Why I Content
In 2020, I wrote a blog post for my former employer titled “What Does a Content Marketing Career Path Look Like?” It was a 3,000+ word manifesto designed to rank for the keyword “content marketing career” (which it now does). The article is perhaps one of the most resonant pieces of content I’ve ever written. To this day, I receive LinkedIn messages like this:
I think people liked the article because I inserted some of my own experience into the story. There are lots of people today producing blogs for companies, but far less who talk about how they got there and why they do it. I know because people keep asking me how I got into this line of work. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing online, it’s that, if people keep asking you the same question, you should write a blog post answering it.
So here’s my sequel to that 2020 post, but not written for the Google algorithm. Instead, I’d like to share my personal content “how” and “why” for anyone who’s ever or will ever ask me about my career path, and for all the folks who may be considering a similar kind of job.
I wrote an amazing short story for my 7th grade English class. It was so good the teacher asked me to read it in front of the entire classroom. That was the moment I realized I have an aptitude for writing. I breezed through high school English, crushed the reading and comprehension section of my ACT, and enrolled in college as a communications major with vague notions of one day becoming an anchor for SportsCenter. In college I launched a blog (the same one you’re reading now) and wrote articles on and off for the student newspaper, but spent a lot more time at the bar than the library. Thus I entered the second half of my senior year without any real post-graduation plan.
That semester I covered an event for the student paper honoring a university professor who had died of ALS. After the ceremony was over, I sat with the man’s widow as she recounted his entire life story. When the article was published a week later, she emailed and said, “I don’t know if you’ve given much thought to your post-graduate plans, but you show a real flair for journalism.”
A real flair for journalism! Me!
After graduation I returned home, dumped all my possessions on the floor, and contemplated my life for two months. In August, off the strength of the ALS professor profile, I landed an internship with a newspaper in Jersey City, NJ. They paid me $10 an hour to receive a crash course in all things journalism: identifying good stories, conducting interviews, writing ledes, writing on deadline, editing, getting chummy with police so they’d call me when there’s breaking news, etc.
One day in court I was chatting with one of the full-time reporters—a kid a few years older than myself who had studied journalism at an Ivy League college. He told me he was making $25k a year. As much as I loved the job, I had ambitions of living in my own apartment, so after 9 I took a job at a major digital media company in New York City.
Here I got a crash course in all things digital journalism: Finding news on Twitter, coming up with a provocative angle, citing information from other reports, and writing catchy Facebook tag lines.
The metric for success was pageviews, because pageviews are what kept the ad money flowing. Every article had a publicly-viewable pageview counter and every writer could see where they ranked in pageviews against every other writer in the company via an internal dashboard. There were also monitors all around the office that displayed traffic to the website, lest you go a minute without knowing how the site was performing.
This type of culture breeds “journalism” like this. I didn’t sign up to make listicles of the Vice President eating ice cream, nor did I think I was particularly good at identifying the types of inane content that goes viral on social media. Fortunately, after 7 months on the job I got a LinkedIn message that would change the trajectory of my nascent career.
If you read the original blog post, you’ll know the LinkedIn message was from a recruiter at Google. Some team at Google decided to hire a bunch of journalists as contractors to write headlines for the Google homepage around popular search terms. I was one of the lucky ones to get the call. I stayed for nearly 3 years, moving progressively further and further away from writing and more towards project management and editorial strategy. I eventually helped launch a Search product called Crisis Response. If you’ve ever Googled “covid,” you’ve seen my work.
Working at Google was great because I got to interact with brilliant people, learn how they think about content, and enjoy all the free meals I could ever want. But being a contractor got old, and I didn’t like how little I was writing. Once it was made clear to me there would be no full-time Google job in my future, I started looking for work.
Around this time I became aware of the existence of “content marketing” as a lower stress / higher paying alternative to journalism. I set up a LinkedIn alert for new jobs with “content marketing” in the description, and in short order had phone interviews at about a half dozen startups. Having Google credentials made me something of a hot commodity (even though I hadn’t written an article professionally in over 2 years), because brands thought I knew something about SEO.
