Why Content Marketing is a Long Game (and How to Play It)

Image of Vintage Chess Board

The Copyblogger Media team returned from Austin last week, where (almost) all of us gathered for a company-wide meeting amidst the madness of SXSWi.

We flew in for three days — from all corners of the US and Canada — to talk company values, where we’ve been, and where we’re going.

Our company works entirely remotely, so before this meeting, I hadn’t met most of my co-workers. During the course of those three days, I built relationships with our support team, I played poker (badly) with our developers, and I bonded with my editorial staff over eighties music and movies.

Our management team thinks long term. They know that the long-game value of getting all of us together to bond, plan, laugh, and dream far exceeds the cost of plane tickets, hotel rooms, catered meals, and private viewings of the late, great Patrick Swayze’s Road House (ask Tony Clark).

And, whether you know it or not, you’re playing a long game with content.

Let’s take a look at just a few ways to improve your online strategy.

It’s time to start looking sideways …

We know that the long-form sales letter still works in some contexts.

Copywriters use them when they should because they work. But instead of writing a 4,000-word sales page, smart content marketers are using what’s been called a “sideways sales letter.”

Instead of gambling everything on a one-page, one-shot conversion possibility, we spread our message out over a period of months and years. We use lots of different kinds of blog posts, and publish content in chunks of around a thousand words.

You’re building relationships with this method, and you’re selling, you’re just doing it by playing the long game. You’re selling over the course of years, not minutes or hours.

All the articles you publish serve different functions on your blog, but your end goal is always in sight. It may take you two years to turn a prospect in a customer, and that’s okay. In the meantime, your readership is going to shift and change, and people are going to enter your content stream at different places.

If you structure your content plan well, your prospects will keep moving on the virtual conveyor belt toward your end goal — which is making the sale.

And all the while, you’re building a potentially very valuable asset (your content-rich website) … an asset that you own.

Let’s go through a couple of article examples from Copyblogger, and talk about why we publish different kinds of posts to our site (and how we keep our eye on the long game every day).

Build cornerstone content

Some posts — like Brian Clark’s legendary “Don’t Read This or the Kitty Gets It” — from our Copywriting 101 series — explain a basic foundation of the topic.

You can think of these pieces as FAQ posts — they answer the questions your clients and prospects ask you on a regular basis.

Sonia Simone’s 10-Step Content Marketing Checklist is another Copyblogger cornerstone piece. In that post, Sonia says,

The cornerstone of your platform comes from what interests and engages your audience. If you’re just starting out, you can start with what interests and engages you, then observe and adapt from there.

If your site is brand-new, start with about 10 posts that really encapsulate your fundamental beliefs and values about your topic. Think about what you would want every single reader of your site to know about.

Foundation articles are important to your long game, because new readers will often find your website from them.

Current readers will love them, too, because it never hurts to get a fresh look at the basics of your topic. Foundation content is a website owner’s bread and butter, because they consistently attract links and social sharing, 24/7, 365.

Make your readers go “hmmmmm”

This kind of content takes a step back from teaching the basics, and takes a 30,000-foot view of your topic. Robert Bruce’s content marketing fables, like his recent “The Great Chef and the Failing Restaurant” is an example of this kind of content.

Posts that make people think will help you build solid relationships with your audience members.

They prove you know your subject deeply, that you think about things at a level that most people don’t — and that you want to help your readers understand your topic on that level, too.

These articles are memorable and can be highly accessible (and shareable), too.

Master the soft (direct) sell

Brian Clark recently wrote a post about Site Sensor, our new website monitoring tool. It wasn’t a typical post for Copyblogger, meaning it wasn’t only straight-up useful content.

Brian had a goal in writing this post — he wanted to explain a problem, give some insight into how he himself had experienced the problem in the past, and then give you a great solution (one of our new products) to that problem.

This post doesn’t push a “hard sell” angle — it’s not a sales letter — but it has more of a direct sales slant than some of our other content.

It’s absolutely fine to strategically place articles like this … when it makes sense for your audience — you’re in business, after all, right?

The key is to make sure there’s real value present for readers, even if they don’t want to buy your product or service. Check out the introduction to Brian’s post for clues on how to do this.

Become a newsjacker

You’ve probably heard that Google Reader is going away. That announcement was major news in our industry, and a perfect opportunity for Copyblogger’s editorial team.

In last week’s post on Google Reader alternatives, Jerod Morris explained what Google Reader’s demise means for content providers.

Posts like this focus on trends, current events, or news in your industry. Trend pieces might not be evergreen pieces, like foundational posts, but they’re still really important.

