Success is not about word count

We have this idea in SEO and content marketing that if we churn out enough words we will beat Google’s ranking algorithm. It’s as if, by forcing as many words into Google as quickly as possible, we will eventually burst through to the top of the search results page.

If our 3,500+ word “in depth guide” breaks through we leap on this as proof that we can make it by sheer volume of words. But maybe we would have had as much success if the article had been 1000+ words shorter? Unless we publish two versions – one long, one short – of everything we publish, we can’t know for certain.

I’m definitely a writer who tends to “over-write”. This blog was meant to be short, but it’s already far longer than the average Seth blog, which was the inspiration for this post (more below). I search for a certain completeness in my work. This can be a strength, but perhaps also a weakness. But actually there is often great value in brevity. Take a look at Seth Godin’s blog, to get a great example of this. His posts are rarely much longer then 200 words, and are often much shorter.

That’s not to say he doesn’t take any time over his writing…. far from it. He not only blogs everyday, but he is constantly queuing up posts and replacing the ones that don’t grab him. But he values brevity over quantity. And he never stops.

I’m definitely not saying we shouldn’t write long posts. I’m just saying that in the content marketing arms race to produce better and more quality content we should be aware that word count is never the metric we should use for success. I’m increasingly of the opinion that we should focus more on connecting with actual people and providing bespoke responses to their problems.


Content marketing can increase your marketing ROI by 400%

Stacks of coins increasing in size.A simple infographic reminded me of the power of content marketing.

There are lots of content marketing history infographics floating around on the web.

I checked out a bunch writing my article drawing practical lessons from the history of content marketing. Don’t get me wrong, these infographics are typically of a very high quality. But after a while a “seen one, and you’ve seen ’em all” mentality begins to set in.

Earlier this year Contently published yet another content marketing infographic, but this time it made me sit up and pay attention. It made me write this article, in fact.

It’s well designed etc., but we can skip the niceties. Partly it was effective because it didn’t just present a linear timeline of the development of content marketing, but it broke it down into the pre and post-internet age, and tracked its growth from the first blog to contemporary use.

But the main thing that caught my eye is this:

When Kraft switched to an all-content strategy, they found that their marketing ROI increased by 400%. 4xing your ROI is no small feat. The point of this is it is a crucial reminder of how powerful content marketing can be from a purely financial point of view. It can be easy to lose sight of this given the hard to track nature of the medium.

But here’s a problem I often find with content marketing evangelists. They sometimes talk far too conceptually about the power of content marketing, but they rarely go into concrete examples that will appeal to a marketing strategist’s awareness of their bottom line.

So let’s take a look at some more concrete examples of how content marketing can generate you more leads than conventional marketing.

• Content marketing generates 3X more leads compared to both paid search AND outbound marketing.

• Small businesses with blogs see 126% more lead growth than those without blogs.

• Website conversions are boosted by almost 6x when using content marketing vs those who don’t.

• Brands with blog posts see their pages indexed in search 434% more than those without.

Content marketing ROI case studies

So those are the general ROI stats, but let’s take a look at how individual brands are using content marketing to boost ROI.

• Tiger Fitness produce video content that has lead to a 60% returning customer rate.

• The blog of online retailer Zagg sees a 172% ROI, and drives 10% of the site’s traffic.

• Fisher Tank saw impressive results just 12 weeks after launching their blog, including a massive 3,900% boost in lead conversions.

Again and again we can see the concrete results content marketing can bring. It is of course worth bearing in mind that results won’t come over night. The effect of content marketing is cumulative. Content marketer extraordinaire Neil Patel says you shouldn’t expect to break even in the first year of running a content marketing strategy, but that patience will bring big results (his content brings in $500,000 of organic traffic!).

By contrast, we’ve seen the example of Fisher Tank who generated $3.4 in just 12 weeks, but that’s certainly an outlier.

Brands who are new to content marketing should be able to see that they can get serious results by using this strategy. Here are my top tips for getting started with a content marketing strategy.

