Content Marketing in 2021: The Definitive Guide

Content Marketing in 2021: The Definitive Guide

This is my complete guide to content marketing in 2021.

In this all-new guide you’ll learn:

  • How to promote your content
  • Content formats that are working right now
  • The top content marketing trends in 2021
  • New content creation strategies
  • Lots of advanced tips, strategies and techniques

So if you want to get more traffic from your content this year, you’ll love today’s guide.

Let’s get started.

Content marketing in 2021: The definitive guide

Chapter 1:Double Down on Video Content

Double Down on Video Content

Is video really “the future of content marketing”?

Yup!

In fact, the number of businesses that use video as part of their marketing is up 38% since 2017.

And 72% of consumers say that they now “prefer videos” over text-based content.

So if you want to get started with video marketing — or double down on what you’re already doing — this chapter is for you.

In this chapter I’ll give you some of the tips and takeaways that I’ve learned from producing hundreds of hours of video content.

Nail Your Video Intros

It doesn’t matter if you’re making a video for YouTube, LinkedIn or Twitter…

When it comes to creating an awesome video, your intro is HUGE.

And there’s evidence to back this up:

YouTube’s internal data has found that a strong first 15 seconds can “keep viewers watching”.

YouTube Creator – Playbook tips

Which means you want to avoid starting your videos off with a fancy, animated logo.

Or spending 30 seconds explaining why your video’s topic is important.

(Which is a mistake I made back in the day.)

Instead, jump right into your content, like this:

Focus On YouTube

Facebook video posts are a thing. So are Instagram Reels.

But if you want to get the most eyeballs on your video content, you definitely want to focus on YouTube.

Why?

First of all, YouTube is more popular than Facebook, Instagram… or any other website on the planet besides Google.

SimilarWeb – Top websites ranking

But most importantly, YouTube videos can get views YEARS after you upload them.

(The same can’t be said for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… or any other social media site.)

For example, my channel currently gets about 228k views per month.

Backlinko – YouTube monthly views

And the vast majority of those views come from videos that I published over 6 months ago:

Backlinko – Top YouTube videos

In fact, this video that I initially published in 2016 still gets a respectable 8,873 views every month.

Backlinko – Video SEO – Video views

Optimize for Suggested Video

The other great thing about YouTube is that it gets your content in front of NEW people.

For example, according to my YouTube Studio account, 151,067 unique people see my videos every month.

Backlinko – YouTube unique monthly viewers

(Most of which are people that have never heard of Backlinko before.)

And the best way to get your videos seen on YouTube?

Optimize for “Suggested Video”.

As you probably know, Suggested Video is the section on YouTube that’s to the right of the video you’re watching.

Suggested videos

As it turns out, it’s here (not search) where most of the views on YouTube come from.

For example, 28.3% of my views per month come from SEO.

Backlinko – YouTube traffic from YouTube search

But 40.9% come directly from the Suggested Video sidebar.

Backlinko – YouTube traffic from Suggested Videos

To get more views from YouTube Suggested Video, optimize your video description and tags around a growing, popular topic.

Match popular video metadata to rank in "Suggested Video"

(That’s right: you want to optimize your video around competitive keywords.)

When you do, your video can show up next to a video that’s already getting lots of views.

When you optimize your video around competitive keywords, your video can show up next to a video that's already getting lots of views

Work Off of a Script

Let’s face it:

Getting in front of a camera can be intimidating.

In fact, the first time I got in front of a camera I suddenly forgot how to speak!

Which led to unfocused sections of my video, like this:

The solution?

Read from a script.

This simple step was a complete game changer for me.

Instead of worrying about what to say and how to say it, all I need to do is read from my pre-written script.

Google Doc – Video script

And because I’m reading from a tight script, my final video is super crisp.

Chapter 2:Email Makes a Comeback

Promote With Email

Email marketing is as old-school as blowing into NES cartridges.

But it’s still an important content marketing trend in 2021.

(In fact, email is making a huge comeback.)

And in Chapter 2 I’ll show you how to build your email list, how to promote your content with email newsletters, and more.

Replace Your Blog Feed With a Homepage

If you run a blog, your homepage probably looks something like this:

Blog homepage

I’m not going to say that this approach is “bad”.

But it’s definitely not optimized for conversions.

