The problem with most online courses about content marketing is that they’re too theoretical. They teach high-level concepts, but they don’t teach you how to actually do content marketing to grow your own business (or one that you work for).
For example, many of the courses we analyze below teach you things such as:
- Search engine traffic is “free” traffic that keeps coming without you doing anything (True).
- You should write about things your audience cares about (True).
- Content can build authority (True).
All of those statements may be true, but they’re all kinds of obvious for anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of content marketing. Sure, if you’re an absolute beginner and have no idea what content marketing is, then it could be good to give you some context. But do you really need a whole course to teach you things like this? You could just Google “Intro to Content Marketing” and be up to speed in 30 minutes.
Also, this kind of high-level theory doesn’t teach you how to come up with an actionable content strategy and execute on it. What keywords should you focus on that will drive business? If you’re trying to rank for “best accounting software,” what type of article do you write to do that? Yes, “writing about stuff your audience cares about” is good, but which topics do you prioritize? Yes, “content should build authority,” but how do you actually measure if it’s working?
The content marketing courses we’ve taken — discussed in depth below — don’t go into this level of detail. Few of them teach the practical, actionable parts of content marketing in detail.
So if you’re looking for a good content marketing course, or say, the best content marketing course, what should you look for?
This article will cover what to look for in a top content marketing course, then we’ll analyze four of the most popular content marketing courses using this criteria, including our own, and discuss pros and cons.
Since this a long guide, here is a Table of Contents:
- Criteria: What should the best content marketing courses teach?
- Our Content Marketing Course: Detailed analysis of how we stack up against the criteria.
- Hubspot’s Content Marketing Course: “Content Marketing.”
- UC Davis and CopyBlogger’s Course: “The Strategy of Content Marketing.”
- Ahrefs’ Course: “Blogging for Business.”
Criteria: What Should the Best Content Marketing Courses Actually Teach?
We’ve thought about this question deeply since we’ve had our own content marketing course and community for years. Here’s where we’ve settled.
Vanity Metrics Don’t Help You, Yet Most Content Marketing Courses Focus On Them
First, recognize that “content marketing” is not the end goal. Getting more customers is. So a good content marketing course needs to teach you how to get more customers. In marketing, this is usually measured via leads, signups, or demos, of which some known percentage converts to customers.
This sounds obvious, but the popular content marketing courses we’ve looked at don’t cover this. They focus on things that happen before you get leads or customers: how many blog posts to publish, setting up a content calendar, getting social shares, and even getting traffic. These things are not directly correlated to getting customers. Often, they aren’t correlated at all (more on that below). So, we call those things “vanity metrics.”
If “learning content marketing” means you learn how to optimize for vanity metrics — such as blog traffic — you won’t get as many customers as you could (or, often, many at all). So you won’t actually be a good content marketer. Or if you’re a founder or entrepreneur, you won’t learn how to grow your business with content.
The Four Tactical Criteria of Doing High-Quality Content Marketing
So how do you actually get leads and customers from content? In addition to our course, we’ve run a content marketing agency for years, where we actually do this work day to day. And in our experience, to get qualified leads from content, your system needs four parts:
1. Content marketing strategy: Picking topics that bring in qualified leads and customers, and de-prioritizing the rest.
2. Content writing: Writing high-quality pieces on those topics that teach customers something they don’t already know.
3. Content promotion: Driving traffic to those pieces from places where your customers already hang out.
4. Conversions and Measurements: Turning traffic to those pieces into customers, and knowing how to measure it.
If you can do those four things (we can call them content marketing foundations), you have the skills to be world class. You can walk into any business (or start your own) and:
- Pick topics that bring in the right prospective customers (Strategy)
- Produce really specific, original, high-quality content that actually teaches them something new and doesn’t sound like everything else (Writing)
- Have a process for consistently driving the right traffic to those pieces (Promotion)
- Convert visitors and, just as importantly, measure the conversions that come from the content piece by piece, so you know what’s working and can show your value to stakeholders — be it bosses, management, or clients (Conversions and Measurement).
