Learn From the Best: 12 Lessons from 5 Content Marketing Case Studies
Not everyone will have to solve a specific problem for their content marketing.
However, you can often learn methods to make your current or prospective content marketing more effective.
The way to achieve this is to study other people who have successfully used content marketing to grow their own or their client’s business.
There are 2 schools of thought:
Study companies similar to yours and emulate their strategy. Or study companies different from yours and apply their tactics to your niche.
Both have their merits.
You need a complete view of content marketing as a whole, and to get that, you need to study a wide variety of examples.
For instance, you should study how different companies use content marketing for different purposes.
According to a recent report, the top 3 goals of content marketing are:
- lead generation
- thought leadership
- brand awareness
There are many different ways to achieve each of these 3 broad goals.
Some will come to you naturally, but others won’t make sense until you see the successful example of others.
The problem is that you can’t study just any random company because most don’t understand what your objective is.
In another report, it was found that only 30% of B2B marketers thought that their organization used content marketing effectively.
Although that’s a respectable percentage, it means that at the same time, there’s a lot of poor content being produced.
You want to steer clear of that since there isn’t much to learn from it.
This is where case studies come in. Typically, only businesses with something to actually show off create public case studies.
I’ve rounded up some of the best case studies I’ve come across that illustrate some important aspects of content marketing.
I’m going to be breaking down 12 lessons from five case studies to show you how you can apply them to your content marketing efforts.
Some may just be good refreshers, while others may be brand new for you. I think most marketers will be able to learn at least a few substantial things from these case studies.
Case Study #1: PTC used content marketing to go from 0 to 100,000 visitors per month
For me, crossing the 100,000 visitor per month threshold has always been an important goal.
If you can get to that level, you can sustainably grow just about any kind of business.
This content marketing campaign was more about brand awareness than anything else.
PTC wanted to create awareness for their new product launch in a very crowded space and had the secondary goal of getting initial sales for this product.
Most successful products aren’t brand new inventions. It’s likely that you’ll never sell one.
Nevertheless, you may sell products that are innovative—that improve upon others. Your challenge will be breaking into a crowded market.
You just may be able to learn from this case study.
A quick overview: I’m not going to go into too much depth, but let me give you a quick rundown of what PTC is.
It’s a huge software company that sells software to other companies in a variety of high-tech niches.
First, they decided to try to use content marketing to improve awareness of a new product they were about to launch—Creo.
Without a doubt, it’s a quality product, which is where you should always begin.
Lesson #1 – Outsourcing content marketing can work: One of the reasons that companies are afraid to really invest in content marketing is because they believe it will take away from their existing marketing efforts.
They believe that they need to get employees to spend time creating blog posts and promoting them.
Understandably, it’s tough to make this kind of commitment when most employees are already overworked.
On top of that, most employees don’t know how to create effective posts that will get results.
The companies that do try content marketing usually conclude that it’s not effective.
There are 2 good reasons to outsource your content marketing:
- You don’t have the manpower to execute a content strategy
- You don’t have the expertise to develop or execute a content strategy
In this case, PTC hired Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose, both well-known top content marketers (even back in 2010).
A company like PTC isn’t short on resources, but they didn’t have the expertise for this kind of work.
Joe and Robert got the industry and company knowledge needed to create a great content marketing strategy by working with some of PTC’s key employees.
One concern when outsourcing content marketing is that you’re stuck with them forever, but that’s rarely the case unless you want it to be.
Most content marketers will spend a majority of their time creating a strategy for you to follow and then figuring out the best way to execute it.
In most cases, including this one, the content marketers will find writers who are also experts in a particular niche.
Joe and Robert hired Barb Schmitz, an experienced writer in their industry, to kick off the blog content. She continued contributing to the blog for another 4 years.
Even if PTC completely stopped working with the content marketers they hired, they’d still have a plan in place and writers who could continue to contribute.
Lesson #2 – Know your content marketing goals: As we looked at earlier, content marketing can fulfill many different goals.
The actual goals that you are trying to accomplish will influence what type of content you produce and your overall content strategy.
In this case, PTC had one main goal that was made clear from the start:
Goal: To create buzz and launch the new Creo product (in the following 8-9 months).
At that point, their target audience had never even heard of Creo, which was another important factor.
If you create a blog for a popular product (e.g., Canva’s design school), you can be successful writing content such as product tutorials.
