However, for developers, I think there is a much easier path in the form of building online tools and mini experiences that just destroy "blogging" in terms of ROI and traffic generation.
This is things like WPEngine's speed test, Site Checker's, Buffer's Pablo Image tool, ForAGoodStrftime.com, etc. purposeful, useful tools that people love to share as they are genuinely helpful.
It feels like having a blog is a must-have to be a legit company these days so a lot of companies hire someone to churn out $30 articles just to have one.
I definitely think companies need to reimagine content. First by moving away from the incredibly boring blog format.
Beautifully designed beginner SEO guide (almost feels like a choose your adventure book): https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo
Interactive visualizations: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/02/13/us/politics/20...
Collection of email templates: http://www.artofemails.com/sales-follow-up
There is nothing wrong with the blog format per se. The problem is, as you correctly identified, crappy articles.
What your examples have in common is that they provide value to the user. That's the key no matter what's the medium you are using to do so. There's nothing wrong with the blog format that prevents you from providing value.
Another great resource on, and as, content marketing similar in depth to the aforementioned Beginner's Guide to SEO:
They do incredible stuff, especially with their design and presentation. The content itself isn't as compelling as, say, Priceonomics, but it is still very, very good.
Unfortunately things don't work this way - even a free tool needs to be marketed, and if marketing is your weakness this is not an easy task.
My experience has been that it's much much easier to market a free mini-service than it is to get somebody to pay attention to a blog article as it's just a better "frame" to put the content in.
As opposed to "talking at people" marketing, I just really like the tool creation approach as it feels much more like "helping people" marketing.
In fact, building evergreen resources like that can be incredibly powerful because it doesn't necessarily have a date stamp on it, and can build quite a lot of backlinks as a definitive resource for something.
Case in point, Google for "beginners guide to SEO" and see how high Moz ranks. Rand and the Moz team get content marketing, and SEO-related terms are some of the hardest out there to rank for. Now go look at how they organize/structure that content and what they are actually writing about. It is largely evergreen.
We've done a few of these "tools" at Open Listings and haven't had much luck with them in terms of SEO but the initial mini-launch traffic can be nice and we've been able to use them to introduce our main offering to new audiences. Shitty Listings helped us find an audience in the small-time real estate investment community for instance . The advice I'd give from our experience with these mini-launches is to make sure they tie in well with the larger product and make sure not to let these traffic spikes mask underlying problems with retention in your main business. Especially when you're small, it's easy for the whole team to get distracted by shiny launches and getting signups when the real growth opportunities are usually "boring" stuff like tweaking transactional emails.
BUT, the key insight is that there is a lot more to content marketing than SEO. In fact social channels eclipsed search engines a long time ago for a lot of content marketing programs. And cool apps/images/visualizations/games tend to do better on social than just straight text, no matter how well written.
Edit: to expand on this, and idea I've been chewing on for a while, but haven't had time to implement, is to setup a Moodle or Sakai server, and build some interactive course content that relates to our domain, and offer free online courses. Note: Not talking about a MOOC or anything that general. Just a free online class on a specific issue / topic that relates to what we do. The idea is to offer something genuinely valuable tough, not something that's just a thinly disguised sales pitch for our products. Of course we want it to help raise awareness of our name and our products, but I don't think people want to sign up for something that's just pure marketing. I mean, I wouldn't.
The conclusion was the same: these tools were incredibly easy to build, and each of them got 2-10x more backlinks, shares and leads than equivalent blog posts.
But this makes the reality more clear: building it is not enough. You must take active, focused marketing action to build an audience or customer base.
That doesn't have to mean running ads, although I would not rule out ads. It can include PR, SEO, events, social media, etc. The point is that if you want a product to succeed, you have to be ready to spend time and money to make it succeed.
Now, it's true that a few special products are so awesome that they take off on their own. But most products don't. And if you happen to build one that does, it certainly won't be hurt by some marketing.
The other issue they hit on was that half of the companies that pay for their service never actually published anything. To negate this they decided to "make content for companies based on their data and then just charge them based on the performance."
While they are still charging for the content, I really like the concept of paying for performance (and not in some shady black-hat SEO way that gets your website banned from Google). No content marketing firms that I have ever worked with have even had this as an option...
Me too. A lot of startups have annoying popups offering me a FREE ebook on marketing/sales/whatever in exchange for my email address. Emphasis on FREE. Please, write good content regularly and I will definitely remember your brand (DigitalOcean did this right with tutorials) and maybe subscribe to your newsletter, or even become a customer. In other words, provide me with value.
Reminds me of a trend a few years ago, companies offering their FREE smartphone apps all over the place which used to provide no value whatsoever. These strategies might have been effective for the first few players but I seriously doubt about their effectiveness when everyone was doing it.
So, normally I'd have totally ignored a headline like this but in priceonomics I trust :)
If you're writing content for a CRO tool, you need to know CRO yourself.
If you're writing content for a data analytics tool, you need to have a basic understanding of data analysis.
Those $50/article writers don't have that. If they did, they wouldn't be writing $50 articles.
I feel content marketing has to evolve from mere "content" to "expertise" marketing.
