In this post I will show you how to become a thought leader in your industry AND drive tons of traffic from Google.

Plus, you’ll get there by having your customers doing all the work for you (and they’ll love you for it)!

 I appreciate this sounds like a snake oil marketing promise, but it is so easy you’ll slap your forehead having not done this before. 

How do you become a thought-leader?

Thought leaders are the go-to sources of information and opinion. They set the standard by which all others are judged, and aspire to.

They get there by producing the most linked to, shared and discussed content in their industry.

Take a look at moz.com, a perfect case study of this in action. Their SEO blog was the catalyst that propelled them to being the de facto source of SEO news and ideas.

Their readers then coalesced into a community, which Moz were extremely quick to capitalise on, and to their credit, proactively develop.

The bad news is producing great content is extremely resource intensive. The internet is hungry for new content, and the shelf-life for many posts is extremely limited.

“Hey, great post today….what have you got tomorrow?”

Think long-term

What you need to produce is ‘evergreen content’.

This is content that is both awesome, and has an extremely limited time decay. This means it can be shared for a long time.

Here are some great examples of this:

Now, the problem here is, although they are one-offs, they also take a long time to write, and are they are expensive to have designed to a professional standard.

Quick Sprout’s Neil Patel has stated his content marketing guide cost him $10,000 to produce.

What we are looking for is content that:

  1. Positions you as a thought leader
  2. Google loves and ranks high
  3. Your customers love you for
  4. Your customers create

 The answer is a community written, industry-leading tutorial and support database (aka a ‘Knowledge Base’) 

Be THE place to go for help and guidance

Support databases are not as sexy as an infographic, or as satisfying to write as a quirky blog post, but they have the potential to be a huge deal for your business.

Take a look at this in action with leading hosting company Digital Ocean.

They dominate huge swathes of research-based and support-based search queries e.g.

how to secure my vps Google Search

Thanks to the number of people linking to those useful articles, they also rank high for incredibly competitive transactional searches.

ssd cloud server Google Search

This ticks off thought-leadership, Google love (through keyword optimised content and people sharing your super-useful tutorials/articles), and customer love (for being so helpful and authoritative).

 That’s all great, but I also promised that your customers would do all the work for you! Read on to find out how. 

The awesome thing is, Digital Ocean’s community helped write a large part of it for them: https://www.digitalocean.com/community/get-paid-to-write 

DO get paid to write

This meant they could scale their Knowledge Base much faster than they ever could have doing it all in-house (breadth and depth), and at a much cheaper rate compared to hiring a professional technical writer.

You can do exactly the same.

How to create and populate your own Knowledge Base

Step 1: The software/platform

I strongly recommend using purpose built software for this.

Simply adding pages to your website will make it extremely difficult to manage as you grow, and you won’t have access to the same reporting and user feedback tools (top searches, ratings, comments, idea submissions etc).

A lot of companies use software called PHPKB (http://www.knowledgebase-script.com/). The latest version hosted on your own webspace is currently a one off fee of $350. I have hands on experience of setting up a Knowledge Base with this, and it is all positive.

Alternatively, if you use WordPress, there are themes and plugins to integrate a Knowledge Base, one of the most popular being here http://codecanyon.net/item/knowledge-base-wiki-wordpress-plugin/5758910..

There are SaaS options out there, including ZenDesk, HelpJuice  and GrooveHQ.

However I haven’t used them, and they are all perpetual costs (i.e. monthly fees), plus you lose access if you cancel.

Step 2: Planning your structure and content

Start by creating a structure plan/hierarchy for your Knowledge Base. This will make your life much easier as the project develops, and it will also speed everything up.

An example:

  • Category: The top-level group, typically quite broad e.g. Databases
  • Sub-category: Sub-sections of the main category, getting more specific e.g. MySQL databases
  • Article: Have one article cover one topic to make it easy for people to find and read e.g. How to backup a MySQL database

In terms of deciding what content to write, start by researching the most common questions your target audience are looking for answers to.

Some ideas to get this information include:

  • Your own support team – What questions are they  repeatedly asked by your customers? What boilerplate answers have they got prepared because they have to answer that question so often?
  • Google keyword planner – A huge driver for doing this is attracting new traffic via Google. With this in mind, use search demand to guide your articles.
  • Ask your customers – Set up a form online or send an email asking what they would like help with.
  • Your competitors – What support content do they have that is linked to a lot? Use tools like Open Site Explorer.

Step 3: Getting your community involved

The quickest way to grow your Knowledge Base, with the least amount of effort, is through community submitted articles.

The danger here is being swamped by low quality, content thin articles.

You can put a stop to this before it starts by laying out very clear guidelines about what you expect. E.g. https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-write-an-article-for-the-digitalocean-community.

Some of your customers will do all this because they love you, and others because they love the topic in hand. However, these will be a relatively small pool.

The real motivator will come from being paid.

The mechanisms for receiving, reviewing and publishing the articles will vary based on your software choices and the size of your team.

You need to put in place a process that:

  • Stores and categorises the submitted articles ready for review
  • Has clear quality and tone of voice guidelines for the reviewer to follow
  • Allows for feedback and/or editing if necessary
  • Places the article in a queue to be published
  • Publishes the article at an agreed time
  • Gathers feedback on the article (page views, ratings, comments…)
  • Pays the author in a timely and accurate manner

If you choose to go with purpose made Knowledge Base software, this will come with features to accept and review submissions. PayPal can cover the payments.

Step 4: Writing/editing content

When writing and editing the content, always be thinking about a) Usability and b) SEO.

Usability comes from easy to read, focused articles. My tips are; keep your articles to a minimum (don’t fluff them out for fluff’s sake), don’t try to sell your products to the detriment of the content and stay focused on one topic per article.

On-site SEO is very easy. All you need to do is make sure your target keywords are being used in:

  • The article page’s <title>
  • The URL
  • The headline
  • The main body’s content
  • Internal linking to that page

Step 5: Open it up to the world (and Google) to see and share

The worst thing you can do is hide all of this great content behind a login where the public and Google can’t get to it.

Your instinct may be to restrict your support articles yo just your customers, but that would be a huge mistake.

Open access support databases actually increase sales, through traffic generated via informational searches performed by non-customers.

They find you, they love you, they buy from you, they share you (SEO bump)… and the wonderful cycle all starts all again with another visitor.

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