Neil Patel

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The Step-by-Step Guide to Optimize Your Content to Sell

If you’re writing content, you want it to sell.

After all, that’s the whole purpose of the project, right? Your ultimate goal is to sell more of what you have to offer.

And content is a great way to do this. According to Conductor, consumers are 131 percent more likely to buy from a brand after reading content by that brand.

That’s a massive shift in perspective.

conductor marketing charts sponsored email image

To make it work for you, you need to start implementing strategies that make your content more effective.

Specifically, you need to start writing copy that converts.

It’s not a difficult process. In this article, I’ll teach you the five steps you need to take to optimize your content and drive massive sales.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Find a topic your readers care about

The first and most important part of writing content to drive sales is choosing the right topic.

Even the best article ever published won’t sell a single product if the topic is mismatched with the interests of your audience.

By choosing the right topic, you can create amazing content even if you suck at writing. To do this correctly, you need to find a few proven sources of foolproof topic ideas.

Here are my favorites.

Look for top posts on reddit

Reddit is basically a giant ranking engine that includes the most interesting topics at the top. What better way to find out which topics are best for your target audience?

To do this right, you just need to find the most popular topics on a given subreddit. Let’s go to the gardening subreddit. On the menu at the top of the page, click “top.”

Gardening Plants and Agriculture 1

This will show us a highlight reel of popular posts. Click on the “past 24 hours” and click “all time.”

top scoring links gardening

This will show us the most popular posts on this subreddit for all time. Any of these topics are a great place to start with a post.

But to make sure it’s truly successful, we can see the problems and questions others are asking. Let’s turn to those next.

Find popular questions on Quora

In the early days of the Internet, people would turn to Yahoo Answers for advice on life or help with their problems.

The problem with Yahoo Answers was that there were tons of spammers and the quality of the site decreased pretty quickly.

Enter Quora. Quora’s experts are verified and many of them (including people ranging from former President Obama to myself) have plenty of real-world expertise.

To get started on finding an article idea on Quora, find a category. I’ll use healthy eating. Look at the top questions to see what people are curious about.

Health Eating Quora and Home Quora

These are all great questions. Even better, you can name an article directly from information you find here.

Analyze popular search terms on Alexa

If you’re looking to boost sales through search-engine traffic, you need to understand what topics people are searching for.

This is one of the big benefits of using a free tool like Alexa. We’ll start by entering the URL of a competitor.

In this example, I want to see what gourmet food and drink creations Mouth Foods is using to acquire new customers. Click Find.

Website Traffic Statistics and Analytics Alexa

On the analysis page that appears, scroll down until you see Top Keywords from Search Engines.

Usually the first one or two are the name of the brand, but you’ll also see some great topics people are searching for.

Mouth com Traffic Demographics and Competitors Alexa

In this example, we can see that bourbon of the month, gin of the month, amarao delle sirene, and chocolate whiskey are all popular topics.

We can easily create an article reviewing gin-of-the-month clubs, or a recipe for DIY chocolate whiskey. These are great content ideas that will rank well in Google.

Discover popular articles on Buzzsumo

If you’re primarily looking to skyrocket your social traffic, look no further than Buzzsumo.

Buzzsumo is a great tool to see what articles have historically performed very well on social platforms.

Let’s search for “organic produce” and see what kinds of articles are grabbing people’s interest.

BuzzSumo Find the Most Shared Content and Key Influencers

The most popular articles cover: a giant land area used by Costco; why organic produce might be making America less healthy; and a farm-to-hospital program.

organic produce Most Shared Content

You can use one of these topics, or even combine them for endless variation.

An article on why Costco’s land acquisition will make America less healthy, for example, could be a topic guaranteed to find success on social media.

Ask your email subscribers about their struggles

If you already have an email list, you should look no further than their inboxes for your next content topic.

In a technique popularized by Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, send new subscribers an email asking what their biggest struggle is.

What People Buy How This One Simple Question Reveals Everything Social Triggers

This is a great way to get personalized feedback and hear the customer struggles from their mouths.

