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Content Marketing Is a Quantity Game – Exclusive with Larry Kim

WordStream attracts millions of readers and subscribers every month. Larry Kim, CEO and Founder, credits content marketing for much of that growth.

Care to know Larry’s recipe for building huge audiences on different channels and creating massively popular content that drives revenue?  Read on.

How did you get into writing?

I’ve always had a special ability to reverse engineer things. I deconstruct ideas into their atomic parts. It’s a boyish kind of desire to see if it can be done or not, you know? I’ll challenge myself: I wonder if we could get on TV if we do this PR stunt? It’s almost like a dare.

The same applies to writing. I would read and study the works of others and, deconstruct the elements that I thought made them great, and apply that to my own work.

You say you learned from other writers, but you’re also well known for being different than most other content marketers out there.

Content marketers are wonderful people, but they tend to overestimate the originality of their ideas. I try to break out of the “industry” bubble and originate new research as opposed to just curating other people’s stuff. I don’t waste time publishing my findings if the results are along the lines of the status quo.

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As a result, 80% of people who read my stuff love it, but the old guard will say “No, that’s nonsense. The old way is the correct way.”

Making bold claims takes nerve. But recycling “good old” ideas will lead you nowhere.

But most businesses need to outsource writing, and it’s hard to rely on freelancers to come up with brilliant, contrarian ideas.

You’re right; you can’t rely on a freelancer to originate a new insight. They should and will keep any fantastic, original ideas to themselves.

So that leads to a problem: thought leadership is inherently unscalable because only a small number of people have the knowledge and ability to create it. So, you have to change the model a little bit.

Have your internal team come up with the brilliant insights, and then have your freelancers repurpose and repackage those ideas to get the quantity you need.

What about the dilemma of balancing thought leadership and SEO? Those brilliant, new ideas probably don’t have a lot of search volume. 

In the early days of WordStream, we mapped out a taxonomy of tens of thousands of keywords that we thought were relevant to our company.

And we created content around those groups of keywords. Today, our blog does millions of views per month from organic search, which proves that this approach works.

And we created content around those groups of keywords. Today, our blog does millions of views per month from organic search, which proves that this approach works.

But at this point, we’ve tapped out most of those high-volume, competitive terms. So we’ve been shifting from covering the taxonomy to more of a thought leadership model.

And for that, you need really catchy ideas that spread over social media. We aim for the unicorn posts that will have +12% engagement rates, and where our readers will be like “whoa, that’s an amazing idea!” The unicorns receive a lot of citations, links, peer comments, shares, views and often convert well, too.

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Amazing Larry Kim on Unicorn pic by Intuitive Digital

And for that, you need really catchy ideas that spread over social media. We aim for the unicorn posts that will have +12% engagement rates, and where our readers will be like “whoa, that’s an amazing idea!” The unicorns receive a lot of citations, links, peer comments, shares, views and often convert well, too.

Those posts create brand affinity, which we know has a huge impact on conversions and click-through rates.

In organic search results, there’s maybe a 25% click-through rate for the first search result. But if there’s strong brand affinity, that click-through rate might be closer to 40% or even 50%.

You talk a lot about how important repurposing content is. Do you repurpose everything?

The biggest mistake people make with repurposing is to repurpose content that is garbage in the first place. A post that went nowhere on your own blog six months ago isn’t likely to have any other outcome when repurposed.

While most of the content marketers out there are saying “it’s quality over quantity,” I stick to my contrarian belief that you can’t just order up two quality pieces of content. “Quality” is determined by your audience, not by your biased opinion of your own work. Did your piece achieve unusually remarkable results in terms whatever objective you had for it: views, engagement rates, social shares, SEO rankings, conversion rate (etc.)?

In reality, only 1 out of 10 or 1 out of 20 of my posts do remarkably well in one or more of these objectives. So you actually need the quantity to find the quality.

If you think that all 10 of your 10 posts will do remarkably well, you haven’t been doing content marketing for very long or you’re a bit delusional about the quality of your own content. There’s going to be home runs and strikeouts (or, unicorns and donkeys as I call them).

Here’s a quick blueprint for you:

  • Accept that 1 out of 10 or 1 out of 20 of your pieces will do remarkably well. The rest are unremarkable donkeys.
  • When you find that one magical unicorn-quality piece, don’t call it a day. Start turning it into unicorn babies and cloning the idea into 20 new pieces, not just one.

 

Unicorn babies? Go on…

What I mean is, you take the initial idea of the unicorn article and repurpose it into 20 more pieces – AKA unicorn babies — you de-risk content creation as these derivative pieces will also do well.

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Turn that successful piece into videos, contributed articles, infographics, webinars, conference presentations, or paying to promote it, and so on. Content repurposing should be a way of “doubling down” on your unicorns. Repurposing donkeys just yields even more donkeys, which isn’t that useful.

Turn that successful piece into videos, contributed articles, infographics, webinars, conference presentations, or paying to promote it, and so on. Content repurposing should be a way of “doubling down” on your unicorns. Repurposing donkeys just yields even more donkeys, which isn’t that useful.

You have to think about quantity – I love Steve Rayson’s BuzzSumo article on high volume publishing, if you’re looking for more reading.

How do you think about your content competitors? Do they figure into your strategy?

It absolutely plays a huge role in strategy. When I really started blogging – which was just 3 or 4 years ago — I did an in-depth analysis of the industry to see what were the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the other people who are blogging about my topic.

When I really started blogging, I did an in-depth analysis of the industry to see what were the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the other people who are blogging about my topic.

I would find one blogger who was really in the weeds – great insights but their writing wasn’t very engaging. Or I’d find another person who was a great writer, but they didn’t take definitive stances on topics. He/she waffled. I also found an abundance of people making bold claims without backing up their arguments with data. They were constantly saying “Google says…” instead of really proving it out via their own experiments.

All these were opportunities.

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I also studied successful content marketers in my industry. What made their content promotion so strong? It might be their email lists, or their social channels, or a powerful spokesperson.

Like I said, I reverse-engineer. My whole content strategy came from replicating the strengths of different content “competitors” and filling in their weaknesses.

Want more awesome Larry Kim? Watch this webinar, where he reveals his results from 7 unusual SEO experiments! Watch now.

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