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26 Low-Cost Content Marketing Ideas

Karl L. Hughes
Former startup CTO turned writer. Founder of Draft.dev
Originally published at draft.dev ・10 min read

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.

Part 1: Content Ideas

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.

Idea 1: Interview a Customer

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.

Idea 2: Record and Write Out Your Sales Pitch

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.

Idea 3: Summarize a Video or Conference Talk

Example: Fabric.inc turned this video into this blog post

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.

Idea 4: Publish a List of Competitors

Example:HubSpot’s huge list of marketing tools

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.

Idea 5: Compile Tips from Twitter Threads

Example:26 Hilarious Tweets Only Software Developers Will Understand

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.

Idea 6: Create a Graphic or Video Summarizing a Blog Post

Example:“Free Stock Image” post with embedded video showing how to use the images

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.

Idea 7: Use Popular Ideas from Reddit

Example: u/smoke4sanity wrote a question about whether a specific kind of book existed in 2019. Then, in 2020, he wrote the book he wanted. He essentially tested market demand using Reddit upvotes.

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).

Idea 8: Interview a Team Member

Example:The Graide Network’s Graider of the Month posts

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.

Idea 9: Break Each Feature of Your Product or Service Into a Piece of Content

Example:Courier’s blog posts covering major features

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.

Idea 10: Compare Multiple Ways to Solve a Problem

Example:BackHub’s “Three Ways to Backup Your GitHub Issues”

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.

Idea 11: Define the Key Terms Your Industry Uses

Example:Nutshell’s list of sales slang terms

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.

Idea 12: Publish the Results of a Survey

Example:The State of Developer Ecosystem survey by JetBrains

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.

Idea 13: List Bloggers in Your Industry

Example:List of the best technical blogs on Draft.dev

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.

Idea 14: Take a Stand

Example:“Why AnyList Won’t Be Supporting Sign In with Apple”

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.

Idea 15: Share a Mistake You Made

Example:Robbie Abed’s “The Year I Figured Out That I Was My Own Worst Enemy”

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.

Idea 16: Answer Questions or Respond to Another Blogger

Example:Justin Jackson’s “Get Traffic for Your Content”

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.

Part 2: Tools of the Trade

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.

Idea 17: Start a Newsletter

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.

Idea 18: Use Google Keyword Planner to Find Keyword Ideas

Example:Step by step instructions for using GKP

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.

Idea 19: Use AI to Help You Write

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.

Idea 20: Write Detailed Outlines for Freelance Writers

Example:“How to Create a Technical Content Plan” on Draft.dev

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.

Idea 21: Add Appropriate Calls to Action on Existing Content

Example:

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.

Idea 22: Add Retargeting Pixels to Your Blog

Example:Adding the Google Retargeting Pixel to your blog

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.

Idea 23: Do a Content Audit

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.

Idea 24: Learn Google Analytics and Search Console

Example:Google Analytics vs. Search Console

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.

Idea 25: Offer to Write a Guest Post

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.

Idea 26: Promote an Old Post

Example:“How to Promote Your Blog Posts” on Draft.dev

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.

Need Technical Content?

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.

By Karl Hughes

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