In fact, the Backlinko homepage used to be a blog feed:

Backlinko – Old blog homepage

This was great for helping people find my latest blog content. But the conversion rate on that page was pretty terrible.

In fact, only 10.22% of the people that visited that page signed up to my email list.

Old homepage conversions

So I decided to run an A/B test that pitted my blog feed vs. a homepage designed for conversions.

Backlinko – Homepage designed for conversions

Which boosted our homepage conversion rate by 60.5%.

Blog style homepage – Conversions

Try This Simple Newsletter Template

What’s the best way to share new content with your email subscribers?

This is something I’ve spent YEARS testing.

Back in the day, I’d send out lengthy emails that really sold my content.

Brian lengthy newsletter

But my click-through-rate on those emails wasn’t that great.

So I gradually cut out bits and pieces.

And every time I deleted a chunk of my newsletter content, clicks went up.

Here’s the exact formula that I use today:

The perfect blog post newsletter formula

And here’s a real-life example of this newsletter in action:

Technical SEO newsletter

That simple newsletter got a 38.2% open rate and a 8.5% CTR.

Technical SEO newsletter – Open rate and CTR

Not bad.

Topic Upgrades

Content Upgrades are still a great way to build your email list.

In fact, we still use them here at Backlinko.

Content Upgrade on Backlinko post

But there’s one big problem with Content Upgrades:

They’re a giant pain in the butt to maintain!

Every single time you make a change to your content, you need to update your Content Upgrade PDF.

And considering that we make over 500 changes and updates to our content every year, this turned out to be a huge problem.

That is, until I discovered Topic Upgrades.

Topic Upgrades is a lite version of a traditional Content Upgrade.

Instead of a resource that’s specific to that post… you offer something that’s specific to that topic.

For example, take these two blog posts from Backlinko.

Keyword research and SEO tools posts

Someone reading about keyword research probably wants the same thing as someone reading about SEO tools: how to get higher Google rankings.

Which is why we offer the same resource (a guide to SEO in 2021) to each of them.

SEO guide resource

And even though this resource isn’t quite as targeted as a Content Upgrade, it still converts really well.

Analytics Topic Upgrade – Conversion Rate

Send Exclusive Content

If you want people to stay on your email list you can’t just send them links to your latest blog posts and podcast episodes.

In fact, you want to make about 10% of your newsletter content exclusive stuff that you don’t publish on your blog.

For example, last year I sent out this exclusive SEO strategy to our email subscribers:

Exclusive strategy for email subscribers

Not only did that email get a super high open rate:

"New Technique" newsletter open rate

But hundreds of people replied to that email to say that they enjoyed the newsletter:

Replies to Backlinko newsletter

Chapter 3:Scale Your Content Marketing

Scale your content marketing

In 2020 I published more content than ever before:

  • 300k words of blog content
  • 12 long-form YouTube videos
  • 3 new flagship courses
  • 27 email newsletters

How did I produce so much content?

Using the exact strategies I’m going to share with you in this chapter.

”Document, Don’t Create”

I first heard this phrase from Gary Vaynerchuk.

And it’s been my content marketing mantra over the last 18 months.

The idea is that, instead of creating content from scratch, you simply document what you’re already doing.

(Gary actually has a full-time video camera document his every move. But you don’t need to take it to that extreme.)

For example, when I started sending out press releases to promote some of our “Be The Source” Content, I wrote up what I learned as a definitive guide.

Backlinko – Write a press release

And when I wanted to write a post about getting more YouTube subscribers, I jotted down what worked best for me.

Backlinko – How to get YouTube subscribers

There are two main benefits of the “Document, Don’t Create” approach:

First, your content comes out WAY better.

A few years ago I wanted to jump on the Conversion Rate Optimization craze. But I don’t have much first-hand experience with CRO (outside of split testing on my own websites).

Which is probably why my CRO-focused content didn’t do that great.

Second, documenting is MUCH easier and faster.

After all, you’re documenting what you already do all day.

The “Document, Don’t Create” approach is the main reason that we’ve been able to go from 1 post/month to 2 posts/month.

Because my content documents the SEO work I do every day, I can produce more of it.

Assemble a Content Team

This is something that I used to really struggle with.

In the early days of Backlinko, I would do everything myself.

Writing process with tasks assigned to Brian

(Some would call me a “control freak”. I prefer the term “perfectionist. 😀 )

At first, this wasn’t a big problem.

