How I Turned a 40,000 Word Guide into 361,494 Visitors and 8421 Email Opt-ins

advanced guide to content marketing

Over the last few months, I published two advance guides. The first one was The Advanced Guide to SEO, and the second was The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing.

Many of you assumed that the guides did well because you enjoyed the content, but I never really broke down how successful they were and how you can replicate the process.

People want more

I got the concept for advanced guides from Moz. Years ago, they published The Beginner’s Guide to SEO, and they mentioned how over a million visitors read the guide. Over the years, I was getting emails from marketers asking me to blog about more advanced content.

So I decided to take this idea and create a more detailed guide with advanced content. It took me around 6 months to complete the first guide and get it published.

The moment I released it, it was a hit. Within an hour of publishing the guide, my Dropbox account got suspended because the PDF was downloaded so many times that I used up the 20 GB file transfer limit. I upgraded my account so that I could get a 200 GB daily file transfer limit… but I also used that up within a few hours.

Overall, the guide did well: it received 1,371 tweets, 1,052 likes and 120 comments on Facebook. To top it off, over 212,584 people read it.

Based on the numbers, you could assume that the guide did well, but it didn’t do as well as it could. Once I published it, I realized a few things:

  • Coding matters – I already knew from a SEO standpoint that code is important, but it didn’t hit me to tell the coder to make it compatible with mobile devices until after the guide was complete.
  • People love PDFs – people had a tough time downloading and viewing the PDF because it wasn’t properly formatted. The guide wasn’t designed to be put into a PDF format, so there were issues when I converted it into one.
  • Don’t forget to link out – the guide was designed as one big infographic, and it was coded as a big infographic that contained no outbound links. When I announced the guide in a blog post, I happened to link out to Moz, and they decided to do an email blast about it, which drove 25,049 visitors.
  • Collect emails – I collect emails on Quick Sprout because it drives a large percentage of the site’s traffic. I didn’t have any email opt-in boxes on the SEO guide.

Second time is a charm

Once I learned what I should and shouldn’t do, I decided to make a second attempt to release a guide by creating The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing. I followed the same process as above when it came to creating the guide, but I did a few things differently:

  • Coding matters – I coded the guide so that it was mobile, tablet and web compatible. This ensured that anyone who wanted to read it could.
  • People love PDFs – I used Uberflip to create a PDF that was compatible with all tablets and ebook readers such as Kindle. With their software, I was also able to tie PDF views with my Google Analytics account.
  • Don’t forget to link out – although this guide was also designed as a large infographic, I found a better coder who was able to add links to external sites. I was then able to email each site I linked out to and ask them to share the guide with their readers.
  • Collect emails – I created a few opt-in methods in the guide, which helped me collect 8,421 emails. I then added these emails to my newsletter list so that those people could be notified every time I publish a new blog post, which helps increase future traffic to my blog.
  • Focus on what matters – with the first guide, I focused my time and effort on getting more social shares and tweets, but when Moz emailed its user base about the guide, it drove more traffic than Twitter and Facebook did combined. Because of that, with this guide, I partnered with a few popular blogs that had big email lists and had them email their base about the guide. In exchange, I provided them with free SEO consulting.

In the end, this guide had fewer social shares… 677 likes and 871 tweets, but it did have more visitors. 361,494 people read The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing, while 212,584 people read the SEO guide. The reason for the big difference is that I focused on the marketing channel I knew would provide the most amount of traffic… which was partnerships with other blogs.

Conclusion

If you want to increase your traffic, don’t focus on the same tactics everyone else is using. Spend time to go above and beyond by creating exceptionally good content.

It worked so well for me that on a bad day, both of those guides get at least 2,000 visitors combined, which isn’t too bad.

