Lisa Parmley is a content marketer and entrepreneur who runs coursemethod.com.
She started content marketing in 2001 when she began her first business helping people pass a test. From there, she built 3 other businesses that have all focused heavily on content marketing.
Course Method is a company that features interviews with online course creators and advice in the digital training space
How did you get into content/marketing? What’s your origin story?
I started my first online business in 2001. At that time, the online landscape was very different, but in many ways, the same principles still hold. I built my website using an inexpensive Yahoo web hosting plan and site builder that doesn’t even exist anymore.
After working for about a year on my product (which was a training course initially offered as a set of books) and building my site, I got no sales. Practically no one even came to visit my site.
I had to offer up my product on eBay to make my first sale.
Even after that, which was probably a few months after I launched, I still had next to no visitors.
The few I had came from a listing in the Yahoo Directory because people searched that way back then.
At that time, my site was maybe only five pages, a contact page, the home page where I covered my training course, an about page, and a couple of legal pages.
The few visitors I had would often ask me questions related to what I sold. So I started putting articles together to help them and publishing them on the site. Over time, I added at least 15 articles on related topics. These included answers to questions people would ask and explanations on topics I thought made sense to cover.
I did all this in the first year of launching my business. I found it made a difference to my revenue, so I just kept growing from there.
I’ve launched several other online businesses since 2001, and content marketing is still my top method for getting traffic.
I could never find a magic button to make the traffic appear (believe me, I looked), so I gave up and make sure to publish good content instead.
What’s the most surprisingly difficult aspect of building a content-based business?
Coming up with topics you think people will be interested in can be fun, but also difficult. You don’t want to spam out content; you want to be relevant.
In reality, that’s a fine line to walk.
Also, after you have a lot of content, it works out better to start ‘pruning’ it. For that, you can check out your statistics with Google Analytics and see which pieces of content are bringing you the most traffic. You can cut out and combine articles to keep your site highly relevant and authoritative.
The thing is, it’s painful because these are all articles you may have worked hard on. But often they’re holding your site back, especially if it’s content you need to update.
Again, it goes back to publishing a lot of quality content versus publishing the highest quality content and where you want to fit in.
Another difficult aspect is that when you start becoming popular, you’ll have people copy you. It’s easy for everyone to see that you’re in the top spot on Google for a competitive keyword and figure out you’re making money. So you’ll have people buy a similar domain name to you as well as write articles on all the same topics as you.
For another business, not my first business, but one I started later, I was matching people to colleges based on career preferences. It wasn’t the most inspired business idea; there were already a lot of sites that do this (and still are).
But I did have a unique angle to it, and after I started earning a decent amount of money (like somewhere in the $20,000/month range), I got copied left and right. It was brutal.
They weren’t copying my content word for word, so there was nothing I could do about it. Smart people see what’s working and make slight adjustments to call your hard work their own.
You’ve got to keep figuring out how to stay unique and fresh. That can be a surprise you’ll experience once you’ve got something popular going.
What are the most interesting lessons you’ve learned from building several content-heavy businesses?
To go along with what I mentioned above, you have to stay fresh, unique, and relevant.
The reality is, you were probably the only one doing whatever unique thing boosted your site to the level of popularity it achieved, and now you have copycats. Often that means there’s no place in your niche to gain any inspiration from. That’s because most all of them are copying you.
I’ve learned to look outside my niche for that inspiration and adjust it to make sense for my needs. You can start with popular markets like weight loss or online business and see what the major sites in those niches are doing. You might be able to tailor unique aspects of what you see for your business and stand apart again (at least for a little while).
Another thing that goes along with that is when you find something that’s working; you need to be able to scale it quickly. Otherwise, if the copycats realize what you’re doing is working, and they can scale it, they’ll overtake you.
Scaling often means you need to start outsourcing or hiring, both of which require a different set of skills, usually involving project management.
The ability to stay organized will help tremendously when you get to that point. You can’t do it alone, and you need to be OK in a manager/CEO role where you’re not doing everything. Otherwise, you can’t scale to the point where you need to be.
What skills do you believe all content marketers need to have to succeed now and in the future?
Tying it back to what I just mentioned, I think outsourcing is vital. If you think content marketing is just writing blog posts and then clicking publish, you’ll miss out on a lot of traffic.
There’s a lot more you can do.
For instance, content marketing can include breaking the content down into social media assets, getting your social media scheduled, outreach to the people and sites that may care the most about your content, potentially turning text content into video and audio or vice versa.
There’s a lot right there that turns even a weekly blog post into a ton of work. Besides, you need to strategize topics and, of course, stay fresh and relevant. The ability to get some help and build a team so you’re doing the best you can is important.
Is there anything specific to your background or personality you attribute to your ability to succeed in content marketing?
I like to write and research. I think those are two great skills to have as a content marketer, so I fit the mold from the start. And that’s probably why I’m still doing it!
