Julia McCoy dropped out of college at 19. By 21, she started her own content creation agency.
Now, five years later at 26 years old, McCoy’s agency, Express Writers, just broke $4 million in sales.
All of McCoy’s new client acquisition is done through content marketing. That’s right: every paying client behind that $4 million in sales has come in through her content.
Revenue-generating content marketing is not a myth or some secret recipe.
McCoy’s story is a walking case study.
When applied correctly, content marketing works exceptionally well (Kraft has said their content marketing is worth 4x more than their most targeted ad.)
“How” to do content marketing in a way that equals ROI is the major question?
Here are McCoy’s five major keys to set up your content marketing in a way that attracts rankings in Google, highly-qualified leads and real sales, over and over again.
1. Create Content Consistently on Your Brand Site, & Attract Your Target Audience Through Your Topics
First, have a key site that you’re going to devote the majority of your best content creation to. This should be a branded domain that you own. For example, McCoy’s agency is Express Writers: and the majority of her content creation is on her agency site, www.expresswriters.com. When she started out, the expresswriters.com domain cost $6,000, and she couldn’t afford it. So, she bought expresswritersteam.com for $14.99. When clients kept getting the last word confused with “steam,” McCoy realized her brand would do better if she invested the $6,000. So, she did, and she’s been publishing content there since 2012.
McCoy says that it’s worth it in the long run to invest in the domain that reflects your brand, even if it’s several thousand dollars.
Secondly, you must create content consistently: think about a schedule you can commit to every single week where you won’t experience burnout. For McCoy, that’s one long-form content piece (2,500 word) per week.
Thirdly, you can’t just sit down and write anything that comes to your mind. Inbound content must be targeted to your buyer. What does your ideal audience want to hear from you about?
Start with finding out and building your customer persona.
If you have just one, two or three clients right now that you’ve enjoyed working with, that’s all you need to get some insights. Ask them for an interview and, to motivate them, give them something in return (a no-cost service, entry to a giveaway).
Here are a few questions you can ask to determine who your customer persona is:
- What are their demographics? (Male/female, age, income and education level)
- What are their challenges and goals? (Industry pain points, goals)
- What are their likes and interests? (These can even be movies, i.e. Star Wars)
- What are your favorite online publications to read from? (This ties into our four point: reaching relevant guest blog platforms)
Once you have these questions, build a customer persona and think of them every time you sit down to write a topic.
2. Never Publish Content Without Researching a Low-Competition Keyword to Use
For McCoy, getting her content to rank organically in SEO has meant everything in terms of the $4 million in sales her company has generated.
She says that once you know how to create content your ideal client wants to consume, then you need to get “SEO-minded” about it. Otherwise, you could lose out on a whopping 50% or even more of total potential ROI from that content piece.
McCoy’s recommended formula:
- Qualify your topics by what your audience wants to hear.
- Then, use an SEO tool to research and find a low-hanging (low-competition) keyword to use. McCoy recommends KWFinder and SEMrush.
- Create the most valuable, in-depth, long-form blog/content piece on the topic and keyword. Over 1,800 words is “long-form,” according to studies. One of the best ways to know you’re actually creating the right content is by studying the top results in Google for your keyword, and then sit down and research, compile and write better (read: more comprehensive, up-to-date, and value-packed) content than what you read in the top three spots. If you can’t do that, pick another keyword. For example: Neil Patel has a blog ranking in the top two spots for “SEO copywriting.” It comes in at a whopping 5,000 words and is truly one of the most ultimate guides on the topic. If you don’t have the time or knowledge to create a guide of this style, hire an expert copywriter. It will be worth it.
McCoy recommends that the best keywords to rank for are those that have low competition (on a 1-100 SEO difficulty scale, look for 40 or below), and are two or more words in length (long-tail). You’re not going to be able to outrank sites like Hubspot or Forbes anytime fast. So the competition number matters a lot. A number like 40 means that there is lower competition, and so you’ll rank a lot faster. Long-tail keywords usually have lower competition than a broad keyword (one word).
You’ll need a keyword research tool to find your best keyword opportunities. McCoy’s top favorite go-to keyword discovery tool these days is KWFinder (low-cost, super easy) to discover low-competition keywords.
To create SEO content that truly works, you need to find a topic your audience wants to hear about, and you need to optimize it for low-hanging keyword fruit. Then, finally and most importantly, the piece you write must be comprehensive, long-form (remember, that’s the 1,800-word minimum benchmark described above) and valuable.
For example, a topic McCoy chose recently was a statistical list to convince her ideal customer on why blogging works.
