Content Hacking – What Is It And How You Can Use It

by Jason Smit

Who doesn't want their content to go viral, be discovered everywhere, and generate big returns with relatively small capital outlay? 

This is exactly what content hacking aims to do.

In this article I'll show you how to use content hacking to achieve outsized results.

Let's get started.

Growth Hacking -> Content Hacking

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 unicorn startups like Dropbox, Airbnb, Uber and Hubspot to name a few.

What is content hacking?

Content hacking is a sub-category of growth hacking. It sits at the confluence of content marketing, data analytics and testing, and engineering and automation.

Like growth hacking it's not confined to the marketing department. Product managers, engineers, data scientists also have their part to play when it comes to content hacking.

growth hacking venn diagram
content hacking venn diagram

Content hacking all starts with a hypothesis that the marketer sets out to prove using an array of different strategies. 

After measuring the efficacy of each strategy a winner is identified and turned into a sustainable channel of customer growth.

For example, imagine a company creates 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.

This is a classic example of content hacking.

Content hacking is about content/audience fit

The holy grail of content hacking is finding not product/market fit, but content/audience fit.

In other words, what content can a company create that will impress the audience they are looking to reach.

To achieve this the marketer has be scrappy. Willing to hustle.

These are some of the attributes of a content hacker:

  • Opportunistic  – Leveraging their personal connections to grow their audience
  • Versatile – knowing when to wear the SEO hat vs Virality hat
  • Data Driven – Making informed decisions based on 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.

Content Hacks Tips

There are three key things a content hacker should focus on to get the best results from their content.

Let's look at each and I'll share some tips you can execute to really super-charge your content hacking efforts.  


The first is audience. Who is your ideal audience?

Don't make the most common marketer mistake and define your audience too broadly. 

Instead get super specific on who you're targeting.

Specifics will ensure your content not only hits your target but also resonates with them.

Pro tip: When defining your target audience try create an audience avatar. This is the specific person you're creating content for. Ask yourself: Who is this person? Where do they live and how old are they? What do they like and dislike? Are they married or single? Kids or no kids? What work do they do? What hobbies do they have? What are their pain points? etc. Write this information all down and make sure any content you create speaks directly to this avatar. 


Where does your audience consume content? What channels should you focus on?

There is no point creating written content if your ideal audience loves video content.

Channels don't need to be mutually exclusive, but make sure you focus on those channels that are most relevant to your audience.

Pro tip: Use the content marketing flywheel to repurpose content across multiple channels. For example, turn a blog post into a podcast that you also record video for to share on Youtube.


Every good content hacking strategy boils down to how much value one can create with content.

The more value you create, the better your content will do.

You shouldn't hold back insights or leave your audience struggling to find value in your content.

Instead be overly generous with the value you share in your content. And do it for free.

Pro tip: Be fully transparent and openly free with your content, and you will richly rewarded. People love transparency and authenticity. Transparency means being vulnerable. And vulnerability leads to trust. Share honestly with your audience and let your guard down.

Content Hacking Examples

Curate Greatness

What happens when you don't have anything great to share?

Should you just pack-up your content plans and go home.

Of course not. 

The trick if you can't create great content is to curate it from those who can.

You can do this in many ways.

For example, round-up content posts or interviews with genuine experts is an epic way to position your brand alongside those who are already great.

The ultimate example of this is the Tim Ferriss Show, a podcast where Tim interviews high performers in business, entertainment, sports and other arenas. The podcast is one of the biggest in the world and is hugely popular as people are interested in Tim's guests.

content hacking tim ferriss

Obviously this is an extreme case of leveraging other people's greatness for your own content - in this case in interview format - but the principles behind the Tim Ferriss Show still apply for those just starting out.

Find people in your niche that are maybe a few steps ahead of you and interview them. Leverage their expertise and audience to establish yours.

You can do this in a video or podcast format, like Lex Fridman has done with academics, or in the written format, like these awesome interviews on Authority Magazine.

content hacking interviews


Struggling to get high quality traffic to your website?

Instead of creating generic keyword articles, why not go after the search traffic of your competitors. 

That's right, target keywords that feature your competitors and then position yourself as an alternative. 

We've recently done this for our client, Book Like a Boss, a scheduling software. We set out to target brand traffic for their major competitors like Calendly and Acuity, and we've scooped up lots of tasty traffic doing this. 

hacking content blab

The idea behind brandjacking is to identify keywords that feature your competitor's brand, and then creating content that satisfies the searcher's intent, but also placing them into your marketing funnel.

Taking the Book Like a Boss (BLAB) example even further, we could brandjack all manner of keywords related to Calendly (i.e. how to do xyz on Calendly). We could then rank for these keywords and introduce visitors to BLAB as an alternative.

Opt-in Carrot

eBooks are a well established tool for generating leads.

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.

But at Contentellect we like to take it one step further.

Step one is to look to drive the initial interest in your eBook from 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.

A simple example is taking a new digital asset and posting about it in a relevant LinkedIn or Facebook group. Admins usually allow this as it's a free resource for their community.

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”.

content hack tips

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 or Facebook 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.

But you also get 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.


Final word on Content Hacking

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!

Jason Smit

Jason Smit is the CEO of Contentellect and believes that marketing success lies at the intersection of great content and quality links. With 15 years spent in agency environments, including Saatchi & Saatchi, Publicis Media and Performics, his experience is distilled into Contentellect's service offering. He holds a B.Com Marketing from the University of Cape Town and a PGDip. in Entrepreneurship.

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