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Content marketing tips that actually work, from a reluctant content marketer.


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For several years I worked at a startup as a content marketer.


I need to pause for a moment and just take a beat because that was a little awful.


This was a reluctant career, and I frequently have (and will continue) to push back against some of the things that go along with such marketing due to how it rather befouls creative writing, the internet, and the human ability to perceive information.


I will probably never forgive content marketing for the overuse and now required bullet list and white space in place of longer paragraphs but let's not dwell on it.


There are some realities to the idea of content marketing that are necessary for freelancers or people who make a living working from home and rely on the internet to bring them clients and income.


Tip #1 - Publish fresh content regularly.


Early in my content marketing career, when it was an agency and not a startup, I found myself trying to write engaging content for dentists, disability services, and everything our clients were selling.


This is not easy. There's only so much I could say about brushing teeth and some days I just wanted to cry.


But it's important.


This is why there are all kinds of apps and tools that help you generated ideas based on keywords or themes, and with AI, that's only grown by leaps and bounds. While I'm AI wary in many ways, I understand that on a slow day you're going to head over to AI and beg it to give you five ideas about selling nuts and bolts because your well is dry.


Fresh content is what brings search engines. And while they constantly change their algorithms and methods to make the internet better for users instead of better for marketers (i.e. every little marketing loophole is found out eventually), fresh, meaningful, meaty content is always going to serve up some kind of reward over time.


Your five blog posts about how to floss are not going to be enough for the next ten years. You don't buy one carton of milk and call it good for the season. Freshness is calculated in the search engine algorithm. Whether it's once or twice a month or week, come up with something new to write.


Here are ideas on how to find topics for your blog posts:


  • Think about the things your customers or friends tend to ask you about your business. Answer those questions.

  • Use writing prompts if you really want to have some fun, tweaking them to fit the topics that would apply to your blog.

  • What questions did you have to research for your own benefit? Write about it because someone else needs to know.

  • What products are you selling? Write blog posts that would naturally segue or point to those products (and then actually link to them for the reader), but make sure the blog post is actually useful and not just some sales spiel.

  • Use AI if you have to, but just for idea generation. Use one that sources where it gets its information (e.g. perplexity.ai or https://copilot.microsoft.com/). You are the expert, not AI. But it might help you get ideas if you do a good job with the prompt and provide details (e.g. "give me five blog post headlines about flying kites using the keyword string".

  • Some website builders, such as Wix, have AI built into their system and scan your content to suggest potential blog post topics that relate to your other content.

  • Do some research on keywords and popular blog posts in your industry. What keywords are popular? Why are people searching that topic? What is their intent? When you search for a question people ask you, what are the first pages that pop up? Those are things you should be writing about.


P.S. AI is changing everything, and as Perplexity.ai and You.com and Brave and all the rest start using AI to return summarized results...traffic may just go to the search engines and not the individual sources where those search engines scraped your content to serve up a fast answer to a person who would normally have gone to your actual site to get the information.


Brutal world, humans putting all their information online only to have big companies use AI to serve it up without any return to the sources.


Tip #2 - Create better headlines and content that are human inspired.


As AI continues to grow, we shouldn't let our content be created by it or for it generally (though I think that's going to be impossible as it's integrated more in the apps we already use).


And yes, you still have to use keywords in your titles and body copy (which we'll talk about in a bit). But make your titles and body copy have actual human interest. Food, home, and lifestyle content is always popular. But the headlines and copy have to be personal to the reader.


You could say: Tips To Write Better Blog Posts


But you might get more traffic on: Tips To Write Better Blog Posts That Will Keep Your Income Flowing


The difference?


The second one probably taps into a fear that the reader wanted help overcoming. No need to be a jerk and push fear buttons, but when a person wants to write better blog posts, think about all the reasons why:


  • Want to be a better writer

  • Get more traffic

  • Attract clients to their writing style

  • Prove their value to clients for retention purposes

  • Etc.


 What's the angle? Put it in your headline while angling your blog content to reflect it.


Disclaimer: I've been responsible for some awful headlines over the years simply to increase traffic and sort of fit the startup culture of the time and I apologize for helping ruin the internet.


Tip #3 - Engage readers right away


Hook a reader with a story, an illustration, a shocking statistic, or a verbal punch in the face.


I'm terrible at this, by the way. But I know it's important. But I'm terrible at it so I'm just putting this section here to let you know you should do it and maybe you ought to research ways to hook your reader.


You can't bury the lede, but readers don't stick around for acres of purple prose and jargony business blah dry professionalese copy.


Tip #4 - Be careful about the images you use


Part of engaging readers and getting people to click and read is the image you use that shows up on social media and in your blog post and wherever else it is listed.


All images should have alt descriptions that truthfully describe the image but also relate to the topic of the blog post. This is part of that search engine stuff you need to do to make your post look good for them (even if it's a pain in the butt).


Word of caution on the images, though: copyright trolls are aggressive and active and, frankly, vicious.


AI created images are tempting to use. There's some mushy ground about copyright and ownership, as well as the principle of the thing where some people don't like to see AI used. Since AI is not hard to pick out, some readers will not appreciate your use of AI. Additionally, after a while a blog that has a lot of AI imagery is sort of tiring in its similarity and overly dramatic chiaroscuro.


Stock images seem safe but you really need to be confident that what you paid for and how you're using the images (including for how long you're allowed to use it) is in sync. There are still some limitations on use, even if you paid for an image or downloaded it years ago when you had a paid subscription.


If you have a design subscription for something like Canva and are allowed to use images and elements as a paid user, again, I'd really work at mashing and mixing things up so it's clearly a new creation instead of using it without any changes at all. Even if your website builder software or hired designer provide you with images...maybe just be wary and verify that it's OK.


Never, ever, never, never, ever ever ever just download an image you found on an internet search and stick it on your website. Because copyright trolls are counting on you to give them income.


Best bet?


Start taking lots of photos of your own and create your own "stock photography" bank. That's what I do.


Tip #5 - Have the right heart.


You are creating content for two reasons:


  1. Bring traffic to your website to find new readers and potential customers or clients.

  2. Help people.


You can do both, but have a heart to help instead of a heart to sell, and everything falls into place better. It's okay to have content that's free and content that people have to pay a bit for. It's okay to whet a reader's appetite and give some useful info while also holding back and asking them to purchase.


When you write for people with a helpful intention, your content will flow. At least, that's what I've found.


I have acres of blog posts written for specific keywords and sales outcomes that make me ashamed to have ever achieved literacy, that it would be used in such a way. But I have other blog posts that I wrote to be helpful that I tied to selling something that I'm fine with. Flowing from helpful makes writing easier for me, at least. Flowing from selling and traffic makes ideas choke up and stall.


Content Marketing Done Right Shouldn't Ruin The Internet


Content marketing should be more about the content, first, and marketing second. Hence the order of the words in the phrase. And you are absolutely allowed to write content that doesn't fit a marketing purpose simply for the joy of writing and wanting to share something.


If only more people would do that, frankly. Our words should make a better world and help people, not just sell.


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