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You’ve worked hard on your new startup. Launch day is here. Now what?
Will anyone notice? Will the world be ready?
What if you already had an email list of more than 5,000 engaged subscribers who were already interested in your company and product? What if you already had an audience to buy (or trial) your new thing on day one?
This is exactly how we launched CoSchedule just a few short years ago. We used content marketing to build a huge email list that contained thousands of potential customers who were already rooting for us when we finally opened our doors.
To do it, we went all in on content.
In fact, we started creating content before we even started writing code!
Today, I want to share a bit of that story, but more importantly, I want to show you how you can use content marketing to launch and build your startup.
I will outline the five key phases that we took to ensure that our product launched to a qualified audience, developed a steady stream of new customers, and developed one of the most trafficked blogs in our industry—all using content marketing.
I’ll start from the beginning and give you the step-by-step process you can use for yourself.
Ever since I read Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, I have been uniquely aware of the need for simple habits that will eventually lead to consistently correct behavior. It’s a core part of how I now approach leadership and team development, and it’s exactly how I encourage people to approach content marketing.
In the beginning, all you need to worry about is building the habit of publishing at least one blog post a week.
I found that the easiest way to do this was by telling the CoSchedule story once a week, one blog post at a time.
Each week, I would post about our progress in development, share recent product wireframes, or share a problem we were experiencing to get our audience’s feedback. Not only was it a valuable (and easy) way to generate consistent content, but it was a great way to gather feedback and get ideas from our potential customers.
This phase of content marketing for startups is about finding your audience and attracting people who may be drawn to your company or product over time.
Don’t let yourself get bogged down in strategy. Think of it like finding product marketing fit for your blog.
If you want to see some of our first blog posts, here are a few:
The second phase of content marketing for startups is to begin steering your content toward the ideas and topics that fit your startup’s mission and product. This phase is really all about converting your regular publishing habit into a true inbound marketing approach where you use helpful content to build trust with your audience.
This phase assumes that you have been able to identify an early form of product market fit. Now is the time to start directing your content toward their needs and testing your hypothesis. If you create content that is helpful for them, do they respond? Do they show interest in your company and product?
There are a ton of ways to actually develop your topics during this phase, but keep it simple.
In the beginning, I would use Google and the recommended search phrases to find topics that I felt our users would care about. You can also use SEO specific tools like Keyword Explorer in Moz and SEMrush (two of our favorites) to find important keywords and phrases. Buzzsumo.com can also be a big help.
Again, while this stage is about shifting toward a defined strategy, don’t go overboard. You’re still learning, so you need to be agile enough to make changes if things are working. Your product may also be changing at this point, so be prepared to adapt.
Lastly, at this time, it’s still not about writing the 100% greatest content on earth. This is the minimum viable blog phase. Do just enough to prove your theories about what your audience wants and needs, then build on your successes. This phase is also a great time to double down on your email list building and social media promotion.
As a founder, I have always tried to do the job we are hiring for before we actually do the hiring. It helps me get perspective on the skills and talents a new hire needs in order to be successful to be successful. It also helps me define the scope of the position so we don’t give someone so much to do that they can’t possibly be successful.
This is exactly what you need to do in the third phase of content marketing for startups.
During phase two, you are essentially proving your hypothesis—can you generate consistent traffic and build an audience with content? And what exactly do you need to do it? Phase three is about taking those results and starting to scale them.
At CoSchedule, this meant hiring a Content Marketing Lead and doubling down on staff that could create compelling graphics and downloads.
This phase is about scaling your ability to acquire an audience. By adding a full-time team member, you will make sure the day-to-day management of your content is handed off to someone other than a founder of the team. This should improve consistency and overall content quality.
After all, at this phase, your time available as a founder will continue to be marginalized. (That’s a good thing!)
You should also use this phase as an opportunity to make sure that your content is consistently converting visitors into email leads or social media followers.
Tools like OptinMonster and LeadPages are great for this. We cover a bunch of tools that are perfect for converting leads in our post: 5 Plugins Guaranteed To Help You Collect More Leads.
Up until this phase, I recommend only tracking two metrics for your content marketing: page views and email subscribers.
In the beginning, most content marketing is simply about developing an audience, bringing eyeballs to your product, and seeing what sticks. There are so many things in flux at this time, that it just doesn’t make sense to focus on anything else.
But, at some point, that has to change. You have to start digging into Google Analytics to understand what content is performing the best and why that is.
Up until now, you should have been writing about a wider variety of topics, even if it felt a little random at times. That’s good. It should give you a wide spectrum of data to consider and compare.
If you have a product you’re selling online, you should be looking at how your content is converting your visitors into users. Which topics covert the best? Use this data to write the best possible content for your audience.
A good example of this phase for us was the use of the word ‘calendar’ in our blog post headlines. We found that blog topics that included the discussion of a calendar generated 2 to 3 times more interest in our product than topics that didn’t.
This was a key insight for us that allowed us to convert our data into instant results by increasing the frequency of posts that included topics about editorial calendars.
Another major change that we made at CoSchedule during this phase was the inclusion of a free download or “cookie” with every blog post.
We learned that by including a content-specific download in each of our posts, we could dramatically increase the number of email subscribers from those posts. This became a snowball effect. As our email list grew, so did our traffic and referrals on social media.
The goal here is still fairly simple—build massive traffic. The only difference is that you want to start making sure it’s smart traffic, not just traffic for the sake of it.
At this point you should have a small team of writers, designers, and editors dedicated to content marketing.
You should be a total ace at shipping high quality content consistently and converting your visitors into loyal email subscribers. Your traffic should be growing consistently, and your influence in the industry should be skyrocketing.
There’s only one problem.
All of the instructions for making it happen are locked in your head. This means that you have a scaling problem. How long does it take to train in a new hire? How can you continue to execute at a high level while maintaining your obviously high bar of quality?
The is the part of content marketing where you need to start writing things down.
At CoSchedule, this included an intense series of documents that outlined our entire process. At any time, our content team would be able to reference the checklist and stay on par with our expected level of quality.
Once we developed the checklist, we were able to convert it into a killer task template inside of CoSchedule. It made sure we never missed a beat and allowed us to start taking on new challenges. Like:
All of these sound pretty great, right? The point is that scaling allows you to grow, but it also allows you to make the leap from audience to acquisition with ease. Once you know how to build, maintain, and grow a blog audience, you can do the exact same thing with customers and your product.
Of course, if you have been doing it right, your content should have been converting customers all along. I can say with confidence that our blog has also been our #1 driver of new customers.
Now you can squeeze every last drop of value from the audience you’ve worked so hard to build.
Good content marketing for startups isn’t necessarily easy. It takes a ton of work, and more importantly, commitment.
It’s important to recognize that good content marketing is a long-term strategy and not a short-term boost in the arm. Realize that every step of the process is designed to prepare you for what’s to come just as much as it should benefit you right now.
With the right perspective, content marketing should become the best investment your startup ever makes. I can tell you that without it at CoSchedule, we never would have made it as far as we have with it.
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