What makes an online startup successful? How to create content that captivates and market your product to make sales? Must have knowledge for startupers.
With Quinn Whissen, head of marketing at Vertical Measures
Quinn is an experienced marketer helping clients drive profitable growth to their projects through content marketing. She teaches content marketing workshops around the country and speaks regularly on marketing, design, and social engagement.
To answer your question, like is it possible for a small business owner or a solopreneur – yes but I understand the challenges. It comes down to priorities at this point. Is my priority just to sell or is it to help people and create relationships that down the road will end up paying me off in a good way. So I’d say start small. Start with once or twice a month creating content. But you always have to remember that you need to do the foundation first. Do you have a website, is it mobile friendly, do you have the right marketing messages in place, what about your branding, your email system, social media. All of those building blocks have to be set down before you even start content marketing or you’re not going to get the result out of it.
But to see results for people we work with in Vertical Measures, I worked with, if you have the foundation set and you have a strategy where you create consistent content on a week-by-week basis you can probably see some results within 6 months. Sometimes it takes less than this if you have more resources, sometimes it may take even a year. And what we always see is just consistency is key.
Creating a piece of content, pushing it out on your promotional channels, your social media and then following with any leads that come in. It’s going to take a while to take the process down, but once you do, I would say 6 to 12 months is really the sweet spot where basically all the graphs end up going up. You get more traffic, more leads and hopefully more business.
A few things you want to focus on in strategy is goals. Like I mentioned before, how do you want to be different a year from now, three months from now, whatever your period is. And then figure out what are you trying to do: are you trying to get more sales, are you an ecommerce business that wants to increase sales by 10% by the end of the year.
Actually put together a little sentence saying “by November 2016 I want to increase sales month over month by 10%”. And then you need to say how are you going to get there, what are you going to do to get there, to reach that goal. Then comes the implementation, what you’re going to do? Create content twice a month? Do you have resources for that? Who do you need to hire? Do you have someone in house? Or maybe you need to talk with a freelancer?
Think about goals, resources – how you can get things done and also you want to focus on how do you get the ideas? Cause content marketing is all about creating content, creating topics that people will find useful, people will find helpful. I always tell people to stop thinking about what you can write today and start thinking about what questions you get asked all the time. I’m sure there’s lots of people on the call, emailing asking what does this cost, what’s the comparison of this vs that.
There’s questions being asked all the time. And that’s where you want to start to come up with topic ideas that will create really-really kind of intentional content, not just “what should I write about today?”. No-no-no. Make sure it’s a need and a want your prospective customers would like answered and start there.
I actually had a small business contact me yesterday. He’s a chef, a really good chef in Phoenix and he sells truffle oil. So he has a website for that. And he’s like, how do i get more people coming to my site. And I told him he needed content research and he mentioned that people want to know recipes for truffle oil. So I typed in “how do I make black truffle oil”. You can do it right now, try typing it. And I saw a content gap, because on first 5-10 results there was no one answering this specific question. So I told him there’s an opportunity right there.
Maybe it’ll take you an hour, since he’s a great chef, to come up with a 600 words blog post or article on how to make black truffle oil, include a recipe and you can even include a video of him actually making it. And then you have few different formats of content that can honestly rank pretty quickly because there was no competition. So that’s a thing to do – do the research, start brainstorming about questions you get asked but then take it to the actual search engines to see if it’s even worth the time to create this piece of content. Cause often times it will be saturated like you said.
Like the opposite of that was “how to make truffle oil” and there were tons of results for that. But no one had described how to make black truffle oil which was something he sells. So it’s really weighing in what’s the competition, what’s the traffic volume and is it answering the need that my customers have.
Something that’s gated behind the gated form, something you give out information to download. Those work really well for us, but I see businesses that one minute videos do very well for them or data-graphics for Pinterest distributed from their website.
So you need to think what’s the best format for us to reach our goals and also not to pinhole yourself to just one format. Like I’m not a video person, I hate them. I don’t want to watch videos, it’s not my thing, I’m more of a scanner comprehending really quickly if it’s like good text but I know some other people in our office who love videos.
There’s so many different types of learning that people are attracted to. Some are video people, some are written people and they all are going to help you reach certain goals with content marketing. So make sure you think about that in your strategy. Don’t create a video just to create a video. Create a video because you know it’s going to help you reach that goal.
