Ask the Content Marketing Know-It-All

Image of the chemistry cat meme

If you have a blog, you’ll know what I mean — some of the most interesting, thought-provoking material on your site often comes from reader questions in the comments.

Sometimes it’s the questions themselves. And sometimes it’s the response it generates — from your community and within your own thinking. (That’s why blogs are one of the earliest and most powerful forms of social media.)

I get tremendous value from our reader questions, so I thought I’d respond in detail to a few comments from recent Copyblogger posts for an “Ask the Content Marketer” column here on Copyblogger.

If you find this useful, we may start to include it as a regular feature on the blog. So be sure and let us know.

Enough intro, let’s get to the questions:

Is there a content formula?

On March 19, Vicky asked:

In our content planning and forcasting, we have been wondering if there is a “magic formula” for the amount of posts you should write in the different categories? We saw a 70%-20%-10% article, but again no specific evidence that this is a good strategy to go with when plannng out content. Just wondering if you have suggestions for the % of cornerstone content vs. the hmmm content vs. newsjacking? We understand there is no magic number, but there are recipes for success!

Sonia Simone: You always want to keep in mind that every combination of topic, audience, and marketer is unique. So a “formula” that works brilliantly for one business will fall flat with another … even given the same topic, product type, and audience.

Cornerstone content — the type of useful content that solves reader problems and lays out the essential groundwork for your topic — should be in place from the beginnning. That’s why it’s your cornerstone — everything else rests on that foundational knowledge.

You’ll want to look back at it over time and make sure it stays pertinent and valuable. And most sites should keep publishing cornerstone content regularly. (If you can start the piece with the words How To, it’s probably cornerstone content.)

Remember: cornerstone content is not Wikipedia! It should still be interesting and engaging. “Useful” is not the same thing as “Boring.” For lots of content marketers, this will form the bulk of your content.

What we called “Hmmm content” is where you’ll break out of the box even further. You may get your readers to think about their identities in the context of your topic, like we did with my original post on the idea of a Third Tribe. You may use an analogy that finds new audience members, like this post on Firefly and creativity did. Or you might just do something completely out of left field.

“Hmmm” content shakes things up a little. It can uncover new intersections, new audiences, and new directions for you.

Newsjacking is something you’ll do as the occasion rises. You can’t plan for it, you can only be ready when the opportunity comes up. When your social media outposts are buzzing about a particular topic, you have a chance to jump in and get into the conversation, like I did with my post on whether Facebook was still viable for content marketers.

True newsjacking is as much art as science. Be sure to read (and truly absorb) David Meerman Scott’s book Newsjacking if you want to make the best use of the technique.

One final thought on newsjacking that shouldn’t be necessary to say, but it is: Don’t newsjack tragedies. If someone dies, don’t insert yourself into the story.

How can I get to know my audience?

On March 27, Darin L. Hammond said,

It sure is tough getting to know an audience for me, when most of my clients and readers I never meet. Any ideas or secrets on knowing the unseen?

Sonia Simone: Really understanding your audience is key to any type of marketing. If you don’t know what’s bugging them, what’s scaring them, and what delights them, you can’t create content that speaks to those problems, fears, and desires.

Your own blog comments should always be your first stop — that’s where you’ll get a direct reaction to what you say and how you say it. But if your traffic isn’t high enough to give you lots of comments yet, there are lots of other venues to do some audience recon.

The social web is the best market research tool ever invented … as long as you can cultivate a little patience. You’ll want to venture out of your own circle of friends and acquaintances. Join groups, Google+ communities, forums, and other online spots where people congregate.

Remember, you’re listening for:

  • Problems
  • Fears
  • Desires

And if you happen to find a reader or client who’s nearby, or if you’re traveling to another city, do anything you can to sit down for a coffee (or a beer) with a member of your audience. There’s something about face to face interaction that brings out all kinds of subtle and interesting points that can be tricky to get online.

Is authenticity the key to online marketing success?

