You’re thinking about starting a business, and you’re wondering how much effort you should put into content creation and marketing. Does it even help? How often should you be doing it? Is it really all that effective at growing a business?
Maybe you already have a business, but you aren’t creating content because you don’t think it matters. Or perhaps you are creating and marketing content, but you’re wondering whether it’s really helping your business. Or you know it matters and you’re doing it, but you aren’t sure you’re doing it right.
Neil Patel says yes, content matters. Customers engage with content before they engage with services. Content is what gets their attention and makes them want to dig deeper—and that’s what leads to sales. It all begins with content.
Neil built multiple successful businesses with content as the core, including Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, KISSmetrics, and NP Digital. He’s been called a top influencer on the web by the Wall Street Journal, named one of the top 10 online marketers by Forbes, and noted by Entrepreneur Magazine as creator of one of the 100 most brilliant companies in the world. If you are in the content marketing world, you’ve heard his name somewhere in conversation; he’s familiar to you.
In this interview he lays out the content marketing recipe he used to grow one of his early websites, QuickSprout.com, to more than 500,000 visitors a month. This conversation offers an opportunity to better understand how he thinks about content, how he applies it, and some of the results that he’s seen.
QuickSprout: How Neil Patel Built a Successful Business through Content Marketing
Let’s start at the beginning. Neil, would you please tell us where or how you figured out that content marketing was valuable in the first place?
When I had a consulting agency years ago, I couldn't afford to do pay-per-click like most of the people. I stuck out with blogging, thinking, “All right, maybe if I blog and educate, I'll generate some leads from it.” I didn't know if that would actually be the case, or whether it would work or not, but it did. From there, I expanded, but that's how I started.
How long did it take for that version of content marketing to begin to show you some results? Was it three weeks? Six weeks? Three months, six months, a year?
It took me roughly six months to a year. I didn’t know as much as I know now. I was starting from scratch, but within six months, I was starting to see results. At a year, I started to see good results.
At that clip, were you posting once a day, once a week, once a month? How often were you publishing content?
A few times a week. I didn’t even get to once a day with that blog.
Then you chose to expand. You had the consulting company, and then you grew from there. What came next?
Crazy Egg. I was trying to do consulting and wanted to get into software. I saw a pain point with the customers. The customers were saying, “Hey, we'd love an analytics tool that would help visualize the data.” That's how Crazy Egg was born.
When you thought about building Crazy Egg, were you thinking about content at the same time, or did the content strategy come after the product offering?
It came after, by far. Years after.
Help us understand how you got there. How you got from offering the software as a service to wanting to add content into the mix.
We knew content worked, because we saw it work with our first blog and our first company. At that point, we thought, “Why don't we do it with Crazy Egg as well? We should have done this years ago.” So we just started it up.
How did you think about the publishing schedule? Was that once a week, once a month? Were you publishing the content?
Once a day. I had a blog editor who was in charge of it.
Who actually was writing the content? Were you writing the content, or were you having the editor do that?
The editor writes the content, or guest authors. The content is in the name of whoever wrote the post. Sometimes I would write, once a week or once every two weeks, and those posts would be in my name, but usually guest authors or the editor would write.
You've grown beyond that now, so let's do a big fast forward. You’ve got a number of properties. All of them require content, and on some level, your name is on all of that content. How are you producing that level of content?
It's not that hard when you've been doing it for eight or nine years. You don't think about that. I know there's a lot of content in my name, but I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s actually not that much if you divide it up on a weekly basis.
I’m not posting anywhere near once a day, or even once every two or three days. I’ve just been doing content marketing for so many years that people see a lot of information with my name on it.
Making the QuickSprout Business Plan Work for You
You’ve been doing it for a while, so you're used to the rhythm of it. For someone who’s not used to the rhythm of it, help them understand your content creation process.
- I first come up with a headline idea, a topic idea. I do this by using BuzzSumo.com. I type in keywords related to my space, and it shows me what’s hot and what’s not based on social shares.
- I then take that data and come up with my own variation, a better type of post. If theirs is “50 Ways to Grow Your Search Engine Traffic,” I may do “101 Ways to Grow Your Search Engine Traffic.”
- Then I want to have the headline.
- I'll write the introduction, and I'll write the conclusion.
- Then I go into bulleting out the body. I'll bullet it out, and then I start writing the rest. I fill it out and make sure I'm using conversational tone, like the words you and I within the post, and that's mainly it.