Publish regularly, ideally at least once a week. It shows search engines your site is active and relevant, and builds an expectation with your audience that they can go to you for content. It also, quite frankly, impresses the hell out of people to see that you are regularly producing content. Getting the right combination of quality content, relevant topics and viral SEO takes time, and the more you publish, the greater the chances that you’ll create create content that takes off.

Stay up to date with your competitors’ content. Until you see how your competition are positioning themselves through content it can be hard to work out what topics you should be focussing on. Can you improve upon the content you see? There’s no harm in writing a suped-up version of already existing content, as long as you bring your original insights to bear on the subject. Alternatively, think about what content ISN’T being created and find a way to take a fresh angle on your own content.

Share your content widely. The content marketer’s job doesn’t end after they press the publish button. You could argue that’s where it really begins. If you’ve linked to brands, drop them a message letting them know. They may share your content through their networks. Go on Quora and browse for questions that relate to your content. Write a value-adding answer and link to your relevant content. If you see people linking to old or inferior content, write to them and suggest they link to your content instead. Sure, it takes effort, but that will put your ahead of your lazier competition.

Always seek to improve. Content marketing is a living art that is evolving all the time. There are tons of resources helping you improve. Watch YouTube videos, read how-to blogs and stay up to date with key influencers. I’d personally recommend marketing gurus Neil Patel and Ryan Robinson, who are both personally invested in helping small businesses and freelancers up their game.

Speak to me. Seriously. I’m happy to answer your questions, and genuinely get a kick from helping brands. I write a whole bunch of content and my results include boosting organic traffic by 287%, upping social media activity by 112%, and generating 39% of conversions. As well as crafting quality content for others, I regularly write posts and articles on LinkedIn and on my blog,

Do you want to be featured in future updates to this article? Let me know concrete stats demonstrating how content marketing has brought you results.

Dan Poulton writes content for a range of agencies and direct clients. Find out more at


Lessons from content marketing history

Content marketing has come to be seen as an innovative new online strategy since the word entered the marketing collective consciousness back in 2007. You won’t find references to this term online before this point, as this Google search trends graph demonstrates:

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But the newness of the term often obscures some of the fundamentals of the art (and it certainly is an art, as these examples will show).

For the truth is that the content marketers have always been with us, to paraphrase the bible, and they always will be.

To get a solid understanding of the relevance of content marketing to your brand, let’s take a trip back through history to overview some of the classics of content marketing right up to the present day.

In the historical examples that follow we will give an overview of the content strategy employed and answer the following questions for each:

• What was the customer pain point or need the company identified?

• What specific content solution was rolled out to solve the problem?

• What were the results for the company in question?

Whilst you read, think about these above three questions in relation to your own company.

Then we’ll draw out practical lessons that you can apply to your content marketing practice today.

7 content marketing trailblazers

John Deere: masters of their field

In 1885 celebrated tractor manufacturer John Deere printed the first copies of The Furrow, a new magazine aimed at “the American farmer”, featuring stories of general use to its readers’ farming operations.

By 1913 demand had risen drastically. So the company purchased an electric printing press to churn out tens of thousands of copies of the magazine which were distributed by a network of John Deere dealers.

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Contemporary Furrow editor David Jones sums up the content marketing mindset:

“Telling stories that folks enjoy reading—and that they can use in their own operations—has been the recipe since the beginning.”

Interestingly, only a minority of stories in The Furrow focused on John Deere’s products themselves. The focus was instead on providing genuine value to the company’s customers.

  • Customer pain point: a need for broad solutions to the complexities of daily farm operations
  • Specific content solution: providing a journal of value-adding stories of general industry use
  • Results: The entire farming community looked to John Deere as an all-knowing resource of farm operations expertise.

Lesson 1. Become a thought leader and industry expert in your niche.

Through its magazine content John Deere transformed from an industry product specialist to an industry knowledge generalist. Your content should go beyond the specific pain point your software solves and tackle a broader set of problems.

Michelin: gaining marketing traction

As with John Deere, French tyre manufacturers Michelin are further proof that content marketing is not a new thing and that although the specifics might change over time, there are general rules of engagement that are timeless.