Sure, a great writer can research, but you need hands-on experience to write something that truly stands out.
I totally agree with this point.
The most trusted, shared, reputable content is either written by practitioners or, like Priceonomics says, about a company's data or industry or people.
I am a content marketer for a CRO tool and make it a point to run A/B tests on our marketing site and blog as often as possible so I know what I'm talking about. It's my editorial duty to know as much as possible about the subject I'm writing about.
I feel that I'm marketing awareness that I exist and am in some way at least professionally interested in my work. But I don't generate any revenue from it. I don't make professional contacts (people rarely contact me saying they read an article of mine).
But I do want more exposure, because why not?
> The phone has replaced the television set, and Facebook is the channel guide that tells you what content to consume.
This popped out to me given that this article (http://nautil.us/issue/31/stress/is-facebook-luring-you-into...) about social media effects on mental health popped up on HN today and still lingers in my mind.
Always some sort of chat or something in the background. I really don't know what to do, should I get counselling or something?
I started out by trying the pomodoro thing again. 25 minutes of uninterrupted time. Ringer off, chat off, focused on the task at hand. I played around with a few different tools, but I've got at least a handful of machines that I work on, and it was a pain in the ass to try to find a cross-platform solution.
What I ended up settling on was to use my phone as the timer, and a spreadsheet to keep a list of what I'd accomplished and what I had left to do. I used Smartsheets, but google docs or whatever would work fine too. And here's where the interesting part came in!
For the first week or two, I followed it pretty closely. 25 minutes of work, 5 minute rest, repeat. And then... one day I realized that my phone was upstairs, I was feeling pretty good about doing some work, and so I figured I'd start a task and just keep an eye on the clock. Hour and a half of productive time goes by before I even look down at the clock again! On crappy days, I'm not anywhere near the point where I can stay focused for long stretches, and in those cases I fall back onto the 25-5 routine, but for good days I seem to have gotten my ability to focus back quite well!
I think the ability to concentrate on one task singularly is really a gift the young get. I can't think of a single friend who has ever said it has gotten better over time. Enjoy the positive changes that come with age though. The ability to reason more objectively, the ability to control your emotions, the ability handle defeat and disappointment with grace, and the ability to plan larger things. Your body and mind change with age.
If meditation practices fail at helping improve your focus, there's always stimulants. I enjoy brewing up the beans from Stumptown.
First, don't worry too much if you think your attention and focus is not good or it's getting worse because this act of (constant) worrying itself keeps you in the very same (worry) loop you want to avoid/escape at the very first place. Just keep in mind, an average amount of lack of attention is common as it happens to most of us because of our aging, work, life style, and the environment (both real and digital). Try to avoid doing unnecessary tasks as much as you can and don't push yourselves too hard. Focus on the progress and not the results alone to improve your chances.
Second, exercise and meditate besides having good sleep and a balanced diet (this part is pretty common advice as most of us already know about it). In addition, I would suggest you also include some sports performance psychology books in your reading list as they often contain some really good applied research to improve the performance of professional sport-man. I think, in some way, a technical (or business) person is not very different from those sport-men when it comes to attention, focus and performing under pressures in work/business settings. The visible aspects of tasks and their execution (a sport-man and technical/business person perform) are different but the mental aspects of these tasks are very similar to those tasks one has to carry out in a technical/business context.
Last, you can consider counseling and more serious help, if above-mentioned self-help methods doesn't work in your case. Most of the time we don't need to think about this step if we keep working on the first two points regularly unless we've some strong evidence that we must consider this last step.
I'm not an expert in any mental health and performance related field (like psychology etc.). I'm just a normal technical person like most of other HN community member.
There are several examples of Hacker News providing an early boost to Priceonomics, after a blog post floated to the top and a journalist (or several) noticed. The inbound links helped them vault to the top of Google SERPs for certain terms, and they were able to build a business around helping other companies do the same thing--getting inbound links (and social shares) by publishing unique information.
They give a few examples, such as this one:
This same strategy can be applied to any industry. Say you own an ice cream shop. You know how many ice cream cones you sell per day. You can also look up the average temperature of each day. Create a chart with temperature on the x-axis and ice cream cone sales on the y-axis, and you’ve got excellent, data driven content.
Another content marketing tactic: Use stories:
One of the core tenets at Priceonomics is that everyone has an interesting story. Every person you come into contact with on a daily basis has a deep-rooted story about heartbreak, triumph, tragedy, or comedy.
The part about all of this that I find a little hard to swallow is the connection between publishing interesting data and stories and getting major online news sites and MSM to cover it. One of the examples mentions sending out an email to 50 Apple blogs about a Priceonomics blog post on depreciation of old iPhones, and no one responded. Then they contacted Josh at TechCrunch, who had covered Priceonomics launching a month before, and he wrote it up, with scads of follow-on coverage coming soon after. I think practically anyone else publishing the same bit of information would have been ignored.
To me, this suggests that luck, media connections, and submitting the right link to HN at the right time are key factors in early content marketing success. For organizations that don't have these benefits/skills, how much will the Priceonomics content marketing formula help them?