The Fifth Criterion That Helps You Learn and Grow
Finally, there’s a fifth component that’s not a skill, per se; it’s support.
Any creative, complex skill like content marketing (or, for that matter, online marketing in general) is not something you learn by reading one book, taking one course, or trying it once and then you’re done.
It’s not riding a bike. No one says, “OK, I can content market now! Next skill…”
It’s hard. It takes time. You feel like you’re getting better for a while, then you hit a setback and feel like an imposter. This is normal.
So you need support: people to ask questions, places to share your work and get feedback, etc.
So look for this too. A course that has a thriving, active community aspect will help a lot more than a static, “Here’s a bunch of videos. You’re on your own. Good luck.” course.
So with these five criteria for a good content marketing course set, let’s evaluate several of the top content marketing courses through this lens and see how they stack up. We’ll start with our own and discuss how we approach each of those five criteria above, then we’ll evaluate:
- Hubspot’s “Content Marketing” course.
- UC Davis and Copyblogger’s course on Coursera.
- Ahrefs’ “Blogging for Business” course.
- And a quick scan of other content marketing courses on Lynda and Coursera via this criteria.
Grow and Convert’s Content Marketing Course
We obviously built our course around the five components above because we think they’re that important. Let’s walk through each, so you can see for yourself if you think it’s compelling and judge how it compares to the other courses.
If you want to learn more about our course or sign up, you can do so here.
Criterion #1: Content Strategy: Does It Teach You How to Come Up With Ideas That Convert?
There are two aspects to how we teach content strategy that make our course different from the rest.
First, we teach a process that is laser focused on getting customers, not vanity metrics such as social shares and traffic. Everything we teach around picking content topics and prioritizing them is built with that in mind: Which blog posts will get the most highly qualified customers into this business?
Second, we teach by case studying how to approach content strategy for real businesses. We think teaching content strategy by example (i.e., case studies) for different types of businesses is crucial because theory is too abstract. In content marketing, theory easily bleeds into the obvious: “Be helpful to the audience!” “Have variety!” “Write about what they care about!”
Okay, but how? If you’re working on a specific business that sells a specific product, what do you write today? How do you know it will convert? What role do SEO and keywords play? Which topics should you write first?
In our experience, it’s hard to answer those questions in theory. You need to do content strategy for different businesses and build a content plan for each to show how you would answer those questions in real life.
(If you’re curious, our theory for content strategy — i.e., picking high-converting topics — is here, but even that post includes a case study, and the “theory” was developed from our actual experience at our agency).
Second, strategy is simply different for different businesses, so seeing it in action on different business types is important.
So here’s a short walkthrough of the content strategy section (Module 1) of our course:
You can see it’s built around case studies of four different types of businesses (and one of ours coming soon):
- A B2C business.
- A SaaS business.
- A Service business.
- An Ecommerce business.
Each of those lessons explains our process and shows it in action as we talk to the founding team to learn about their business and customers:
Then we turn those learnings into a spreadsheet of content topics and explain what we’re doing and why at every step:
We share the spreadsheet for each of the case studies so you can see the content ideas yourself. We end each video like the one above with our exact recommendation for the question, “If we were starting content for this company today, what are the first three pieces we would write and why?”
It doesn’t get more practical and more actionable than that.
So if you’re trying to learn content marketing to apply it to a B2C marketplace business, a B2B service, a SaaS business, or an D2C Ecommerce business, you can watch us actually build a content strategy for each of those businesses and explain what we’re doing and why at each step — so you can do the same thing for your business (or your client’s or company’s).
Community Support in Content Strategy
Finally, as we’ll discuss more below, because our course is built into a community (we literally built it on top of community/forum software), members can start their own topics inside each module.
So in the content strategy section, for example, members can share their topic of keyword spreadsheets and get feedback from us, the instructors, and from other members:
In each of the threads above, a member has shared the business they’re working on, the ideas they have, or where they’re stuck, and we (Benji or Devesh) have responded with our feedback, as have other members.