As early as 1900, Michelin’s founding brothers conceived of the Michelin guide as a hotel and restaurant pamphlet for the French motoring community (numbering only a few thousand at the start of the last century) advising them on quality travel destinations.

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Their belief was that by encouraging and facilitating motoring in general they would stimulate greater tire purchases. And that’s exactly what happened.

Since its founding, the 400 page Michelin guide has morphed into a global content marketing empire and their coveted star ratings can mean life or death for today’s restaurants.

  • Customer pain point: desire for motoring travel advice for burgeoning motoring community
  • Specific content solution: producing informational travel guides for the motoring lifestyle
  • Result: becoming the go-to authority on restaurant and hotel destinations, plus selling TONS of tires along the way!

Lesson 2. Be bold.

For many the name Michelin is as much associated with restaurant reviews as it is with tyres. They developed a marketing strategy that was so bold as to change the way their company was perceived; from being a mere manufacturer of quality products to being a global tastemaker. Ask yourself what seismic changes you could make to your brand image through the high quality content you produce?

Procter and Gamble: the advertising gamble that paid off

Why did a soap manufacturer have such a keen interest in moving into serial drama production in the 1930s? Because they believed this was a way to connect with a generation of depression-era housewives who were unsurprisingly more interested in escapist distractions from the daily grind than they were in what cleaning products they purchased.

It was a gamble that paid off. Not only did they create a whole new genre of entertainment broadcasting (soap operas… the clue’s in the name) they also massively boosted their sales.

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P&G had identified their customers’ pain points and provided content that solved those problems. Their solution was also a classic example of lateral thinking.

The problem their customers faced was reframed from being a question of what cleaning products to purchase to a question of how to make it through another day of boring yet often backbreaking housework.

  • Customer pain point: lack of entertainment during mundane housework
  • Specific content solution: creating drama serials to entertain their potential customers
  • Results: sales up, brand identity ensured for generations, institution founded

Lesson 3. Be creative.

Think creatively. There does not have to be a direct line of connection between your content and your services (at least no more direct than between soap and dramatic fiction). It’s about creating a perceived value in your company beyond the services you sell. It’s about your product being part of your customers lives, of being close to their hearts. This is a much more effective sales technique than simply banging on about how great your products are.

Guinness: writing the book on record sales

What do legendary beer brewers’ Guinness have to do with the world’s strongest man? Well, perhaps a little. After all, what to people talk about over a pint of Guinness in their local bar anyway?

Following an interminable argument over the identity of Europe’s fastest game bird during a shooting party in Ireland in 1955, Guinness Breweries’ managing director, Sir Hugh Beaver, bemoaned the lack of a book containing, as he put it, “superlative facts and answers that would be of great use to the general public.”

Thus, the Guinness Book of World Records was born and would swiftly become Britain’s number one bestseller, celebrating its 60th anniversary back in 2015.

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Customer pain point: lack of general knowledge resource of definitive facts and figures

Specific content solution: the creation of a book of “record breaking achievements”

Result: mass book sales, society-wide brand recognition, new revenue stream for Guinness

Lesson 4. Think about the general problems faced by your potential customers AND the people they interact with.

Create content that solves those problems. This is an example of what Rand Fishkin calls ‘the relevance scale’. Here’s what it looks like:

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The aim of your brand should be to create content that relates to any people who interact with your potential customers.

As with Sir Beaver, this can be drawn from frustrations in your own life. Often a solution for you is also a solution for your customer. This is especially true in the B2B sector.

LEGO: building a content marketing empire brick by brick

Suffice it to say the pioneers of content marketing operated in a wholly different media landscape than would come to dominate the latter half of the twentieth century.

LEGO’s Brick Kicks magazine (now rebranded LEGO Club magazine) is a widely regarded entry in the annals of content marketing, emerging after the huge magazine media explosion of the 1980s.

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After their patent expired in 1982, LEGO’s easily replicable building blocks faced a dearth of competition. They needed a radical plan to regain, and maintain, the edge on their rivals.