Before you start the process of creating a guide, I recommend you do a few things:

  1. Survey your audience – find out what they want to learn and give it to them. Make sure you go above and beyond by giving them more than what they want. You can use Survey Monkey or Qualaroo to survey your readers.
  2. Write exceptionally good content – you need to make sure that you are writing great content. If you aren’t a great writer, you can try to improve your skills by reading this blog post. If you don’t have time to write, place an ad on Craigslist or Problogger. I just hired someone to write a 40,000 word guide for Crazy Egg, and it is costing me $4,000. I paid a bit more than I would have liked, but you can probably get away with paying someone $500 to $1,000 for every 10,000 words they write.
  3. Don’t skimp on the design – one of the big reasons my guides were so successful is because they look so pretty. Through Dribbble, you can find an illustrator that typically costs $1,000 if they are located outside of the U.S. If you hire someone within the U.S., it will cost you anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.
  4. Leverage existing technologies – by using tools like Uberflip, you can turn your guide into a PDF for any device. From iPads to Kindles to any new device that comes out in the future, Uberflip will automatically make sure your PDF is compatible with it.
  5. Don’t forget to collect emails – I made this mistake with my first guide, and I wish I collected emails as I would have collected at least 4,000 new emails. Don’t make this mistake as you can remarket to these users. You can even do something unique with Uberflip in which people have to put in their name and email to download the PDF version of your guide. Or you can use a simple plugin like Popup Domination to collect more emails.
  6. Don’t forget to market your guide – you should spend as much time marketing your guide as you do creating it. From creating a list of all the potential Twitter users who might want to promote it to creating partnerships with other blogs who might be interested in blogging about it, you need to focus on the marketing aspect.

So what are you waiting for? Go out there and create a guide. ;-)

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Comments

  1. Hi Neil! Awesome post! And great guides! But how to create something like that and not spend lots of money? Because not everyone has the ability to spend so much of it.

    • Mitja, you can start off small and scale accordingly.

      • You think about creating a guide without the graphic coding or something like that? To start small and simple?

        • Mitja, one other path is to try to be the illustrator or do the best you can, but I would love to hear Neil’s suggestion for doing this on a start up budget.

          I assume focus on great content, a pretty design, and most importantly the network of super bloggers who will promote it.

          Any other comments Neil?

    • Great post Neil! Leveraging the traffic from other devices, creating cross platform compatible content is what helps reach lot of people & improves user engagement. Quality content especially in the form of guides, ebooks is what people prefer.

  2. So the number 8421, is it the total downloads or the average downloads per day?

    • Total emails collected from the guide.

      • Thanks! I’m starting an e-mail campaign and every time I am not sure what to do, I come back here (or Crazy Egg) to see what you are doing.

        I’ve noticed that you use SendGrid and that was a good discovery because it’s much cheaper (and flexible) compared to full-fledged e-mail marketing software like AWeber.

  3. Another booster and pushy (read it positive) post, Neil. I am sure I’d see couple of guides aired soon around by many in next couple of weeks. Cheers to you!

  4. as usual, very informative and action-able. Thanks, Neil!

  5. This is exactly what I wanted……well do u have any idea, what kind of Advanced guides can a tech blog publish?

  6. You are a master.. I have imagined that you would share the success story of The Advanced Guide. I loved them totally.

    Thank you for sharing the lessons learned from your experience.

    Cheers..

  7. Another great post Neil!

  8. 8421 Email Opt-ins is very impressive but it was worth it. Great content always delivers good results and like you said exceptionally good content should always be the focus. Thanks for the insight Neil.

  9. Thanks Neil

    This is a fantastic post and great inspiration – but your content creation budget is way beyond that of most small businesses.

    For example, most of my clients have about £300 ($450) a month to spend on content marketing – or around $5-6K a year. (This is over and above any other marketing channels they are using).

    Based on your excellent example, this would mean persuading the average small business owner to part with roughly a year’s content marketing budget on just one piece of content.

    That said, if they did do this it would no doubt give them some amazing results which would help grow their business – however, getting them to part with such a (relatively) large amount of money in one go would be quite a task.

    There is a massive gap in the market for someone (anyone) who can come up with a cost-effective way of producing high quality content that gets marked results for small business clients – just as ‘old fashioned’ SEO packages did. But I’ve yet to really see anyone offering a viable alternative.

    Most small companies don’t want to do this kind of marketing themselves – but are keen on outsourcing it. Yet when they see the prices for even entry level packages – they back off.

    Perhaps content curation or a similar sort of time-effective content production could be the way forward in this context?

    Thanks for another great post!

    Cheers

    Loz

    • Yes, I agree there is a big need for a low cost solution that is high in quality. I haven’t been able to figure it out yet and I have tried a lot of lost cost producers that didn’t deliver.

      If you ever figure it out, let me know.

