It’s funny, when I meet people who are leveraging content marketing, they always tell me one of two things…
Either they can’t figure out how to generate traffic (no matter how many blog posts they publish)…
They’ve figured out how to generate more traffic, but the traffic hasn’t turned into any sales or new customers and they can’t figure out why.
Now, I know what you are thinking… there are so many companies that make millions from content marketing that there must be a way to make it work.
But here’s the thing. Because of my ad agency, I am able to talk to thousands of companies each year and dig into their marketing. And of the ones that leverage content marketing, most aren’t able to generate even one sale from it.
In other words, it’s not working for them.
It’s not because content marketing is flawed. It’s that most people don’t fully understand it.
- 1 Why doesn’t content marketing work for most businesses?
- 2 So, does that mean content marketing doesn’t work?
- 3 So how should you think about content marketing?
- 4 So how do I generate traffic?
- 5 Strategy #1: Boosting posts
- 6 Strategy #2: Email everyone you linked to
- 7 Strategy #3: Top sharers
- 8 Strategy #4: Beg for links
- 9 How to build a community
- 10 Tactic #1: Subscribers
- 11 Tactic #2: Collect emails
- 12 So, what’s next?
- 13 So what’s my secret sauce?
- 14 Tactic #1: Exit popups
- 15 Tactic #2: Lead flow funnel
- 16 Tactic #3: Webinars
- 17 Tactic #4: Thank you pages
- 18 Tactic #5: Blog mentions
- 19 Conclusion
Why doesn’t content marketing work for most businesses?
What most people don’t realize is that all visitors are not the same. And I’m not talking about demographics and income, I’m talking about intent.
When you land on a web page that ranks on Google because of content marketing, your actions are going to be different than if you clicked on a paid listing.
And it’s not because one is paid and one is organic… here’s what I mean.
When you do a search on Google for the term “auto insurance” you’ll see a search results page that looks something like this:
And you’ll either click on a paid listing or an organic one.
Here’s what one of the paid listings looks like:
And here’s what one of the organic listings looks like:
As you can see, the organic listing contains a lot of content… including information about the city where I performed the search, insurance options, and why I should choose Nationwide.
To some extent, it is educational and salesy all at the same time, but I’m not being sold as hard as the paid listing from AAA.
The AAA landing page only has 73 keywords. That’s it… a measly 73 keywords.
In other words, if you land on the AAA landing page you are going to click on one of the two insurance options.
On the other hand, if you land on the Nationwide site (who leverages content marketing), your eyes focus on the text instead of filling out the auto insurance lead form.
And that’s what I mean by intent.
Even though I performed the search “auto insurance,” I’m more likely to buy from the AAA site because it’s a more aggressive landing page. The Nationwide site puts me in a more educational mindset, in which I am going to read and do some research versus just getting a quote.
And Nationwide isn’t doing this because they want to educate. They are doing this because it is really hard to rank organically without providing tons of content.
Google loves content, hence the average web page that ranks on page one contains 1,890 words.
That’s why Wikipedia ranks for everything under the sun.
If you are going to leverage content marketing, you have to keep in mind that when people land on your site it will put them in the mood of reading and learning instead of buying.
So, does that mean content marketing doesn’t work?
Content marketing is amazing, and it still works really well. It doesn’t produce as many conversions as paid advertising, but you can also build up massive amounts of traffic without burning a hole in your wallet.
Let’s look at NeilPatel.com and how I leverage content marketing.
Over the last 31 days, this blog has generated 2,510,893 visits of which 1,609,314 were unique. And those visitors generated 5,890,103 pageviews.
That’s not bad, especially if you consider that I am not really leveraging paid ads (other than the few blog posts I modestly boost on Facebook each month).
And during that time period, we generated 1,942 leads within the United States of which 262 came from companies who were spending over $5,000 a month on marketing.
Most leads don’t turn into sales within 30 days as our sales cycle is longer, but so far those leads have generated $972,860 in contract value (we haven’t collected all of that money yet, but we will over the next 12 months).