For example, here is Benji responding to one of the threads:
Criterion #2: Writing: Does It Teach You How to Write High-Quality Posts That Don’t Seem Beginner to Your Customer?
Like all of the popular content marketing courses we evaluate in this article, our course also focuses on written blog content, not videos or other content formats. (There’s a reason: That’s what’s indexed by Google the most, so it gives you the best chance of getting the most customers). So learning how to write a good blog post is really important.
But writing is nuanced. It’s complex. There are entire college majors, PhD programs, and libraries of books on writing (our favorite for non-fiction writing is the classic On Writing Well by William Zinsser).
But most content marketing courses don’t teach writing at all. Some simply tell you to Google how to write a blog post and practice (Ahrefs), and others replace teaching writing with teaching about the surrounding elements of a blog post: images, headers, line breaks (Hubspot). But how to structure the HTML of a blog post isn’t the same as how to write a good blog post.
Still others, when talking about how to write a good blog post, just give some general, high-level tips: “Write a catchy headline”; “Focus on the intro because it’s important”; “Include some humor”; “Have a personality.”
Yeah, but how? What’s the difference between a good post and a bad post? How do I produce the good ones?
So instead, what anchors our course’s writing section is in-depth, line-by-line breakdowns of good and bad blog post examples for each lesson we teach.
For example, we start with the fundamental lesson of finding the right angle and hitting the right expertise level of the target customer:
In that lesson, we give multiple video breakdowns of good and bad examples so you can see, in detail, what to do and what not to do:
We then include four additional lessons for four different types of blog posts you’ll likely use over and over again in your content marketing. In each, we walk through multiple examples of good and bad blog posts.
Finally, in addition to line-by-line breakdowns of writing, we cover two essential process lessons in producing blog posts.
First, our process for using expert interviews to produce high-quality pieces:
Just this process itself will separate your blog content from competitors, who produce blog posts by asking freelance writers to Google around and pretend to be experts in a topic.
Then we share and teach how to use our questionnaire process for forming the angle of a post and outlining it before ever writing.
This is what we mean when we say to find a course that’s actionable and that shows you how to actually do content marketing: showing the actual steps we take and breaking down actual blog posts, to show the process in action.
You can take this information and use it immediately: Use the questionnaire, conduct interviews, and see exact breakdowns of the type of post you’re going to write, so you can write the good version and avoid the bad one.
Criterion #3: Promotion: Getting Your Content in Front of Target Customers
Every content marketing course (or even blog post) tells you this cliche: It’s not enough to write a post — you need people to see it!
Of course, but how? And what people?
Here’s how promotion advice typically works.
First, everyone who talks about content promotion talks about SEO (search engine optimization). We do too. SEO is a given. No one is teaching written content marketing and not talking about SEO, because in the end, Google gives you sustainable, free traffic that flows day and night, without you having to do anything or pay anything.
But SEO can take time. So how do you drive traffic to your posts in the short term? What other marketing channels do you use?
A lot of courses and content marketers share a buffet of tactics: Try webinars! Try guest posting! Use Linkedin! The Hubspot course as we discuss below even lists “word of mouth” as a promotion tactic.
We believe the buffet approach is not helpful in a course. Imagine buying a weight loss course and they simply list out a bunch of weight loss ideas you could try, all of which you’ve heard before:
- Try eating less carbs.
- Try eating just whole foods.
- Try eating less.
- Try fasting.
- Try running.
- Try weights.
- Try Pilates.
That’s not helpful, and you’ve already heard of those things a million times. When you buy courses, you don’t want them to give you a quick hitting list of things you could try. You can read a blog post for that.
You want it to tell you what works and show you exactly how to do it.
So for that reason, we cover the three things that have actually worked for us (in addition to our SEO lesson):
- Paid promotion (without a huge spend).
- Communities and PR.
All three have this one thing in common: You’re getting your content in places that already have collected large numbers of your target customers:
- Paid promotion with targeting so you can get it in front of your target audience.
- Sharing with influencers that already have an audience of your target customer.
- Posting in communities or publications that large numbers of your audience already read.
