Last week, I wrote Follow 50+ MBA-level Case Studies in Content and Inbound Marketing about a 48-hour class that is happening at a university in Silicon Valley.
In the first week, my students wrote a combined 750-ish posts of varying length and purpose – daily posts, guest posts, link bait posts. At Top 10 Content Marketing Sites in the Social Media MBA course I listed up the best performers. You’re welcome to take a look to see just how many unique visitors, total visitors and page views that much effort can produce in sites that are starting from zero.
In this post I want to articulate the 5 first steps my students and I had to take BEFORE they could think about making money with content marketing and the challenges I faced to get them there and how I, ahem, overcame those challenges just to get the students online and writing.
Step One: Get a Domain Name and Hosting
More than 2 weeks out my trusty TA (teacher’s assistant) and I started sending emails to the whole class via the school’s learning management system. No response. What do you do when you can’t get a response and the only way to contact the students is email? You spam them until they figure out they had better do something.
About half of the 60+ students showed up with a domain name and hosting.
Another one fourth showed up thinking, “What’s the difference between having a domain and hosting? Aren’t they the same?
And still others said, “You emailed us? When? You want us to do what?”
There was no easy answer. My trusty assistant, Kevin, came to class and they drove him ragged getting everyone a domain and hosting. It wasn’t pretty. But over the course of the first 2 days and 16 hours of in-class time and a ton of emails, we got everyone in the class online with a domain, hosting and WordPress installed.
If any reader here has a better solution to this problem…by all means let me know.
Step Two: Get the Right Plugins and Set Up the Back End
With a group of students who don’t even know what WordPress is, much less a plugin, there was no easy answer to this either. Throwing something up on the giant screen and having everyone follow along just wouldn’t work. Besides I had to spend a LOT of time on Steps 3-5 and couldn’t afford the time.
I nearly killed my local and overseas staff. They were spending about 1-2 hours per site setting the permalink structure I like, getting the right plugins in place – SEO, sitemap, etc. Creating webmaster accounts for each and installing Google Analytics so we can track the results. 60+ websites at various stages of coming online x 2 hours each = a LOT of time.
Again, I knew of no simple way to do this other than throw food under the door to keep my staff happy, or at least well fed, while they brought all the sites to an equal footing. Suggestions?
Step Three: Decide What to Write About
Unlike the first two steps, at this point I finally had everyone on the same page, in the same room, doing the same thing. I could get all 60+ students to look up and follow along.
I had all students create a tagline. My specific instructions were for them to tell me what they were going to write about in 10 words (not a magic number, but definitely less than 12) or less what they planned to write about. They were NOT to use adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions or articles. They were to come up with 3 different iterations and show them to five other classmates for feedback and pick the best one. Focus for a site from the get go is critical
- Write about something you are interested in
- Write about something you can create an interest in
- Write about something you have a lot to say about.
In my world, if a blogger doesn’t have a 1,000 things to say about their topic they will have a hard time making money with their site.
Step Four: Use SEO to Ensure Posts are Found
What is SEO anyway? Search Engine Optimization. But what is that?
I define Search Engine Optimization as content that appeals to real people (first) and to search engines (second). But it must appeal to both.
If a blogger only considers readers they might get read but only by the people the blogger tells to go their directly. They will not be found as well by search engines. If the blogger considers only the search engines they are likely to come up with stuff that is just unreadable. There is an ideal balance for the content. Ideal balance = optimization.
I have learned that there are some 220+ parameters that can go into an ideal post/page. I have also learned that pages can be overly optimized. But what I find of particular value is that I have also learned that there are about 20 ‘things’ you can do to a blog post that will get you 90-95% of the results you want. I will write about them in a future post.
If you can’t wait, you can buy the book - Marketing with Social Media. It’s the text book, first draft, that I wrote for this course.
Step Five: – Make a Plan and Work the Plan
For every hour of classroom work, I can require 2 hours of work outside of the class. I am requiring my students to write 600-750 words DAILY. How hard can that be? They are permitted to adapt to their own style.
Some like to write multiple short posts.
Some like to write one long post each day.
Some like to do a combination.
It doesn’t matter to me.
Additionally, the students are required to guest post weekly at my home site about their progress (you can read their posts at Bill Belew Guest Writer AND guest post at one classmate’s web site that is relevant. Lots of link love happening that will only get better and of more value as the sites mature = get more content. Lastly, they are required to write one relatively higher quality post – link bait style.
All 5 of these steps were done in the first 2 days of class, each a full 9-hour day, counting lunch. The students are off and writing at this point. Some get it, some don’t. Every educator knows that just because you tell somebody something, it doesn’t mean they learned it.
In the meantime, in about 10 weeks, this class will wrap up with some 15-20,000 posts being written over a large variety of niches and at various paces and different lengths and with different intensity and interlinking. How cool is that?
What do you think I can learn from this?
What would you like to learn?
What you can do:
Step 1 - Subscribe to the Bill Belew.com/blog to get more immediate updates from me at my home site. You will also be able to read the inbound and content marketing student experiences first hand.
Step 2 -Subscribe to this NMX blog to get updates when they come out here.
Thanks for reading.