Should You Try Content Marketing? Answer “Yes” to These 3 Questions First

Content marketing is a seductive option for new and growing businesses.

On the surface, it appears to offer a steady stream of new leads and customers, without you having to spend money on paid advertising.

It seems like all you need to do is publish a few articles, and poof, you’ll be making more money.

Success stories from businesses built on content marketing only add to the narrative: “HubSpot focused a ton on content marketing…and now they’re a public company!”

And when you’re a young business that’s strapped for cash and can’t afford to spend $100,000 a month on ads, the “free” marketing options get all the more appealing.

But, as many businesses end up discovering, content marketing isn’t a free lunch. It’s expensive, hard, slow, and doesn’t even make sense in many industries.

So before you dive in and start trying to publish an article per week, or hire a content marketer to run your blog, you should seriously ask yourself the question:

Should You Try Content Marketing?

In this post, I’ll help you answer that question for yourself, based on the successes, and failures, we’ve seen from working with dozens of different businesses over the last few years.

It all comes down to a few main questions:

  1. Are you willing to invest the resources?
  2. Do you have a winning formula you can use?
  3. Can you wait?

Are You Willing to Invest the Resources?

Despite its appearances, content marketing is not a “free” marketing channel.

You may be able to produce articles without spending any money, yes, but you’re still paying for them with your time and energy. Any time you’re putting towards content marketing is time you’re not putting towards other parts of your business, and the only way to make content marketing work is by committing a significant amount of time to it.

To give you an idea, here’s how much you might need to invest in order to make a content marketing strategy work.

For context, let’s assume you’re executing a full content marketing strategy like we recommend to our clients. That means every week you’re publishing two to three in-depth articles that are 1,500 to 3,000 words each, SEO-optimizing them, and promoting them through the relevant channels.

There are four ways you can do that, with varying levels of success:

1. Do It Yourself

If you do that yourself, you’re looking at a full-time job. You have to write the content, find images for it, edit it, get it uploaded and formatted, publish it, promote it, optimize the conversions on it, track the results, tweak old posts, fix things that break, respond to comments, come up with new article topics…it’s a lot of work.

This is the main reason that people who are just “trying content marketing” fail. They don’t realize how much work it takes to do it properly, and they end up either quitting after a few weeks, or doing a very poor job of it.

Content marketing can’t be a “we’ll do it when we have time” project. You either invest in it, or you don’t, so unless you’re willing to commit most of your full-time job to it, you’ll need more help than just trying to do it yourself.

2. Hire a Content Marketer

Or, maybe you want to hire a content marketer to do it for you. In that case, you should be looking for someone expecting a salary of at least $60,000 per year, which turns into about $6,000 per month after taxes, images, tools, and other costs.

At $6,000 a month you can do a pretty good job with content marketing, but that’s around the bare minimum you should expect to spend. The only challenge is that if you don’t know too much about content marketing, you might end up hiring someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. But that’s always a risk with any kind of hiring.

The $6,000 number scares off many young businesses though, which is why they try the unfortunate route of…

3. Hire Cheap Writers

“Why would I spend $6,000 a month when I can get cheap writers to pump out articles for $50 a pop?”

This is the biggest mistake we see sites make with content marketing. They don’t want to spend too much money, so they try to hire cheap writers on UpWork to pump out articles.

Unfortunately, this does more harm than good. It’s an embarrassment to your site and brand since you’ll have shitty articles all over it, and the content is unlikely to move the needle in any meaningful way.

Worse, you’re more likely to run into issues of plagiarism, duplicate content, bad backlinks, and other problems that could end up hurting your site in the long run.

It’s tempting to go cheap and try to get bottom-of-market writers to pump out content just so you have something, but it’s not worth it. Either invest in having someone good do it, or don’t do it at all.

4. Hire an Agency

The fourth option you have is to hire an agency to do it all for you. This is probably the most convenient option, since it requires the least additional work on your part, but it will cost almost as much as having an in-house person do the work.

It also has its associated risks. If you go cheap and hire an inexpensive agency, you’re more likely to get one that is going to create weak content that does little for your business. Or, if you hire one without a good track record, you might end up losing money on an agency that doesn’t know what they’re doing.

But if you can hire a more premium-priced one with a good track record, it’s the best option you have besides hiring an expert content marketer.

A good agency can bring a lot of experience and systems they’ve developed from working exclusively in content marketing, and can usually get your site’s content up and running much faster.

That’s why I typically recommend businesses either hire an in-house content marketer, or hire an agency like us. In either case, they’re going to need to commit at least $6,000 a month to their content marketing effort, but that’s the minimum amount you should be looking to spend to do it right.

What If You Want to Do Less?

“Okay, but what if I don’t want to publish two to three big articles per week?”

That’s fine, and that’s the case where you can do it yourself, but unless they’re extremely valuable, awesome articles, publishing once per week is unlikely to move the needle for you.

Typically, businesses that want to do less than a full content marketing strategy are trying to do everything at once, which is never a good idea.

You want to invest in doing it right, or not do it at all. Doing one thing all the way will get you much further than doing two things halfway.

But if you are willing to invest the resources and commit to a content marketing strategy, there are still a couple more questions you need to answer.

The next one is this:

Do You Have a Winning Formula You Can Use?