If you don’t have a product yet, tutorials aren’t going to draw much attention. Instead, you will need to educate the market to provide value.
As you become more trusted, you can steer attention toward a product launch.
Goals dictate what type of content to produce, but also how much to produce.
Since there was a limited amount of time before the launch, Robert and Joe were fairly aggressive with their editorial calendar. They published around a post a day (although the posts were on the shorter side).
Lesson #2b – Goals can change: Your content marketing strategy should always be evolving and growing with your business.
Once the product launch was complete, they shifted towards improving sales and market share.
If you go to the Creo blog today, you’ll see a different type of content:
Now that Creo is well known (and multiple versions of it have been released), content can also include product tutorials that show in what way Creo is better than its competitors.
If PTC didn’t re-evaluate their goals, they would have stopped the blog after the product launch.
Instead, they were able to continue to grow the blog and hit 100,000 visitors per month in a pretty “unsexy” niche.
Over 70% of those visitors are also new to PTC and are potential leads.
Case Study #2: Growing to $100,000 per month in revenue behind content marketing
Groove was far from a struggling company when they began their content marketing, but it still had a long way to go in order to hit their goal of $100,000 in monthly revenue:
If you’re not familiar with Groove, they sell help-desk software, which means that users pay a regular subscription fee every month.
Since they started blogging back in 2013, they’ve easily surpassed their original goal, which shows the effect content marketing can have on sales:
Lesson #3 – Content marketing isn’t always slow (if you can do this…): One of the things I always make sure to mention when I write about content marketing is that it usually takes time to produce results.
You’re not going to get tens of thousands of readers overnight, but it also doesn’t necessarily have to take months to get any traction.
Groove was one of the very notable exceptions to the normal growth of a blog.
On the very first post they published, they received more than 100 comments:
You can check out the dates on these comments, but most of them were made when it was first published.
And it wasn’t just random people. They even got Gary Vaynerchuk to chime in:
Considering that these influencers not only commented on the post but shared it as well, it’s not surprising that they were able to pass 1,000 subscribers from that single post.
These aren’t typical results, but they’re possible if you have 2 things:
- A really interesting idea
- Extensive promotion
One of the key things for Groove was being able to pitch the idea of a behind-the-scenes look at how they were growing their income. Even experienced marketers are interested in that if it’s executed well.
As for the second part, they identified a ton of relevant influencers and found ways to connect with them.
After that, they sent a really well-done email to formally introduce the idea and post:
If you want big results quickly, you need to implement content marketing tactics better than everyone else.
Lesson #4 – Transparency and content marketing should go hand in hand: If you look at just about any of the content that Groove has published on their blog since its inception, you will get smacked over the head by the transparency (in a good way).
Now that transparency is more common these days (thanks to marketers like Pat Flynn), Groove took it a step further.
Instead of just showing their successes, like most “transparent” bloggers do (which is still pretty interesting), Groove doesn’t hide much of anything.
As long as it adds value to content, they include it for the reader.
When they try different experiments, they share the results of all of them, even the bad ones:
The real value is in explaining how they overcame their challenges and achieved their successes.
And, of course, they share that too.
One final note on this: Don’t be transparent for the sake of it. Be transparent if it adds value to your content.
Since Groove usually focuses on their marketing efforts and experiments, the private data behind them actually adds a lot of value to the content, so it makes sense to include it.
Decide what parts of your business your readers would actually be interested in, and don’t be afraid to shed some light on them.
Lesson #5 – Always be actionable: In theory, it’s fairly simple to succeed using content marketing. Just create content that is as valuable as possible.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that in practice because there are many ways to go about it.
There are many key factors behind valuable content, but none is probably as important as its ability to be actionable.
If you can get readers to take action and achieve success with it, you will make your content extremely valuable to them.
By continuously providing actionable content, you attract loyal hordes of readers.
Any chance they get at the Groove blog, they show exactly how they tested something.
Case Study #3: 1,000 new email subscribers with one content marketing tactic
This case study isn’t of an overall content marketing strategy—it’s of one specific content marketing tactic.
- 30,000 page views
- 1,000 new email subscribers
- #2 Google ranking for a fairly competitive term
I think most content marketers would be happy to get these kinds of results with a single piece of content.
