Written by Brendan Hufford
We hear often about the ever-decreasing attention span:
Millenials need 5 second ads to keep their attention.
The human attention span at 8 seconds, down 4 seconds since 2000.
We have less attention than goldfish.
Thankfully, we know that’s complete garbage for two reasons:
- The BBC thoroughly debunked it.
- We need only look in the mirror to know it’s a false premise.
For example, I stayed up until 1AM, reading The Name of the Wind for three straight hours last night.
I watched almost all of Master of None in one sitting.
I would argue that attention spans are greater than they’ve ever been.
The only thing that has changed, and will continue to change, is the democratization of what we consume. It’s the reason that nobody reads listicles any more.
The moment that something sucks, we move on.
If we want our content, the message that we most desire to share with the world, to be the signal amongst the noise…
We need to create epic shit.
Write Epic Shit.
Film Epic Shit.
Record Epic Shit.
WHY You Need to Create Epic Shit
In 2011, Corbett explained why we need to write epic shit:
“In every conversation I’ve had with wildly successful entrepreneurs and bloggers about building website traffic, promotional tactics only make up 20% of our talks. So, what is the other 80% of building a popular site about? Building a raving audience online all starts with writing epic shit. Period. Hands down. End of story.”
But not everybody agrees.
“I don’t care if you’re an artist, consultant, main-street business owner or Fortune 500 marketing executive, it’s the every day grind of content creation that gets us to the Promise Land…
…not one piece of Epic content.” – Ryan Hanley
Here’s something we can all agree on: there’s a massive amount of stuff on the internet. With 400+ hours of video going live on YouTube ever minute, 80+ million photos posted to Instagram every day, and Google + Facebook is the internet if you’re my mom.
You could literally never consume all this content, not in a thousand lifetimes. So if we want to stand out, we have to be the signal amongst the noise. What noise?
400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
80 million photos are posted to Instagram every day.
3.8 million tweets went out in one weekend at Coachella.
There is so much content, we’re almost drowning in it.
If you want to stand out, you better be the first to tell a story (unlikely) or just the best to tell it.
WHAT IS EPIC CONTENT?
So what is it? Rand Fishkin calls this kind of content “10X content” and says it:
- Provides a uniquely positive user experience through the user interface, visuals, layout, fonts, patterns, etc.
- Delivers content that is some substantive combination of high-quality, trustworthy, useful, interesting, and remarkableIs considerably different in scope and detail from other works on similar topics.
- Loads quickly and is usable on any device or browser.
- Creates an emotional response of awe, surprise, joy, anticipation, and/or admiration.
- Has achieved an impressive quantity of amplification (through shares on social networks and/or links).
- Solves a problem or answers a question by providing comprehensive, accurate, exceptional information or resources.
For bloggers and content creators like Matt Giovanisci, it’s “creating a one-stop-shop for solving a particular problem […] on one web page [that has] all the information you need in an easy-to-read format with lots of visual aid and downloadables.”
5 APPROACHES TO EPIC CONTENT MARKETING
If we really want to approach epic content and marketing it in the smartest possible way, I think it comes down to evaluating our own skillsets (how can you best promote things and what are your unfair advantages), as well as looking at how the best of the best do it. (Also, yes I gave each of these names, haha).
1. The “Regular Human” (What 99% of People Should Do)
This is a quick breakdown of a process that I shared with the Creative Class community of how creatives and freelancers can use SEO to not only get more clients, but better serve their existing clients.
My favorite metric to report on is something like this:
We’re professionals, we’re freelancers, not media companies. We don’t want eyeballs and advertising clicks.
I love SEO because it has a compounding effect. You’re building assets, not just momentary spikes of traffic and interest.
A. Find Your Focus
But Brendan, how is this going to help me with SEO?
It’s going to inform exactly what you should be writing about.
The pitfall here with finding your focus is going too broad or too narrow, let me explain.
