I talk to a lot of early-stage startups that aren’t sure about content marketing yet. I’ll admit, it’s usually not the best marketing channel to start with because it takes a long time to ramp up and a lot of prior knowledge to do well. That said, the payoff over years is huge.
In this post, I’m going to share 26 low-cost or free content marketing ideas. This collection isn’t meant to be a comprehensive strategy, but rather a source of inspiration to help you make the first steps into content. You might not see a ton of results from these ideas alone, but they will give you a base of content to build on. Once you invest in a real content strategy, you’ll be better off with some of the basics covered than if you were starting from scratch.
This first section of ideas are all about content. People who are just starting out on their writing journey often have a hard time coming up with topics to write about. The suggestions here are pretty much universal, but they’re also relatively easy to write (or hire a freelancer to write cheaply).
Note: If you’re looking for more blog post ideas specifically, check out this huge list for a place to start.
Example:CFP Land’s speaker story series
In the early days of your business, you should be talking to customers regularly anyway, so an easy way to generate some video, audio, or text content is to turn those conversations into a published interview. It builds good will, costs nothing, and chances are your customers will share it as well.
Example:Lightrun’s launch blog post
Besides being good practice, writing out your sales pitch (the what, why, and how of your business) will serve as great content for your blog. You can even use this in lieu of a sales call if you have a low-touch sale.
You don’t have to have a direct connection to the talk or video to do this. In the example above, the speaker wasn’t even a customer, but the content was relevant to their industry, so this summary performed really well. The speaker might even be game to help you share the post since you’re likely helping raise their profile as well.
In addition to doing well in search engines, creating a list of your competitors is a good way to learn more about them and compare their relative strengths and positioning in the market. An easy way to do this is find a list of similar businesses on G2 and then write a better, more descriptive list on your blog.
Just don’t lie to make yourself look good. Customers will figure this out, and you could face legal issues.
Okay, the example is a little silly, but you can imagine taking this same format into some industries. There’s a lot of great content on Twitter that can inspire a blog post or be expanded into long-form content.
Sharing other peoples’ ideas (with credit) might also make them want to share your post.
Infographics were all the rage five years ago, but imagery can still be compelling. If you have existing blog posts or find good ones, you can create a graphic or video summarizing the post. This reuse of existing content will save you a lot of time over trying to create everything new from scratch, and readers might like the option to view rather than read the content.
Forums like Reddit have tons of great content. You can use the Top filter to find the most popular content in each subreddit, then condense that content into a blog post, guide, book, image, or video. You know people are interested in the topic, and you might even be able to share it back on Reddit (like u/smoke4sanity did above).
People buy from other people, so showcase your humanity. Highlight someone on your team in a video or text interview to give customers and future employees insight into your values. You can also have team members share interesting challenges or projects. It makes everyone involved feel good, and your team members are likely to share it as well.
Product pages are great, but what if you want to go really deep?
Creating video or text content around each of your product’s features is a good way to showcase what you can do for customers, and serves as valuable sales collateral. The challenge with this kind of content is that it tends to get out of date quickly, so you might need to revisit it every year.
You can also create content around each use case or variation of your product or service.
One of the easiest ways to create content around your business is to highlight what it does well. If you solve a difficult problem, you can compare your solution to other established methods to help readers pick the best one.
Not only does this showcase your knowledge, it helps your site come up in search results, as newcomers to your field are likely searching for these terms pretty often. While this kind of content is best for “top of funnel” traffic, it’s easy to create if you know your field well.
If you have access to a significant portion of your target market (say through an email list, social followers, or partnerships), you can survey them. Turn this data into a blog post or downloadable resource that others watching your industry can use.
Data does well in search engines, and if you can get some pull quotes as well, you’ll have some more free original content from your survey.
Note: I’ve created a big list of survey tools here to help you get started.
We help companies create better technical blogs, so we decided to create ranked lists of some of the best resources in our niche. These posts tend to get shared widely and do well in search engines. While they take some time to create, they’re relatively straightforward to write.
Picking a side on a controversial issue is tough, but if you have the conviction to do it, you can separate yourself from competitors who have a less-established stance. Just remember that you might alienate some customers in the process.
Everyone wants to share successes, but very few people are willing to write about their failures. Showing vulnerability can be a great way to add humanity and honesty to your brand though, so consider creating some content around what you learned from mistakes.
If you have an audience, you might get questions from time to time. Look at public questions on Twitter or Quora for inspiration, or you can respond to another blog post with your own questions. I find that the more I read, the more I am inspired to write new ideas.
Once you have a bit of content on your blog or social channels, you might be wondering how you can effectively capture or monetize this traffic. The tools for setting this up are relatively cheap and easy to use, so in this section, I’ll focus on them.
Note: I’ve been collecting lists of marketing tools here for the past year, so be sure to check them out if you want more.
Example: The Draft.dev newsletter for technical marketers
Cost is no longer the barrier to starting a newsletter. Cheap and free platforms like Mailchimp, Substack, and Revue are all designed to make it really simple to start a newsletter. If you really don’t have time to write much, just share a few links to articles relevant to your customers and put a signup form on your website and social media handles.
A lot of people outside the content marketing world don’t know about Google Keyword Planner. Designed for advertisers, it’s actually a very handy, free tool for performing keyword research. You just put in a few keywords relevant to your business, and Google Keyword Planner will show you thousands of keywords with search volume and competition data.
Note: Some people say the search volume and competition numbers aren’t great, so you can augment them with a tool like Ahrefs.
Example:Using GPT-3 to write content
This year, I’ve been playing around with automated content generation using the GPT-3 machine learning model. While it’s not great for deep, technical topics, it’s not bad for general information, and it might help you get “unstuck” if you’re not a prolific writer. If you want to try it out, give Shortly.ai a go.
A lot of people think you have to spend a ton of money to get a decent writer, and while there are absolutely differences between a $0.10 and a $0.50 per word writer, one way to make average writers look better is to give them a good outline. Even if you’re writing the content yourself, having an outline makes you faster and more focused in your writing.
Whether you use a banner (like the above example) or simple text, having a call to action in your content is an easy way to get more subscribers. If you already have content on your blog, go through and add one or two calls to action on each post, directing readers to sign up for a free trial or subscribe to your newsletter.
If you ever might run advertisements for your business, you want to use retargeting (or remarketing). This allows you to target readers with ads as they browse Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or just about any other site to try to bring them back to your site. People who have already read your blog are more likely to click an ad if they’re familiar with your product, so retargeting is typically very effective.
Example:Ahrefs’ content audit strategy
A content audit is about figuring out what content you have on your site, how well it’s doing, and what content you should have. I did one a few months ago when I started refreshing my old blog, and traffic went up considerably after I started implementing some changes. While tools like Ahrefs or SEMRush can help, you can use their free trials or just Google Analytics and Search Console to cover the basics.
These two tools will give you most of the data you need to improve your position in search engines, track the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, and ensure that you’re getting the most out of every piece of content you publish.
That said, Google Analytics is notoriously complicated, so I’d recommend investing a day at Analytics Academy (it’s free) to help get you started.
Example:A guest post for Free Code Camp brings me dozens of visitors and inquiries every month
Don’t just create content for your site and social channels. Spread the love by submitting guest posts. They can help you build links to your website, raise your profile in the community, and expand your audience.
Finally, don’t be afraid to share content—even the old stuff. I have a huge backlog of old content that I’m constantly refreshing and recycling across my social channels. Most people won’t catch every blog post the first time, so re-promote them every few months to get the most out of each piece.
If you’ve gone through the ideas on this list and you’re ready to invest in high-quality technical content for your business, let me know. I’d be happy to help.