Rob Schneider noted:

I get where you’re all coming from and agree to a point, but I think the secret to long term success is authenticity. I can always tell (or think I can, anyway — which is all that really counts) when a writer is trying to sound authoritative when they’re not or is mimicking another writer’s style. Ultimately, the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten was from Charles Bukowski’s poem, So You Want to be a Writer. Here are the first few lines:

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything
don’t do it

Sonia Simone: First things first: I believe authenticity is important online, especially now. The more time people spend online, the better they tend to get at sniffing out clones and con artists. And it just makes good business sense — the one element of your business no one can steal is … you.

But there’s one thing I think matters even more: usefulness.

We all have our favorite online train wreck — that individual who’s so transparent you’re a little worried they’re going to crack into pieces. And if what you have to sell is a hilarious and sharply written memoir, that can work beautifully.

But 99% of us will never hope to be as magnificently insane as Jenny Larson. Or as successfully twisted as Louis C.K. or Ricky Gervais. That means we need something else than for you to be yourself. We also need you to be useful.

So yes, be authentic in the sense that you’re not a weak copy of someone more remarkable. That’s just never going to work.

But be authentically useful. Give me someone who can solve a mundane but annoying problem over a brilliant but fragile “authentic” persona any day.

How about you?

Interested in seeing more Q&A posts like this? Got a content or online marketing question of your own you’d like us to consider for a future column?

Let us know in the comments below. We always love hearing what’s on your mind.

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Reader Comments (46)

  1. says

    Love this! Thanks Sonia.

    My suggestion – have another tagline or headline clinic in the comments. It’s been over a year since the last one!

    I have a question. The people who are most excited about my topic are newbies.I can tell because I ask how long you’ve been at it in my sign up form.

    However, the people who buy have more experience. They’re in the trenches getting kicked around. They feel comfy buying from me .partly because they’ve purchased similar things in the past.

    Now, as you’ve taught me, beginners in my market far outnumber seasoned people. And it’s true for me. My list is over 80% people who are just getting started.

    How do I get these folks ready to buy? What kind of course would appeal to them if they are still in the “hobby” stage?

  2. says

    Great post. I agree that our content should be useful, but I’d rather be authentic and creative than formulated and useful. I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to predict what my audience will like and not like. I’ve written posts that I thought they’d eat up that get little or no response. On the other hand, I’ve written posts that I thought would be duds that got loads of response. I think most of the basic rules to content apply, but we should never be afraid to break out of the box.

  3. says

    “The more time people spend online, the better they tend to get at sniffing out clones and con artists.”

    Excellent point! It’s getting easier and easier for online users to smell a “fake” profile/personality/persona coming from a mile away because they have seen it all before. Plus, why waste your time with a fake personality when the same amount of time could be spent really building up yours.

  4. says

    Sonia, my goodness I absolutely cracked UP when I saw the witty picture of the cat with the glasses on looking like a little professor. Anyhow on a serious note, especially how you said authenticity is important I could not agree more. There are too many online nowadays trying to be like the next guy when you really need to step back and look at yourself and ask, “Do I really want to look like the next guy and not stand out”?

  5. says


    I am a veritable font of questions. I’ll throw a few out here but if you need more I’m happy to flood your inbox on request :)

    1) I barely have time to publish content much less market it. So there is this tension between investing time into CREATION vs. MARKETING. Any advice on how to allocate time between the two? I’ve seen various philosophies on this but would really value your input!

    2) How do you maximize the value of your cornerstone content in terms of engaging new readers, subscribers, etc? Or do you simply treat it like any page on your site with the standard sidebar signup form, comments, etc.

    3) What is your opinion on keeping comments on old (cornerstone) content open? Personally I can’t keep up with responding to all comments on old posts so after 1-2 months I don’t respond anymore but keep them open so others can engage on them. But I’m not sure if this is wise as people coming directly to the site to old content may not realize that it’s old or understand why their comment isn’t getting a response. Thoughts?

    • says

      I can’t exactly answer your questions but I can offer you a piece of advice that has been a godsend to me on point 1.

