Harry Cresswell

Content Machine

Notes taken from Content Machine by Dan Norris.

Notes #

There is no point at all in generating mediocre content. Don’t just write about your business or your product. Your content has to be educational and solve problems.

Talk to potential customers and figure out what they want. Throw away everything you learned in school. Writing content is a two-way conversation, not a speech. Be personal and make people feel like you are there with them.

Quality Over Quantity

I loved creating the content, but there was a problem. I measured myself based on how much content I created, not how much traction that content got. The quantity, not the quality.

eventually worked out that one spectacularly successful piece of content was infinitely more valuable than 100 pieces of content that go unnoticed.

Content marketing is releasing something interesting that grabs attention for a business and builds trust.

The most important pieces of the content marketing definition are attention and trust.

You want to put out content that helps people, gets them to pay attention to you and your business, and, over time, garners their trust.

These people become part of your community, they help promote your content, refer people to your business, and may even become partners or customers.

You have assumed that your job is to create content, when really your job is to market a business.

Creating great content is not enough, because without a great business, you are sending attention to something that is broken (or non-existent).

10 Characteristics Of A High-Growth Business

If these are not present in your business, you will struggle to make any form of marketing work.

If you are going to focus on building a content machine, you need something that will grow without your constant attention.

  1. They Are Fundamentally Profitable

If the profit margin in your business is set so you are unable to replace yourself and still make a profit, then you are in trouble.

Here’s a very simple calculation I recommend every business owner should perform: Figure out everything that goes into serving a customer. How many hours will you need from X, Y, and Z staff members to complete the tasks, and how much do those staff members cost. Imagine your business is at a reasonable size, and that you have all of the tools and technologies necessary to manage a decent number of clients. Distribute the costs across those clients to come up with a rough idea of how much it’s going to cost to deliver your service. Take that number and, at the very least, double it. That is your price.

  1. They Operate In A Large Market

Common business advice tells you to find a small niche and go after it. I don’t like this advice, and I don’t see successful high-growth companies doing it.

Being in a large market has resulted in constant, high, and at times almost unmanageable growth.

Notes: 1) large market means bigger reach, so leads to more growth, also allows for more varied content

  1. They Naturally Build Assets Over Time

All high-growth companies have some sort of assets that set them apart from their competition.

  1. They Have a Simple, Relatable Differentiator

high-growth companies tend to go after existing problems, and they solve them with a unique twist.

Here are some examples: WP Curve: Like a developer except unlimited fixes 247. Uber: Like taxis except cleaner, safer, cheaper, nice smelling, and they actually arrive. Airbnb: Like hotels except you get more for less.

  1. They Focus On Growing Consistent Revenue At a High Lifetime Value

Businesses that are successful in the long term generally have a predictable revenue model.

You can invest in tools, technology, and people that you need to grow, because you are confident you will be able to afford it next month. You can say “no” to certain customers or projects, because you already have a good solid base of revenue. You can accurately estimate your profit margin and your cashflow.

Building a business by selling a one off $20 product is going to be a lot tougher than a business that sells an $80 monthly subscription.

lifetime value,

  1. They Invest In A Memorable Brand

  2. They Are Started By A Team, Not An Individual

It’s extremely rare for a decent company to be built by an individual and not a founding team. Just look at the startup world for guidance.

Like every entrepreneur, I tend to think I can do everything and am “a jack of all trades”. But I had zero success until I started businesses with other people.

  1. They Know How To Say “No,” And They Do It Often

Great businesses choose what they are going to do, and they do it extremely well. It takes a long time, generally a lot of people, and a lot of money to truly achieve “world class” status. If your business has multiple focuses rather than one main task, it might be a sign that you are in trouble.

Learn how to say “no”. Instead, reach “world class” status at one thing.

  1. They Understand The Power Of Monthly Growth

Don’t think so much about how much money you will make in a year. Think about how much you will grow every single month, and before you know it your business will be significantly bigger.

