Content Marketing


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, 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!

I find it curious how people tend to focus on the “content” in “content marketing” a whole lot more than the latter word.

And the word “content” always seems to be associated with frivolity. It instantly brings to mind spammy listicles and fun blog posts that we love to read, but just aren’t very serious or work-like. Stuff that attracts eyeballs, you know, but are only vaguely connected to the bottom-line.

content marketing business
“Yeah, that doesn’t sound very business-y to me, mate.”

This is especially so in Asian companies, which tend to be very focused on dollar signs. I’ve met clients who expect to see “some results” within a week of launching their blog. After all, companies like Buffer and Crew have managed to throw some articles up and receive a whole lot of referral traffic in return. Why can’t we?

This Isn’t Content Marketing

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s establish that content has always been a part of marketing. TV advertisements are made up of words and visuals, which are “content.” Pamphlets are made up of words and visuals, which are “content.” Facebook posts are made up of words and visuals, which are “content.”

You get the idea.

When we refer to “content marketing,” though, there is something specific we have in mind. We think about virality. We think Buzzfeed. We think, put some memes and GIFs and lists together and we’ve got an award-winning blog post on our hands. We’ve got all the traffic we need to sell to for the rest of our days. Time to book that flight to the Maldives.

And yes, you might have a real winner right there that sends everyone on a sharing frenzy. But not for long. Here’s what your graph will probably end up looking like:

evergreen content

The solution? Why, create more “content,” of course! Keep those spikes going on and on forever!

Sadly, that’s not going to happen. Buzzsumo’s analysis of 1 million articles says all:

  • 50% of randomly selected posts received 8 shares or less
  • 75% of these posts received 39 shares or less
  • 75% of these posts achieved zero referring domain links

That spike there? An anomaly. A blip. Might not ever happen again.

That’s not content marketing. That’s generic junk. That’s the stuff that content farms rear and hawk on a dark and gloomy Monday evening, when you feel just about depressed enough to try anything.

What Content Marketing Is

Far from just being excellent writers, the best content marketers are masters of the funnel (I hate that word, but it’s a good way to track results nonetheless). They create both content and processes tailored to bring visitors through from brand awareness to becoming loyal users.

That’s because content marketing isn’t about that one-hit wonder. It’s all about the long-game, as Morgan Freeman says in Now You See Me 2.

Content marketing is brand marketing. When you write guest posts or get quoted and featured on publications sharing domain knowledge, readers will (slowly) begin to see you and your company as leaders in that particular space.

You develop a content brand.

That’s how Buffer became synonymous with social media. That’s why Airbnb and Uber are always uttered in the same breath as the sharing economy.

Jay Acunzo puts it superbly:

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

Your product, Jay elaborates, solves problems for your customers. You know it’s doing just that when money starts rolling in.

The same goes for your content. When your article series helps readers to know more about insurance, they’ll remember your brand name when they’re thinking about buying some.

Content marketing is email marketing. What’s the point of asking readers to subscribe to your newsletter when you’re just going to send them weekly updates (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you can do more than that)?

Enter drip campaigns. Enter curated collections. Your readers subscribed because they loved that particular article or ebook they just read. Give them more, give them the best, satisfy them! And just as your content solves their problems again and again, show them how your product can solve their problems, too.

That’s where the bottom-line comes in, businessman.

I Could Go On And On…

But I’ve made my point. Content marketing isn’t “just content.”

It’s about finding out who your audience—potential customers—wants to become, and empowering them to be just that, while at the same time capturing and holding their attention in a media-saturated world.

It’s about building your brand narrative around that—becoming the champion for your audience—and in so doing so, creating a loyal community that pushes on ahead of you.

Content marketing IS marketing.

Images from FlickrPexelsBuffer


It’s been a roller-coaster year of sorts for me since graduation midway last year. Since then, I’ve undergone 4 (full-time) job changes within a window of 11 months. Yes, that averages to about a new job every 2.75 months – I am the very epitome of the millennial’s struggle to find purpose, passion, and autonomy in the economy today.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a slew of clients in my freelance writing career in the meantime that keep me afloat.

I have learnt a lot in these tumultuous months, though. I have seen the best and worst of people in the tech and marketing industries, but have emerged on the other side relatively unscathed, though perhaps with a stronger sense of skepticism. Still, there’s nothing like first-hand experience that will force you to grow up in a hurry – and that is exactly what I had to do, grow up.

Making the move into journalism with Tech in Asia will be a whole new challenge for me, and perhaps that’s exactly what I was looking for. I had previously dived head-first into the deep end of the marketing pool in 2013, specializing (maybe prematurely) in content marketing and subsequently taking up role after role, client after client. It’s been an eye-opener, and I certainly still strongly believe in the power of content marketing.

Writing for the news will be a whole new ballgame, I suspect, and  as of today I have already experienced a week of adjustment.

This is not to say that I will be offloading my current clients and assignments. Writing will always be my passion, and I will most definitely continue engaging in other forms of writing alongside news writing moving forward. And, after a process of elimination, I have successfully curated an amazing group of clients that I absolutely love to write for. It is safe to say that I will not be giving them up in the near future.

More importantly, for those who are desperately looking for the right job that they can call their own, don’t be afraid to jump in and test the waters. Sure, you might feel the water is too cold after a while, but don’t feel pressurized to hold out against your better judgment. Find warmer waters. Find purpose, passion, and autonomy wherever they may be – yes, they are out there somewhere.

As for me, I’m currently treading new waters. Let’s see where time and tide takes me to.

(Featured image credit:

Looking for the best content on Freelancing, Writing and Content Marketing? Let me save you the trouble. I will be curating the top posts on Freelancing, Writing and Content Marketing at the end of each week,  for your reading convenience. For more freelance resources, check out my Resources for Freelancers page.



The Path to Mastery on Medium

The case for having no goals in your life: Why it might lead to more success and happiness on Buffer

A Grad’s Guide to Freelancing on Business2Community



7 Invaluable Writing Tips from Stephen King on Policy Mic


Content Marketing

How to Build a Scorecard to Measure Content Marketing Effectiveness on Content Marketing Institute

Optimize Your Content Plan for Google’s In-depth Article Results on Content Marketing Institute

7 Ways Twitter Can Help Juice Your Content Creation on Hubspot