Kyle first published this post on the blog of WP Curve, a 24/7 WordPress support company located in San Francisco and Australia. We thought it was so awesome, we asked if he’d be willing to publish it here… He was!
Traction. It’s a problem big startups and new entrepreneurs face. We recently surveyed around 60 startups and found that getting traction on content was the biggest challenge for their content marketing.
Since this is such a common and difficult problem, we knew that there would be equally brilliant and unique solutions to it. In this post, we’ll hear stories from 8 leading content marketers about how they overcame traction challenges.
Though each story is unique, we did see some patterns emerge and 3 big solutions stood out.
- Talk to your audience. Find out what they want or need
- Focus on promotion and distribution
- Differentiate yourself
Talk to Your Audience. Find Out What They Want or Need
If you don’t understand your audience, it is impossible to create content that will engage them. There are no shortcuts or hacks to knowing your audience. Often the best solution is getting on the phone and talking to them.
1. Pat Flynn: Founder – Smart Passive Income
On FoodTruckr.com, one of my niche websites, I noticed that our blog content wasn’t really getting traction. We had been posting valuable content on the site for about 6 months, and it just wasn’t getting any engagement at all – no shares, and the traffic was at a minimum.
I discovered through conversations with actual food truck owners, 2 key items that were not helping our blog content gain much traction:
- Food Truck owners are not inclined to share articles they read about the food truck business because their fans and followers are people who follow their truck for their food, not to learn how to start or run a food truck business. Although FoodTruckr has a relatively active and large following on both Facebook and Twitter, there was no reason to share or tweet articles that we write, which is a big challenge.
- Food Truck owners spend up to 16 hours a day on their trucks, serving food to happy customers – which means they hardly have time to sit down and read a blog post. When they are not serving, they are prepping, doing their books or sleeping. Blog content wasn’t being read as much as we’d like to because there was literally no time to read.
We added a podcast to the mix of content. We felt it was still important to have blog content for SEO purposes (which has proven to be very helpful as we now rank high for various industry-related terms), but the podcast has been by far the most enjoyed content on the site, thanks to the fact that they can listen to the content on the go. Additionally, the food truck scene is very tight. Everyone loves hearing other people’s stories and they pull inspiration from hearing each other’s voices about their journey, struggles and tips.
With the blog content, we’ve also added content that Food Truck owners are actually likely to share with their followers. For example, we may feature a particular truck and talk about their journey and where to find them, which trucks are always happy to share with their food-loving followers.
If it wasn’t for direct, 1-to-1 conversations with these busy people, I would have never known what the issue was, let alone how to solve it.
2. Georgiana Laudi: Director of Marketing – Unbounce
A few years back, our product team at Unbounce released client management functionality for our landing page builder. At the time, it was the most requested feature in our company’s history, so everyone was really excited for the launch. In Marketing, we set out as usual, creating content for our website, email announcements, a few guides explaining the benefits and social campaigns to share the news. Problem was nothing felt like it was really getting through to our customers, and new signups weren’t what we expected.
We knew we’d missed our mark when response to our marketing was flat but mostly, when we saw that the new features were largely being ignored inside of our app. For features in such high demand, we expected more adoption by customers and excitement from new-comers.
In an effort to understand where we’d gone wrong, we knew we needed to talk to our customers more directly. Give them a forum to ask us questions, and hopefully glean what we could do better with our communication. We decided that the best format would be live and interactive, so despite feeling as though webinars were old hat, we held our first one. It was targeted at customers and focused on our client management features.
Though not many people attended (maybe 50 or so), it became really obvious, really fast, that we’d stumbled onto something big. Throughout the webinar, the live questions coming in were repeatedly marketing focused: What makes a good landing page? Does using video increase conversions? How do you develop a good headline? What makes a powerful Call-to-Action? Hello, marketing opportunity.
Focus On Promotion and Distribution
Perhaps this was true in the past, but content marketing is no longer effective with a “If you build it, they will come” strategy. Without a strong content promotion strategy, even the best content may not get noticed.
3. John Lee Dumas: Founder – Entrepreneur on Fire
When I first launched the Podcast EntrepreneurOnFire, I had NO audience, zero authority and no clear path of how I could get traction.
I realized my main issue was I had done NOTHING in the Entrepreneurial space that would qualify me as a thought leader.
I changed my focus from trying to build my own audience to creating a Podcast that interviewed successful entrepreneurs in such a unique way that they shared stories their audience had never heard before. Therefore, when the interview went live, my guest was excited to share their little known story with their audience, and every day, EntrepreneurOnFire was being exposed to a massive audience, some of whom became fans of EntrepreneurOnFire!
4. Jesse Lawler: Founder – Smart Drug Smarts
Years ago, I worked in independent film… and even before I worked in independent film, I lovingly dabbled in it, creating — well, I was going to say innumerable, but actually they were quite finite — short films and eventually small features.
However, much as I loved film, it’s safe to say that nothing in that period is work I will be remembered for.
