How do startups actually get their content marketing to work?

[Editor’s note: this is a free example of a series of articles we’re publishing by top experts who have cutting-edge startup advice to offer, over on Extra Crunch. Get in touch at ec_columns@techcrunch.com if you have ideas to share.]

Even the best growth marketers fail to get content marketing to work. Many are unwittingly using tactics from 4 years ago that no longer work today.

This post cuts through the noise by sharing real-world data behind some of the biggest SEO successes this year.

It studies the content marketing performance of clients with Growth Machine and Bell Curve (my company) — two marketing agencies who have helped grow Perfect Keto, Tovala, Framer, Crowd Cow, Imperfect Produce, and over a hundred others.

What content do their clients write about, how do they optimize that content to rank well (SEO), and how do they convert their readers into customers?

You’re about to see how most startups manage their blogs the wrong way.

Reference CupAndLeaf.com as we go along. Their tactics for hitting 150,000 monthly visitors will be explored.

Write fewer, more in-depth articles

In the past, Google wasn’t skilled at identifying and promoting high quality articles. Their algorithms were tricked by low-value, “content farm” posts.

That is no longer the case.

Today, Google is getting close to delivering on its original mission statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In other words, they now reliably identify high quality articles. How? By monitoring engagement signals: Google can detect when a visitor hits the Back button in their browser. This signals that the reader quickly bounced from the article after they clicked to read it.

If this occurs frequently for an article, Google ranks that article lower. It deems it low quality.

For example, below is a screenshot of the (old) Google Webmaster Tools interface. It visualizes this quality assessment process: It shows a blog post with the potential to rank for the keyword “design packaging ideas.” Google initially ranked it at position 25.

However, since readers weren’t engaging with the content as time went on, Google incrementally ranked the article lower — until it completely fell off the results page:

The lesson? Your objective is to write high quality articles that keep readers engaged. Almost everything else is noise.

In studying our clients, we’ve identified four rules for writing engaging posts.

1. Write articles for queries that actually prioritize articles.

Not all search queries are best …read more