The number I shared above is just revenue, it’s not profit. That number, of course, will go up as many more of the leads will turn into contracts but at the same time, my expenses will go up too.
So, can you guess how I generated almost a million dollars in new contracts in just 30 days.
Well first off, it wasn’t me… I have an amazing sales team lead by a guy named Nick Roshon. And we have an amazing fulfillment team that helps the sales team close more deals.
But the lead generation is all me… and that came from content marketing.
In other words, content marketing works… as long as you think about it the right way.
So how should you think about content marketing?
The first part is traffic. You need traffic before you can do anything else.
How do you build up traffic via content marketing?
Well, you need to write blog posts. I won’t go too in-depth on how to write blog posts as I have tons of blog posts already on that.
If you are going to take the route of hiring other writers, make sure you tell them the following rules:
- You and I – use the words “you” and “I” to make the blog posts seem like a conversation. For example, “Don’t you hate it when people tell you that some things just aren’t possible? I know I do.” You see how that sounds conversational?
- 3 sections – a blog post should be structured with 3 main sections: Introduction, body, and conclusion. By structuring every one of your posts the same way, your readers will know what to expect and it will make it easier to skim your content. (The majority of your website visitors will skim and not read.)
- Conclusion – the conclusion should be labeled “Conclusion.” The reason you want to do this is that roughly 8% of your readers will scroll down to the bottom of your blog post to read the conclusion. If they like the conclusion they will scroll back up and read the rest. (The 8% stat is from NeilPatel.com. I’m not sure what the percentage will be for your blog but I used Crazy Egg to figure this out.)
- Subheadings – the body should contain subheadings, that way it is easier for people to skim. The subheadings should describe what the section is about and if you can naturally place keywords within it, feel free to do so. Just don’t force it.
- Short paragraphs – try to keep the paragraphs less than 5 or 6 lines. It’s easier on the eyes, especially on mobile.
- Facts and data – use stats and data to back up your talking points. Feel free to reference other sites and link to them. This will validate your content and also brand you as an authority over time.
- Images – use screenshots and photography to help get your point across. Some people are visual learners, so use images when it makes sense. If you are using someone else’s images, look for copyright information and make sure you cite your sources.
- 2,000 to 3,000 words – it varies per industry, but if you are in a competitive industry, consider making your blog posts 2,000 or more words. I showed you earlier in this post how Google prefers ranking content that is at least 1,890 words on page 1. If you are not in a competitive industry, you can write content that is less than 1,000 words. Over time you can go back to the blog posts that are gaining traction and expand them.
- Headlines have to be amazing – 8 out of 10 people will read your headline but only 2 out of 10 will click through and read the rest of your article. Before you hit the publish button, check out these stats from Buzzsumo on writing appealing headlines.
- End with a question – wrap up your conclusion with a question. People are more likely to leave a comment when you ask them a question. Make sure you do this as you want engagement.
Now that you have the writing process down, it’s time to come up with topic ideas. The easiest way to figure out what’s hot is to just type in keywords within your space on Buzzsumo.
You just insert a keyword and Buzzsumo will show you all of the articles around the web that are popular related to that keyword.
By doing this you will see what people like in your space. I’m not saying you should copy these articles but instead to use them for ideas. The last thing you want to do is write content that people don’t care to read.
In addition to typing in a keyword, you can also type a URL into Buzzsumo. For example, I typed in Hubspot.com and it shows me all of their top articles.
This will give you an idea of what is working for your competition.
Now that you have some topic ideas, it’s time for you to write a blog post (or pay someone to write it for you). Just keep in mind your content has to be better than your competition. If it isn’t better than what they have, it will be hard for you to get more social shares or outrank them.
When I publish a blog post, I like asking myself the following questions:
- Is your blog post more actionable than your competitors? (If not, fix it.)
- Did you write on something unique or provide a different perspective than your competition? (If not, fix it.)
- Would you be embarrassed if a friend or co-worker read your article? (Don’t ever publish something you wouldn’t want others to read… fix your content.)
- Would you be willing to ask other people to share your content on social media and link to it? (If not, make your content better.)
