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How to Be a Guru: 6 Paths to Blogging Stardom

This guest post is by Neil Patel of Quick Sprout.

Do you want to leverage content marketing?

I’m not just talking about guest posts or sharing content on social media sites here. Instead, I’m talking about the overall strategy that you can use to structure and develop your site’s content and offerings.

And develop your authority as a guru in your blogging niche.

When it comes to content marketing strategy, the key strategic question is: how much information should you give away?

Some people will tell you to give it all away—including your best content. Others will tell you that is suicide, and you should limit your free content to special reports and a few blog posts.

So what’s the best approach?

Well, in a great SlideShare presentation called How Much Do You Open the Kimono?, Jay Baer outlined six ways that you can think about your content marketing and how much information you give away.

He describes six content approaches that a marketer can take to successfully drive leads, increase the right kind of attention, build sales—and, for a blogger, position yourself as a guru in your niche. These six strategies can work for any business—not just a blog—but of course they can and do work for blogs. Specifically, you’ll find the later ones particularly relevant to your blogging efforts.

Since your blog is unique, not every strategy will work for you. Let’s look at the six positions in depth and see which one’s right for you.

1. No online thought leadership

This is a position in which you’ve decided that you will not have any thought leadership influence online. You’ve made this decision because you know through research experience that your target customer doesn’t consume content online.

This won’t be applicable to many bloggers, but since it’s one of the six strategies Jay explained, let’s look at how it works.

MarketFace is a good example of a company that uses this strategy. It’s a leader in customer experience consultation, having clients like Virgin, Sketchers, and Toyota. They work directly with the C-level management and do not believe that their time would be well spent creating online content, since their target audiences don’t use the internet to find information.

Here’s what they need to do then:

  • Generate word-of-mouth business: Businesses like MarketFace can use their current clients as advocates to generate leads. Obviously your work should be exceptional if you want people to refer you, and you want to depend strictly on WOM for business.
  • Create case studies for private consumption: Companies that employ this position create content don;t just share it with the public. They share these case studies with potential clients.
  • Work in a vertical market: If your business is involved in a vertical where there are a number of similar businesses doing specific and specialized work with the same customers, it’s easier to generate WOM referrals, and easier to dominate without working at online thought leadership.

What are the advantages of this strategy?

  • Zero time investment: Unlike the other online content marketing positions, this one requires zero effort, and zero investment in resources like time and labor.
  • Focus on long-form, custom and detailed content: When you don’t have the pressure to create content on a daily or weekly basis, you can focus on the production of in-depth case studies, research, and analysis that will satisfy the number-crunching demands of executives.

There are some disadvantages to this approach, namely:

  • Limited search exposure: If you are not creating content for online consumption, potential customers who do consume and use search engines will not find you.
  • Can’t build online influence: Even though executives may not use the Internet to search and consume content, many of their assistants do. So, if you don’t have a presence, even a minimal one, you will miss out on those opportunities.

If WOM and your vertical domination is keeping you profitable, then you may not need to worry about online influence. However, business and markets change, so it’s good to keep your eye on the horizon and question your strategy constantly.

2. Though leadership on social media

Thought leaders who are in this position will use Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook Groups, and leave blog comments on other people’s blogs to influence clients and potential customers.

In this case, you prefer the one-to-one interaction that these platforms offer. You may write one long blog post a month as a guest for other blogs, remain active on Facebook, and curate tons of information on Twitter, which would be enough to keep you in the minds of your customers.

However, you will establish your influence and authority by speaking at industry conferences, giving input for market studies, and being involved in research.

What are the pros with this type of thought leadership position?

  • No original content: Since you are building your authority by being an expert on other people’s content, products, and services, you don’t have to invest the time to create your own content. Think of an analyst who becomes an expert in a certain industry.
  • Leverage years of experience: Your years of work wisdom and experience allow you to become a consultant. Word of mouth helps generate business for you, while the occasional long blog post keeps you in the search game.
  • Become a trusted community source: As you consultant companies and work on studies and research projects, your name will gain authority.

Let’s look at the disadvantages of this position:

  • Limited search exposure: With such a small amount of substantial content being created for online consumption, you won’t be able to compete in search engines.
  • Lack a place to drive leads: Without a website or blog, you don’t have an online source where leads can find you, or you can direct prospects to.
  • Lack of experience limits you: Building authority as a consultant or analyst without creating content takes years, where content creation online can get you into the spotlight in as little as six months.

3. Selling thought leadership

Here, you’re selling your information in books, ebooks, how-to packages, and email newsletters by building a list with limited content creation.

The financial newsletter Motley Fool is a good example of a company that uses this strategy. While the Motley Fool guys have a vibrant online presence, their real content is hidden behind a checkout process.

