Successes and Failures of Startup Content Marketing

Dominic Kent
13 min readMay 16, 2020
Startup content marketing

You’ve probably already read about all the best practices for content marketing in a startup. I know I have.

I’ve also rolled my eyes and closed down pages halfway through. So, you’re not alone.

In this post, I’m going to run through real-life examples of what has and hasn’t worked in content marketing for Mio — an Austin based startup providing a small integration product that nobody had heard of.

But before I jump into the good, the bad, and the ugly, let’s set the scene…


In June 2018, I was approached to be a freelance editor of a blog with no readers. Meredith, my client-to-be, may have pitched it to me slightly differently, but this was the reality of what she was actually asking.

The product sounded cool and fit my niche perfectly. Mio allows you to talk to people on Microsoft Teams without having to leave Slack.

The existing website looked modern and I had some time free in my week. I said I could spend about 10 hours a week writing and editing. Meredith pushed for 15 and a deal was struck.

At the time, I was working full-time as a Business Consultant. Usually, this involved recommending and procuring Microsoft Teams or Slack. I frequently posted a guest blog on UC Today — usually about Slack or Microsoft Teams.

It seemed like a match made in heaven, and, as I write this, I have just completed a year as Director of Content Marketing and Communications at Mio.

Content marketing for startups

Something I had no experience of was genuine content marketing for startups. I had previously worked as a product marketer at medium-sized companies — and as a journalist. But, I was a keen writer who knew about the products.

Today, I have learned that content marketing for startups is totally different to content marketing for other organisation types.

You can’t just join a startup, write a blog post, and expect it to be read by a bunch of people.

The process of getting even 10 readers in the early days was excruciating. It’s easy to feel like you are failing. You blame the product. You blame the client. One thing you don’t do is blame yourself — but you still feel like you are failing.

In June 2018, Mio had virtually no blog readers for the current product (Mio existed beforehand as a bot connector). As I was simply writing and editing posts, I had no visibility of metrics, trends, or any of the good stuff you need as a content marketer.

The first stat I was exposed to was this:

Organic search sessions and social media followers

In November 2018, Mio had 48 weekly blog readers from organic traffic and a handful of readers from social. The existing Twitter audience was gained from the previous product so it was not a good indicator for forecasting future views.

I’m going to spoil the end of this story now, so skip the next full paragraph if you want to see how many weekly readers we have only after you’ve read through the successes and failures. Maybe put your finger over the screen as you scroll down?

Last chance…

As I write this post in April 2020, Mio has just amassed 150,000 weekly blog views. The six startup content marketing successes and failures I am going to share below will explain how we achieved this remarkable success.

And while content marketing isn’t about the number of views or vanity metrics, expanding the size of your audience is crucial for a startup with no reputation.

I could go into the number of conversions, bounce rate, and returning visitors. I have worked on this heavily with a few members of our team. For example, I cannot take any credit for our recent -7% reduction in bounce rate. I read this awesome content marketing audit by Andy Crestodina and asked our marketing intern, Lucy, to give it her best shot. The results were incredible.

I’ll save this for another blog post. Onto the failures!

Content marketing failure #1 — Reporting news

The name of the Mio blog is Dispatch. This gives the reader the impression that it is a news publication. A savvy move for searchers looking for news on specific products or companies, and ok, as far as our content strategy went. If we had any readers at the time.

Rounding up the news for companies like Slack and Microsoft meant we stood a chance of being found for people searching for this specialised news. But while we were rounding up industry news, and even using an industry journalist, we weren’t seeing the spike in views we dreamed of.

Why not?

Easy. Because despite the guise of a news outlet, we were not a news outlet.

By the time the weekly article had been published, people looking for Slack and Microsoft news had already read about it.

Conclusion: We got some views and gained a little attention from some of the smaller brands we mentioned in our news roundups, but ultimately, this was a content marketing failure.

NB: The content lives on in our Medium archive, but I’ve deleted it from our main blog.

Content marketing failure #2 — Writing for your customers

As marketers, we are taught to write for our audiences. In a startup, however, it is not enough to just produce an article that solves customer problems.

Sure, you can share it on social media, but the reality in that moment of it being viewed is your audience either has your product already or they’re not about to buy it. Buying signals include signing up to your mailing list or putting something in their shopping cart. A Twitter or LinkedIn follow simply doesn’t hold the same gravitas.

So, how do you address the problem of writing content that solves your customers’ problems but doesn’t seclude you from the rest of the world?