- Did you come up with 10 headline variations? (Don’t settle on your first headline, try to think of better ones.)
Assuming you passed all of the questions, it’s time to publish your content and generate some traffic.
So how do I generate traffic?
Sadly, there is no quick way to grow your traffic. It’s a slow grind, but over time your traffic will go up.
Here’s the traffic to the NeilPatel.com blog when I first started:
As you can see I generated 9,065 unique visitors in my first month back in August of 2014. I generated those visitors from the 4 strategies that I will break down in a bit (they still work).
And if you fast forward to the 1-year mark, I was able to 10x my traffic by August of 2015.
My traffic has continually gone up over time as well, which you can see by scrolling back up towards the beginning of this post (I’m now at 2,510,893 monthly visits, yay!).
So how do you generate more traffic?
Well, first off you need to be patient. Don’t expect the same results I achieved. Marketing is what I do, and I’m willing to dedicate more time and energy than most people.
So here are the 4 strategies I used when I started NeilPatel.com (and I still use them today).
Keep in mind that these tactics work for all types of sites and I’m assuming here that you don’t have a social following, so I won’t be giving you basic advice like “share your article on LinkedIn”.
Strategy #1: Boosting posts
Still to this day I boost my posts on Facebook. It worked even better when I was starting off, but it still works well today as it helps generate traction.
As you can see from the screenshot above, I boosted my last week’s post. I tend to boost all of my posts, which is roughly 4 times a month.
I spend $400 per post. I pick the regions: United Stated States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom when boosting.
You should pick the regions where most of your ideal customers are (ideally, I should only be boosting within the United States) and make your boost lasts 2 weeks as the clicks will be cheaper than if you spent it all in one day.
If you continually do this your traffic will grow over time and you will also get more organic Facebook traffic by boosting.
If you aren’t, that means people don’t care for your content… which means you need to go back and adjust your content with the tips I broke down above.
Strategy #2: Email everyone you linked to
Within your blog post, you should have linked to other sites. As I mentioned above, you want to cite your sources and link to places where you are finding data/stats.
Every time I link to a website, I will go to their site and try to find the email of the website owner so I can let them know I linked to them.
But before I share with you an email template to send, keep in mind that you will have to modify it for your website. I can’t emphasize this enough.
And I know some of you don’t think emailing works because you get so many link building requests, but if it didn’t work you wouldn’t be getting all of those emails. 😉
I typically send an email that goes something like this…
Thanks for taking the time to come up with stats around XYZ. I know it’s hard work, but bloggers like me appreach it. I just borrowed some of your stats for my latest blog post and of course I linked to you and gave you credit.
[insert link to your blog post]
Feel free and check it out and let me know what you think.
PS: If you like the post, feel free and share it on your favorite social network.
PPS: If you ever come up with any other cool research, let me know. I may want to include it in a future post.
You need to customize the email template because the more customized it is, the better it will do.
I’ve found that if I email out 20 people, 4 or 5 usually will email me back saying thanks.
When emailing people, keep in mind that there are GDPR rules. So, you may be better off going through the contact forms on people’s website versus just sending them a cold email.
If you aren’t sure if you are breaking any GDPR rules, check with a lawyer as they’ll know much more than I will.
One of my favorite features of Buzzsumo is that it shows you all of the people who shared your competition’s content.
All you have to do is type in the URL of your competition and click on “view sharers.”
From there you will be presented with a list of people who shared that content.
You’ll want to go to each of their Twitter profiles (or do some Googling) to see if you can find their email address or website.
Similar to the previous strategy, you’ll want to email them something that goes like this:
Hope you are doing well.
I noticed that you tweeted out [insert the title of the article they tweeted] by author [insert author name].
It’s a good article, but it doesn’t discuss [insert what the article is missing].
Because of that, I wrote a similar article that’s more complete and up-to-date.
Let me know if you would like to check it out.
You’ll notice that I didn’t link to my article. I first wait for their reply as I have found it to produce better results.
Typically, they will email back with something like:
Sure, I would like to see it.
