Ryan Robinson has earned a well-deserved place as one of the first Content Hackers we're spotlighting on the all-new Content Hacker site. (Yay for launch!)
Why is Ryan a recommended Content Hacker™ to follow and learn from? Well, for many reasons. He's a top content marketer, blogger, podcaster and side project aficionado who teaches 400,000 monthly readers how to start and grow a profitable side business at ryrob.com. (See one of his massive guides on blogging.)
He got his start building side businesses in college by selling a product of his own invention – the iStash (spoiler alert: it was a big fail, but don't failures typically precede the entrepreneur's best success stories?).
From that experience – which his dad helpfully pointed out was more valuable than a college degree in business – Ryan moved on to put his newfound entrepreneurial skills to better use. He built another (successful) side business, started a blog that now brings in over 2 million readers/year, and hosts a podcast, The Side Hustle Project.
Today, I'm thrilled to pick his brain for our Content Hacker Spotlight Interview series.
Read on to learn more about Ryan's journey to content marketing, his thoughts on the industry's past and future, his current game plan for content, and the major daily necessities that keep his work life sane.
Content Hacker Spotlight Interview: With Ryan Robinson
Q: When did you get started in marketing, and why?
A: For me, this began during college. Actually, there is one single moment I would point to as far as sparking my actual interest in online marketing "back in the day" – this would have been in 2010 or 2011.
In my very first digital marketing class in college, there was a guest speaker my digital marketing professor brought in. They were this couple who had gone to my school at Chapman University in Orange County, and they had a successful online business. They were printing sweatshirts, t-shirts – they had an on-demand store back before that was a huge business, and it was pretty novel and interesting.
They shared a ton of info about the "behind the scenes" of their business work – they were using Infusionsoft or something similar with automated emails that upsold their customers on this product when they made this decision, they were super good at Pinterest marketing, they made Facebook ads – they were basically really successful young people. I was like, "Oh my God, this is totally what I want to do."
It was in this class that we actually registered our domain names for our websites. Our teacher told us, "Hey, take $10, do this right now, you won't regret it." For me, that's kind of when blogging began, when I got interested in content marketing.
Q: What's your favorite part of what you do today?
A: I would say, by far, I like the partnerships aspect of content marketing today. I'd say that's changed over time a bit. Even a year or two years ago, I used to like the writing much more – throwing myself into the zone for 2-3 days a week where I wrote for 8 hours straight each day – that was totally my jam for a while.
Today, I've been getting a lot of positive energy out of doing partnerships, which means reaching out to other brands.
I kind of count my podcast as a partnership because I end up doing a lot of collaborations with people. So, different kinds of avenues and channels where I create either affiliate relationships or win-win content partnerships where I promote their work/they promote my work when it's a fit to do so. I guest post around at lots of sites, too. That's kind of where I'm getting most of my energy right now.
Q: What's one of the biggest challenges you have overcome in your work as a marketer?
A: The biggest challenge – and I don't know if I've fully overcome it, that's something I'm always working against – is not being my own bottleneck. I have a pretty high bar as far as quality content I like to publish, but that usually slows me way, way, way down.
Publishing something once every other week is a realistic, hard goal for me, but publishing once a week? My god. I tried to do that forever and I cannot get it done. I am switching over to working full-time on my blog, doing my own content marketing full-time starting in July, so – knock on wood – I might get to the point where I publish once a week, and that means a 5,000 – 10,000-word article for at least the first draft.
Once I start getting traction on my content, I'll beef it up even more – I'll add an infographic, record an audio version to embed in the article for people to listen to, and try to find different ways and tweaks to do so I can make the content more robust over time.
So, finding ways to multiply my own efforts, get out of my own way, find people who can help me with little different components of that puzzle.
Right now, one thing I'm doing really well is getting talented writers to do first drafts for me. So, I'll work really super hands-on with them. I'll get an outline ready, give it to them, and they'll give me back the first draft. In the editing process, since I'm still me, I end up doubling the length of the article most of the time – going into more depth, adding more screenshots and insights that are unique to me and my experiences.
That's what I'm trying right now. I'm trying to get better so I can publish more content and focus more of my time on the partnerships where I'm seeing a higher return.