I also really got into SEO early on, which was a problem and had advantages all at the same time.
I say it was a problem because back ten years ago or more, we were all building links like crazy in ways considered black hat or at the very least gray hat now. Taking the link building craze aside, though, learning about SEO early on helped me in a lot of onsite SEO ways, which is heavily related to content marketing.
Just through the content you write, you can get massive amounts of traffic from keywords, so it’s important to look at that when you come up with topics. Doing it in a way that isn’t off-putting for real visitors is crucial, but you still should be writing around the topics people search for if you want to attract traffic from search engines.
How do you plan out goals and metrics to focus on with CourseMethod.com? What are your KPIs or North Star Metric?
List building is my major focus.
Seeing my number of subscribers increase is a KPI and a top goal. It’s more of a lagging indicator though since you work on some aspect of your site or networking and then you see your subscribers increase. I’ve gotten better at figuring out the more present indicators that I can control.
For instance, I’m putting together a big guest blogging campaign, which I think is a great way for course creators to help drive traffic to their sites. Course creators are often experts and authorities, and writing great content for top sites is a great way to be seen as an authority as well as all the other benefits you’re going to get from having those links on top sites.
But with guest blogging as an example, I can only control how many emails I send out. I can’t even control the number of guest posts I publish since the sites can ultimately reject all my posts.
You have to turn it into a number’s game and focus on what you do control. For instance, if you want 20 guest posts published in the first quarter of the year, how many emails do you need to send out? It’s, unfortunately, going to be a lot more than 20. All you can do is focus on what you can control.
Taking it even further, then how much traffic do you get from all those guest posts? And from there, how many subscribers do you get? You don’t know the answers to these questions (no one would), so you have to do your best with some estimates and then track your progress.
I try to work backward to reach my goals. Once I get some data, I can get close to figuring it out, but even then, it’s all just a best hypothesis and numbers game.
What’s your biggest pet peeve in marketing or trend you wish would die out?
I don’t know that I have a pet peeve other than that I see a lot of people talking about how they started way back in 2016, 2014, or some date like that. I have to laugh a little since that’s not that long ago.
I also find it funny how people like to talk about how things have changed so much from year to year. People publish content based on the fear of missing out stating things like, “online marketing is going to change drastically from 2019 to 2020, you better keep up”.
The reality is it’s not going to change much.
The main principles have all stayed the same over the last two decades.
There’s no magic bullet to getting high rankings on Google, YouTube, Pinterest, or any other site. Generally speaking you have to publish the best content on any given topic and then network with other people online.
Do you have any tips for those looking to scale out content production without sacrificing quality?
Yes, you have to find good writers and maybe an editor. It’s obvious, but there’s no way around it. You can run your content through a grammar checking software, but that only gets you so far.
If you’re short on time and money and cannot hire good writers, then use the money you have to invest in tools to research the best topics for you to write on. If you can only write one piece of content a month, then you want to leverage that piece of content to bring in the most traffic. Spend the little time and money you do have to make sure you choose wisely.
Then also do a lot of outreach to get that content out there as best you can.
From where do you draw your inspiration? What books, podcasts, blogs, etc. do you regularly follow, or which ones changed how you look at marketing/the world?
Like mentioned, I like to look outside the markets I’m in for inspiration. Otherwise, I’d end up doing what everyone else is doing. I don’t like being another ‘me-too’ marketer.
It just seems so pointless, you know why even bother at that point because you’re not adding value, it’s all already been done. But sometimes it’s challenging to come up with a way out of that. So I end up drawing more inspiration from random places just from searching around than from the top blogs in my markets.
I’ve been reading more lately and hope I can keep up that habit. I’m interested in processes and systems, so lately I’ve read everything Ari Meisel publishes, the 12 Week Year, and Simple Success Plans by Laura Posey.
I love publishing course creator interviews on my site. I’ll probably keep doing that because I get so much value out of it. I hope others do as well. It’s so nice to hear all the different perspectives from people in the same line of business.
And so many of them use a form of content marketing to build up their business. It’s inspiring to hear from people who started blogging or creating YouTube videos maybe 2 to 3 times a week a couple of years ago and now that supports a multiple-6-figure business.
Gimme three tips to improve my writing? (What can anyone do to be a better content/copywriter)
I believe researching your topic and outlining your content will yield the biggest improvements, more than just about anything else. I know I’ll suffer through reading a poorly written article (even one written by someone who doesn’t speak English that well) if it’s got the information I want.
So figuring out that information upfront will greatly improve anyone’s writing. What are the secrets to the topic you’re covering? What are those very specific details that make all the difference for the reader? Figure those out and write content or create videos around those things.
Being able to write conversationally is also helpful. So if you can find your voice and then write it out, your content will come out better. Knowing what you want to say helps with that too. Also, I find that being able to type almost as quickly as I think it is very helpful. Fast typing is something that will happen with time and practice and then editing several times, making sure to keep that conversational flow.