Produce content that covers multiple angles and appeals to wider audiences.

This doesn’t mean don’t market to niche pockets or specific verticals. But, as a startup, you have two choices when it comes to content marketing:

  1. Produce content for your niche audience (who already know it has the problem your product or service solves)
  2. Introduce your product to a wider audience (one who didn’t even realise the problem existed until now)

An example of this is our long-standing most viewed blog post. I’ll now show you the stats for this post and walk through the strategy:

Google Analytics snippet

The above shows total views over a year for this article, which also includes what the Mio product does. It is not specifically written for our target audience, however, it is clearly written for existing and potential users of Microsoft Teams (of which there are 44 million).

Obtaining this traffic from ground zero was tough and we produced a lot of content that didn’t get anywhere near this amount of traffic beforehand. That groundwork laid the foundation of this blog and is certainly a contributor to it becoming so popular. I’ll go into the groundwork in Content Marketing Success #1.

When we were starting to write this specific post, we followed a simple process. Google Trends can become your best friend at a startup. If you’re not familiar with Google Trends, the process for using it is simple:

  • Type the topic into the search term box
  • Choose the country of your target audience
  • Enter the period you wish to search within (I specifically chose 12 months to ensure the searches weren’t in response to a specific piece of news)
  • Choose a category, if relevant
  • Select ‘web search’ if you’re writing an article or ‘image search’ for infographics
Google Trends

It was through using this tool that I was able to establish that people were already searching “Microsoft Teams Features” and an article was given the green light.

We started with 18 Microsoft Teams best features. Today, you will see the article has been expanded to 25 Microsoft Teams best features.

A top tip for content marketers in startups is to take your already-successful articles and try to make them even better. This should be standard practice for any content marketing team. But, it’s extremely important for startups that may otherwise have few sources of traffic and low budget to keep re-hiring copywriters to create new posts.

Content marketing failure #3 — Paid social media

This will be a relatively short section.

If you don’t have an employee or freelancer with experience managing paid social media, leave this for when you can employ someone to do this.

There’s a good reason people do this as a full-time job. Strategy, creative, and analytical skills required to be a successful social media manager differ greatly to those of a content marketer.

Sure, there are overlaps in skills, but there are more subtle differences:

  • Long-form copy vs succinct, optimised social copy
  • Graphics to make your content stand out against stock photos vs creative to drive social clicks
  • Google searches conducted with user intent vs passive social media scrollers

Advice for a successful social media strategy is not best provided by me. However, you should listen to this episode of Marketing Mashup where Harry Dry, Founder of Marketing Examples, talks about his experience building social media communities.

One piece of advice I will give you is to use the LinkedIn “Invite connections” feature.

On your company page, navigate to Admin tools then click the drop-down menu. Choose Invite connections, then invite 25 connections to follow your company page every day.

Inviting warm connections is a lot easier than trying to build an organic audience on LinkedIn.


Content marketing success #1 — Do your SEO groundwork

I had no experience of SEO. I didn’t know where to start.

Today, I would rate myself somewhere middle of the scale when it comes to SEO knowledge. I achieved this self-label over a period of six to 12 months of self-learning.

In a startup, even one with a ton of funding, you will find yourself wearing many hats. It’s important to focus some of your time on expanding your skillset. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up with beautifully crafted articles that nobody will ever read. We nearly did.

I started with literally searching Google for how to improve SEO.

Luckily, you won’t need to do this.

Here are a few tips for those new to SEO:

  • If you’re using WordPress, ensure you install the Yoast plugin — and don’t publish your post until every section is green:
Yoast SEO plugin
  • Subscribe to Neil Patel’s email — each week you’ll get an exercise to complete or a new resource to help you with improving SEO
  • Feature brands that backlink and share other people’s content on social media
  • Build backlinks but don’t obsess — pitch guest posts to publications that you genuinely have a chance with, use Help A Reporter Out (HARO) to respond to journalists and marketers queries, email people you feature in your content and ask them to share and link your work
  • Create an internal sharing strategy — the more people that share your content from inside your company, the more people will see it and the more people will interact with it

Do these in order and you will see an increase in blog traffic.

Don’t get lazy though. You will still need to produce awesome content that answers the queries of people searching Google…which leads me to our next content marketing success.

Content marketing success #2 — Writing for Google

Marketing experts tell you not to write for Google. SEO experts tell you to write for Google.

Guess what? They’re both right.

So, how do you do both at the same time? Good question.