B. Write Something
Top articles rank for 1k+ keywords so one keyword volume is a bad estimate.
More content = more keywords = more traffic
But, what Do I Write About?
First, should I write for my clients or my peers? The short answer is: both. In most of our spaces, we’re way more likely to get links from our peers than our clients. We’ll talk more about why links matter shortly. Here’s a few of my go-to resources for finding topics to write about:
- Reddit (especially sub-reddits related to your topic)
- Answer The Public
- Google and YouTube autosuggest
- Ahrefs content explorer
- Google’s Adwords keyword planner (Note: This tool uses yearly average searches and are not very accurate. Ahrefs, for example, uses adwords and clickstream to produce their numbers.)
But, how Do I Optimize My Content?
If it’s matching the intent of a searcher, you’re most of the way there.
For example, most people think it has to do with keywords, but can you imagine reading an article about the history of Chicago where every other word is “history” or “Chicago?” Conversely, can you imagine reading an article about that topic where they never use that word or phrase?
Both are terrible options.
The best answer is to use Yoast in WordPress and make it have a green light. It’s a great basic tool and gets you 90% of the way there.
Even more simply, make sure what you’re talking about is in your URL, Title, Headline, and Content
Advanced on-page SEO has little to nothing to do with how successful your work is. You need to show you’re an authority on what you’re writing.
Here’s how we get that authority…
C. Share Something
Less than 6% of pages get to the first page of Google in a year. To show Google you’re enough of an authority to get on the first page, you’ll need links pointing to your content.
Links (also known as backlinks) are one of the top ranking signals outside of the content itself.
Do I really need links? Yes, for anything related to what you do, you will need links for two reasons:
- There are lots of others doing what you’re doing and writing about you’re doing.
- They do have links (or they will).
How to Get Links to Your Content:
This might sound over-simplified (and a repeat of what you’ve already read), but start by creating something that gets links.
People like to link to and share content that:
- Makes them look smart
- Is helpful
- Provides a reason for an emotion that they’re feeling
- Teaches totally new things
- Explains remarkable things
- Tells a great story
20% in writing and 80% in promoting. This does not mean 1 day writing and 4 days promoting. This means one month writing and 4 months promoting. Yes, I’m really recommending that you reach out to other people who would find value in what you’ve made for four months.
D. Don’t Quit
The best way to get links is to provide value. Sometimes it works out differently (a fan will reach out to somebody you’d like a link from and it’ll happen), but that’s 100% not going to happen for most of us so let’s not rely on that.
We have to write for other people.
Pitch other sites that accept guest posts.
Pitch publications that our clients would read (here’s a brilliant article from Kaleigh Moore on this).
And, most importantly, don’t quit.
Jason Zook has produced more content than anybody reading this article (he made one blog post and video per day for three years).
You will get better. I promise. Just don’t stop.
2. The “Professional” – By ME
This method is called the “professional.” What you’re reading is what I do for a living.
I’m not some sort of SEO ninja/guru/rockstar, but SEO is what I do professionally and everything that I do, including writing this very article, is based on that very specific area of expertise.
The reason that I think of writing epic shit as a core value of successful SEO is that we want to create content as assets that stack on top of eachother. Not only do we get the “spike of hope” in a small traffic boost as soon as a new post is published (often via social shares or an email blast):
Instead of seeing the “flatline of nope” that often follows, we’ll see continued traffic building over time into a rising slope.
(Ok, I’m clearly struggling with that “rising slope” rhyme.)
Below, I’m going to lay out the process of how I think about writing epic content for myself and for clients. Honestly, when it comes to SEO, if you aren’t trying to make the best thing on the internet, don’t bother.
Here’s how I do that.
- I create a master list of topics we can write about.
- Look up the amount of people that search for that topic each month using Ahrefs.
- Look at what the current landscape is for top-ranking content. (Can I create something better?)
- Look for link opportunities in that area.
- Create a list of influencers and popular sites that are interested in the content.