And then you’ll respond with:
Here you go:
Feel free and share it if you like it 🙂
PS: Let me know if I can share anything for you.
It ranges depending on which industry you are in but typically 9% to 30% of the people you email will share your article out as well.
If you are getting a percentage that is lower than that it means that your content isn’t that great or the people you are emailing tweeted the original article out years ago instead of recently (people forget what they tweeted over time).
Again, make sure you follow GDPR rules with this tactic (feel free and consult a lawyer). You can always message people through their website contact form as well.
Strategy #4: Beg for links
The last thing I like to do within Buzzsumo is to see who linked to my competitors. You can click on “view backlinks” to see who links to similar articles from your competitors.
From there you will see a list of backlinks pointing to your competition:
And just like the previous strategies you can do some manual outreach and send them an email that goes something like:
Hope you are doing well.
I was reading [insert URL of the page on their site that is linking out to your competition] and I noticed you mentioned [competition’s name].
The problem with the link is that you are pointing your readers to an article that isn’t complete. It doesn’t discuss [talk about why the competition’s article isn’t as useful and thorough].
If you want to fix this, check out my article below as it addresses everything I mentioned above.
[insert link to your article]
PS: If you want to provide more value to your readers, feel free and link to my article.
PPS: Let me know if I can do anything for you.
The email template is a bit generic, but if you modify it, personalize it, and adapt it to your business you’ll see decent results.
If you email out 100 people you should get at least 4 to 6 links.
Again, make sure you check in with a lawyer about GDPR rules as you don’t want to get in trouble for sending off cold emails to people that you shouldn’t be.
You can also send the message using the contact forms on peoples’ websites.
Now that your traffic is growing, let’s focus on building up a community.
How to build a community
A blog without a loyal fan base is tough to monetize. Without this, you won’t do well. This is the big reason that most companies I talk to never do well with their content marketing.
They just lack a community.
This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to monetize if you don’t have a community, it just means it will be harder.
But before I go into building a community, you’ll want to leverage social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Just remember that as they continually adjust their algorithms, it will be harder to rely on them.
For that reason, I like focusing on the tactics below.
Tactic #1: Subscribers
Some of you may have noticed that every time I publish a new blog post you get a browser notification telling you about it.
Just through browser notifications, also known as push notifications, I am able to generate an extra 42,316 visitors per month.
The way I do this is through a free tool called Subscribers.
Subscribers allows your blog readers to subscribe to your blog through their web browser (Chrome, Firefox, etc.).
The way it does this is by asking people if they want to receive “notifications” from your website (aka subscribe).
It’s the same strategy as Facebook and YouTube use.
The best part about it is that it is easy for your readers to subscribe because all they have to do is click “allow”. They don’t have enter in their name, email address or any personal information.
And over time your subscriber count will continually increase… here’s a screenshot of my dashboard with my subscriber count:
As you send out push notifications, you’ll see that people will “unsubscribe” themselves, similar to email, which is fine. But in general, it is the most effective way to boost your traffic.
All you have to do is hit the “send a notification” button within your Subscribers dashboard if you want to notify your subscribers of a new blog post. When you hit the “send a notification” button, you will see a screen that looks like this:
You can even add UTM codes, which will give you tracking within your Google Analytics.
You can pick what image you want to include with the push notification (as well as see a preview of it on the left side) and you can schedule it if you want it to go out at a later time or day.
Once you hit send, your subscribers will get a notification that looks something like this in their browser:
Whether you decided to use UTMs or not, you can always see your stats for each push within your Subscribers dashboard.
Even though I don’t talk about push notifications much, it really is the easiest way to build a community and get people to come back to your site.
There is only one issue when you use tools like Subscribers, you have to be patient. You won’t have a big list of subscribers from day one. It will take months before you see it really kicking in.
It’s more effective than email marketing and best of all Subscribers is free.
Tactic #2: Collect emails
Similar to tactic number 1, a lot of you are on my email list. I received 37,726 visitors from emailing out blog posts over the last 31 days.
