BLACKSHIP ONE PRESENTS…
Woah. Our Content Marketing Service Hit 96% Avg MoM Growth
In this case study we’re going to look at how we achieved an monthly growth rate of 96%. In this post, we’ll explain how we did it.
A Content Marketing Service Focused on The Hyper-Acceleration of Website Traffic
Many years ago (20 to be exact), I started a small eLearning company and quickly grew that company by creating high-end content that ranked well in Google. At the time I had no idea what I was doing. I was throwing darts at the board, so to speak, to see what stuck. I tried paid ads, affiliate marketing, content marketing and I was even running around campus putting up posters around my University with the URL to my eLearning website.
At the time, I was only one person. I know that I couldn’t spread myself too thin. If the time I was spending postering around campus was better spent writing online content, then I should spend my energies there instead.
However, when I first started I had to cast a wide net to see what worked and what didn’t. A couple of months into my first growth campaign the results came in. I had enough data to make a decision.
My content marketing efforts were beating my paid ads efforts by 50:1. My affiliates were mostly low-end partners taking up my time and not producing much in the way of results. Lastly, my postering work barely registered on the radar. At that point I doubled down on blogging . Less than a year later I quit my job and paid my way through school with the profits generated through my content marketing efforts.
At this point I became obsessed with how Google’s algorithm worked and I wanted to know how to create content that would rank in the #1 spot.
During these early years I made many mistakes. One of the biggest early mistakes I made was being lured in by high volume seemingly attractive looking keywords. I would invest months of my time ranking my pages in the top of organic results only to find out later that it had no impact on my sales. Because these pages had low buying intent, they didn’t register on any attribution models and essentially had zero page value. Many of my early victories were actually failures in disguise. Once I realized this I got to work sorting through my data. At that point, I had enough traffic to separate my content into different piles: gold, bronze, stones. As a team of one, I knew time wasn’t one my side. I couldn’t afford to be inefficient with my time. I needed more gold and less stones.
The problem was that I was just throwing darts at the board. Some of the darts were sticking, others… well… not so much. In aggregate, this worked, but I knew my approach needed refining. I couldn’t keep pumping out content knowing that 1 in 10 would be a home run. It was hard to create high-end content so I didn’t want to adopt the mentality that my winners would more than make up for my losers. I knew, that if I could probably deconstruct my winners, I would realize they didn’t win through luck. There must be something inherent in the content that can be studied and learned. If I could figure out what those parts of the puzzle were, I could create a content model. If I could create a model, I could duplicate my approach and apply my learnings to other content in my inventory. And I knew, that if I could do that, I could scale my business ten times faster. I got to work trying to find systems to model. I looked in strange places. I looked for inspiration from military planners and I even looked to model my content marketing strategies after investment strategies.
I got to work trying to find out how to make the content production process more efficient. I created a document at the time which I called “the anatomy of a winning blog post”. Today, there are content marketing AI tools which do a lot of this type of work for you, but back then nothing like that existed. So I was doing everything manually. I was doing this because I was inspired by Warren Buffett’s approach to investing and I knew I could improve the compounding performance of my content if I could write more winners. If I wanted more impressive compounding growth, I needed to design systems that would allow me to improve my hit rate.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my early obsession with organic growth was the birth of what would later become a small online business empire which includes many different web properties (including Blackship.One, the content marketing service agency that I run today).
I bring all of this up, because Blackship.One, unlike many other content marketing agencies out there, was not born out of a desire to own an agency or to solve a common pain point amongst founders. No, instead Blackship.One was born out of a need for me to systemitize my own internal processes for personal gain.
I needed to create a formal content framework that would ensure I wasn’t reinventing the wheel each time wrote a piece of content. This framework would evolve into a detailed playbook with countless SOPs that would virtually gaurentee my content’s placement in the top of organic search.
I didn’t know i at the time, but this framework would also be widely sought after by other founders looking to model their own organic growth based on what they saw me doing.
At first, I did NOT want to offer content marketing services
Truth be told, I never planned on running a content marketing service. People who would see my ability to grow would tell me that I needed to start an agency to help others do the same. However, I couldn’t get it out of my head that the opportunity cost was just too big. If I was focusing on growing a client’s website and making them money, that would mean I’m not doing it for myself. It sounded like I would need to trade in being an entrepreneur so I could be a freelancer that people would pay by the hour. I could think of very few things I wanted less than that.
