If you’re an overachiever like most of the startup world (and I know you are if you’re reading blog posts about growth marketing), then you probably want your inbound marketing content to be the most amazing thing ever to hit the Internet.

This is great. This is an important aspiration, and something you must aim for if you want your content marketing to succeed.

But, let’s save the Pulitzer Prize discussion for another day.

You want to win awards for quality, not necessarily for originality — at first.

In the rest of this post, I’m going to go over a 4-part recipe (yes there are some sub-steps) for launching content that works.*

*By “works,” I mean it brings in prospects, qualifies those prospects into leads, and warms those leads into customers  

The first step in creating content that works is simple:

1. KNOW YOUR TARGETS.

Here’s what knowing your targets means, as 4 to-dos you should schedule right now:

  1. Know the content creators in your category: blogs and bloggers, YouTube videos and creators, Instagram users, etc.
  1. Make a spreadsheet of all of these, including estimated reach and keywords using keyword search tools.
  1. REVERSE ENGINEER your content so you know (a) that its type actually has some interest and search volume and (b) an outlet and potential influencer who will share it or one day collaborate.
  1. Your spreadsheet doubles as a “content growth experiments” tracker where you can measure content pieces and distribution partnerships.

Once you’ve identified your targets, then it’s time to start your “reverse engineering” process. A key step in “reverse engineering” has to do with what I like to call the “stock photo effect.”

2. THE “STOCK PHOTO EFFECT”

A few months ago, when I was running the Miami Distro Dojo, we brought in Facebook Ads expert Andy Alterini.

Andy spends hundreds of thousands of dollars — successfully — on Facebook for big name clients all over Latin America and the United States. I was very surprised to learn one counterintuitive “trick” from him for Facebook ads approval and performance…

You see, I always thought it was better to be original and “pattern disruptive” in ad creative. Doesn’t that seem to make sense?

We always hear about banner blindness and how much we as consumers tend to ignore and block out all advertising and anything else we deem as “marketing” or promotional.

Well, Andy had something very different to say about this.

He taught us that stock photos — yes, stock photos, the exact types of images you DON’T want on your homepage or blog posts — actually perform best in ads on Facebook.

Stock photos work. (ok but maybe don’t choose this one)

Why?

Because stock photos get faster approvals (many are already “pre-approved”) by the Ads review squad at FB, because Facebook’s suggested stock photos are the performers that have risen to the top, and finally, because Facebook users are already familiar and comfortable with seeing these images and interacting with them.

Remember Cialdini’s influence factors? The influence factor of Liking (also known as familiarity) is at work here.

So let’s translate this for content. The “Stock Photo Effect” for content doesn’t mean you are literally using stock photos in your blog posts. Don’t do that!

The “Stock Photo Effect” for content means that you are leveraging and repurposing already successful concepts, headlines, formats and keyword clusters when you create content for inbound marketing.

Here are a few examples:

  • YouTube videos: Search the most popular videos in your category. Make your thumbnails, titles, and video formats resemble those videos.
  • Blog posts: Find the most popular and influential blog posts in your category. “Re-skin” their headlines, structure, and basic concepts — but NEVER plagiarize. Just replicate the formats that work for your own topics and brand.

The “Stock Photo Effect” is for getting eyes on your content. It’s for getting the initial open or click.

But, in order for your content marketing to really work — that is, to qualify prospects into leads and to get people to sign up with their email to get more stuff from you — you DO have to innovate…

3. INNOVATE ON QUALITY

Once you get people in the door with great headlines and curiosity, DON’T fall into the most common trap of many content marketers…

Being mediocre.

Forcing your potential prospects and audience to bite your clickbait only to discover that it’s mediocre crap, one thousand words of empty fluff or worse, advertorial or sales material — is just plain bad business.

Instead, once you’ve leveraged the Stock Photo Effect to get traffic in the door, then it’s time to overdeliver on quality.

Here’s exactly how you do that:

  1. Read or consume closely the top 5 pieces of content in your category, on the target platforms that matter most for your business.
  1. List 2 unanswered questions, or “left to be desired” for each piece. What if you were going to write a pissy, San Francisco-style Yelp review for that content, what would you say was missing?
  1. Innovate on quality. Copy, but then make it better in the specific areas where already-top content is lacking.

Finally, if you are lazy, or overwhelmed and want to follow just 1 simple rule… know this:

4. 60% OF SEARCHES BEGIN WITH “HOW TO”

If all else fails, create a how-to.

A few months back, I was in the audience taking copious notes during a talk given by my esteemed colleague Tommie Powers, who also happens to be a YouTube hacker. Whenever Tommie talks, I shut up (and that is saying a lot).

One of the fascinating things I learned from Tommie that day was that over 60% of searches on YouTube begin with the words “how to…”

The implications for this are manyfold. I would have thought that everyone on YouTube is searching for Maru and Justin Bieber videos, like me… but apparently a lot of people actually want to know how to do stuff, like fix a background in Photoshop, creating a checkout page in WordPress, say something in Spanish, or whatever.

Apparently the same is also true on the web.

The takeaway is this:

You can either talk about your B2B email marketing for cats service and how it is the most disruptive marketing SaaS of the 21st century…

Or, you can create some content around “How to achieve 10-15% better B2B open rates — if you’re a cat.”

In both cases, you are the expert, and you have immense knowledge (it’s your business, after all). But the formatting matters when it comes to getting your content seen, searched and served by humans and search engines alike.

CONCLUSION

Thanks for reading this far! In this post, we learned about systematic content and distribution platform targeting, the Stock Photo Effect to leverage the psychological triggers of familiarity and liking, how to “reverse engineer” and beat your competitors, and one simple content structure trick if you’re feeling a bit lifeless as we all sometimes do.

Please stay tuned for the next installment, and one of my favorite subjects… GET (MORE) EMAILS.

Or, stick to your book learnin’ and read my posts about email marketing here:

From “Dormant” List to 66% Open Rate, to 48K Subscribers — Here’s How.

Before You Acquire, Reactivate — How to Reactivate Your Dormant Email List (Includes Scripts)

7 Little Known Techniques in the NEW Email Marketing

Featured image credit: InAutoNews.com