  1. They Think “Long Term”

Great businesses avoid get-rich-quick schemes and over-optimization. They focus on solid, long-term strategies.

Getting in the press, building a public profile, putting out useful content, fostering important relationships, and developing a great company culture are all examples of solid long-term strategies. These aren’t going to result in quick wins, but they are what creates great companies.

Monetization Logic

Monetization logic is a simple “Yeah that makes sense” test that is often missing from people’s content marketing efforts. The easiest way to determine whether it exists is to ask the question, “Does it make sense that someone would consume this content and then go on to become a customer?”

There needs to be a logical link between your content, your audience, and whatever it is you are selling.

Content marketing, by its nature, is a long-term exercise. Most top blogs create content for months or years before they hit traction.

Content marketing is about building trust, and you can’t build trust overnight.

work. It takes a while for some channels to kick in.

It takes a long time to endear a valuable community member.

It takes time to find your place. I’ve mentioned how critical it is to work out your core vision and work out what your audience loves.

Good content breeds more good content.

Remember, you don’t want to spit out just any content at a rapid speed. You want to do it with direction.

The 10-Minute Content Strategy

You need to define a strategy and then build processes around that strategy.

I’ve included a free ten-minute content marketing strategy template at http://contentmachine.com/resources for you to work through. Here are the components:

Vision – What is your blog about when it reaches its full potential?

Values – What are the key values that will inform your content choices?

Inspirations – Where do you look for inspiration (design, content, voice, etc.)?

Strategy Comment – Do you have a high-level description of the overall strategy behind the blog?

Target Communities – What groups of people are you creating content for, and where do they hang out?

Differentiators – How will this blog be different from what is already available?

Unfair Advantage – What about you, your business, your style, your team, etc. gives you an advantage?

Key Relationships – Who are the big influencers capable of boosting your content

If you are struggling, check out Followerwonk or Little Bird.

Metrics – How will you know when your content is successful? If in doubt, use my three key metrics of total shares, comments, and email replies (more on these later).

Lead Magnets and CTAs (Calls to Action) – What items can you use to encourage people to opt in, and what will your CTA be?

Your Content Vision

It’s going to be very hard to make a content marketing strategy work if you aren’t clear on the end game. A good way to think about your vision is answering the question, “What will I/we stand for?”

Often they didn’t agree, and they left passionate replies to that effect. But they were interested. They were engaged. Radical transparency became a theme.

Giving away detailed processes or tools that have helped us grow is another important factor.

What is the vision for your content? What will separate it from others in your industry? What do you believe will influence your content strategy?

people aren’t simply writing blog posts. They have defined a community to help, and they are executing on a broad vision. They believe something about what people want and aren’t currently getting. And they are using their unique advantage to fill that gap.

There are two ways to define who you are creating content for. One is to come up with a “Customer Avatar” that describes exactly who your ideal customer is, what their wants and needs are, and what they are looking for in your content.

Your ideal customers will hear about you over a long period of time, through multiple sources, and that is how trust is built.

way to define who you are creating content for—is to choose a community and help them with what they need.

Don’t be picky about whether each piece of content is generating leads. Just create as much value as you can for the most amount of people in your chosen community.

Give away as many useful things as you can, create content that people can really relate to, and if possible, offer a unique perspective that people haven’t come across before.

Great content is something you provide to your audience that captures their attention and encourages them to engage and share.

Lessons Learned From Bad And Good Content

Since poor quality is one of the top causes of failed content, there is one question you have to keep coming back to: Is my content actually good?

  1. Don’t Be Afraid To Go Outside Your Niche

Creating niche-specific content is the easy option, and it will be the first thing your competitors do. Get the jump on them by going outside this content to more interesting topics.

  1. Care About Your Community

Ask them what their problems are and what they need help with. Ask them what other sites they like and pay attention to what they share.