  10. Great lessons and takeaways.Thanks Neil for the openness.
    They would get more views if you placed a banner in your sidebar and incorporate the email feature from this point on. Go for it.

    I can’t wait for the selling one :p

  11. Neil, you have taught me so much really. This year is my best internet marketing year so far, and one of the reasons for that were the “values” that I’ve learned from your posts.

    Quality content lives forever :)

  12. Hey Neil,

    Yes, your content is awesome. Your ideas and fundamentals are also very informative but dude, you need to slow it down with the pop-ups and the opt-in forms.

    We will sign up, trust me!

  13. Great article, lots of learning lessons there.
    I’m starting to follow you around and enjoying a ton
    Cheers!
    btw: how does one have that sweet sharing bar of yours on each post?

  14. Wow. Incredible!

    The guides looked fantastic! And this breakdown is very helpful!! Thanks man!

    One thing: you are spending big bucks on your blog which is very cool. And knowing you, you have that neatly tied in with you “avg customer value”. But please explain this ROI voodoo to this mere mortal??

    Rock on man!

    • I don’t to be honest. I don’t really care about the money, I just love what I am doing and I don’t really have an personal expenses… so I have to park my money somewhere. Might as well put some of it back into the blog because I love it. :)

  15. Would love to know more of the nuts and bolts of how you outsourced the writing of your KISS guide. Have you wrote about that in the past?

    • Guessing you mean the Crazy Egg guide? I haven’t wrote about it in the past, but I know so many writers, I was eventually able to find one that was the right fit. I also have a ton of designers on staff, developers… etc. So I only outsourced the writing of it.

  16. Hey Neil,

    Great post.

    It’s really interesting that the second guide got less social shares.

    Question for you – you said it took you around 6 months to complete the first guide and get it published – how many hours or days of full-time work did you spend on it? I figure that wasn’t full time?

    Cheers,
    Alastair.

  17. I am going through this rightaway after reading so many praises! After all, you are the legend of SEO! :)

  18. This is JUST what we were looking for to sell this concept to a client of ours. Thanks for doing all the heavy lifting for me!!! Ralph

  19. I thought i knew what i was doing when it came to SEO , till i saw your posts and videos. Neil you are the most amazing guy i have ever come across. I only wish i got to know you few more years back. Thank you again for sharing all these great stuff with everybody. Please keep up the great work.

    • Riyaz, thanks for the kind words. Over the years I keep learning more and more from my readers as well. I am sure I will pick something up from you very soon :)

  20. Man, the first guide gave me so much trouble just to open it. When I cleaned up my desktop, that was the only thing I left, it’s still sitting there.

    I thought, how could Neil Patel create something so good, yet fail to make it easy to read. It was one of my biggest disappointments this last few months not being able to get through that guide.

    But whatever, it’s still free education, for which I’m grateful.

  21. Hi Neil I have read your both guides which helped me a lot to improve my knowledge in seo and content marketing.
    yes i also used popupdomination plugin to my website which i collected 3000 emails in just few couple of weeks.

    Thank you for sharing GEMS to us.

  22. Loved detailed analysis on what worked and didn’t, Neil, but I disagree with the opening in your conclusion…

    “If you want to increase your traffic, don’t focus on the same tactics everyone else is using.”

    The best online advertisers (media buyers) start by modeling their traffic campaigns after their competitors. This becomes their control.

    The logic being that if someone is spending time and big money on a tactic the chances are pretty good that it’s break even or better. Why reinvent the wheel, right?

    Then they work like dogs on steroids to improve CTR, conversions and average order value.

    Thanks again for share your results. You’ve got tiger blood, man.

    • Jason, Great points. I think people often overlook all these factors and then find themselves wondering why they aren’t converting. Once you have covered all these bases you can really start seeing results.

  23. Love both guides Neil. I have gone over each one twice and still feel like i havent even scratched the surface. I managed to break both guides down into readable pdfs using a combination of the “Documents” and “PDF Expert” apps on my ipad. Took about 15 minutes but it was worth it as i have each document saved as one large 250-260 page page PDF document and also saved chapter by chapter for reference use. I can’t thank you enough for these guides Neil!

  24. Case studies like this one is what makes you and your blog stand out from the crowd. So much valuable information here. Thanks!

