How Blinkist Drives 50,000 App Downloads Per Month With Content Marketing

Blinkist has a difficult story to tell.

The reading app which compresses non-fiction books into 15-minute summaries can’t be easily explained in the two sentences available in a Facebook ad, nor in a simple visual format for banner ads.

They had to find another way to get the word out.

This led Blinkist to embrace content marketing in its traditional form with the Blinkist Magazine — producing content with the goal of improving how you work, think and grow.

Though, what’s unique about Blinkist is the other component of their content strategy — a performance-driven approach to producing and promoting content with the sole purpose of acquiring new users.

I sat down with Sandra Wu, content marketing specialist with Blinkist, to go step by step through their content marketing strategy that drives 50,000 people to download Blinkist every month and gather some tips for getting started yourself.

Step 1: Defining a target audience

The success of any content marketing operation is grounded in a deep understanding of your users. Not just any user, but your ideal user.

The type of user that:

  • doesn’t complain but rather provides honest feedback
  • Is not only a paying customer but has been for months or years
  • Is always ready to recommend your product to a friend

These are the people you want to attract with your content. These are the people you are writing for.

The question remains, how do you identify these users and start to understand their interests so you can produce content for them?

For that, I’ll point you to a great article by Devesh Khanal perfectly titled: Customer-Content Fit.

For blinkist, this started with talking to their users:

“Our company persona is this user who is in their 30s or 40s, who is very career driven, and who tends to be in management positions. We actually have a name for them, they are called Allen if they’re a male or Skyler if they’re a female. That is the persona we came up with after talking to 20 people.”

With this persona in mind they can qualify every idea with a question: Would Allen or Skyler be interested in this topic?

Admittedly, the age and gender aren’t what’s important, but rather the mindset of their target user.

“The good thing about using content marketing is that we don’t have to make any assumptions, we don’t have to specify how old people are, we don’t have to specify if they work in certain positions or if they earn a certain amount, we just have to make sure that we come up with the right titles to check the right mindset.”(emphasis mine)

Just think, not all of your target users fit neatly into the box you want them to. Blinkist could have 18 year old users that, because of their aspirations to be a business leader, have a very similar mindset to the standard profile of Skylar or Allen.

Sandra put it best: “we’re not asking you to be a 35-year-old in the US, we are just asking you to like this article.”

Step 2: Choosing the right content to produce

With their target customer in mind, it’s time to start producing content. This process is slightly different than the traditional content format you’ll find in Blinkist’s Magazine.

In their magazine, you may find articles that aren’t directly related to their product like. “Dropping the Mic: Is Your Facebook App Listening to You?” Whereas the content Sandra works on is produced with the sole purpose of acquiring new users with paid promotion.

This paid-content can take two forms. Either it speaks directly to the Blinkist product with the whole article explaining why Blinkist is great and why you should download it; or, it takes an editorial form that’s not so direct.

You can think of the former as an 800-word sales letter and the latter as more of a highly-targeted traditional content marketing piece.

As Sandra explains it: “We have some articles where we know that when people click on these articles they already know we are going to sell them something. So it’s titled ‘Meet Blinkist, the app that transforms reading’ for example. And then we have other articles that are not so direct like “the reading habits of highly successful people’”

Some of Blinkist’s promotional pieces image credits.

In terms of what is more successful, Sandra says it’s actually the content that isn’t so salesy. Take that ‘reading habits of highly successful people’ article for example.

“[it] doesn’t talk about Blinkist in the title. Actually, we don’t even mention Blinkist until the last paragraph.”

So why does it work so well?

“It works because it’s very closely related to our mission — we want people to read more so they can get more out of life. And actually, that article captures why we made the app in the first place. And even though we don’t talk about Blinkist until the very last minute, the people who are clicking on those articles are probably our target audience…… these articles tend to do best because we’re not trying to sell them something right away but we’re just providing quality content and we’re trying to get a message across that everyone should read more and actually that works for us.”

When it comes to evaluating content ideas like this, there are 3 criteria Sandra judges them by:

  1. How interesting the title is. “Sometimes we actually run title tests without the article even being produced to see what the CTR is for these [titles].”
  2. How closely related it is to their product. “So if we want to talk about Bill Gates’ success or his biography, I can see there being a natural leeway into our product because it’s a reading app. There has to be a close connection between the subject, the article, and also why people might be able to download Blinkist after reading this article.”
  3. How interesting it is for their target audience.

This is Blinkist’s recipe for producing content that attracts not just any readers, but their ideal users.

You find a topic that is compelling, closely related to your product, and is interesting for your target audience. Then, all you have to do is give those readers a way to convert into users.