I always run my ideas, or suggestions people give me by my business partner. When I brought up the idea of starting a content agency he shot down the idea immediately saying:
“It’s not a scalable idea and I don’t see the value in building other people’s companies for a one time fee, when you can do the same for our own projects that will bring us lifetime value.”
He also argued that the service business is really hard and that there exists an inherent friction between a client’s needs and an agency’s ability. He also mentioned that even if we could systemize everything that I was currently doing, why wouldn’t we just use the systems on our own projects. Why sell content marketing services at a fraction of the value it’s worth?
It all sounded like sage advice, so I kept on building processes for our own internal use and slowly started to build a small empire of online businesses. As my systems become more refined, we were able to scale quicker.
Around this time I started to sell off some projects in the portfolio
Years passed and saw a big hurdle for one of the websites that I ran. Competitors came into the market (Udemy, Lynda and a few other big players) and I didn’t have the energy to do the necessary upgrades on the platform to keep it competitive. I decided to sell it. It wasn’t a huge sale, but it put $250,000 in my pocket that year.
However, it was the buyer of my website, who again brought up the fact that I needed to find a way to package my growth framework to allow others to benefit from it. Obviously, when selling a website, the buyer will do all of the necessary due dilligence and this includes pouring over years of traffic analytics data. when I opened up my website traffic data, the buyer saw my (MoM) growth rate and was astonished.
The buyer who ended up winning the auction didn’t mind having to pivot to fight off the competition. Strategy and development was his strength. But growth was his weakness.
It was my conversations with this buyer that changed my mind about starting a content marketing agency and offering organic growth as a service.
He told me that I couldn’t ignore the value I was creating. At the end of the day this is what being an entrepreneur is about. It’s about the creation and transfer of value. He forced me to think about my processes at a deeper level, as if these processes were another product that I was building.
Even though I already had the beginning of a growth playbook, it wasn’t perfectly linear. I would approach growth a little differently each time we added a new product to the portfolio. He challenged me to simplify the process and not to focus so much on the differences within my systems, but instead to find the similarities. He also challenged me to cut unnecessary systems (some of my systems were shockingly complex) and do away with any custom systems that were not transferable between projects. In a nutshell, he challenged me to find the common themes that made all of my growth campaigns a success.
So for my next project, I started documenting, and simplifying my entire growth and content scaling process. I still wasn’t entirely convinced it was a good idea to offer it as a service to other people, but I went through the steps anyway. I also needed to figure out how much my content marketing process was dependent on me and how much of the value comes from my processes.
I think I always assumed it was the former, but if I could prove it was the later, then the idea of offering a content marketing service wouldn’t be off the table.
So for the next project I built I hired a team of developers to build the product and a small team of writers to help me build out my initial inventory of content. During the early months, I monitored the performance of their content vs my content and I found that growth performance was equal.
That said, I found that the writers couldn’t see the same opportunities as me. They were not as businesslike and strategic in their thinking. Which is totally understandable. Most writers don’t think about things like buying intent, close match keywords, LSI keywords, attribution models, ROI, internal linking structures, linkbait and so on.
In order to produce results, they needed to have a very clear framework and set of SOPs to work from. Therefore, at this time I started building out these systems and tried to ensure that the systems wouldn’t only work on this one web property (which was in the FinTech space), but also on other niche sites as well. I needed to modify my systems so that they were not customized and relevant only to one property. I needed a more general framework… and most importantly, I needed this framework to retain the power and effectiveness of my previous frameworks. Not an easy task.
However, in the end I did it. we scaled this web property from 6000 page views / month to over 168,000 page views / month in only 6 months. Our average MoM growth was 96% with a monthly growth range of between 32% – 155%.
Content marketing service built around a product design framework
During this time I was testing many different content development and optimization frameworks when creating the V1 of our content marketing service. What I ended up sticking with, was a modified version of the design sprint, which was developed be Jake Knapp when he worked at Google Ventures. But rather than using this framework to develop products (which it’s normally used for), I modified it to be more relevant to our needs.
Now, with all of these systems in place, I had what felt like, the best content marketing framework that I was capable of designing. I was still responsible for steering the ship, but my team was responsible for doing the actual rowing. And it’s not that I don’t like rowing, I do, it’s just that my time is better spent on other activities. And best of all, I proved it worked by scaling a website to 168,000 organic page views / month in 6 months.