      When creating content it’s already a good time to market last weeks content :)

      While you’re creating your next masterful piece there is no harm in adding an extra little 2 sentence paragraph saying “while your at it you might be interested in my post on…”. It’s not ‘content marketing’ in a traditional sense it’s still building links, directing relevant traffic, educating readers and spreading your content farther. It’s a very small part of the whole content marketing range but if you don’t have a great deal of time to go about and focus on marketing a new piece then properly interlinking where appropriate is a good trick to remember.

      Combine creation and marketing if you can but don’t go overboard.

  6. says

    Hey know-it-all,
    This was a lot of fun. Dig the format. I’ve done a version of the same. I had got into a CM survey and in it found a nice list of common questions. Turned that into a story at socialmediatoday, which got 4-5K views and counting. This weekend I’m doing a live version of the same thing at MarketingCamp SF in a conference session. Should be cool. Good to know when I don’t have the answers, I know someone who knows it all. [Anyone who might want to check out my CM Q&A, search for “12 Brutally Honest Answers to Your Content Marketing Questions.” G’day.

  7. says


    I love the image!

    I’d like to know the Number One way to make your content go viral besides writing awesome content. Is it guest blogging? Is it commenting on blog posts? Is commenting on blog posts even a smart thing to do, or a waste of time? Is it PPC marketing? Is it local networking? Is it social media? Other?

    Thanks. Have a great weekend!

  8. Paige Gilbert says

    I would love to see more Q&A posts like this one. It was very helpful in 2 big ways:

    1. It was a great reminder that others have the same kind of questions I do – it’s easy to forget we’re not alone!
    2. It helped affirm that we are on the right track and just need to keep doing what we’re doing!

    Thanks for always-great content!

    • says

      Thanks Paige!

      I have long noticed that about Q&As — the questions & answers tend to benefit many more people than the one person whose question it was. We’re all in very similar boats. 😉

  9. says

    Sonia, could you please help me relate the Cornerstone, Hmmm, Newjacking content framework to Brian’s framework of Cornerstone, Connection, Conversion content? It seems like Hmmm & Newsjacking content are most useful as “Connection” content. Thank you for this post, Sonia. I really like this format.

    • says

      Exactly — Hmmm and Newsjacking are both Connection. They’re ways for new people to find you, and for your existing people to make a closer connection with you.

  10. says

    I like how in the AgentPress Roadmap PDF, Brian gave a list of examples of for each of those 3 types of content (Cornerstone, Connection, Conversion). I’m fairly clear on on what the cornerstone content of Copyblogger is, and it seems pretty obvious what the Connection content is, but what would you consider your Conversion content? Is that the posts that have a call to action or are plugging a specific offer? I would really like to see a general list with examples for these 3 types of content, similar to the AgentPress Roadmap.

    • says

      Conversion content deals with what people have to believe or agree with to do business with you. Here’s an example:

      If someone thinks it’s fine to build an online presence with a Facebook Page alone, they’re not likely to build a website with our products. That post explains why not owning your own online real estate is a very bad idea.

      • says

        LOL… Online “real estate” – no pun intended of course?

        Anyway… I’ve preached this countless times to agents who are enamored with “free tools” rather than focusing on building (and controlling) their own business on the web – and their ultimate destiny. Granted, some of the resistance is due to the learning curve – but we all have to start somewhere!

        • says

          Heh, Tony! :)

          The learning curve isn’t so terrible when you factor in the amount of cursing, groaning, and shouting that we all do every time Facebook announces another “improvement.”

  11. says

    One important thing resonated in my mind is that we are not writing wikipedia, wr write about people interest desires and fears. This what makes everyone feel s hia identity in the content. It is really the basis of original effective content.

  12. says

    I’d like to know the exact strategy we can use to increase the conversation with readers, how to increase comments on every blog post and keep them engaging? I know one factor which accounts for this is post count. So I’d also like to know the best posting frequency and how to determine it?


  13. says

    Thanks Sonia! These were a few questions I had, but never asked. I especially like the clarification of Cornerstone Content. That is something I am trying to create on my blogs.
    Copyblogger always provides so much great information, but I would love to see more of the Q&A.

