound strategy, great writing, and time.
  15. Promotion and distribution are overrated. Put 90% of non-writing effort into organic search. Bursts of traffic from social media and communities are fickle.
  16. You don’t need an audience. If search is your primary acquisition channel, you’ll never build a true audience. Instead, you’ll tap into a continuous stream of people with a problem to solve.
  17. Write for readers in transition. Companies and decision-makers typically adopt new SaaS products during periods of transition—think new CMOs, this year’s budget, new target customer, changing industry, etc. Dig in by looking at why/when your best customers came onboard and work backwards to create content for them.
  18. The best content marketers have complementary skills. They can write, design, write basic code, edit well, manage projects, or lead teams. Writing is a great foundational skill, but not enough to have a great career in content.
  19. Great writing is never enough to grow a blog. You need a strategy. Here are two SEO frameworks to get you started.
  20. If you have a lack of alignment between content and product, it can mean that as your blog grows, your signups don’t. It’s a way more common mistake than you might expect. Create content for every part of the funnel, not just the top.
  21. Editorial calendars create problems for content marketers. Commit to publishing great ideas, not publishing on a strict cadence.
  22. Overproduction hurts SEO. Creating too much content (1) makes your site hard to navigate, (2) waters down the effect of good links, and (3) turns you into the “boy who cried wolf”—i.e., it makes promotion difficult when you do have a great post to share.
  23. Build a workflow that stays out of your way. Automate whenever possible. Zapier and Airtable together are extremely powerful.
  24. Follow the money. Have a deep understanding of how content supports the business. Content is designed to be monetized, not consumed.
  25. Create a content strategy aligned with the business model. Marketplaces, freemium products, enterprise—every model has distinctly different content needs.
  26. Get technical SEO right. Building a site that meets technical SEO requirements will provide a massive lift over time. Kevin Indig, SEO Lead at Atlassian, says that most sites only implement 20% of technical SEO best practices. Get the basics right.
  27. Your target audience is not your total audience. As Tim Ferriss says, satisfying a smaller target audience first allows you to scale later.
  28. Write for your readers, not your editor or your boss. This is harder than it sounds and takes practice to get right.
  29. The best keyword strategy includes <10 important keywords. You’ll naturally rank for hundreds of variations if you prioritize a small number of keywords.
  30. Start at the bottom. Should you focus on top of funnel traffic, then build in conversion opportunities later? We say no. Spend time creating content to rank for bottom of the funnel, long tail keywords first. It helps you build momentum and gain authority.
  31. Understand how SEO silos work. Read this post from Bruce Clay at least a few times.
  32. Work towards a True North. Content teams get bogged down in metrics. You cannot serve two masters. Pick one number—we suggest 15% month-over-month pageview growth—and put all your energy into it. Related metrics will see a boost if you nail your True North number.
  33. Writing for fictitious personas doesn’t work. Instead of asking, “Who is our target reader?” ask, “At what level is our target reader thinking?
  34. Specific, non-obvious content wins. Interview people who aren’t already well-known in your industry, borrow ideas from classic fields like history and literature, and don’t publish more content just because the editorial calendar says a post is due.
  35. Understand why some people are so cynical about content marketing. The fact is that most of what we call content marketing is terrible. Prove to the cynics that content can be extremely effective when executed well.
  36. When content is baked into company culture, chances of success increase 100x. Think Buffer, Wistia, Intercom, HubSpot, Kissmetrics, etc. Companies that treat content as a channel tend to fall flat.
  37. Internal linking is vitally important to organic rankings. This is case in point why content marketers need to develop complementary skills: identifying link opportunities and making them happen fall on the shoulders of people in the trenches.
  38. Experienced content managers are very hard to find. If you find one, keep them happy.
  39. SEO pays the bills. If you can build organic traffic, you can experiment with other types of content.
  40. Great content has texture. Words, rich media, subheads, and quotes are neatly arranged to keep readers moving through the piece.
  41. Companies go public without content all the time. Dropbox and Spotify are about to go public, but you don’t hear much about their content strategy. Great products can be supported by content but not the other way around.
  42. Email is necessary for many reasons, but it isn’t great for driving traffic. It’s better than many channels, but pales in comparison to organic search. Email does, however, drive targeted traffic. Vero found that traffic from email stayed on the site 67% longer than organic traffic
  43. Google indexed about 754 pages per second between March 2013 and November 2016. You need to be extremely good to stand out.
  44. Readers will judge your articles at a glance. Humans can understand and process information visually much faster than they can process text. Design and article structure are extremely important.
  45. As the need for content quality improves, more people can make a great career in the industry. Side gigs that pay $30 per article are trending down, legitimate full-time jobs are trending up.
  46. Content teams should work closely with product, engineering, design, and customer support. Content should never happen in a silo.
  47. Content marketing is extremely difficult to measure. Statuspage co-founder Danny Olinsky says that measurement gets even harder over time. “Ironically,” he writes, “it seems like the less people actually remember how they heard about you, the better job you’ve done at content marketing.”
  48. Everything old becomes new again. There’s no topic you can’t compete for, assuming you have a solid strategy and great writing. It’s why we started a content marketing blog in 2018.
  49. Timing is important. You can ride a wave of growth (AdEspresso rode the wave of Facebook ad growth ), or you can help people pick up the pieces once the wave has crashed (welcome to the Animalz blog). The strategy you choose should reflect your market.
  50. Lean content operations win. If you don’t spend enough on content, you’ll never get the quality needed to stand out. If you spend too much, you’ll create overhead for your team and quality will actually decline. Keep your operation lean with a strict emphasis on quality and results.

Jimmy is the marketing director at Animalz, an agency that provides high-end content marketing solutions to SaaS and tech companies.