Posts on current events support your content long game because they frame you as the go-to expert in your field — as the guy (or gal) your reader goes to when they need news and information in your industry. They allow prospects to get to know, like and trust you as a valued content provider.

For more on this type of writing, listen to Robert Bruce’s Newsjacking interview with David Meerman Scott.

Playing the content marketing long game

In our everyday lives as busy content marketers, it’s easy to lose track of what our end goal actually is.

Your best move is to consistently create interesting, highly sharable content that your readers can’t wait to read. And using these kinds of posts can help you do just that.

What other kinds of posts do you use for your blog, and how do they fit into your long-term content marketing strategy? Let me know in the comments …

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Reader Comments (42)

  1. says

    There are some great ideas in this article that I’m going to have to try on my blog. I just need to figure out a way to do the same things, but in terms of Influential Leadership content. Thanks Beth for this killer article. It’s in my Evernote now.

  2. Chris Johnson says

    As a long game it’s less of an arms race ,and more of a “special ops mission”

  3. says

    Beth, I particularly needed to be reminded of the “Cornerstone” content idea. It can feel trivial to teach basic things, and it’s easy to ignore it just because it’s not “fun”. But, you’re absolutely right. The content should center around the basics of the game. Keep up the good writing.

  4. Johanna Fenton says

    I love Copyblogger’s “Make your readers go hmmm” articles. I’d stick around for your other great content, but those ones in particular keep a spark for me. :)

    Plus, I loved IMFSP Radio. That held a spark for me, too, but I guess I was in the minority? Must not be a profitable venue for y’all right now. But I’m loving that Entreproducer has taken to podcasts.

  5. says

    Great post! 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!

    • says

      Hi Vicky! I don’t know of a particular formula that I would recommend — different experts will tell you all kinds of different things. I think it totally depends on your audience. I will say, though, that I would like to see content marketers focus heavily on evergreen content, which is content that’s still going to be useful and relevant two years down the road (or longer). Most of Copyblogger’s content has been evergreen since the very beginning, and I think it has served us VERY well.

  6. says

    Thinking about content in this way — with varied types all fitting into a long-term strategy — is so valuable. I’ve seen so many sites, even been part of a few myself, that were either too short-term in their thinking (all “newsjacking” and going for 24-hour virility, which builds little long-term value) or too long-term in their thinking (making every post “epic” but leaving little room for the agility). Balancing the different post types within a long-term view, as you’ve laid out there, is the best way to go. When you look at websites that have sustained success – and not just in content marketing, but in any topic or field – they do this.

  7. says

    I just have to take a moment to THANK YOU for all of the amazing posts/info you so freely share. After five years of stepping away from my freelance writing/copywriting career to be a full-time mom, I am now diving back in & trying to bring myself up to speed with online marketing literacy. Time & again, I return to your site & posts as the #1 clear, informative & sensible resource. THANKS SO MUCH!

  8. says

    I really liked “make your readers go ‘hmmmmm.'” Loved that. Sometimes we think we have to crank out the tried and proven thoughts and methods within our niche, but you have hit on something major here. In fact, it made me go “hmmmmmm.” I think I’ll try it soon. Thanks, Amy

  9. says

    Hi Beth,

    If content marketing is, in essence, a long game, what are the post types (excluding landing pages in all their iterations) that a content producer would publish on their blog that lead to a reader’s conversion to customer?

    I see you’ve mentioned a few types here and I’m curious as to how often certain post types would nurture the know-like-trust process to a conversion.

    • says

      I think all of the post types that I’ve recommended above are smart choices for content marketers. They all build relationships, help you get found in the search engines, get shared on social media, and lead to conversions.

      • says

        Thanks Beth,

        I’ve been working to fine tune my blogging efforts for new clientele and have been trying to workout the right content market strategy for the audience I’m trying to reach.

        The ones suggested in the article made a light bulb go off and didn’t want to miss any other suggestions you might have.

  10. says

    So I guess content marketing is just a new word for the same warmed over sales letter techniques. Real content marketing is nothing like this. Engaging your ideal customer with media that actually does build trust and sells product is a start. However, “SALES” is not marketing (or sales letters)

    • says

      If you don’t believe that marketing’s ultimate purpose is to make sales, I’m glad I’m not a customer of your marketing service.

      At the risk of being snarky, I’d like to suggest that you may not have read this post carefully enough.

      • Sean Romanoff says

        Content marketing a huge evolutionary step because it’s about dialogue, just like sales. And unless you live in the world of boiler room sales, you LOVE the warm leads content marketing creates.

