You might be familiar with the term "growth hacking." It’s been a marketing buzzword ever since Sean Ellis, CEO of GrowthHackers.com and early contributor to Dropbox, coined the term in his 2010 article, Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup.
The term encapsulated what some tech startups in Silicon Valley were achieving in their pursuit of success. They were hacking traditional wisdom and taking a new approach to business development. Growth was the only metric that mattered, and how it was achieved mattered less than achieving the goal.
Growth hacking is more of a mindset that you can apply to your business instead of a technique that you can learn. So this article is going to explore how to apply the growth hacking mindset to content marketing.
What is content hacking?
Content hacking is the amalgamation of growth hacking and content marketing.
- A growth hacker uses creative thinking, analytics, and social trends to sell products quickly and gain widespread exposure for their company. They are hell-bent on 10xing their business as fast as possible.
- Content marketing nurtures customers along the buyer’s journey towards conversion. It can be great for developing a strong relationship with a customer, but it’s definitely more of a marathon than a sprint.
Content hacking applies the fundamental principles of growth hacking to content marketing to achieve similar results of increasing web traffic, brand visibility, and sales. A content hacker is not afraid to bend the rules and ditch the style guides if there’s a good opportunity. They will have a nose for what is going viral and have the ability to create shareable content.
The fastest route to gaining widespread attention for your business is to create content that readers want to share. It’s not easy, and it can happen quickly – but most of the time, viral content is more than a lucky break. There are strategies, principles, and frameworks applied during the creation process to encourage people to share the content with their network.
What makes people share?
Before you start creating, understand the motivations that make people hit the share button. Take a look at some social sharing stats from Fractl:
- 48% of people share to entertain their friends and family
- 40% of people share to make themselves look good
- 17% of people share to express issues they care about
- 13% of people share to evoke an emotional response
How to make your content more shareable
With those stats in mind, here’s a few things you can do to create content with shareability in mind:
- Making your content either informative, entertaining, or emotional is key to getting people to hit the share button more often.
- Create content about trending topics that people are interested in.
- Write enticing, click-worthy headlines to attract more people. Some of the best content and copywriters suggest spending 50% of the time it takes to write an entire article just on the headline. It’s that important!
- While the quality of your content is important, making it look good is too. Working with a graphic designer and web designer to make your content more visually pleasing will make it more shareable.
- Articles with images get 94% more views than those without – but video content generates 12 times more shares than text and images combined.
- Keep your sentences short and include 2 or 3 sentences in each paragraph to improve readability. It’s especially important to avoid big chunks of text for mobile users.
- Make it easy for readers to share your content with social share buttons.
Pro tip: find content that’s already being shared and reverse-engineer
Use a tool like BuzzSumo, Sprout Social, or Hubspot to find content within your topic area with lots of social shares. Then you can study the content and start to unpack why people are sharing it. Make a list of the features that you think made it shareable and apply them to your next piece of content.
Publish source content
Just like I've been linking to sources throughout this article to validate my claims, there are millions of content marketers and journalists writing every day who need source data to back up their claims or to inspire new ideas.
That's why the number two content hacking tip is to be the source of citable content. If you successfully create source content, you will gain a ton of inbound links that will bring traffic from other websites and boost your SEO performance. You should focus on finding new data for a popular topic, being one of the first to produce data for an emerging trend, or having a totally unique (and quotable) perspective on what's hot now.
Create a simple study
You might be thinking, ‘Well, I’m no scientist, how can I just find some interesting data no one else has out of nowhere?!’ Instead, you need to create it – and putting together a simple study is easier than it sounds.
Choose your core topic (pick something popular enough to ensure there's an audience for the data you'll generate), the groups you want to hear from, and a simple way for them to provide input. You can use your email subscribers, your customer database, or create Facebook and Youtube ads to find the participants for your study.
Have you ever seen one of these?
Then you can create a survey or questionnaire to share with your audience and transform the answers into source data that you can publish on your blog.
Use Google trends
Finding up-and-coming topics is difficult. Social media and the news have evolved to a point where global breaking news today can be lost tomorrow in a sea of brand new content. You have to be ready to act fast to make sure you don’t miss the boat.
Monitoring Twitter to see what’s trending can be a useful tool to find out what people are interested in and talking about. But even if you watch your feed 24/7, you could still miss out on something relevant to your business.
That makes Google Trends a content hacker’s best friend. It allows you to find out if the interest for keywords relevant to your business is trending up or down. There’s also a breakout feature that shows related queries that are currently blowing up. Google Trends can validate your theories of what you think people are interested in with trusted search data. It can also help you avoid wasting time on a topic with declining interest.