The Brick Kicks magazine featured customer’s LEGO creations, construction tips, and exclusive members’ offers that would morph into a content empire of magazines and multimedia microsites.

  • Customer pain point: lack of deep connection to LEGO brand
  • Specific content solution: creating a customer-centred magazine building and documenting a community of LEGO enthusiasts
  • Results: phenomenal brand recognition and loyalty levels. Birth of a media empire and entry into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.

Lesson 5. Think in terms of community.

LEGO championed a community of creativity and imagination, profiling customers who made exceptional LEGO models, and spreading the joy from their LEGOLAND locations in their content. They made being a LEGO customer mean something to a broad community of children AND adults. Ultimately, that was what separated them out from their competitors.

Even LEGO’s content marketing adventure began in a hugely different media age. The internet revolution was still in its infancy and its full implications were not yet apparent.

Here’s a vision of how what a SaaS website looked like in 1995:

Source: Business Insider

Fast-forward to 2008 and we find the concept of content marketing is beginning to become systematised by a vanguard of marketing professionals. If its full implications for the internet age were not yet clear, here’s how one small company put the fledgling theory into practice with spectacular effect.

River Pools: taking the DIY content marketing plunge

Following the 2008 financial crash, swimming pool manufacturers River Pools teetered on the brink of collapse. Going against the advice of a phalanx of consultants, co-owner Marcus Sheridan made a dramatic change to the company’s marketing strategy.

Here’s Sheridan’s content marketing methodology in his own words:

“The moment we stopped saying ‘we’re pool builders’ and started saying ‘we are the best teachers in the world about fibreglass pools and we happen to install them as well’, that was one of the most prosperous days of our lives”.

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Customer pain point: desire for knowledge of pool construction to give customers confidence in their purchasing decisions

Specific content solution: to become “the Wikipedia of fibreglass swimming pools”

Result: company survived financial crisis, became industry leader and content marketing sensation

Lesson 6. Leverage talent.

River Pools looked inwards for talent they could leverage within their company to create high quality, value-adding content. They drew on the teaching background of Marcus Sheridan to create an information-rich, comprehensive resource which became the last word in fibreglass swimming pools.

They had mastered the art of selling by not selling. They understood that by providing in-depth information on the ins and outs of their niche they would solve their potential customers’ need to feel informed before making a purchasing decision. And by doing so they would increase the likelihood that those shoppers would purchase their products.

Cisco Systems: the mother of all content marketing reboots

One of the more bloody minded take-ups of content marketing came from Cisco Systems back in November 2015. Their cull of 200 hundred marketing and corporate communications personnel was not the usual rationalisation exercise, as it was followed by an equal-sized hiring spree. 200 content marketers were recruited worldwide in a bid to forge a content marketing strategy that would be integral to the company’s operations. Cisco’s head of content, Katrina Neal, put it simply:

“As buyers’ journeys become more digital, marketing is becoming more integral.”

Cisco’s content chief makes their value-adding goal explicit, saying their editorial strategy involved “80 percent editorial to 20 percent ‘advertorial’” content.

In very short order Cisco’s strategy has delivered in spades. One of their blog posts, ‘10 Career Pointers for the CNAA Holder’, was shared 25,000 times.

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  • Customer pain point: need for orientation in the vast IT/tech industry
  • Specific content solution: generating content for Cisco website on broad sector-specific topics written by industry experts
  • Result: Massive surge in industry leadership, creating huge industry influence, AND driving epic site visits and sales

Lesson 7. Don’t be afraid to outsource.

Cisco Systems were not afraid to drastically alter their marketing strategy to adapt to new marketing realities. They drew on content marketing specialists with the depth of knowledge and practical experience needed to make them the loudest and most authoritative voice in a crowded marketplace.


A tyre manufacturer publishing a field guide for European motorists; a soap company making drama serials for bored housewives; a tractor manufacturer becoming the go-to source of farming news and know-how… for well over a century the content marketing greats have come up with bold, innovative content solutions that make them a cut above the rest.

Successful content marketing operations in modern times draw on those techniques to stay ahead of the game.

And who says no one learns from history?