Take the most common problems and craft a compelling article with solutions and answers, solving this struggle once and for all.

Step 2: Create a masterpiece

If you’re in the process of creating content to sell, you can’t just write something mediocre. You need to create a piece of content so compelling, people can’t help but share it.

To do that effectively, you need to write a compelling blog post so epic in its scope and detail that it drives more sales than you imagined possible.

Here are the steps you need to take to ensure that the content you produce delivers this type of effect on readers.

Plan what KPIs you will work to improve

Before you start writing your piece of content, you need to spend some time deciding exactly what the goal is of that particular article.

You want to make sure it fits into your overall brand voice and content strategy. Most importantly, you want to ensure that you hit your most important key performance indicators.

On Instapage’s ABCs of content marketing, they stress the importance of KPIs, saying you need to define them “before you begin your content marketing campaign.”

Content Marketing Infographic

Failing to do so will only lead to frustration and discouragement.

Compose a masterful headline

The most effective way to drive people to your content is a headline that engages all types of readers.

Research has shown that 8-of-10 people will read your headline, but only 2-of-10 will read the article. It’s that important.

Besides, content with a strong headline can boost page views by as much as 500 percent.

There aren’t many techniques that will boost anything by 500 percent, so you need to make your headline the best part of your content.

Why Content Marketing 10 Key Statistics How to Win at It Infographic

Once you have a compelling headline, it’s time to move to the next section: the introduction.

Start off with a great intro

The piece that you write is defined by its introduction. You need to create an introduction that draws in readers and inspires them to keep reading.

Look to create suspense with your intro. Make it a trailer of the type of content that’s to come.

The Acorns Grow blog uses an interesting introduction to encourage readers and get them engaged in the full article on the topic of saving and getting out of debt.

From Six Figures in Debt to Six Figures in the Bank How They Did It Grow from Acorns

Your introduction should promise what’s to come without giving away too much. This is the perfect way to keep readers looking forward to the rest of your content.

Produce actionable, in-depth content

Nobody needs (or wants) to read another 500-word blog post about your topic. It’s been done so many times before, it’s completely ignored.

To drive traffic and sales, you need to focus on writing content that’s impactful and detailed-oriented.

You need to include lots of new material and make your content the most in-depth piece of work online about the topic.

For best results, make sure every article contains 1,500 words or more.

Why Content Marketing 10 Key Statistics How to Win at It Infographic 3

In addition to being more engaging and selling more, you’ll also get higher search engine results due to Google’s preference for long-form content.

Research your topic thoroughly

While you can write a long opinion piece, these tend to be hit-and-miss efforts.

Unless you’re a well-respected industry expert or someone who’s known for your opinion, a piece like this probably won’t convert as well as a safer strategy.

That safer strategy is to provide lots of research about the topic and include that research in your article.

In short, you need to produce data-driven content for really stellar results.

On Google’s Think with Google blog, they use Google data to show interesting insights into what people are interested in and the common trends that define our society.

Beverage Industry Trends 2017 Google Data Reveals Consumer Habits

But you don’t have to be a giant technology company to make this work.

Just use the data you find online for your topic, or even use proprietary in-house data and case studies that you have access to.

The important thing is to rely on proof for your claims instead of just forming you own uninformed opinions.

Include plenty of images

Readers are most engaged when there is content other than text to keep their attention.

According to Express Writers, content with images earns 70 percent more views than content without images.

Why Content Marketing 10 Key Statistics How to Win at It Infographic 1

To make sales, you need to write content that people will read all the way through.

To make this work best, include plenty of engaging images that encourage people to read what you have to say.

Feature engaging videos

Video is quickly becoming a great way to engage the readers who discover content. To make this work, you don’t need to buy out a local studio or even invest in expensive equipment.

Just start by featuring small videos of the content you’re already publishing. By using different mediums, you can make a big splash with readers and compel them to buy.

The Lincoln Now blog does a great job keeping visitors engaged with featured videos.

Lincoln Now Who Says You Can t Go Home Again Lincoln com

While their production quality is high as a national brand, you can achieve the same effect by using video in a few of your most popular articles.

