Crashing into growth marketing: a CEO journey. Part 8 — Content
The youngest man in this image is my grandfather. The picture is taken in the end of 1930s when he was a teenager interning at a local watchmaker.
While grandpa is also generally my spirit animal, I wanted him to join me writing this content post for multiple reasons.
- He was the type of person excited to learn, and throughout his life he went really deep into a myriad of subjects, be it professions or hobbies. He was a pretty good photographer, beekeeper, carrot farmer, train conductor.. and a lot of other things. Oh, a watchmaker for sure.
- He somehow managed to get real joy out of every subject he pursued, and climbed all of his skills to an advanced level without caring what his friends and family thought of his latest obsession.
And I’ve realised that with any sort of creativity it’s indeed best to be like grandpa.
There is no other way to create the best page on the internet. You need to be excited about the topic, and enjoy the time and effort spent in the process. Because good stuff isn’t going to happen without a lot of time and effort. It takes exponentially more time and effort than creating the bad stuff. But as I’ve spent five hours with Andy Crestodina video webinars this weekend, he has convinced me:
the good stuff — is amazing;
the bad stuff — is worthless
And anything less than trying to make your content the best page on the internet for the topic isn’t going to be enough. Strive to be better than your best direct competitor — because only aiming for the stars will land you in any place noticeable for your customers.
While I’m a fresh founder in the startup space, I’m also an art school graduate who’s seen many sides of content creation. In some aspects it makes all of this a little easier, but in some aspects, it’s been much more difficult for me to accept the role of a content creator in my startup. Here’s why.
This is the eighth post of many to document my journey as early-stage startup CEO through the growth marketing minidegree by CXL Institute — a 12-week online program about the practicalities of growth marketing.
Disclaimers: I’ve done intense learning sprints before. I’ve never touched marketing from a practical perspective before this course. Consult a specialist before trying this at home.
Promo insert: My startup is called Zelos, it’s an app that helps you manage tasks and distribute activities with a very large group or community, and you can sign up here for free: getzelos.com
Is content an art or handicraft?
There have been four very different phases that I’ve gone through as a creator.
The first was my early years of joyful crafting, drawing and writing for my entertainment. I wrote and illustrated my first “book” at the age of three. I thoroughly enjoyed making stuff just for the sake of making things, and wanting to become better for the sake of creating better things. This is where I’m trying to return to. This is what my grandfather channeled throughout his whole life.
Going through art schools brought along a rebel phase. It’s a huge transition from creating something for your own joy to making stuff for others to consume. Because I’m a “professional artist” now. Should I try to fit in? Give up my integrity and create things that they are more likely to enjoy? Does that mean creating things I don’t enjoy myself?
Or should I stay true to myself as an artist and create stuff that nobody likes? Make statements, and drag out the ugly truth that needs to be told?
I wasn’t opinionated enough to become the jester, so I tried to fit in. Welcome to freelancing. Instead of creating, I was manufacturing — producing assets and processes for clients who needed the creative content. I worked for multiple industries — stage arts, digital media, interior design, even some technical design. Earned some cash, learned some skills, and cried a lot. I did fire many of my clients, and ended up creating a lot of mediocre stuff according to someone’s briefs. Here’s where I got my extremely valuable first-hand experiences on short-term collaboration.
Content audience is not business audience
In the beginning of my startup journey, I was actively avoiding all content. I dumped the assignment on my poor team members, and while they didn’t do a terrible job, it wasn’t the awesome content that would have worked. We didn’t have a content strategy, and I lacked the will and skills to help them create one.
There were a few reasons for this, and even retrospectively, I don’t see a way how we could have avoided this phase of producing bad content for the sake of producing content.
First — as an early stage startup one is pressured to deliver results from the business audience, and that’s where your focus is. At least the little focus that’s left over from the startup rollercoaster. Because at the launch of your startup, you need to figure out a lot of things on a daily basis:
- your business model
- your co-founder
- what is a pitch deck
- what is the product we are building
- how do I find someone to buy this early stage product that only kind of works
- how do I prove an actual market need for this
- do I have money for rent because we don’t have a salary
- should my mom understand why I’m doing this
There is literally no bandwidth for keeping up with the industry (if you even know what your exact industry is), or to cater for a content audience. Had I been presented with a prestigious opportunity to speak at a major conference, I’d have turned that down because I’M BUILDING A STARTUP, IF YOU’RE NOT BUYING THE PRODUCT LEAVE ME ALONE.
Second — we did not really understand what we wanted to achieve. Now I’ve learned that you absolutely need to start with a written down mission statement. Who’s it for, what’s the offer.
Our content is for (audience X) to get (information Y) that offers (benefit Z).
We did not have product-market fit, so we were extremely vague about who it’s for.
We tried to get followers on social media and hoped to treat it as a lead list (it’s not). We tried to get newsletter signups and hoped to treat it as a lead list (it’s not).
