It’s 2015 and blogs—and bloggers—are more powerful than ever. Trusted bloggers can influence customer’s buying decisions. Brands—including startups—can leverage blogs as potent marketing machines. Some individual blog publishers, like Daring Fireball’s Jon Gruber, make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. There are also blogs with full-fledged editorial staffers and management that earn in the millions of dollars. Whatever your motivation is to blog, you can’t go wrong with publishing free content.
And before we get any further—stop being skeptical. Yes, you CAN get truly free, truly awesome content for your blog. You just have to know how.
There are at least three major barriers to getting high-quality, free content that you can publish on your blog.
First, if it’s free, you are probably going to have to write it yourself. Unless your blog is huge—like TechCrunch—the submitted articles you will be able to attract are going to be garbage 99% of the time.
Another other issue is that writing good content is labor-intensive. It takes a good deal of time and effort to get superior results.
Thirdly, you’re not an expert on everything. You’re probably an expert on perhaps a few topics—maybe less. While you may be somewhat knowledgable outside of your core areas of expertise a lot of research may be required to write with any credible authority on other issues.
So how can you overcome these obstacles and secure an ongoing source of Grade-A content at no cost?
I’m going to let you in on two secrets I’ve been using to create unique and useful content to share with my audience on DailyTekk for several years.
Secret Weapon #1: The Humble Interview
Interviewing people is the easiest, fastest, cheapest, most versatile and reliable way to mine the world around you for ideas that can be turned into content that I have ever found.
Consider two universal truths: 1.) everyone in the world wants to feel special and be recognized/honored as a thought leader in an area they care about and 2.) everyone in the world cares about helping themselves out.
Asking someone if you can interview them plays off both truths beautifully in order to motivate a person to become a willing and excited participant. Over many years, the only reason anyone has ever turned me down (which has been very rarely) was because they were simply too busy to take part.
A company called Influence and Co. knows this very well. In fact, they have built a business off of interviewing people and turning those interviews into content. As I understand it, Influence and Co. offers to help brands and their executives become known as thought leaders by getting bylined articles published by major outlets like Inc. or Forbes. But oftentimes, what ends up as an article starts out as an interview or questionnaire that is answered by a founder or CEO which Influence and Co. then turns into a polished final piece.
I mentioned that everyone in the world wants to help themselves out. That’s true, and interviews are usually perceived as a way of obtaining exposure. The flip side of this equation is that nobody cares about helping you out. You’re basically preying on people’s selfishness to get them to help you out—something that is important to realize and remember when you make the ask (more on that below).
I mentioned how versatile the contents of an interview can be. When I think about publishing the contents of an interview, I never think of the doing so in the “standard” Q&A format. I think that’s usually incredibly boring (unless the subject is quite famous).
Instead I recommend repurposing interview content to make it more interesting and dynamic. You can use a person’s (or people’s) interview answers as the basis for an actual article, quoting them along the way. You could just as easily use an interview to craft a list or a how-to post. If you wanted to go longform, simply include more interviewees. You can quote interview answers verbatim or you can merely absorb them and use them to inform your thinking, the output of which comes out in your own first-person voice.
A fringe benefit of using interviews to drive content creation for your blog is that the people getting interviewed will oftentimes share the link to content they participated in making.
Take the time I convinced the then COO of Mozilla (and now CEO of CreativeCommons) Ryan Merkley and social media influencer Ann Tran (who has over 450,000 Twitter followers), among other participants, to join a weekly interview panel on DailyTekk. I asked the group questions such as, “Why do you think Gangnam Style went viral?” and, “Does social media sabotage happiness?” I got thoughtful answers and each participant promoted each week’s roundtable through their own channels.
I’ve seen ongoing benefits from my interview-for-content strategy as well. One example is the time I interviewed Automattic’s (the company behind WordPress) Sara Rosso about what it was like working as the WordPress.com VIP Global Services Manager. After the initial interview was published, Automattic linked to the article from their Work With Us page. I see a steady stream of traffic flowing to my site daily from the mention.