Where you are now, how often does that happen? Are you doing those steps once a week?
More. I do those steps probably seven times a week. Writing for me is fast. I can write a post in an hour to two hours.
Do the clients you work with move that fast?
I don't really do much consulting, but most people don't move that fast. I'm quick.
You’ve moved beyond the world of consulting, but help that person for a second, the client who you would consult. They don't move as fast as you do. Would they use the same tools, use the same process, or would you advise another way of thinking about it?
I would have them do it the same way. They’re just going to move more slowly, but they should do it the same way. It works.
You've got the content. You’ve got four, six, eight pieces of content. Now, it's time to promote those pieces of content. How do you think about promoting your content?
The way I think about promotion is, you should be spending 50 percent of your time on promoting.
Every time you link out to someone within your blog post, you should email them. “Hey, John, I have to say, I'm a huge fan of yours, so much so that I linked to you in my latest blog post. Feel free to check it out here. I would love it if you could share it on your favorite social network. Cheers, Neil.” If you send that email out to everyone you link out to, there’s a good chance a lot of them will share it.
Another thing you can do is go on search.twitter.com, Twitter's search feature. Type in a keyword, see people who tweet out related stuff, try to find their bio, see if they have a website and email address.
I would say something like, “Hey, John, I notice you tweeted an article called ‘X, Y, and Z’ last week. I actually have a similar article coming out in the next week, and it covers A, B, and C, which that article didn't cover. Let me know if you want to see it.” If they respond back with a yes, I send it to them and ask them to share it.
If you were consulting, would you recommend the client do some version of that?
Following the QuickSprout Model: It Really Is All About Content
For each of your existing properties, what you just described about how you create and promote content is pretty much the model. Is that a fair statement?
So if it’s that straightforward, what are we missing? As you work with clients...
Consistency. Most people aren't consistent. They don't put in the time and effort to try to create good content. That’s really what it comes down to: execution.
You may say, “My content quality sucks. Other people are producing content; I'm doing better stuff.” Hey, if someone sticks with it consistently, their quality will improve. They’ll get results. It just takes time. People aren't willing to put in the time, effort, or energy to be consistent at it.
Are we lazy, or do we just not fully understand what it means to be successful?
I think most people are lazy. It's not that they don’t understand what it means to be successful; they just don't want to put in the effort.
Interesting. What do we say to those people?
You don’t say anything. If they’re not doing that, it’s less competition. If they want to do it, they can do it. You see it out there, you see it gets results. If you really want to do something badly, you’ll do it. If you don’t, you don’t. You’ll do whatever makes you happy.
You can't tell someone what to do. People have to want to do it. If you tell them to do it, eventually they’ll quit. If they want to do it, they’re much more likely to put in the time, energy, and effort.
Interesting. You do it, or you don’t. Is there more to this conversation, Neil? You’ve made a complex thing very simple. You just talked about how to create content, how to promote it, and then you just bottom‑lined us with, “Listen, either you do this or you don’t.”
What else would you tell our listeners? What haven’t we said that needs to be said?
Those are the main things.
So when you offer advice online, when you offer advice to the groups that you speak to, you just hold them to the framework you just offered? There’s nothing more to ask of them?
There’s not much more to it. Keep in mind that I don't really do consulting, so there are no groups or teaching or any of that. I just do it for myself. I know the model works. Other people do it all the time.
Neil, that's interesting. I'm digging for a secret sauce, and you’re telling us that there isn’t one.
It's called consistency. Consistency, time, energy, putting in the effort.
Then I’ll leave it there. Let’s conclude our conversation. Tell us what we need to know or do from where we’re standing right now.
Go out there and start writing. Your first post won't be great. Your first promotion experience won’t be great, but as you keep doing it, it will get better. Start out by just writing one piece of content a week, and then over time, increase it, and you’ll get better at it. Do this for at least six months to a year.
There you have it. Proof is in the pudding. Neil, thank you for your time. Thank you for making it simple for us.
Thanks for having me.
Neil Patel is the founder of QuickSprout; the co-founder of numerous marketing technology companies including KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg; and the creator of marketing tools such as Hello Bar, Ubersuggest, and Subscribers. He currently serves as CMO of NP Digital, a content marketing, SEO, and media agency he co-founded. His personal blog, neilpatel.com, has reached upwards of 1.7 million visitors per month.