How do they attract people to buy their products? Their free content gives potential customers a clear idea of the possibilities of what they can achieve with the company’s products. In other words, the content sells the sizzle. You have to buy the steak if you want to know how to harness those possibilities.

Here are the advantages to this approach:

  • Re-purpose content: You can take some of your already published content and create a free report out of it. This adds another stage to your sales funnel. However, for this strategy to truly work you have to make these quality packages. You must include a high volume of pages, only the best content, and superior design.
  • Recurring revenue: Selling your best content will allow you to build an additional stream of income that bolsters your flagship service, such as consulting or speaking.
  • Passive income: In addition to being recurring, this income is also passive, meaning you do the work once and it makes money for you through the life of the product.

While this has been a successful strategy for companies like Motley Fool, it has its disadvantages:

  • Upgrading difficulties: It may not be easy to migrate people from consuming your content for free to paying for new content. You have to figure out how to give away just enough content that people become interested in spending money to get the real product. In other words, the sizzle has to be so good that they can’t live without the steak.
  • Test exhaustively: Because you won’t know right off the bat where that line between sizzle and steak is, you will have to measure and test these efforts, which has costs in time and tools.

4. Walled garden thought leadership

The next strategy in Jay’s presentation is to place free content behind a mandatory-lead generation form.

The simplest example of this is the email newsletter. In fact, lots of marketers run blogs in which they share content on a daily basis, but promise in-depth, specialized information for joining a email newsletter list.

For example, Copyblogger offers the Internet Marketing for Smart People email newsletter. This is content that is specialized toward helping online marketers generate leads and convert those leads.

Copywriter Drayton Bird created an email newsletter that he used to share practical information, selling the sizzle. But he also promoted his products, like books and speaking events, to the list, too.

Here are the advantages of this position:

  • Generate leads: Depending upon the amount of information that you request, you may be able to use that information to feed leads to your sales team.
  • Easy to track: When you are collecting personal information, you can easily know whether a landing page is effective or not, allowing you to test and tweak elements on the page to improve conversion.

And now the disadvantages:

  • Can’t control lead quality: If you make the exchange the bare minimum—say an email address—you’ll probably get a lot of leads, but they won’t be great leads.
  • Can’t raise exchange requirements without harming lead volume: Now you can demand more than an email address from a submission form, but the moment you do your lead volume will drop. In fact, for every element you add, your lead generation numbers will decline.
  • Can’t share: Information locked behind a submissions form is much harder to share. Your readers’ only option is really to forward it to friends, whereas if you had the information online you would have multiple options at your disposal.

5. Give away what you know—but not the process

In this strategy, you give away your knowledge, but you don’t give away the information about how you got that knowledge, or what you do with it. You often tell your readers how to do things … but not how.

Confused? Here’s an easy example of what I mean. Let’s say a mechanic tells you that from his experience car oil should be changed every 3,500 miles. That’s good information to know. And it’s coming from an authority. The only problem is you have no clue on how to change oil. So you hire the mechanic.

People like Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk have built business based upon this approach to developing their positions as thought leaders. There strategy was simple: produce a ton of blog posts, videos, and presentations, accept every interview they can, maintain a heavy presence on social media, and be insanely approachable and available.

Here are some of the advantages of this approach:

  • Extreme SEO benefits: With so much content being put online, you will dominate the rankings for lots of searches in your industry. Those who use this approach successfully are often seen everywhere.
  • Social share goes crazy: The more content you produce, the more content gets shared and goes viral.
  • Extreme PR benefits: This heavy production of content, and constant presence on social media, will also lead to a growing presence in the public relations world. Media companies will start to seek you out as an authority because it seems that everywhere they look, they see you.

As you can imagine, there are some cons to this strategy:

  • Work your tail off: Nobody who has achieved success using this strategy is lazy. In fact, they are tireless: they are usually the first ones up in the morning and the last ones to bed. Burnout is a real threat as the moment you take your foot off the gas pedal, just a little your influence starts to drop.
  • Decrease in content value: There is the potential that each piece of content you create will cannibalize the last. How many videos, interviews, and posts can you do on your industry that won’t sound the same as the last ones, or like something your competitor has done?

6. Give it all away

Finally, we arrive at the thought leader who gives it all away. They give you the possibilities, and they even explain the process you’ll need to follow to reach them.

SEOmoz has built a great blog doing this. Each article will tell you the wonderful benefits behind a certain SEO technique, and then tell you, step-by-step, how to do it.

Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land is another example. And I try to do the same thing on my blog.

This type of strategy attracts both the do-it-yourselfers, and those who want someone else to do it for them either because they don’t have the time or don’t want to learn how to do it.

