Content Marketing Lessons Learned from Shopify’s Blog
Mark Macdonald

One of the globe’s leading e-commerce giants, Shopify functions as the backbone to the world’s most prominent companies including Google, Tesla Motors, Wikipedia and countless others. Yet it is not simply Shopify’s outstanding software that drove it to grow into the wild success it is recognized as today powering over 275,000 retailers in 150 different countries.

Through both its blog and podcast, Shopify has been able to further embrace the narrative of being the “go-to” destination for entrepreneurs. Offering tangible advice and thoughtful insights to growing founders has helped propel the Shopify brand and foster the business as a whole.

Mark Macdonald, Shopify’s Content Marketing Lead, sat down with TechDay to further explain the value theses outlets have brought to the brand and offer advice to startup founders striving to grow their own visibility.

How has giving Shopify a distinct voice via its podcast helped grow the brand as a whole?

We’ve always invested heavily in content and believe strongly in building an audience to fuel growth and build brand equity. The Shopify blog gets over a million monthly readers and has played an important role in the growth of our platform. So podcasting is really just a natural extension of the editorial programming we’ve been doing for the last four years. And, in a lot of ways, audio makes more sense than text for many people.

It’s the most portable content format – you can listen on your commute, doing the dishes, working out, or walking the dog – it goes wherever you go. It also provides a rich way to tell amazing stories and reach new audiences - and we’re excited about the early growth of our two shows, Shopify Masters and TGIM. We see them as important pieces in our overall media offering.

What's the driving narrative behind Shopify's blog and how does it inherently relate to Shopify's user base?

From a practical perspective, our mission is to provide people the training and resources they need to build, launch and grow a successful business. That means giving people the education they need in order to do business with us (customer acquisition), and giving them the knowledge required to build a long-term, successful business on Shopify (customer success).

More broadly than that, we’re also aiming to inspire and spread entrepreneurship through the content we create and amazing merchant stories we share. We want to make Shopify synonymous with entrepreneurship, and our education and media proposition plays a critical role in that. There’s never been a better time to turn your creativity and passion into a business and we’re obsessed with pouring gas on that fire and helping people accelerate that journey - and I think that comes through on our blog.

How can the varied content on Shopify's blog be attributed to conversions?

Different content has different jobs, and serves different parts of the funnel. Some of our content is meant to cast a wide net and help aspiring entrepreneurs discover and start a relationship with our brand even if they aren’t ready to use our product yet. While other content is aimed squarely at the bottom of our funnel. For example, the in-house case studies we do where members of the content marketing team build an online store from scratch, generate a bunch of sales and document the whole process along the way. These allow us to demystify what goes into creating an ecommerce business and provide a ton of value, while at the same time demonstrate the power of our product.

At the end of the day, content marketing is a marathon not a sprint. You really need to have buy-in from senior leadership and be comfortable with the investment required to make it work. But the benefits that come with building an audience can be tremendous. You get “always on” market research, it’s far easier to get traction for new products and features, and having an audience attracts a wealth of outside opportunity. And when you build a media asset that you own and control, it helps insulate you from 3rd party algorithm changes on platforms that you have zero control over.

Any general advice you have for new startup founders trying to grow their visibility?

Figure out which growth levers provide the lowest hanging fruit opportunity based on your product and market, and focus there first. It might not be content marketing right out of the gate - maybe it’s a press outreach strategy, or Facebook ads, or going after YouTube influencers. I’m a believer in doing some experiments, figuring out what’s working, and doing one or two things really well instead of trying to do everything.

However, I do believe that all smart businesses these days should be thinking about themselves as a publisher and media company. I think there’s a fantastic opportunity for founders to take lean startup methodology and apply it towards building a minimum viable audience - even ahead of having a product.