- Assess and analyze the possibility of ranking in the top 3 for that article’s content.
- Get input from other influencers and thought leaders (often, in the form of quotes) before even starting to write the content.
- Start crafting content that meets the above criteria.
1. Create a Master List of Topics I Can Write About
You’d be mistaken to think that this process starts with me just writing down a ton of random topics and ideas that I think will bring in traffic. These topics also have to meet business goals for the website that’s publishing them, whether they’re a client of mine, or my own site. In the case of Fizzle, the content needs to grow their email list and increase Fizzle membership.
Below, I’ll outline how I went through this process for a post that I wrote about starting a photography business, but I firmly believe this process can be replicated across every possible topic and niche, not just business. For me, this met the business goals of growing my email list and bringing in traffic that would be likely to buy a digital product around starting their photography business. Check and check.
2. Look At How Many Searches Per Month There Are Across Top Keywords
You can use a lot of different tools for this from free tools like Google’s Adwords Keyword Planner or my favorite, Ahrefs.
Here’s Google’s Keyword Planner:
Now take that, compared to Ahrefs:
Ahrefs is definitely better, but at $100+ per month, you get a lot of value from Google’s Adwords tool for free.
One of the fast ways I’ve found to generate a lot of keyword ideas (this also tells you the best things to include in your content), is to use the Google and YouTube autosuggest features, like this:
3. Can I Create Better Content Than This?
I’ll do a few Google searches for the main ideas around this topic and thanks to Google, a master of synonyms, I’ll likely see the same articles over and over. I open each of these in new tabs and start breaking down the quality of the articles to see what I can do that will give my work a unique angle.
- Can I add a case study or a walkthrough?
- Can I pull in more outside data or, better yet, generate new data points to add value (likely, via survey)?
- Can I improve the design?
- Can I apply a new angle or theory to this (typically stale) topic?
If I can do more than one of these, that’s a huge green light for me.
4. Can We Get Links to This Content?
As much as I’d love to create content in a niche that is such low-hanging fruit that nobody has any links to their content, that’s often a big DANGER sign for me.
If there aren’t any links pointing to the top content, it’s unusual that I’ve discovered a completely new niche. In a perfect scenario, I want to see links pointing to the top content, just not too many. Like this:
I’ll take a look at what links they have and where they’re coming from to assess if I can get the same links or better links from more authoritative websites. Also, I want to know why they got the links. Is the content great or was it just written ages ago and it’s been the only “go-to” source for so long that it’s earned some links.
5. Will Influencers Share or Link to My Content?
I haven’t always seen the value of influencers versus “sites I can get links from,” but I’ve radically changed my thinking in this area for two reasons:
- Sites are run by humans. It’s more fun to make friends with humans than trying to score a link from a website.
- When you have an actual relationship with somebody, you’ll get infinitely more ROI than just trying to score a link and never speaking to somebody again.
I love to use Ahrefs “Top Referring Content” for all of the sites currently ranking because those sites not only link to the current top content, but are also growing and active.
Once my content goes live, I’ll follow my own proprietary outreach method. I think I do email outreach quite a bit differently than most people (I prefer quality outreach over quantity), but if you want to learn more about how to share you content with others (without being a spammer), this is a great guide.
It’s “old hat” in the marketing space to mention influencers in your articles and later reach out for them to share it, but it still works wonders in almost every niche. I highly recommend it, especially if you use the tactic that I’ll recommend shortly.
6. Can we rank in the top three for this?
The vast majority of clicks from organic search go to the top 3 search results:
So my goal is always to get my content in front of as many people as possible. The quality of the content matters the most, and links help as well. But, there are a few more things to consider when I assess whether or not we can get into the top spot:
- Did I write epic shit? Or just more shit?
- Can I share this content without feeling like a snake oil salesman?
- If I got this sent to me, would I link to it?
- Are the top rankings sites on really high-authority domains? Even without their high authority, can I outrank them?