Until I wanted to scale things up.

I quickly realized that there was no way I could scale up without getting some help.

So I hired staff to help me with screenshots, visuals, editing, QA, and more.

Process with tasks assigned to others

In the old days, I’d write directly into WordPress. And take all of my own screenshots. And make sure everything was aligned correctly.

Which took forever.

Today, I just write a draft in Google Docs.

Post draft in Google doc

And my talented team takes care of the rest.

Backlinko – Off-page SEO guide

Get SUPER Organized

Having a team can help you scale up.

But it’s not enough.

This is another lesson that I had to learn the hard way.

As I just mentioned, I hired a bunch of people to help with content. But I didn’t give them the tools to collaborate. Or easily find what needed to be done next.

Instead, I gave them this:

Backlinko Blog – Content Ideas

No wonder I got 10 emails a day asking: “Brian, when does that guide come out again?” or “Are the screenshots for that case study almost done?”.

I quickly realized that we needed a content calendar.

That way, we had a single source of truth of what was done. What wasn’t. And what steps were in production.

That content calendar evolved over time. But today we host our content calendar in notion.so.

Notion – Backlinko calendar

That way, it’s not just a static list of upcoming content.

It’s a platform where people can assign themselves tasks. And collaborate within the calendar.

Notion – Backlinko post tasks

Overall, this single step has reduced back-and-forth by about 95%.

Chapter 4:Publish "Be The Source" Content

Publish "Be The Source" Posts

Want more traffic from your content marketing in 2021? Try “Be The Source” content.

“Be The Source” posts are research-backed pieces of content that contain new, interesting data.

(Data that bloggers and journalists can cite in their articles.)

In fact, BuzzSumo reports that 74% of people that have published original research content state that it helped them get more traffic.

So if you want to get more links, traffic and shares from your content marketing, then you might want to give Be The Source content a try this year.

And in this chapter I’ll walk you through the lessons I’ve picked up from publishing A TON of Be The Source posts over the last few years.

Choose the Right Topic For Your “Be The Source” Content

There are two ways you can find winning topics for Be The Source posts.

First, you can build on a proven topic.

For example, take our large-scale organic CTR analysis.

Backlinko – Google CTR stats

Why did I decide to go with the topic: “organic CTR”?

Because that was a topic that people in the SEO space were already SUPER interested in. In fact, this ancient visual (from AOL!) was still getting cited left and right.

AOL click data

So I knew that an updated version of that data would work well. Which it did.

Google CTR stats – Backlinks and referring domains

You can also hop on a new, emerging topic.

In fact, that’s what we did with the Google Lens ranking factors study that we published last year.

Backlinko – Visual search ranking factors

This was the first in-depth look at Google Lens rankings.

Which helped that content stand out. And bring in a ton of traffic in its first week.

Visual search ranking factors – Traffic

Focus on Validity

When it comes to Be The Source content, there’s one big catch to keep in mind:

If you want people to take your research seriously, your data has to be 100% valid.

In fact, publishing flawed results or misleading findings can really hurt your reputation.

Study validity is something that we take very seriously here at Backlinko.

Which is why we share our methodology.

Visual search ranking factors methods

And make the raw data freely available on Github. That way, anyone can run an analysis of their own using the same data.

Link to study raw data

I also take pains to write up the results in a way that doesn’t misrepresent what we found.

Study results explanation

Visualize Your Findings

Visuals help your Be The Source Content for two main reasons:

First, they make your data easier to understand.

Take a stat like “The average Time to First Byte (TTFB) of a voice search result was .54 seconds (vs. the worldwide average of 2.1 seconds).”

It’s really hard to visualize something like that.

But a visual like this makes it easy:

Time to first byte (TTFB)

Second, visuals give other bloggers something to embed into their posts. Which can lead to contextual backlinks, like this:

Search Engine Journal – Voice Search backlink

Promote With a Press Release

This is more of an optional step.

But if your data uncovered something interesting or surprising, a press release can help get your post in front of journalists that cover that topic.

Here’s an example of a press release that we recently published to help get the word out about one of our Be The Source posts.

PR Newswire – Backlinko press release

Chapter 5:Jump On Emerging Topics

Jump on Emerging Topics

Epic Content is one way for your content to stand out.

