If you start a blog as a hobby or a personal journal, the best content for you is obviously the content you write. Express your opinions, argue your points, and tell your story. Do you.
But what’s the best content for a commercial or brand blog?
Well, in an ideal world, it’s content that takes no effort on your part, helps with your content marketing goals, and is, above all, free. Companies—especially earlier stage startups—are looking for maximal content bang for minimal content buck.
Now I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to get valuable content with zero effort and no cost. Anyone who promises that is probably just trying to reel you in for an eventual sale of magic beans.
But you can definitely get free content, if you put in some effort yourself. How strategic you are about doing this will, in turn, determine how valuable that content is.
So today, I’m going to walk you through how you can get content on your commercial blog without spending money. And I’ll speak to what value these tactics bring you.
Before We Start, I Strongly Suggest Avoiding Huckster Tactics
At Hit Subscribe, we have a blog post planning template. Three critical fields that we populate for any piece of content are these:
- What is the primary intended source of readership? (Organic search, social media share, PPC, referring to in sales collateral, etc)
- Who is the primary reader persona?
- What is the mission of the post: what do we hope that person will do?
For instance, let’s get meta with this blog post.
My intended readers are founders and early stage employees of startups going through seed or A funding rounds, and I’m primarily expecting you all to arrive here via organic searches about how to get free content for your blog. And my mission is to establish awareness of our brand from you reading this post.
Some Things to Avoid
Now, let’s stop talking about me and get back to the post and, specifically, to hucksterism. I’ve seen a lot of suggestions for tools and tactics around content that I consider huckster solutions.
- Straight up plagiarism.
- Building a frank-article with a bunch of micro-plagiarism.
- Tools that take existing text and auto-paraphrase, letting you plagiarize in spirit, if not in letter.
- AI content generators that generate text whole cloth.
You can do stuff like this. You might even do it well enough to sort of get away with it, avoid angering the search engines, and having nobody notice that you’re behaving like a gift card spammer. But what’s the point of these empty calories?
Who is your reader and what do you want them to do, exactly? What reader is thinking, “I’m not sure which APM to use, but I wish Alexa would get drunk and offer her thoughts.”
The goal of your blog isn’t to trick search engines and readers or rack up word count. The goal is to attract readers and build trust with them so that they’ll eventually buy from you, if there’s a fit. Resorting to dime store gimmicks is a bad way to start that relationship, so I won’t be covering stuff like that in this post.
1. Sunk Cost Labor (Write it Yourself or Have an Employee Do It)
Let’s start with an easy and obvious one. You have your own labor at your disposal, along with that of your business partners and employees.
So you can free up some of those folks’ time to contribute content.
This will incur no additional cost and will result in content on your blog. And, best of all, it’s going to be highly aligned with your beliefs about your space and your offering’s value proposition. No other content creator will understand the way that you do.
Of course, every hour you spend blogging about your SaaS is an hour that you’re not building or direct selling that same SaaS. The labor of early stage employees is valuable, with a lot of needs competing for resources.
Your best bet is to find the folks that are naturally prolific writers and who like to blog. It’ll be less of a slog for them.
Pros: This is typically the highest quality of content you can get for free, and you have total control over the message.
Cons: This is really time consuming. So unless you’re big enough to have FTEs committed to the blog, it means opportunity cost for staff (or you doing it on nights and weekends).
2. Interview Guests
Next up, we have one of my favorite free content tactics. It’s generally a win for everyone involved, in my experience.
Come up with a pool of questions that are relevant to your space. Try to shoot for maybe 15-20 of them.
With those in place, brainstorm a list of folks that you could interview. Bonus points if the participant has a large following or a high domain authority site, because there is a good chance of sharing and backlinking. Here are some sources of people:
- Your own staff
- Contractors you work with
- Any followers/evangelists
- Customers and customer staff
- Members of community forums you participate in
Build a backlog of interview candidates to schedule. Then, just email them the questions, asking them to answer, say, 7-10 of the total set of 15-20. This will create a nice content variety for any regular readers, so they’re not reading the exact same interview each time.
When you get the content from the interview subject, resist the urge to red pen anything but obvious typos. These folks are doing you a favor—don’t turn this into a high school essay experience for them. The interview format absolves you of any need you feel to enforce a style guide.
