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So, you’ve come across this newfangled thing called content marketing that many huge companies swear by. Apparently, all you need to do is create a blog, post some articles, and voila! the traffic will come pouring in by the truckload.

You might even get some sales from that influx of visitors, too!

And then you check your website analytics a week later, and discover that there was no hockey stick growth – or anything resembling any sort of growth, really. Perhaps, just a tiny blip of activity, but that’s about it.

The problem is, content marketing, at first glance, appears to be easy. On the surface, all you see is an article going live, and all of a sudden big-time influencers are tweeting about it, huge publications are resharing it, people are writing case studies about it, and there are smiles all around. Looks easy enough.

The thing is, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A whole lot of work goes on behind the scene to help your content reach a wider audience, and generate a sustainable amount of traffic to your website.

great content marketing slow steady sustainable

What if, by sheer luck, your very first article happens to go viral? First off, I’d like to congratulate you on striking the content marketing lottery – the odds of this happening are a million to one (probably more). However, without proper planning, your website will likely not be able to reap long-term benefits from this surge of traffic.

This is probably how it’ll look like:

evergreen content

Virality, in and of itself, is not sustainable. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.

There is, however, certainly still a place for viral content – but only with the right pieces in place. Let’s have a look at what are the fundamentals required to grow your website traffic sustainably with content marketing.

(Really) Understand your target audience

Having worked with many startups as both an employee and advisor over the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most potent killer of potentially great businesses are assumptions.

Many companies believe that they know exactly what their users want. When pressed, they might tell you that they “heard it from a few guys we talked to at a conference” or “read some articles online that said so.” Without talking to actual users, however, these are all just assumptions that they made based on third-party sources, and are almost never accurate.

Inevitably, this would result in content generated by the marketing team that does not resonate with their target audience whatsoever.

What are their problems?

As such, the first step towards really understanding your target audience is to find out what are the problems they face in their working lives (in some cases, maybe even in their personal lives). As Hubspot’s former Head of Content Jay Acunzo puts it:

“Content marketing is just solving the same customer problems as your product but through media you create and distribute.”

When I first started leading content marketing at Piktochart, we were producing a lot of marketer-focused content, based on the assumption that most of our users were using our software to create longform graphics for marketing.

After conducting a series of interviews, however, we found out that our users were looking to create great-looking materials not just for marketing, but for general communication purposes: lesson outlines, event posters, keynote presentation slides, and so on. More importantly, we discovered that most of them lacked the design expertise typically required to create these materials well.

We immediately switched our strategy to the following:

“Produce top-notch content—whether it be blog articles, ebooks, checklists, and so on—that empowers our readers to become excellent at communication while driving business value for Piktochart.”

With that, we began to produce content focusing on teaching and inspiring our readers to communicate better visually. And we started to see an uptick in engagement. For example, a SlideShare presentation we published, 24 Infographic Ideas to Inspire Your Next Beautiful Creation, attracted over 130,000 views and drove thousands of leads for us.

How to start gathering questions that your users are asking about? You can talk to your sales team – who interact with users regularly – or reach out to them directly, whether via email, live chat, or by organizing community meetups. For the latter, just make sure there’s lots of pizza and beer!

Where do they gather?

Another important bit of information that you need to know about your target audience is where they tend to frequent – both online and offline. The reason for this is that certain content formats work better for specific channels, and you want to be sure that you’re creating the right type of content for the community you’re looking to reach out to.

For instance, marketers such as myself love to huddle on marketer-specific online community platforms such as GrowthHackers and Inbound.org, and educational longform articles tend to do the best here. If you had a piece of in-depth content directed to marketers specifically, it would have a higher chance of meeting its mark on these platforms.

If you’re reaching out to the travel crowd, however, you might find them on relevant and popular Facebook groups such as the Ultimate Travel Group (UTG). Here, social media squares with inspirational quotes and beautiful landscapes would likely find more engagement than links or articles.

Based on these guidelines, you should be able to come up with many great content ideas to start with. But it’s also important to make sure that you have several pieces of content that are evergreen in nature. In other words, the topics that they address should continue to deliver value to your readers for an extended period of time, and as such bring in a constant flow of traffic in the long run. Which brings us to the next point.