Step 3: Converting readers into users

Turning a reader into a user is as much an art as it is a science. For Blinkist, the way they do this largely depends on the type of article they’re promoting.

For articles like ‘Meet Blinkist..’ there are various opportunities to convert into a user. They often have call-to-actions at the top of the post, off to the sidebar, in the middle of the post, and at the bottom of the post.

This is because, according to Sandra, “People don’t necessarily have to read the article to become convinced, so if they are halfway through it and they’re already convinced, they convert through the smart banner which would be sticky. Or they can read the whole article until the end where there would be another call to action.”

Something to keep in mind is Blinkist has a single call to action that they repeat across their entire site: Start a free trial.

Having a singular call to action across their site allows them to simplify their conversion funnel.

You’ll see this with other highly successful apps like Aaptiv and HeadSpace:

This is just one of many ways you can optimize your content for conversions. For a ton of really good advice on this topic, I recommend checking out this article on ConversionXL.

For Blinkist’s editorial-style articles (reading habits of…)  there is a much greater focus on the content rather than the conversion.

As Sandra put it “We basically count on people finishing the article to be able to convert and that means we need to make the content really interesting. It shouldn’t be misleading, if we’re talking about the success story of Warren Buffett, we need to make sure that people are interested enough that they stay until the end and when we do mention Blinkist, that the transition isn’t so rough.”(emphasis mine)

For these posts, there is often only one or two CTA’s throughout the post. Of course, they’re constantly testing this (more on that later…) but when asked about what works best?

Sandra has found “[it works best] if we just add a bottom button on the articles. We used to think that if there are more buttons obviously people can convert more, but actually that turns people off.”

This is a great lesson in conversion rate optimization – just because there are more buttons, doesn’t mean people will click them more. What follows is Sandra’s account of how she originally thought about this and what they learned through testing:

“So imagine we started reading an article and it’s actually quite interesting, and then after the second paragraph, there’s a button to show something that says ‘oh you should download the Blinkist app.’ That actually really pisses people off. It kind of disrupts their reading experience.”

She continues: “When we tested that and we thought, we don’t even know if people are reading, so we added a button just in case they drop off after the second paragraph, but that actually hurts conversions a lot more than it would help it. And conversion [rates] that are good, it really just comes down to the writing actually. It’s not so much about how the button looks or where it is more or less, it’s just we have to make sure that the content comes first and that we ease people into Blinkist.”

Take this as an important reminder that the quality of your content will determine your success. Yes, ‘quality content’ is subjective at best but you know it when you see it. Rather than producing a bunch of low-quality posts, focus on producing a few that you’re proud of and spending more time promoting them.

As with Blinkist, if someone reads a relevant, engaging, and targeted piece of content that’s related to your product, converting users is easy.

Step 4: A unique promotion strategy

This is where Blinkist’s performance-driven approach starts to turn away from traditional content marketing. Rather than simply publishing a post to their social media accounts and relevant communities, they rely on paid placements to put their content in front of readers.

Specifically, they use Outbrain and Taboola to place their articles on major media websites like CNN, WSJ, etc…

The sections in which the article appear are usually at the bottom of a page and are frequently called “From around the web.” The articles in this section are separate from the journalism pieces because they’re denoted as paid advertising.

Both services use algorithms to select content (generated by companies like Blinkist) to suit the preferences of individuals who visit the sites to populate advertising sections.

While they also experiment with Facebook and occasionally experiment with paid-newsletter placements, the bulk of their promotion is done using Outbrain and Taboola.

For Facebook, they use look-alike audiences, a targeting algorithm Facebook uses to replicate your existing audience by finding profiles similar to them. According to Sandra, this is the only way they’ve been able to find success with Facebook.

Outbrain and Taboola have turned out to be the perfect channels for their content. With these channels, Sandra can “target pretty much anyone who reads the news, it’s just that we exclude the people who we wouldn’t want through the titles.” (emphasis mine)

This is important because Outbrain and Taboola only charge on a cost-per-click basis. Meaning your article can be recommended to a million people, but you will only get charged by the ones who click through to read it.

By producing highly-targeted content for their target audience, Blinkist can be sure that anyone who is interested in their article would be their target customer.

Not surprisingly, a title like “The Reading Habits of Highly Successful People” works to filter out anyone who isn’t interested in reading.

This way, “in a sense we don’t have to do such sophisticated targeting to make it work on Outbrain and Taboola. And that means we have a much cheaper CPC on [these channels] than Facebook.”

And to top that off, when comparing users that converted off of their promoted posts versus a direct-download Facebook ad, Sandra said: “the increase in lifetime value translates to about, roughly 11% higher..”