Once it’s live, promote it as much as you can, tagging the interview subject on social media. Put re-promoting this content into your social media backlog and consider (with subject permission) later syndicating on appropriate forums.
If you want to see this in action, you can check out this series on a site that we own.
Pros: You’ll often earn backlinks from the interview subject, you’ll almost certainly earn social shares and get in front of their audience, you build a relationship with the author, and it doesn’t require much effort.
Cons: This content will typically have minimal SEO value, making it a one time play for links and views/readership.
3. Expert Round-Ups
This tactic is sort of like a hybrid of the previous two. You’re not just publishing content that someone else creates. Instead, you’re curating a series of others’ opinions and experiences, and turning those into a post.
This type of post may or may not have an SEO play, depending on the search intent. For instance, if you pick a topic on which people typically search for best practices and then get opinions on best practices, you’ll stand a good chance at ranking.
The idea here is fairly straightforward. You’re curating a series of expert opinions on the topic, so you need to go get those opinions:
- Decide on the topic of the post.
- Identify a panel of well qualified folks to approach, assuming that you’ll need to ask way more than will respond.
- Come up with a short and sweet question to ask them to make them more likely to help.
- Approach them in a low-key, “hey, you’re an expert and we’d love to share your opinion” way and don’t bother them.
- Collate the responses you get into a blog post.
- Send it live, promote it, tagging the experts in social media posts.
- Queue it for periodic re-promotion.
And that’s basically it.
Pros: A post like this attracts a lot of backlinks and shares, associates you with experts in the minds of your readers, and fosters relationships with the experts.
Cons: This is as labor-intensive, if not more so, than writing a blog post.
4. Have a Contributing Guest Author Program
Switching gears a little, let’s look at a different tactic. This one will tend to produce far more content, but requires a different form of labor and curation.
I’m talking about starting a guest contributor program.
You can start this as easily as by putting a “write for us” page on your site, inviting people to submit articles. You’ll of course, want to specify that you’re not currently paying authors, though you can creatively offer ancillary perks like free copies of your software or services.
That’s probably just a start, though, because people will need to actually find that page. And if you don’t already have a following or a lot of organic traffic, that’s unlikely.
So to kick things off, you can share the offer in forums or other places where potential authors hang out. Understand that by offering no money, you’ll hear a lot more “no” than yes.” But there are folks out there (like me for years and years) that just like to blog and might like seeing their name on your site with a byline.
Understand that running a program like this does require a lot of management—more than you might think. Hit Subscribe manages a large author pool, requiring lots of effort, and we pay them. We’ve had a lot of clients start programs like this and either veer away from them or flip to payment because of the labor involved.
Pros: Saves your staff time on writing, produces original content, gets you in front of guest bloggers’ audiences.
Cons: Editorial calendar management and post review is labor intensive, post quality extremely variable, optics of unpaid authors not always the best.
5. Use “Help a Reporter Out” (HARO)
This next tip has some similarity to the expert round-up. But it dials down the level of up-front research you do, while also dialing down your control over the people that you feature, to an extent.
Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is a service that connects bloggers seeking expertise with field experts that have this expertise. Need an expert quote about trends in DevOps? Put it out to the HARO list, and see what comes back.
You can then collate the responses and form them into a sourced article. The curation of the responses is up to you.
To help you visualize this, here’s what a HARO email looks like from the expert side. This is a perfect example because this particular edition has only a single query in it, so you can visualize the whole thing.
HARO will add a link to your query to the “index” section, where experts can click to navigate further down the email, where the longer description sits. In this longer description, you specify your site (or leave it anonymous), when you need it, what you’re looking for, and prerequisites/requirements.
As an expert, I can then email my response to the supplied HARO email address (rather than your own contact information). You can then curate these responses for your posts.
Pros: Original, expert style content, some potential for backlinks and shares, less labor intensive than finding the experts yourself.
Cons: Still somewhat labor intensive, less control over who answers and the backlinks/shares that come than if you targeted experts yourself.
6. Content Marketer Guest Posts
If you’ve ever had a blog with decent organic traffic, you’ll start to receive emails like this one.
