Tutorials: A Great Content Strategy, Especially If There Are Zombies Involved

As content strategists brainstorm types of content that will inspire users to share and engage meaningfully, there’s no better choice than videos that teach your visitors something new and show off your expertise.

This type of content tends to do two things really well: be highly sharable, by being visual and instructive, and it earns customer loyalty by inspiring users to come back and learn more.

In fact, many leading startups and brands are already executing this content strategy successfully. Birchbox, the beauty-product subscription service, offers video tutorials in cosmetics. Tim Ferriss, the popular author and investor, offers how-to’s in entrepreneurship, diet and health via videos on his blog. And Reebok offers fitness videos as part of a larger package of app and content offerings.

But perhaps no industry space is more ripe for video tutorials than the “learn to code” genre. And in this domain, where the learning curve can be very high, one video tutorial stands out and offers many lessons for content strategists.

The tutorial is called “Rails for Zombies”, and it’s produced by the folks at Code School, a programming school operated by Envy Labs, a web development shop. The course teaches a web framework called Ruby on Rails.

A screenshot of the tutorial can be seen below:


This tutorial succeeds for many reasons, the first being that it somehow makes learning to code, a brain-breaking activity, really enjoyable. Suddenly, you’re not just writing brackets and hashed variables but on a journey to save lives and zap zombies. This all comes together with the instructor’s excellent sense of humor, which reflects well on Envy Labs, the development shop behind it.

The second reason is that the tutorial is actually really effective, zombies and all. Many, many sites teach coding. But a lot of them are not very good — even some of the big-name sites. Rails for Zombies, several years old now, is still frequently name-checked by developers. This communicates that Code School and Envy Labs can back up their fun, flirty side with real smarts.

Lastly, and most importantly for strategists, it’s also a very smart business move by Envy Labs.

Contently spoke to the folks at Envy Labs, who revealed that while Rails for Zombies was first created as a fun side project, it now accounts for the majority of the Code School traffic and generates leads for the Envy Labs development shop. That way, those eaten by the zombies can get some extra help (and pay a little for it). “It validates our thought leadership,” explains Mark Krupinski, Code School’s Director of Growth and Marketing.

There are plenty of other excellent tutorials out there, but we wanted to highlight one other, in our own space — the marketing world. It comes from Moz, a marketing company that became famous in part thanks to a video tutorial series it started called Whiteboard Fridays.

Whiteboard Fridays, like Rails for Zombies, succeeds because its instructors are so likable — and so is the instruction. Few sites are more highly recommended for digital marketers than Moz, and its engagement stats back up those recommendations. About 70% of viewers finish the series’ videos, said Rand Fishkin, Moz’s CEO. And about 10% of the audience will visit the paid products section of the website, many of whom convert. In other words, people who want these videos want more Moz.

“It’s been a great asset for us,” said Fishkin, “and certainly something we really like that’s an element of our brand and leverages our strengths.”

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Image by Scott Beale /
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