  1. Be More Generous

Content marketing is a trust-building exercise, so the more generosity the better. In the next chapter, I will tell you about how I was inspired by Noah Kagan’s appearance on the Smart Passive Income Podcast.

  1. Be More Transparent

Being transparent is a natural trust builder. Transparency in business has become a trend of late, and it’s a trend I have been very keen to embrace.

  1. Be More Contrarian

Offering a contrarian view got me a lot of attention. At the time of release the only startup book outranking it on Amazon was Zero To One, a book about how to build a business by being contrarian.

It’s not essential that all of your content disagrees with everyone. It’s just one way to get noticed,

Thought leaders like Tony Robbins and Seth Godin use this technique all the time. “Most people think X, but actually…” If you are one of the people that think X, then you certainly need to pay attention to why Tony thinks you are wrong.

  1. Be More Actionable

someone can take what you have produced and use it in their life.

a list of top ten mistakes to avoid when writing a sales letter is interesting. An actual sales letter template which walks people through how to structure their own sales letter is truly actionable, because people can take it and use it.

That’s why I’ve included lots of frameworks in this book. The book itself might be interesting, but I want you to take action on the information. The frameworks enable you to do that.

If you can create content that is legitimately actionable, it will get consumed more, shared more, and it will convert more readers to active community members or eventually customers.

Think about how people will use your content and what you can do to make it more likely that they will actually use it.

  1. Tell A Better Story

Storytelling is a great way to capture and hold people’s attention. It’s been proven over generations and is a simple strategy for you to use with your content.

Have a look at this line chart that represents the story of Cinderella as designed by Kurt Vonnegut. 2

Learn about storytelling models that would work for your topic areas and figure out a way to tell your story in a way that people can relate to.

Generating Content Topics (The Twenty Topics Framework)

Let’s start with finding topics. These are the broad areas you will cover in your content.

This framework is available as a downloadable resource at http://contentmachine.com/resources. It’s a Google Doc that you can use to build a list of your own ideas.

Understand And Leverage Your Strengths

What works for me is to experiment with what resonates with my audience, what I can do well, and what I can do consistently.

I’m writing this book on a plane. The guy next to me is watching a movie (hopefully he’s not reading this). The guy in front is listening to music. The people behind me are sleeping. It’s lunchtime on a Monday, but I don’t want to be watching movies, listening to music, or sleeping—I want to be writing. So, I’m writing.

Whatever you enjoy, if you can point yourself in a direction that creates something useful for your community, then you are well on your way to creating good content.

Content Quality Standards

Useful Would someone actually use this? Write to solve an issue or pain point for a community of people.

Easy To Read Ensure that your audience doesn’t struggle to read your content. Have short intros, simple language, lots of white space, and eliminate fluffy language.

Has Credibility Extra credibility helps. How else can you add credibility to this content? If the author has credibility to start with, that is great. Having opinions from experts included in the article is another way. Data and links from external sources is another way. Great design and high-quality writing is another.

Emotionally Relatable

Write stories that will appeal to their emotions. What images and words can you use that will grab them?

It’s Not All About You

Some content about you can work well, but generally it should be about the reader. Look for more “you’s” than “I’s”.

Be Specific, Not General Broad, general content is rarely useful. Be as specific as you can and use active language.

Be Generous Look at your content and make a call on its motives

Be Original

Make It Shareable Create the type of content people would share and tell others about.

Interesting Remember, if it’s not interesting, it’s not content marketing. Is the headline eye-catching?

High-Quality Design

Flow Does the content follow a logical structure that draws readers from one section to the next? It should be easy to read from section to section.


Long I have found that long and detailed content works well.

Monitoring Traction Of course, just paying attention to what you want isn’t a recipe for success. In the end, it’s your audience that matters. You need to look at what content is resonating with them and find the sweet spot between what you are good at and what the audience loves.

a “Like” is a sign that the content wasn’t good enough to share.

recommend paying attention to three key metrics. Shares Rather than focusing on visits or likes, I suggest looking at social media shares.

