16 lessons learned from 6 years and 500,000+ words of content marketing

It’s coming to the end of 2013 and I’m in the fortunate position of having an exciting, high growth business. A business that does zero advertising. A business where the only marketing we do is creating helpful content for people and telling interesting stories.

It’s fun and it’s a nice place to be, but it hasn’t come easily. It hasn’t been overnight. It hasn’t been passive. It hasn’t been viral.

Here are a few fun facts from my 6 years of active blogging and content marketing.

Amount of content

  • Since my first post 6 years ago I’ve produced somewhere around 500 pieces of content, which is roughly half a million words (a few less than War and Peace)*
  • In the last 18 months I’ve put out close to 250 pieces of content.
  • For the vast majority of the time it’s been me, myself and I doing every aspect of the content. Since June this year Alex and I have been working on content together (although I haven’t counted his posts above). For a brief while, I had a VA doing the write-ups for our podcasts. I’ve had a handful of guest posts on my sites, but no more than 5 in total.
  • In July 2012, I sold my business along with my blog where I’d written 186 posts and all of my social media accounts. I had to start everything from scratch – I retained an email list of around 1,500 people but I removed all of my recurring customers many of whom were my most engaged readers. If I had my time again, I would keep it!

Topics

I’ve focused my content around the topics of entrepreneurship, online marketing, web design, analytics and content marketing. Here’s a word cloud created by mashing the 3 RSS feeds from my current blogs and submitting them in Wordle. Big one in the middle says it all really!

dan_norris_posts_word_cloud

5 years without traction

  • I wrote around 350 on-site articles before I had an article with more than 10 tweets. Almost every article I wrote prior to a year ago still has less than 10 tweets, with only a handful with just over 10.
  • I wrote about 150 posts (perhaps 40-50 guest posts) before I had a single offsite sale that I could attribute directly to my content.
  • I didn’t really start believing we could build a business purely on content marketing until this year.

Some highlights

  • In August 2012, I created 13 articles in 1 day.
  • In 1 week in December 2012 last year I launched a new podcast, created 10 podcast episodes, wrote 6 blog posts and appeared on 3 other sites.
  • Probably my most impactful piece of content was Is Startup Validation Bullshit. It’s had just under 6,000 views, 188 tweets, 99 comments, 58 backlinks, it had a whole episode of one of my favorite podcasts recorded about it and it resulted in me finding a co-founder for a business that hit a $100k run rate in 5 months. Not bad for 1 blog post!

Some fails

  • I’ve tried just about every sort of online content you can think of including webinars, plugins, infographics, illustrations, podcasts, videos, long posts, interactive posts, detailed marketing guides, email courses, video training, guest posts, interactive guest posts, guest interviews, media releases, ebooks, auto responders, PR outreach, influencer outreach, Quora answers, forum marketing, Twitter following you name it I’ve tried it. Most haven’t worked particularly well long term.
  • I’ve never had anything I’ve written go anywhere near viral.
  • I’ve still never had a single vote on Hacker News (to my knowledge).
  • I worked for 2 weeks full time equivalent on a post which included an illustrated sidebar, embedded interactive checklist and almost 5,000 words that had less traction than posts written in 2 hours after a few wines.

Key learnings and things for you to try

I’ve learned a few things after writing 500,000 words of content. Here are the main lessons and tactics you can try for your business.