Step 3: Implement SEO best practices

If you’re going to put your heart and soul into a piece of content, you should make sure it will do well for years to come on the search engines.

To make sure you write a post that ends up in Google’s top 10, implement the best practice for high search engine results.

According to Express Writers, 72 percent of marketers worldwide say that content creation is the biggest factor in successful SEO.

Why Content Marketing 10 Key Statistics How to Win at It Infographic 2

Thankfully, getting great results from your content in the search engines isn’t difficult if you know what you’re doing.

These strategies will make your pieces rank well and keep selling for years after you hit publish.

Focus on long-tail keywords

There are plenty of keywords to use for your content’s SEO strategy, but I’ve seen the most success using long-tail keywords.

As explained with this image from SEOPressor, these are long, very specific keywords that cover one topic.

long tail keyword chart

You’ll see the best results if you focus on these types of keywords. They have a much higher conversion rate and tend to sell a lot better than more general keywords.

Analyze relevant keywords using Ahrefs

If you’re going to use a long-tail keyword to target your post, you need to do some research first.

There are a number of tools, but one of my favorites is Ahrefs. This isn’t a free tool, but you can sign up for a free trial that will be enough to get started.

Once you’re inside the program, type your general keyword into the Keywords Explorer and click the orange search button.

Keywords for charity crowdfunding

Scroll down the page until you see “Keyword ideas.” This is a great place to find excellent choices for long-tail keywords.

Look at “Having the same terms” and click “View full report.”

Keywords for charity crowdfunding 1

On the results page, look for keywords with multiple search terms. These are great long-tail keywords you can use for your article.

Keywords Explorer

You’re going to want to use this long-tail keyword in the title of your piece as well as a few times throughout.

Include key phrases in the introduction

To make sure a search engine understands what your content is about, you’ll need to include the keyword a few times in the article.

But it’s also a good idea to include other key phrases that are directly related to the topic as well.

In this article on board games for kids, Heavy uses synonyms and related words like “toys,” “play,” and “family.”

Top 20 Best Board Games for Kids

Be sure to include these types of related phrases in your content for maximum SEO results.

Write a helpful meta description

When someone searches for your content, they’re going to read your meta description first. This is the short snippet that Google includes under each search result.

Include something that’s brief and encourages readers to click through to read the whole article.

In a search for easy waffle toppings, this meta description stands out for its concise and click-worthy copy.

easy waffle toppings Google Search

For the best results, you can write something short and descriptive here to drive more people to read your copy and buy.

Optimize the images you include

I mentioned before that you should definitely provide lots of images to keep readers engaged with your content.

But there’s another step in using images: making sure they’re optimized for search engines.

While the algorithms used by Google and Bing are effective and getting better every day, there isn’t a way (yet) for these sites to understand what’s in your images.

To make their job a little easier, optimize them with helpful image file names and alt text.

On Page SEO Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page 2017 Update 1

This won’t make or break your SEO strategy, but it can provide a nice boost over your competitors.

Step 4: Sprinkle in persuasion techniques

At its heart, content that sells a product is content that’s designed to be persuasive.

Instead of guessing what will make people want to buy once they read your article, why not encourage them using tried-and-true persuasion strategies?

That’s what I recommend doing, and it’s not too difficult to implement.

Here are a few ways to persuade in your copy without coming across as too pushy or salesy.

Show plenty of social proof

When you refer to your product in the content you write, it’s a great idea to include social proof to show the community of fans for your brand

People don’t tend to blindly trust a marketer’s praise of his or her own product, so you need to include others in your content to make more sales.

In this article on the Whole Foods Whole Story Blog, the writers interview suppliers and use their stories to build up the Whole Foods brand.

Supplier Stories How Sir Kensington s Revolutionized Condiments Whole Foods Market

You can do the same thing by including successful customer quotes or case studies in your copy.

Write in a friendly tone

Content works best when it’s fun and friendly. To make sure you do this in your content, look to write in a flavor that’s descriptive of the brand you’re representing.

