In the startup world, Product-Market Fit describes the degree to which customers want your product. Marc Andreessen said it out loud first. We learned how to quantify it (strong word of mouth, retention, and organic growth). Then, we added channel and monetization to the model to clarify how many parts of a business have to fit the market. Since content plays an important role for startups, I want to transfer the model to Content-Market Fit.
Startups scale growth in different ways. Content is central to SEO but an important support channel for ads, sales, and product-led growth. When customers click on ads and land on a landing page, whitepaper, or homepage, they see content. Sales uses testimonials, tutorials, or webinars to win customers and potentially accelerate the sales cycle. Product-led growth can be boosted with thought leadership and generic content.
But content isn’t content. It can be a powerful moat [link to content moats] or a commodity when undifferentiated. The key to making content work for a startup is creating the right content in the right format on the right channel for the right audience.
The first differentiation we need to make is whether content is a scalable channel or support a different scalable channel.
Second, we have to distinguish between user-generated content and company-generated content. G2, Tripadvisor, or Quora scale with content from users. I would also cluster Spotify, Amazon, or Netflix under UGC, even though it’s technically customer-generated content (the devil is in the details). Startups like Hubspot, Canva, or Sproutsocial scale with company-generated content.
Third, content can appear in many formats: video, audio, text, stories, email. It can be long-form, short-form, interactive, sequential, generic, essaye, entertaining, educative, edutaining, etc.
All these factors and more must be fit to the product, audience, and channel that delivers the content. And most companies get it wrong.
When do you have Content-Market Fit?
Similar to the idea of organic growth of a product, we can use hard measures to determine Content-Market Fit. Because content plays several roles within the Growth of a startup, we can divide these metrics into engagement, conversion, and distribution.
- Dwell time/watch time
- Scroll depth
- Returning visitors
- Product sign-ups
- Email sign-ups (leads)
- Social Shares
- Backlinks (without doing outreach)
- Referral traffic
- Organic traffic
- Search engine rankings
- Direct traffic
How do you know when you perform well for these metrics or not?
Distribution is easy because most content isn’t shared, linked to, or gets click-throughs. If you see high-quality backlinks without outreach, it’s a good sign. Even more when those links bring a lot of traffic. Traffic can be measured against its potential and previous performance. The more it grows, the better, and the best growth is exponential.
Engagement is simple: scroll depth can be measured on a scale of 1-100%, dwell time/watch time can be compared to how long it would actually take to consume all of the content (basic WordPress plugins can do this for you), and you can measure the balance between returning versus new visitors.
Conversion is a bit more complicated. Here, it really depends on what you projected or forecasted and whether you exceed your expectations or not.
How to find Content-Market Fit
As with Product-Market Fit, the best results come from talking to your target audience and monitoring metrics.
First, a product with Product-Market Fit will help you develop a strong brand faster and find Content-Market Fit. The two are interdependent. Even the best content can’t make a mediocre product shine. It might lead to traffic but that traffic won’t convert. So, you’re better off making sure the product has Fit, first.
It’s called Content-Market Fit for a reason, so your best way to find out what your audience loves is to actually speak to your customers, understand where they spend their time, and what format/channel they prefer.
The product and audience naturally constrain channels and content formats. A hip DTC brand might be more qualified to create high-quality videos but not written long-form content. A very technical biotech product might find good Fit with whitepapers and webinars.
Customers often tell you only so much about what they would do in certain situations and what they would love, so you need to look at hard numbers like the ones I listed above. Comparing your engagement and distribution metrics against competitors is a good way to determine your Fit. Tools like Similarweb, SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Alexa can provide you with engagement, backlink, and traffic metrics.
Developing something people love, whether it’s content or a product, is never an exact science. But we can use hard metrics and methods to measure whether we’re on the right path, how we stack up against the rest of the market, and whether our content works.