Q: How has the industry landscape changed since you started?
A: Oh, man. The biggest one? Content marketing is a race to the top of the mountain. Everyone is delivering more in-depth content, more transformational content. It's longer, it's better, there are more diverse content mediums. It's not just a long-form post, it's a 20-minute YouTube video, a 30-minute podcast episode, a guest posting tour you go on to promote each new content pillar article.
The bar for successful content only continues to rise. And that's an exciting challenge – a shit-load of work, but to me, that's a call to keep differentiating myself and do a better job at my content.
That's what I think has changed the most, but I also think it's a huge benefit to consumers, so there's no complaint there at all. I think it's a great thing that content marketers are essentially pushing each other to be more unique, to be better, to deliver stronger results for readers.
Q: What does the future of marketing look like to you?
A: More of the same! I think it's only going to get more competitive. I think video, obviously, is a huge area of opportunity I need to take advantage of much more moving forward.
So, for me, I'm shifting into doing a long-form YouTube video with every long-form article on my blog. I'm going to go through my back catalog of successful content, look at pieces that should have a video, and pair them up with some high-quality video. I'm really going to be investing in what that should look like for my blog, for my brand.
I think it's a huge complement – not only having the written post that's already doing well, but then you have this entirely new acquisition channel with YouTube being the number one video platform. [The future is] both discovering new people and complementing the written content I already have for my readers.
Q: What key traits or skills does it take to be a marketing leader?
A: I think, personally, the biggest skill marketing leaders need to have is the ability to delegate – the biggest challenge for me. Taking myself out of being the center of everything I'm doing – I think that's going to be a make-or-break move for me – and getting better at hiring people to come in and take care of certain little aspects of what I'm doing manually right now.
I think that's the way you build a scalable content marketing platform. I don't think you're going to build a million-dollar business based on organic content acquisition without having a talented team. There's only so far you can get by yourself.
I think that's what my personal bottleneck is, and also a trait most marketing leaders need to have today.
Q: What are some of your favorite tools or hacks for marketers?
A: Ahrefs, by far, is my favorite tool. It's bookmarked right up there next to all my other important links on my Chrome browser. Ahrefs is my number one for keyword research, obviously, but also backlink monitoring and keeping track of my keyword rankings. It's the most indispensable tool I use and the bill I'm happiest to pay each month.
Convertkit is another bill way up there as far as happiness levels when I pay it, just because it's my lifeline to my subscribers – sending new articles, new podcast episodes. I get tons and tons of replies to every email I send out to my subscribers. It's a way to keep in close touch with everyone on my list.
Q: Do you have any daily habits, hobbies, or rituals you couldn't survive without?
A: Definitely coffee early on in the morning. I like to try and wake up by 6 a.m. so that I'm at my computer and getting work done by 7 a.m. It's really quiet out – I've got this view behind my monitor of San Francisco. We've got clouds always coming in over this park that's outside my window, so it's this beautiful, serene setting that's nice in the mornings, which I really, really love.
As far as habits, the biggest thing that impacts the productivity of my day is physically going each Sunday evening to plan out my week ahead.
So I look at every single day of the week: what am I doing, who am I interviewing for which podcast episodes, which podcast am I going to be on, what kinds of calls do I have for partners, which blocks of time am I setting aside for writing, which blocks of time am I setting aside for scripting YouTube videos.
I try and check email at least two or three times a day – sliding big-time on that because I've had such a huge influx of people coming to me with ideas lately – but yeah, those are my biggest things.
Q: Coffee or tea?
A: Definitely coffee – lots of it.
Q: What are some great blogs we should be reading or people we should be following on social media?
A: Going with the theme I was already talking about – the Ahrefs blog is pretty much priceless. Tim Soulo, their CMO, is a prolific writer and thinker. He's on Medium (@timsoulo) as well as the Ahrefs blog.
I also love Brian Dean of Backlinko – he's someone I keep in close touch with. When I'm publishing something new, if there are any synergies to promote each other's work, we find out some ways to help each other. He's someone I've looked at as giant inspiration as a blogger and SEO-er for so long, and now I'm kind of starting to bat in the same league as him.
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Many thanks to Ryan for taking the time to do this interview.