“liking” it is great, but actually sharing is a whole new level. Only the best content gets shared.

To work out total shares you can add buttons to your site or use Like Explorer or BuzzSumo.


Email Replies We have an email list we’ve built up over the years, and each week we send out our best content

These come directly from my email address, and the replies tell me what is really resonating with people.

Over time you will get a clear picture of what content works best for your audience. This will then feed back into your content strategy.

Content Driven SEO

While I do agree that SEO is important, I think high-quality content is more important.

ignore the so-called “experts” who say they have a “secret” to ranking well in Google. In my experience, trying to outsmart Google is not the answer for long-term, sustainable traffic.

  1. Don’t Screw Up The Basic On-Page SEO Factors

Make sure your theme is using the right tags in the right places

Create Lots of High-Quality Content

  1. Do Basic Keyword Research When Needed

put in a broad keyword for what I want to write about, and then I’ll choose a keyword that people are actually searching for.

  1. Optimize The Post For The Keyword

Make sure your keyword is used in your post title. This, in turn, will ensure it appears in your heading tags, any auto generated internal links, and your page URL

Mention the keyword in your first paragraph. Usually this is pretty easy, and you would do it anyway.

Make sure your SEO title (sometimes the same as your post title) includes your keyword and is the right length, and you have a description that includes your keyword and entices the user to click through from Google.

People share and link to high-quality content. This is what Google loves, and that will never change.

They don’t simply create content. They create content for a certain community of people, and they do it better with a unique angle so they get noticed.

There are also some logistical things you’d have to consider: Do you need to hire virtual assistants to help with the core part of the work? Can you hire someone to ghostwrite or guest write the content? Will you get your team to help? Will you utilize external services for part of the process or hire a remote team? What is your plan for when you are sick or you are away—can you stack the content up?

If you are going to do the daily thing, you can create the posts in WordPress and use the scheduler to publish them in the future. A lot of the steps required to help with this level of content production can be managed by a Virtual Assistant for $400-$500 a month, full time. Check out Virtual Staff Finder if you want to go down this path.

The Giver Noah Kagan is a guy I could have featured in a few of these chapters. Noah really shines in his approach to how much he gives away. Ultimately, content marketing is about creating value for a community of people. The more you can give away, the more you are going to stand out.

first noticed the extreme nature of Noah’s giver mentality on his interview 1 with Pat Flynn on Smart Passive Income.

He started releasing his own plugins under the SumoMe brand. At first a Twitter highlighter tool, then a heat maps tool, then a pop-up tool, then a content marketing analytics tool—all for free. All that on top of regular high-quality, detailed posts via his blog OK Dork

How To Be A Giver

I use Schedule Once, so people can easily book times directly in my calendar.

Email courses on helpful topics. Video training on YouTube or sites like Udemy.

The Analyst

Gathering and reporting on original data is one of the best ways to build a content marketing strategy. Why? Because it’s automatically differentiated. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for competitors to report on the same data as you.

Some companies gather and report on data based on information they are already collecting. Some undertake dedicated surveys to produce unique content.

How To Be An Analyst

Use a survey tool like TypeForm or Google Forms to build and send out a survey. We used TypeForm, because it creates great-looking surveys and looks very professional.

Create a SlideShare summary of the result for sharing and a full PDF report for your site.

How To Be A Comedian

Marie Forleo is a great example. She has built a business education empire by delivering serious messages in a fun and quirky way.

David Nihil, author of Do You Talk Funny: 7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker,

his business, FunnyBizz, offers a service that specifically rewrites blogs posts and makes them funnier.

Here are some of David’s tips: Tell a story in a relatable way, include something broad that people can specifically relate to (maybe local references), then bring it back to something that happened to you.

Set the scene. Write as if you are describing something to a blind person, and be very specific with detail.