Make the search engine gods happy

Now that you know what type of content you should be producing, it’s time to make sure that it goes the distance and brings back traffic sustainably. And a huge part of this involves making sure your content can be found on as many platforms as possible – especially search engines like Google, which people trust to find information and products that they need.

Topical authority over keyword density

First and foremost, your content should contain the keywords that you’re looking to be found for. However, you shouldn’t be too caught up in inserting those keywords wherever humanly possible, to the extent that it sounds unnatural.

Recent updates have allowed Google to understand the intent of the question typed into the search box, and return answers that address it rather than pages with the exact keyword match.

Instead, you should aim to address the topic of your article in an in-depth manner with easy-to-understand language, with a sprinkling of keywords to guide Google’s web crawlers along.

In the same article linked above, SEO expert Brian Dean found that pages with longer content ranked better than shorter ones which address the same topic. The average word count of a Google first page result, he says, is 1890 words, though you should use this as a guideline rather than the law.

Get lots of high-quality backlinks

Another major Google ranking factor is the number and quality of backlinks – incoming links from other websites – to the piece of content in question.

There are many ways to earn these backlinks, which Brian Dean covers extensively on his blog, but one of the methods I’ve used to a great degree of success is guest blogging. Find authoritative publications that cover the same space as the topic of your article, and pitch guest posts that cover adjacent and related topics so you can naturally insert a reference to it.

For example, visual marketing was one of the topics that we had covered extensively at Piktochart previously, and I had identified Crazy Egg as a relevant publication with a big and loyal following.

Since we had several articles covering basic design principles on our blog, I decided to pitch an article idea that would be able to reference those, as well as bring value to their audience, titled 10 Design Principles That Will Increase Your Email Newsletter Conversions. Happily, Crazy Egg’s VP of Inbound Sean Work, was more than happy to accept it!

A nice side effect of this guest blogging tactic is that you might get some referral traffic from people who click those links. However, don’t count on it too much, as recent research has found it to be an unreliable source of traffic.

Keep going, and going, and going

What I’ve outlined above probably isn’t anything new to you. In fact, you might even have tried them once or twice, to no avail. Which brings me to my final point, which is that it takes time. Sometimes, a lot of time.

Take my travel blog, Jayndee, for example. When my fiancée and I first started taking it seriously in September 2016, I thought I knew exactly what to do. Based on our most recent road trip, I began penning an ultimate road trip guide to Tasmania.

I did keyword research, throwing in the most popular terms where applicable. I made sure to internally link all the related articles on my blog back to the main piece. I reached out to several travel influencers, and managed to get promoted on one of the most popular Facebook groups in Tasmania, which drove a good number of clicks to the article. When that happened, I was certain that we were well on our way to blog stardom.

As you would expect, not long after our pageviews started sliding back down quickly. For months after, we had barely a handful of visitors, dropping to practically nothing earlier this year. While we were discouraged, we chose not to give up. We kept at it, publishing article after article, week after week, keeping to our editorial calendar and promoting the blog wherever we could.

And slowly but surely, Google started to take notice, and reward us for our efforts. Here’s how our graph looks like, from then till now:

great content marketing slow steady sustainable

It took close to 9 months before we began to see our blog traffic really take off, and a full year before it really became self-sustaining.

So here’s my concluding thought: don’t expect to see immediate results. If you want that, consider allocating some budget to paid marketing efforts instead. However, if you really want to see exponential, sustainable website traffic growth, I would say that there’s no better way to go than with content marketing.

Keep testing, publishing, analyzing, and repeating it all over again. Done well, the returns will be more than worth your time and effort.

Interested to talk more about content marketing? Let’s talk!

So I’ve finally collated all my photos and thoughts about the trip. I actually returned to Singapore on June 4, but the tidal wave of random things to attend to swept me up for the past weeks. I really miss the slow, steady lifestyle that Thailand offers.

Nevertheless, here are the highlights of the rest of my trip – from various parts of Krabi, finally ending at Phuket.

 

Krabi, Ao Nang: Sleepy old town

We arrived at Ao Nang in the wee hours of the night, and checked in at Aree Tara Resort. We headed out for some local food at NaNa Restaurant, which was highly recommended on TripAdvisor. The tomyum soup certainly did not disappoint.

krabi ao nang food

krabi ao nang food

Now, while the room at Aree Tara Resort was not exactly fantastic, it was at least fairly comfortable and clean. IMO, I thought staying at Amar’s for 3 nights spoiled me in terms of expectations for accommodation, but Ao Nang would be the turning point for all my expectations in general. 