She knew that would be something truly useful to them – they could take it to their boss as a reason to invest in her services. McCoy’s persona has a marketing budget, and appreciates convincing statistics on content marketing to take to their executives for budget approval. McCoy learned these things in a recent content marketing survey her team conducted on her audience, via Google Forms (McCoy shared her survey link with us for some inspiration).
Once McCoy knew that she had a topic that could hold her ideal customer’s interest, she used KWFinder to research the topic terms: “blogging” and “statistics.” Turns out, “blogging statistics” was a low-hanging keyword fruit at a competition of only 40 (which has since risen — another reason you need to do keyword research consistently, the competition changes constantly).
So, McCoy wrote a long-form, 2,000 word blog recapping 52 powerful “blogging statistics,” kept the keyword in the title, URL, subheaders and throughout the content here and there, and published it. The blog ranked organically in the third spot for that keyword within two months after it was published.
McCoy and her team repeat this process over and over, and it’s the reason she now has over 11,000 keywords organically indexed in the SERPs.
What’s more important, McCoy’s site consistently earns leads that are qualified and ready to buy (almost immediately), daily. Here’s an example of one of those contact forms – the lead purchased within 24 hours once they had a response from McCoy’s team with a price quote.
3. Stay On Top of Your Ranking Content, & Update Consistently.
McCoy uses SEMrush to track her rankings. She also uses Google Analytics to track content on her site that starts to rank.
Every so often (once every few months), McCoy checks all of her high-ranking content (what’s in the top five organic spots) and updates those pieces.
Here’s a short list of what she updates in the content:
- Images and titles (are the images outdated? Old logo/brand colors being used? Could the headline be stronger?)
- Copy (overall, how strong and relevant is the content? Any new changes/features/trends that needs to be talked about?)
- Meta description and title (is it optimized: short, succinct, contains the keyword and gets to the point)
- CTA (replace with a new lead magnet, a book recently published, etc. as the CTA?)
Updating content can mean the difference of 1-2 more leads per updated post — McCoy says that if you update a stagnated meta description, for example, you’ll get a higher click-through which increases the chances of someone booking you for a call, buying your service and so on.
4. Reach Other Audiences Than Your Own Through a Low-Cost Avenue: Guest Blogging.
Guest blogging has probably accounted for 25% of the $4 million McCoy has earned in sales.
It’s a huge opportunity for every brand and content marketer. And it costs nothing but your time.
McCoy guest blogs on a few highly-targeted, relevant sites.
If you followed step one in this 5-step guide, you’ll have a customer persona to draw from that tells you which guest blogs to approach for publishing: the publications that your persona is already reading.
McCoy says that when you go to write and pitch, remember that less is more, when you’re pitching high-caliber, comprehensive pieces to outside blogs and publications that your ideal customer persona enjoys reading. It’s also important to not contribute just once, but ongoing, since the effects of content marketing are long-term (one piece won’t stand out as much as an ongoing column will).
For example, McCoy writes consistently for Content Marketing Institute, the Huffington Post, and Search Engine Journal. She’s had qualified leads find just one of her blogs on Search Engine Journal, visit her site and drop four-figures on her services. She’s also had organic, paid speaking opportunities come her way after a brand found her content on Content Marketing Institute.
For McCoy, guest blogging is completely worth it. It can be hard to track every lead source, but when you get accepted on guest blog platforms your audience is already reading, and you write great content that stands out, you’re bound to be noticed. And getting noticed by the right people makes things happen for you.
5. Remember that Content Marketing is Long-Term, Not a Short-End Game.
McCoy recommends that it’s important to think of content marketing like a relationship.
You only get out what you put in, and you’re not going to achieve dramatic content marketing success by only putting in a few weeks or just a few months of effort.
Joe Pulizzi, leading content marketing influencer and expert, has said: “Time and again, we see that it takes 12 to 24 months to get results — which is why commitment is so important. It’s a critical piece in building your subscriber base.”
With all of the content McCoy publishes, she does not expect success right away. McCoy and her team puts in all the upfront investments, which are sometimes tremendous if she’s publishing a 2,000+ blog with an infographic: but she knows she has to allow time for that piece to get indexed and bring leads and opportunities over time. McCoy maintains Pulizzi’s timeline expectations of 12-24 months for return on a blog and sometimes, she sees it much sooner.
Remember, the more you create great content, the more you can increase the chances of seeing more results happen in a year’s time.
Don’t give up easily.
Stay the content marketing path and the results will pay off.