Whatever you do, don’t write like every word was approved by a board room. Look to be fun and fresh, and you’ll drive more sales.

This recipe description on Huckberry uses the fun nature of the brand to explain the recipe in a casual way and encourage customers to engage more with what Huckberry has to sell.

How to Make a Grilled Cocktail Huckberry

There’s no need to be chummy, but simple sentences and a casual tone will work wonders for your conversion rate.

Include urgency to drive sales

Not every type of content you write needs to include urgency, but if you want to sell more of a product, a little bit of time-sensitive writing can do the trick.

In this piece by Blue Apron, they mention that their summer specialties are only available from July through September.

Blue Apron Blog Blue Apron makes cooking fun and easy We ll provide you with all the ingredients that you need to make a delicious meal in exactly the right proportions

For readers who aren’t members of Blue Apron yet, but want the heirloom tomatoes and other delectables, they’ll need to sign up before the summer menu ends.

This kind of subtle urgency is the perfect way to increase sales without being obvious about it.

Prove your product’s success

I’ve mentioned that you should research your topic thoroughly and provide graphs and data when possible.

But it doesn’t always have to be research you do on the topic elsewhere. Sometimes, the best way to prove your marketing claims is to show them in action with details.

On the IBM blog, they use data, quotes from happy customers, and results to show the viability of their platforms.


If you have case studies and other ways to make your content “provable,” include this in the content you write to demonstrate that your product is a great investment and works well.

Write with authority

No matter how credible your company brand, you can always add more authority by including quotes from others in the industry who know more about a topic than you do.

To do this, drop the names of people you’re quoting, or even conduct interviews with those people individually.

Lululemon does a great job listing the credentials behind chef Haylee LaCroix, whom they interviewed in an article

In The Kitchen with Haylee LaCroix lululemon athletica

This is a great way to show the authority of the brand, while also driving sales through a new audience if Haylee shares the featured spot with her followers.

Leverage the power of reciprocity

One of the strongest, more reliable ways to persuade someone to take action is by using the law of reciprocity.

This law states that you’re more likely to do someone a favor if they do you a favor first. It’s used all the time in everyday life.

It’s the reason you help a friend move or expect to be treated well by a store where you’ve shopped for 20 years.

Well, you can use it in your copy as well. By providing something for free, you can make readers feel a small debt to you.

On the Evernote Blog, the writers provide free templates that readers can use.

Take Evernote Back to School With These Student Templates

This small favor makes readers more likely to do business with the company later.

You can accomplish the same effect by providing templates and free downloads without asking for anything in return.

Show an authentic brand voice

Every brand has a voice, and it’s more persuasive to use that voice than to ignore it.

To use your voice well, understand what your company stands for, and look to use real employees whenever possible.

The Starbucks 1912 Pike blog talks about their employees and issues close to their hearts.

Today Americans know fewer veterans than any other generation 1912 Pike

This is a great way to authentically engage readers with your brand, encourage a positive feeling of your company, and acquire more sales.

Step 5: End with a call to action

It’s time to finish up the content you’ve worked so hard to produce.

But we can’t just leave the reader without a next step. The entire purpose of writing your content is to sell, so let’s ask them to buy, right?

Not so fast.

While you can definitely sell at the end of your content, it might not work in every situation. Most customers will need to learn about your brand a few times before they give you money.

Content marketing is all about building relationships and developing a positive image of your brand, so content that sells doesn’t always lead to a direct sale.

Here’s how you can create compelling calls to action that drive sales in the long term.

Build a brand identity

The first, and simplest, purpose of your content is to influence how the reader perceives your brand.

The Rue Now blog does this by showing extravagant lifestyles and travel destinations.

Panorama Alert These 8 Restaurants Have the Best Views in the World

Even though these aren’t directly related to Rue La La products, the lifestyle the clothing brand represents is reinforced with this type of content.

Drive up anticipation

If you’re working to launch a new product (or product line), you can count on your content marketing to build up excitement for what you’re about to announce.

Target’s blog, entitled “A Bullseye View,” uses content to encourage customers to get excited about upcoming product lines and new brands about to hit the shelves.

