By Casey Armstrong

Dan Martell (of Flowtown, Timely, and Maple Butter to name a few) joined Namesake earlier today to cover content marketing for startups: keywords, editorial calendar, hiring writers, promoting content, and metrics. While Dan (sadly) didn’t have time to single out metrics, the below information is extremely valuable and metrics were a running theme.

Below is my recap of everything Dan covered, along with some of my own thoughts. Please let me know what you think below and drop more knowledge as we can never know enough.

How to Pick Keywords

Dan started off by mentioning that keywords are the most important, yet most overlooked aspect of blogging. Use the Google Keyword Tool (which is 100% free) to identify related keywords with enough search volume (10k+/month) to make it worthwhile. From there, run a paid search campaign using those keywords to understand the cost per conversion for each keyword.

This is how you can rank the order in value of each keyword you plan to target for your blog. Yes, you need to pay, but it will be worth it in the long run and how else will you know what to optimize for? Focus on what converts from Day 1, instead of Day X + 1 when you are looking at your Analytics and internal metrics and wondering what went wrong (or what could have been).

To start, identify 6-10 keywords with the volume range you are looking for, run paid traffic on those keywords to understand conversions, then build your blog. It sounds so nice and easy right there, but takes lots of work, persistence, and dedication.

In regards to keywords in the URL, there is a time and place for long “keyword stuffed” URLs and short “slugs.” For pillar content (guides, master references, etc.), use the short slug with the target keyword. For viral content (something you’ll tweet or share on Facebook), use the longer URLs with your target keywords.

Christian Gammill then asked Dan how he balances his efforts between pillar and viral content, which smoothly led insights on an editorial calendar.

Backlog Posts in your Editorial Calendar

An editorial calendar consists of 20+/- posts in your backlog with really smart and focused headlines. Dan reveals that he always writes the headlines first, which keeps focus on the ultimate goal: keywords you want to rank for. From there, he writes (or outsources) 6-9 viral pieces for every pillar post.

The Namesake ringleader Brian Norgard chimed in (as usual) with a very necessary question on tips to writing engaging headlines, which resulted in funny, but relevant answers, just like headlines should be. Dan responded that headlines requires creativity (obviously) and he doesn’t mind being funny or stirring the pot, but a great place to learn how to write great headlines is by visiting any “douche magazine” such as the National Enquirer, Vogue, etc. Those writers are "pros" for a reason.

In addition (and somewhat already assumed for many in the "tech world"), you should check out Copyblogger (aka Brian Clark) also provides tons of great copy tips for headlines, content, and everything in between. Plus, Brian can be pretty funny at times, especially in his own eyes. :)

Dan mentions that he doesn’t write “news” because then he competes with the other news outlets, but does (obviously) follow the trends and tries to write for areas that reinforces his brand, topics that are trending upwards in search volume, and him position his focused keyword strategy.

Something that is necessary, but not everybody does well is tracking everything in your editorial calendar. Create a spreadsheet and include all performance data (traffic, social shares, comments, etc.), which you can then use to compare to your benchmarks that you track every month (or week or day or…).

If you dive deep into metrics for your startup, why not the blog as well? Dan uses GinzaMetrics to monitor keyword performance, and I use SEOMoz in case you are wondering. Regardless, pick the tool you like best, monitor, and optimize.

How to Hire Writers for your Blog

This topic was very interesting to me, as I don’t have much experience in it, but understand that it can be extremely fruitful if done correctly or frustrating and a waste of time if done poorly.

According to Dan, you should pay writers at least $20 per post and serious writers $80-120 per post if you’re funded (or offer a social share bonus as this can help align your interest and theirs; plus, they will obviously be more motivated to promote through their networks and write better content).

Just like most things in life, “you get what you pay for.” If you are very early stage and need to seed your blog, you can get away with sites like MediaPiston, which Dan has used for Q&A sites in the past. If you want something everybody wants to read, you need to drop a little more coin. You can outsource both pilar and viral articles.

Andrew Skotzko brought up very important topics such as where do to source your writers from and what criteria should be used to choose them. Dan acknowledged that the sourcing is key and there are two strategies: Inbound and Outbound.

