This post was originally published in September, 2018 and updated in May, 2020.
It’s no secret that a content strategy training course can give you leverage over a lot of other writers, strategists, and website owners out there.
But do you really need to pay for a full-blown course? Can’t you just learn this stuff for free online?
Sure, you could – but you probably won’t see the results you want in your career or personal projects.
I took Julia McCoy’s Content Strategy & Marketing Course in early 2018 and a lot has changed since then. Before taking the course, I had a basic understanding of content marketing and strategy. Julia’s course helped me take my skills to another level by visualizing steps and actions.
Here’s what it was like and what I learned.
Should You Take a Content Strategy Training Course? Here’s My Experience
From Job Hopper to Journalist and Content Strategist
Finding My Footing in a Real Career
Running an Independent News Website
What’s Covered in the Content Strategy Training Course?
1. Content Strategy Training Course: Understanding Successful Content
2. Content Strategy Training Course: Figure Out Who You’re Writing for and Why
3. Content Strategy Training Course: Choosing the Right Keywords
4. Content Strategy Training Course: Demonstrating Authority
5. Content Strategy Training Course: Understanding What Makes Amazing Content
6. Content Strategy Training Course: Reaching the Right Audiences
From Job Hopper to Journalist and Content Strategist
I know what you’re thinking: who the heck am I and why should you care about what I have to say?
Like Julia, I’m a college dropout.
I’ve worked a lot of jobs over the past ten years – some alright, some horrible, and some downright degrading (pizza, ugh).
I always thought that without a formal degree, I was doomed to a life of front-line service industry jobs in food or maintenance. That’s when I started getting into journalism and content marketing.
Finding My Footing in a Real Career
I first started writing for some indie news outlets where I covered stories I enjoyed. As a bonus, this also allowed me to learn the ropes of SEO and online writing.
This was great, but I still wasn’t able to quit my day job dipping chocolate strawberries because guess what? Indie outlets don’t have the same funding as large corporations.
Sure, I could probably claw my way into a job at a large outlet, but that also means I’d have to compromise my larger mission as a writer to fit a certain narrative. Not to mention, staff writers – even at large media outlets – aren’t exactly paid well despite pulling over 40 hours a week.
I knew someone out there in internet-land was writing the blog posts and finding keywords to target for every business website I visited. In fact, a lot of those blog posts made me think “wow, I could do this so much better.”
I decided to take every opportunity possible to improve my content marketing skills. I started reading blogs about SEO, watching YouTube tutorials, and using (as I call it) the University of Google to learn as much as I could. I had some skills and knowledge but I lacked a lot of direction and formal understanding. (I just wish I had found a content strategy training course sooner.)
To gain experience, I helped my friends launch their startup websites and even made some decent income doing this for a few years. I even quit my day job at this point. (Thanks, Robert!)
I didn’t realize it at the time but this gave me a lot of leverage over others because I had singlehandedly developed and implemented a content strategy without even realizing that’s what I was doing:
- Keyword research
- Topic planning
- SEO copywriting
- Optimizing e-commerce product pages
- Importing products with WooCommerce
- Social media planning and scheduling
Writing at Express Writers
I was lucky enough to find Julia and Express Writers in 2017 when I joined the team as a General Writer. Today, I create pretty much anything clients need: social media posts, topic planning, eBooks, blogs, web pages, email copy, etc.
I went through Julia’s content strategy training course in April of 2018 and it’s lifted my writing and strategy skills to a whole new level. Now that I finally have a formal understanding of the content strategy process, I can apply these skills to my writing and strategy work.
When I write, I’m able to identify where a reader is at in the sales funnel based on the keyword and develop content that’s most relevant and interesting to them. For instance, someone searching “welding tips” is at a much different buying stage than someone searching “Hobart Handler 130 Wire Welder.”
I’m also able to find the best keywords for clients while conducting their topic research and content strategy. After I find those amazing keywords, I can use tools like BuzzSumo to develop stand-out headlines that beg to be clicked.
From there, I can actually write valuable content that solidifies every brand as an authority in their industry. This strategy stuff really works.
How do I know? Because clients notice. In fact, they request me to write and do their content strategy again and again.
Running an Independent News Website
I’ve also been able to apply the skills from Julia’s course to my own project with remarkable results.
I started my own independent news and analysis website, Geopolitics Alert, in early 2016. I knew SEO was important, but it seemed futile to devote much time to ranking in Google when social media offered easy traffic for a new website. (This was before the Facebook algorithms started limiting organic traffic to boost ad sales.)