Countdown s On Five Things To Know About Target s New Brands Before They Launch This Fall

You can do this for upcoming product launches, feature updates, or even a time when you’ll be opening the cart on a course you created years ago.

Generate more leads

One of the most important conversions in the path from reader to customer is getting the contact information from someone reading your content.

To do this effectively, you should make a pitch for the email address at the bottom of your article. A content upgrade that’d specifically designed to appeal to readers can work well.

On the SAS blog, they close an article with a call to download a free paper.

How do I know what data is available The Data Roundtable

This requires an email address and it’s a great way to get new leads for their products.

Compel readers to share with their friends

Sometimes, the best action for the reader to take is to share your content with their friends.

If you’re in a market that thrives on visual marketing, or already has a well-known brand name, this can be an effective form of driving more sales with your content.

J. Crew is in a visual-heavy industry (fashion) and already has an established brand identity.

It’s no wonder they dedicate more space to getting readers to share their posts than shopping in their online store.

Style Hacks DIY Edition J Crew Blog

While this strategy doesn’t work for everyone, it can be a good way to spread your message and sell more through the process of viral social media sharing.

Get readers to sign up for a free trial

Once you have readers signed up on your email list, you can start marketing to them more effectively.

This strategy might include a free trial or promotional period where they can test your product before buying the full version.

But what if you want to get them to sign up for your product sooner? You can do this effectively by promoting a free trial in your content itself.

On the Buffer blog, readers are directly encouraged to sign up for a free trial of the product.

The Ultimate List of 30 Free Instagram Tools to Grow Your Following

Rather than building an email list of interested readers, Buffer works to build a list of customers using a free trial of the program.

It’s a technique that can work very effectively if you have a SaaS product or other form of subscription model.

Promote an upcoming event

If you have a live event you want to drive customers to, you can use the power of your content to encourage ticket sales and more live attendees.

While this isn’t a common method for many businesses, it’s one of the primary calls to action on the Social Media Examiner website.

Each article concludes with a button that sells tickets to their Social Media Marketing World conference.

How to Create Testimonial Videos Social Media Examiner

By selling their in-person event like this, they can run a massive conference with the tickets sold through their content.

Encourage readers to use your product or service more often

Your call to action may be a subtle encouragement for the reader to start using your product more often, instead of a direct call for leads or customers.

This works best if you have a product that makes money through repeat purchases. A classic example of this technique in action is the Pillsbury recipe site.

Recipes Pillsbury Baking

Without making a direct call to action, each recipe the customer wants to try will likely involve him or her buying more Pillsbury products.

But it can be used in a variety of different contexts and industries.

On the JetBlue blog, the airline discusses the unique features of different destinations.

Of course, readers who are interested in traveling to these places will buy their ticket through JetBlue.

Philly from a Local s Perspective Out of the Blue

This kind of content is a great way to engage customers and sell more without making a direct grab for contact or credit card information.

Convert a reader to a customer

Finally, and most directly, you can make a specific pitch for the reader to buy your product.

If you have an e-commerce store, this is probably the most effective way for you to drive more sales with the content you publish.

Birchbox includes a “Shop this story” section at the bottom of the articles they publish.

It’s a great way to monetize any type of content, while not diluting the story with distracting product links.

The Magazine Birchbox

If you have an e-commerce store, consider adding a section like this to the bottom of your posts to encourage sales of the products you mention in the content you create.


No matter what type of product or service you’re looking to sell, you can turn to content to help you increase revenue and profits.

To write high-converting copy, you need to start with the needs of your audience. What do they care about? What are their struggles and frustrations?

With this in mind, you need to create a staggering piece of excellent content. Your goal is to make content that drives shares, traffic, and increased sales.

As you write the content, include best practices for SEO to ensure you land a great spot on Google’s first page.

To sell more, find persuasion techniques that go well with the content, and include those, too.

Finally, finish your content with a solid call to action to drive maximum customer conversions and sales.

It’s a five-part formula I guarantee will bring you more conversions through the articles you already produce.

How will you optimize your content to sell?

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