All filler, no killer?

A lot of marketing blog posts are filler. I think this is because it takes time to do deep research to uncover the concrete facts and examples needed to write influential content.

I suspect the reason lots of writers don’t take the time to do this is because most content writers are effectively paid by the word, even though most people price jobs on a project basis. Client’s want the most value. And freelancers want to keep their prices down to be competitive. It’s a negative cycle.

I think the solution is to understand that, as always, quality is much more important than quantity.

In truth, there are some publishers who get this, and plenty who don’t. So there’s a mindshift required if clients are to reach their full growth potential through content marketing.


A quick guide to SEO

Analytics graph going up

This post aims to be a constantly updated quick reference guide with practical tips on how to ensure your content is properly optimised for search.

The advice here is based on guidance from both Google and the Yahoo Bing Network. Most of the tips apply to all major search engines; some, like using meta keyword tags, only apply to Bing/Yahoo.

As you should aim to rank for all search engines and not just Google I’ve amalgamated all these tips into one list.

If you have any questions about proper SEO techniques, please let me know in comments.

SEO tips

  • Use h tags to structure your content
  • Only use one h1 tag per page
  • Use bold and italics for emphasis
  • Keep titles between 5 and 65 characters in length
  • Meta descriptions should be between 25 and 150  characters
  • Publish content regularly
  • Ensure content is unique
  • Use long tail keywords
  • Avoid keyword stuffing
  • Use images and embedded video
  • Black hat seo tactics can get you banned from search!

What makes my content so effective?

My content has been shown to boost organic traffic by 237% and increase CTAs by 39%, based on client feedback I’ve received.

After spending a lot of time reflecting on it, here are some of the factors I think make my content so effective:

  • Publishing frequent content: 4-6 blog posts per month.
  • Providing practical and enlightening information and insights in my work, mining the internet for concrete examples to support key points.
  • A generous use of authorative links, images and video embeds where appropriate.
  • Using plenty of headings and subheadings to make my content reader-friendly, and to give search engines plenty to work with.
  • Organically incorporating keywords into both the text body and headers where appropriate, whilst avoiding “stuffing” at all times.
  • Actually trying to develop practical strategies and “eureka” insights to help solve audience pain points.
  •  Being aware of exactly who is likely to be reading the articles, and bending the content towards them.
  • Being conscious that readers’ time is precious and not wasting their time with pointless filler.
  • Carefully observing the best practices of fellow content marketers and trying to make sure my content is the best on the web.
What factors do you think lead to effective content? Let’s have a discussion in the comments.


I’ve worked with a wide range of large, corporate clients and a whole bunch of small and medium sized businesses, writing top notch copy that gets results. Here’s what people have been saying about my work:

Website content

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“Well written, spot on the brief and she was able to structure the delivery of the work to fit with our internal workflow constraints.” ***** Andrew R.

About Us pages

“Great job, on point, simple, concise but very effective. Thanks, Danni” ***** – Jim S.

“Articulate and to the point, Danni did a great job of our ‘About Me’ page, she fully understood the brief and quickly completed the task.” ***** – Jedd P.

“The writing was excellent, professional and came very prompt. Will recommend and use again.” ***** – Avi B.

Articles and blogs

“Danni is professional, fast and importantly – a great writer. Went above and beyond.” ***** – Thomas G.

“Always comes through with top quality content and super easy to work with.” ***** – Izaak C.

“Excellent articles, well written and SEO’d, quick turnaround – hope to work together again” ***** – Dan M.

To find out more about what my copy can do for you, drop me an email at dannirowanpoulton[AT]


Breakdown of a viral Tweet

I posted a punny reply to a friend’s tweet over on my personal Twitter account and it got added to a Twitter Moment.

At first, only a few likes came in…

But 24 hours later it had received over 500 likes and 35 retweets.

…and generated over 278,500 impressions.

Needless to say this was completely unplanned, but that’s kind of the point. I’ve been consciously using twitter more frequently and am taking more time to comment and retweet other people’s stuff because otherwise I’m tweeting in a vacuum.