Create Content that Drives Traffic
The marketing team at Galvanize has a unique challenge. Our customer demographic is extremely diverse, consisting of programmers, data scientists, entrepreneurs, VCs, and others who are curious about entering the tech world. When we first started putting together our content strategy earlier this year, things were looking bleak. We felt like we were writing pretty good content, but blog post and blog post was getting hardly any traffic. And seeing blog posts that we worked hard on get fewer than 200 pageviews felt pretty crappy.
We’re now at a point where we can expect low performing posts to garner around 2,000 page views a week, and awesome”posts to get up to 15,000. We still have a ways to go, but feel pretty good about what we’ve accomplished so far.
After going back to the drawing board and looking at what we did wrong, we were able to come up with a much smarter method for brainstorming, executing, and promoting content. We don’t want anyone else to make the same mistakes we did, so here are some of the biggest lessons we learned along along the way.
Not Everything you do Is Interesting
If you work at a startup, it’s easy to think that everything your company does is the coolest thing on the planet and that everyone should care about. If you want to get better at creating content, stop drinking the fucking kool aid. It’s ok to be excited about what you’re doing, but one of the most important things you can do to help your company’s marketing efforts is remain as objective as possible. “We should write a post about how our new office is cat-themed!” No you shouldn’t. “We should write about how our company has a really quirky culture!” Everyone thinks their company’s culture is quicky. Unless you’re already one of most well known companies in tech world, no one cares.
Here are some common topics that people mistakenly think can drive sustainable traffic:
- We built a new feature! Cool. Post about it and share it in a newsletter to customers, but don’t expect traffic from it.
- We raised a round of funding! Great. Do a press release and get TechCrunch to write about it. Unless you’re going to be extremely transparent about how you raised the round, no one’s really gonna care besides a few reporters.
- We established a new partnership with (insert impressive corp name here). Great. tell your grandma and maybe Techcrunch. Most people won’t care.
- We hired a rockstar engineer/product manager/CFO etc. Good for you. People looking for good stuff to read during their lunch break don’t care.
Don’t get me wrong: this content should go up on your blog when you’re making a big announcement, but don’t expect it to move the needle as a regular source of traffic. Think of this content as part of your PR strategy, not your content strategy.
Additionally, avoid anything that sells your company too hard. “3 Ways Galvanize is the Best Way to Learn Programming” is a bad topic, but “3 of the Best Resources for Anyone Trying to Learn to Code” is good topic.
Create something valuable for your readers. Crappy, self-promotional content won’t build trust with potential customers or drive traffic to your site.
Start with a Content Hypothesis
Before you write anything, you should know what the desired outcome is. If you don’t know what success looks like, you won’t know how to iterate and make the next blog post better. A good place to start is by filling in the blanks below:
This post will help _____________ learn how to _____________ and should result in ____________ pageviews.
We recently published something titled “What the Ashley Madison Hack Teaches Us about Ethics, Noisy Data and Machine Learning.” Here’s how we’d break it down:
This post will help data scientists learn how to approach data privacy and should result in at least 2,000 page views in the first week.
Conducting audience development is another way to come up with an educated content hypothesis. Here are a few things to try out:
- See what people are already curious about. Look at places like Quora, and Reddit where people discuss niche topics. What questions haven’t been answered yet? What do people want to learn more about? How can you answer people’s questions in a better or more entertaining way?
- Poll your target audience. Do this via meetups or in-person interviews. Ask people what they want to know more about and how you can help them achieve their goals.
- Market research. What’s already out there? Look at competitors’ blogs and find out what people are already looking for in Google search.
Your content strategy shouldn’t just be random guesses about what people want to read. Even if your hypothesis is way off, you’ll learn a lot about the kind of content your audience finds valuable.
If You Don’t Prioritize, Your Team Will Go Crazy
It’s easy to have the mentality that “content will go out when it’s done.” But working without a detailed content calendar (and deadlines) is detrimental in several ways:
- You won’t have a clear idea of what’s important (i.e., what has to go out this week, and what doesn’t)
- You probably won’t get content out the door in time to capitalize on trends or news stories
- You’ll probably hate your job a little bit
If everything is prioritized, then nothing is prioritized. You content team (even if it’s just you) needs to know what to focus on if you want to hit deadlines and get the most views for content.