You can see in the screenshot above that we continue the case study based theme of our course in the promotion module.
We don’t think it’s that useful to say, for example, “go find some communities where your audience hangs out, and promote there.” Introductory-level advice like that is not actionable — it just triggers more questions from the learner:
- Which communities?
- How do I find them?
- Do I just post my article? Won’t they hate me though?
- And on and on.
So we show it in action by screen sharing and discussing how we would actually execute on these strategies, using real companies we’ve profiled all over the course:
… Even dissecting emails to send to the influencer line by line:
… Or researching and finding the right communities to promote in (and linking to the exact communities we’d target for that company):
The entire promotion section is full of these tactical tutorials, lesson after lesson:
- How we do research for ranking a piece before we write it.
- How we do on-page SEO optimization using a tool called Clearscope.
- How we identified a piece to pitch to publications for our client, Circuit.
- How we listed and found journalists to pitch to.
We think this kind of “stand over our shoulder while you watch us do this” learning is far more valuable than theory.
Criterion #4: Conversions and Measurements:
Most content marketing courses are grossly lacking in this category, and “conversions” usually means “slap on an email capture form” or “ask the reader to download an e-book” (common digital marketing tactics in general).
But emails and e-book downloads don’t show buying intent for your product. You need leads, demos, signups, or even direct sales.
So we talk about two things here that cover this process:
First, what do you actually do on the blog to convert pageviews to leads or sales?
- Should you get people to download an ebook? Join an email list? Or request a demo or fill a sales form?
- Why do we suggest the latter in that list?
- What is the math behind that?
- What are some exceptions to this rule and nuances around when to customize things?
Second, how do you measure this?
We do that in the measurement lesson and walk through how to do it in Google Analytics, the most ubiquitous analytics tool for most companies today.
Criterion #5: The Community: Getting Support so You’re Not Left by Yourself
Lastly, we’ve mentioned above that we built our course into a community. Let’s look at a few more benefits of that.
First, it means every lesson is a sticky “post” in a forum, and the layout encourages members to respond, interact, and tag each other. For example, in the conversion section we just discussed, people reply with questions in the lesson itself like this:
And we (or other members) respond with answers and often, screenshots or additional video walkthroughs:
But the community extends beyond that. As we discussed in the strategy section above, members post their actual work and get feedback: keyword spreadsheets, actual blog posts, etc.
Finally, we also have regular live Q&A Zoom calls, where we walk through members’ businesses, and they discuss where they are stuck or questions they have. We problem-solve live, on screen share, right then and there:
This turns what could have been a static “You’re on your own” course into a community, with support, interaction, and idea sharing. This is how you get results and grow.
If You Want to Join, Here’s How
If after reading this, you’re interested in learning more and joining our course and community called “G&C Members,” you can do that here.
HubSpot’s ‘Content Marketing’ Course
HubSpot, of course, is one of the largest content marketing software companies around, and their content marketing course reflects some of that large-company operational thinking.
Although we disagree with a few of their ideas (explained below), overall, we do think it’s a decent option for a beginner level introduction to the basics of content marketing (or in their words, “inbound marketing”). Occasionally, it does go beyond theory to list specific tactics, but it lacks concrete case studies — so you’re largely left to figure out the details of implementing the ideas on your own.
Let’s see how it fairs in our five-criteria test of getting real business results from content.
#1: Content Marketing Strategy (Hubspot’s Course)
As a reminder, our “content strategy” criterion is: Does the course teach you how to build a content strategy of blog post topics that bring in qualified leads?
The Hubspot content marketing course gives several ideas for coming up with content ideas, but most of it is beginner level theory or sometimes, borderline cliche — for example, the lesson, “Where do ideas come from?” talks about going for a walk to think of ideas, ideas coming when you least expect them, and that you should keep a swipe file or store the ideas somewhere. In our view, you don’t really need a course to tell you that.
One suggestion that stood out to us is to use BuzzSumo to find content topics in your niche. BuzzSumo ranks content by social shares, so doing this means you would be prioritizing traffic and social “virality” in your content strategy. You may be thinking “Great! What’s wrong with that? I’ve heard of ‘viral marketing’ before.”