If you don’t have one of these four winning formulas you can use for your content, then it’s probably not worth investing in. These are the four types of blog articles that tend to do well for growing a business’s traffic and customers, and you should be able to create content in at least one, if not multiple, of these categories.

The four formulas are:

  1. Massive search volume
  2. Domain expertise
  3. Special data
  4. Compelling stories

Winning Formula 1: Massive Search Volume

The best formula for a successful content marketing strategy is when you can write about an area where there’s a massive amount of search volume.

This is the premise of our wiki strategy: Find a topic that people are looking for lots of answers on, then create the best blog online about that topic.

It’s not easy, but if you can do it, you can create a blog that brings in millions of visitors each month, and continues to do so for years.

Imagine if you published three articles per week, each of which could get 100 visitors a day from Google.

After three months, you’d have published about 40 articles, and if each were getting 100 visits a day, you’d be getting 4,000 visitors a day or 120,000 visitors a month.

Then if you did that for another three months, you’d be up to 240,000 visitors a month.

Compare that to a strategy not focused on search, but on social sharing. Even if every article gets 1,000 views on social media, that traffic goes away quickly, so you don’t get any compounding value from publishing more articles. You’re just constantly trying to keep up with last month’s traffic, instead of steadily growing your readership.

If you can find an area with a massive amount of search volume, you’ve got a winning formula for content marketing.

Examples of companies doing well with this winning formula:

Winning Formula 2: Domain Expertise

The next winning formula you might have for a great content marketing strategy is domain expertise.

This formula works when you can confidently write about an area that people are trying to learn more about, and that your product helps solve the needs of.

The blog you’re reading right now is a perfect example of this formula. We’re experts at growing blogs to 100,000-plus monthly readers and turning them into revenue generators, so we share what we’re learning on the blog.

If you’re in the top 1 percent skill-wise for whatever problem your business helps address, then writing about your experience in that field can be a great way to create content that’s both useful and unique. It also helps for building more brand awareness, and thought leadership for whoever serves as the face of the business.

The main caveat with this formula is that not everyone can write authoritatively, and not everyone is as much of an expert as they think they are. If you’re just getting starting in marketing, don’t start a marketing blog. Or if you do, blog from a point of “here’s what I’m learning,” not from a point of “here’s why I’m an expert.”

Domain expertise blogs can be incredibly valuable since they build a loyal readership that will keep coming back for new articles, so if you have an expertise you can leverage for your content marketing, go for it.

Examples of companies doing well with this winning formula:

Winning Formula 3: Special Data

Even if you’re not an expert in a good area for content, and don’t have an area with tons of search volume, you could create a great content strategy around special data that you have access to.

This will most likely be data that you can pull from how your customers are using your product, or that you can collect through connections you have in the market.

Is there anything interesting about your target audience that you can learn from the information you already have?

OkCupid is the perfect example of winning with this formula. They create long-form articles like this one on what they know about people who added a badge in support of the ACLU to their dating profile, such as:

  • They’re 30 percent more likely to believe in climate change
  • They 25 percent more likely to have gone to graduate school
  • They 15 percent more likely to say that humor is important in a relationship

So do you have special data you can use to create interesting content that people won’t be able to find anywhere else? Then that’s a great winning formula.

Examples of companies doing well with this winning formula:

Winning Formula 4: Compelling Stories

The final winning formula you may be able to use is the stories of your customers. Have any of them done something with your product, or succeeded in a way related to your product, that you can share on your site?

This is like a content marketing version of the classic testimonials you see on infomercials. “Janet lost 25 pounds with our diet plan!”

If you have enough customers, you can email the most loyal ones and ask them if they’d be willing to be featured on your site as a short interview and story about their success. Most people don’t get the chance to be featured on websites very often, and especially if it’s a product they enjoy, they’ll jump at the opportunity.

The key is provide stories so that other non-customers in your target market can imagine themselves succeeding just like your existing customers. Having a number of these stories for potential customers to read through can significantly increase their confidence in working with you or buying from you, and makes the sale that much easier.

These posts also come with built-in promotion, since people or businesses that get featured will usually be more than happy to share the story with their friends, family, and network.

Examples of companies doing well with this winning formula:

Can you succeed in content marketing without one of these four formulas? Maybe. But you’ll have a much easier time seeing good traffic and a positive ROI if you can follow at least one, if not multiple, of the strategies outlined above.

Finally, the last and most important question you need to say yes to:

Can You Wait?

The hardest part with content marketing is the patience it requires. Any successful blog you can think of started off as a quiet, empty corner of the Internet with one or two people pushing out new content despite getting only a few dozen readers on each piece.

If you’re not willing to wait six to 12 months before you start to see some ROI (not necessarily positive ROI) from your content marketing efforts, you shouldn’t pursue it.

Once a blog has gained popularity and has a dedicated readership it can be insanely profitable for your business, but it takes a long time to get there.

If you need quicker results, on the order of a couple months, you’ll need to look elsewhere like paid advertising.

But if you’re willing to put in the resources necessary to make content marketing work, can wait a few months before you start to see results, and have a winning formula, then it might be the right fit for you.

Nat Eliason

Hi I'm Nat. I'm the founder of Growth Machine. I like tea, deadlifts, and good books.

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