What Is Content Hacking?

by Marc Bromhall
Updated: July 31, 2020

Well, you must have heard of growth hacking, right? Growth hacking emerged from the startup world as a low-cost method to acquire new customers. The term was officially coined by Sean Ellis, founder and CEO of GrowthHackers, in 2010. Since then growth hacking has been adopted by a plethora of unicorn startups like Dropbox, Airbnb, Uber and Hubspot to name a few.

Content hacking is a sub-category of growth hacking. It sits at the confluence of content marketing, data analytics & testing, and engineering & automation. So like growth hacking it does not just sit within the confines of the marketing remit. Product managers, engineers, data scientists also have their part to play when it comes to content hacking.

growth hacking venn diagram

Start With A Hypothesis

Like growth hacking, content hacking all starts with a hypothesis that the marketer sets out to prove using an array of different strategies/variants. After measuring the efficacy of each strategy a winner is identified and turned into a sustainable channel of customer growth.

One example is where a company produces an ebook of real value to a defined audience. They then share this ebook across multiple channels and in the process create brand awareness and enrich their CRM with qualified leads. They do this all by spending a nominal amount. The only real investment is their time.

content hacking venn diagram

The holy grail of content hacking is finding not product/market fit, but content/audience fit. To achieve this the marketer has be scrappy. Willing to hustle. These are some of the attributes:

  • Opportunistic  – Leveraging their personal connections to grow their audience
  • Versatile – knowing when to wear the SEO hat vs Virality hat
  • Data Driven – Making informed decision of data rather than just a hunch
  • Challenging the status quo – When Airbnb decided to sell Obama branded cereal at $40 a pop to raise capital most people laughed at them. The rest as they say is history.

Some Useful Content Hacks You Can Try

Skyscraper Backlink Technique

If done correctly, this can be a very effective organic growth tool. Find good quality linkable assets in your niche/industry. These are really great pieces of content on a particular topic. I mean really great. Exemplary. Study them inside out and then go create something even better – more detailed, more insightful, better designed and easier to read. 

The next step is to find websites that are linking to these content assets (homepage, product page or blog post) and pitch them your content asset. The objective is to get these sites to replace the existing link with a link to your site. Brian Dean of Backlinko provides a really neat little email outreach template on this. See below.

skyscraper email outreach template

The benefit of all of this of course is off-page SEO. More SEO link juice as the parlance goes. With more sites (the higher the quality the better) pointing to your site, the better the overall ranking it will have in the search engines.

Opt-in Carrot

This is a well established lead generation method using content as the tool. Once again, if you’re savvy in how you activate this the benefits can be manifold. Most marketers tend to have a CTA on their site which offers users free access to a digital asset of some sort (ebook, video tutorial etc.) in exchange for their email address. This is the classic opt-in carrot technique.

What we espouse here at Contentellect is to take it one step further. Look to drive the initial interest off your site across other channels where there are many more eyeballs. Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook where you can leverage the network effect and take advantage of their algorithms which reward engagement.

mobile social media

A simple example is taking a new digital asset and post about it on LinkedIn. At the end of the post you include a clear call-to-action prompting users who want the digital asset to add a generic comment such as “get ebook”.

This will result in the proliferation of comments on the post, which in turn will result in the post gaining more views due to the network effect. You can then start a conversation on LinkedIn with those that have opted in via DM whilst sending them a link to download the asset for which they need to provide their email address.

The technique covers a few different marketing objectives all in one. You establish brand awareness through your post based on all the comments it receives. You have the opportunity to open a conversation with prospects and move them down the funnel. Finally the original objective of enriching your CRM with leads is still achieved. Baddabing!

A/B Test Your Headlines

Headlines wherever they may be on the web are gateways to your content. If your headline is compelling and leaves the reader wanting to know more, then you can expect your content to perform well above the benchmark. 

We suggest that you start by A/B testing headlines of your blog content across on all your social channels. An easy way to get started with this is to use Bitly links. The traditional method is to test two variants against each other, hence the name A/B test, but we usually like to test multiple variants. Somewhere between 3-5 different headlines.

ab testing

If you have a fairly strong social media presence then you’ll probably be able to achieve this organically. If not, then it’s worthwhile putting some money behind a small ad campaign to test the efficacy of each headline. A minimum sample size we work with is 5000 impressions for each variant.

The objective of this exercise is to use data to inform your content strategy moving forward. As headlines are the preamble to the content itself, you can use the learnings from the headlines as a proxy for what works best from a content perspective. Moreover you’ll also be able to boost the CTR of both your organic and paid campaigns in the future.


Content hacking like growth hacking is a relatively young field within startup marketing. Some of the methods and techniques we’ve outlined above are existing methods which have proven to be successful.

There are certainly many other untried methods which may not even been conceived of yet which could well prove to be even more effective. The world is your oyster. Get out there and see what you can hack!

Marc Bromhall

Marc co-founded Contentellect in 2018. He is an experienced marketer having previously worked for two Adtech unicorns - Outbrain and ROKT. At Contentellect, Marc helped scale the company from start-up to 6 figures in revenue. In 2021, he stepped down as MD and has subsequently moved on to pursue other projects.

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