Ask Me Anythings, or AMAs, have long been a popular conversation format on Reddit. More recently, they've really taken off on Inbound.org, giving marketers of all stripes the opportunity to pick the brains of industry influencers and thought leaders.
Annie Cushing, Brian Clark, Avinash Kaushik and other thought leaders in our industry have participated in AMAs on Inbound over the last 18 months. Typically, it's announced a few days ahead of time and participants come back over several days to answer questions from the community. The content tends to be laser-focused and super-high-quality – they don't go as off-track as you might see on Reddit, probably due in large part to the fact it's a niche site and the audience tend to be well-versed in the basics.
Not a lot of questions like “Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?”
Here are some of the most valuable content marketing ideas, tips and tricks to come out of the Inbound AMAs, from the generous industry leaders who have given us a chance to ask them just about anything. (Also check out Larry Kim's best PPC tips from his own Inbound.org AMA and our collection of the best SEO tips from Reddit AMAs.)
What Works Today in Content Marketing?
When you're just starting out
Choose who you want to reach, and find out everything you can about them. Their problems and desires. The topics that relate to those problems and desires. The language they use when searching Google and social media for those topics. Who else is serving the needs of these people, both with content and with products and services. This is where you always start.
- Brian Clark, CEO of CopyBlogger Media
On the value of content
A piece of content is worth a lot. A year ago or so, we actually came up with a formula: A guest post would give us around 100 signups in the lifetime of the article. We have a 2% conversion from free to paid for Buffer. So that means 2 people will pay. Our lifetime value for a paying user is around $250. So a piece of content was around $500. We don't use that anymore, but just as an example along which lines we are thinking. Rand Fishkin taught me that content isn't for direct signups – it's to create loyalty, branding and familiarity. That's very much an idea I've come around to. So I would rather pay you consistently up front, and have you as a writer create awesome content every week, then always charge per result!
- Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer
Why most content is still crap
As long as people see content as a means to an end (getting higher rankings and distracting people so you sell more stuff) instead of part of the end itself (building strong relationships and an enduring audience who will ALWAYS buy your stuff) it'll stay this way.
- Ian Lurie, CEO of Portent
On SEO copywriting
What we call SEO copywriting is actually reflecting the language of the audience back at them (when done correctly). This has been the secret to effective copywriting in general for decades before search engines. The key is to quit worry about gaming an algorithm (that's getting more "person like" all the time) and focus on the language of the audience in order to connect with them, first and foremost.
- Brian Clark, Copyblogger
Do long single-page sales pages actually convert?
Long-form stuff definitely works. But not for complex stuff – it is usually consumer-focused and impulse-buy. It is not against best-practice. It is actually in a long and battle-tested tradition of direct response copywriting. The stuff has been around for many decades with people like Eugene Schwartz. I wouldn't use it for expensive B2B stuff though.
- Tim Ash, CEO of SiteTuners and Chair of Conversion Conference
Long-form stuff works!
Different Types of Content: Where to Focus Your Efforts
On when to use infographics
I love infographics IF – and only if – they're done well. I think infographics have been abused and have gotten a bad rap as a result. But when we're analyzing data from thousands of advertisers and looking at billions in spend, charts are boring. Infographics can really help break down complex issues and visually demonstrate concepts if they're done right.
- Larry Kim, CTO at WordStream Inc.
The downside of visuals
People misunderstand the power of visuals. Basically they distract the visitor and make it hard for them to prioritize. There is a hierarchy – motion, visuals, text – and stuff at the higher levels will prevent the visitor on focusing on more subtle stuff at the lower levels. So cut back on the motion and the window-dressing – boring works.
- Tim Ash, Sitetuners
On using content for e-commerce
To most e-commerce sites, content feels almost like a distraction. They're there to sell products, and can't make a good, data-verified connection between content and sales. So content gets shunted off to the blog, separated from the products, which of course reduces the impact, and makes it seem more like a distraction. Woot.com does the best job by far. Appsumo is purely information stuff but I love their tone and style. Amazon is clearly in the lead when it comes to using user-generated content.
-Ian Lurie, Portent
Effective Content Creation Tips & Tactics
On getting better at content creation
Remember high school English? That's where you learned how to write (or, you were supposed to—heh). And you learned from doing it over and over again. So in terms of getting really good at producing amazing content:
- Figure out (research, analytics, what's got you all excited) what you want to focus on.
- Make an editorial calendar for yourself.
- Set aside writing time for yourself. Honor it.
- DO IT. Over and over. Ask for feedback. That's it.
- Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic CEO
On the writing process
In general, I write in a 2-step process. The first step, normally in the morning starting at 6:30 is the sourcing process. I find lots of research studies on a topic. Write a few sub-headings and basically make a big mess in a word document. I intentionally jot down lots of things that don't flow well. This helps me to break the "blank page" syndrome. I do this for around 1 hour or so. Then I go and do other tasks. Then in the afternoon, around 3-4 pm I get back to the post. The great thing is that my brain has by then normally made sense of all the different sections. I then edit and write the actual content in a concise form. In this 2nd phase I'm very focused on the actual wording, the flow and ordering all the research I've collected. I then publish that post next thing in the morning after doing a few final tweaks, like adding images, and so on.
