Did you know that mastering Content Marketing doesn’t have to be complex?
To show you, we’ve interviewed three Content Marketing experts to give you their opinion and viewpoint on how to be successful with Content Marketing.
From scaling to fine tuning, we hope you enjoy this deep dive.
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When it comes to Content Marketing, there are only a few people we turn to for amazing advice that works across the board for different goals.
Whether you’re in SaaS, eCommerce, or lead gen, you’ll be excited to learn that the recipes these experts will share will all help you hit your goals faster.
In Order Of The Guests Below:
Ross is the founder/CEO of Siege Media, a content marketing agency specializing in SEO. Siege was named to the Inc. 5000 in both 2017 and 2018, as well as one of Inc’s Best Workplaces. They also have offices in San Diego and Austin and help medium to large sized businesses do content marketing that works.
Nuggets Dropped x54
“Start doing content marketing more intelligently vs. just ranking”
Over the past 18 years, Andy has given digital marketing advice to 1000+ businesses. He speaks at big marketing conferences, writes for big marketing blogs and he hosts a little marketing podcast, Content Matters. He’s written hundreds of articles on content marketing, search engine optimization, social media and Analytics. Andy gives between 50 and 70 presentations and webinars per year. He is also the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing.
Nuggets Dropped x50
“The best content doesn’t win, the best-promoted content wins”
Kristin is a seasoned content marketer whose focus over the last 13 years has been on staying at the forefront of viral content creation and promotion online. While the methods have changed as new channels have emerged, the base principles remain the same. Create something that provides value, activates emotions, and demonstrates to the brand’s unique selling proposition in an organic way, and it is possible to see the unmatched power of content-based inbound marketing.
Nuggets Dropped x56
Shareable content is what publishers are looking for”
Content Marketing Mastery With Ross Hudgens
Johnathan: Hello, is this Ross?
Ross: This is Ross.
Sean: Howdy howdy.
Johnathan: Ross, this is Johnathan and Sean over here at BoostSauce, we’re super pumped to have you on the show.
Ross: Thanks for having me, I’m excited to be here.
Johnathan: Awesome, so, you’re a guy that we’ve been following for quite a while. You have a pretty dang impressive agency in regards to what you do when it comes to content marketing.
Basically, as we’ve talked about earlier, the whole premise of this episode is for you to drop as many nuggets as possible for our audience to learn from.
So, let’s just assume that we’re a new client of yours, we’ve already hit things off, we’ve paid your first invoice, most important part. And you’re ready to get going. Can you kind of take us through what it means today to be very successful in content marketing, where would you even start?
Ross: Yeah, a few places actually. Almost before the invoice is really where you should start in some situations. So for many of our clients and for anybody, I generally suggest to be thinking about one, where is your content gonna live, and does that look good?
So we’re, very frequently people come to us and they want content marketing, but they actually have a really disgusting looking blog, that doesn’t look great so my suggestion very early for those clients is actually to invest in some cost of a WordPress design or a blog, it doesn’t have to look amazing, it can be a minimum viable blog you throw up that lives, and host your content in a way that basically lowers, it’s increasing the performance of every content after that.
Johnathan: Got it, got it, so–
Johnathan: Go ahead.
Ross: No, I was gonna say, that’s kind of the one, is have a place for content to live, or invest in, whether it’s just your blog, your entire site should hopefully be good. But, the blog needs to fall in place too, for most people.
Johnathan: Is there anybody that you can kinda explain much more objectively in regards to what is ugly and what is nice when it comes to layout and how a blog can visually perform. I know that can kinda be a tough topic or question fired at you, what are your thoughts?
Ross: Yeah, definitely, that’s a good question. A few things generally are quantitatively ugly to me. One is, is the font size too small? So you wanna aim for a font size above 16 pixels. I think kinda standard now is 18. Really to make it really readable, the font shouldn’t be gray on a white background. It should also be easy on the eyes, just as aesthetic. So that’s another one as well.
Column width should be relatively narrow, so it’s easy to track to the second line. I don’t know the exact number off the top of my head, but Baymard I think has a blog post that I would check out on optimal column width. So that makes it easy.
Yeah, a nice colorful image above the fold, generally not stock photos. A lot of blogs, they just use stock photos, so I generally suggest either minimizing the affects in stock, where it’s not a big part of your design, or lean on illustration or original photography if you have the luxury of that, things like that.
Johnathan: So something that’s more brand-related for the visual side.