Although I might have had many problems facing the films I was making — for sure I had 1 big one: I enjoyed the making process, but not the marketing process. My heroes were filmmakers, not film promoters.
You can see where this is going…
Somebody pointed out to me the massive, massive discrepancy between the amount of resources (and personal attention) I was putting into production vs. that going into marketing, and essentially said: “What did you think was going to happen? A piece of crap in a nice package outsells a bar of gold that’s been wrapped in a layer of crap. Movies are an industry where people pay for the product before they’ve seen it, you dummy!”
Ultimately I switched industries before I really had time to address that issue in the film industry… but the lesson stuck. When creating content for the public — or even niches within the public, I try to put as much artistry as possible into the elements that people are going to see first. With the gobs of content out there and everyone stretched for time, don’t give people an excuse to see what’s on the next channel, the next web page or the next message in their inbox.
5. Renee Warren: Co-founder – Onboardly
When we first launched our blog, we had some pretty lofty goals to hit in terms of growing our email list. Although we had superb content, a decent network and a promotion plan behind the content we were publishing, numbers and traffic were only creeping up. Not nearly as quickly as we were hoping. It was frustrating. Despite all our efforts in perfectly choreographing our publishing schedules, our numbers were weak.
In this very diluted marketplace of content, we were competing against some pretty well established publications already, so it was hard to get the attention of our readers. Our content was falling on deaf ears. Since we had great content, we knew content creation wasn’t our issue. It was because we were just expecting people to show up. It goes with the saying “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear, will it make a sound?” Same goes for content. Derek Halpern applies the 80/20 rule in content marketing. Only 20% of your time should be devoted to content development. The remaining 80% should all be promotion.
We started by running some paid traffic towards specific posts as well as some heavy influencer outreach (like you’re doing here). Interviewing, mentioning and quoting people that already had a strong following within the network we were trying to tap helped open up so many doors. More people viewed, shared and liked our work because of our new promotion plan: get the people involved.
The second biggest traffic booster was upcycling content. Creating 2-3 different content types from one blog post, like a video or slideshare, helped us minimize the content creation process and maximize our outreach and exposure.
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A common mistake for content marketers is trying to create content that appeals to everyone, all the time. Success and traction are found when you identify 1 key differentiator that becomes the foundation for an emotional connection with your audience. Neil Patel sums this up perfectly:
“If your customers love you, they will love you because of 1 critically important, indispensable and powerful thing. Find your 1 thing.” Neil Patel – What It Really Takes to Emotionally Connect With Customers
6. Mark Manson: Founder – MarkManson.net
It was difficult to get traction for the first three years I was blogging. Back then I was hardly conscious of what I was doing or who I was trying to appeal to. I was just throwing shit at a wall, so to speak.
Eventually I kind of figured out that my biggest problem was differentiating myself and branding myself with a single important idea or concept. My writing had always been good, but it was all over the place.
I narrowed the focus of my writing to a single idea that differentiated me from the rest of my industry (dating advice at the time). Once you nail that 1 big idea in your content, it becomes easier to branch out. But you need to find something that defines you first.
7. Alex Turnbull: Founder – GrooveHQ
When we first started blogging (well before the Startup Journey blog), almost nobody was reading it. We were getting maybe a few dozen visitors per day.
There were a lot of problems. For starters:
- We weren’t putting enough time into creating the best content we possibly could.
- We spent exactly zero time on promoting the content (taking the “if we build it they will come” approach, which we now know is useless).
- The blog was all over the place, from product updates to posts about marketing to customer support content. There was no single segment of the market that most of our content would be useful for.
We spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve the blog. Ultimately, we canned the whole thing and decided to relaunch with a whole new twist: sharing every step of our journey as a startup, from the lowest lows to the highest highs, and all of the lessons learned in between.
We did that because if we wanted to stand out and build a relationship with our readers, we knew we’d need to give them a compelling reason to follow the blog.
We also spent a ton of time building relationships with influencers before we launched the new blog, so by the time our first post went up, we could reach out to some very connected folks for help with promotion.
8. Dan Norris: Co-founder – WP Curve
Between 2009 and 2012, I wrote 300+ blog posts and I didn’t get a single post with more than 10 tweets.
It was difficult because I thought my content was good and part of me thought maybe I wasn’t doing enough to promote it. In hindsight, I think my content wasn’t good enough and all I needed to do was focus on quality and pay attention to what my audience was reacting to.
I decided to focus on quality and create ‘guides’ that were the best in the industry. I started with a podcasting guide, which was a 3,000+ word post with detailed step-by-step advice on setting up a podcast and tips from top podcasters. It was the first post I did that really took off, and it got over 200 tweets.
That was when I started figuring out how to create content that people cared about. I then focused on quality over quantity and paid attention to what people were sharing.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet for content traction, but it is good to know that even the greatest content marketers struggle with getting traction. Experiment with some of the strategies that these entrepreneurs have used to get more eyes on their content and see if it works for you.
Whose content traction story resonates the most with you? Let us know in the comments.
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