BLACKSHIP ONE PRESENTS…
The 6 Growth Hacks We Used To Scale Our Content Marketing Agency
Tired of the same content marketing growth lists? Learn about the growth strategies we use to scale our content marketing agency. A list of things you’ve never tried before.
The Strategies we Use to Scale Our Content Marketing Agency
In a previous post I wrote about how I didn’t ever intend to build a company that would sell content marketing services. In fact, in that post I wrote about how I thought the idea of scaling companies outside of our own portfolio was a terrible idea.
Even though I was great at growth (especially early-stage organic growth), those around me told me that I should keep my rapid scaling superpower for myself and use it for my own benefit, not the benefit of others.
I eventually ended up taking the plunge, but it wasn’t an easy decision. In this post I want to talk you about numerous techniques that I used to scale our own internal websites, and how I ended up building an agency framework that would allow me to sell growth services to outside companies.
However, before I talk about those techniques, I first want to tell you the story about how these techniques were developed.
The truth was, that that I was VERY hesitant to offer growth services to companies that I didn’t have any stake in. Organic growth hard and requires much more time to bear fruit than other growth channels, such as PPC for example, which can be hit or miss, but requires much less time to see results (good or bad).
However, with organic growth, my efforts were not hit or miss. I had a 100% hit rate, and therefore I’ve always doubled down on this growth channel.
When people would asked me to manage their growth campaigns I would ALWAYS so no.
Let me explain why.
At the time, the narrative I had in my head went something like this:
Growth is hard. Even though I’m good at it, I don’t find it easy. I find virtually all other business activities from design and software development to accounting and team building one hundred times easier.
With many non-growth related activities, there is a somewhat linear process you need to follow and most of the decisions fall under your realm of control.
Organic growth on the other hand is less in your control. You’re beholden to Google’s algorithm and you have less control over the process in general.
The same is true for content distribution, sometimes a few lucky shares at a velocity that satisfies the needs of a post prioritization algorithm is all it takes to make your post go viral, but you’re not guaranteed those first few lucky shares. Here for example, we got over 10,000 organic page views and hundreds of engagements on a LinkedIn post we published recently.
However, getting this level of engagement isn’t easy. You don’t control when influencers are online, you don’t control the half-life of a social media post and there are countless other growth activities, which at least to some degree, have an element of luck baked into them. You can overcome this element of luck, by playing the volume game, but in general, the process is exhausting.
In this example, we scaled another project we own from zero to over 5000 users and over 10,000 page views in one month. Again, this is not easy to do.
Therefore, even though I was good at growth, it required 100% of my attention on one single product at a time. Even if I wanted to, using my superpower for more than myself seemed impossible.
Also, around this time, I looked around at other agencies and I read a lot of agency reviews.
I noticed that there seemed to be an inherent friction baked into the agency model. Agencies are often trying to protect pretty small margins and clients always want more.
In the end, when I ended up building my agency (Blackship.One), I did so by building it to help me scale my own internal portfolio of projects first. My external projects would pay the price my agency charges (full price) and in return I would expect my agency to produce a favorable ROI based on that payment.
By taking this approach I solved the client / agency alignment issue because I was now both client and agency at the same time. I’m able to see both points of view because I experience what it’s like to be both buyer and seller at the same time.
The “opportunity cost” of running a content marketing agency
Another thing I was concerned about when starting my content marketing agency was that the opportunity cost of having an agency would far outstrip the benefit.
I was worried that if I grew other people’s websites, that would mean I wasn’t growing my own. An hour spent on building a client’s site (for a one time fixed price), would mean one hour less growing my own portfolio of projects (which results in passive income for many years).
It didn’t seem worth it to trade being an entrepreneur to become a freelancer. From every angle I examined the situation from, it seemed like ten steps in the wrong direction.
That said, even though it didn’t seem practical, I loved the idea of having a content marketing agency because I was good at organic growth and I knew people would pay for me the value I could provide.
Making the transition into a content marketing agency.
As an entrepreneur I know that my job is to solve problems and provide value. The better I do at this, the more successful I will be.
I saw growth, both for myself and for those around me, as a major pain point. However, unlike many around me, I was really good at overcoming this obstacle. I was able to overcome these obstacles through the use of exceptional content, great strategy and a sprinkle of patience.
