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Great Content on a Tight Budget


all-fireworks-at-onceI got an email today from a nonprofit asking if Propllr could help with content marketing. The sender had a $4,000 budget and wanted to know if we would be able to create 50 articles of 2,000 words each for this price – aka $80 per 2,000-word piece.

Short answer: no. Loud answer: NO! 

But the email got me thinking: what do you do if you determine that content marketing can benefit your business but you have a limited budget for creating that content? And the answer I came up with is not what you’d expect: blow it all in one place.

This, readers, is not what I would have recommended five years ago – or maybe even one year ago. So let me walk you through my reasoning and my recommendations.

Background: Content Is a Gift You Give the World

The content part of content marketing is something you give away for free. Maybe you take an email address in payment, but generally content is a resource that brands and companies give away gladly. It’s word swag, in other words. 

The rationale for giving away content is (at least) threefold:

  1. By giving away valuable information that helps site visitors understand our services and products, we help them understand how our services and products can help them and thus do some of the work of “selling them” on those services and products.
  2. By answering questions our prospects have, we burnish our reputation and win fans. We develop name recognition and become good guys.
  3. By giving away free things, we create feelings of reciprocity. Chances are you have a favorite free mug or t-shirt with some brand’s name on it. Why is it your favorite? Because it doesn’t suck. It’s the good, soft kind of t-shirt or the one mug big enough to hold a whole can of soup. You use it all the time. Even if you don’t rationally care one way of the other about the company whose logo is on it, part of you has a warm place in your heart for that company.

There are more, reader. But you can find them somewhere else online. 

The point is, if you’re giving a gift to the world (and really, to people you hope will one day buy from you), do you want it to be a crappy gift? Would you rather give them 300 dumb pins nobody wants or one glass water bottle they will use every single day?

That’s how you need to think about content.

Honestly, that’s how everyone should be thinking about content, but it’s especially true if you’ve only got a few thousand dollars to spend for the year.

How Blowing Your Content Budget on One Awesome Thing Works

The other reason I’m recommending this strategy is because many companies that do content marketing find that one or two pages drive the majority of their organic traffic, regardless of how much other content they create. Why? Because those pages answer the question that is most important to their prospective customers.

Or they answer a question that nobody else online is answering.

Or because they do something better than anyone else is doing it.

Or because they present something in a way that resonates with a lot of people and so visitors continually link to and share the content and it enjoys a long and happy life of driving traffic.

Or (honestly) because they put a lot of time and effort into that piece and they don’t do the same for the rest of their content.

So if you can spend your content budget on the equivalent of 300 dumb pins per visitor or on the equivalent of one highly functional glass water bottle, always go with the glass water bottle.

How, you ask? Great question.

How to Figure Out Which Content Will Blow Your Visitors’ Minds

This is the part you have to get right for my proposition to work. If you only have a little scratch, you can’t afford to throw a bunch of content on your site and see what works. You have to be strategic and careful (which, again, we should all be doing anyway).

Here’s one way to go about identifying the best opportunities for your future superstar content:

  1. Talk to your sales team. Ask them what kinds of conversations they have with customers, what questions they answer over and over, what topics customers are most interested in or concerned about. Ask them what they wish the website had that they could send people. Ask if they currently send people to another website to answer these questions (gasp!).
  2. Talk to existing customers. If you can, get on the phone with a few existing customers. Ask why they chose you. Ask what they like and don’t like about your product or service. Pay special attention the latter.
  3. Go to Quora. Search your product or service and see what kinds of questions people are asking about it. Are the answers helpful and accurate? Sufficient? Are there any unanswered questions?
  4. Do some SEO sleuthing. Your goal is to find out how people are searching for the problems identified by your sales team, customers, and Quora visits, and then to determine what kind of content is already out there to solve those problems. (New to SEO and its role in content marketing? This is a helpful guide to keyword research for beginners. Check out Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest tool, too. And sign up for Orbit Media blog.)
  5. Mine your own data. Do you have any internal, shareable data that could answer one of the questions or solve one of the problems your customers often have? If so, using it to power content could give you a huge competitive advantage because you know nobody else has that data.

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what kind of question you should answer or problem you should solve with your content. Now it’s time to get creative. What’s the best way to solve this problem? Will an article do it? A chart? A checklist? An in-depth guide?

You could probably start working with a freelancer at this point. An experienced freelancer will be able to help you identify the best way to turn your findings to this point into a piece of rock-solid content.

How to Execute on Great Content Ideas

The last mile is really important. You’ve identified a piece of content that can have a material impact on the lives of your prospective customers (and on your bottom line). Now it’s time to build it in such a way that they can find it. That means doing the following:

  1. Pay the writer fairly. The Editorial Freelancers Association offers a helpful rates guide. (Look at either “ghostwriting” or “sales / PR,” depending on the kind of work you need.)
  2. Get someone who knows SEO involved. Make sure you put the content somewhere logical on your website and make sure your on-page SEO game is strong. Can’t afford an SEO consultant? Have someone from marketing and a frontend developer take an SEO crash course and become the experts. They can bone up while you’re researching topics.
  3. Have a clear conversion path. Once visitors get to this amazing content… then what? Know the answer and make it easy to do.
  4. Make it easy to share. I mean easy. Click of a button.
  5. Promote it. Share it on social. Make sure your salespeople know to share it with prospects. Do some link building. Pitch publications a contributed article – by you! – around it. Link to it in your email signature (and your coworkers’).
  6. Track it. Look at traffic and conversions over time.
  7. Optimize it. Look for ways to improve conversions: different calls to action, different organization, pop-ups or slide-downs. You won’t get it perfect the first time – that’s fine!
  8. Update it. Chances are, something in this content will become outdated. Update it as needed. This is like if you were able to wash your customers’ gorgeous glass water bottles every week. Continually updated content is the gift that keeps on giving.

The last step here is to measure its impact on your company as a whole. In a best-case scenario, it will drive enough conversions that you’ll have a bigger content budget next year (or the second half of this year) so you can replicate and amplify your results.

None of this is easy, but it will offer greater positive impact for your company over time than most of the other options you have on a limited content budget.