  1. Build an email list from Day 1 – Your email list will be your biggest source of engaged readers, biggest source of customers, most valuable and transferable asset and best measure of content success. If you aren’t converting 5% of your visitors to subscribers then read this.
  2. If you are looking for short term results, Content Marketing is not going to work – View it as an investment and don’t feel guilty spending time creating content. Investing is wise… I’m sure someone smart said that. Everyone has the same amount of time, some people prioritize content and others don’t. If you want to build a business using content marketing then prioritize it. Write a blog post today and tell me about it in the comments below, I’ll give you feedback on it.
  3. Content Marketing is not going to give you easily quantifiable results… At least not in the short term. It will work long term, if you do it right. Here’s how to do it right!
  4. Create content on your own site for the long term – But remember, the best thing to do early on is to bring in new visitors. A good way to do that is to create content on other sites. You need to grow your reach, your audience and your new visitors in order to build up authority on your own site. Being able to create contently solely on your own site is a luxury that comes with authority and traction. I’m still regularly posting content to other sites after 6 years and 500 posts.  Check your Analytics today and see what % of your visitors are are ‘new visitors’. If it’s less than around 75%, do some off site content like a Slideshare presentation or a guest post.
  5. If you don’t believe content marketing will work, it will show and your content won’t work – You have to believe that creating useful information for people is a good thing for you to be spending your time on. If you don’t believe that then stop doing it today, the web doesn’t need any more shit content.
  6. Choose a medium that suits your skills for best results – I don’t read much at all, but I like writing. My buddy James reads a lot – but he hates writing, so he does video. If you can do both then great, but don’t force it just do what you are good at. Check your blog and see what content is getting shared the most. This is probably the one you are best at. ConvertPress has an analytics section that does this for you.
  7. The more open and honest you can be, the better! Some people will think you are a tool. Some people will appreciate it. Most won’t say anything. If you have thick skin, start doing monthly income reports today, people love them!
  8. Be genuinely helpful – Some people will question your motives, some people won’t. Again, most will say nothing. Which is why it’s important to know yourself whether you are trying to help people or not. Either way, people will be able to tell from your content. Ask yourself, why are you writing this blog post? If it’s not to help someone then trash it and write something with good intentions.
  9. You have missed the point if you say ‘My content is for Google rankings’ – Content doesn’t bring rankings. Great content brings people, those people share the great content and over a long enough time, Google is smart enough to work that out and reward you with rankings. Content created FOR rankings is not going to bring people and therefore won’t bring rankings either. There are no sensible shortcuts. This is mindset related. Don’t think about content marketing as an SEO exercise. If you are creating content for SEO purposes please stop and contribute some real value instead (TWEET THIS).
  10. Your content will impact people – Just because you don’t have thousands of people praising you, doesn’t mean it’s a waste. I regularly hear from people who have been inspired by our content and quite often they are people that I’ve never heard from before. People who have never left a comment, never replied to an email, never linked to me and never mentioned me on social media (to my knowledge). If you are having doubts, let me know in the comments and I’ll tell you what I think you should do next.
  11. Don’t get too bummed or too excited about the results of 1 post – It’s extremely difficult to predict how a post will do. There’s some science to it, some art, some luck and some timing involved. Try to improve your numbers but don’t give up if a post bombs (remember I had 350 bombs before I  had traction). Please don’t launch an AMA thread about how you’ve cracked the formula if you have one post that goes viral.
  12. You are better off ignoring Google – With my previous blog, I checked my Google rankings every day. It ranked for some amazing keywords, which made me feel smart (I had keywords getting 18,000 exact searches). The problem was, the blog only ever had 5,000 monthly visits. I haven’t paid any attention to what Google is doing for the last 2 years. I’ve still had some very good results with some posts ranking well (just by doing these things), but we don’t really pay attention to it and certainly don’t rank for major keywords like my last blog. Funnily – our current sites are nearing 30,000 visits. They have a balanced source of traffic, which is a much better than having almost all of our traffic coming from Google. We do what we are good at, we try to be useful and Google looks after itself. As an action point, make sure you are doing these things and stop worrying about Google.
  13. Create actionable content to increase your chance of success – This post is not just about what I’ve been through. I’ve included this list here in the hope that you can apply some of what I’ve learned. Pay attention to whether people are actioning your stuff. Are your commenters saying ‘Great post I enjoyed it’ or are they saying ‘Great post I made 2 of your suggested changes today and it improved our business’? And by the way if you do action any part of this post please let me know below!
  14. Content is very difficult to measure with numbers – My podcast gets very few downloads, but has been responsible for most of the relationships that have helped the rest of my content spread. Your high traffic posts might not convert. Be smart around your numbers but the most important things are that: you are improving, you are helpful and your impact is growing. Don’t be so quick to judge the results of your content.
  15. Content marketing is a true differentiator and competitive advantage – Most people don’t make it past 50 posts. Most people don’t get it. Most content is average. If you do get it, if you want to improve your content, if you are committed, then don’t give up. The harder it is to do, the better advantage it provides for a business. Anyone can outspend us on Adwords, but it’s going to be hard for them to write 500 good pieces of content that drive tens of thousands of visitors each month to their site. It’s going to be especially hard for them to do it without spending a lot of money. Treat content marketing like an investment that will result in an advantage that none of your competitors saw coming until it was too late (TWEET THIS).
  16. Content marketing is rewarding – Even if it doesn’t make you rich, you are helping people, contributing to the conversation in your industry and learning. You are being a creator, not a hater. Even if your vanity metrics aren’t going up, to me it’s still worthwhile. If you’ve created a piece of content this week then give yourself a high 5. You’ve added more value to the world than your competitor who spent $100 on Adwords.

What have you created in 2013?

Are you a hater or a creator? What have you created in 2013? Tell me in the comments.

If you haven’t created anything then let me know and commit to creating something before the year is out. If you’ve created 1,000 posts then let me know. If you’ve created 10 posts let me know. Tell me what you will create in 2014!

content_club_reviewed_blackp.s. want to improve your content? Check out Content Club, where we motivate each to create actionable, useful content that builds businesses!

Calculations

Content numbers are based on:

  • 186 posts on my old blog which I sold in August 2012
  • 41 posts on inform.ly (there were more and they were moved to WP Curve)
  • 28 posts on thedannorris.com
  • 129 posts on wpcurve.com
  • Total – 384
  • An estimated 77 posts or 20-30% of that amount of content has been posted externally (guest posts, media stories, guest interviews)
  • Content not included – 50 odd email sequences and 6 ebooks.
  • Total – 461 – 500
  • For the total word count, I’ve made a guess. My posts are generally 1,000 to 2,000 words, with some at 5,000+ words. Using a rough estimate, you have an 800 word average length multiplied by 500 posts, so that’s 400,000 words. I’ve also produced 6 ebooks (some 30 pages long) and approximately 50 email sequences.

About

Dan Norris is a co-founder at WP Curve and a passionate entrepreneur with an obsession for content marketing.

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