You know what’s not boring- and I’m going to steal it from Marcus Sheridan who’s a great content marketer – what’s not boring is making money. So if you can create content that is informational, educational and it converts people to become your customers, I’m sorry, but that’s not boring, that’s pretty cool. It’s more of a perception issue.
You think your topic is boring, but there are certain people that are searching for it that will resonate with it. And they will feel more inclined to give you business because you provided the answer that they were looking for. I’d get rid of the idea of boring. Yes, there’s stuff that’s a little more scientific but what you can do there is really focus on your tone, your voice to make sure it comes across not boring and makes sense to people in a good way. I hope it helps.
But product pages are actually source of gold for content creators. Zappos does this really well or even Amazon. I like using Zappos as an example. I bought my backpack from them. And why I did was because they had a great content page. They showed my backpack and had multiple views on photos so that had image content but then they had video content of a real person that worked at Zappos modeling the backpack, turning around so I got the idea of what the size was on that product and than they had user-generated content so you can upload an Instagram with that product if you had it, they had reviews, they had product specs and it was a robust content kind of resource page for that product.
A lot of ecommerce sites often times get a description from the manufacturer and they just put it on their pages. But that’s duplicated from any other ecommerce site. That has that same product. So look at your product pages as a place to create unique content and to really sell the product. Not the product itself but experience of owning that product. So that’s the first part.
So in terms of second, content marketing part. It comes to mind there’s this green, clean companies, kind of safe, sustainable sprays for your kitchen tables or whatever and they sell these online. You have to think about who’s coming there to buy? Who’s that demographic, who’s this person?
Often times it would be me cause I don’t like the chemical cleaners, so what content I or you or whoever would be interested in coming to that site? Like 10 steps to creating a clean, green, sustainable home. There are a lot of ways to draw people in not through your products but through a product that they might find interesting in the periphery.
Sketch out the idea of this person, who they are and how would they end up on your website. So focus on content persona and you can have multiple. I was in a meeting with a client this week and they said they mainly had this one type of audience, and I said well, what about these X, Y and Z that are completely separate. You want to make one for each of them.
So that when you are creating content you understood who are you talking to. How to adjust my messaging and tell the story that they will resonate with. And that will guide your strategy and all your content creation from there.
I would try to frame social media as a promotional or distribution tool. It shouldn’t be your home base, you should always have your own domain, your own website, your own content but then use Facebook, use Instagram, use LinkedIn, Snapchat or whatever as a way to promote your business, promote your content – whatever it is you’re promoting and also distribute your content as well.
Everyone loves social media but in the end of the day it’s really a tool. Like Facebook or Instagram they are public companies now, they have to report to their investors that they’re making a profit. That means they are changing things all the time. To get angry that they are changing things and you’re not going to show up as high as you used to on their newsfeed is kind of a moot point cause it was never your platform to begin with. So yes, definitely always have your own property online.
So we do both and you don’t necessarily need to only do one. You definitely need to be focusing on your own platform but even Facebook is releasing this thing called instant articles which will pull your RSS feed and have the article kind of live in the Facebook design and everything. So don’t put all the effort in just one.
But more often than not if you have content on your own website and you link it on Facebook it becomes a social promotion tool whereas if it’s living there, hopefully you always include a link back to your website as well.
So start just looking within the native tools. And if you have an email program, and if you don’t you should set it up – I like MailChimp quite a bit, it integrates nicely with WordPress – you can start seeing more engagement there as well. And of course Google Analytics is great.
If you further advanced, we use HubSpot which is a marketing automation tool so we can track all of our visitors and see what pages they view, what forms they filled out. But if you just started out use Google Analytics, use the native reporting within social media and if you have some social media moderation tools like Hootsuite or Buffer may give you some good insights as well.
And really to answer the question more simply you need to be helpful. How can you be helpful, how can you create a system of providing useful information that then draws people in so you create an audience and a network.
The second part I think was about free tools. Social media obviously is a great place to start. If you start connecting and networking with people on Twitter and find people within your niche. If we’re using this yoga example if you’re going to find local yoga teachers or studios or even within your country – start creating connections with those people. You’ll have a network of influencers quickly.
For example i have an organization that I probably put $5-10 behind my Facebook post and instead of it reaching 400 people, it’ll boost until like 4000 and then if it gets some momentum organically or even through paid promotion it can be shared a lot and more eyes can see it.