These advertising placements account for 60% of Blinkist conversations/downloads. Conversions from organic traffic account for the other 40%.

Step 5: Test, Test, and Test Again

One of the biggest pains for traditional content marketers is once a piece is published it’s out of your hands. Sometimes you may think that blog post you’re about to publish is going to be embraced and shared endlessly by your audience, only to have it flounder.

While other times you publish a post on a whim and it takes off like a rocket ship. In either case, it’s hard to know why one post lagged while the other excelled. Was it the headline, the introduction, or the strong opinion throughout the post that made the difference?

This is why Sandra’s performance-driven content strategy is so powerful — it’s informed by data.

As Sandra puts it, “we constantly run AB tests… we might be doing five tests a week.” Unlike a traditional blog, Sandra is able to get statistically significant results from her tests because she’s using paid channels to drive traffic to her posts.

This allows every piece of content can be looked at as an MVP. It sometimes takes Sandra a few weeks or a month to get an article to where they want it to be in terms of conversion rate, ROI, etc..

If you were to take this approach, once an article is released you can go back and change the title, switch out the featured image, move your CTA, and even completely reformat your post. Along the way you can keep the winning elements and discard the losers, improving your article over time.

This begs the question, which elements do you test?

Sandra tests “the copy and all the assets like images and if we have video, we also test that. We do a lot of tests on the layout, like if we decide to have a smart banner on an article or not, or if we want to change the flow [of the article]… They may not be really big, it could just be something simple, like if we address the user directly versus talking to the user as if we’re a journalist.”

These small changes can sometimes lead to massive results. Take for example when Sandra shortened the intro to one of their articles and it boosted sign-up conversions by 13%:

Or how about when they added a mention of Blinkist at the beginning of one of their articles and it led to a 39% increase in sign-up conversion rate:

With every test comes new learnings and some delightful surprises. After reviewing the almost 100 different tests they ran last year Sandra came away with a ton of insights.

“We learned quite a lot of great things. For example, what kind of banner image should we have, how many words should the title be, or if we should have a button on the landing page — like when people just come to the page and the first screen they see, should we already try to convert them or not. So we have quite a lot of learnings from all these tests that we are doing.”

What makes this data and test-driven approach to content so powerful is the ability for learnings to carry over into every new piece. Every test they run provides them with knowledge as to how they can start the next post off even better.

What you need to be successful

This article has given you a look into how Blinkist structures their content marketing strategy from start to finish. But without the right mindset, you may never succeed. Whether that’s not giving yourself enough time to succeed, not dedicating enough resources, or just giving up because you realize content marketing is hard.

For every thriving content marketing operation, there’s 10 more that have done everything right, but still fell short.

For Sandra, success comes down to a few critical factors that have nothing to do with words on the page, resources, or skill.

1. Avoid decision by committee

Blinkist used to have ideation meetings in which people from different departments would offer suggestions for content. But it became, “too complicated.” So now Sandra works with the Blinkist magazine editor to develop ideas and the editor makes the final decision on what gets produced.

Then her editor writes the post and hands it off to Sandra, who gets it ready for publishing. Anyone can still propose ideas, but it’s not done in a meeting — and certainly not driven by consensus.

“We don’t want to get caught up in these processes,” said Sandra. “We evaluate ideas based on the three metrics I mentioned earlier and then we decide what to produce. This actually works a lot better.”

2. Patience

Acknowledging that it will take time to achieve results is an important expectation to set for everyone, according to Sandra. It takes time to learn what content your target audience enjoys and to make matters worse, this will continue to change over time.

This means there’s no definitive ‘correct approach’, which makes content marketing challenging and frustrating.

Sandra cautioned that a successful content operation takes time to develop and maintain. She isn’t interested in posts that go viral because they don’t teach her much.

“We learn significantly more from not having an overnight success.”

3. Embracing Failure

“This sounds cheesy. Everyone tells you that failure is important, but it actually is,” said Sandra. “Let’s say an article that wasn’t really thought through suddenly succeeds. I have no idea why it succeeds, and I’m not able to replicate it.”

“In the long run, that’s actually going to be worse for me than if I write a mediocre article and we take small steps in improving it. Then we have more learnings as a whole, and we’re able to scale our channel by having more articles that are successful.”

About Shane Rostad

Shane Rostad is a marketing manager for TriFin Labs that loves to share his knowledge and learnings about tech through writing. When he's not reading you can find him exploring Florida's parks or loitering in a local coffee shop.

Leverage best-in-class tools to help your customers

Get Started