In our experience, a lot is wrong with this.
As we explained in detail above, what does well on social or what generates a lot of traffic, in our experience, is not the same as what converts. Often, high traffic online content is, by nature, top of funnel. That is, it’s broadly appealing. This content can be fine for brand building, but we’ve measured hundreds of blog posts now, over dozens of clients, and we can say unequivocally that top-of-funnel posts convert to leads way less than bottom-of-funnel, high-conversion-intent posts.
That said, we do agree with some of their ideation tactics on a theoretical level, though:
- Using Quora: Looking at what questions folks in your target market ask on a topic can be a good idea.
- Google suggested search: We’ve written about using Google suggested search to find specific ideas in depth before.
- Talking to your company: This can also be a great idea, especially if you talk to folks that interface directly with customers and ask them about customer questions (not to be confused with asking them to come up with content topics for you; that’s your job).
Still, where the course is lacking, in our opinion, is in teaching how to prioritize high-converting ideas over everything else that doesn’t convert well.
It’s not that hard to come up with general topics that you could possibly conceive the customer caring about, and yes, Quora, customer surveys, and Google autocomplete can help.
But that’s not the hard part.
The hard part is filtering and prioritizing those ideas to the ones that will most likely convert traffic into customers. What types of content or topics will bring in your best customers? How much bottom of funnel vs. top of funnel awareness content should you do? Which should you do first? How do you decide?
The course is largely silent on that. In fact, it specifically says to write content about your industry and not yourself, which means top of funnel content for people who have never heard of you.
But — as we touched on above and have discussed at length in our public blog posts like this one — almost always, the best bottom-of-funnel, high-converting content is for keywords and topics where the reader already knows about your space and is actively looking for a solution. In that case, you should write about yourself.
The course in general is more about generating a mass of ideas through any means possible. That may be fine for a big company that is playing a content volume game, but for the vast majority of companies, that is a huge mistake. You will burn so many hours and so much money and resources generating content that does little to generate real business, while a handful of ideas that could have generated a bunch of leads, trials, demos, or sales are going undiscovered by you — because the framework you learned for content strategy didn’t even prioritize customer and leads.
#2: Writing (Hubspot’s Course)
Like most of the courses we evaluated, Hubspot’s writing section is mostly about basic blog post structure that you could learn by Googling “how to structure a blog post” or “blog post on page seo.” These include tips about: using a featured image, using short paragraphs, breaking up your content with headers (H2, H3, etc.), how much to bold sentences, throwing images in, and more.
We don’t disagree with any of those content creation tips (though we disagree with the extended discussion on using popups), but what’s important is: These details are unrelated to good writing.
It’s like asking about forming a good strategy to win a tough football game and being told things about wearing uniforms and stretching. Sure, those things are things you should do, but they’re basic. If your opponent is instead focusing on actual game strategy and you’re only ironing your jersey and stretching, you’re not going to win.
So what’s not covered is: How do you write a blog post that’s not the same old “me too” post but that actually stands out? How do you figure out what will make the post original? How do you hook the reader? What makes a good introduction vs. a bad one? How do you talk to the reader at the right expertise level so you’re neither too basic nor too advanced?
This is hard work. It can’t be accomplished via a checklist. In our opinion, you need to dissect blog posts to see good and bad examples and then practice and get feedback, over and over, to get better at this.
#3 Promotion (Hubspot’s Course)
Hubspot’s course lists 10 different promotion channels in one of their videos on blog post promotion:
- Topic cluster.
- Bots and messaging apps.
- Social media marketing.
- Live events and webinars.
- Word of mouth.
- Content repurposing.
If you read the section above on our course, you know we for sure agree with some of these; most importantly, SEO. They do a good job in giving an introduction to various promotion techniques you could use — so for that purpose, it’s great.
In our opinion, though, the promotion lessons lack two things: (1) prioritization, and (2) detail on implementing.
Prioritization means answering: Which of these should I do first? Which techniques work the best? The course does not address this as far as we can tell.