You don’t have to have thousands of dollars to promote your content but i do recommend if you have a few bucks here and there and some really good content, put some money behind it. Because it’ll help you gain the momentum that you need. Did I get it all?
So instead of trying to go viral, if I’m using a baseball methodology, I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt. Great movie. He was the owner of Oakland A’s in early 2000’s and he decided to change the whole philosophy. He said like I don’t care if you get runs, just get bases. Because statistics says that one of four times that you’re at bat you get on base, that’s 25% of the time you get on base.
I think it’s 1/36 is a home run so the odds are lower and I think one in 1700 bats is a grand slam which is when you get all of them in and that’s what we consider a viral hit. It’s very rare, it doesn’t happen for small business owners for entrepreneurs, who a just starting out, just focus on getting on base. And that really is coming up with content ideas, hundreds of them in a spreadsheet based on questions that you’re getting asked and starting to create that content on a regular basis.
It’s kind of a pull approach vs outbound push approach. It’s the idea of bringing people in through attracting them. Content marketing can be interchanged with inbound marketing. Content marketing is more of a specific strategy within inbound.because it’s creating content that people are looking for, pulling them in, giving them useful information and create a relationship based on that. I think it’s fine to use them interchangeably but inbound is kind of larger philosophy and content kind of fits within that.
But I also feel like moving forward with content marketing we have to start from the beginning. Which is the foundation elements. I can’t tell you how many times a worked with large corporations to small ones where they might not even have an email system set up, might not have presence on social media, might not even be able to optimize their content for SEO best practices.
I think a lot of moving forward is going back to basics. Making sure that you have all of those building blocks set up. Because not optimizing your site properly means that your content can’t be found in the search engines. So all the work that you did, well you won’t be found anyway. So going back to basics, seeing more widely adopted uses of content marketing in the future is what we’re going to see in 2016.
So you have to remember that Google is getting better and better in indexing content. And they have raised the bar on content. If you’re stuffing keywords, if you’re trying to manipulate the search engine results it’s just not going to work.
So the best way to focus on optimization is to do your research on the topic and then write naturally, create content naturally, use different forms of the word if you’re going to talk about content marketing, we’re not going to use content marketing 20000 times within a blog post. We’re going to talk about content strategy, inbound marketing, naturally use the language. So that’s the greater philosophy.
But if you’re creating a blogpost and you want to get it out, what are some things you could do. Simple make sure that you’re using heading tags. So literally putting 1 H1 on every page, multiple H2 and H3 depending on priority.
You can do that in WordPress. It’s easy, you highlight it, pull down the dropdown. And that tells Google what the priority of that content is. But then it also creates kind of visual differentiation within the blog post. So when I come to see your blog post it doesn’t just look like a wall of text it actually has visual breakups.
Always optimize your images, change your file names if it’s from the camera, use your alt text. So if it’s a picture of a WordPress template your alt says “WordPress template”. Make sure it’s not a huge file – page load speed is important.
There’s a bunch of different things, but it comes down to links, headings, meta description which is what Google sees and also image optimization. And other format content optimization.If you spend two hours on a piece of content SEO should probably take you 15 minutes.
And once you start creating content this way when you’re writing it or when you’re doing whatever you’re always optimizing it as you’re writing. And when you take it to your CMS it’s ready to go. So it comes down to best practices, understanding what you need to do every time and it shouldn’t take that much time, but it’s so important.
One of our content creators created a great checklist of how to put together a content strategy, what I said before – personas, goals, all of that type of stuff. So she had this great blog post and I said it was going to be a great download. We designed it, put it into a ten page very simple pdf, created a landing page where people had to exchange their personal information to get the download. We generated, I think over a thousand leads now just from the strategy template and some of them have also converted to customers.
Once they download they get on a leaner choir system, email system where we give them some more resources, we stay in touch, we see if they need help and a few of them have converted. So that’s one example. I could do a lot of them but that’s a simple example of a very useful resource that we knew people needed, because of us talking to our customers, we knew they needed the template, they needed the checklist.
We created content, we generated leads, we promoted the hell out of it on Facebook and Linkedin etc, we did a press release and then we ended up converting some of them into customers. So that’s one of examples of how the process can work.