To show you how it works, I typed in ‘sustainability’ because I had a hunch that it would be on the up:
As it turned out, interest in sustainability is relatively flat. However, there are several queries related to sustainability that are experiencing a sudden boom in interest.
From these insights, we can safely assume that in the near future, people will have an appetite for pieces of content focused on sustainable investing, sustainable athletic wear, or sustainable kids’ clothing – and create content about it that captures their searches and answers their questions.
Writing guest posts
Guest posts are a tried-and-true way to expand your and grow your online presence. It’s an essential tool for content hackers because it allows you to tap into an audience that is already engaged in your topic. Additionally, the backlinks you gain from guest posting will boost your SEO and increase the search traffic reaching your site.
Your job is to find high-traffic, authoritative blogs within your niche and produce high-quality content that their readers will love. The trick here is to care just as much about pleasing the readers as you would when writing for your own website.
Your first aim should be to entertain or inform readers of the blog you're guesting on, but you should also find a way to get them interested in you – at least enough that they search click through to your website to find out more about you.
A content hacker's guide to guest posts
The role of a content hacker is to find opportunities that will have the biggest impact on the overall growth of their business, so a content hacker’s approach to guest posting is different from how a content marketer tackles it.
Let’s take a look at some content hacking tips around guest posting:
- Focus on high domain authority sites with 100k+ monthly unique visitors.
- Don’t be afraid to write for popular websites outside of your niche if you think you have found a way to excite their audience with your knowledge. Finding clever market overlaps will increase the number of blogs that you can publish on.
- The most powerful links are dofollow links that use contextual anchor text located within the main content area of a trusted site. Author bios are okay, but include links in the actual content of the page, ideally attached to key terms related to your business.
- Use alternative advanced search queries to find better opportunities. The websites found with the usual [keyword] “write for us” or [keyword] “guest post” will have been approached by every content marketer within your industry. Finding sites that accept guest posts but don’t have thousands of applicants every month will improve your chances of landing a guest spot. Try these search queries used by Perrin Carrel from Authority Hacker to find less competitive opportunities:
- [Keyword] “guest post by”
- [Keyword] “guest post written by”
- [Keyword] “guest author today”
- [Keyword] “my guest posts”
- [Keyword] “places I’ve guest posted”
- [Keyword] “this is a guest post by”
- [Keyword] “guest article”
- [Keyword] “the following guest post”
Pro tip: use data to decide which pages to link to from your guest posts
Use an SEO rank tracker tool like SE Ranking or SERPWatcher to monitor the keywords you are ranking with. You might notice that you're on page 3 or 4 for a high-traffic keyword. Linking to content optimized for that keyword will help you boost it up to page the rankings and help you receive more traffic for searches related to it.
Create valuable freebies
Humans like free stuff. Food, swag, downloads – whatever it is, if it’s free, you can guarantee that there will be a bunch of people ready to receive it.
Content hackers have recognized that offering free gifts within a piece of content adds value to the reader’s experience. It makes the content more shareable and ultimately will attract more traffic.
There are lots of ways you can do this. What works best for your audience will depend on your industry and the type of business you run. Here’s a list of common freebies used to attract new audiences:
- Online tools
- Online courses
- White papers
- Discount codes
- Sample products
- Competitions to win your product/service
- Exclusive content
Creating something good enough to sell and then giving it away for free is an excellent way to quickly expand an audience. Here’s an example of a company doing a great job of leveraging the lure of freebies to add more value for the reader.
Here, leadguru.com is offering a free tool and a free online course to their readers. It's really obvious that they're giving something away: the visuals are eye-catching and take up nearly as much room on the screen as the content itself. If that doesn’t get your attention, they also follow up with an exit pop-up offering you the freebies once again:
If the free thing is valuable to the recipient, you will develop a strong bond with that individual. You should aim to improve their knowledge, save them money, or make their work easier for the best results.
If they liked what you gave them, they are more likely to share it on their social media or send a link to their close friends and colleagues. And that’s the essence of how freebies can help your business grow.
Nothing in life comes for free, of course – so make sure to collect an email address in exchange for your free content. Growing a large email database is an extremely valuable asset for your business.
Content hacking is not about abandoning strategy. It’s about concentrating on the opportunities and tactics that will enable your business to grow quickly.
If you apply all of these content hacking practices to your content marketing strategy you will be able to take your business to the next level. You’ll not only be expanding your audience in the short term but you will be adding value to your readers and viewers which will pay off in the long-term.
Content hacking is an essential mindset for any startup or young company looking to cut through the noise and make some of their own. It’s also a good idea for older brands that have fallen flat to adopt the strategies of the young and hungry to spark new life into the business.
Jake is a digital marketing specialist, head of content marketing at Website Builder Ninja, and a contributing writer for a variety of marketing-focused online publications. He is also the co-founder of Liberty Office.