Doing Content Right

Updated: November 1, 2022 Reading Time: 7 minutes rating: 8
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Step Smith is one of my favorite Twitter follows to learn about earning money online, living like a digital nomad and most of all, to learn about growth tactics (she’s grown multiple newsletter and online publications), so when she published Doing Content Right I instantly bought it, and it didn’t disappoint.

The book is very easy to read, and it’s not meant to be read top-bottom. Treat it like a recipe book but instead of food, the end results are better newsletter CTAs, content design and placement, and overall better online presence for your content. The best part is that all the recipes are backed by actual examples from her own experience and from other “content makers” that have succeeded organically in a spectacular way.

If you’re just learning the ropes of SEO and content marketing, our are just curious, this is a must-read.


What to Write About & Finding Your Niche

Information is the new “oil” that you can create, refine, and trade… bringing us full swing into the attention economy.

Consider the sheer magnitude of these numbers: in 2020, each minute:

  • 1,800 WordPress posts are created
  • 3.8 million Google searches are made
  • 500 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube
  • 150,000 emails are sent
  • 350,000 Tweets are sent

Here’s what the world will always have room for:

  • The new, should it be relevant
  • The old, should it be even just 1% better

The web is a game of infinite leverage, meaning that the best stuff captures a disproportionate amount of eyeballs.

If you’re unsure what your “edge” might be, quality is the easiest way to differentiate yourself online because it is surprisingly scarce.

Anything that you’ve spent an above average time learning about can be translated into information that is going to be valuable to the average person.

When I searched for content covering the topics I was interested in, I was always disappointed with the results.

As Sahil Lavingia, founder of Gumroad, says:

“You don’t become interesting by copying interesting people. You become interesting by following your own interests, going deeper down the rabbit hole than anyone else, and surfacing something new for the rest of us." (Page 28)

If you know a lot about something, you’ve willingly invested a great deal of time into it already. In other words, you enjoy working on it. Building a publication is just like building a company and the biggest risk is that you—the founder—gives up. So instead of trying to identify what you think other people may care about, start with your obsessions and then work backwards. (Page 28)

Anne-Laure Le Cunff spent years creating products around mindfulness and studying her masters in neuroscience before launching Maker Mind. (Page 29)

“People spend a lot of time searching for great ideas. I think that’s a waste of time. There’s loads of great ideas. You want to find the best idea for you— the idea that fits your unique skill set and circumstances best.” (Page 29)

If you cannot describe your value proposition within a single sentence, it may either be too complicated or unclear. (Page 33)

higher-income bloggers are 213% more likely to have a good understanding of their typical reader and 700% more likely to “have detailed notes about their target audience’s goals, attitudes, interests and lifestyle”. (Page 37)

In addition to writing that thing down, make a note of why you find it interesting. Is it because it articulated something well, that you’ve been thinking about for a while? Is it because it utilizes a powerful dataset? Is it because it reminds you of your childhood? Revisit this document often and look for trends. (Page 47)

If you search something on Google and don’t find a solution to your problem, consider creating it. Don’t make the mistake of not exploring rabbit holes. ( Page 47)

the easiest way to write well is to write consistently, and the easiest way to write consistently is to write about something that you know and care about. ( Page 74)

There are two key aspects of running a successful online publication:

  • the writing to distribution ratio should be more like 50:50 (Page 78)
  • it’s better to write 10 top 1% articles than infinite average articles. Do whatever it takes to bring your articles into that top 1%. (Page 79)

Distribution: Newsletters, CTAs, Modals

The prime bedrock channels are SEO and your newsletter, but can also include things like Quora answers. (Page 81)

Social channels have an element of bedrock in building up a following, but your content lives on the social platform, and you are at the whim of an algorithm that you don’t own. (Page 82)

syndication just means that you repost your content, whether in full or adjusted, on another platform. (Page 82)

Select 1-3 channels to start to explore. (Page 89)

Spend the next ~2-4 weeks working only on the channels selected (Page 90)

Once you’ve tested a few channels, map out a distribution plan for each article that you launch. (Page 90)

Tier 0 are the “no-brainer” channels that nearly every content publication should leverage: SEO, a referral program, and your newsletter. Tier 1 channels are the channels that you’ve found to work uniquely for you, with every piece of content that you publish. For example, maybe you always publish each article to Twitter. Tier 2 channels are channels that you only distribute to for certain pieces Tier 3 channels are channels that you’re currently testing and may sideline (Page 90)

People like supporting people, so use this as an opportunity to show your personality. This is a practice that some people continue, no matter how big they get. Derek Sivers, for example, once responded to 6000 people in the span of 10 days. I’ve also heard of some creators that individually reach out to every single subscriber when they sign up. (Page 95)

Quora is a bedrock channel because if you write strong answers that end up rising to the top for a particular question, they can become a foundation of traffic. (Page 100)

Many people put up their modals with relatively generic copy, when they could spend an extra hour making adjustments that can drive increased performance for months or years to come (Page 103)

Another trick is to be very clear about when you’re sending your newsletter ( weekly, every Tuesday, etc.). (Page 105)

Each page should only have one type of CTA, meaning it should only be trying to get the user to do one single action. You can have the same CTA appear multiple times on a page, but there should not be conflicting or distracting CTAs that ask the user to do different things. (Page 106)

Be retweetable: The simplest way to be retweetable is to say things that many people think, but often won’t know how to say themselves. (Page 130)

There’s a reason that articles have sharing images. Spend time identifying your “look”, so that when someone sees an article in their feed, their immediate reaction is, “Oh, it’s an article from Steph!”. (Page 154)

Quote your piece: Related to the last tip, give your audience something to fixate on by highlighting quotes within your piece. (Page 155)

Open Rate (OR): Anything above 50% is generally really good. The average for newsletters is around 20%, but you should aim for 35%+. Be sure to churn contacts that no longer engage. (Page 160)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

(Or the art of looking interesting to Google’s web robots)

SEO provides a repeatable approach to this traffic. (Page 170)

In 2019, I wrote <20 articles. They were all long-form and when it made sense, I optimized each article for SEO. Because I took this extra step along the way, I’ve created a small bedrock of traffic that does wonders for me. (Page 172)

But when I look up David Perell’s website, I notice one thing: he only gets 20% of his traffic from organic search. (Page 174)

“It’s purely by writing extremely detailed content. This allows me to get ranked for thousands of long tail keywords that aren’t competitive. If you are going to write content, consider writing extremely detailed content.” (Page 176)

With Google, people are looking to solve a problem. (Page 177)

Understanding that every query starts with a problem left to be solved is the foundation of SEO. (Page 177)

You should be selecting a single primary keyword that your optimization efforts are oriented around (Page 197)