Summary of Doing Content Right by Steph Smith

  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023

Summary reading time: 21 min

Book reading time: 5h17

Score: 8/10

Published in: 2021

Access the Summary Database


  • A blog is like a startup. You need to test it until you find product-market fit.
  • Don’t start a blog if you’ve got nothing valuable to write.
  • Blogs that people read give out valuable content.

Table of Contents

What Doing Content Right Talks About

Doing Content Right is a book written by Steph Smith. The book is a complete manual for starting, developing, and growing a blog or a newsletter. It explains how to choose a topic, what marketing channels to use, how to find readers, how to monetize, and gives dozens of marketing tools to use to do so.

Overall, it’s really good, but I was annoyed reading it.

The book is disorganized. There is no clear hierarchy and the information is weirdly dispatched. At times, we speak about newsletters and at times, we speak about blogs.

There are often links to external resources, and the reader must constantly weigh and choose whether he wants to get down the rabbit hole or stay with the book.

It’s annoying. But that’s because Doing Content Right is not a book. It’s an encyclopedia. You’re not supposed to read the book cover to cover. You should treat it as a dictionary, reading the parts that will help you solve problems.

Apart from these minor issues, the content is priceless. Steph speaks about all aspects of blogging, and the book will teach you almost everything you need to know to run a blog.

Be careful though. The content is dense. The author bombards you with so many external resources like newsletters, Twitter accounts, quotes, platforms, and services you’ve never heard of that you can get quickly overwhelmed.

Not gonna lie, I have been blogging for two years, and the thought of quitting blogging actually crossed my mind at some point throughout the book.

So remember that Steph took care of content for almost a decade, and did it at a professional level.

Side note: I am only reviewing the main PDF. Normally, Doing Content Right comes with exercises, a Discord server, videos, and a bonus section on podcasting. As a result, you could argue I didn’t test the entire offering.


Get the book here!

Summary of Doing Content Right Written by Steph Smith

Chapter 1: Your Personal Monopoly

Writing content online has become super easy.

Each minute:
• 1,800 WordPress posts are created
• 3.8 million Google searches are made
• 500 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube
• 150,000 emails are sent
• 350,000 Tweets are sent

-> If you want to succeed, you need to write new and valuable stuff.

Blogging is about writing what people want to read.

And while it seems that blogging is saturated, it’s only saturated if you can’t create anything new or better.

-> what type of content can you write better than everybody else? Better in the way you deliver (eg: infographics, etc), or better in what you write (or both).
-> what new problem can you identify, or what old problem can you solve better?

As long as you can do one thing better than everyone else, you’ll have an audience.

Why do you need to be better? Because attention on the Internet is not evenly distributed. It’s a winner-takes-all approach.

The first Google result page takes 99% of the clicks. This is why you need to be better – better than everyone else. Grant Cardone said “if you’re not first, you’re last”. In this case, it is “if you’re not first, you don’t exist”.

Winner takes all.

The best way to be the best is to operate in your domain of expertise.

If you have worked for 5 years doing yoga, then your area of expertise is yoga.

About this, the author explains she was glad she waited until 2019 before launching her blog. In 2019, she had acquired a lot of expertise on a lot of topics, enough to launch and become the best right away.

Had she launched in 2015, the blog would have failed.

She was successful because she wrote on :

  1. Something she knew better than everyone and that didn’t exist.
  2. Something she liked and did because she was interested – hence something interesting.
  3. Something that was unique.

Instead of writing about what you think others will like, start with your own interests and knowledge and work backward from there.

This is why copying is useless. When you copy, you don’t have your personal monopoly edge + since it’s been done already, it won’t have as big of an impact.

Consider the following questions if you’re struggling to find a niche:

  • What is something that you have done that 95%+ of the population hasn’t done?
  • What unique insight do you have that 99% of the population doesn’t have?
  • What is something that you have spent 5+ years on that you can translate to others in significantly less time?
  • What is something that you think about in the shower?

If you struggle to find things to write about, it may be best to delay blogging and learn some stuff first.

If not, make sure to focus as much as possible on your specialization as well as on your target audience. The more focused, the better.

Audience Cross-Check

Now you need to ensure that people are searching for what you want to write.