Not to mention, current event keywords are some of the most difficult to rank for because thousands of outlets with massive budgets have what it takes to rank in all the first page spots: I’m competing with some of the internet’s first websites like Bloomberg and Amnesty International.
I didn’t really start devoting much time and energy into strategy or SEO until early 2018. I made sure Google bots were crawling my pages and threw keywords in occasionally but I didn’t develop a strategy. As luck would have it, this was when I started Julia’s content strategy training course.
My first plan was to write a long-form authority piece about Yemen around the keyword “where is Yemen” (a high-volume and high-competition search term). I’ll admit: I had some nerve to attempt this keyword.
It started ranking on the third page of Google results just days after I published it! From there, it crawled up to the first page where it’s stayed for nearly two years above sites like The Guardian, CNN, Al Jazeera, Amnesty, and over 200 million other results. At one point, my article even ranked above the BBC’s authoritative article on the same topic.
Here’s where I get real with you. You content marketing strategy ONLY works for building organic search traffic if you stay consistent.
I run Geopolitics Alert in my free time. Over the past few years, I’ve been busy. I’ve moved, traveled to the Middle East, and spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva as a guest of NGOs twice (thanks to my content creation😉). I’ve kept writing about Yemen and other important topics when I can, but I haven’t had the same time to focus on SEO and strategy as I once did.
Well, let me tell you: My rankings reflect that these days and I’m not ashamed to say it.
This stuff only works if you put the effort into it – and stick with it.
(Which Julia explains in her content strategy training course.)
However, I’ve also used the skills I’ve developed from Julia’s course to craft killer emails for my readers. Every email I send has an open-rate that’s nearly double my industry’s average and a click-rate that’s always at least double my industry’s average. (Apparently, news publishers could stand to take a content strategy training course.)
What’s Covered in Julia’s Content Strategy Training Course?
First things first: don’t get overwhelmed! There is A LOT of material to cover but you’ll move through it slowly.
Julia’s Content Strategy & Marketing Course takes you through all of the steps to build — and implement — a solid content strategy for any brand. It doesn’t matter whether you’re promoting a product, service, or concept: the skills apply to everyone.
Hey, I haven’t even properly monetized my website yet beyond Google ads and I’m not sure I ever will. You can really use this stuff for anything you want – big or small.
This course teaches you the same skills Julia used to build her company, Express Writers, from the ground up. Unlike a lot of other courses you’ll find out there, this one explains how to build something out of nothing without relying on paid keywords or the marketing budget of a Fortune 500 company.
The best part is that everything in the content strategy training course is video-based and you can complete it at your own pace. Most of the videos are short and to-the-point so you can go through a few each day if you’re pressed on time.
The Brand Strategy Exercises that accompany each module help you put your new skills into action as soon as you finish the lesson. Unlike a lot of other courses, you can use the information you learn as you go through the course – there’s no need to wait until you finish the whole thing.
Don’t rush through anything – you want to absorb as much information as possible.
1. Figure Out What Constitutes a Successful Content Strategy – for Your Brand
First, you’ll need to decide what sets you apart from others in your industry.
This is going to be what gives your content its wow factor. Julia gives you examples, techniques, and tips for standing out from the crowd to create content that ranks.
In Julia’s content strategy training course, she calls this your Content Differentiation Factor (CDF). Over 4.4 million blog posts go live every day. When you publish anything on the web, you’re competing against billions of other websites for attention – so your CDF is key.
Get your ducks in a row here because you’ll need to come back to this as you build your strategy.
2. Content Strategy Training Course: Figure Out Who You’re Writing for, What You Want to Teach Them
Just like high school writing classes, we need to ask ourselves who we’re writing for and why they would want to read what we’re writing. Are they just learning about a topic? Are they ready to buy?
What would YOU want to read at a certain buying stage?
I can’t stress enough how important this is in terms of writing content that really resonates with my audience. If you don’t figure this step out, you’ll just write content for a broad audience that won’t relate to anyone because it’s too general (and probably already been said 1,000 times).
During this model, Julia covers topics like
- Developing personas for different audience segments
- Creating a brand stylebook
- Nurturing leads through valuable content
My favorite thing about this module was learning how to properly use Facebook audience insights for promoting posts. I can get stuck there for way too long creating personas and developing ad audiences.