Ross: Yeah, and I think that’s what you guys do well is you have the nice illustrations for each post. I think that a good way to think about that blog design is also try mixing it around looks good, but it’s like a template that you can reuse without spending 40 hours per post. And you probably can describe this better than me, Johnathan, but I think you have like a general blue background and then a smaller illustration on it.
Ross: that probably doesn’t require a ton of time per post.
Johnathan: Yeah, we’re super simple. And looking back at it, I’m like, man, now we have so many blog posts that follow that recipe and we’re not surely that, I’m not 100% that I’m in love with it, but we’re so deep into it now that we gotta keep going.
Sean: We’re too deep now though.
Johnathan: So Ross, you gave some really amazing nuggets. You basically mentioned about the font size, the contrast of the colors of the font versus the background, the width of the sentences. You mentioned that they’re basically columns and so that basically means not reading so far in one sentence that it becomes very, very hard to not breathe in between the lines, so to speak.
And then you mentioned some kind of illustrative work that is more brand related, that if, I would imagine also if this post, this piece of content gets shared, you can basically say, “Oh, that is a Siege Media piece of content, “or a KlientBoost piece of content.” Would that be correct?
Ross: Yeah, I don’t think it has to be illustrated, but you need design elements that are for sure uniquely you, I think is a good way.
Ross: Not everyone makes illustration sense, but yes, generally yes to that point.
Johnathan: Cool, so there’s probably five nuggets right there. We’re not gonna play that five times but we are gonna summarize that in the notes later too. All right, so those are like the fundamentals. Once you then get goin’ to the next step, what do you basically look at there?
Ross: Yeah, the next step is kind of how, how new the client is. So, if you’re starting from scratch, and say you’re a startup or something like that and you have relatively low authority from a link perspective, you’re gonna need to start with topics that are lower competition.
We suggest doing something called a Keyword Opposition to Benefit analysis, which is looking at keywords that make sense for you. Not to get real granular here, but say you search for PPC tips, and you search for PPC tips, you take who’s ranking number one, you put them into Ahrefs or SEMrush, and that will tell you all the keywords that url is ranking for.
So you scan all for the value of that based on what someone is willing to bid on that same traffic. So it gives you a general sense of what the value is here, and you can put that into a spreadsheet that says, PPC tips, the total topic opportunity of say, 5,000, the value is 20,000, then the next step would be keyword difficulty.
So a lot of these tools, Moz, has keyword difficulty. Ahrefs also does, will give you a keyword difficulty that basically says, how many links go into these terms, these pages, and also how optimized they are for the keywords.
Ross: So you build one of those, and then you do that over and over for your industry. You look at competitors, you look at different power keywords that you think make sense for you. You build a spreadsheet of say a hundred topics. And then you can sort by difficulty as a new business, and also opportunity.
So you it would be valuable and also the difficulty. And you start making money from this topic early. And that’s a good way to prioritize with your startup. You’ve gotta do that Keyword Opposition of Benefit Analysis, and start doing content marketing more intelligently, versus just trying to rank for PPC day one, which is not realistic.
Johnathan: Outta the gate, yeah, no, absolutely. So, you crawl before you walk it sounds like and then once you have some domain authority being built through those tools that can help you, and we’ll mention that in the notes too so you guys can see them, then you can kinda be a little bit more competitive it sounds like and go for the bigger pieces of the pie, is that correct?
Ross: Definitely, so you wanna ladder up over time, for sure, one element to add to that is the linkability. Sometimes something might be somewhat competitive but maybe the content isn’t that great, or you think you can make something amazing.
We’ve made a post on how to increase website traffic, that I just put all of my heart and soul into, and I knew it’d get, even though it’s really, really competitive, I knew we’d get a ton of links to that.
And so maybe you have a comparable for yourself of your expertise, for PPC, CRO, what have you, and you can throw your heart into that, even though it is competitive, and you know you can stand out and generate links to it, whether through outreach, which is one of our biggest things that you should be able to do, outreach to generate links.
That knowledge about some of these as well, it’s like, which of these can we actually do outreach to generate links to, that’s also something you wanna prioritize early for a new business.
Sean: So, in terms of actually setting up the content roadmap and linkability, do you think it’s better, I mean, it might be a case-by-case basis, but do you think it’s better to kinda set up cornerstone pieces of content that you can link towards with other blog posts in the future, or do you kinda identify those moving forward based on what content is ranking better?
Ross: Yeah, there’s a few modes of thought about that like the hub and spoke model, which believe was popularized by Hubspot, that’s kind of like having a cornerstone asset that’s reinforced by others. I do think thinking through your content themes is really important. Like, what is your brand positioned to be an expert on? And literally lean into that.