My rule of thumb with any email that I create is short and sweet. I usually use a few bullets to call out main points, imagery and usually it’s just a path to get to something else. Kind of like we’re doing webinar tomorrow, we sent out two promotional emails.
Short and sweet: here’s what you’re going to learn, it’s going to be this, this and this, here’s an image – register. It’s all about conversion, it’s all about providing good information in essence. Like we do a monthly newsletter which is an update on what’s going on, anything we think our audience might find useful.
But then we also have a blog, we have a subscription and that goes out to everyone. It would be kind of an excerpt of the blog and they can click to come to our website. So emails should be short and sweet and look for different formats that you can do that you have time and resources for. But newsletters are the best place to start for a small businesses.
You just have to adjust depending on the sales cycle and the scale of what you’re selling. First and foremost be useful and figure out what that connection is between marketing and sales. You don’t want to start selling them before they feel they have any relationship with you. So think of all of those dynamics before asking for the sale.
And test everything, see what works and what doesn’t. And always have a great description that highlights what they are getting if you are trying to get personal information. And lastly like you mention having some kind of trust symbol. Like a testimonial to whatever they’re downloading or giving information for or subscribing to. Other things like that that would tell them that this is someone I’m comfortable giving my information to.
The best content that is done is the one that’s published. Don’t spend three weeks trying to make this content perfect because it’s not going to be printed, it’s digital format that can be changed any time. So stop trying to be perfect and just focus on making progress. And lastly the optimization things I mentioned before. If you spend two hours writing, spend ten minutes optimizing it otherwise you’re not going to be found. So priorities, perfection and optimization.
What problem are we trying to solve? How do we help whoever we’re trying to get hiring us, buying our product. What can we help them with? That will guide all of your actions. Maybe it’ll start off with one blog a month, something really easy. Something helpful, informational and that’s how you get your email list. So thinking of the steps. Don’t just think of the end goal but think of the intention that’s motivating it and actual steps that you need to take in the meantime.
Get something up, get your domain name, get your hosting, setup your email and get your website started. If you’re ready to take it further, I would get a custom WordPress.org website cause you have a little bit more control over your customization.
And usually it’s a larger brand, they are a content published, but for us, small business owners, entrepreneurs..get a template and get someone to customize it to the point where it feels like your own. I do that a lot with my design projects. I work with a very robust template and make sure the branding, colors, the content is all very customized.
But it’s all within existing template structure. I don’t think you need to hire a team of developers. You can actually find one person who can customize the template and help get your content strategy figured out.
There’s plenty of resources online. Figure out the tool first and foremost. Because once you know the tool you know how to get creative with it. I don’t think it would take this long..like a couple months of tinkering and playing around and that would give you the basics. As you’re setting up your site you’re learning WordPress which is pretty cool.
You can do anything you want to do now. I think as the WordPress community evolved and template community evolved it really changed web design. It’s more accessible to people and they can be more a part of the design process. Whereas before you’d hire this agency and they’d go off and would do it.
And now it’s flexible, you can change it. You can say, oh, I want this here and it’s not going to take you a thousand dollars and ten weeks to get it done. I think it’s changed and of course the customization of templates is I start with a mockup in photoshop. Like here’s how I want to layout my content. It’s the biggest thing – what do you want someone to do when they come to your homepage. You have two different navigation tads, do they go here or here? And you have connection built with imagery and everything. And I build a site skeleton which would just be the layout with no content or anything and then I start to flash it up with the actual content and everything. And I want to differentiate, content for your website is different from the content marketing. Content is how you move people through your site whereas content marketing is how you bring people to your site.
So all you need to do is highlight it and pull it down. And understand why you’re doing that. I would look up like SEO basics, 101. We actually have series on our website, it’s SEO 101 and 202. So content writing, SEO and just using the WordPress tool. If you’re using WordPress.
You know that this week you’re writing on this topic. By Wednesday it’s going to be in my CMS. And by Thursday it’s going to be published. That’s often the biggest struggle for content creators: what should I write on? And again. Think about what questions are you getting asked? Put them in a spreadsheet, put them in a calendar so you know and you’re holding yourself accountable to following these certain topics on these days.
Regarding the niche too. I think that’s something she’d have to come up with and figure out. What does she feel comfortable with, what is her messaging, what business is she trying to build it it’s a business and go from there. Hope that helps.
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