  1. Use Google Trends or Google Keyword Planner to look at whether people are searching for your content or not.
  2. Check whether there are existing newsletters, blogs, communities (Reddit) that cover your topics. Having competitors is a good thing. It means there is demand.
  3. Ask yourself how much your audience grows over time? How your market will evolve? If you’re talking about combustion engines, it’s a thing that will die. Choose a market that will increase in the future.

How does this work?

Look for the competition (who is writing about this), search volume for queries (how many people are looking for this), and the existing communities dedicated to the topic.

Once you know who your audience is, you need to find the people dying to read you.

Questions to answer about your audience:

  • What are their demographics?
  • Where do they work?
  • Where do they hang out (both online and offline)?
  • What do they read?
  • What are the pain points that they face daily, weekly, monthly?
  • What do they enjoy doing? What do they hate doing?

Here’s how you can find out about these questions:

  • Get in touch with your readers
  • Use SimilarWeb to know where your competitors get their traffic from
  • Use this to browse for subreddit communities, then use Subredditstats to know which type of content performs best.

Write to solve problems. Don’t write to make money. Making money is a consequence of solving a problem.

To quote the author, you don’t have time to create content that doesn’t serve a purpose.

Solving problems is nice, but with no market or no way to reach it, you’re toast.

Here are all the channels you can use to distribute your content.

– Your newsletter
– Quora Answers
– Reddit -Hacker News
– Lobsters – Producthunt
– Pocket -Designer News
– Twitter
– Linkedin
– Facebook
– Medium
– Pinterest
– Youtube
– Forum
– Communities
– Subreddit
– Facebook -Twitter
– Quora -Newsletter
– Reddit -Pinterest
The different distribution channels for your blog.

Should you have a blog, a newsletter, or both?

Both. The more channels, the better.

Types of newsletters (they depend on the purpose you want to achieve with them)

  • Daily: usually news
  • Long-form
  • Digest: focused on curation
  • Hybrid: both long-form and digest
  • Popup: for a particular occasion (music festival, etc)

How to find interesting stuff to write:

  • Take a piece of paper and write on it everything you think is interesting and why it is interesting.
  • Follow your curiosity: read Wikipedia pages, create tools you’d use but that nobody made, etc. Explore rabbit holes.
  • If you run out of things to write, ask your audience what they would like to know.

Chapter 2: Building Your Home

A blog is a brand. You should define that brand, what you will do, and what you will not do.

If you have a newsletter about finance, you are not going to write about intersectional feminism (your readers won’t stick around for long.)

Choosing Your Stack

(Note from Aure: The following are recommendations of the author, not mine.)

You will need:

  • Domain: the author recommends Namecheap or Porkbun.
  • Hosting: depends on your blogging platform. If you use WordPress, use WPEngine. If you use Ghost, use DigitalOcean.
  • Blogging platform: use WordPress or Ghost. Avoid Medium, Squarespace, and Wix.
  • Email service provider: there are many, like ConvertKit, Mailchimp, Mailjet, etc.
  • Modal software: for email capture, Opt-In Monster is good.
  • Analytics: Google Analytics, Simple Analytics, Google Search Console, Facebook Pixel

Should you give your content for free, or should it be paid?

The Internet has created a tsunami of free content. The problem is that it is often mediocre.

This is why many have managed to create paid blogs and newsletters. They ensure quality.

Pros of paid:

  • Direct validation
  • No struggle to know where money will come from

Cons of paid:

  • Restricted distribution channels
  • You can’t actually distribute your content since…well, it’s behind the paywall.
  • Slow growth
  • Your content must be extremely good

You can also create a paid publication piggybacking a free publication.

Eg: you run a free crypto newsletter but add a paid Discord server where you discuss brand new cryptos and your own investments. In that case, paid becomes “for those who want more”.

Your price should reflect the value it delivers, not the effort you have invested into them.

Chapter 3: Distribution

Creating a blog rests on two pillars:

  1. Creating amazing content
  2. Being amazing at distributing the content

If you write amazing content but you don’t distribute it, the equation is:

Writing great content X 0 readers = zero impact.

Similarly, if you write low-quality content and distribute it very well, the equation is:

Great distribution X zero-quality content = zero impact.

As a result, your time between distribution and content production should be split evenly.

Distribution is a multiplier. If you write an amazing article, the more you distribute it, the more impact it will have.

There are 6 types of channels.