Second, implementation details mean getting into how to actually execute on these methods, step-by-step. For example, “podcasts” are a great idea. Yes, if you got on Tim Ferris or some influencer’s podcasts, that would certainly drive traffic to any site you wanted, but how do you do that? What podcasts do you choose? How do you reach out?
That said, they do have a nine-minute video on paid promotion and a six-video section on guest posting as a link building technique to help your SEO.
#4 Conversions and Measurement (Hubspot’s Course)
Hubspot’s course has a five-video section on conversions and measurement.
Some key things we differ from them on:
First, they bring up an idea of setting goals on a monthly basis, such as“Increase website leads by 50% by next quarter.” We think this is largely unnecessary, and most month-over-month increase goals are totally arbitrary.
Instead, we suggest you focus on: identifying which metrics are most important (leads from content), figuring out what drives those metrics (e.g., specific bottom-of-funnel pieces that are getting the most leads), and then focusing on doing more of those. If you do that (e.g., produce five more of those pieces in the next month), you’ll see increases in conversions (leads/sales/etc.) because you’re laser-focused on what moves the needle.
Second, they are not specific enough on what your goals should be. For example, they say that for a social media company, maybe your goal is to “increase brand awareness.” We think goals like “increase brand awareness” are not valuable, and we are not shy about saying so. Our focus stays on: measured conversions (leads, signups, sales) from content.
Positives on their discussion of conversion is that they do have a lesson on attribution models for learning how many conversions can be attributed to content. It doesn’t show how to set up such models and run them in Google Analytics like our course does (or in Hubspot, their tool), but it does give a nice overview of these models and concepts (you can read our case study of how we use attribution models in this post).
Overall, as we said about the overall Hubspot Content Marketing course, we think their conversion section is a good beginner level introduction to measuring results from content.
#5 Community Support (Hubspot’s Course)
We don’t see a community discussion aspect to Hubspot’s content marketing course.
UC Davis and Copyblogger’s ‘The Strategy of Content Marketing’ Course on Coursera
This course on Coursera has been a popular option for content marketing courses for a while. But, in our opinion, it is even more theoretical and conceptual than Hubspot’s course. Most of the lessons are also in podcast format: audio interviews with guest speakers, like this:
We go over the details below, but overall, we think if you want a beginner-level introduction to content marketing outside of our course, then Ahrefs’ (below) or Hubspot’s (above) are better options.
#1 Content Strategy (UC Davis Copyblogger Course)
The UC Davis, CopyBlogger’s course uses a “7A” framework that goes over different themes that Copyblogger founder Brian Clark has come up with: attention, action, authenticity, authority, agile, and audience. It also uses this concept of “empathy” and “experience” maps to understand the pain points and journey of the user in the process of buying your product or service.
While we agree with some of the underlying lessons (most importantly, the “Agile” theme, which says you should test an idea, measure if it’s working, and iterate), overall, we felt a bit confused after watching or listening to the lessons in terms of what we should actually do. What is the process? What do we start with?
Similarly, those questions extended for us to the core of content strategy: What ideas should we prioritize? Which will convert the best?
Finally, just like the other courses we evaluated, the strategy lessons were not done in a case study fashion, so we weren’t sure how strategy and topics should differ by business type.
#2 Writing (UC Davis Copyblogger Course)
As with most of the other courses we evaluate, this course doesn’t go into detail on the actual writing but focuses instead mostly on headlines and basic on-page SEO.
In this case, there is some advice on headline writing that we outright disagree with, including looking at popular magazines outside of your niche and copying their headlines (specifically a story is shared on the headline “50 Things You Wish Guys Knew” from the magazine Cosmopolitan turned into “50 Things You Wish Your Customers Knew”).
In our book, this is the opposite of what you should do. You need to focus on your customers and what they want first, then decide what would attract them, not on what a pop culture magazine says and then copying that.
#3 Promotion (UC Davis Copyblogger Course)
We didn’t see any dedicated video lessons on content promotion in this course, but we did find a 35-page PDF on content promotion.
