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Doing Content Right (Steph Smith) – Book Summary, Review & Notes

Doing Content Right (Steph Smith) - Book Summary, Review & Notes

Buy the book here

⭐ Review

Rating – 8.5/10

Fluff rating – 6/10 (mild fluff)

A book that could pass as a textbook/encyclopedia on creating content in 2021. A ridiculous amount of info packed into a single book – highly recommend!

✅ What I liked

  • Literally everything you need to start a blog from zero – from what to write about/ideas, building a digital home, distributing your content, SEO, monetization (all in crazy detail)
  • In-depth examples, analogies and plenty of research illustrate the points so effectively
  • Very quotable (and Steph takes advantage of this by putting quote sections throughout the book)
  • Relevant for 2021 and likely will be relevant for a while – has a lot of Lindy elements

❌ What I didn’t like

  • Unnecessary jargon at times – e.g. distribution vector, value proposition, delineate your paid content – often feels like a textbook instead of keeping it clear and simple
  • Fluff – I’m nit-picking here but sometimes I’d prefer less facts, examples, filler words and analogies and just getting to the point more

🗝️ 10 Key Notes & Quotes

  • The key to standing out in 2020 is to create high quality content (i.e. new or >1% better) AND distribute it better than the competition
  • “People misinterpret saturation: it is not the sheer number of people in a space that matters, but the likelihood that you can out-innovate what already exists”
  • “Returns are not linear. An average article is equivalent to average Joe batting – it’ll get 0 shares. A top 20% article is in the minor leagues. But a top 1% article gets shared 1000 times. And a top 0.1% article flies around the Internet.”
  • The best way to create high quality work is to operate in your your personal monopolysomething only you (or few people) can do or know
  • “Your goal in building a newsletter or blog is not to write articles or send emails. It is to create things that people love and find value in”
  • “No matter how good content is, if you don’t invest in getting it in front of people, noone will see it”
  • Distribution is a multiplier of the quality of your article – spend as much time on distribution as creation
  • Google’s algorithm prioritizes content that is credible/high quality, relevant and usable for the searcher and that users engage with
  • “Incorporating SEO data into your thinking can help you come up with better topics, write better articles… and create things that people want. It’s like having the answers to the test”
  • “Don’t write just to ‘make money’. Write to solve problems. Money should always be a byproduct of your creations, not the original intent”

📑 Short Summary

  • The key to standing out in 2020 is to create high quality content (i.e. new or >1% better) AND distribute it better than the competition
  • The Power Lawthe bottom 1% or even average content get next to no traffic while the top 1% gets nearly all of it – so you need to be EXCELLENT
  • The best way to create high quality work is to operate in your your personal monopolysomething only you (or few people) can do or know
  • Start with a niche with existing supply & demand for content and a growing audience
    • Within this niche, learn everything about who your 100 true fans are and create content 100 true fans LOVE not 10000 people kind of like
  • The most important piece of advice – write to solve problems and provide value
  • How to find interesting ideas to write about: follow your genuine curiosity, create content when you can’t find an answer online, ask your readers what problems they’re facing
  • The easiest way to write well is to develop a consistent writing habit and stick to it for years – so write about something you know and care about
  • Distribution is a multiplier of the quality of your article – spend as much time on distribution as creation
  • There are six different types of distribution channels:
    • Bedrock – take time to build but highly dependable & scalable (e.g. SEO, newsletter, Quora)
    • Viral – low cost & effort, high reach but not scalable or dependable (e.g. Hacker News and upvoting sites)
    • Social – huge scale/reach but no ownership (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram)
    • Syndicate – repurposing your content for a specific platform (e.g. Medium, YouTube, Pinterest)
    • Targeted – low traffic but reliable and good for making superfans (e.g. niche forums/groups, Reddit)
    • Paid – can have high reach but extremely costly (e.g. FB/Twitter ads)
  • Your overall distribution strategy should be balanced e.g. Twitter for scale, newsletter for ownership, SEO for dependability etc.
  • Explore-and-exploit different channels – test 1-3 channels per month and at the end of the month, cut channels with no progress and double down on the ones that do
  • SEO is hugely important – it takes a lot of upfront work but gives you massive scale, is free, reliable/consistent, and can passively bring you traffic
  • Google’s algorithm prioritizes content that is credible/high quality, relevant and usable for the searcher and that users engage with
  • Don’t overcomplicate SEO – you just need to know 4 key things:
    • Search intent/how people think – people search for information, to navigate somewhere, to do something or buy something
      • Focus on writing for queries where people search for info – ignore the rest
    • Google’s data/what people care about – look at Google’s results to find what people are looking for – the articles that best solve peoples’ problems rank highly
    • Optimizing content based on what people want – choose a target keyword with the right intent, 200-5000 monthly searchers and similar/low competition
      • Use keyword research and look at what competitors are creating to learn what to write about and outline your article (based on what people “also ask for”)
    • Domain authority (DA) and backlinks are crucial to rank on Google
      • To get backlinks – interview people, create linkable products/assets, go viral, look at where competitors get links from, guest post, partner with other creators
  • Monetize your content by charging directly via subscriptions or donations, affiliating other products, running ads, newsletter sponsorships, creating products your audience needs or using your content as a source of leads for freelance/agency work
    • Having multiple methods of monetization is better than one major one

