Content marketing has been gaining popularity steadily.

Google Trends for "content marketing"

More and more companies, e.g., Shopify, Beardbrand, and us too, have succeeded using this type of marketing. 

If you’re a startup, you’re probably wondering, “Should I use content marketing? And if I decide to, how do I go about it?” 

That’s what we’re answering in this guide. 

Why is content marketing important for startups?

Content marketing is important for startups because it helps them get more customers. It does this by creating brand awareness and teaching potential customers how a business can help solve their problems. 

For example, we have a blog post about finding out who links to your website. It currently holds the featured snippet for the query:

Featured snippet for the query "who links to my site"

Within the article, we show readers how to find out who links to their websites using a couple of tools, one of which is our own Site Explorer:

Mention of our tool, Site Explorer, in our blog post

So anyone who’s searching for this query will discover our brand and product. They may eventually become customers. 

And that’s only one blog post. Compound the effect by the hundreds of pieces of content we’ve produced—articles, videos, social posts, etc.—and you can see how powerful content marketing can be. 

Just see how much organic traffic our blog gets from Google alone:

Organic traffic for the Ahrefs blog, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Getting buy-in for content marketing

Content marketing takes time. It takes time in terms of resources (research, creation, promotion), and it takes time in terms of results. 

Because it requires patience, content marketing works well only if the management team believes in it. That has been my experience so far, and it has been the experience for others too:

Unfortunately, not every management team is on board with content marketing right away. For example, some startups have limited resources or C-level executives may be biased toward marketing channels, e.g., paid advertising, that produce “faster” results. 

So if your boss or manager doesn’t give you sufficient time or resources to invest in content marketing, then it cannot work. If you’re in that situation, you’ll need to first spend some time getting buy-in from your managers.

Your game plan should involve:

  • Statistics proving that content marketing works – Use this list of content marketing statistics to convince your management team. 
  • Examples of other companies (ideally in your niche) that have found content marketing to work well – If you’re starting a new beard product company, for example, you’ll want to show your managers how Beardbrand has succeeded with its blog. 

You’ll also want to show them your content marketing plan, so they know how you’ll be executing the strategy and tactics. 

You can also use the resources below to learn how to build up your case. While they’re about SEO, the principles can still apply to your situation. (After all, SEO and content marketing suffer from similar management team setbacks.)

Getting started with content marketing for your startup

Before you create any content, make sure you have two things down pat. 

1. Your target audience

The goal of content marketing is to attract more customers to your business. So if you don’t know exactly who you’re targeting, you can’t create the right content to get more of them.

The first step before you do anything is to be clear on who your target audience is

We recommend that you create a buyer persona. Read the guide below to learn how to create one for your business.

Recommended reading: How to Create a Buyer Persona for Your Business 

2. Get your technical SEO in order

A big part of your content marketing strategy will be to rank your content high on Google. But if Google cannot access, crawl, or index your content, then you simply cannot rank. 

So it’s important to get the technical aspects of your website right. The easiest way to do this is to sign up for our free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) and run an audit of your website

If there are any technical SEO issues with your website, the tool will flag them out for you. It’ll also explain why something is an issue and how you can fix it:

Issue details and how to fix it, via Ahrefs' Site Audit

Recommended reading: The Beginner’s Guide to Technical SEO 

The two types of content you’ll create

Your approach to content creation will be two-pronged. Both types of content should be created simultaneously. 

Prong 1. “Viral” content

The first part of your content strategy will be to create content that has the potential to attract a lot of attention. You know this as “going viral.” 

Why do we want to do this? There are a few reasons:

  1. Gaining a lot of attention in the short term for your content can prove to the management that content marketing works Metrics like shares may be vanity, but they provide short-term results that can help nudge management toward investing more in content marketing. 
  2. Get your brand name out – One of the biggest challenges for startups is that no one knows who you are. If your content attracts attention, then people will start to notice your brand. 
  3. Earn links – Links are an important Google ranking factor. Since the second part of our strategy will involve ranking high on Google, you should start acquiring links now. 
  4. Drive traffic to your website – Gaining attention means people are checking out your website and its contents. 

Now, take note that we don’t have to reach the level of the most viral meme. We just need people in our niche to know and share about us.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Find content ideas

I want to be clear: There are no surefire ways of knowing which content will go viral. If it was so easy, every startup would have a piece of viral content. 

What we can do is improve our chances of success. We can do this by looking at what has been popular and seeing if we can replicate the ideas. 

Here’s how:

1. Look at what has resonated in communities

Many “viral” pieces of content get their start in niche communities: 

  1. Someone shares a piece of content on a forum (e.g., Hacker News) or subreddit. 
  2. It generates a lot of upvotes and comments.
  3. It gets picked up by users on other social networks.
  4. The media picks it up.

So if you can find these pieces of content, you can consider replicating them. 