Chapter 1 is titled “The Granola-Munching Hippie’s Guide to
All-Natural SEO” that plays on a 60s hippy theme with subsections like: “Make content, not war” and “All you need is (social sharing) love.”
As titles like that indicate, the PDF in general is mostly introductory-level truisms about how SEO is important and that to rank, you need to get people to share and link to you. It also includes similar truisms about guest posting and sharing on social platforms.
Overall, this is more or less an intro-level blog post on the basics of content promotion. We didn’t find much in terms of actionable strategies and “What do I actually do?” advice. You can read our most popular free blog posts on promotion, including detailed case studies, here.
#4 Conversions and Measurement (UC Davis Copyblogger Course)
This course has several audio lessons on measurement. Because they are audio, you don’t really see how to actually implement measurement methods, in Google Analytics or any other tool, but you get a basic intro on the importance of measuring your content, based on “four pillars”: reporting, analysis, measurement, and prediction. It goes over the basic metrics you can get in tools like GA, such as pageviews. We think this intro-level information can be better learned with blog posts on the topic that show screenshots, whichmake it clearer how you can get this information.
#5 Community Support (UC Davis Copyblogger Course)
This course does come with a community for discussion, but from what we’ve seen, it’s mostly questions about getting their certificate to be able to say you took the course (it’s a certification course) and requests to review assignments (you are required to review and get your assignments reviewed in order to get the certificate):
We just didn’t find threads in the community of substantive discussion about content marketing, strategy, tactics, sharing advice, etc.
Ahref’s Blogging for Business Course
If we had to choose our favorite content marketing course alternative to our own, this would be it. Why? Because it’s the one course we evaluated that approaches content marketing from a business perspective: What strategies will get actual business value?
Ahrefs is an SEO software company, so it’s course obviously focuses on SEO and is heavily geared around using their tool. But regardless, it’s treatment of how to find and evaluate keywords that generate business value is solid, and we agree with a lot of it (more below).
No, it doesn’t cover writing blog posts; it covers non-SEO promotion tactics and only at a high level in a single six-minute video, plus it doesn’t talk about conversions or measurement at all. But overall, we like the course’s discussion on SEO, keyword research, and backlink building.
#1 Content Strategy (Ahrefs’ Course)
As we said above, the Ahrefs course agrees with our philosophies on content marketing the closest, from what we’ve seen and evaluated. Specifically, it does a few things we think are good.
First, beyond just talking about SEO being important (to be expected; it’s SEO software), it goes into the specifics of finding keywords and ranking (using their software) and importantly talks about prioritizing keywords that are likely to convert.
Just the fact that they have a single lesson on how to prioritize content ideas is a welcome change!
As we’ve said in the evaluations above of Hubspot and UC Davis’s content marketing courses, most other content marketing courses only glancingly mention “conversion intent” and spend the bulk of their time on other theoretical things such as empathy with your audience.
The reality is that if you can rank for just a couple of super valuable keywords that bring in ready-to-buy customers, theory about “empathy” and “establishing authority” doesn’t even matter, because you’re getting results.
For example, if you sell accounting software and you rank for “best accounting software,” it literally doesn’t matter whether you’ve created an empathy map like the UC Davis Copyblogger course talks about, or if you’ve thought about storytelling the way Hubspot recommends. You’re ranking for a keyword that people who are literally looking for your product are searching — they will convert.
In fact, Ahrefs uses a great example from Hubspot’s own content. They show how Hubspot gets almost 2 million visits a month from Google (wow), but their top post of all (80,000 visits a month) from Google is “how to make a gif.”
They rightly diagnose this as a business value of zero. Hubspot sells a $1000+/m CRM and marketing automation tool. “How to make a gif” is being Googled by everyone and anyone. We agree: Ranking for things like this, and getting traffic to posts like this, has zero business value.
So overall, we think Ahrefs’ course is an excellent source to learn how to find and evaluate the competitiveness of SEO keywords that can have business value for you (i.e. lead to customers).