This position shares the same benefits as strategy 5, but it includes one more benefit:

  • No barrier to customers: This position removes any boundaries—real or imagined—between you and the customer. When a customer wants to work with you it is very clear why they want your expertise.

This position also has the same disadvantages as the one above in that it involves some really serious effort. But it includes at least two others:

  • Others can steal your content: If you decide you want to use this content strategy, and you do it well, you will become a target for scrapers who will try to make a buck off your hard work.
  • Diverts attention from core attributes: While companies like HubSpot or Mint.com used this strategy effectively to generate leads, attention, SEO benefits and the like, it puts a huge burden on resources, and can get you off track.

Which path is for you?

As I’ve shown you above, there are people and companies who have successfully used all of the above content marketing strategies to attain thought leadership positions, so there really isn’t one that’s better than the other.

Instead, you must know your core strengths and weaknesses, your business goals and objectives, and how you want to achieve them. Only then can you figure out which strategy will work best for you.

As you read these ideas, one probably jumped out as the path you’re taking. Let us know which one it is in the comments. And keep your eyes on ProBlogger today for more tips to help you build authority with innovative blog content.

Neil Patel is an online marketing consultant and the co-founder of KISSmetrics. He also blogs at Quick Sprout.

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Comments

  1. Marie Munrow says:

    I am SO glad I found this blog!

    I am a VERY newly published ebook author (adult fiction), and I have been trying to piece together a strategy that will help get my books NOTICED.

    Thanks a lot guys. I found this information helpful and reassuring.

    Cheers,
    Marie

  2. Hi Neil,

    I love #5.

    Like Gary Vee and CB I always intended to become a leader in my niche by over-delivering. Yep, tiring at times but once you dominate search engines and begin to pop up all over the place people take notice.

    From blog posts to ebooks to articles to videos to webinars to comments. I create, create, create and simply intent to make an impact where I show up. It takes each and energy but I know each creative act is prospered in its own way.

    All the work I did years ago laid the framework for my current success. All the work I do now lays the framework for my future success. Just building on the layers, expanding my presence and growing my gifting club.

    1 note on burnout: if you do things the right way you never burn out. You work effectively and intelligently almost all the day, meaning that the strain and stress that most workaholics produce simply isn’t a part of your being. I take hourly 5 to 10 minute breaks, meditate quite a bit and live a pretty fun life outside of the fun I have at work.

    If you are having fun most of the day you know to pullback frequently, get enough rest and enjoy the entire process.

    Thanks Neil!

    Ryan

  3. Carolyn says:

    A lot depends on your niche . . . in mine, people tend to really share info and tips. My path is somewhere between #5 and 6 . . . lots of free sharing, but there’s also a book coming. Big on social media and conversations with readers. That’s why I love blogging, instead of just writing magazine articles!

  4. Chirag says:

    Nice and informative post Neil..
    I never practiced a couple of points but yep will keep this in mind now..

  5. Liane C says:

    I’m very interested on method #1. Although you mentioned it’s for big business (by example). I wonder how it works for small businesses though or for startups? How do you even attract the first batch of leads? Or actually, what’s the right way to better ensure that you can generate leads? Just need it for my design website.

    Great post though! I might explore too on developing my business blog’s content section more.

  6. Mark Tosczak says:

    Good post.

    If you’re going to go with No. 1, though, make sure it really is true for your market. A majority of senior executives do use the Internet for research, doing things like reading blogs, using social media sites and the like. Here’s one (of a number) of studies that demonstrate that: http://www.marketingprofs.com/charts/2012/7347/senior-execs-consume-both-traditional-and-new-media

  7. DT says:

    Very well put together, Darren. We have been reading your blog and attending webinars for some time. Definitely appreciate all the how-to content you put out there!

  8. Monisima says:

    Thank you for this information. I have read many articles about blogging, but this is one that is really helpful, especially in growing a business online:)

  9. Justin says:

    For the longest time, I’ve been using path 6. But now, I may switch to path 5.

  10. Copyblogger’s path really amazed. Give valuable content then attract a prospective reader by signing-up to their email list. At this point of my blogging journey, I should go with the enthusiasm of Chris Brogan and Gary Vee. Neil, You described it perfectly-> Give away what you know—but not the process. Give the WHAT not the HOW =).. I think 4 and 6 is ideal for conglomerate sites.

    awesome post Neil!
    been reading quick sprout, too.Thanks for delivering great content!

  11. One of the best article I have ever read. Thanks for the hardwork and it will definitely help our future ventures!

  12. Stuart says:

    Says everything but tells you nothing ! Use at your peril

  13. Max West says:

    The first two methods surprise me. It seems to run counter to all that I’ve been taught about being proactive when it comes to blogging, social media, and self-promotion.

    Still, you’ve given me something to think about.