Growth hacking and content marketing go together naturally. Both have grown with the popularity of digital marketing since the GFC. Both are occasionally sneered at as buzzwords. Both are the best option for getting a decent ROI on a very tight marketing budget. And their relationship is symbiotic.
Growth hackers find content delivers the best returns of all digital marketing activity. Content marketers find growth hacking can maximise their return on a small content investment.
What is growth hacking anyway?
Growth hacking is a phrase coined by Sean Ellis in 2010, in a blog post entitled Where are all the growth hackers? In that post, he wrote about the difficulty of finding marketing talent with the right mix of skills to help startup companies grow. This was in the era when products and marketing became completely intertwined. Products like Dropbox and Air B&B were marketed by customers as a normal part of the process of using them.
A growth hacker, he wrote, is only interested in growth. Not just growth in audience numbers, but growth of conversions. He or she adopts a mindset of constantly testing and tweaking until a strategy begins to stop working.
If this all sounds a bit Silicon-Valley-esque, that’s because it is. Growth hacking is only possible because of the rich amount of real-time data we can get from digital marketing tools. You can know on a day-by-day basis how well your marketing is working.
With traditional marketing, you find something that works and keep doing it forever. With growth hacking, you tweak something to make it work more, then stop and try something else.
Fail early and fail often
In a twisted kind of way, failing is your goal with growth hacking. By trying new things with an expectation of failure, you are free to find success where you don’t expect it. You can’t take that approach if you are building a multi-million dollar above-the-line campaign for some enterprise. With that kind of money at stake, you have to be conservative. You can’t afford to fail.
This approach does lend itself to content marketing. Because to the eternal frustration of some, companies are still dipping their toes into the practice, rather than going “all in”. Content marketing budgets are smaller, so there’s less to lose.
Adapting growth hacking to content marketing
Even with the most limited content marketing budget, you can still apply growth hacking concepts to your activity. Let’s say your budget is $4,500 for the whole year. It’s nothing. It’s just enough to get you a basic subscription to a marketing automation service like HubSpot or InfusionSoft. You’ll have enough money left over to boost one Facebook post per month. You are doing all the content production yourself.
The first thing to do is gather all the free tools you can. Google Docs and Sheets are a must, as is Analytics and Search Console. Many of the popular keyword planner tools like SEMRush, Keyword Finder and Moz have basic free versions which can help in a limited way. It’s also worth hunting down free CRM software. You can keep your CRM in a Google Sheet, but a dedicated CRM app will make it neater and easier. It’s also worth installing share buttons on your website to track shares of your content.
You’ll be limited by your budget when it comes to comparing yourself to competitors. But you have plenty of options for testing and optimising your own content.
How you find the growth hacks for your own content
Once you’ve gathered your tools, identified your first 50 keywords and written out your strategy, you can start testing. Before you do it, remember that no-one except you reads every blog post on your website. No-one.
So it is safe to run two posts that are identical except for one element (like a headline, or a picture, for example). You will not get a duplicate content penalty from Google unless you leave your tests running forever. Even then, Google is looking for massive amounts of duplicate content. Not a single article. And if worse comes to worse and you get a warning through your Search Console dashboard, just stop that test and take one copy of the article down.
Run one test per time per article. Promote every variation at the same time on social media. Record what’s happening. Stop after a week—most traffic to a new piece of content will come in the first few days anyway.
On page elements you can run A/B tests on include:
- Your images: do illustrations get a better response than photos, or vice versa?
- Your headlines: Do different trigger words work better than others?
Promotional elements you can test include calls-to-action, email subject lines and social media platforms.
Final bonus tip
Always produce your bottom-of-the-funnel content first. This idea makes some content marketers shudder, because it’s so sales-oriented. But remember, you’re not testing the popularity of your content. You’re trying to test what gets the best results.
If you start with your awareness, or top-of-the-funnel content, you aren’t giving people journey to go on. Or if you do, it’s not a journey to your product. Even though your product-oriented content will not resonate with many people at first, it creates a base for people to come to in the future.
And it gives you some data to judge the relative effectiveness of your awareness and conversion content later on down the line.