Without exception content has driven 80%+ of all of my projects growth. Sometimes it’s 100%.
Content has changed my life in every imaginable way. Content marketing has paid for everything from the pants I wear, to the computer I write this blog post on, to my education, to my kids education to my travels around the world. Content marketing even bought me a liveaboard sailboat!
Now I needed to do it for other people
All of my business ideas come from the problems I have or that the people around me have had.
This pool of problems has been a huge asset for me. As an entrepreneur, my job is to sort through this pool of problems, find the biggest ones that I feel most passionate about, and capable of solving, and then get to work developing products and services to fix those problems.
However, every time I pulled the growth issue out of this basket of problems, I looked at it and put it back in the basket. I love the subject, I’m great at it and I’ve already solved the problem for myself. But I would always throw it back in the basket and pick something else out because of the reasons I touched on above (i.e. opportunity costs, trading time for money, small margins, a lot of really hard unscalable work that depends on a bit of luck etc).
Also, at the risk of sounding egotistical, I also just felt that all of my success in the world of organic content growth was due to the person who I was and how my mind worked. I couldn’t package or outsource my way of thinking. If friends wanted help with growth, I would block out a half day, sit down with them for free, and hash out a plan. But I wanted no part in the day to day activities. I had my own ideas to grow.
During one of these meetings, I had a friend challenge me about how much of my process was dependent on me and how much was dependent on my systems.
After doing some experimentation and outsourcing some work that previously I thought would be un-outsourcable, I found that my ideas worked without me personally being involved.
I realized that much of my skill was in system design and content strategy. To put it bluntly, I am less special than I thought I was. That’s not to undermine what I do bring to the table (which I do believe is a lot), but it is to stay that most of what I do can be systematized.
From this point on, I focused on building and optimizing these systems. I worked day to night developing a comprehensive growth playbook that I could use to scale my own personal portfolio of projects.
The big benefit to me, was that if I could systemize the process, I could build more than one project at once. The unintended consequence of building this content marketing playbook, and the internal systems required to make it function properly, was that now I could offer systems as a done-for-you content marketing service.
However, I wanted to continue to test the systems I was building on my own web properties (partially for selfish reasons, but also to re-verify that it works). The first project I launched under the new playbook did exceptionally well.
Using the strategy outlined in our content marketing playbook we scaled our first test site from roughly 6000 page views per month to over 168,000 organic page views in around 6 months. We were averaging a 96% MoM growth rate.
Beyond content strategy, blog post scheduling and writing a handful of interviews for the blog, I personally had nothing to do with this growth. My team gets 100% of the credit.
My content marketing agency was now ready to launch
For partially selfish reasons I was forced to build systems that wouldn’t be so dependent on me.
Because we own a small but growing portfolio of projects, I needed to create systems that were scalable and would work regardless of my involvement.
An unintended consequence of this, was that I now had inadvertently designed the structured processes required to run a content marketing agency.
I didn’t design these systems for other people (I designed them for myself), but now for the first time in my career as an entrepreneur, I had the proven framework I needed to be able to start an agency.
6 Content marketing growth hacks we use to scale web properties.
People often ask me, “if you had to just double down on one growth activity what would it be”? To be honest, providing just one organic activity over-simplifies the process, and in fact can do more damage than good.
For example, producing bottom of the funnel (BOFU) content is a big driver of conversions. However, BOFU content alone usually doesn’t perform well in organic search. BOFU content needs to be supported by a well planned content hierarchy were you carefully pre-plan content categories and topic clusters.
So let me jump in and tell you the 6 most important content marketing ideas, strategies and processes we use at Blackship.One to scale websites.
1. A strong bias towards doing
First, at our agency, we have a bias towards “doing”. I love strategizing, planning and doing creative thinking work. But you need to put a limit on it.
I’ve used this content planning framework for a while now and I love it because it gives me and my team ample time to flex our creative muscles and come up with winning ideas, but every activity has a time limit. This means there is no time for banter, vague answers or indecision. When the timer hits zero, you move on to the next stage in the process. This forces the best ideas out quickly.
I find in general, a lot of people have a research bias. They like thinking about what they want to do, but when it comes time to actually pulling up their sleeves and getting in the trenches to do the grunt work, most people look for an excuse to get back to the planning table.