As a bit of a side note, I’ve also had some personal fun interviewing people for content. I once decided I’d like to interview my favorite band, so I picked a suitable angle (how tech was changing the music industry), connected with their manager (who happened to be the guy who discovered the Foo Fighters and The Dave Matthews Band), set it up and published the final article on ReadWrite.
So how should you ask someone if they will answer your interview questions? Here’s the great part: it can almost always be done by email. Here’s a sample email template based on what I normally send out:
Title: “Interview Request”
Body: “Hi! My name is Chris—I’m the founder and Editor of DailyTekk.com. Would your CEO, XXXXX, be available to answer a few simple interview questions via email? If so, my deadline is two days from now: Thursday, March 26th. Let me know and I can shoot the questions your way.”
Once they respond saying they can participate (assuming they do), I’ll reply with something like this:
“Great! Thanks for setting this up. Here are the questions (see below). I’m looking for answers that are between 2-4 sentences in length (or a bit longer or shorter if necessary). Can you please include a 1-sentence bio along with a high-res pic?”
As for the questions themselves, I usually format them in a numbered list and keep them as short and too-the-point as possible. Also, don’t ask yes or no questions or you’ll get a yes or no response. I try to limit the amount of questions I ask to five or less so as to keep the interview from feeling like a drag on someone’s time, but you can experiment.
Secret Weapon #2: The World Is Begging To Be Organized
The Internet loves collections. Call them roundups or call them lists (but whatever you do please don’t call them listicles); people love to be surprised and delighted by curated content.
I’m not sure what all drives this phenomenon, but lists have worked best for me when they are useful (rather than purely entertaining). And what makes a list useful? It usually comes down to saving someone the time of collecting and/or comparing a group of items.
If you’re looking for a place to start when it comes to curating your first collection just think of something your target audience would love, find as many related somethings as you can, group them into a post and then rank them from highest to lowest. That formula has always worked really well for me.
For example, my annual list of what I consider to be the 100 Best, Most Interesting Blogs and Websites of the year is wildly popular. But smaller lists such as 7 Easy Ways To Learn Coding And Computer Science For Free and The 6 Best 4K Ultra HD TVs For The Ultimate TV, Movie And Gaming Experience have also been very successful.
The research that I put into each of those posts saves the reader lots of time. I also trumpet my opinion throughout these posts (which is key to being thought of as a thought leader) giving people a possible reason to make a decision (based on my thoughts—which might be exactly what they are looking for).
How time-intensive a curated post is is completely up to you. My list of the year’s best websites literally takes me an entire year—every time I visit a cool website or blog I save it in Evernote. When the time comes to write the article I then weed out the bad stuff, categorize and rank the sites and then add an article introduction.
But most of the curated list-type posts I create can be researched, compiled and published within a couple of hours. I’d say start small (perhaps a top 3, 5 or 10 and work your way up if you’re so inclined).
Of course there is one way to drastically speed up the time it takes to create a list post: you can curate the curators. What do I mean by this? If you’re smart, someone out there’s already done most of the work for you; you’ve just got to be smart and find out where that content lives.
Uncrate, for instance, is a curator of all things cool (for guys). From gear to style, from cars to tech and more, Uncrate creates daily posts featuring their favorite new products in these categories. Maybe you’d never be aware of all the coolest new sports cars or watches—but Uncrate’s staff is. They’ve done the hard work of finding the best stuff for guys. Now that you know where to look, it would be pretty easy to make a list of the 50 coolest pairs of sunglasses for 2015 (by digging through the archives, picking out your favorites and simply writing a bit about each).
Now I’m absolutely not advocating going out and ripping people off—not at all. Don’t ever steal another blog or person’s photos or copy. But if you do get some ideas from someone else, be kind and thank/mention them in your post.
A couple more thoughts. There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t combine both techniques—interviews and curation—to form an article. Something like: 10 Experts Weigh In On Whether You Should Buy An Apple Watch.
Also, if you want high-quality, free content that is more likely to spread far and wide, you’ve got to get people involved. If you’re doing interviews that means getting the right people involved—the more influential, the better. If they share the article you’ve already got a head start.
Have you tried either technique before? How did it go? Please let me know in the comments.