For instance, I'm content marketing guy for an electronics manufacturing company. Target demo for our blog is supply chain & purchasing people, PCB designers and Electrical Engineers, etc. Every time we've gotten a post on reddit or wherever (3 or 4 times in the last year, can't remember), the traffic increases dramatically, but the quality of leads generated by said traffic decreases significantly. Whether or not you even want to get featured on sites with huge traffic is an open question.
I think people tend to overestimate the quality of their content as well. Creating content is easy, creating really good content isn't, especially in more niche fields. "You can also look up the average temperature of each day. Create a chart with temperature on the x-axis and ice cream cone sales on the y-axis, and you’ve got excellent, data driven content." The last word I would use to describe a post like that is excellent.
"In the current era of publishing, social networks are surpassing Google search as the primary way people find content." is a pretty deceptive quote, if you ask me. I'm sure that holds true for sites like BuzzFeed or whatever, but organic search absolutely dominates my traffic. Bypass capacitor placement or PCOLA/SOQ aren't exactly hot topics on social. Long tail keywords  are your friend, and your blog is a great way to take advantage of them.
My company has seen the most success in combining inbound marketing and outbound sales. Use the site/social/email/white papers/podcasts/etc. as a barometer of engagement, and once the user has completed X set of tasks, flag them for review by sales for direct outreach.
I believe we should define 'luck' in this context.
Luck is when you write once a year and it happens to get on the front page of HN (or large subreddit, etc) and it attracts the critical mass of customers. In this case, it's like flipping a coin (just the odds are not 50/50). Voting on HN is far from deterministic and it's often the case that a link gets no traction on the first couple of submissions and then gets on the frontpage the third time it's submitted. So, yes, quite a bit of luck is involved.
In case of priceonomics, they are writing good content consistently so it's hardly luck anymore. If you have 20% (or any other probability) to make the front page and do it often enough, eventually it will happen. And if you keep doing that, people will recognize your domain and more people will click on the link, etc. While chance is still involved, it's quite far from the typical definition of 'luck'.
I've also been using Tracker since the soft launch. It's a nice clean snapshot of day to day blog performance.
I'm interested to see how the Priceonomics Data Studio concept mentioned in the handbook intro works. It sounds like a good idea, but I do think there will be challenges with outsourcing the Priceonomics content marketing strategy to other businesses.
Someone from Priceonomics can chime in here, but it seems like they have the luxury of identifying diverse topics that are likely to go viral, then go out and acquire data specifically for that topic, tell a story, then move on to the next topic (and perhaps even a different audience).
Other businesses are less flexible. They have to start with a limited amount of data, then use it to tell many stories, week after week.
Not saying it won't work. I'm sure it will. Just interested to see how the data gathering, analysis, and storytelling sides of things all come together in the Priceonomics Data Studio offering.
If you're running, say, a plumbing business, you could teach your blog readers so much about plumbing. Answer their questions and teach them real, useful stuff - everything from fixing a leaky faucet to setting up plumbing for a new house.
Unfortunately, most businesses think that writing a blog post means writing 100 posts on "10 reasons why you need to hire a plumber".
That's useless to readers.
Help readers learn something actually useful about your business and they'll reward you with their loyalty.
Priceonmonics' bests posts (say, over 30k views) have a strong data-driven component combined with great writing.
One of Priceonomics' tag lines is "DATA. LONGFORM CONTENT. ANALYSIS." They excel at data crawling and visualization. Combine that capability with talented storytellers, give those writers the freedom to explore a variety of topics, and you've got a winning recipe for repeated virality.
A plumbing company is a great example. You can write great plumbing content, (and definitely still accomplish your goal of getting people with plumbing-related pain points into your funnel or driving awareness for your business) but it's tough to make that type of content spread consistently, even when well-crafted.
Combining the data gathering + analysis/visualization + great writing for homerun content that generates leads on a consistent basis is the challenge I'm talking about specifically. Moreover, the plumbing company does not likely have a marketing department with all 3 of those skills sets represented.
Priceonomics just announced their 'Data Studio' offering to help companies in that position (and there are plenty of them!).
btw, not sure if anyone posted the 6-page summary of the Content Marketing Handbook yet:
Obviously a great guide for duplicating what Priceonomics does at your own company. Interested to see how the Data Studio works as an outsourced content service.
Anyway, I did a skim and found this excerpt:
"You should write about information."
And can really relate to that. I've been blogging for about 7 years now, mostly failing but the last year I've had a few big "hits" even one here on HN.
Almost every one of my blogging successes were data driven. What I mean by success is they went viral on their own without any artificial boosting other than basic sharing with my followers.
It does lean a bit too much to the data side, which isn't surprising since that's what _they_ know and understand well. However, don't take that to mean that every blog post has to be about data and must contain some kind of chart.
Anecdotal stories, how-to's, and personal realizations can all make for very interesting and successful articles.
There seem to be swathes of this article that are about online PR and getting coverage from tech journalists, rather than actually doing content marketing.
Anyone looking for real content marketing advice should check out resources like Moz and the (excellent) Content Marketing Institute blog.
If you ever want a free firework display, tell any PR professional that their role is a subset of marketing... don't forget to stand well back when you light that particular touchpaper though!