To find them, go to a forum or community page and find the most popular posts. For example, you can see this easily in any subreddit by setting it to Top and All Time

The Top posts of All Time in the subreddit, r/supplements

For other forums, you can typically find a Sort by feature where you can see the most viewed posts:

The Most Viewed posts in a forum

For Hacker News, you can use this “search engine” to look through the archives. 

2. Look at what has been highly shared

Viral” content doesn’t always get its start on a community forum. Sometimes, it generates its initial spread through a social network itself. 

Here’s how to find content that’s widely shared:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
  2. Enter a term relevant to your niche
  3. Set the Language filter to the language you create content in
  4. Set the Live/broken filter to Only live
  5. Set the filter to Exclude homepages and subdomains
  6. Sort the results by Twitter or Pinterest shares (whichever platform you’re interested in)
Most shared content, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

You can also set the Publication date filter to a relatively recent period (e.g., one to two years) to see only content that has been highly shared recently. 

While Content Explorer is great for Twitter and Pinterest, it’s still missing a couple of important social networks. If you want to see what’s popular on Facebook and Instagram, you can use the CrowdTangle Chrome extension to see how often a link gets shared, who shared it, and what they said.

3. Look at what people are linking to

Linking is a form of sharing too. So if a piece of content has acquired a lot of links, it means it has generated a lot of attention. 

Here’s how to find this content:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
  2. Enter a term relevant to your niche
  3. Set the Language filter to the language you create content in
  4. Set the Live/broken filter to Only live
  5. Set the filter to Exclude homepages and subdomains
  6. Set the Publication date filter to sometime recent (e.g., the past two years)
  7. Sort the results by Referring domains
Most linked-to content, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer
4. Share a contrarian opinion

Hot takes and controversial opinions tend to get a lot of traction on social media. If you have one, you can create a piece of content around it. 

For example, since the pandemic began, remote work became championed as the “future norm.” Plenty of people seemed happy about it; no one seemed to question it. 

Well, Sean Blanda did. He wrote a piece titled, “Our remote work future is going to suck.” It must have resonated with many people because it has picked up hundreds of shares and links:

Stats for the post "Our remote work future is going to suck"

There should be plenty of widely accepted ideas, concepts, best practices, and advice in your niche. Share a contrarian opinion that refutes one of them. Even better: make sure you can back it up with actual data or personal experience. 

2. Create the content

Once you’ve selected a potential list of topics, it’s time to create the content. 

Follow the handbook below to learn how to create a great piece of content. 

Recommended reading: Writing Handbook by Julian Shapiro 

3. Promote the content

Content doesn’t go viral on its own. You’ll need a way to “kickstart” it. You’ll have to promote your content

Here are some tactics to help promote your content:

A. Share your content with your existing audience

If you have an existing audience on email and/or social media, make sure you share your newly published content with them. 

If you don’t have an existing audience, it’s a reminder to start building them.

B. Share content in relevant communities

You’ve got your ideas from these communities, so it’s a no-brainer to share them there. 

For example, when I was working at a startup a few years ago, I made sure to share my content on relevant subreddits. Many of the posts got hundreds and thousands of upvotes and sent a ton of traffic to the website:

Highly upvoted post on r/bodyweightfitness

Always make sure to study the communities you want to share your content in. Abide by the community rules, learn their culture and lingo, and participate actively. Don’t spam and don’t be there merely to promote—most communities hate that and will ban you in a jiffy. 

Only when you’re a trusted member of the community can you start to share some of your content. 

Recommended reading: Reddit Marketing: How to Self Promote on Reddit and Get More Traffic 

C. Outreach

There are multiple outreach opportunities in every post you publish. 

First, if you’ve mentioned anyone or any resources in your content, you should reach out and let them know. Nothing too complicated; just send a simple email like:

Hey [First Name],

I recently published an article on [topic] and linked to [your resource]. 

Here it is: [Link]

Thought you might enjoy the mention. 🙂


[Your Name]

Second, if you’ve based your content on highly shared or highly linked-to content, you can see who has shared or linked to the content and reach out. After all, if they’ve shared or linked to a similar piece of content in the past, chances are they’re interested in the topic and will love to see new stuff. 

To find these people, click on the Referring domains column in Content Explorer:

The websites linking to a popular post on Bitcoin, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

If you’re looking for social shares, click on the Who tweeted tab:

The people who tweeted a popular post on Bitcoin, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Once you have a list of people, find their emails and reach out to them. 

Recommended reading: Blogger Outreach: How to Do It at Scale (Without Feeling Like a Jerk) 

D. Repurpose your content

Extend the shelf life of each piece of content you create by turning it into different formats. For example, we turned our video on affiliate marketing into a blog post

We also regularly turn our content into Twitter threads:

Recommended reading: The Complete Guide to Content Repurposing 

E. Run ads

If you have the budget, you can always run ads to your content to give it a boost. 