If I can answer yes, to all four of these, I’ll proceed to the next step.
7. Get Input From Influencers
Finally, I take my list of influencers and start reaching out to them (typically via Twitter). This helps me in two ways:
- It makes my content more epic by including quotes from people that I respect.
- It involves influencers in the content, making them more likely to share it (or link to it) later on.
A big mistake I see many new content creators making is thinking of this strategy as a traffic strategy (“I wrote about you, PLZ RT!”), when it’s actually a content strategy (number one, above).
If I can gather a number of quotes from people that I’m stoked to get a quote from, I know I’m on the right track because they’re as psyched about the premise of the article as I am. (And now you know how all of these tweets got in this article!)
For example, here’s a few more people I respect sharing what they think about when writing epic shit:
By focusing on this thought process, it’s no wondering that Barrett contributed such high-level content to Fizzle and now produces a monthly magazine at Convertkit called “Tradecraft.”
One of the articles that Kaleigh is referencing is also one that I share quite often and did so above! (Also, if you want to be a better writer, you should read her newsletter).
Quick Tip: Want to see if your content is going to be evergreen? Drop the topic into Google Trends. Using that, we can easily see why Kaleigh’s article continues to get more and more traffic over time:
And finally, remember that we’re not just talking about writing. As Margo (the owner of my favorite homepage header photo + copy ever) mentions below we’re talking about video and audio as well.
And one more tip from Jason:
And you might be thinking, “So I’ve done all the above steps, now what?”
No, no, no padawan. You’ve missed the point.
I do all of these steps BEFORE I start writing.
Very often, I don’t write an article because I got held up midway through this process.
But, please realize that my way is not the only way. I wanted to include a few more voices, the next of which you’re quite familiar with.
3. The “Think Traffic” – Corbett Barr
The way that Corbett has, seemingly, always thought about epic content is interesting to me. Instead of external research, he advises we look inward:
“What have you been holding back from your readers, because if they found out they’d think you were an impostor?
What are you not writing about because you’re afraid of what your mom or spouse or family will think?
What have you written about recently to try and “fit in” with a certain group of people? Is that how you really felt, or did you write it just to be accepted?” – Corbett Barr
For Corbett, this was the “18 Months Manifesto” that he was terrified to publish. I think you, reading this (and me, writing this) are intimidated by what almost held him back: being thought of as a jerk for bragging about his income or being thought of as a loser for not accomplishing that income level faster.
In another classic post from Think Traffic, Greg Ciotti of Sparring Mind lays out a similarly structure 7-step framework that I think it helpful when we think about marketing epic content:
- Find Discontent & Solve It To Perfection
- Don’t Be Afraid to Generate Outrage
- Give People a Place to Start
- Take Readers for a Journey
- Leave People with a Game Plan
- Make Content that Keeps You Up at Night
- People Love Secrets, Inside Looks, and Exclusives
4. The “SEO Impossible” – Matt Giovanisci
Matt and I definitely differ over how we think about traffic and SEO (so much so we made a recording of us chatting about it as a bonus for his SEO course), but one thing we are 100% aligned in is how we think about content.
As a designer, Matt’s top focus is always making the most epic content possible on a given topic and trust, over time, that the best content will rise to the top of Google without needing intentional link-building. Here’s how he sets out to create his own take on epic shit:
A. Gather Data
Similar to me, Matt does an insane amount of research to cover every aspect of the topic that he’s writing about. Also in a similar fashion, he reads every single article on the first page of Google for the topic and starts taking notes in Google Docs (I use Airstory).
B. Outline Everything
Next, Matt creates an outline. One of the biggest mistakes that most bloggers and content creators make when looking to create something epic is they start without a plan. By creating an outline, we’re able to (somewhat) make sure that our work flows from beginning to end.