And you’ll find if you do that well, if it’s PPC in your example, and CRO, your authority will reinforce everything else around it. But if you even take one step out, like an example that stands out in my mind is Conversion XL is really known for CRO, and things like that.
I was talking to Peep and he, or Peep, sorry, and he, they’re going into SEO and things like that. They’re gonna struggle ranking for SEO because it seems one step out. So thinking about that connection in the process is really important, and also it’s likely gonna convert worse for you, and be less credible and all that.
Johnathan: For sure, for sure. So, it sounds like there’s different models that we just mentioned too. There’s individual content pieces, just to kinda get your feet wet and start seeing that momentum and hopefully some traffic if you’re lucky on early enough.
So there’s also the promotion and the backlinking strategy that we’ll talk about, but then we mentioned about the hub and spoke example, where you have, like Sean said, this bigger cornerstone piece and then, within that, you have these spokes going out to these smaller pieces.
But SEO-wise they’re all reinforcing each other so that the bigger hub, quote, unquote, is the one that’s gonna be getting most of the links, and then that link energy, I don’t know what we call it.
Sean: Link juice.
Johnathan: Link juice, there we go, it then goes to the smaller spoke pieces. That’s something that anybody can take advantage of, and if they’re wanting to get started too, but from a brand, brand new content marketer perspective, you’ve done that research you mentioned and you put ’em in the excel sheet. You’ve analyzed in regards to potential competitive levels and things like that too.
You’ve now decided to write a couple pieces. When it comes to writing that piece, what should you keep in mind to make sure that you have the best chance of it being a quality piece?
Ross: Yeah, good question. One of our immediate things is just to do SERP analysis, the search engine result page analysis. Taking that topic, normally you find the biggest keyword generally, is a good starting point of that topic.
So say PPC tips, I would google PPC tips, and then look at the top 10 results. And what you wanna find is, what are the themes you’re seeing amongst the titles and also urls, and also content type. So the search result is telling you what users want.
So sometimes you’ll see images, sometimes you’ll see definition, sometimes you’ll see paid results, sometimes you won’t see paid results. Sometimes you’ll see lists, sometimes you’ll see a lot of bait, or news in there. All those things can kind of somewhat inform what your content should be about.
But on the tips example, if I know the space, and I can just think of what’s likely there, you’re probably gonna see some listicles of tips, where maybe there’s 25, there’s 30.
One of the things you might wanna do is look at each of those, evaluate for how good they are, one, but can you think of, “Hey, maybe we can differentiate “in the search results by going for 40 “when the max is 30, and we believe we can deliver 40 “actually good tips,” that can help your click through rate, make your article better, and that can be a differentiator, as one way of evaluating that.
But if it’s something like…
Sean: It’s like 10 floors on the skyscraper.
Ross: …types of flowers, yeah, yeah, it’s like skyscraper but you don’t wanna go too, it’s probably too complex. Sometimes you can have a million results for something that doesn’t make sense.
So, an example of that might be PPC tools. I think that necessarily doesn’t need 150 tools, compared to, I think people would rather have an article from an expert like you guys, just saying, here are the 10 tools you really actually need.
‘Cause people aren’t gonna use 150, they’d rather just know Ahrefs, SEMrush, for SEO, or Moz, and for you guys, whatever that equivalent is. And that can be its own skyscraper, is that being the expert, which you can’t do overnight, but you can work towards eventually.
Johnathan: And for the people listening too, this is really interesting that you said that about looking at the SERPS, the search engine result page in regards to, what type of content does Google value based off its own users, like the user activity basically, and what they trend towards.
My very, very novice understanding of content marketing was what Sean basically just said, it’s like, look at the competitors, slap 10 stories on the skyscraper, which a lot of people might not know about, but some of you guys might.
The Skyscraper Technique is basically like, how do you make sure that you have the tallest building in the city? So you look at the competing blog posts, you figure out, do they have 40 examples, like you mentioned, and can you do 50 or more?
And it became this thing of like, okay, you have 49 pizza recipes, but I just dominate you and have 212 pizza recipes. And you’re like, dang, while that might be cool for that specific search, it might not always translate for everything else too.
And, at the same time, think about experience. I’m sure you can even do the data analysis and dive deep and say, hey, if you do have 150 PPC tools like you mentioned, Ross, maybe people don’t even go past the 10th one, and so does that mean that you have quality content?
Probably not in that situation ’cause people aren’t seeing a reason to continue reading, because you might be super shallow about your recommendations, or like you mentioned, instead of having that you have like, 10 tools that are expertly and thoroughly reviewed, and explain why you need it in your arsenal too.