Use emotive or funny words like “weird”, “crazy”, or “nuts”, and be passionate.

Use present tense—“I’m walking and I see” rather than “I was walking and I saw”.

Use the rule of three to create memorable content. Build tension and surprise with items one and two and something unexpected with three. Add a callback at the end to tie it together.

the safest humor involves personal stories, because they are guaranteed to be original and can be easily practiced and perfected.

specific structure for making stories funny: Identity – Who are you; set the scene; who are you with; how are you feeling? Struggle – What are you struggling with? Discovery – What was your big discovery? Surprise – What is a surprising twist that no one is expecting?

Google AdWords Keyword Planner Visit the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. Enter some keywords that describe the sort of content you want to create—for example, I’ll enter “Craft Beer” if I am working on Black Hops Brewing. Click “Get ideas”. Click the “Keyword Ideas” tab to just see the individual keyword ideas. Use the “Keyword Filters” on the left to only show keywords with a certain amount of searches. I generally look for keywords with between 200-500 searches for a new site, or more for an established site. In the example above I can see quite a few keywords in the 1,000-2,000 searches range, including keywords like “brewing equipment”, “homebrew recipes”, “best craft beers”, and “craft beer festival”. All of these would make a good starting point for some content.

Podcast – Grab some other industry experts and jump on Skype to chat about what is happening in the industry. Use Pamela for Skype or Ecamm Call Recorder to record the call, publish it on your blog, and submit the feed to iTunes. I have a podcasting guide linked up at http://contentmachine.com/resources that will help.

Video – Do the same thing as Podcasts, but use Google Hangouts or YouTube Live and publish the video to YouTube.

How To Be An Artist Utilizing the power of images could mean adding some images to existing content, or it could mean creating brand new, image-heavy content. Here are eleven ways you can go about ramping up your image content.

  1. Screenshots

Skitch and Jing are great tools for creating screenshots.

  1. Screenshares, Webinars, And Video Courses If you have an educational focus for your content, screenshares and videos are a great way to get the learning across.

All you need to create a decent screenshare video is a USB headset and screen capture software like Camtasia or ScreenFlow

Marie Forleo is a great place to get inspiration when it comes to doing online videos well.

There are three main ways to create an infographic: Use an infographic builder like Visme or Piktochart

  1. Animated GIFs Animated GIFs and autoplay videos stand out as a big trend at the moment. GIFs are being used regularly on websites now for things like showing you how to use software.

GifGrabber is a simple tool for putting together animated GIFs for software usage.

Chapter 5: Scale: Building The Machine

Defining Your Funnel

A funnel is a way to transition the broad members of the community down to a smaller group of customers.

There’s no “one size fits all”, but I’ve found three popular options that work well. The email funnel The product funnel The content funnel

If you want to look at this strategy, SumoMe, OptimizePress, and LeadPages are the two leading tools for building email opt ins.

The Product Funnel The product funnel is where the main call to action on the site is using your product.

The Content Funnel The content funnel is my personal preference. It aims to build an email list, but it also favours content and brand over email opt ins. It requires you to create a lot of content,

We put most of our content out in blog posts freely available on our site. Sometimes we’ll support those blog posts with Google Docs, frameworks, ebooks, and downloads that keen readers can grab.

With larger projects where trust is a must, we’ll just give it all away publicly with no email opt in. That is what I do with my books. All of the frameworks, downloads, and resources for this book are freely available at http://contentmachine.com/resources. This builds trust, and people are more likely to get behind the project and share it.

