The right (and wrong) content marketing question

Ian Lurie

When people ask me about content marketing, they always start with one question: “How many pieces of content will I need to…” followed by their business goal.

2,778 should do it. Give or take 500.

I’m not being a smartass here (for once). I understand the question. Content creation feels expensive. It’s hard work. It’s a reasonable question. It’s also the wrong question. Content is a permanent asset, and you can never stop creating it.

I’ve got a pretty good case study: Us.

Portent’s content marketing story

Here’s our first piece of content marketing, from 1996. We explained how HTTP worked, what HTML was, and how to create tables. I’m pretty sure it included the blink tag. It got about 40,000 downloads:

The Fat Free Guide to HTML: Our first content marketing (circa 1996)

The Fat-Free Guide to HTML: Serious content marketing artistry, right there

Take a look at our content production pace since 2007. The raw numbers can seem daunting: 2,700 pieces of content?! If you’re not a marketing company, you’re probably thinking this is impossible. I disagree, but consistency is more important than quantity:

Portent content published, by month. We've been busy.

Portent content published, by month. We've been busy.

At least 2700 pieces in 9 years. “Content” includes videos, conference talks, blog posts, long form, one-word articles, e-books and guides. It’s generated all our site’s growth and a lot of our business growth.

This is unique visitors to since 2007. We’ve slowed our carpal-tunnel-inducing content pace since 2009. But we maintained a consistent pace, and that kept us growing:

Portent's unique visitors by month. It's a lousy business metric, but it says something, right?

Portent's unique visitors by month.

Unique visitors is an atrocious business metric. You’ll have to trust me when I say that our business growth has been just as good, aside from one cluster$#@! in 2015. I’ll have to write a book about that someday. After large doses of Vicodin.

See the plateaus and dips? I never said, “Well, screw this. Content isn’t working. Let’s stop.”

I might as well say, “Man, I’m out of breath. This whole respiration thing isn’t working for me. I think I’ll stop for a while.” If you want people to talk to you, you have to talk to them. Content is talking.

In content marketing, do what you can, but understand: You have to keep doing it.

Content is forever

The first payoff may show up in six months, or a year, or two years, or whatever. You may have one eye-popping success or lots of little wins. But it’s cumulative. Every piece of content you create is a place. Those places add up. And like any real estate, content is an asset you create for your company, not a cost center.. Treat it that way.

Stop asking “How much” or “How long.” The right question is, “How do I do this forever?”

If you want to learn more about content and content marketing, check out Joe Pulizzi’s book, Content Inc. I just re-read it for the fourth time. It’s a perfect walk thru of the process, even if you’re an expert.

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  1. Love these posts that you can tell were really sparked by a series of requests/interactions/annoyances that hit a tipping point where you just had to get it out!
    Can’t wait to hear about the the cluster…

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