Start with keyword research. This shouldn’t be a surprise. If you’re not writing articles based on keyword research, you can’t expect to attract much organic traffic to your site.

If keyword research is new to you, here’s another handy resource from Andy Crestodina on how to write blog posts that rank on Google. Watch it carefully, make your own notes, then use his free template to start writing your post.

To make it more relevant to startups on a budget, conduct keyword research without using the paid tools that Andy mentions.

You can get free trials of most of the tools he mentions in the video. Also use Google Trends ( see Failure #2 above ).

Once you’ve written your blog post following Andy’s template, your SEO plugin, and having done some groundwork, continue to optimise your post…

Content marketing success #3 — Always be optimising

If you’ve seen Glengarry Glen Ross, you’ll be familiar with ‘Always Be Closing’.

Remember when I said we added seven more features to our 18 Microsoft Teams best features post? It is important to Always Be Optimising.

There are three golden rules I’ve established for the Mio blog:

  • When your best content performs, make it better
  • If your content sucks, make it better
  • If your content still sucks, get rid of it (and learn from it)

With our most recent successful article, it was hard to imagine getting more traffic from it.

But it could.

When isolation came into place across most of the US and UK in 2020, people started to use Microsoft Teams and Slack a whole lot more. Naturally, we saw a spike in traffic for our articles mentioning both.

This snippet shows the increase in March traffic compared to February:

Google Analytics pageviews

One major performer was this post titled Microsoft Teams Tricks.

In the first two weeks of March, it received 15,065 views. In contrast, January and February combined equalled 2,000 views. We can put this down to the extra interest in the product and the groundwork we had already laid.

On the 18th of March, however, I thought about making it even better.

Previously, I’d undertaken an exercise to play around with titles. Use my blog title optimiser worksheet to help come up with ideas for better titles and track progress after a few weeks.

(It’s just a free Google Sheet and you can make your own copy to use over and over again.)

This is a good example of Always Be Optimising but the next example I’ve got took the traffic to insane levels.

Before I share what I did, check out the increase in page views (shown below) as evidence that you should invest your time into what is going to sound like a horrible process:

Google Analytics

That’s right. A 720% increase in unique page views — in two weeks.

How did this happen? Two main reasons. One is that search volumes increased anyway. I am certain of it.

The second is something I must attribute to Glenn Fisher. After reading his book, The Art of The Click, I had been dying to try out a technique he suggested.

In his book, Glenn explains the importance of rote learning and asks you to handwrite a letter he already asked you to read:

Rote learning

As I was writing out the sales letter, I had two epiphanies:

  1. It really hurts to handwrite when you spend eight hours a day on a laptop!
  2. If I handwrite all my articles, they will be so much better!

For the science, read the book. Follow the exercises. Write the letter. Then handwrite your best performing article and see how many changes you make.

Once you’ve proven the theory yourself, handwrite as many articles as you possibly have time for.

Bonus content marketing tip for startups

Before I leave you, let me leave you some parting advice. This is neither a failure or a success but something I cannot encourage more.

I found Glenn via the Twitter community #ContentClubUK.

If you work in a startup and are the only content marketer (or one of few), it’s okay to get help from people outside your company.

Twitter is full of excellent content marketers who share success, failures, and advice. If you’re not on Twitter, join. If you are on Twitter, my parting gift to you is this list of content marketing folk who you simply must follow:

Dominic Kent (me!) — Freelance Content Marketer in Business Communications. I tweet progress with Mio and all of my B2B content marketing customers.

Andy Crestodina — Content Marketer & Co-Founder at Orbit Media. By now, you should have read his blog post, stolen his template, and watched his video.

Rebecca Reynoso — Lead Content Editor at G2. Runs the guest post program at G2 and preaches creative pitches and perfect copy.

Olly Meakins — Marketing accelerator for startups. Olly shares awesome resources to expand your audience.

Christina Pashialis — Content Marketer at Soldo and curator of in-person and online content marketing meetups.

James McKinven — Hosts the Marketing Mashup podcast that you’ve already listened to in Failure #3 and has more side projects than it’s possible to count.

Emily Byford — Content Marketer at SaaStock and author of the best benchmarking resource I ever used.

Patrick Watson — Senior Analyst at Cavell Group. Patrick isn’t involved in content marketing but I’m certain you’ll enjoy his writing.

Thanks for reading. Say hi on Twitter so I know you came from this post!



Dominic Kent

Freelance content marketer specializing in unified comms and contact center.