I’ve always had a bias towards action. When building Blackship.One I built a bias towards action into all of our internal systems. Having efficient systems allowed us to create over 100 pieces of content our first month in business.
2. System design
Within each content marketing campaign, we manage thousands of microscopic activities from title testing to image optimization. All of these activities are contained within well organized SOPs.
Similarly, each individual SOP is organized within a series of nested nodes. This is a level of complexity that our clients will never see, but it helps ensure we deliver efficiently on our content marketing growth promises.
Here is an example of an SOP we use when we have to collect expert quotes for some of the content we create.
Our team can click on any of these links to be brought to an SOP page with a detailed explaination of how to perform the task.
We have detailed content marketing SOPs for everything. One of the most important SOPs we have is an SOP which helps us create an outline for each piece of content we produce.
Many of the points contained within this SOP are related to marketing in some way. For example, because we study engagement metrics such as scroll depth, bounce rate and time on page, we might instruct a writer to include a reference to a gated piece of content above the fold.
This is just one example, but essentially our writer will be given a checklist of 50 + requirements that a piece of content needs to meet in order to be successful.
Essentially, we’ve found that writers tend not to be the best marketers, and marketers tend not to be the best writers. Therefore, our marketers act as coaches. This way, when the players (writers) walk onto the field, they have the tools necessary to win.
With our content marketing processes, nothing is accidental. We plan every detail. For example:
- We want multiple internal links placed within the article to strategically spread link equity around.
- We test titles.
- We position CTAs to gated content at optimized places within the page.
- We want to know the volume and competitiveness of each keyword we’re targeting.
- We need to know, best match, close match, outlier and LSI keywords.
- We also plan SEO optimized images (image size, alt tags, image descriptions etc).
- We also add videos to many of our posts to improve the page’s engagement metrics.
- We also use content marketing AI tools (such as MarketMuse), to compare our content quality to the content quality of the top ranking sites for our desired keyword.
In short, no detail is too small for our team to consider. The more data we have, the more sure we can be that we’ll win.
However, the SOPs we’re looking at here, are our systems at a really zoomed in level. If we zoom out a bit, we’ll see the node that this SOP is part of. If we zoom out further, we’ll see the sequence of nodes that, when connected, make up an entire process.
The reason why this structure of SOPs has proven to be important for our own growth is because it allows us to identify any bottlenecks within our systems and put out fires quickly when we have them.
For example, imagine we had 3 clients come to us and say “hey guys, there are some formatting mistakes on the articles you published on our website”. We could then look at our editing and publishing nodes and corresponding SOPs to see where a problem might have arisen.
Was the error caused by a hiring mistake? Are we not paying enough for good editors? Are we not training our editors properly? Or is it a technology issue? For example, maybe different browsers or CMSs handle the transfer of content from the document editor into the CMS differently. So if that’s the case, we need to update our SOPs to include a troubleshooting section to solve that issue. Once we’ve identified the problem and fixed it, the problem will (almost) never pop its head up again.
However, we don’t just use these systems to put out fires and open up productivity bottlenecks. We also use them to optimize growth.
For example, if a client is currently growing at 25% MoM, I might ask the team “what would you change within our systems to attempt to get this client to 50% MoM growth”?
In my experience having these systems pre-designed is really helpful, because rather than our team looking at the problem of growth like a really big abstract problem, they instead approach the problem as if they are trying to optimize a machine or solve a math problem.
By having our systems segmented, they can zero in on one system and attempt to optimize it.
3. A heavy focus on BOFU content multipliers
I’m going to create an entire post dedicated to the topic of BOFU content multipliers, but essentially, if you’ve spent as much time in website traffic analytics programs as I have, you’ll have undoubtedly seen a piece of content in your inventory that drives huge amounts of traffic but doesn’t show up on the radar within attribution models. These pieces of content will also often have very low (or zero) page value.
At Blackship.One we have a strong preference for the production of BOFU, or “bottom of the funnel” content. The production of this type of content produces tangible business results. As I outline in this post, I’ve always approached the selection of content topics, much like Warren Buffett picks stocks.
The problem with BOFU content is it’s often the smallest content category.
