Content marketing, the most important startup growth channel [SURVEY RESULTS]

We recently ran a survey targeting startups and investigating how they approach content marketing. We had quite a diverse group of businesses respond to the survey; including big names like Moz, Unbounce, Baremetrics, Zapier and KISSMetrics.

Below is our analysis of the responses. You can find a full report embedded at the bottom of this page.

“Content marketing, the most important startup growth channel [SURVEY RESULTS]” (CLICK TO TWEET)

89% of startups are using content marketing

We did not want to assume everyone on the survey would be using content marketing. This question opened up the discussion for anyone who does not do content marketing. We gave the people who responded “no” a separate set of questions.

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“89% of startups are using content marketing” (CLICK TO TWEET)

89% said yes. This further confirms the trend of growing popularity in content marketing, especially with startups. Still, this result is likely a little biased since our audience and network is involved in content marketing.

Time to create content is a barrier for some startups

This question was only asked to the 11% who said no to the previous question. We wanted to understand why people chose not to use content marketing in their startup. Understanding the why could help us create better content to solve that problem in the future.

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“Time to create content is a barrier for some startups” (CLICK TO TWEET)

71% said they don’t have enough time to create content. Time is a big investment in the early stages of content marketing. In the fast paced world of startups, it can be difficult to invest time in creating content while there are often hundreds of other urgent issues that demand attention.

Content marketing is rapidly growing in popularity

We wanted to understand the experience level of startups in content marketing. The problems and challenges facing a startup in the early stages of content marketing are very different from the challenges in a later stage.

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Many of our respondents are in earlier stages of content marketing. A little more than half have been in content marketing for less than a year. This could be interpreted in 2 ways.

First, content marketing has gained a lot of popularity and recognition in the last year. With Google updates favoring engagement and more than a few startups reporting great results for content marketing, it makes sense why it is so popular.

Related: Five startup income reports you need to be reading

Second, not everyone is successful with their content marketing. As time passes, the startups that have achieved the most positive ROI stick with content, while others abandon it. Content marketing requires a great deal of patience. The ones that find success enjoy the process of content marketing, which helps them get though the periods of uncertainty. They enjoy sharing the ideas and lessons they learn, they are not just looking for results.

70% of startups are happy with content marketing

We asked this question to get a pulse on how startups felt about their marketing.

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“70% of startups are happy with content marketing” (CLICK TO TWEET)

70% had positive sentiments for content marketing. This is a good sign for content marketing in general. Content has been getting much more competitive recently and it’s good to know that a majority of the marketers that we surveyed are satisfied with the results they are getting.

We noticed a trend that the longer people had been practicing content marketing the higher their levels of satisfaction were with it.

Let’s compare these numbers to the CMI content marketing benchmarks, budgets and trends of 2015. We’ll assume someone reporting they were “satisfied” with their content means that they think they are “effective” at content marketing. Only 38% of respondents in the CMI survey thought they were “very effective” or “somewhat effective” in their content marketing.

Related: Content marketing trends of 2015

One of the reasons we created this survey was because we believed that startups were leading the pack in content marketing. These numbers may support that.

Content marketing is an important growth channel for 66% of startups

We asked this question to understand how important content marketing is for startups right now. Were startups using multiple marketing strategies to drive traffic? or focusing on one?

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“66% of startups reported that content marketing was important in driving growth in their business” (CLICK TO TWEET)

66% of respondents reported that content marketing was important in driving growth in their business. It’s very encouraging to see content marketing at the highest driver of growth on this list.

Startups are using unpaid organic reach to promote their content

We had a diverse set of responses to this question. The big 3 were social media engagement, email list, and organic search. Having your traffic flowing from a few different sources makes you less vulnerable if one of the traffic sources dries up.

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Paid social media ads and paid search engine marketing are the lowest. This is not surprising since the nature of content marketing is to generate traffic organically. But still we feel there is opportunity here.

A good strategy for paid advertising is to pair it with retargeting. This should increase your ROI and conversion rates.

Related: The practical retargeting guide

How startups use calls to action

One of the most important elements of content is the call to action. We are currently reworking how we approach our calls to action in our content and wanted to learn how others are using calls to action.

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The most common response was “subscribe to our newsletter.” This is an easy opt in to get started with, but we recommend offering a download related to the content.

We have found much higher conversion rates when we offer a download that is highly relevant or even custom tailored for each piece of content. Your CTA content does not necessarily have to be high budget. You can often create great downloadables like templates in Google Docs.

64% of startups are using an editorial calendar, but only 39% have a documents strategy

We wanted to better understand what tools and systems startups have in place to create their content.

“64% of startups are using an editorial calendar to manage their content marketing” (CLICK TO TWEET)

64% had an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar can help keep your content organized whether you are the sole content producer or working with a big team. This is a bit surprising though. We only recently started using an editorial calendar for our blog, we expected to see higher numbers for style guides and content strategies. They are at least as important, and easier to create.

Only 46% had a content strategy. We see our strategy as the backbone of all of our content production. This is a very important tool that should be created early and reviewed often. A big takeaway from this question is if you don’t have a strategy yet… get started today.

Related: The WP Curve content strategy, and how to build your own

How startups are measuring the success of their content

This is an important question for content marketers. Measuring ROI on content is a challenge. Having metrics to measure and compare the success of content is the first step toward understanding ROI.

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The most common response was traffic. This is a good starting point for content, but it works better when paired with a metric that tracks the quality of the traffic you are getting.