As a longtime blogger with several properties, I get several of these each day. Lucky me.
In this case, Gmail knows what’s up, labeling this as spam. And sadly, this poor spammer cannot look forward to his positive comeback.
But not all such requests are this spammy. Your site will start to attract content marketers, representing companies or SEO firms, interested in guest blogging on your site. Generally, what they’re mainly after is a backlink, which is easy enough to provide.
If you don’t want to wait for people to come knocking on your inbox, you can look for them proactively. Join Facebook groups, Slacks, etc. where marketers targeting your niche hang out and solicit content there.
And, if you want to go this route, throw up a “guest post for us” landing page. This will boost the number of inbound requests and let you establish ground rules for interested parties. Put a simple requirement to include in the inquiry to help you filter people genuinely interested from those who are carpet bombing the internet with spam, like the guy in the screenshot above.
Pros: Relatively low-effort, decent content marketers will tend to write decent posts for you, likely reciprocation with a back link, get in front of the marketer’s audience.
Cons: You’ll need to be vigilant for spam, higher incidence of plagiarism and other shortcuts, may not always resonate with your audience.
7. Repurpose Other Media
Do you have other media that you’ve used up to this point for content? You might get some mileage out of that. For instance, ask yourself if you have any of the following at your disposal:
- A YouTube channel
- Streaming to a platform like Twitch
- Old webinars
- Recorded conference/user group talks and decks
- Podcast appearances as host, or guest
- Active and detailed social media contributions
I don’t intend this as an exhaustive list. The idea is just to get your brain working—only you know what all you’ve been doing in terms of creating different flavors of content, both under your brand and personally.
But if you have such content out there, in non-bloggy media, you can use it.
With a video, talk, or podcast, you could simply transcribe it, publishing the results. Or, you can write a post covering the same points, but as a genuine written piece of content. You’ll have to figure out what works best for your situation.
But whatever you do, the point is the same: it’s way easier to turn existing content in other media into a blog post than it is to start with a blank page.
Pros: Medium to low effort, original, will generally represent your company and brand well.
Cons: Rarely does well from an SEO perspective, probably won’t interest regular followers, if they’re already familiar with the original.
8. Dust Off Found Content
I’ll close with perhaps my favorite suggestion, since I’m a huge advocate of content efficiency. Far too many organizations ignore the potential of what I’ll call found content.
This is content, generally written, that people in your company have created, but never thought to publish. This isn’t the same thing as repurposing other content marketing content in other channels. Rather, it’s content that you’ve created for other reasons.
Here are some common examples:
- Release notes for software.
- Lengthy emails or internal debates on subjects that might interest your audience.
- In the tech world, code review or pull request notes and comments.
- Internal training materials.
- Lunch and learns or other internal presentations and shares.
As with repurposed media, I’m really just aiming to get you thinking.
Organizations create all sorts of internal content for communication, documentation, and presentation purposes. A lot more of it than you might think could become the seed of a great blog post. You just need to keep your eyes open for ideas.
Once you have them, you can go one of two basic routes. You can ask the originator to turn it into a blog post, or you can create one yourself, essentially treating yourself as a journalist and the author of the content as a source.
Pros: Medium to low effort, original content, gets more people in your org involved in content.
Cons: Hard to do well from an SEO perspective, makes you somewhat dependent on potentially busy people.
“Free” Should Be a Temporary Situation
So there you have it. A bunch of ways to get content on your company’s blog without asking anyone for budget approval.
I suggest that you use and operationalize as many of these approaches as makes sense. You can become proficient and wring more blood from a stone than you might think.
But this should be a temporary approach, rather than an indefinite one. Your company’s blog is an important, long-term lead generation channel. So this becomes a case of “you get what you pay for” if your long term plan doesn’t look beyond “how do I do this for free?”
These approaches are all good stopgap measures. But to really make your blog flourish, you need budget for it. You want to pay people who know what they’re doing to build and execute a content plan, weighted against KPIs, and with specific, measurable goals in mind.
And to do that, you need to invest either in dedicated staff time or in outside agencies and tools. So create your long-range content program with eventual budget in mind, and use these techniques in the meantime to make do with what you have today.