C. Write & Edit
Once everything is outlined and his research is complete, the next step for Matt is to start writing. He creates tasks in Asana for each of his topics and subtopics and just starts writing. Matt edits as he goes, but also goes back to revise multiple times before (and after) publishing. If you want your content to remain epic, it’s worth revisiting it a few times per year to improve it. For Matt, “epic shit” is synonymous with “timeless.”
D. Design All of the Things
At his core, Matt is a designer (and an amazing one, in my opinion). All of his content is designed in a very clear and thoughtful way. Whenever you have long-form content, making it as easy to consume as possible is a necessity.
E. Promote and Share?
Wait, Brendan, I thought you said Matt didn’t do this? Well, he does, but only for a jumpstart. Matt’s style isn’t to cram it down people’s throats until they start linking to it and sharing it.
This is one of the big reasons that I want to share multiple approaches to creating epic shit. You don’t have to do it my way, or Matt’s, or even Joanna’s, who created the web app that I’m writing this on just to help people create epic shit.
5. The “Copy Hacker” – Joanna Wiebe
The “copy hacker” method of creating epic shit is heavily research-focused.
Whenever you’re writing a definitive guide to something or creating the ultimate piece of content on a topic, you’re going to need to research and cite your sources.
Hey look, here’s me writing this exact section. You can see on the left how I keep track of my sources.
When I’m pulling in as many sources as I possibly can, I also want the reader to be able to learn more from content on my site, but also from others. I realize how extremely meta this is, but here’s how Joanna thinks about this:
Your pulling in 100+ data points and citing each one with links, with quotation marks around the quotes, doing all that kind of stuff so people have the reaction that is, “Wow, there’s a lot of research in here.” Like where they look at it like it is a source to refer back to again and again because it’s so well cited. That’s what you want. You do not want to hide your source material. You want to make sure people notice it. – Joanna Wiebe
After we’ve got our research together, Joanna looks to start crafting it into a post that people actually give a shit about and want to share. Don’t spend 2 hours on a content upgrade to #BuildYourList because #TheMoneyIsInTheList or whatever.
The reason this is called the “copy hacker” method is because Joanna’s primary expertise is in copywriting, so she always starts with a traditional copywriting formula:
Next, Joanna starts to think about how to turn that formula, traditionally used to sell things, into writing about something that people will want to read and share.
- A why → something you and your reader both care about
- A personal story – story is built around conflict
- 100+ data points from 15+ sources
- A way to pull it together (this is the narrative that you set throughout)
(Aside: Notice something familiar about the way this article is formatted? A why, my story, Corbett’s story, tons of research, and a narrative? Now you know where I learned it.)
Before you write off this technique as only for extremely long-form content, Joanna also has a really smart framework for putting together epic shit:
- Let a recent (problem-based) event in your life inspire you
- Do a few hours of research into how others have tried to solve your problem
- Organize your research notes
- Organize those notes in an outline
- Stitch the notes together, section by section
- Do additional ad-hoc research to fill in the gaps
- Write the introduction and conclusion (tie the conclusion to your product or offering)
Wiebe focuses a bit more heavily on the writing, but I think is extremely helpful because it continues a thread that we’ve seen throughout of solving a real problem that you and people you care about are trying to solve.
Solving those kind of problems is difficult (at best) and, even if creating this article, I found this tip from Joanna extremely helpful:
“Does putting the research first solve the writer’s block problem when finding an angle for a blog post?” Yeah. That is what I have heard ever since … I don’t know. Maybe I was 18, whatever it was. Somebody once wrote that the cure for writer’s block is research. – Joanna Wiebe
4 Examples of Epic Content Marketing
“When I first started my blog, it was pathetic. I was writing 500-word blog posts on “how to budget” and “how to invest money. With 500 words, you’re not gonna get a lot of information you’re not gonna get very deep on where those topics are. So, eventually, I started writing epic blog posts that were two thousand three thousand sometimes four to five thousand words” – Jeff Rose in an interview with Noah Kagan
I’ve sprinkled in a few examples of epic content throughout this article, but what’s best to think about here is there are levels to this.