Lesson #6 – Quality always makes the difference: The key principle of the skyscraper technique is to look at the content that contains a particular keyword or subject and then create something on a much higher level.
If you truly have the highest quality content, along with good promotion, you’ll get great results on a consistent basis.
If you’d like to take a look, here’s the post that Jimmy made. Judge the quality for yourself, but I think it’s very high, especially compared to his competition back then.
At the time, he had the following table of contents for the post, which I think is very creative:
I’ve actually used this table of contents as an example of an effective formatting tactic a few times in the past.
Compare that to your typical table of contents modeled on Wikipedia:
Sure, it’s still useful, but it’s not of the same level of quality.
Show the 2 different tables of contents to a reader, and most will be unimpressed by the second one, but really impressed by the quality of the first.
If you actually check out his article now, he’s changed his table of contents to this:
It’s still more attractive than a typical table of contents, even if it’s simpler. I suspect that the reason for this change is to increase usability for mobile readers.
Regardless of the outcome, the intention was good. Jimmy was trying to make his content as high in quality as possible.
If you improve the quality of your content in as many ways as you can, you’ll get amazing results with your content marketing.
Lesson #7 – Influencers can drive explosive results: There are many different ways to grow a website (or more specifically, a blog’s readership).
There are 2 main types of successful blogs.
The first is the grinding blog. They do all the promotion themselves, find their readers, and convince them to come to the blog.
It works, but it can take a very long time.
The other type is the one that comes out of nowhere and becomes very popular in its niche.
Those are the ones that other established influencers love.
Once you can get influencers to support you, they can send you a great deal of consistent, high-quality traffic quickly. If you have enough influencers supporting you, you’ll have everything you need to become one yourself.
This is the ideal case; it’s very difficult to actually implement unless you’re offering something truly exceptional.
But it’s not an all-or-nothing situation.
Just because an influencer isn’t mentioning you at every opportunity doesn’t mean they won’t mention you at all.
Getting a few shares or article mentions from an influencer is a much more realistic, but still really effective, way to grow your blog.
One of the reasons why Jimmy was able to drive the initial burst of traffic to his post was that he connected with a few key influencers.
He emailed them beforehand, telling them about the post, and asked for a short piece of advice to feature in the article.
One of the influencers was Alex (the chief contributing blogger) at Groove:
Guess what happens when you feature someone in an article like that?
They are much more likely to share and help you promote the article (at least in little ways).
Look for ways to connect with influencers in your niche, and give value to them (in some form). That’s how you start to gain their support, which can accelerate the growth of your blog.
Case Study #4: 500-700 organic search traffic visitors per day with a simple strategy
The first 2 case studies focused on the results that you can achieve with a great content marketing strategy, but I understand that not everyone is at the level where they’re aiming for hundreds of thousands of visitors per month.
This case study features good results, but nothing anyone else couldn’t achieve too.
After following their content marketing strategy, Express Writers were able to get about 18,000 search visitors per month to their blog—definitely a solid number, but nothing incredibly difficult for someone else.
They are in a fairly crowded niche: selling writing.
They offer a wide variety of writing services to businesses, such as blog post creation, press release writing, etc.
What was the strategy? In the words of one of their bloggers, Julia McCoy:
Four 2000-word pieces per week for our own blog, along with 4-6 more pieces per week for major guest blogs including such high-authority sites as Search Engine Journal, Site Pro News, SEM Rush and Content Marketing Institute.
The result of following that strategy was being able to outrank most of their competitors and getting consistent search traffic:
Lesson #8 – Successful content marketing is consistent: Unlike a few of the case studies we’ve looked at already, there’s nothing big or peculiar about this strategy.
That’s actually a really good thing.
You don’t want to count on going viral to succeed. It’s nice if it happens, but if you need it to grow your blog significantly, you have other problems.
Most marketers should be growing their blogs by consistently producing high quality content.
Express Writers created 8-10 strong posts every single week, and it led to these results. Keep in mind that the average visitor in this niche is a high value one. A business hiring a writer can spend thousands of dollars on a regular basis.
Additionally, from their regular readers, new readers from search engine results, and visitors from other places, they are able to get about 700 visits a day to their content shop (main sales page).
With a decent conversion rate, they are generating solid, consistent, and recurring revenue.