Although that number may not seem high, emails make up one of my most loyal segments. If I do an email blast selling a product or service, I can instantly generate $100,000 (seriously).
And similar to Subscribers, I use a free email collection tool called Hello Bar to collect emails and build a community.
Once you are up and running I would create an exit popup similar to what I have on NeilPatel.com.
I know most of you don’t like exit popups, but they are really effective. I collect over 1,000 emails a day from my exit popup.
As long as you are providing value and giving away something people will love, then they won’t mind entering their email address.
There are two cool parts about Hello Bar that I love:
- It’s GDPR compliant – they have GDPR settings in there.
- It has custom targeting settings – you can pick who sees your optin and when they see it. For example, I only show it to people once and only when they are leaving the site.
Once you log into Hello Bar, you’ll see a wizard that looks something like this:
You can choose from tons of different templates and designs. You can even upload a custom background image if you want (for this purpose I just picked the most basic template to show you how it works).
And once you pick a template you like, you can easily modify the design or image using the WYSIWYG editor.
If you also have traffic from different sources like I do (mobile, tablet, desktop) you can pick different layout types and designs for each device type.
You can also create different popups for different regions. For example, here is my Hello Bar exit popup for Brazil:
Out of all the methods I’ve tested for email collection, exit popups work the best.
But if you really don’t want to use them, you can create sliders, bars, and other forms of email collection boxes using Hello Bar that aren’t as aggressive.
Now that you have an email list going, you’ll want to send out an email blast to your list every time you publish a blog (or every time you publish an amazing one if you blog too often – you don’t want to clutter people’s inbox).
What I’ve found is that I generate more comments and social shares from my push notification and email list than any other channel.
To give you an idea, over the last 31 days, push notifications made up 38.5% of my blog comments and email has made up 32.3% of my comments.
It’s crazy… they beat out every other channel by far.
So, what’s next?
Well, assuming you are growing your traffic, collecting more subscribers and emails… you should be building a nice solid user base to monetize.
You have a few ways you can monetize.
The first is to just sell more products. A great example of this is Legion Athletics. It’s an 8-figure business that started with content marketing.
When you go to Legion’s blog, you’ll notice that they do a few things…
First, they try and push you into taking their quiz as it is a great way for them to make product recommendations based on your needs.
Once you start taking the quiz, they’ll ask you personalized questions so they can direct you towards the right supplements for you.
It’s one of the best ways to convert blog readers into customers. And if you don’t know how to create a quiz, just check out Lead Quizzes. It’s a software that does it for you.
It works so well, I even have a quiz on NeilPatel.com.
In other words, quizzes work well for both B2B and B2C sites. It doesn’t matter if you are selling a product, service, or info product, quizzes work.
Heck, at one point I was able to grow my lead count by 500% through quizzes.
Now going back to Legion, they also do a few other things really well.
They notify you every time there is a new purchase made on their site. (Timothy Sykes also does a great job with this.)
And they have different types of exit popups depending where you are on their site.
Some of them sell products:
And some focus on collecting emails (they do something smart, which is they ask you a question before asking for your email… typically converts better):
By showcasing all of these examples from Legion, I am trying to show you that content marketing does convert if you focus on the conversion aspect.
Remember how earlier I talked about how when people go to websites with content they are there to read and learn? That doesn’t mean you can’t convert them into customers. You just have to put in a bit more work than just telling them to buy your product.
Legion grew to 8 figures a year using these tactics, which means it works. Sure, you all know I can do it, but the Legion team isn’t made up of marketers, it is made up of fitness fanatics.
Even Timothy Sykes, he generates 61% of his sales from content marketing. That’s a business that makes well into the millions of dollars per month.
So what’s my secret sauce?
I showed you how Legion monetizes their blog, now I want to show you how I monetize my blog.
I use 5 main channels to convert my content marketing traffic into leads and then my sales team converts those leads into revenue.