Don’t overcomplicate the process
When I was creating the SOPs for my team, I realized how many thousands of little things go through my mind in order to execute on a content marketing growth plan properly. To make matters more challenging, many parts of the process are creative, subjective or sometimes even abstract and therefore hard to create systems around.
My first round of SOPs were quite complex and hard for my team to execute on. There would be little fires burning in different parts of the process. To remedy the situation I would just add more steps within an SOP to attempt to make the systems clearer. However, in most cases I just ended up complicating thins more.
My biggest mistake during this phase was assuming my team were unicorns. It’s a rookie mistake, but I wanted them doing research, planning around ROI, creating tier-one content, optimizing the pages for search engines and doing the graphic design work each post required.
As an entrepreneur I wear many hats and I wanted to keep my team small by forcing them to wear many hats as well. My assumption was that I was saving myself a headache of having to hire more people. But my assumption was holding me back. It wasn’t until I hired people to fit very narrow roles that my systems started to shed their complexity and I had fewer fires to put out.
That said, there is still a certain complexity within the content marketing service we sell to clients. However, we deal with it by keeping the complexity hidden within backend systems that the client won’t ever have to interface with.
As a founder myself, I love systems design and I find excitement in knowing how systems work. However, what I’ve found over the years working with clients, is that they appreciate your knowledge of the system, but they don’t care to see under the hood.
When clients come to us at Blackship.One they generally want the process to be as hands-off and easy for them as possible.
Sometimes clients will see the complexity during a content strategy session, but after those sessions are over, and ideas are in our hands. From the client’s perspective, we want the process to be a simple four step process. The four basic steps are:
Strategy and analysis (client is involved only in this step)
However, within each of these systems, there are many nested sub-systems often with hundreds of bullet points or checklists within the individual SOPs. We make it our goal to ensure the client doesn’t feel or experience any of this complexity.
Complex back-end systems need to be perfectly optimized
Even though clients aren’t overly excited to dive into our systems, in my opinion, they are one of our biggest drivers of growth. Our internal business processes are huge drivers of value for both our content marketing agency, as well as our client’s brands.
Today, this is probably where I spend the majority of my time. This is also the area where I think my contribution is most valuable.
Clients expect content marketing to produce tangible business results
Let me give you an example of a backend system we’re constantly optimizing. When we’re working on a client’s content marketing campaign we know what their expectations are. Their expectations are no different than my expectations as a founder. I want my content to help me generate new leads and sales. Our clients want the exact same thing.
Therefore, by reverse engineering a buyer’s journey through a website I can identify the most impactful content touch points. In my experience, this is WAY less complicated than most online articles on the subject make it appear.
When I look into the analytics accounts for our own projects or our client’s brands I often see buyers make purchase decisions relatively quickly after visiting only a few high-impact touch points.
Therefore, one of the experiments we’ve been running lately is about improving our support page to sales page production ratio. Support pages are essentially pages that get the assist and can be indirectly credited with helping your site make a sale. However, sales pages (often homepages, features pages, product pages, service pages), are the pages that actually score the goal.
Very rarely will your blog post about “10 ways to do ____” count towards many sales. In Google analytics you can look at your page value metric to see this reality play out. Google monitors a visitor’s session flow and weighs the value of a page based on its contribution to your end goal.
However, looking at these metrics through the wrong lens could be misleading and lead you to make the wrong decision. If those low page value blog posts are the posts responsible for earning the most links for your domain, it’s those pages which are doing the best job of funneling link equity to your more valuable commercial pages.
Therefore, to stop production of that type of content will indirectly hurt your product pages ranking in organic search. So you need to study where the highest impact synergy is between support pages and sales pages. By optimizing this relationship between content types you can produce more bottom of the funnel (BOFU) page and produce less, but higher impact middle of the funnel (MOFU) or top of the funnel (TOFU) content.
This will ensure that your content marketing efforts produce sales, not just increases in traffic. To do this, we use a technique that we call the BOFU multiplier.
The assumptions of backend systems need to be challenged
In this article, I’ve pointed out numerous times how I’ve been wrong in my assumptions about growth. By challenging myself and my assumptions I was able to unlock otherwise off limits growth opportunities. In my experience, most agency owners don’t challenge their assumptions enough. These assumptions get baked into systems and they will have a direct impact on the results that clients see.
Therefore, at Blackship.One we begin system design by looking at the end results at the end of each month. During our monthly retrospective and debrief with clients we ask ourselves “what systems resulted in the lion’s share of the results we’ve driven this month”. We then ask ourselves “can those systems be further optimized”? Even though a 40% MoM growth looks great, we ask ourselves… “what would it take to get this growth to 50% or 75% or even 100%.