Here’s another one: jump on emerging topics BEFORE they take off.

Question is: how do you find growing trends that are about to take off?

And when you find one, what should you do next?

Well, that’s exactly what I plan to cover in this chapter.

Google Trends Related Queries

Google Trends is GREAT for confirming if a keyword is growing or shrinking.

Google Trends – Pea protein

Or comparing two trends against each other:

Google Trends – Compare keywords

But it’s not that great at bubbling up trending topics that you don’t already know about.

That is, unless you check out the “Related Queries” section.

Here’s how it works:

First, search for a keyword that you think might be trending up.

Then, check out the Related queries list at the bottom of the page.

Google Trends – "pea protein" – Related queries

This is Google’s way of showing you terms that are starting to blow up.

Very helpful.

Exploding Topics

Google Trend’s Related Queries is helpful and all.

But again, it really only shows you topics that you already know about.

Which is why we built Exploding Topics.

Exploding Topics – Homepage

Exploding Topics scans the internet for terms that are starting to blow up. And, if the trend is a real trend (and not just a fad), we add it to our growing database.

Exploding Topics – Vegan collagen

Create Epic Content Around That Topic

Once you find an emerging topic, what’s next?

You can create a video. Or a list post. Or a guide.

The exact format doesn’t matter all that much.

The important thing is that you produce something SUPER comprehensive.

Because the topic is so new, your content will instantly become THE go-to resource on that topic.

(Assuming that it’s good… 😀 )

For example, I published this guide to Google’s core web vitals a few month’s back.

Backlinko SEO Hub – Core web vitals

This wasn’t only the best guide to core web vitals out there. It was the ONLY guide.

Which is why it brings in so much traffic every month.

Core web vitals post – Monthly traffic

Chapter 6:Create More Epic Content

Create More Epic Content

There’s more content published now than ever before.

Which makes it REALLY hard for your content to stand out.

In fact, according to this industry study, 94% of online content has ZERO external links.

So: how do you get your content noticed in 2021?

Epic Content.

Epic content is just like it sounds: it’s content that’s so massive, so in-depth, so impressive, that it can’t help but get attention.

And in this chapter I’ll show you how to use this approach as part of your digital marketing campaigns.

Content Design Is a Competitive Advantage

Design can really help your content stand out.

For example, a few months ago we published this guide to On-Page SEO.

Backlinko – On-page SEO Guide

This single post brought in 34,182 visitors in the first week from email, social media and SEO.

On-page SEO post – Traffic

Sure, the content was really good. But in my opinion, this guide performed so well because of its professional design.

On-page SEO – Professional design

In other words: if I published the same exact guide as a text-based blog post, it wouldn’t have done nearly as well.

Quality > Quantity

When it comes to content marketing in 2021, what’s more important:

Quantity? Or Quality?

In my opinion, the answer is: “quality”. And it’s not even close.

Unless you have a massive team of writers, it’s pretty much impossible to create lots of Epic Content.

The fact is: Epic Content takes time, energy and several rounds of edits. It’s tough to scale.

For example, my YouTube channel racks up 228K monthly views…

Backlinko – YouTube monthly views

… from 39 total videos.

Backlinko – YouTube videos list

How is this possible?

It’s because I put blood, sweat and tears into every video.

(And it’s not just me: we work with a production team, editor, audio engineer and animator to make videos that come out super professional.)

How about another example?

About a year ago we launched The Content Marketing Hub.

Backlinko – Content Marketing Hub

This project was so huge that I have no idea how many hours my team and I spent on it.

(I stopped counting at 100 hours.)

But it was totally worth it.

Not only did The Content Marketing Hub do well on day 1.

Content marketing hub – Initial traffic

But it continues to bring in targeted visitors every month.

SEO Marketing Hub – Traffic

Work With Domain Experts

In some ways, this is the secret to legit “high-quality content”.

So: what does it mean to “Work With Domain Experts”?

Well, let’s say you’re about to publish a post about starting a SaaS company.

There are two approaches to writing this content:

Option A: Hire a random freelancer to write the article.

Option B: Work with an entrepreneur that just grew their SaaS company to 1,000 customers.

The freelancer is going to regurgitate the content that’s already out there.

Sure, the freelancer’s content might be “good”. But it will lack the substance that you can ONLY get from Domain Experts.

