These 4 Companies Prove That Content Marketing Is Essential to Startups

By Mason Lerner August 27th, 2014

It’s no secret that the odds of a startup hitting it big are not that good no matter what industry it’s in. That hurdle to success, though, often isn’t a matter of technology, but attention.

Retaining Audiences’ Attention

The competition for people’s attention on the web has grown fierce. Gone are the days when a startup could just throw content out there and count on keyword optimization to drive fresh traffic and leads; the digital landscape has grown more competitive, and publishers of all kinds have had to up their game to stand out.

Various startups are realizing there’s a great upside to doing just that.

Unbounce, a startup that builds landing pages for marketers, has created more than 23 million leads and built up a base of over 6,000 customers. Their blog, which gets 140,000 unique visitors per month, has been a big part of that success, and it’s been a top priority for Unbounce since the company’s early days.

“At the very beginning, we really relied on our in-house thought leader when it came to landing pages and conversion rate optimization, which was our co-founder Oli Gardner,” explained Unbounce content strategist Dan Levy. “He was blogging at least once a day in order to make sure all of the content was 100 percent credible and entertaining.”

Once Unbounce began to grow, Gardner was able to let go of the reins, but the company’s commitment to quality has remained. “As we’ve grown, we’ve grown our content team around the principle of maintaining that level of quality and level of credibility,” Levy said. “What we’re trying to do now is to get great writers to basically be conversion beat reporters.”

Likewise, analytics platform KISSmetrics produces one of the best data-driven marketing blogs around and is a firm believer in the continuous rewards of a strong content marketing platform. Their blog currently attracts 500,000 readers each month.

“Attention is one of the most valuable commodities right now,” said Lars Lofgren, growth manager at KISSmetrics. “Getting people’s respect and making sure they’re willing to pay attention to what you’re doing is very difficult because we are bombarded with so much stuff all the time. First you have to earn that attention.”

Of course, creating high-quality content is easier said than done. Ginny Soskey, section editor for’s marketing blog, explained what separates good content from bad content. And she should know. HubSpot gets around 1.5 million readers a month. That’s a lot of eyeballs.

“I think that content that focuses on your audience and on your audience’s needs ends up being quality because it’s serving them,” Soskey said. “I would say bad content is that self-serving content that is really focused on you as the writer or you as the company instead of focusing on the people you’re trying to reach.”

Lofgren agreed. He said people know right away if content was published to benefit them or simple to promote the company.

“The vast majority of our content, probably 95 to 98 percent, doesn’t even mention the KISSmetrics product,” he said. “Most of it is us simply trying to help people solve their problems and make our content as valuable as possible.

“Once you earn their attention and their trust, then you can start talking a little bit about yourself,” he added.

Content isn’t only a key to building trust at a steady rate. Steady, consistent blogging is important—in part because it ups the chances of a single post breaking through and maybe even changing the trajectory of a startup’s business. A perfect example of this is social media scheduling app Buffer‘s famous “30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself” post.

Buffer’s blog posts generally earn thousands of shares, but the the “30 Things” post broke the mold, racking up 500,000 Facebook likes, 20,000 Tweets, and over 400 comments.

Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich looked into what made the post so successful and was surprised by what he learned. First of all, he saw that contrary to conventional wisdom, a very long post can generate large amounts of traffic. He also noticed the subtle psychology that goes into a successful post.

“If you are writing something that’s unique that people might have a feeling of otherwise missing out on, then this is a fantastic trigger to get people interested in your content,” Widrich wrote.

Startups must also understand that it’s not enough for content to be well written. Having “beat” writers is pointless unless they are covering the right topics. Soskey said that talking to the business side can help the content team figure out what those topics are.

“A great way to figure out what people want to read about is to talk to the sales team about what people are asking them on the phone and then address those questions in your blog,” she said. “You already know people want this information because they have been asking for it.”

KISSmetrics, Hubspot, and Unbounce all use freelancers and guest bloggers for their blog, but they depend on their in-house content creators to direct their content strategy. Lofgren stressed the value of a startup having a writer/editor on board full-time.

“I’ve seen it work most effectively when there is someone on the team who is a good writer and can just own the blog and drive it,” he said. “If a team wants to build a content strategy but can’t write and depends solely on contractors, usually the quality is subpar.”

These days, a startup can’t earn the attention and trust it needs with subpar content. You only get one chance to make a first impression. And if somebody’s first impression is that a startup’s content is junk, why would they think the rest of the company is any different?

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