We like to use social shares and comments to measure how successful our content is. Tweets and comments like “This is just what I needed!” or “You read my mind” are good indicators. In depth questions in the comments are also good signs that we have engaged our readers.

How involved are founders in content marketing?

We wanted to understand the level of involvement founders had in content marketing. Often it is the founders who start content marketing in the first place.

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We did find a high level of involvement on the part of founders with the content marketing. Only 18% said they did not spend any time on marketing. The majority spent up to 3 hours a week, which is enough for 1 post or to collaborate on and plan out a few posts in the content pipeline.

9% of founders are spending over 20 hours a week or more on content marketing. Hats off to all of the founders working hard to lay a solid foundation for content. Of this 9%, nearly all of them reported being very satisfied with their content marketing.

Content marketing seems to be more successful when the founders are very hands-on in the creation process. Founders are great for content marketing because they have the vision for the startup and they understand the business and the problems it solves.

The drawback to this is that removing yourself from the process as a founder can be difficult. Handing over the creation of your content (a valuable growth engine for your business that you built from scratch) can be a sensitive and complex process.

76% of startups are spending more on content this year

We wanted to get an idea of the direction that content marketing is going. Will startups invest more into content marketing?

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“76% of startups plan on increasing their content marketing budget” (CLICK TO TWEET)

The answer was a resounding yes. 76% plan on increasing their content marketing budget, the rest said they would keep it the same. This is encouraging as it shows that many startups see content marketing as a good investment. It also means content marketing will continue to get more competitive. If you’re going to invest more, make sure it increases the advantage you have over your competition.

70% of startups invest in internal team members to create content

So where does that budget money go? Where do startups invest in content marketing?

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“70% of startups invest in internal team members to create content” (CLICK TO TWEET)

70% of startups invest in having internal team members to create the content.

43% use guest writers. We have found that having a few guest writers helping with content production allows us to free up our internal resources and team to work on our strategy or work on larger content projects.

43% invest in design or other production services to improve the appeal of their content. Visual content is becoming increasingly important as the competition grows in content marketing space. Having visuals makes your content more engaging and memorable. Having good quality visuals is a competitive advantage and makes you look more professional.

Getting traction on content is the biggest challenge for startups

We are always looking for ways to help entrepreneurs become more successful at content marketing. We wanted to understand what was the biggest content marketing challenge facing most startups.

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“Getting traction on content was the biggest content marketing challenge startups faced” (CLICK TO TWEET)

The biggest challenge with the respondents was getting traction on content. Since half the startups we interviewed were only in their first year of content marketing, this makes sense. It can often take a year or more for content to take off. Often the first months are a tough slog of low engagement and a lot of uncertainty.

Creating high quality content was the second biggest challenge. Creating a high quality experience is essential for content marketing to work. Your content is a reflection and extension of your brand. However, creating high quality content does not necessarily involve a large budget. It is more a function of the quality of the problems you solve and questions you answer.

There is also something to be said for good design. We like to keep things simple for a good reading experience.

Related: Lessons learned reviewing 300 websites in 2 weeks

Focusing on creating high-quality content should help with getting traction. There’s no way to hack this, but if content is high quality it generally leads to success. There also isn’t a checklist for quality: a high quality piece of content can take many forms. Understanding what makes for high quality content for your audience may simply take time and experimentation.

64% of startups have content that relates to their product or service. But is this the best approach?

This question was designed to get a better look at the angle startups are taking for their content.

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64% of startups have content that relates closely to their product or service, or how to use it.

But those that reported having content that closely related to their product or service also had lower levels of satisfaction with their content. We believe that it is not a good strategy to have your blog only focus on your product or service.

At WP Curve, we don’t discuss our service at length. We focus on content marketing and growing a business, which are problems many of our customers face. Our goal with content marketing is brand awareness, not lead generation. This allows us to have a broad approach to our content and be more flexible in what we produce. As long as it is high quality and helpful to our customers, then we’ll work with it.

58% of startups find written content to be the most effective with their audience

We wanted to know what types of content were working for startups currently.

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“58% of startups find written content to be the most effective with their audience” (CLICK TO TWEET)

It was surprising to see videos and podcasts so low on this list. The CMI report listed videos among the most effective types of content.

58% said written posts were the most effective. A written post is inexpensive to produce compared to other forms of content listed, and can have a big impact if done well. We prefer written posts because they are scalable, easy to perfect before they are live and they get more traction with our audience.

This also points to the fact that even though content is getting more competitive, well written and helpful content can outperform fancy graphics and production.

91% of startups publish content once a week or more

Knowing how often startups publish gives us a good idea of the quantity of content that is being published as well.

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“91% of startups published content once a week or more.” (CLICK TO TWEET)

91% of startups published content once a week or more.

It’s unlikely that every single post you create is going to be a hit. Many will go unnoticed, but a few may be unexpected successes. Creating content consistently increases the chance that you will get a hit. And being consistent keeps your visitors coming back each week.

We stress quality over quantity for our content. One fantastic post is much more valuable than 3 or 4 mediocre posts. We use our strategy and internal processes for content creation to keep our general level of quality up on everything we publish.

Full report

Here is the full report:

Thanks to everyone who participated in this content marketing survey. We heard from many great startups and learned a lot in the process. There were lots of surprises and big differences from what we saw in the CMI report. Though the topics are similar, our survey was very small scale compared to the Content Marketing Institute surveys.

Did anything surprise you about these results? Let us know in the comments!

About

Kyle is the founder of Conversion Cake . He is the author of "The College Entrepreneur" A book for students who want to break into entrepreneurship. Follow him @kylethegray

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