  25. I just got started with internet marketing, have not made any money yet, trying to learn as much as I can, a lot of great information here.

    Rgds,
    Martin

  26. As always, another great blog post from you, Neil.

    I also think that the marketing guide didn’t do as well as the SEO guide because many people THINK that marketing is not something a website needs to do; they don’t realize that without marketing, their SEO efforts are not as effective :)

  27. Thank you Neil! Excellent post and I love your two guides as well.

    I would love if you can write a full guide to link building.

    Nice work!

  28. You’re exceptionally good in making things easier to understand. Your writing has expression of real experience not something which has been circulating on the Internet from one blog to another. Recently, I come across your site while searching for SEO topics and have found it very useful. It gives me broader understanding on how to think through and utilize all the resources I currently have. I wish I could have known you little earlier.

    • Rakesh, glad I could help. I try to be as transparent as possible. Glad you are finding the guides and blogs helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  29. Very Nice Article you have shared, Keep in mind that all of the components in your marketing strategy will work together with your online content marketing. This means that online content marketing should be combined with your advertising.

    Thank you!!

  30. Hi Neil,

    As usual great post.

    You are measuring RoI on your guides in terms of visitors and opt-ins. But what was the the real gain from business point of view ? If you are spending so much money on creating and distributing a product, you must gain more money from it than you spent. Otherwise what is the point in doing all this? You should be able to sell something to these visitors and opted lists. Also the product you want to sell, should also be related to the topic you are creating a guide on.

    Generally marketers are distributing free copy of a guide which outlines abstract ideas and the detailed guides are sold to the visitors and opted lists.

    You are doing a great service to your readers by giving such a valuable guides free.

    God bless you.

    • I do it because I want to give back. I am not rich, but I have made enough money to be happy and I have no debt. So now I just invest it back into the blog… I don’t care about making money from it.

      But overall, I am not losing money. I end up making more in the longrun. But when I decide to create content, I don’t worry about the ROI.

  31. Great post, I think when it comes to content marketing and driving traffic so many people get caught up in a race to get as much content as they can on the internet, but they don’t stop and take the time to make sure they are posting quality content.

    One well written killer article or guide that people will share and link to is worth so much more than 20 low quality posts that are just there to beef up your site.

  32. That is one of the best article, have a question though, do you know any good email opt plugin for blogs and which is for free?. Because all I came to know from the searching is that you need some pro email opt program and need to buy it like aweber etc.

  33. This post gas given me some new ideas that I can go an implement right away. Thanks Neil! I knew a lot of things already but you have made it more concrete and now I can apply it without hesitation.

  34. A great posts at time I’m writing some manuals for business students and completing an eBook.

    This article is full of knowledge and Niel it’s great to see you are giving out your secrets on how you exactly do it. I have read both of the guides and have tell that everyone that it’s epic. The Advance Guide is full of best SEO strategies and I’m wondering if more and more SEO experts will boom very soon and take some of the Neil’s clients ;)

    Talking about the quality and the appearance is the key with your productions. The green color and organic appeal gives the reader a very hard to resists feeling until they finish reading it.

    thanks for the share Neil.

  35. A guide is always a good thing, this one is rocking but how many hours to make it?

  36. Hi Neil,

    I just wanted to let you know I very much enjoy your content. I need to check out Uberflip. I had no idea you could integrate with Google Analytics, thanks for the information.

    My Google Analytics is so vastly different from my AWStats from bluehost I find it is very hard to gage true visitors. I was told Google Analytics under-reports and AWstats (my host analytics) over reports. What has been your experience?

    Thanks again Neil.

    • All analytics tools show different data. Don’t worry about under reporting or over. Just use Google Analytics as that is what most sites use. :)

      But to answer your question Google is generally less.

  37. Neil there is a lot to learn from you and you are kind enough to share your valuable experiences . Thank you.

  38. Here’s a ‘cornerstone content’ piece we just created condoguide.drgmpls.com that has done very well. Not as well as yours – but still. We also got the idea from MOZ’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. While we were in production we saw your post The Advanced Guide to SEO which was reassuring.

