A glance through Content Marketing Institute’s recently published posts, Growthhackers Must Read articles, or BuzzSumo’s most-shared marketing content from the past six months makes it clear – one blog post framework seems to be winning:
How (Company You Know) Is Doing (Something) to Achieve (Positive Result)
CMI posts included Smackdown Content Marketing Secrets From the WWE, How GE Gives Recruiting Content a Personality Lift, and How Health Catalyst Gets Results with Ungated Content.
GrowthHackers had How GrowandConvert Got 10k Hyper-Targeted Visitors in 3 Weeks, How Slack Generates 100,000,000 Website Visitors, and How Grammarly Quietly Grew its Way to 6.9 Million Daily Users in 9 Years.
What’s happening? I thought “being different” was crucial in driving content marketing success. Why are some of the best content creators publishing the same type of article over and over? And why are these articles so damn popular?
Let’s examine this article model from beginning to end.
Back in 2015, Nielsen wanted to determine why people purchased specific products. What did it find? Was it urgency, testimonials, color?
Nope. It was brand name.
SurveyMonkey found something similar in 2013, uncovering the fact that 70% of consumers first click on search results from “known retailers.”
When MarketingExperiments tested this hypothesis, it found that a branded page outperformed a non-branded one by 40%.
When I see headlines such as How Moz Used Adwords to Drive 1,000,000 Visitors or How Shopify is Building a $389 Million Brand With Content, I’m attracted by the inclusion of a brand which I believe knows what it’s doing and I already trust.
Rob Wengel, senior vice president and managing director of Nielsen innovation in the United States, has said that “recognizable brand names signify quality,” which is separate from that brand delivering quality. For a reader, recognizable brand names signify a greater understanding, a source of information they can learn from and trust.
This type of article also succeeds because of the relationship between author and subject. If I can get a recognizable brand name to champion my article, I’m halfway to viral.
And what have they got to lose? These articles are, by definition, exploring how awesome these companies are. They’re literally saying, “If (brand) does it, it must be worth trying.” The brand gets external links, a huge trust boost, and an increased brand awareness it probably doesn’t need (but never hurts).
I can write about the need to A/B test your landing pages all I want. You’ll read the article and say, “Just another best-practice article,” and move on with your day.
But if I write, “We A/B tested click pop-ups over landing pages for our gated content and saw a 44.3% average increase across nine campaigns,” you’re far more likely to pause and say “Maybe I should give this A/B testing thing a go.”
This article model does just that.
On some level, every modern content absorber is fighting for reasons to move on to the next piece. An article headline that details a real-life example and impact, though? At the very least, the reader knows that the strategies being discussed worked.
Many of you have seen this graph from SerpIQ from a couple years ago, which breaks down the “best” article length.
Rand Fishkin, as he’s wont to do, debunked any “ideal” article length in a Whiteboard Friday in August, but the facts show longer articles tend to:
No, long doesn’t mean better. Some topics need only 500 words. But in this article model, long form is necessary to take readers on a step-by-step walk-through. This type of article doesn’t have a headline like The Complete, 20,000-Word Guide to Facebook Ads. Its headline reflects its function – the strategy a trustworthy company is using to find success, with actionable takeaways you can implement today.
The best authors using this article model aren’t just presenting readers with the walk-through of another company’s strategy, they’re presenting those strategies with ways the readers can implement.
The best part of writing these articles is that they write themselves more often than not. I wrote one focused on Shopify’s inbound funnel and simply followed it down. My headings were the strategies I was exposed to (from SEO to content upgrade and a webinar campaign). My images were screenshots from that funnel, and my actionable takeaways were based on what I was seeing them do.
To create your own content using this article model, follow these five steps.
1. Identify an innovative company or thought leader
The most challenging part is determining what business to target. Once you get that down, the rest of the article follows a path set by them, not you.
Here are a few guidelines:
Here a few suggestions of companies doing interesting things you may want to consider in the B2B and SaaS space:
And here are some ideas for the B2C industry:
2. Start your research
Explore the company’s sales funnel. Start with the first possible touchpoint. Try a search or display advertisement, a blog article, a press release, etc.
As you proceed through the funnel – from ad or article to lead generation to email marketing to sales prompt, take screenshots. Your article will be framed by that funnel.
TIP: If you look into a single facet of the business like the type of content being published or a particular tactic’s role in the sale funnel, be sure go sufficiently in depth for your reader to understand the details.
3. Reach out to a representative
You want the company on your side before you publish your insight and observations about what it does. And, if possible, you want information from the company. Try something like this:
Hope this finds you well. I am (your name) and was talking to your colleague, (name), and she mentioned you were the one behind (specific strategy you’re writing about). I’d like to congratulate you on putting together one of the most innovative marketing campaigns I’ve ever seen.
Your (specific strategy) would be an awesome topic for an article I would like to write. I would appreciate it if you would have the time for an interview to walk through what you’ve done and inspire other marketers to do something similar. Would you have 15 minutes this week to jump on a call so I can ask you a few questions about the thinking behind the strategy and if it’s performing for you guys?
I look forward to hearing from you!
If they don’t have time for a call, send over a few questions and ask if they have time to respond that way. And if they don’t have time for that, write the article without their involvement, but share the link once it’s done. You’ll still get the bump from a recognizable brand name in your title and the brand will have been made aware your article is being published.
TIP: You also could use the word “interview” in the headline to indicate the brand’s direct input in the post – How (Recognizable Company) is Doing (Specific Strategy) to Achieve (Positive Result): An Interview with (Company Representative). Just be sure to still include actionable takeaways, don’t publish a transcript of your call.
4. Go a step above with design
Your article ideally will be at least 2,000 words and broken into several sections. As a result, a table of contents will help readers navigate.
You can format an automated table of contents within your article. The easiest way is to add a bit of html in the back end (don’t worry, it’s super simple).
Copy this HTML into the top of your article beneath your intro:
<li><a href=“#a”>Strategy #1</a></li>
<li><a href=“#b”>Strategy #2</a></li>
<li><a href=“#c”>Strategy #3r</a></li>
<li><a href=“#d”>Strategy #4</a></li>
5. Promote to specific influencers
BuzzSumo research of 100 million articles uncovered some interesting stats about influencer outreach:
Note: BuzzSumo defines “influencer” as someone whose tweets are retweeted two times on average.
If you need assistance creating an influencer list, you can use a tool like BuzzSumo. After you create an account, click on the “most shared” tab and search for articles on your topic. Within those results, click “view sharers” to see and then add to a new influencer list.
Research the influencers before you reach out to them to better learn whether they might be interested in content similar to what you’re doing. Follow them on social media.
Then reach out to the influencer. Don’t go in cold. Nobody (and I’ve been “cold emailed” enough to know) likes being approached by someone who has just filled in the blanks of an obvious template sharing a recent article and a request to promote it. Personalize the outreach.
If the influencer follows you on Twitter, send a direct message mentioning that you just wrapped up an article that you think they’d be interested in, and that you’d appreciate their thoughts on a specific element of it.
If you can’t direct-message the influencers, send a tweet tagging them. Try to find an email address. Reach out through LinkedIn InMail. If you reach out to 20 or so influencers with personalized requests, you should yield the magical five social shares to amplify your shares 400%.
This article model — in which the author identifies a recognizable brand doing innovative stuff and then analyzes that stuff, breaks it into bite-sized pieces, and presents it as doable with proof in hand — is a model predicated on that number of rule of content: Better content does better.
Any questions, or just want to chat about creating good content? Start the conversation in the comments.