In 1996, Bill Gates published an essay titled “Content is King,” which predicted the internet would become “a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products—a marketplace of content.” Almost twenty years later, Gary Vaynerchuk, an entrepreneur who used content marketing to grow his family’s wine business from $3 million to $60 million, wrote a piece titled “Every Company Is a Media Company.” Today, the power of content marketing is irrefutable, and there seems to be no end in sight.
Eric Siu, CEO of SingleGrain, has been on the front lines of this marketing evolution and has seen a trend of companies putting a heavy focus on content and SEO. His performance agency’s work with fast-growing tech companies, including Uber and Amazon, is a testament to the viability and ROI of these marketing tactics over the long haul. “People don’t want to continue to rely on the hamster wheel of paid advertising,” he says. “So, they’re either building out products to drive growth, or putting a lot more dollars into content and SEO so they can build their own defensible moat.”
Eric uses a combination of these strategies to promote his own company. For instance, he built a SaaS SEO tool for A/B testing called ClickFlow. While he didn’t originally intend for this product to drive business to SingleGrain, he found that many of the SaaS companies that used the tool eventually turned to SingleGrain for agency support. Another example is Eric’s content platform, which includes two podcasts that together garner more than 800,000 downloads each month.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Eric to talk about why content is such an effective marketing tool. During our conversation, he shared some great tips that anyone can use to up their content game.
Why Content Works
While Eric has had great success with podcasts, he doesn’t suggest that everyone needs to do a podcast or, indeed, any other specific kind of content. He knows that what works for one company may not work for another. He does, however, believe in the universal value of content as a strong marketing foundation. The medium you use will depend on what suits your particular audience and capabilities.
One of the benefits of developing and publishing your own content is having an asset that you own. Instead of being at the mercy of third-party whims (as you are with, say, paid search), you are able to maintain complete control. Content allows you to connect directly to your audience without having to go through a middle man. This drives your advertising costs down and also gives you the opportunity to build a more meaningful relationship. Depending on the type of content you’re producing, it may also allow you to open up a two-way conversation that can give you important insights into the mindset of your prospect and customer base.
Overall, content provides the foundation for a more manageable and sustainable kind of growth. While many startup companies try to emulate the Facebook-esque model of constant and aggressive growth, in reality, most of us aren’t trying to build the next Facebook. “I was at a startup where the growth goals were something like 7% week over week,” Eric recalls. “You can adopt that grow-at-all-costs mentality (and many companies do), but eventually you’re going to burn out.”
Content, on the other hand, supports a slower, more sustainable kind of growth. One that is less an all-or-nothing approach and more of a way to build up equity over time. It’s also a smart way to ensure that your marketing contributes to your ongoing learning. “I love doing content marketing because I like educating people,” Eric says. “And it also holds me accountable for being able to articulate my ideas, which means I’m always learning.”
Three Steps to Content Success
Along with the big-picture reasons content is such a powerful tool, Eric also shared three of his favorite tips for leveling up your content game. Together, they help loosely frame the development of a content strategy, each one building on the other to strengthen and expand your content’s quality and reach.
Step 1: Establish Your Foundation and Stick With It
The key to any content effort is making an intentional decision about what kind of asset (webinar, podcast, blog, etc.) to use as the foundation of the overall content strategy. But just as important—maybe more so—is committing to the long haul. “Most people are just impatient,” Eric says. “They say they’ve tried SEO and content, but when you ask them how much time they invested, you find out they only gave it three to six months. They weren’t willing to wait for the return.” Based on the desire to drive more immediate returns, many companies give up on content and turn to tactics like paid advertising. In the long run, they are missing out on great opportunities.
Eric ran his first podcast for two years with very little return. After the first year’s worth of effort—research, recording, show notes, etc.—he was getting only nine downloads per day. A year later, he was only getting thirty downloads per day. Despite this, he kept at it because he believed in the strategy, and that podcast now gets about 100,000 downloads per month.
And those 100,000 monthly downloads translate into some very tangible brand awareness that in turn drives actual revenue. Case in point, while at SaaStr earlier this year, Eric was recognized by another attendee and introduced as the “podcast guy.” The two exchanged contact info, and a few weeks later that connection reached out to SingleGrain to discuss what they might do with their $200K per month marketing budget. The moral of the story—content may not always deliver immediate ROI, but it does have the potential to drive some serious value over the long term.
Step 2: Revisit, Repackage, Repurpose
We all know that it’s typically around six or seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to upsell an existing customer. Eric points out that a similar concept applies to content. He recommends “tending the garden” to make the most of the content you have. This includes using repackaging to repurpose a single piece of content into multiple content assets. This works in both directions. For instance, you can consolidate a series of blog posts into an ebook, or you can break a white paper down into a series of blog posts and an infographic. You can carve out pieces from a blog post to create social media content, or you can aggregate a series of social media posts to tell a larger story in a byline article.
Another smart tactic that is often overlooked is revisiting older pieces of content and updating them to give them a boost. This is part of SingleGrain’s own playbook, and one they replicate for their clients. As Eric explains, “Our traffic continues to grow because we’re not just consistently producing new content, we have a process for continually making the most of the content we already have.” As an example, take a blog post that was getting approximately 700 visits per month. Eric’s team did a quick update to remove some outdated bits and add in a couple more paragraphs, and now that same post is up to 2,800 visits per month. They repeated the process a couple months later, and that same post—with minor modifications—now gets more than 5,400 visits per month. Rinse and repeat one more time, and it jumped to 10,000 visits per month.
These are simple things that anyone can do to extend and expand the shelf life and reach of their content.
Step 3: Refine with Growth Hacking
Beyond the core activities of creating and repurposing content, Eric also had a few growth hacking tips to offer. “I think the best way to define growth hacking is that it’s pulling levers to drive small or big changes in growth,” he says. For example, a quick and easy lever to pull is transcribing all your video content. Doing this at an online education startup he worked at, Eric was able to increase traffic by about 20 to 25%.
Another example is doing A/B testing on page titles and meta descriptions. Eric uses his ClickFlow tool to do this pretty aggressively, and has seen his traffic increase by about 80,000 visits per month. But, you don’t even have to use ClickFlow, you can use Google’s Search Console or an Excel spreadsheet, whatever works. Buying high-ranking websites to gain domain authority is yet another lever you can pull to gain a bump in mindshare. The possibilities are almost endless once you start looking around.
What’s Next in Content Trends
While no one has a crystal ball, Eric does have a few thoughts on which kinds of content seem to be trending these days. In addition to his own positive experience, Eric has seen growing interest in podcasting. He attributes this not only to the medium’s ability to build intimacy with an audience, but also to the way podcasts train all a listener’s attention on your message. Recent increases in podcast advertising costs indicate that people are willing to pay a premium for that level of attention.
Other mediums, tools and tactics that have piqued Eric’s interest lately include using chatbots (such as ManyChat, which ties in to Facebook Messenger) to create a funnel that’s similar to email sequencing, video (whether for a YouTube channel, Instagram Stories, or LinkedIn), and newer technologies like voice search. Eric also believes we’ll see more people either acquiring tools or building their own tools as a way to drive more growth.
The possibilities with content are constantly evolving, but the real trick to success is no trick at all. Just get started, keep at it, and make the most of every piece of content you create.