A Domain Expert can talk about SaaS from their own first-hand experience: details, examples, beta versions, doubts, partnerships, pricing tests… and a million other things that you ONLY get from doing something in real life.

I think this is one reason that the content at Backlinko resonates with people.

I try to stick to topics that I have first-hand experience with. For example, I didn’t really start writing about YouTube marketing until I spent time growing my channel.

Backlinko – Get YouTube views

And because that content was basically me documenting what I learned, people liked it.

Reader's comment on "Get YouTube Views" post

Chapter 7:Content Repurposing 2.0

Content Repurposing 2.0

Repurposing content is a great way to scale up your content marketing… without starting over every time you want to create something new.

(Which is why content repurposing is a hot content marketing trend right now.)

That said:

People’s standards for content has gone up A LOT over the last few years.

Which means: you can’t just read an article into a microphone and call it a day.

This chapter will show you how to use content repurposing as part of your content strategy in 2021.

Match The Content To Each Format

Content standards are completely different than even 2-3 years ago.

Back then, you could recycle the content from a single blog post into several different formats.

And it would work.

Today, you need to take the ideas, concepts, and examples from your original content… and adapt it PERFECTLY for the new format.

How about an example?

Last year I uploaded this video to YouTube.

This video was closely based on this post from my blog.

Backlinko – Write a blog post

Despite the fact that my video used a lot of the strategies from that post, it wasn’t a “copy & paste” type of deal.

For example, I added a short, relatable story to the beginning of the video (which tends to work well on YouTube).

I also ONLY used strategies that I thought would work best for the video format.

And I rewrote entire strategies so they made sense on video.

Strategies rewritten for video

And because my video content was repurposed for YouTube, it racked up over 40k views.

How to write a blog post – Video views

Reuse Specific Steps and Tips

You don’t need to reuse an entire piece of content for this approach to work.

In fact, you can take one of your best sections from an existing piece of content… and reuse that somewhere else.

For example, I took this interesting mini-case study from my guide to email marketing…

Mini case study from post

…and reused that tidbit (with updated numbers) as a LinkedIn post.

Mini case study reused in LinkedIn post

Bonus Chapter:Content Marketing Tactics for 2021

Content Marketing Tactics for 2020

Let’s cap off this guide with a handful of super actionable content marketing tactics for 2021.

Create Content Designed for Links OR Social Shares

Is it possible to create a piece of content that gets a bunch of backlinks AND social media shares?

Yes.

But it’s SUPER rare.

In fact, when we teamed up with BuzzSumo to analyze 900 million articles, we found that the correlation between links and social shares was… practically zero.

Correlation between links and social shares

Which is why I recommend publishing content with a specific goal in mind: links OR shares.

(Not both.)

For example, when I published this guide to copywriting, I was aiming more for social shares than links.

Backlinko – Copywriting Guide

Because my guide doesn’t contain much in the way of original data or strategies, there’s nothing for other bloggers to cite or link to.

But because my guide put a lot of copywriting wisdom into one place, it got shared like crazy. In fact, that post already has over 7,000 shares.

Copywriting guide – Social shares

Use Twitter Threads

Buffer found that Twitter threads lead to more impressions and engagement… but fewer clicks.

A Twitter thread experiment

I’ve noticed the same thing. Twitter threads get MUCH more engagement than traditional tweets.

Backlinko Twitter thread

In fact, we used Twitter threads to grow the Exploding Topics Twitter account from zero to 9,925 total followers in about a year.

Exploding Topics – Twitter thread

Send Super-Personalized Outreach Emails

Whether you’re promoting content or reaching out to a social media Influencer, your outreach emails to work in 2021, they need to be SUPER personalized.

And no, “Hey [Name]” doesn’t count as personalized.

Instead, your outreach emails should look more like this:

Super personalized outreach email

Or like this:

Good outreach email

(That’s not to say that you can’t work off of a script. But that script needs lots of fields that you can personalize.)

The analysis of 12 million outreach emails that we recently did with Pitchbox found that personalizing your emails can boost replies by about 1/3rd.

Personalizing email body copy can significantly improve response rates

Use LinkedIn Posts to Promote Your Content

Unlike Facebook, organic reach on LinkedIn is insane right now.

For example, one of my recent LinkedIn posts got 40,642 views.