Here are important things to keep in mind when deciding what should get done first:
- Is this content timely? What news or trends are coming up that we can capitalize on?
- Think about t-shirt size the content. X-small (a day), small (couple of days), medium (week), Large (several weeks), XL (month or more).
- Look at the overall editorial calendar. Don’t flood your blog with a ton of posts in one week expecting it to drive more traffic. Spend more time promoting and less time publishing.
- Being timely doesn’t mean writing about a random event no one cares about. STOP WRITING BLOG POSTS BECAUSE IT’S “NATIONAL BRING YOUR UNCLE’S DOG TO WORK DAY”
Quality is always the end goal. And remember that the opposite of quality is not “quantity,” it’s shit. Iterate on your content as you learn more about your audience; later on you can increase how often you’re publishing once you start to understand what works.
Be Methodical. Don’t Just Put Words on Paper
Figure out the format, headline, and objective before you start writing anything. It’s easy to go off the rails and end up with something disorganized and confusing if you don’t stick to a formula. Here are a few things to always consider:
- Headlines are mega important. They’re your hook. Come up with at least a handful (10 is good, 25 is great) before you settle on the one that’s going to get people to click on your post.
- Get out of the way of the content. This isn’t about you. This is about writing something that your readers will get value from. Don’t bloat the content with long intros, a side note about your cat, or other cute details. Get to the point.
- Figure out a format and stick to it. Is it a listicle, interview, top 10, etc. (mostly a matter of preference)
- Have a style guide. This will save you time when confusing topics or nomenclature come up.
- Finish strong. Always have a conclusion and helpful (and logical) CTA. Give them more info so they can continue learning.
People on the internet have little to no attention span. Can a reader click the link, scan the post, and understand the gist of it in under 90 seconds? The answer should be yes.
If You Write it, They Won’t Come
One of the classic mistakes marketers make is assuming that if they put out high-quality content, the readers will find them. This is the content marketing equivalent of saying “we’ll just go viral!” The sad reality is that no one is going to make your blog their home page. And you have to fight for every last bit of traffic you get, even if what you wrote is Pulitzer Prize worthy.
Don’t count on people coming to you. Instead, hunt down direct traffic with the following methods:
- Include the post in mailing lists and newsletters. (you’ve built up a healthy list of email subscribers, right?)
- Find niche audiences on forums and websites. For us, r/datascience, r/machinelearning, datatau have been huge sources of direct traffic.
- Participate in Twitter chats. Find a chat that’s related to your industry, and link to your content as a helpful resource without being too salesy.
- Send posts to reporters or press as an FYI. If you’re written about something you know a reporter is really interested in, send them the post as a helpful resource. They might link back to it in a future article if it’s good. It’s really important that you do this without being pushy. Position yourself as a valuable and helpful resource for the reporter – not a PR person pitching them something.
- Share the post with Influencers. Get it on their radar by sharing it with them via email or Twitter. If the right influencers share your content, it can help you drive a ton of traffic.
- Ask friends, family and co-workers to share your content.
- Send it to other companies, orgs, foundations, etc. involved in the topic. You might be able to get them to share it in their newsletter and social channels.
Your Next Steps
Here’s a quick exercise that’ll help you write your next great blog post.
- Come up with 3 headlines or concepts. Is there any way to make it timely or tie it into a trend?
- Who cares about it and why?
- Write a short (1 or 2 sentence) description of the content
- Describe what resources you need (expert interview, doing your own research, etc.)
- Where will you promote it? (other than just twitter/FB)
- How can you put it in a different format to get more mileage from the content?
Slides from Denver Startup Week (where this blog post was presented in panel form) are embedded below.
Best of luck to everyone out there trying to create great content! If you’re looking for more startup resources and helpful tips, subscribe to our YouTube channel. All of the Galvanize Denver Startup week panels will be available to watch later this week.