    • says

      Thanks Clara! Glad you liked this format. I do too — it’s interesting to approach questions and issues directly as they come from readers.

  14. Chris Sanchez says

    This format is excellent, Sonia. Thank you!

    I have done Q&A to build a responsive audience for my offline business, and this seems to be a great approach for blogging too.

    As a new content marketer, this is very useful to me because many of the questions from the other members strike up new ideas and a-ha’s for me.



  15. says

    Great Post Sonia,
    I really got a clearer understanding of some if the questions bugging me in this post. I hope you do more if this Q&a As. its kinda cool.

  16. says

    Great Post Sonia,
    I really got a clearer understanding of some if the questions bugging me in this post. I hope you do more of this Q&a As. its kinda cool.

  17. Joy says

    Very helpful….I think we all know that you read or hear something, even over and over…and then one day someone asks the question, or somehow delivers the same information and suddenly it CLICKS.

  18. says

    Authentic and useful – thanks! Funny how I overlooked that very “useful” part of the equation. Entertaining and authentic as Copyblogger is, I wouldn’t keep coming back if the content wasn’t useful.

  19. says

    Valuable discussion! I would like to say that when you create content marketing with best possible strategies(mentioned above) there is max possibility to achieve your goals and more likely to attract your intended audience. if you follow these, you will be more able to -when you write content that should be best possible guide for visitors and suited to your audience.

  20. says

    No one can steal “you” — beautifully put.

    What a few of the founders of some of the biggest communities on the Web taught me long ago is that “what happens online, is a reflection of what happens offline and behind the scenes.” They’re vibrant communities were a reflection of their vibrant and connected lives.

  21. Stephen "Steve" Q Shannon says

    Absolutely…keep this up. I’ve been “active” online since early 90s. What you do is the best. You have every right to position you as so-called Know-It-All, I guess because I don’t! Here. Hear. More. sQs Delray Beach FL

  22. says

    I like the clever way you use to turn everything available to you into content for blog post..
    Smart moves!

  23. says

    Hey Sonia :)

    First, I love the idea of you responding to people’s questions in this format and would love to see more of it. Having this kind of social interaction happen on a blog feels, for some reason, much more appealing to me that having it happen in Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

    There’s this feeling I get when engaging in discussions on social media sites that the conversation is so incredibly temporary. You have a conversation and then it disappears in a matter of hours or days, and people’s attention (mine included) is off onto the next discussion in their stream. Seems to support the development of ADD in us all…whereas having the conversation in posts like this feels much more sane. Keep ’em coming :)

    Second, as I was reading your answer to the question that Darin asked about how to get to know your audience, I couldn’t help thinking about one way to do that that I stumbled on. This may not work for everyone, but if you have a product or program for sale on your site, I’ve found that you can get to know a lot about people in your market and what they’re really looking for within the private emails you’ll get from your customers.

    In my experience, when people write in privately with compliments, things they’d like to see more of in one of my programs, questions about how to do this or that, or even when a few folks write in asking for refunds, you can get a really clear view of their pain points and needs in their private communications.

    If you pay attention to those private emails over time and look for patterns, you can get invaluable information that can lead you to create new products, services, or programs, or evolve your current offerings in a way that can meet the pain points and needs you’ve discovered.

    For example, over the last 6 months, I’ve gotten a couple dozen private emails from people with a clear pattern emerging from all of them. It went something like “Hey Forest, I’m loving your program, and even though your tutorials are amazingly clear and easy for me to follow, what I’m really wanting is X.”

    And after hearing so many people wanting “X,” I’m now in the process of developing that thing for them, and for other prospects in my market.

    So, if any of you reading this sell something on your site, remember that you might find some enlightening insights from people in your market delivered straight to your inbox :)

    Hope this helps a bit,

  24. says

    Sonia, I am involved in a business course where we need to compare business models. I am being asked questions that I cannot find information for. Does Copyblogger have a public annual report? Thanks for your help.

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