📕 Chapter Summary

Do Me A Favor

Treat this book like a textbook, not a novel and remember that no matter how much you read, you still have to put in the work.

Chapter 1 – Your Personal Monopoly

  • Despite billions of people creating content online, you can still stand out by:
    • Creating high quality content that’s either new or >1% better than the old
    • Distributing it better than the competition
  • Key – differentiate your content from others (e.g. with quality, humour, visuals etc)
  • The Power Lawthe bottom 1% or even average content get next to no traffic while the top 1% gets nearly all of it – so you need to be excellent
  • The best way to create high quality, differentiated work is to operate in your your personal monopoly – something only you (or few people) can do or know
    • Idea ikigaiwhat is something I can uniquely contribute that is interesting, doesn’t exist yet and that I have unique exposure to?
  • Start with a niche topic – it’s easier to stand out (i.e. with your personal monopoly)
    • Decide on a niche that has:
      • Demand for content – are people searching for what you’re planning to create?
      • Existing supply of content – there’s existing newsletters, blogs etc.
      • Growing audience – a booming market does most of the work for you
    • Clarify your value proposition in one sentence on your site – e.g. easiest-to-use email marketing platform, Oprah for millenials
      • If you can’t – it’s either unclear or too complicated
  • Within this niche, write for your 100 true fans – the people who LOVE your content
    • Learn everything about them so you know who you’re creating for
  • The most important piece of advice – write to solve problems and provide value
  • You need both a newsletter AND a blog so you have:
    • Direct and consistent access to your audience (via newsletter)
    • Growth mechanisms (like SEO) that only work for evergreen content (via blog)
  • Your newsletter format should be one that best solves your audience’s problems and accomplishes your goals (e.g. daily updates, long-form, curation digests, hybrids)
  • To find interesting ideas to write about, create habits:
    • If you see something interesting online, note it down
    • Follow your curiosity as often as possible – go down rabbitholes
    • Create content if you can’t find answers to what you’re looking for
    • Ask your readers what problems they’re facing

Chapter 2 – Building Your Home

  • Writing online is tough – define an unwritten contract between you and your readers so you know what you’re willing/not willing to do to get where you want to be
    • Identify your core values/non-negotiables – things that, if messed with, would end the contract between you and your audience
      • Find them by writing all your content goals and ordering them by importance
        • E.g. spending <10hrs per week, being transparent, emphasis on quality over quantity, not promoting products you don’t like
  • To build your online home, you’ll need a domain, hosting, blogging platform, an email service provider and analytics software
    • Note – at the start of your journey, don’t overthink any of this – just choose something good enough and focus on creating
  • Before writing content, decide whether you’re offering it for free or paid:
    • Pros of going paid – charge directly for value you provide (instead of via ads), incentives aligned with readers, can monetize with smaller audience
    • Cons of going paid – lose shareability/SEO, harder to reach more people, need to always have truly excellent content for people to keep paying you
    • Consider the following
      • How easy is it for my readers to quantify my value to them? Am I providing a painkiller (paid) or vitamin (free)?
      • Am I trying to build a large (free) or smaller, more involved readership (paid)?
      • Do I need to monetize now (paid) or can I focus on building my audience first (free)?
      • How used to paying for this type of content is my audience?
      • Do I have a good distribution method to utilize if I go paid?
  • The easiest way to write well is to develop a consistent writing habit and stick to it for years – the easiest way to do this is to write about something you know and care about
    • Publish AMAP without sacrificing your quality standards (quality trumps speed)
    • Consistency is important but not the most important thing

