Every business or project needs to get the word out about what they do in order to get people excited, sign up and eventually pay for a product, service or solution. It follows that marketing is something that every entrepreneur needs to think about if they are aiming for success. But marketing is a complex beast and there are multiple tactics and strategies available for the marketer.
Content marketing is one tool in the marketer’s toolbox that is growing in popularity. In a nutshell, content marketing means creating content such as blog posts, videos, podcasts and infographics, and then distribute it as widely as possible. It is a part of inbound marketing strategies and directly feeds into two other marketing strategies: search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing (SMM). Google’s fight against “black hat SEO” with its unethical and spammy attempts to game the ranking has left good content and honest backlink building based on that content as the only sustainable SEO approach. And social networks, in which many of us spent too much of our precious time, are the primary means for discovery of new content, so the potential for “going viral” through the social graph is a great opportunity.
When you read interviews with small businesses and bootstrapped individual founders you’ll hear them emphasize the meaning of content marketing. This is no surprise because what these companies lack in cash to invest in paid marketing channels they’re making up for with the “hustle” of investing their own time into telling their story. Just to give you a few examples from IndieHackers interviews:
- Proposeful founder Thiago Obaid said that “Inbound will always be our core technique, and it’s the most effective for any bootstrapped SaaS startup with medium-low tickets”.
- Varun Aggarwall of DesignHill said that “creating share-worthy content that’s rich in research and facts is the best and the most effective way of reaching out to potential customers” and that they “focus 60-70% of [their] time on this marketing channel”.
- Christian Beck of UX Power Tools said that in comparison to their other marketing tools “nothing has worked as immediately, consistently, and effectively as our content”.
For companies whose audience are software developers content marketing works especially well. As Kristen Womack wrote on the Hitch blog, “marketing to developers in particular is kind of like bringing a box of wine to an AA meeting”, however “Creating, sharing and using information and insight comes naturally to the development community”. Belle Beth Cooper of Hello Code explained the choice of focussing on content marketing for their product Larder with similar arguments, saying that content marketing is “less overt than other marketing techniques”.
Once you’ve been convinced of the potential of content marketing the next question is what you should write about. This is something that needs a bit of experimentation. A business and the daily learnings of running it provide ample opportunities, however not all stories make great material for content marketing and you also may not want to tell all of them. In a talk at DevRelCon London 2016 about creating compelling content for a technical audience, developer advocate Lorna Mitchell recommended to always capture ideas for content to write later and never to think an idea is too small or boring. I can recommend her talk if you want to dive in deeper into this topic.
Due to lack of prior information content marketers often start with a “spaghetti tactic”: throwing spaghetti at the wall and observing some of them stick and others fall down. Applied to content marketing, this tactic means that instead of focussing and narrowing down your range of content in advance, you attempt to publish as many different types of content as possible and see which of them work best. Obviously, the content should make sense to your audience and fit your startup (for example readers of this blog expect technical content and an article about literal spaghetti would be weird ;-)).
For CloudObjects, we’ve tried the following:
- Posts directly related to our products: Introducing CloudObjects Core and Creating a WebAPI object.
- A review of a third party product related to our own: Tools & Makers: Insomnia HTTP Client.
- Articles about our software development and deployment process that are not related to the product but of general interest for developers working with the same technologies: Docker Base Containers, Docker PHP App Base Container, Simplifying CouchDB View Management, Automating PHP Library Documentation and Using RDF in PHP. Most of these contain open source code or other freebies.
- Our two initial posts related to vision and strategy: Hello World! and APIs as MVP?!.
- One general post educating about APIs: The 5 Basic API Design Paradigms.
- This “meta-post” right here about content marketing.
Too see how your content fares in terms of SEO you should definitely register your site in Google Search Console so you can find out for which keywords your site gets displayed in Google’s search result pages (SERPs).
To give you an idea, here are the 10 keywords for which the CloudObjects Blog receives the most impressions:
- couchdb map reduce tutorial
- couchdb views
- php sami
- insomnia http client
- insomnia openapi
- php documentation generator
- travis ci tool
- surge github
- docker php container
- couchdb view
This information can help you figure out what people are looking for and how you can serve them best. Of course it shouldn’t be considered the only source of truth since it doesn’t capture social and non-search traffic on your site. Tools such as Google Analytics and the likes on social media complement the picture. And if you notice that your best content is not the one most aligned with your product or your vision, you should think about how to overcome that gap.
For example: for CloudObjects the generic software development related posts work very well, so we’ll probably push out more of them. However, our primary objective is selling the vision of a future driven by APIs and cloud computing and our products and consulting services to organize that new world. One conclusion could be that we’ll double down on educational content related to APIs but try to do things that are very hands-on and relate them to tools that developers already use.
We’ll definitely need to experiment more. One of these experiments is the extensive use of namedropping and referencing other people and their blogs, as I’ve already done in this post. And there will be another blog post about content marketing in a few weeks or months to share our experience.
We’re curious to hear your thoughts on content marketing as well! Let us know in the comments below!