#2 Writing (Ahrefs’ Course)
In terms of actual writing, the Ahrefs Blogging for Business course does not cover it and says just practice and over time you’ll get better and that you can Google how to improve your writing to get resources on that topic:
Yes practice is of course essential, but in our experience, just writing over and over again is not going to improve your writing, you need to know what to improve. You need to know what is good and what is bad blog writing. And you need that advice not in general (aka Googling “how to improve your writing” as that would beg a follow up question of: what kind of writing? Fiction writing? Newspaper writing? Humor writing?) but specifically for written blog content aimed at converting prospective customers.
It also says the same things about creating content as other courses: that short paragraphs, images, and the design of your blog are important. Again, we kind of agree, but we’ve had clients with terrible looking blogs and good content still converts for them, so nothing matters as much as what you are writing about.
That said, it does cover at a more theoretical level what makes content good. Specifically it talks about quality, uniqueness, and authority. These themes have some similarities to what we’ve advocated. For example, our post on originality nuggets has a lot of thematic overlaps with the “uniqueness” advocated in this course.
#3 Promotion (Ahrefs’ Course)
Obviously Ahrefs is an SEO tool, so the #1 promotion method they advocate and what their entire course is built around is SEO. That said they do have a couple of short lessons on promotion — namely one video reviewing common non-SEO promotion tactics.
First, there is a big theme that we disagree with: a good piece of content will promote itself.
Now, we do think that what the course really means here is true: that with some bare minimum of sharing you do, a really good piece of content will take off on its own because people will want to share it themselves and link to it. That’s true.
But it’s misleading for two main reasons.
First, you need some exposure for enough people to see it to start sharing. If you are starting out and have a small email list and small social following, it’s going to be really hard to get “lift off” on some “viral loop” of others sharing your content and promoting it. Really really hard. Trust us, we’ve tried.
Second, as per our strategies outlined above, often the topics that have the biggest business impact are not sexy.
For example in this article on SaaS content strategy we talked about the CRM tool Pipedrive and how they should (but aren’t currently) going after the term “salesforce alternative” because people who Google that are literally looking for a tool like theirs.
Ranking #1 for that term would have immense business value. But how do you make a piece of content for the keyword “salesforce alternative” be “so good that it will promote itself”? You almost can’t. The search intent for that keyword is by nature utilitarian. It’s not sexy.
The search intent behind that keyword is for a brass tacks comparison of different CRMs that are alternatives to Salesforce, that’s it. To do some unique data analysis of CRM usage or something would be (1) completely unnecessary from a resource perspective and (2) not really what the searcher is looking for (when you’re comparing software do you really want to read some big unique data analysis or opinion piece? No you just want a comparison.)
That said the non-SEO promotion tactics they talk about are solid:
And we agree with a lot of their advice on these promotion channels. For example we agree that it’s better to pick a few communities and be an active member there rather than spamming dozens with your content.
We also agree that paid promotion is a must if your blog (or your client’s blog or your employer’s blog) is a business tool.
Or course, note above that this entire video is 6:31 long. So it’s a cursory, but decent overview of these promotion tactics. It’s hard, though, to get to the level of depth you need to execute on these tacticsin a short video like this.
This is why we dedicate entire long lessons with multiple videos and long text explanations on each of our promotion tactics, so that you have all you need to actually execute and you can see us executing on these ourselves in the videos, not just discussing them in theory.
#4 Conversions and Measurement (Ahrefs’ Course)
From what we can tell, Ahrefs’ Blogging for Business does not cover conversions or measurement from content.
#5 Community (Ahrefs’ Course)
We did not see a community in Ahref’s course.
Learn More about Our Content Marketing Course
If after reading this, you’re interested in learning more and enrolling in our content marketing course, you can do so here:
Or you can watch this video overview of Benji, one of our cofounders, discussing the background of the course:
…And doing a video walkthrough of what’s inside our course:
Join the Waitlist
Be the first one to know when our course is out.
Note: If you're not already on our email list, you'll also join it by entering your email below. It's free and marketers at companies such as Salesforce Desk, PayPal, and Cisco have joined.