But before I go over them, keep in mind this will work if you have a personal blog or a corporate blog. And it will work if you are in B2B, B2C, selling products, collecting leads, or selling a service. In other words, it pretty much works for all blogs. 😉
Let’s go over each of them…
Tactic #1: Exit popups
I showed you my exit popup above and that’s I how I collect most of my emails. Once I collect an email, I send off an email that looks something like this:
[insert first name], as promised, here is the cheat sheet that breaks down how I ranked on page 1 of Google for terms like “online marketing” and “SEO”. (I hope you enjoy it… I spent a lot of time creating it.)
Just as a heads up, the cheat sheet is advanced, but if you follow it you’ll do well.
It goes over the tactics I personally use and over the next few weeks, I’ll also share a few marketing hacks that you won’t find anywhere else. 😉
Now, if you need more help, feel free and check out my ad agency, Neil Patel Digital, where we can do everything for you.
And if you have any questions, just hit the reply button and ask away. It’s my personal email and I am here to help you.
Seriously, don’t be shy.
If you look at the email above, you’ll notice that I link to my ad agency.
That email helps collect a solid portion of my qualified leads. It doesn’t bring in the majority, but I’ve found that people on my email list are 278% more likely to turn into customers.
When you collect emails, don’t be afraid to promote your product or service. It doesn’t have to be in your first email, you can do it over time.
For example, Ramit from I Will Teach You to be Rich, usually waits 30 days to promote his products. You typically have to be on his email list for at least 30 days before you see any promotions.
Tactic #2: Lead flow funnel
On NeilPatel.com, you’ll notice that I have a few different URL optins.
On my homepage, I ask you for your URL:
And I push you through an analyzer that looks like this:
And then I collect a lead that gets passed to my sales team:
I have a similar flow on every page. For example, on blog posts, I have a top bar:
I also have them within the sidebar of my blog posts:
That simple analyzer that I am pushing traffic to accounts for over 90% of my leads. It works that well. Just look at how much revenue my sales team closed in the last 31 days (I shared it above).
You have to get creative with your funnel. If you are unsure of how to create a funnel, check out this blog post.
Tactic #3: Webinars
Once you are on my email list, you will see the opportunity to join my webinar.
From there I pitch you on my agency. If you are wondering how a webinar funnel works, you should read this blog post as I break it all down in there.
When I used to sell info products, for every 100 webinar registrations I was generating 3.6 sales. Each sale is worth $997. After refunds, the 3.6 sales would turn into $3,050.82.
I eventually ditched the info product webinar and focused on collecting consulting leads.
If you want to see my latest webinar presentation (feel free and use my slides and modify it for your business), you can download them here.
Tactic #4: Thank you pages
Have you seen my thank you page?
Everyone who opts into my email list sees it. I talk about my ad agency in a short video and it helps drive leads.
Tactic #5: Blog mentions
The last tactic I use to generate sales from content marketing is to just mention my business within my blog post.
How many times do you think I mentioned my ad agency, Neil Patel Digital, in this post?
Probably enough to generate an extra 500 to 1,000 visitors to my agency site.
The last time I did it, the agency had an all-time high of 970 visitors in one day. That’s not too shabby.
Sometimes it generates qualified leads and other times it doesn’t. But it’s a numbers game.
It’s much easier to grow traffic to a blog than it is to monetize. Content marketing is effective as long as you can drive qualified traffic and you can convert those visitors into customers.
For example, on NeilPatel.com I have a lot of posts about Instagram and how to grow followers. Although this Instagram post is one of my most popular pieces of content… in multiple languages…
Those visitors will never convert into qualified leads.
Before you do any form of content marketing, make sure you are really going after an audience that will buy your products and services.
Once you’ve got the targeting down, then start cranking out content, promoting it and building a community.
In general, it will take you a year to see decent results in traffic. And I would recommend that you avoid monetizing within the first 12 months. You could try to monetize earlier, but I’ve found it to slow down traffic growth.
So, I prefer investing in pure traffic growth during the first year and then slowly transitioning into monetization in year two. And to clarify, I don’t slow down on traffic growth and marketing, instead, I focus on both traffic and conversions.
Do you see why content marketing works for me and not most people? So, what are you waiting for… are you going to implement what you just learned?