3 Cold Hard Truths About Content Marketing

“Create good quality content, and people will come.”

This is akin to saying “be yourself and attractive women will flock to you in herds.

Now I’m Not Saying That You Shouldn’t Be Yourself… 

Far from it. What I am saying is that wearing a garbage bag as a shirt isn’t setting you up for success — regardless of who you are inside.

This is a common misconception that I want to crack on content marketing — the idea that if you pack a piece of content with as much value as you can, it will naturally rise to the top, regardless of how it’s packaged.

Content Creators

As content creators, we need to focus on the quality of our work. That’s a given. But there’s a lot of other factors that go into why one piece of content is successful, and why another isn’t.

Outside of optimizing a successful post for lead generation, there are a number of things that you can affect in the content creation process.


Here’s what I’ve discovered during my time as a content creator.

Your Headline is Everything

A while back I realized that no matter how much research I did, and no matter how much juicy goodness I packed into an article, at the end of the day those elements were having a marginal effect on how many people were viewing them.

It came down to a couple of things; one of which was that my headlines read like a chapter from a textbook.

Take a look at this blog post I published last year with the title Modern Real Estate Marketing: Marketing Automation Examples.

In my (highly unbiased) opinion, this was an interesting article on how real estate agents can use marketing automation to improve their efficiency and drive sales.

Wouldn’t real estate agent want to read that?

As it turns out, very few agents wanted to read it. And in retrospect, I wouldn’t want to read it either.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy once said that out of everyone that reads your headline, only 20% of them will ever end up reading your body copy.

Think about that for a moment.

No matter how much you push your content on social, or even as it climbs through the ranks of organic search, 80 percent of people who see your title don’t click. That’s a significant cut right off the bat.

What Should You Do?

To ensure that you’re not wasting your time producing content that won’t be seen, there are 3 title tips you should follow for better results:

  • Use numbers whenever possible

  • Try and keep your headlines between 6-8 words

  • Use emotional and power words

Using numbers and writing your articles in list post format helps simplify ideas and makes your content more digestible. It also helps indicate how long the article is and what the potential time investment would be for users looking to read.

Emotional and power words are used as an adjective to help describe the subject that you’re writing on. For example, I could have written this article as “3 Things to Know About Content Marketing,” but instead I chose to describe the three things as “cold hard.”

To help you out with your next article headline, here’s a list of power words to reference before publishing your next article.

No One Cares How “Smart” You Are

There was an interesting article published by the Harvard Business Review last year that pointed out that too many writers focus on “sounding smart” rather than providing value.

This is particularly true of amateur content creators intent on “appearing knowledgeable” rather than simply giving useful advice.

What Are They Looking For?

No matter what your content is about, if someone clicks through to see your content, they’re looking for an answer to something.

Rather than giving them the runaround, give them what they’re looking for. Answer their question simply and clearly and with as little jargon as possible.

In fact, the simpler you can write your content, the better.

A study published by Contently showed that some of the best writers of all time wrote at a grade 7 reading level on average.

What does this tell us?

People care about what you’re saying, but they also need to be able to understand you.

It also tells us that just because people can read at a higher level, doesn’t mean they want to.

What Should You Do?

  • Avoid jargon whenever possible

  • Shorten sentences by replacing commas with periods whenever possible

  • Never write more than a few sentences without starting a new paragraph

If it’s Not Ranking on Search, it’s Not Being Seen

If you’re new to content marketing, it’s easy to assume that a high number of social shares corresponds with a high amount of monthly traffic.

And while this may be true sometimes, it’s not always the case.

I published an article a little while ago that received a high number of social shares, called “9 Struggles Only A Digital Marketer Would Understand.” While there was a good amount of buzz around the article when it was first published, since then traffic to the article has slowed down to a complete halt.

In fact, over the past 30 days it’s received just 22 unique visits:

The name of another article that received a fraction of that social engagement, called, “6 New Social Contest Ideas And Examples.” The only difference is that this article is optimized for search, targets a specific keyword, and doesn’t pay as much attention to what users might find “shareable.”

The Result?

180X the traffic of the first article in the same 30 day period.

What Should You Do?

Never underestimate the power of SEO when it comes to driving results from your content marketing initiatives. Social engagement is great, but unless you’re pushing your content over paid media, 22 unique visits a month’s isn’t paying the bills.

That’s why I recommend content creators always:

  • Write content with a specific keyword in mind

  • Use on-page and off-page SEO best practices

  • Try not to focus on what’s “popular at the moment” and instead focus on providing comprehensive answers to questions

As a caveat, I will say that there are times when content should be published for brand awareness, thought leadership, culture and recruiting. In this case, you can focus less on SEO and more on whatever key objectives you’re trying to achieve.

However, for most startups looking to gain traction, focusing on SEO will be the clearest path to success in the long run.


I hope these tips have given you the ammo you need to hit your next blog post out of the ball park.

To recap, the three key takeaways were to:

  • Focus on writing compelling headlines

  • Create content that’s easy to read

  • Optimize for SEO​

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind

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Jeremy Webb

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Jeremy Webb3 Cold Hard Truths About Content Marketing

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