We posted links and memes. We got a content agency to write pretty generic posts with SEO keywords and influencer tagging. It was OK. But it wasn’t good. And as I mentioned before — in content creation, anything short of amazing is useless.
Keywords and backlinks
There are two things that influence the rankings and authority of your content: relevance and authority. And ranking high in search results is the only content strategy that’s actually scalable and not dependent on your efforts with emailing or posting on social.
Relevance is mostly the keywords attached to the content (and how relevant people find the content to the keywords, i.e. the time users spend on the page after searching for the exact keyword). I’ve learned that it’s quite a fun science to let Google know what your content is about. There’s the page title, the header, content words and meta description. And it does take some creative writing skills to make sure the Google-friendly tags are also attractive to human readers.
But even if you nail the keyword presence 100%, you might not get even to the front five pages of google results if your competitors have a higher domain authority score.
This authority comes from incoming links. If there’s a page on another domain with existing high authority linking to your content, you get some of that authority, too! If the page links to one hundred pieces of content, everyone gets just a little bit. But if the page links to your stuff only, you get all the credit!
Currently our getzelos.com domain has 30 authority points. It’s not too bad, but it’s not awesome either. Theoretically we don’t have much of a chance to rank for keywords that have a difficulty score over our authority score. However there are a few keywords with a difficulty of 40+ that still get us to the front page because our content is highly relevant.
So the authority scores and difficulty scores aren’t an exact science, but they’re still a good guideline. There is very little chance that we will rank first when anyone searches for a “task management app” as it’s a very competitive search term + we are not highly relevant as a task manager. These people are rather looking for ToDoist or Trello.
Content is a full time job
Now that we’ve grown out of the toddler panic of the startup launch, I’ve suddenly gained time to look around and keep up with the world news. Returning to the roots and channeling my grandfather’s vibe, I’ve managed to find some joy in creating and sharing content — all because I’ve had the time to research.
Because strong content is either strong opinions or strong research. When you’re putting out fires in places you didn’t know even existed, there’s no space for having an opinion or researching for one.
While forming opinions and doing research does take a lot of time, I’m now actively setting up tools and habits to make it a little easier.
- I’ve set up a Google alert for the trending and interesting keywords in our space: community management, on-demand workforce, flexible staffing. During just one week, I’ve managed to write short social reactions on the implementation issues with remote work and transitioning to on-demand workforce. It didn’t spark much conversation nor a ton of likes, but a few people on my feed might now think of me as more of an expert!
- I learned to use Google Trends to try and predict the vibes in our industry. For example, I learned that while on-demand staffing has a niche presence compared to contingent staffing, on-demand workforce is non-existent next to contingent workforce.
- I’ve scheduled a weekly hour to go through old blog posts and upgrade them. I added images, wrote better meta descriptions, and linked posts to one another. I now have a post-it next to my monitor: whenever you publish a new piece of content, you should always go and link to it from an old post!
- I now have a content production template that really makes me go the extra mile and work on the links and images of everything I produce. And it does work. Many of you probably clicked to read this thing because the picture of my grandpa looks awesome and intriguing, right?
And yes, the focus and extra digging does pay off. When I decided to spend an hour looking through trends and topics about brand community engagement, I suddenly realised that the internet was totally missing a block.
There were only a few brief notes and one VC blog post on this awesome topic that I really care about, so I got myself together and wrote the missing piece. I present to you — a long-read piece on community-led-growth that I’m really proud of. It lays out the definition, and explains in quite some detail what it takes to drive growth with brand communities. Hope to see it on Google search results soon!
I also made this content schedule that plans out the next steps to support the article with further links, upgrades, media and collaboration pieces. Because what I said before about authority and relevance, but also because..
If you’re not making friends, you’re doing it wrong.
The CXL course has really convinced me that I need to start networking more. Social proof and backlinks are vital elements of content marketing, so I probably need to learn how to be less introverted.
- Quoting someone in an article is a good way to get them to share the content in their social media. We’ve done this with our blog posts before, and it’s actually really successful. Everyone loves a mention!
- Asking for a custom quote for a content piece is probably better done based on an existing relationship.
- Include them in an expert roundup — this is just asking for custom quotes in bulk
- Invite them to guest post / do a deep dive interview — you probably want to be actual friends or at least acquaintances by this time.
While the course recommends to go as far as sending FitBit friend requests to opinion leaders (is this an American thing to do?), even a Twitter friendship takes some time to set in. Listen, engage, connect and comment (EVERYONE reads their comments!), and eventually collaborate and be friends.
So… here’s me coming out of my introvert bubble with an open ask. If you’re excited about the same topics as I am…
- Come write a guest post for Zelos!
- Let me write a guest post for your site!
- Let’s do a podcast or webinar together!
The stuff I’m excited about: people management and productivity: community engagement, youth engagement, future of work, on-demand workforce, volunteer work, but also nonprofit and mutual aid communities. You can reach me on Twitter DMs or plain old email.
Write me a hello and let’s work something out. It’ll probably be awesome.