- Leo Widrich, Buffer
On repurposing content
Reworking content – something I've been thinking about a lot recently – because I think that I've been too guilty of always moving onto the next thing rather than seeing all the different ways that a piece can be repurposed. A few top tips:
- Focus heavily on design (this is my favourite article on the importance of design recently).
- Think about channels – so for B2B I love repurposing things as blog posts / articles, slide decks, videos, emails etc.
- Incorporate feedback *explicitly* - i.e. reference the person who gave the feedback – this is a form of ego-bait and it's worked really well for me in the past.
- Will Critchlow, co-founder of Distilled
Referral Candy repurposes curated content for infographics, like this one
Don't pump content. Pump out passion. Passion comes from two things: 1. What you are knowledgeable about and 2. What you love. Big companies stink at both. They are not knowledgeable about local unique situations, people, issues. They are not passionate about it because they don't live where you live. They have to be generic and passionless. Exploit that. Only write about what comes from the intersection of #1 and #2. Sure, you are not going to outrank Mr. Humungo. But slowly but surely you will build a local and relevant audience and in the end it is not about attracting 1 million people, it is about attracting the 1,000 that are in your area that want to give you money.
- Avinash Kaushik, Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google
On getting people invested in content creation
If you can go to people and say, look, you've told us about the time constraints of your job, we know you're hesitant to commit to anything, but here is an editorial calendar that takes into account your time limitations, and here's the kind of support we can offer you during the process ... and here is WHY we want you to create this content ... then you have a solid business case that also seems manageable to the individual.
- Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic
On influencing influencers
The key is to start producing content that is useful and interesting to your target audience. You have to give them a reason to come to your website. Without that, outreach to influencers isn't going to be effective. In terms of finding influencers, you can use a tool like SEOmoz's FollowerWonk – or even Twitter search.
- Dharmesh Shah, CTO of HubSpot
Promoting Awesome Content
5 principles for content promotion
- Spend at least as much time on planning as you do on the actual promotion.
- Broaden the list of people you reach out to by segmenting your "content market."
- Leverage easier to acquire links to help get the more difficult ones.
- Engage in your community prior to outreach.
- Automate low-value tasks (finding contact info, collecting metrics, etc.).
- Paul May, CEO of BuzzStream
On the best inbound strategies for start-ups
Strategically, I believe that start-ups should be building permission assets – groups of people who are excited to hear what they have to say (tactically, I'm a big fan of email marketing). The best ways of building those groups is typically some combination of activity (content production, community management) and channel (search, social).
- Will Critchlow, Distilled
On finding promotable topics
Go to followerwonk and look at the word cloud of the all the followers of the biggest player in your space and then use those keywords to build co-relevant content ideas. Push the content at their followers through outreach and ads. Build the site so that it rewards profile creation, newsletter signups and follows. Keep the conversation going through the relevant social channels and continue to push out shareworthy content. Your community will grow.
- Mike King, ipullrank.com
On email promotion
I. Love. Email marketing! Check out this post that compiles everything I could possibly share with you about it – Email Marketing Campaign Analysis, Metrics, Best Practices. If you are not thinking about the transformative nature of mobile on email consumption and engagement, you are making a BIG MISTAKE.
- Avinash Kaushik, Google
Developing a position statement
Make sure you have a really well thought out positioning statement. This should summarize very succinctly the sets of feelings that you want to engender among your target customer. Having this will not only position you in the customer's mind, it will help you focus your efforts. Here's the template that I use for a positioning statement:
- For (target segment)
- Who wants (problem to solve)
- The (solution name) provides (solution to the problem)
- Unlike (primary competitor)
- The (solution name) (primary differentiator).
The key is making this very short...that focuses you and makes it really clear why you're the right solution. Developing this first will help drive your content strategy and promotion strategy.
- Paul May, BuzzStream
Measuring the Effects of Content Marketing
What metrics can you trust?
There's a hierarchy of metrics that can be measured. The "best" metric is raw "dollars in the door" (getting customers). If you can't measure customers, measure leads (which is a proxy for future customers). From there, the further out you get (using proxies for future leads/customers), the more dubious the metric. The motivation behind measurement is to figure out what is working and what is not. Most of the time, we measure things that we think are indicative of the thing we actually want. Because often, it's hard to measure the thing we actually want.
- Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot
For sites like my blog (or my BFF Thomas' most excellent fantastic must read by any digital person site) a very large percentage of people will just come to read the latest post or one post to solve a specific problem. Dwell time tells you what that engagement looks like because all web analytics tools stink (natively) at capturing time for single page view visits. I use the data to figure out what content is causing people stay and read. Is there a dwell time that leads to higher conversation rate. Is it correlated to social sharing. Does page speed cause higher or lower dwell time. And at least in some cases to see if dwell time causes me to make more repeat visits (and money!).
- Avinash Kaushik, Google
On monitoring and analyzing advanced analytics metrics
Aside from forensic data dives, webmasters should only spend their time monitoring key performance indicators (metrics on 'roids) that they care about. So for one webmaster, this might be just the basics. For another, they might be a brick and mortar who only cares about traffic from their sales regions, let's just say. That will require a custom report using some advanced(ish) metrics. But I also think that when it comes to analytics, a reporting dashboard should be created that pulls in the data they need (preferably using the GA API), and then formatted in a way that helps key decision makers see what they need to effortlessly. But all too often marketers don't automate this process and do the same repetitive tasks week after week, month after month.
- Annie Cushing, Annielytics