When it comes to creating great content, there are few doing it as well as The Hustle. For those who aren’t familiar, their daily newsletter touts email open rates of 35-40%, a number that is unheard of in the email marketing world.
So how do they do it?
They make badass content.
Back in November, The Hustle hosted their second annual content event: Con Con.
Don’t let the terrible name fool you – The event was packed with content insights and tricks from successful entrepreneurs in the startup space. What we left with was 8 pages of notes, a little too much beer, and a yearning to create more badass content.
It’s hard to fathom packing everything we learned into a single blog post, but we’ll try our best to share every takeaway below.
Photo courtesy of The Hustle
Getting to the punch
As a big fan of The Hustle’s daily email newsletter, I was all ears to learn their secrets for successful content creation. The entire talk uncovered the process of their writing framework from start to finish.
Co-founder, Sam Parr started off by admitting that he isn’t a great writer, but an obsessive editor. He then went on to share his biggest insights from The Hustle and past ventures.
You need to know where you’re going and that starts with a headline. Don’t put too much time into this right away, as you’ll go back and revise it last. It doesn’t have to be witty, but just enough to give you a definitive direction to write about. The headline should follow with a short “why” description, supporting his statement that 95% of readers only make it to the headline, with the other 5% clicking through.
The next step was the “brain dump,” where he urged us to simply write as much as possible. “Dump it…it will suck, but just write.”
He gave some other helpful tips along the way, such as avoiding adverbs where possible. Stating that, “if it ends in “ly,” try to avoid it as it weakens your words.”
“Avoid adverbs at all costs. They weaken your words”
When it’s all said and done, he advised us to cut it down by as much as 50% at times. He urged us to consider the audience we’re writing for, as well as the context. The Hustle uses the Hemingway app to write for a 6th-grade reading level.
Design content for reciprocity
High-value content isn’t about your company, it’s all about the reader.
We should be writing content that focuses on the user’s current pain points above all else. Marshall Morris of IheartDogs.com challenged that it should be so good that it should be inherently shared, linked to, and even discussed over beers. He shared the statistic that a mere 5% of their content drives 95% of their traffic. They strive to keep content hyper-relevant, niche-focused, and driven by reciprocity.
So in the eyes of a successful startup founder like Marshall, what does high-value content look like?
High-value content should drive the conversation forward. Marshall stated that well-designed content should have a clear action step or purpose for the reader. Don’t leave them asking what they can do with the content after reading with it. Answer that question for them and make it easy to act on. Incorporate social share elements such as share buttons and Click to Tweet options.
In the age of ever-growing digital communication, we’re constantly at risk of compromising the human element.
The topic of authenticity and genuine communication was a common theme among this year’s speakers. Alexis Grant of The Penny Hoarder urged startups to allow their mission drive statement to drive their content strategy. “Why does your company exist?…and for whom?”
If your company doesn’t have a mission-driven statement, then create one right now. This should serve as your north star for your content strategy and help to determine what topics are a true fit for your brand and target audience.
Matthew Smith of Really Good Emails shared his findings after dissecting over 2,750 of the best handpicked emails. His talk focused on the need for authenticity, genuine tone, and personalization.
Matthew argued that in a metrics-driven digital world, it’s difficult for companies to remember the human on the other side of the screen. He gave an example of what genuine writing looks like, contrasting the 2 email subject lines below:
Subject line 1: Everyone is talking about these 10 tips to improve their day
Subject line 2: Hey Alex, here are three things that I genuinely think would improve your day
Which email would you be more likely to open?
The goal is to create a more genuine connection with our audience through your content. Show them that you care and value them. You can do this by asking for their opinion about your product or service or through personalizing messages through your email list data.
“Whatever method you choose, treat them like a human and not a conversion.” – Matthew Smith of Really Good Emails
A recurring theme is the topic of user friction.
Digital marketers know better than most how fast the digital landscape changes. Each year means a newer device, faster loading times, and higher expectations from end users.
When it comes to delivering content, friction should be managed and reduced at all costs.
We’ve all heard the relentless mantra for mobile-first design. With mobile views surpassing desktop, companies should consider content digestibility above all else. Aim to use paragraph fonts no smaller than 16pt for mobile devices.
Also, consider the context. How are pop-ups or notifications jeopardizing the user experience? Can I read your article on a train headed into work? Is it scannable? If not, consider utilizing headlines, breaks and keeping paragraphs 4 sentences or less.
For example, which one would you rather read?
Site speed was another case in point of user friction. Marketers are recognizing the value in site speed more so now than ever before. Studies have shown that for every additional 2 seconds your site takes to load, bounce rates increase by 50%.
If you’re curious about your own site speed, head over to Pingdom and run a test. If you score a “C” or lower, consider implementing browser caching, utilizing CDNs, and optimizing images wherever possible. At Junto, we aim for every site to load in under 2 seconds. If you’re struggling to achieve this on your own, give us a shout.
Related: Learn about our biggest takeaways from Denver Digital Summit.
Templatize the creative process
To most, the concept of templatizing a creative process is blasphemy. After attending Con Con we were convinced otherwise.
Sam Parr from The Hustle argued that writing is a creative exercise, but can (and should) have a formal process to navigate the creative process. Alexis Grant agreed, adding that the best processes are designed by employees, not managers. Arguing that they’re more involved in the tactical and will buy into a process that they’ve designed for themselves.
Among the talks about process, A/B testing was the most common practice. Marshall mentioned content versioning is a necessity for understanding what resonates with their readers. He revealed that they’ll take a handful of their most successful articles and create niche versions for specific dog breeds.
In sharing the Hustle’s content process, Sam mentioned they’ll write as many as 25 variations of a headline once an article is finished. They’ll pass this around to co-workers and friends asking what they would most likely click on. This step can seem trivial, but when considering the importance of a good headline, it’s imperative.
Until next year…
We weren’t kidding about the knowledge bombs, huh?
A huge “thank you” goes out to John, Sam, The Hustle team and everyone who participated in this year’s conference. There’s no doubt we’ll be incorporating these takeaways into our own writing for Junto. We hope you’ve found these content strategy insights as valuable as we did. Until next time, Con Con!