The benefit of working with a content marketing agency
When I first started Blackship.One I thought that we’d provide the most value by allowing clients to access to our people and processes. People would look at our track record and want to plug into our systems.
However, now that we’ve been selling content marketing as a services for a while now, I think one of the biggest drivers of value for our clients (at least equal to the value of our people and processes), is how we get to see the results of different strategies on different companies and then run retrospectives allowing us to identify the winning growth strategies.
In the past, when I was doing this exclusively for my own projects I found the process of compounding my knowledge invaluable. Doubling down on winning strategies allowed me to reach a point of exponential growth (like the day I stopped postering so I could double down on content marketing). However, I was working with a limited pool of sites within my own personal portfolio.
Now, that we run an agency, I’ve realized that compounding knowledge is so much more powerful as a group. We can apply a growth concept we learnt working for a client in the robotics space, to another company working in high-tech manufacturing. This means that we all get to benefit from the collective knowledge we gather each month as a group.
This knowledge has been a huge driver of growth for both ourselves as well as our clients.
In short…. Look for these 7 things in any content marketing service
20 years in, if you were to ask me what the best content marketing service providers should deliver on, it would be the following 8 things:
1. ROI driven: Content marketing needs to be results driven. You need to be able to quantify your investment, and in general content marketing should be able to exceed the results produced by high performing paid ads campaigns.
2. Hyper-focused on first page ranking: A content marketing service should be geared towards getting clients on the podium. There are only three positions in organic search worth fighting for. Aim for the top three positions or don’t aim at all.
3. Capitalize on compounding knowledge: A high-end content marketing agency should share knowledge across client accounts. Optimization learnings on one account should be applied to other accounts so everyone can benefit from the collective and expanding knowledge of the group.
4. Simple: A content marketing service should be simple on the surface. Complex systems should be hidden from the client unless the client really wants to see them.
5. Content marketing is not for people with the patience of a gnat: Realistic expectations need to be established from the beginning. Generally, a content marketing campaign’s objective is to rank in organic search. However, this means we’re beholden to Google’s algorithm and therefore we need to play by their placement rules. Depending on a client’s DA, we’ll normally start to see nice rankings in 2-6 months. By the 6 month mark we’re usually starting to compound growth pretty quickly. Content marketing agencies should not overpromise and under-deliver. At Blackship.One we try to under-promise and over-deliver.
6. Your not going to win an F1 race in a Honda: The best content marketing services will hire tier-one writers. Full stop. Again, because we’re focused on getting on the podium, we know we need to produce the single best piece of content on the subject. Low-end agencies source the “best of the worst” talent. Run-of-the-mill agencies source “best of the average” talent. At Blackship.One we source only best-of-the-best talent. This is because the race to the top is hard. In fact…. it’s really hard. Sourcing average talent is like trying to win a formula one race in a Honda Civic. It doesn’t matter how bad you want it, or how smart you think you are, you’re going to lose on a track with F1 cars.
7. Your growth will mirror your enthusiasm: Lastly, any agency selling you content marketing services needs to genuinely care about your company. This one is harder to explain and harder to quantify than the others, but in the past I’ve found that if my heart is 100% in a project, that project will scale in proportion to my passion. If I’m only 25% passionate, my growth will mirror my enthusiasm. So don’t work with a content marketing agency who says yes to everyone. Find someone who cares about you, your brand and your organic growth. For example, we don’t take on fashion brands, dentists or car dealerships. Our hearts just won’t be in it. We are passionate about tech and therefore 100% of our clients are technology based. We also say “no” to well over 50% of the inquiries we get. If we don’t think we can move the needle, we won’t try. Also, at Blackship.One I’ve incentivized our team using a pay / performance model where our writers, strategists and account managers earn more money by producing better results for our clients. All of these factors together help ensure we have perfect alignment between our content marketing agency and our client’s needs.
If what you’ve read on this page is interesting to you, and you’d like to chat in more detail about our content marketing services, I’d be happy to schedule a call and a free consultation to see if we’d be the right team for your organic growth needs.
Simply visit our homepage and use the contact form on that page to get in touch.
Alternatively, if you want to keep on reading about how we approach growth, be sure to check out our content marketing blog, were we publish many case studies, free templates and countless other free resources to help you grow.
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. 🤝