The elephant towels were cute, though. Check it out.

krabi ao nang accommodation
Seems that Thais have great towel origami skills

No matter – a room is just a place for sleeping, right? What matters is what is out there to explore, right? Well, we were in for a rude shock the following morning.

 

The 4 Island Tour: Railay, Poda Island, Chicken Island, and Tub Island

krabi ao nang

We had planned to hire a private longtail boat to head out to the surrounding islands (Poda Island, Chicken Island etc). A few minutes after we had handed over money for the boat, though, torrents of rain began to fall. The raining season had just begun.

krabi ao nang

And so we waited for the skies to clear a bit. Finally, it slowed to a drizzle, and we were off. Not exactly the best start to the day.

krabi ao nang

On the bright side (ha, ha), it made for good photo opportunities. The rest of the day was an unending game of hide-and-seek between the sun and rain.

longtail boat thailand
As you can see, ominous overcast skies on the right, with bright skies on the left

I thoroughly enjoyed the longtail boat rides. The drivers were as much skillful as they were reckless, which made for an exhilarating ride every time.

longtail boat thailand

The churning of the motor, however, was extremely loud. Take care not to sit at the back of the boat if you value your sense of hearing.

longtail boat thailand

In any case, our first stop was a brief unguided 30 mins photo tour of Railay. It was slightly amusing, because we already had plans to stay on Railay the week after. However, the boatman insisted on dropped us off there for a while (“Good photos! Must take!”). Who were we to argue with the local guide?

He was not wrong, though. The sights were amazing.

railay beach

railay beach

Crystal clear waters, fine golden sand, and the signature limestone cliffs. It was a scene right out from my imagination.

railay beach

railay beach

I only realised afterwards that there was a spot of rain on my camera lens throughout these shots, probably picked up while I was happily snapping away on the boat (see if you can spot the spot!). It did little to spoil the scenery, though.

Next stop: Poda Island!

longtail boat thailand

tsunami warning

Poda Island turned out to be the best island for relaxing in the entire trip. It was relatively uncrowded, the skies were clear for the hour or so that we were there (thank God!), and the scenery was fantastic. From where I lay, this was my exact view:

poda island

Again, a scene right out of my imagination. We spent a good hour just lazing around, catching up on some light reading, and generally soaking in the island vibes.

poda island

poda island

Our next “stop” was Chicken Island, which wasn’t really a stop because there wasn’t any place to stop off at. The boatman did, however, urgently call us to snap some photos of the chicken head. We obliged.

It does look like a chicken head, doesn't it? God sure has a sense of humor.
It does look like a chicken head, doesn’t it? God sure has a sense of humor.

Then the rain swept in again, with renewed vigor.

heavy rain krabi

After a rocky ride (with the boatman cursing and swearing the whole way. I assume he was cursing and swearing, but I wouldn’t really know, because he was speaking in Thai), we found refuge on our last island, Tub Island. After a brief, uneventful lunch, the rain decided to let up. 

tub island

The coolest part about the island was probably the stretch of sand in between the island where opposing waves met. It was a strange sight, and as the tide came in, it became really difficult to trudge across in slippers. I decided to take mine off.

Before the tide came in:

tub island

And after:

tub island

At this point, the rain made a third appearance, and we decided to call it a day and head back to sleepy old Ao Nang Town.

The sound of crashing waves and picturesque sights, however, are forever etched in my memories. On hindsight, while the rain did interrupt moments in our trip, I felt it added an element of nature, that cannot be controlled or pre-determined, to the sights and sounds. It was certainly an exciting experience, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

This closes the chapter for Ao Nang – stay tuned for the remaining islands!

So Bangkok has been as expected so far – a simple, uncomplicated time of endless shopping, amazing food, and breathtaking massages. Here’s a quick recap of the highlights so far.