  1. Bedrock/evergreen: SEO and your newsletter. They take a long time to grow, but they compound over time.
  2. Viral: it’s like hitting the front page on Hacker News. It gives a quick dopamine hit, but it doesn’t stay.
  3. Social: there is some sort of evergreen quality to it, but if the algorithm changes (or you get kicked out), you lose all of your followers.
  4. Syndicate: it means reposting your content, whether in full, or slightly changed.
  5. Targeted: Slack, Telegram, Subreddit, Facebook communities
  6. Paid: ads.
image 48
Find Steph Smith at

Content distribution depends on its nature. You have two types.

  1. Informational: answering a question someone googles. Eg: the alchemist summary
  2. Inspirational: writing about something people aren’t specifically looking for

So, how do you choose which channel to use?

You use the CODES framework.

  1. Cost: the price you’re willing to pay.
  2. Ownership: how much do you control the channel? Do you own it (newsletter list) or do you use it (Facebook page)?
  3. Dependability: how consistent is the channel? Viral isn’t consistent at all.
  4. Effort: the effort you need to expend to set up the channel and keep it running
  5. Scalability: how scalable your channel is? Can you reach one million people if you want?

Test until you find something that brings traction. In the beginning, focus on a few channels (1-3) and stay there for 2-4 weeks before deciding if you want to move out or now.

Repeat with different channels until you have 2-5 to focus on.

Label your channel with tiers:

  • Tier 0: the channels everyone should have: SEO, a referral program, and a newsletter.
  • Tier 1: the channels you are using every time you publish.
  • Tier 2: channel you use only for certain pieces.
  • Tier 3: testing channels.

You will have to do things that don’t scale to find your first subscribers (eg: asking your friends).

Ask everyone you know, especially your weak ties. This is because your “weak ties” live in a different “world” and have access to people and environments you don’t have access to.

Another way to do get an audience is to “build in public”. When people see you hustling and struggling, they’re always happy to help you.

1. Bedrock Channels

These are the channels you must have.

You need to understand:

  • The audience you are writing for
  • Where you can find them (what they read, which communities they hang out in)
  • How to talk to them

In order to build an audience, you need to create value before you capture it. That means giving before taking.

And that takes time.

The channels are:

1. SEO

There will be an entire chapter dedicated to SEO (click here to go there).

2. Quora

Quora is great to gain SEO points. Don’t be overly promotional, and set up Google Alert when a new question with certain keywords is posted so you can be the first one to answer.

If you don’t want to write answers, email people that wrote good answers and ask them to add a link to your article if it benefits the answer.

3. Your Newsletter

One of the most important channels. People joining your newsletter are transformed from one-time readers to followers.

So, how do you increase the number of sign-ups? You use conversion modals.

Using Conversion Modals

These are opt-in forms that enable you to capture email addresses. You have many different versions.

  1. Welcome mats: these are giant popups asking you for your email address.
  2. Popup
  3. Slide-in: these are forms sliding usually from the right to ask you for your email address
  4. Embed: these are forms in the middle or at the end of articles, like mine asking you to sign up for the newsletter.

Here’s how to create modals that work.

1. Provide value

  • Have a the right value proposition: most modals scream “sIgN uP tO mY nEwSlEtTeR”. None of them say “Improve your marketing“.
  • Have the right CTA (call-to-action): say “get smarter” instead of “subscribe“.
  • Add social proof: “200 000 people read it each week!”

Don’t have several CTAs on one page, one is enough. The same CTA can appear several times.

image 3
I changed my very own opt-in form when I was reading the book.

2. Different types of modal

  • Event-triggered: when customers leave, or when they go halfway into your article, you can have a popup or slide-in coming in.
  • Fixed: an embed at the end of an article, or a welcome mat.
  • Landing page: visitors can first see your landing page when they come to your blog

Always provide value in exchange for the email address. Can be a “free pdf”, or anything like it (I give subscribers access to a hidden article).

When people subscribe, you should send them a welcome email explaining what you do, who you are, and what they can expect.

You can also have a welcome series that will last several days or weeks.

Other ways to grow:

  • Have an ambassador program
  • Giveaways: organize a lottery for people that subscribe to your newsletter and give the winner free stuff. If you don’t have enough money, you can partner up with brands for discount codes or products. You can also give early access or sneak-peak of a product you have.

Leave a Reply