Recommended reading: PPC Marketing: Beginner’s Guide to Pay-Per-Click Ads 

Prong 2. SEO content

The second part of your content strategy will be to focus on evergreen content that will rank high on Google and generate search traffic. 

Here’s how to do it:

1. Find topics with search traffic potential

If you want to get search traffic, you have to target topics that people are searching for on Google. Finding these topics is a process known as keyword research, and the easiest way to begin is to use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter one or a few keywords related to your niche
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
The Matching terms report in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Since startups generally have lesser “website authority,” we recommend targeting low-competition keywords in the beginning. 

For example, if you’re a social media marketing tool, it will be almost impossible to rank high for “social media marketing.” Not only does it have a Keyword Difficulty (KD) score of 91, but most of the top-ranking pages are also well-established sites with thousands of backlinks:

The SERP overview for "social media marketing," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

To narrow down the list to only low-competition keywords, you can set the KD filter to a max of something like 20. 

Keyword Difficulty filter in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

From here, you can look through the list and pick out the keywords that are relevant and can promote your business. You can do this by looking at each topic’s business potential:

The Ahrefs Business Potential table

Ideally, you should focus on creating content for topics that score at least a “2” and above. That way, you can educate searchers who discover your content via search engines about how your product works and why it helps to solve their problems. 

This is known as product-led content, and it’s the basis of our entire content strategy. 

Recommended reading: Product-Led Content: What It Is, Why Use It, and How to Get Started 

2. Create content

When you have a list of topics you want to target, it’s time to create content to rank for them. 

To rank high on Google, you’ll need to show that your page deserves to be there. One of the most fundamental aspects of this is relevance. 

In SEO, relevance means aligning your content with search intent—the why behind a search query. We can understand this by looking at what’s ranking on the first page of Google. 

But more specifically, what we want is to analyze the three Cs of search intent. 

  1. Content type – Is there a dominant type of content on the SERP, such as blog posts, product pages, videos, or landing pages?
  2. Content format – Is there a dominant content format on the SERP, such as guides, listicles, news articles, opinion pieces, or reviews?
  3. Content angle – Is there a dominant angle on the SERP, such as freshly updated content or content aimed at beginners?

For example, let’s analyze the three Cs for the keyword, “best vpn”:

SERP overview for "best vpn," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer
  1. Content type – The results are mostly blog posts.
  2. Content format – The results are mostly listicles.
  3. Content angle – The results are mostly fresh, i.e., updated to the current year.

When you’ve analyzed the search intent for all your target topics, it’s time to create them. I recommend following the process in this video to learn how to create content that’ll rank on Google:

3. Build links

Links are an important Google ranking factor. It’s been confirmed by Google reps, and studies like our own have found a strong, positive correlation between the number of websites linking to a page and how much search traffic it gets from Google:

Chart showing the correlation between search traffic and referring domains

Put simply: If you want to rank high on Google, you need links. 

The issue, though, is that as a startup, you probably don’t have many links now. But don’t worry, all’s not lost. There are always “easy” links you can quickly acquire:

  • Social profiles – These days, you should at least have profiles and pages on the common social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn). You can add links to your website on your pages. 
  • Startup directories – These are websites or pages that collate a list of startups. You can search for these sites on Google and apply to be on them. 
  • Local directories – These are websites or pages in your local area that collate a list of startups or products. Search for them and request to be on them.
  • Product Hunt – Product Hunt is a community for new product discovery. The “trick” is that you can’t submit your own product, so you’ll have to find someone (known as a “hunter”) to get them to add your product. 
  • Help a Reporter Out (HARO) – HARO is a site that connects journalists and experts. Sign up and you’ll receive emails from journalists looking for experts to quote. If you’re knowledgeable about a particular niche or industry, you can reply to a journalist and often get a link back. 
  • Product reviews – Reach out to websites or pages that review products in your niche. You can send them one of your products and get them to write a review about it. 

And more. 

Follow this video to acquire your first 100 backlinks: 

If you’re doing them right, your “viral” content pieces should have earned you a number of links too (hopefully). Make sure that, where relevant, you add internal links from these attention-grabbing pages to your other important pages. 

Middleman Strategy

Beyond that, you should be building links to your important pages consistently. Watch this video to learn how link building works:

Final thoughts

Here’s what our content creation process looks like:

Ahrefs blog content creation process

Does it look scary and complicated? Maybe. 

But we didn’t arrive at this spot right from the get-go. Like you, we were once a small startup. We started with one person creating content, then two, then three, then more. 

Even when we were a one-person team, our content was already making an impact on the industry. So don’t be disheartened by the competition you see ahead of you—great content stands out anywhere. 

Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t expect to create hundreds of content in the first month. You’ll need time to execute your strategy, hire people, and get your process right. 

Commit to it, follow the strategy I’ve laid out, and refine your process. You can do it! 

Any questions or comments about this post? Let me know on Twitter


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