 

Accommodation: Amar’s Apartment through AirBnB

So we booked our first stay through AirBnB, and found this quaint but superbly equipped apartment owned by a French gentleman named Amar.

airbnb bangkok apartment

Strong wifi signal, speakers in every room (with an iOS dock in the living room), air-conditioned throughout, and comfy, clean beds.

airbnb bangkok room

Add on a fridge and cupboards stocked with noodles, bottled water, eggs, and so on. In short, it was hard to leave the apartment each day. Highly recommended. Thanks for the excellent hospitality, Amar!

airbnb bangkok apartment

For those who are interested, the link for this place is here. Price: USD$56 per night.

Shopping: Chatuchak Weekend Market

We visited some of the premium shopping malls in the heart of Bangkok (Terminal 21, MBK, Siam Paragon, and so on), but I have to say that I enjoyed the Chatuchak Weekend Market the best.

chatuchak weekend market

chatuchak weekend market

Nothing beats the truly Thai experience of haggling over the already minute prices, sweating buckets, and browsing endless aisles of clothing, souvenirs, and stuff you never thought you needed till you saw it.

chatuchak weekend market

For example, I chanced over these pleasant smelling soaps and couldn’t resist purchasing a few of them. They’re not for me though – I don’t use bar soaps. Still, a pretty sweet (-smelling) buy.

souvenir thailand

IMO, forget the big shopping malls – hit the markets on the streets for the real deal. Here’s more information on Chatuchak Weekend Market.

(Swedish) Massage: Pimmalai

A trip to Bangkok, or Thailand for that matter, is incomplete without one of their signature massages. We chanced across this rustic-looking massage place called Pimmalai when we couldn’t find our apartment on the first day (chance again!).

thai massage

Admittedly, I fear the twisting and bone-crunching (I’m exaggerating, a bit) that Thai massages involve, so I opted for a Swedish massage instead. Best decision of my life – it was so comfortable that I literally fell asleep two to three times throughout the one hour, and was so tempted to opt for another hour. Highly, highly recommended.

thai massage

Here’s the web address, for those who are interested in the best massage ever.

Food: MK Restaurant

To be honest, all the food on the streets of Thailand is fantastic. Some might border on uncooked, though, so be careful of that.

bangkok street food

I think that, due to the highly competitive nature of the street trade, hawkers are forced to become excellent in their craft – and foodies like myself benefit greatly from that. 

There is one particular restaurant that stood out above all the other food that we consumed so far on this trip: MK Restaurant.

mk restaurant

mk restaurant

Apparently, they’ve been around forever – I vaguely remember eating at MK’s when I first came to Bangkok in my primary school days. Perhaps their many years in this trade has allowed them to hone their craft as well. In particular, the duck and shrimp wanton green noodles was outstanding.

mk restaurant

If you’re tired of street food (which might, uh, be unlikely), MK Restaurant is the place to chill and have superb steamboat food.

 

So now we’re preparing for our flight down to Krabi, Ao Nang. We initially wanted to take the sleeper train, but alas! it was completely booked out. So we scrambled for a last minute flight down to Krabi, and thankfully secured one just yesterday. 

More in a few days’ time!

I’ve been going off my rocker getting all my preparations done for this trip, which explains why I haven’t been able to update this page in the past few weeks (that, and my final examinations ever in college, of course). Here’s a brief overview of what has gone down since:

1) Inter-regional flights in Philippines turned out to be too costly for us poor folk (that would be me, actually). Plan changed to a 3 weeks tourney through the Land of Smiles.

2) Touchdown in Bangkok > Sleeper train down to Krabi, Ao Nang (transit through Surat Thani) > Final stop: Ko Samui / Ko Tao

3) Here’s my packing list. I don’t believe I have ever traveled this light before!

– 3 sets of clothes (3 tees, 3 shorts)

– 7 underwear (why skimp on the essentials, right?)

– A pair of running shoes

– A pair of sandals

– Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, contact lens solution

– 100ml tube of sunblock

– 100ml tube of mosquito repellent

– 100ml tube of Febreeze

– A few packets of dry and wet tissue

– Electric shaver

– Medication box: Charcoal pills, Panadol, Po Chai Yin, Plasters, Clarityn

– Daypack

– Swimming shorts and goggles

– Universal adapter and chargers

– Netbook (Acer Aspire One)

– Camera (Panasonic Lx3)

– Waistbelt

– Several ziplock bags

– Essentials pouch: Passport and wallet

 

More on the trip as I go along. Stay tuned!