3. Finding Those Sweet Keywords and Understanding How to Use Them
Here’s where the content strategy training course really starts to get fun.
If you want to rank in Google, you need to figure out what your audience is typing (or shouting) into that search bar (or voice device).
Don’t get discouraged – it takes some time to rank well. And like I mentioned in the intro, you must publish high-quality SEO-driven copy consistently to keep your rankings.
You need to let Google know that you’re capable of creating content people actually want to read. I never write for search engines. Instead, I pepper keywords into my writing so Google knows what my article or blog is about.
Google’s job as a search engine is to answer people’s queries. Thus, your job as a content creator is to answer queries. Keywords should drive your topic planning but the copy itself is really what matters.
Write content that people really want to read and you’ll eventually start ranking. This module gives you the skills you need to find those killer keywords.
In the Content Strategy & Marketing Course, Julia recommends using long-tail keywords because they usually put you up against less competition. Plus, they’re more specific, targeted, and indicate a searcher is further along in the sales process.
4. Content Strategy Training Course: Solidify Your Online Authority
Now that you’ve got some great keywords and you’re ready to create content, you need to figure out how to let Google and your potential audience know that you’re worth their precious time.
You need to portray yourself as an authority in the eyes of the internet.
It sounds hard (and it kind of is) but as long as your heart is in the right place and you apply the right skills, you’ll be fine.
In this module, Julia covers everything you need to know about improving your domain’s authority. A lot of factors are at play here like internal and external linking, guest blogging, and long-form comprehensive blog posts.
Do you see why it’s so important to figure out your differentiation factor before you get this far?
Julia’s Content Strategy & Marketing Course explains that your website is like a house where your content “lives.” You need a solid foundation on your site.
However, you also need different “roads” to drive traffic to your house:
5. Practical Content Creation for Getting on that Prized First Page
This is where Julia’s content strategy training course explains how to create content people actually want to read. She provides a ton of invaluable tips and tricks in this module.
It’s not as easy as you think. In my experience, the less confidence you have in your writing, the better because you’ll always strive to inform and wow readers.
The information in this module is absolutely crucial for creating content that ranks on the first page of Google search results. This is the exact strategy I used to get my “where is Yemen” cornerstone long-form article on the first page of Google results almost immediately after publishing.
I looked at what was out there and I did it better. People saw what I wrote, clicked it, and stuck around on the website to read more. Google noticed this and rewarded me accordingly.
This happened because I set out to write something I thought readers wanted. I wasn’t just throwing 2,000 words onto a page and stuffing keywords. I wanted to help.
If you’re wondering what happens when you run out of topic ideas, Julia has you covered in this module.
Once skill taught in this content strategy training course module is effective guest blogging. Julia explains how to develop pitches and choose the right outlets for maximum exposure in your niche.
6. Getting Your Content in Front of the Right Sets of Eyes
Now that you have a few pieces of amazing content, you need to find the people who would actually enjoy reading it – and maybe even share it with their friends or make a purchase.
In my experience, far too many people get social media wrong: they post way too many times in a day without any particular nuance. Some posts are too long and convoluted while others are way too short and don’t say much.
Julia explains everything here: proper post length, just the right frequency for each platform, and setting an ad budget. (Social media ads are very effective when you understand how to strategize.)
Email marketing is critical these days for staying connected to your audience. Social media algorithms are unpredictable but email gives you a direct line of communication to your audience through their inbox.
This module also covers everything you need to know about going back over your old content to freshen it up. This has helped me revive old articles and get them ranking – in many cases for the first time.
I updated my “where is Yemen” article about a year ago because so much had changed since I published and my rankings dropped. Following this strategy got me back on the first page of results for a while!
Putting Skills from the Content Strategy Training Course into Action
I’ll admit that there aren’t enough hours in the day to develop and implement a content strategy for my own website as meticulously as I’d like to. There are just two of us running the show in our spare time.
Plus, geopolitics is a fast-pasted topic – we can’t snooze on getting content out so a lot of our time goes to writing.
For me, I’m glad I have the skills from Julia’s course to apply as I go along: a little email marketing here, a little keyword research there. These skills have helped me break my reliance on social media for traffic while expanding my reach to new audiences.
There’s really no feeling like seeing something YOU wrote on the first page of Google’s search results — and people actually reading it!
I’ve also been able to use these skills to improve my career. Not only can I write better content for clients, but I can take on assignments at Express Writers that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I have an understanding of content marketing and strategy that I didn’t have before.