When you build out your keyword lists, BOFU content will almost always be your smallest content type. It’s quite common to literally scratch the bottom of this pool of web searches with very little content. However, it’s this content which will drive the lion’s share of your revenue.
BOFU multipliers are simply pieces of content which give you more chances of ranking in organic search for your desired keywords. This piece of content you’re reading right now is an example of a BOFU multiplier.
We want to rank for the search term “content marketing agency” and we don’t only want our homepage running in that race. Therefore, we use different content types to increase the probability that we’ll rank for that term.
You could use content types like roundups, data posts, interviews, how-to guides, infographics, price comparisons, podcasts, listicles and even guest posts to tackle the same keyword from different angles. This will improve your chances of ranking and potentially result in your website having multiple pieces of content rank for the same keyword.
Because these pages produce a disproportionate amount of sales, the ROI from your content marketing activities will improve dramatically once you start investing in BOFU multipliers.
4. Improvement of support content’s efficiency (building “trojan horses”)
As mentioned earlier, BOFU content doesn’t perform very well on its own. It needs to be supported by high-end MOFU or TOFU content to do well. We call this content “support content“.
Content that’s closer to the top of the funnel will have its own goals.
At a minimum top of the funnel content will help:
1. Funnel link equity to more valuable pages (if it earns high quality links).
2. Allow you to pixel and re-target visitors later on.
However, we need to focus on squeezing as much value from these pages as possible. Many people try to squeeze more value by enticing people into their lead magnet. This is a great idea, but still, you’re often dealing with low single digit opt-in conversion rates.
We always ask ourselves “what will this piece of content do to help me get closer to my goal?”
If the goal is opt-ins, we need to ask ourselves how we optimize our opt-in rate.
If the goal is retargeting, we need to improve our retargeting ROI.
If the posts has very little buying intent and the content has been designed to act as a link magnet to funnel link equity to more important commercial pages, we need to ask ourselves if the content type is the optimal content type for the job.
We’ve found that some content types outperform others by 100X. For example, if funneling link equity is your goal, original research and data far outperforms most “how-to” articles.
The effectiveness of the support content (which is almost always top of the funnel content), will have a huge impact on the success of your BOFU sales pages.
By improving the effectiveness of the support pages, you’ll rank your BOFU pages MUCH quicker in organic search.
5. Improving support to sales content ratio
Related to the point above, we also try to improve the ratio of support to sales content we’re creating. Generally speaking, the more focus you can put on BOFU content, the better.
Some websites might need an army of 50 support pages to boost a single BOFU post to the top of search (a ratio of 50:1). Others might need only 3 to 5.
By reducing the amount of support content you need, you can focus more on the production of sales related content.
However, improving this ratio is only possible if you’ve improved the efficiency of the support content (outlined in step 4 above). This is why we generally invest in the production of link magnets during the second stage of our content strategy.
First, we position our BOFU pages, when we create strategic link magnets, which are often more expensive and time consuming to produce, but will make your content marketing efforts 10X easier each subsequent month.
6. CRO optimized content templates
Every piece of content we create has a clearly defined goal. This allows us to judge the performance of that particular piece of content.
For example, at our content marketing agency, all of our BOFU content is supported by videos. Take a peek at our homepage for instance:
Different content types are designed to perform different tasks.
As mentioned above, link magnets generally won’t have as high of a page value as a piece of BOFU content. But page value is not the goal of a link magnet. Therefore, we’ll judge a link magnet based on the number of links it naturally earns each month, where we might judge a piece of BOFU content by how much revenue it generates.
Once we know the goal of a piece of content, we can optimize it to achieve that goal.
This is how we approach the optimization of each piece of content we create.
Squeezing better performance out of existing content, or having a template with built-in optimization allows us to 10X growth.
It’s about working smarter, not harder.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on how I went about getting our content marketing agency off the ground.
If you’re looking to work with one of the best organic growth teams on the internet, reach out to us today and schedule a free 45 minute consultation to learn more about how we can help you scale your company.
Thanks for stopping by today!
We Help You Grow Through Content
Blackship.one is a content marketing agency that helps hi-tech brands grow through the use of our organic growth playbook. We help with content planning, strategy, writing, publishing and SEO optimization. If you want to learn more about how we scaled a recent project to over 160,000 organic page views / month in 6 months, watch the video to the right. 🤝