Chapter 3 – Distribution

  • Distribution is a multiplier of the quality of your article – spend as much time on distribution as creation
  • It’s not passive – you need to actively promote your content on a variety of channels (until your flywheel/foundational channels take over for you)
  • There are six different types of distribution channels:
    • Bedrock (evergreen/foundation) – take time to build but once you’ve put in the effort, they’re dependable, highly scalable – start on these ASAP
      • e.g. SEO, newsletter, Quora Answers
    • Viral – don’t cost anything, are low effort, can have impressive reach but aren’t dependable, scalable and you have no ownership over them – e.g. Hacker News, other upvoting sites)
      • The best way to go viral is to avoid spamming and produce great content that attracts attention (like inspirational articles)
    • Social – have massive scale and can be foundational if you build a following but you don’t own the channels – e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram
      • In social channels – be known for X topic, participate frequently in discussions, build relationships and be human
    • Syndicate – repurposing your content in some way for a specific platform
      • Medium – after publishing on your site FIRST, import your post into Medium (and get paid for views there via the Partner Program)
      • YouTube & Pinterest – similar to SEO because their user base’s primarily use search – your efforts will compound over time but it’s quite time-consuming
    • Targeted – likely won’t drive lots of traffic but reliable and great for making superfans – e.g. niche forums/groups, Reddit
    • Paid – cost heaps and profitability depends on the lifetime value of your customers – e.g. FB ads, sponsorships
  • The CODES Framework helps you understand the nature of each channel: cost, ownership, dependability/consistency of traffic, effort required and scalability
  • Your overall distribution strategy should meet CODES as a whole – e.g. Twitter for scale, newsletter for ownership, SEO for dependability etc.
  • To find which channels work best for you, use the explore-and-exploit method:
    1. Every month, test 1-3 channels and at the end of the month cut the ones with no progress & double down on the ones that do
    2. Keep reevaluating & doing this until you have 2-5 channels you can count on
    3. Then create a tiered distribution plan for each article you launch:
      • Tier 0 – channels that work for every blog (SEO, newsletter)
      • Tier 1 – channels that work uniquely for you
      • Tier 2 – channels you only promote in for certain pieces
      • Tier 3 – channels you’re currently testing/may sideline
  • In the beginning, it’s much harder to get going so you need to do things that don’t scalereach out 1:1 to people on Twitter, ask friends/family/contacts etc
  • Distribution quick wins – create directory pages and internal links between your articles to keep people on your site, resurface existing content regularly, make your imagery recognizable, make your work easily quotable/shareable