Don’t be overwhelmed because you can’t create the level of shit that you want to, at first.
But also don’t let that hold you back. Below, I’ll give you four examples of epic content that will provide a bit of a stepladder for you to follow as you start making content that people give a shit about; content that just might change the world.
Totally Practical (Level 1 Epic)
Title: Azul Fives Weddings: The Ultimate Guide to Photos, Packages, Costs, and Locations
Word Count: 5,700+
Why it’s epic shit: Vincent van den Berg is a destination wedding photographer in Mexico. He realized that he kept getting the same questions over and over about a venue that he photographs often. In fact, there are so many questions form brides that there is even a Facebook group that some brides (who’ve now been married for years) put together so that they could help answer questions. I helped Vincent put together the ultimate guide answering every single question that a bridge might have about the venue and giving his best advice. You’ll notice, we used a framework very similar to the “Copy Hacker” method above by beginning with a problem and personal story.
This level of epic shit is totally attainable for you. It will take time, and it will take effort. But, like Vincent, you’ll be rewarded for the effort by helping those you care about and attract new readers, customers, and clients to your site.
Maybe Possible (Level 2 Epic)
Title: RFP: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO WRITING A REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL
Word Count: 6000+
Why it’s epic shit: Remember, a high word count isn’t necessary for writing epic shit. There are tweets (❤ like this one ❤) that get more views and shares (and change the world more) than any piece of content that I’ll ever create.
Roughly one year ago, I was asked to lead the SEO team at Clique Studios and immediately noticed that there was a huge disconnect in the RFP process (where a potential client sends out an RFP (request for proposal) to an agency. So I worked with one of the partners Clique to created this piece of content that would look to actually improve how the RFP process works.
We heavily researched every possible thing that people were searching for related to sending out RFPs and made sure they were included, but what resonates most with the article’s readers has been the human voice that we wrote it in. They feel like we’re inside their head because we’ve explained that we understand exactly where they’re coming from as a user searching for information on RFPs.
Wow, Now THAT is Epic Content (Level 3 Epic)
Title: EMAIL OUTREACH PLAYBOOK: MASTER THE CRAFT OF SENDING SALES EMAILS THAT CONVERT
Word Count: 7,073
Why it’s epic shit: This is the level of epic that you might need help putting together. This took Mailshake’s co-founder and their team 6+ months to put together and, in the end, was well worth the effort (it’s generated $100k+ in income). I personally discovered this playbook while looking to improve my own cold email outreach, something that is easy to do (it’s as hard as sending an email), but really hard to do well. The guide not only solves the problem, but does so in a way that is engaging
Insanely Epic Content (Level 4 Epic)
Title: GrowthLab’s Ultimate Guide to Starting an Online Business
Word Count: 18,432
Why it’s epic shit: This is basically one third of a book. It might change your life. For free. On the internet.
Most Insane Epic Level 99 Content (Level 99 Epic)
Title: How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You) – Wait But Why
Word Count: 16,637
Why it’s epic shit:
Urban also creates analogies for every single thing he’s trying to explain. For example, the “Yearning Octopus” that outlines exactly what we want out of life and our career:
and he doesn’t just say that you need to get to know yourself better before deciding on your career, but explains the exact process you’ll go through and illustrates all of the idiosyncrasies within:
Honestly, You Have No Excuses Now…
I know that most people reading this will see it as a neat post with a few ideas, but for the true Fizzlers out there that don’t want their business and passion to slowly fade away into the ether, I know you see it a bit differently.
Like Corbett’s original article, it’s a call to arms BUT also a step-by-step walkthrough.
You have no excuse for your next article to be epic in one way or another.
Create something amazing after reading this? Link it up in the comments below. I’ll read every single one. 🙂
A Fizzle Member since 2015, Brendan learned everything he knows about business by putting some skin in the game and starting his own. When he isn’t on Twitter, Brendan writes often at Photo MBA and his SEO consulting blog.