    • says

      The content performs most of the functions of a sales letter (everything before the offer) without being “salesy.” It’s essentially the “know like and trust” part that copywriters have to painstakingly establish with copy in a sales letter. Content does it better, because it has independent value.

      And if you think we’re not doing “real” content marketing here, you’re not paying attention. Turning a blog into a mutlimillion-dollar software company makes us the poster child for effective content marketing.

      Please feel free to share what you’ve accomplished with content marketing. I’d really like to know. Concrete examples with revenue and profit figures, please.

    • says

      The way I see it, “content marketing” is about invoking an emotion in your prospect that empowers them to take one of four actions: Share, Comment, Sign Up, or Buy.

      Content that does not encourage someone to do that is not marketing, it’s just content. Nothing wrong with that, just don’t call yourself a “content marketer” if you’re not getting someone to _do something_.

      The difference between content marketing and the traditional “SALES” letter is that one more or less guilts your reader into taking action, while the other empowers them. Very different vibe.

      But yeah, my major question is, how do you measure “trust” or “like-ability” on their own? Any married person will tell you, those things on their own are impossible to gauge.

      • says

        I think of content marketing more as an overall theme. It’s not just about one post or article, but about what you’re doing online over a period of months or years. I think pieces of regular content — ones that don’t directly encourage your reader to do something — are still part of that overall strategy. Straight content builds relationships, and gets your audience to know/like/trust you — so it’s incredibly important. I don’t think we can pick apart a site like Copyblogger and say, “This post is content marketing, but the one last week is not.” It’s ALL content marketing. And it’s working.

        As for your last question, I don’t think we can measure trust or likability on their own — all we can do is measure things like audience growth and sales. Those stats will tell you if your strategy is working or not.

  11. says

    Great post!
    This is the first time I come across a clear definition of the way content works online.
    Many things are said and some speak about copy writing, others about blogging but never everything combined.

    I agree with you we have to write basic topics mingled with trendy topics and always having in mind our end goal.

  12. says

    Web sites are major long-term investments. This is a great post that reminds me that short term gratification isn’t the way to go if you’re a writer.

  13. says

    I can attest to the fact that cornerstone content is often very popular with readers. Facts that are second nature to you are often very fascinating to your new readers.

  14. says

    Thanks Beth and the Copyblogger team for the steady stream of great info. As more of my client work turns toward content development / marketing (e.g., detailed customer case studies lately), your advice on content mix is always worth reading.

  15. says

    Hi Beth, I really loved reading this post! But I would like to differ from you on the point, “Become a newsjacker”. Becoming a newjacker can only help you if you have a well established blog where thousands of people come to your blog daily to know what’s latest. But if someone who is just starting up writes about such topics then no one is ever going to come to his blog (unless some miracle happens).
    I feel new blogs should concentrate more on “Make your readers go “hmmmmm”” type content.

    • says

      Not true. The heart of “newsjacking” is a great idea that gets you media coverage, no matter big or small. It’s what you do to get noticed in the first place, we just did a version of it that we could feed our own audience.

  16. says

    Thank you copyblogger for all that you do. You consistently deliver on your message and I have personally gained tremendous insight from your articles. You have definitely influenced the approach I have taken with my site. With you, I keep getting better and better.

    I have been writing way better headlines, developing greater content and producing many thought provoking tweets because of you.

    What I feel has been working for me and building my audience is a mixture of writing and video. It really shakes things up and I know that it keeps my budding audience on their toes. Also, my subject email lines are becoming bombproof and almost always get opened.

    Thank you again and keep the great content coming please!

  17. says

    Hi Beth,
    It’s so nice to hear someone talk about content creation not as a short-term solution but as a long-term investment…even if that person happens to be an integral part of the content community. I can see how the long game vision needed to grow a business can be related to a long game content marketing strategy. It was so nice to see this post shared with the BizSugar community too.

  18. says

    I always like the idea of new-jacking to create content, and be part of the voice in the “trending” issues

  19. says

    Great post. I don’t like hard sales. I don’t like marketing gimmicks or tactics, so the long,slow, honest style that blogging lends itself to is perfect for me. But I’m still learning everyday.

  20. says

    Copyblogger simply doesn’t disappoint.

    Thanks for the actionable write-up. Easy to follow and useful for my content marketing plan.

  21. steve says

    The better the content, the more engaging you are. Your pieces of advice actually reminded me of an article I’ve recently read about a guy called Lorne Marr who set up his business here in Canada and then decided to penetrate the online insurance market. He found a little company called Foliovision and entrusted its team with that task and after a few years the guy runs a multimillion-dollar business. And as he explains in the article the key to his success right now is the constant search for high quality content regularly presented on his website.

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