For the unindoctrinated, SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” My soon-to-be boss described SEO as “the art of making Google love you.” The idea being that, if you write content that adheres to a certain set of best practices, Google will reward you by making that content appear at the top of their results pages for the given keyword. Assuming that keyword is associated with buying something, say “best lawnmowers,” and assuming your content provides the searcher the option to buy that thing (e.g., a website for buying lawnmowers), this is a really effective way to acquire new business.
The startup I was hired to work at in 2018 had SEO down to an art form—acquiring more than half their business courtesy of Google. Ironically, I knew nothing about SEO because why would anyone at Google need to know how to game their own algorithm? I kept this to myself and rode the wave of their SEO success. Over the next 1.5 years I wrote over 100 long-form SEO articles plus another 50+ videos for the world’s second-largest search engine: YouTube.
Armed with this valuable SEO knowledge, I landed a more senior role at another startup just before the pandemic with a mandate to get us ranking in Google.
Now I was in the driver’s seat. I got to choose what to write about, when to write about it, how to distribute and promote it, how to gauge performance, and how to scale operations. It’s one thing to create content because someone else is telling you to create content. It’s another to create content and own the outcome.
Building on my previous experience, I created a list of keywords related to the business and mapped articles to it. I had my theory on why the content I was creating would work, but my imposter syndrome was dialed up to 11. Then the funniest thing happened: it did work. All told I got around a dozen articles ranking highly for important keywords in just under a year on the job.
I’d still be at my former employer today writing content similar to the careers post if not for another fortuitous LinkedIn message—this time from the Head of Marketing at AngelList Venture.
She was looking to bring someone on who could implement a more holistic content strategy—not just SEO, but also thought leadership, data reports, employer branding, customer stories, and whatever else could amplify the brand.
It was a really good opportunity to learn a lot of things I didn’t know alongside a lot of really smart people. I landed the job off the strength of a good writing test and a vision for content at AngelList that I expounded upon during my three rounds of interviews.
In January of 2021, I started work as AngelList’s content marketing manager.
When the AngelList job offer came in, it was hard to not remark on how quickly I’d risen the ranks—from aspiring journalist to senior-level content manager in just 5 years. I’ll credit some of this to my work ethic and determination, but I also had several trends working in my favor:
- The decreasing ROI of paid marketing
- The rise of personal brands
On the former, content is a compounding growth channel. My former employer could have taken out a Google ad for the keyword “content marketing career” to drive traffic to the site, but its impact would have been ephemeral (once the ad stops, the traffic drops). Instead, they paid me, I invested 8 hours, and now they’ll collect traffic for that keyword in perpetuity (unless something changes with the Google algorithm).
On the latter, everyone is trying to be more humanizing / authentic. It’s an extremely effective way to sell. So when I write an interesting story for our blog that’s only marginally related to our products and services, it fosters more good will with the market than any sort of ad or promotional campaign.
It’s been amazing to see more and more brands taking content seriously, if for no other reason than it gives lots of bright, creative people good jobs doing interesting work. I’ve learned more lessons than I can count during my time at AngelList, and I have the freedom to experiment in ways that I find most engaging. Aside from managing our blog and scaling SEO, I write landing pages, work on go-to-market strategies, oversee social media, manage our marketing website, collaborate with designers and illustrators, report on performance, and manage freelancers and vendors.
More importantly, I feel like I’ve opened a ton of doors for myself: I could transition into a different marketing role, I could spin up my own freelance practice, or I could even launch an agency. And I still have time to work on creative side-projects.
I truly believe this kind of growth is possible for anyone with curiosity and some writing chops. But colleges aren’t teaching writers how to be content marketers. There’s no roadmap to get into this line of work—which is why everyone keeps asking how I ended up here. I hope sharing this story helps clear some of that up. In short, I fell backwards into a career I like. If you’re trying to go the same route, might I suggest…
- Asking to write something for your company’s blog.
- Starting your own blog and sharing your ideas.
You’ll be amazed how fast you can build an audience and connect with like-minded people just by publishing content on the internet. Brands know this, hence why people like me have a job.
I think content marketing is one of the greatest things to happen to folks who like to write. We finally have a seat at the business table alongside engineers, salespeople, and designers. If you’re interesting in learning more about a career in content marketing, I’d be happy to share more about my own experience and offer advice: email@example.com