Chapter 4 – Search Engine Optimization

  • SEO is hugely important – it takes a lot of upfront work but gives you massive scale, is free, reliable/consistent, and can passively bring you traffic
  • Google’s algorithm prioritizes content that is credible/high quality, relevant and usable for the searcher and that users engage with
  • Don’t overcomplicate SEO – Google’s goal is to respond to people’s problems with the best solutions – you just need to know these 4 key things:
    • Search intent/how people think – people search for 1 of 4 categories with each needing a different type of result:
      • Information (i.e. want to know/understand something)TARGET
        • *e.g. who, what, when, where, why, how queries (but don’t have to be that explicit – “red wine stain carpet” -> “how do you best remove a red wine stain?”) *
      • Navigation (i.e. want to go somewhere [online or offline])IGNORE
        • e.g. “apple” -> looking to navigate to the Apple website
      • Transactions (i.e. want to do something)IGNORE
        • e.g. “book hairdresser appointment”
      • Commercial (i.e. want to buy something)IGNORE
        • e.g. “golf club comparison”, “bedsheets cheap”, “robot vacuum reviews”
      • Note – ignore ambiguous pages with no clear intent
    • Google’s data/what people care about – look at Google’s results to find what people are looking for – the articles that best solve peoples’ problems rank highly
      • If you’ don’t address the right intent, your content won’t rank no matter what
    • Optimizing content based on what people want – optimize based on a single target keyword/query
      • When choosing a target keyword, ensure it has:
        • The right intent – i.e. informational, but more specifically what type of page people are looking for – don’t write inspirational articles if people want info
        • Monthly search volume of 200-5000 – not too small that noone’s searching for it and not too broad/competitive
        • Similar/low competition – pages currently ranking should have similar DAs to yours so it’s not too difficult to rank
      • Integrate SEO into your creative process:
        • Research keywords and competitor content to learn what to write about and outline your article
        • Model your content on currently ranking articles (since they’re doing something right)
        • Ask yourself “What problem is my article solving?” and then “How might someone articulate this problem to Google”
      • Optimize your article in-page (use popular plugins like Yoast, RankMath or checklists online for this)
    • Domain authority (DA) and backlinks are a crucial part of SEO
      • Domain authority is a metric that represents the relative strength/reputation of a website and thus its ability to rank on SERPs
        • Key factor for determining DA – the number and quality of root domains and backlinks to your website
      • Properties of DA – ranges from 0-100 on logarithmic scale, only “follow” links contribute to DA, first backlink from a domain is worth more than subsequent links from same domain, Google typically “ignores” any domains under DA of ~10
      • Build 30 links of high quality to get to a DA of ~10 ASAP so Google starts trusting you and ranking your content
      • To get backlinks – link from sites you own, guest post, pay for links, do interviews, partner with other creators, create linkable assets on your domain, go viral, analyse where competitors get their links
        • Note – Once you have a foundation, you don’t need to proactively build links – they’ll happen naturally
  • As your DA improves, Google may retest your content and you might start ranking “randomly”
  • People don’t usually search directly for you/what you do – target associated problems instead so people get exposed to your content
    • e.g. noone really searches for “transferwise” or even “money transfer service” – they search for “cad to usd” or “bank exchange rate”
    • Ideas: create resource lists, book notes, assets/products that people need (e.g. retirement calculator)

Chapter 5 – Monetization

  • There are many ways to monetize and not all of them will work for everyone – use the explore and exploit strategy that you used for distribution with monetization too
    • Important – don’t break your audience’s trust just to earn a bit of short-term money – focus on the long-term
    • Best practice – have many income-producing channels instead of just one
  • Each monetization strategy can be viewed in terms of SWEAT: scalability, work required, target audience, expected time to profit
  • Ways to monetize
    • Charge directly for your content through a subscription
    • Direct support/donationsi.e. via Patreon, Buy Me a Coffee
    • Affiliates – promote other’s products/services and get paid a % of the sale
      • Advice – only promote products you would genuinely recommend and have tried – otherwise you’ll breach the trust you have with your readers
      • To find relevant affiliate programs for you, just Google “best affiliate programs for X”
    • Web advertisementse.g. Google Adsense, Ezoic
      • Tend to pay very little (~$2-3 per 1000 views) and ruin the experience and quality of your site
    • Newsletter sponsorships – advertising/promoting someone else on your newsletter
      • Typically pay more than display ads as emails capture intent and convert better
      • For a newsletter to be sponsor-friendly, it has to have enough data to prove the sponsor will make a profit – *i.e. based on the number of subscribers, open rate, impressions etc, the sponsor can expect X amount of sales *
      • To find sponsors – cold outreach to companies that you like and align with topics you write about, see who’s advertising with competitors in your niche
    • Products – create products your audience needs and that you can create
      • The most lucrative option but requires more work and can be distracting
      • Digital info products (like ebooks, courses etc) are great
        • Find something you know that 95%+ of people don’t know as well
        • Or extend content that you’ve created for free
      • Community or memberships to a private community
      • Softwaree.g. apps, website themes, Lightroom presets etc.
    • Services – as an expert on something, people may ask you to freelance/work for them (you can even create an agency)

Chapter 6 – Extras

  • Biggest Mistakes
    • “If you write it, they will come” – you need to balance creating great content with distributing it effectively in order to gain traffic
    • Getting too micro – focus your time on things that move the metrics that matter most (i.e. not the colour of buttons, but the pageview trends)
    • Info overwhelm and “analysis paralysis” – if the decision is reversible, the best thing to do is stop wasting time and take action
    • Losing your time to other people’s requests – protect your time and sanity by responding, but learning to say no to further requests if you get overwhelmed
    • Losing your edge to wear and tear – always remember that writing for your 100 true fans (not your critics, unsubscribers or haters) got you to the top
    • Losing your “why” – don’t get so lost in the game of likes, subscribers etc that you forget why you started in the first place