Make a list of the top writers in your space and email them asking if they’ll write for your blog. You might be intimidated, but the worst is they can say no and you’ll be right where you started (just like asking a girl to dance, while you sip your beer at the bar).

Hiring great bloggers that are already “experts” in your space and would like extra income can be golden. Many bloggers can’t make $100 per post via ads on their blog so will more than likely welcome the chance. Wouldn’t you?

Plus, there are benefits such as their existing networks, which help with promotion, and they already understand your niche. Pick writers that you enjoy reading because if you don’t, why would your readers? You don’t want to move away from your company’s brand, regardless of what stage you’re in.

From there, track your social sharing, traffic, and conversions, and note everything in your editorial calendar. Even though Dan “didn’t cover metrics,” they are always an underlying theme of everything covered.

Inbound Hiring Strategy

Well, run a job ad. Duh! But where?

A great source of quality content writers are on blogging job boards such as on ProBlogger (aka Darren Rowse). There is a target rich audience just sitting right there. As cited above, and especially for small businesses and startups pre-funding, you should start here to hire writers in the $20+ per post range and they can be found on ProBlogger.

When reaching out, ask your potential bloggers for two things: 1) samples of their past work and 2) some question they need to answer (eg. “What’s your favorite post on my site?”).

If they don’t provide your answers, just delete the email. This helps weed out applicants that don’t read your job posting and apply with no relevant experience. Save yourself the time. If they answer your questions, check out their past work and writing style as you’ll want everything to align with your company and the direction your blog has taken.

From there, Dan suggests asking them to write a sample post. Give them five headlines to write about and ask them to include links to reference material, links to blogs or blog posts mentioned, desired header image, and subhead titles. This should complete the “interview process.”

What about Guest Posting?

Dan said that he doesn’t do guest posts from an search engine optimization perspective (eg. back links), but does for personal branding and product positioning. Guests posts (and quality posts in general) take a lot of time and as the saying goes, “time is money” so choose wisely.

Budget Allocation Pre- and Post-funding

This varies for different companies/products, but before you are funded, spend around $200/month and post-funding, spend $1,000 - $10,000/month. Dan points out that there is no upper limit if you do your research on keywords and correlate that to your cost per acquisition and lifetime value of your customers (great post on CAC, LTV, PPC, etc. for SaaS companies by Ada Chen). Every keyword you rank for saves you money in the long run, you don’t have to compete (with both time and money) in PPC, and the blog becomes a huge asset in itself.

To see Dan’s “hiring writers” tips in action, just visit his Flowtown Blog, which is known for delivering consistently top notch social media content. Both he and his co-founder, Ethan Bloch, write for Flowtown, but they also pay other writers to increase high-level, relevant content.

Dan mentions that if you’re a startup (especially a funded startup), you should focus on the product versus blogging for the business (personal blog excluded as Dan contributes often to his).

How to Promote your Content

Most people don’t know this, but you can hire content promoters based on traffic (aka Registered Users). If you believe your content should be shared with the masses and want to get on the homepage of Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Hacker News, etc., you can pay for a little assistance

Timing plays a big part in virality, but promoting content in a timely manner (any relation to Timely? :) ) really helps spread content efficiently as well. Dan doesn’t go into much detail on timing, but cites how allowing early access to “something amazing” so people can digest and repost is always a good idea.

People enjoy early access to things (products, events, alcohol before you’re of drinking age, etc.), especially from people they trust or admire, and then are able to enjoy and share with their friends/followers.

To promote internally, build a small list of friends that will help you to promote (Dan exceeds at this). You need brand ambassadors (for your blog and product), whom you will provide early access to.

Remember, everything takes time (and blood, sweat, and tears). You can’t compare yourself to bloggers such as Dan or ProBlogger, then look down on yourself for not hitting the StumbleUpon homepage and getting 100 tweets every week. In his early days (like many of us are), Dan spent 2-3 days each week coordinating, managing, and measuring his blog. You need to optimize the templates for conversion, make sure the content is spreading, etc.

Well, that about covers it. Looks like I need to re-read my own post and dive back into my strategies for both my company and my clients.

Thanks to you all who made it this far AND thanks again to Dan Martell, Brian Norgard, and the Namesake team. As always, this stuff is “pure golden!”


So…what tips do you have on content marketing for startups? I would love to hear any and all feedback.