Relevant Lead Magnets

Of course, it takes a bit of effort to add a different opt in to every post—not to mention setting up the website and email sequences to support providing the lead magnet. I think the best way to do this is by checking your top posts and making sure all of them have post-specific lead magnets. If you don’t have many posts just yet, you can go on gut feeling and add them to the posts you think will be winners. If you’ve built up a good library of content, I’d suggest automating this with Zapier:

The basic idea here is to use the “Schedule” zap to automatically create a task for your admin team. I have a team of Virtual Assistants in the Philippines who look after these things for me. I use Trello to manage our tasks, but Zapier integrates with lots of different tools if you aren’t a Trello user.

every month the admin team is reminded to look in Google Analytics under Behaviour/Site content at a year’s worth of data to see the top 25 posts. They manually check through each post to see if there is a post-specific opt in at the end. If

Five Must-Have Sequences For Content Marketers

  1. Content Drip Or Weekly Email

A content drip sequence is a series of pre-written emails that will send out useful content to the person on a set schedule.

The goal is to build trust and build up desire for your product/service at the same time.

  1. Content Suggestion Sequence

I like to have one simple email that gets sent to subscribers asking them what they would like to hear about.

If you are using content in your business and you want it to get traction, you need to learn what people want.

If you let people reply to your emails, then you actually read and reply back, you will build a legion of close fans.

If they suggested something you hadn’t thought of, then add it to your ideas list.

  1. Pitch Sequence

To ensure I’m not pitching the same people over and over again, I like to have a pitch sequence. I use Infusionsoft, which makes this sort of thing pretty easy.

Here are a few tools you might want to use to help with this step: Inkybee is a tool for reaching out to other influence content creators in your niche.

Inkybee is a tool for reaching out to other influence content creators in your niche.

Editing Notes Here we generate practical editing notes and list other things to look out for. Examples could include: When reviewing after first draft, keep an eye out for: Filler words like: I think, etc, things, stuff. Long sentences with no punctuation. Long paragraphs that aren’t broken up. Waffling or off-topic sentences. Double check links. Make sure links work. Make sure they open in a new tab.

Put this information in a separate document with your final article. SEO Meta description (less than 156 chars). Focus Keyword. Post Tags. A link to a dropbox folder with your images. Please save your blog post images in this folder in the dimensions listed below. Include a featured image. Include a large photo of yourself to use for social sharing (we’ll put a quote from the post on the photo). Title of each image. Name the image with keywords spaced with underscores (Monthy_Income_Chart). A brief, two-sentence excerpt to entice readers. One or two tweetable quotes from your post. An author bio if this is your first submission.

Content Promotion

What I find works is a simple procedure that an admin person or virtual assistant can follow and apply to all content.

Lead Magnets If you think it’s going to be a popular piece of content, you might want to make a post-specific opt in.

Check The Retargeting Funnel Category Remember the retargeting funnel. If you’ve set it up properly, it will automatically retarget people with ads and emails if you post content in certain categories.

Mentions Tweets If we have mentioned someone in the article, we want to draft some “mentions tweets”. Log into your Twitter client of choice (I’d suggest Twitter itself, or Hootsuite or Buffer) and schedule tweets with three people per tweet like: Mentions in [post name] on [main topic] [@guest1] [@guest2] and [@guest3] [link]

Scheduled Tweets We also schedule a bunch of tweets for each piece of content. We come up with a few different tweets based on the content and manually post them at intervals after the content is published. We use Hootsuite to schedule the tweets, but you can also use Buffer to auto-schedule them.

Be Part Of The 5% That Gets Shit Done

I’ve noticed one common trait in every successful entrepreneur I know. It’s something I don’t see in the rest of the population, and it’s what makes them entrepreneurs. It’s their relentless focus on delivering something. Getting shit done.

Ninety-five percent of people will happily read a book, maybe even take notes, but they don’t measure themselves based on what they deliver. They won’t change anything.

Five percent of people do. They are the entrepreneurs. It’s not enough for them to read a book. It only matters when they deliver something as a result. Maybe it’s implementing a new content strategy, testing out a new type of article, or brainstorming some new ideas for their blog.

Weekly Newsletter

Braintactics is a weekly roundup of articles, tools and tips for product designers and front-end developers. I send it every Friday morning.