    Thanks for the post – I just showed it to a client and they want their own cornerstone content piece. Based on ours and what you posted here:)

  39. Hi Neil,
    I have been reading your posts very regularly but never actually replied to them . Yes, the figures are excellent but I think one will need time to build this reputation that converts is such results. One thing is for sure that readers will need less time to achieve similar success because of your tips.
    I may consider a guide anytime in future when I will be comfortable doing it and this tips can really make things better for me.

    • Suhas, thanks for reading through the guides. I believe if you implement the steps as they relate to your product you should seem some great success.

  40. The Best way to learn is through real life experience. This post or should i say case study provides detailed information making things extremely simpler and easier to comprehend. I have read both guides of yours. Thanks for sharing such a valuable piece of information. Looking forward to apply certain things right away.

  41. Thanks for sharing your experience Neil. I am going to try to replicate the process (in a slightly smaller scale of course:) ). Thanks.

  42. Nice post Neil. I listened to the podcast on Smart Pasive Income where you explained to Pat, the process you used to create and spread these guides. Thanks so much for all these useful tips and information!

  43. case studies and such knowledge will help us to grow our business ,And i would like to share one thing i have followed everything in my blog what you said and traffic of my blog is gradually increasing .all credit goes to you.

  44. Hmm, so it was coded so it was responsive design friendly? I think that’s certainly key here, along with the great content (now that Google 2.0 is out), as responsive design gets you across to all the technological wizardry you could wish for. Unfortunately a lot of people can’t do the web design element, but your other points are spot on as always. Thanks!

  45. Enjoyed reading this post because quality content will always get my attention if it is acccurate, reliable, and trustworthy which your content always seems to be.

  46. Patrick Willmott :

    Hi Neil,

    Great post easily to relate to and visualize the result as i read through. Always like your writing style! Great when you make note of products which i see being used on your page, PopUp Domination purchased!

    Cheers,
    Patrick

  47. Hi Neil,
    Thanks for all the tips. I’m in the process of writing a travel guide and I’ll definitely implement some of these tips. What’s the best software (ie: Pages, Word, etc.) for writing the guide so that it’s most compatible with the variety of mobile devices out there?
    Thanks.
    Noah

  48. Neil you are very amazing and this was a very inspirational post! Keep it up.

  49. Nice posts very interesting, I used pop up domination in my blog and collected about 5000 emails per week

  50. Hi Neil – What service (or is it custom code) do you use for the email opt-in form on QuickSprout? It’s an overlay window that “hangs” on the page even when you scroll down. Very clever. :-)

    Thanks,

    Andy in Seattle

  51. Great post (as always). I’m curious, though, how you found someone to write “exceptionally good content” for only 5 to 10 cents a word. As a writer myself, that seems… exceptionally low. :) Was this guide ghostwritten? Was it written from scratch, or were they simply rewriting information you’d already compiled? Or did they just agree to lower rates because they’re dying to work with you? I could totally see that happening. :)

  52. Great post, Neil. I actually use a lot of this myself. Do you really think the design plays that big of a role? How much is it content versus design?

    Also, what if we are not like you, and don’t have the luxury of leveraging companies like SEOMoz, now just Moz.com to mail or promote? What works for a BRAND NEW company with loads of experience but not many connections. Any thoughts there?

    • I think design plays a bigger role than the content itself. That’s why I spend more money on the design than I do on the content.

      Email outreach works wonders. I didn’t hit up Moz or leverage my connections to get the email promotion. They did it because they liked the content and how it looked.

      If I were you and I was just starting off, focus on the content. Later you can get into fancy designs. But great content drives enough traffic.

  53. I must say I did juggle with whether to leave a comment or not.

    Perhaps these issues can be applied within other areas too, such as the professional cleaning sector.

    These kind of issues need to be tackled at a higher level and get
    sorted once and for all.

    Hope to see some more posts on this subject, but for now I have my cleaning to do.

  54. Wow, amazing post Neil!

    Some people would say you can give away too much. But for you ,the way you did it, it paid off in a big way. Incredible results to say the least.

    I think for most folks, they don’t have it in them, or don’t think they have it in them to create something that is worthy of big attention. Or they don’t have the money to pay to have it created.

    It’s funny you mention design or look of the PDF/Document/Guide, but so many people don’t take the time to make their publications look “nice” or professional. I see so many junky looking PDF’s. I don’t understand it, it doesn’t take much just to do a little formatting, even even for a novice.

    Thanks for sharing some very useful content :)

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