Lesson #9 – Practice what you preach: On top of driving traffic to their website with this content marketing strategy, the company enjoyed one other huge benefit—proof of success.
Since Express Writers is a company that sells content creation services, mainly to help clients improve their own traffic, this is a big deal.
A potential client can land on the blog, see that they know what they’re doing, and eventually end up hiring them based on that impression.
Even more than that, I think that you should always be able to demonstrate to yourself that your product performs.
When you do that, you will never turn to cheap sales tricks to sell products; you will truly believe (and have the data to back it up) that your product or service is valuable.
It’s easy for this team of writers to sell their content and assert that it’s some of the best out there because it actually gets the results they claim it does.
If you’re advising leads or customers to do or buy something, make sure you’re the one to do it first. It will add an element of power and persuasiveness to your message.
Case Study #5: Image based content marketing tactic to increase overall organic traffic by 175%
This fifth case study is one shared by Brian Dean again, but it’s his own results.
He used a technique for which he coined a term, guestographics, in order to get more backlinks for a page and improve its search engine rankings.
Originally, he wrote a post about on-page SEO.
As any other article he posts, this was a high-quality article.
It was getting a bit of search traffic, but not as much as Brian had hoped. So, he used this technique and was able to increase organic search traffic by 175.59%.
Not too shabby. And it also would have improved his rankings for other related posts on his site.
The tactic itself is pretty simple:
- Create a great infographic.
- Create a list of sites that write about whatever topic you covered.
- Send them a link to your infographic.
- Offer to write a custom intro if they agree to post it on their site.
Lesson #10 – Different types of content lets you expand your reach: So far, we’ve mainly looked at standard blog posts being used in content marketing.
Yes, those may make up a larger percentage of the content you end up producing, but there are many other types of content that you can produce.
For some messages, there are better forms of content than just standard blog posts.
In this case, Brian created an infographic.
And then, he combined it with his original article.
By doing this, he was able to promote his post again and further improve its rankings. He was able to take the original message of the article and reproduce it in an easier to digest format, which benefits his readers.
The takeaway from this case study is that whenever you create content, you should be thinking of 2 things:
- What is the best way to cover this topic? (to your readers)
- Would creating this content in multiple forms enhance the reading experience?
If you said yes to the second, you can get creative with your repurposing to create extra promotional opportunities.
Also, by creating different forms of content, you can expose your content to a new audience that you may not normally reach.
Lesson #11 – Great content is nothing without promotion: One of the biggest aspects of successful content marketing that you need to have drilled into your head until it’s habit is that all content needs promotion.
The only exception is when you have a large audience, because your audience will essentially promote your content for you by sharing it.
Other than that, there’s no point creating content if it isn’t getting in front of new readers.
When Brian created the infographic, he was able to email new sites who didn’t already link to him, and get them to link to his article. Check out what his referring domains graph looked like shortly after:
That’s a lot of new backlinks and the reason why his organic traffic increased.
Lesson #12 – Good marketing can be simple: You see popular blogs all the time and may think that they must be using some secret marketing techniques.
But the truth is that marketing comes down to building connections with the right people.
In most cases, there’s nothing secret or advanced going on.
In his case study, Brian shared the simple email template that he sent to various website owners to get them to post his infographic on their sites and link to him:
You could write something like that, couldn’t you?
The difference between someone like Brian and a mediocre marketer is one of the lessons we have already studied—consistency.
He doesn’t just send these types of articles out to 10 or 20 website owners; he sends it out to hundreds.
He doesn’t just do it for one of his posts; he does it for every single post he creates.
This kind of consistent promotion is how you get the backlinks and the search traffic that comes with them.
Don’t stop yourself from taking action just because the content marketing strategy seems too simple or because you think there must be more to it.
Simple strategies are good. Execute them consistently and improve them when you can, and you will get the results you’re looking for.
If you ever get overwhelmed or confused during your content marketing journey, take a step back.
No matter what niche you’re in and no matter what type of business you run, someone has done it before.
This means that you can study them, learn from them, and use this information to overcome any obstacles that stand in your way.
In this post, I went over 12 lessons from 5 awesome content marketing case studies. These are lessons that apply to just about any content marketing strategy.
I strongly encourage you to implement these lessons as soon as you can. You’ll reach your goals faster because of it.
If you have any cool case studies (personal or otherwise), it’d be great if you could share them in a comment below.