Search engines, and social media have leveled the playing field for anyone with services to sell, products to showcase, or a message to share. Everyone has unlimited access to demand if they can communicate well, and understand the underlying technology of each platform. This is why content marketing works so well. You may not be able to meet your competitors on a level playing field all the time, but by identifying new opportunities, and new angles, first you can take the higher ground.

Most companies struggle to get real results from content marketing. Brands who do succeed at it are able to do so because they make all the aspects of content marketing a part of their product from day 1.

Unlike paid forms of advertisement, content marketing continues to generate results even after publisher has stopped caring. In that way it can take some time for your efforts to get going, or reach that high sunny position. But once they do they never stop producing results.

It’s easy to say “we have a content marketing strategy, we’ve hired a great editorial team” or “we’re looking to disrupt the current media in our space by competing with them, and then delivering a great product and service to consumers”.

To make ANY inroads with content marketing you have to commit entirely to it. Content, for the purposes of this book, refers primarily to written content.

Why written content? Well it's cheaper to create than video, and less time intensive than podcasts, therefore it's easier to test and analyze the results of. For written content to deliver, it's important to understand the following:

1) SEO- how your website should be designed, and structured with a proper taxonomy for search engines to properly index is crucial.

2) Content Management Systems (CMS)- It's crucial that your CMS has some basic SEO functionality. There are tons of platforms out there, so it's all matter of preference, features, flexibility, and what you feel comfortable with

3) Compounding Effects- When you combine all the best practices of digital marketing you can generate mass awareness cheaply. For this to happen you absolutely need a solid foundation grounded in SEO, content distribution, and creative thinking. Without that you'll miss out on the compounding, or growth, effects of content.

I’ve seen so many startups struggle with executing on these very basic elements. Entrepreneurs then blame their failure to grow on SEO, or content marketing. They say "content marketing and SEO is bullshit" when in reality it's their attitude that's bullshit. Like anything worth a damn, success through content requires determination, and persistence. I never really understood how detrimental missing the basics, and succumbing to entrepreneur ADD could be until I joined Thirstie.

Thirstie is a liquor delivery company (think Uber for booze) they’re still around and still kicking-ass. But they made one major error early on that made it nearly impossible to hit their target growth numbers in the time they wanted and could have spelled disaster had they not had deep pockets.

The founding team had identified a real need for recipes and alcohol related content, and were committed to making it a part of their user acquisition strategy. Having spent some time in the space I knew consumers were struggling to find consistent, high-quality alcohol related content. It was clear that Thirstie could really help consumers solve that problem.

The issue was in SEO. Thirstie made a big partnership deal with a food publication to republish their cocktail recipes. Of course, while this was a huge win for the business, search engines disregard duplicate content in making their rankings. According to a 2015 study by Moz, the first page of results in Google search generate 76% of all click through. The duplicate content meant that the food publication gained the SEO credit from Thirstie’s recipes. This killed their rankings and pushed them off of the first page of Google. In all, Thirstie lost over a year’s worth of potential progress by not paying careful attention to the basics of SEO and web design.

Additionally, due to ease of use they chose to use Tumblr to post a ton of content, which sadly meant that Tumblr was able to get the SEO credit when the pictures were referenced across the internet. To complicate matters further,  Thirstie’s website didn’t have individual pages for each recipe which also served to limit SEO exposure.

By choosing a platform out of convenience they were forced to look backwards at their mistakes, instead of looking forward and developing iterative product tweaks that could lead to app store features, and other growth hacks.

The point of this cautionary tale is that content marketing and growth hacking are not buzzwords.  The companies who use them effectively make them a fundamental part of their product, business, and company culture. In these brands, growth and content are part of the vernacular, not just a means to an end.

These companies spend time developing unique features, and services that will help them standout from their competitors. That unique product in combination with compelling content will help them leverage the power of recommendations, and viral loops allowing them to cut through the noise. 

If your website, or blog, isn't properly designed you will lose the ability to convert virality and stickiness into real growth. Too many companies with great ideas fail, not because their idea is terrible, but because they fail to acquire customers fast enough. It’s something so avoidable that it’s disheartening every time I see it happen (it’s why I started DAEP.Media.)

Don’t be Thirstie. Spend time thinking about how content marketing could be a game changer for your company, and commit the resources to finding the right people, platforms, and tools to build a world-class growth engine. Doing so will allow you to accelerate your awareness and acquisition efforts so that content can deliver a return on investment many times over, every year.

Thirstie was, and still is, on the right track- content can be a differentiator for any company willing to believe in its benefits. But that's just the beginning, the real money is in the follow through and that's where most go wrong.

Content marketing, SEO, and growth are more complicated than they first appear. As marketers and entrepreneurs we only gain a sense of the enormity of the challenges faced  when we begin to work through them. However, by understanding the basics of search engines, social media platforms, and how people consume content you can annihilate any of the initial hurdles that handicap growth before they become a real issue.

By making smarter product decision and really understanding your target customer and target audience you won't have to work as hard to acquire customers. They'll work with you, to help you grow faster.