So that was really, really interesting. I’m gonna give you a nugget for that. Cool.
Ross: Yeah, I think.
Johnathan: Go ahead.
Ross: Yeah, go ahead. Well, I just think Brian Dean, so he popularized the Skyscraper Technique, if anyone wants to google that, but he actually has an SEO tools post that actually contradicts this, where he has like 150 tools. He’s done an amazing job kinda combining everything.
So I think it is possible to sometimes break this recommendation. But he also does things like Brian Dean’s picks, where you click a filter and it shows you his specific picks out of the master. But you can see everything, and see just in theory it works for you. In many ways the guy who like, makes a omelet, he’s at least worth checking out as another way of doing that too.
Johnathan: Super smart, super smart. Okay so, you kinda took us through about the execution of the content too, and using what Google already is showing you in regards to the results, to kind of get an idea of what will perform well. The next step is then writing it, and then even more so, promoting it after that. Take us through that universe, which can be two separate things.
Ross: Yeah, I think it should be related actually, and that is one part of our process. In the ideation phase for our clients, we’re thinking of the outreach market that we can kind of promote that content to.
So there’s a lot of different ways you can distribute content, but if you’re primarily trying to generate links, as a starting point, which if you’re a new business, you definitely need to lean on. There’s unfortunately certain markets that link out online, not all of them are gigantic.
So for example, personal finance bloggers don’t link out ’cause they all want money. You have to, if you’re in personal finance, actually find ways to connect to personal finance without it directly being about personal finance bloggers.
An example would be personal finance for seniors, so you could reach out to senior citizens. Or personal finance for kids, so it’s like a beginner’s guide for your young one, and you could reach out to link bait markets for kids’ education.
Johnathan: Got it.
Ross: Those kinds of things are things to consider in ideation phase, when promoting content.
Johnathan: So, if you ignore that, basically what could happen is that you’ve done all this research, you’ve then written the piece, or multiple pieces, you’re then getting ready to promote it for the sake of either promotion in general, which means more eyeballs, or for the sake of getting backlinks, which is, some people would call the currency of how you basically improve your content marketing game over time.
You’re basically saying if you don’t consider that in the ideation phase, you may be hit with a hard reality once you’re getting ready then, get those backlinks.
Ross: Exactly, I think in general whether it’s links, or whatever it is, a good proof point to always leverage is just social proof of your idea. Has someone shared something to a good amount, that’s somewhat similar to yours? Have they linked to it? Have they pinned it or liked it, whatever your metric of choice is.
Validating that there’s some kind of indication of interest there, and search volume is definitely one of them, is a good indicator that you at least can get some kind of content marketing distribution. Whether it’s links or shares on Twitter or LinkedIn, et cetera.
Johnathan: That’s amazing.
Sean: Yeah, that compounds too. The more social proof and shares you can provide, the more Google’s gonna know that the content is quality and then it’s gonna rank higher, and the more reads it’ll generate as well. It’s just a compounding system.
Johnathan: Cool, cool. All right so, when it comes to, let’s say, getting the pieces done and you’re then going for the outreach portion, even though this isn’t necessarily about the outreach and the effective strategies there too, but actually considering having you back for that if you’re open to it, Ross.
What do you do next in regards to the next piece in the evolution of making clients happier with more traffic and hopefully even conversions too. Is it outreach now at this point, or is it something where you start building out bigger pieces of content, or how does that work?
Ross: Yeah, so you know, we talked about validating a linkable market, but I would say the next step in the process is definitely making amazing content. How to really go about making it better than competition, whether it is just more, or just hopefully better, rather than just pour more into it.
Johnathan: Just more, just kidding.
Ross: But another part, another part that’s important for linkability is to have shareable assets in whatever you’re promoting. So a shareable asset could be unique small images with data on it, maybe it’s a survey, or maybe there’s a link sharing in some way, or maybe it’s an infographic. It could be photos that are original to that piece with some design elements. It could be like mini shareable collages.
Sean: Little tweetable quotes.
Ross: We always build those in. Yeah, tweetable quote could work. We build those in because what we wanna do from a link building perspective is lower the friction for someone to link to you.
So by giving them beginning assets to build a blog post, or whatever about you, you’re making it easy for them to kind of throw up something that references you that still feels significant to their audience. So you give them multiple images, and ideally multiple steps.
So some clients we might make a how-to, and we’ll have a video that they can embed, then we’ll have single images of these steps that we could use, and there’ll also be a fold up infographic that gives ’em that leverage point if they’d prefer to use that as well.
So, many additional options for whatever that blogger type is to share the image, and then going back to, well you get down to the syntax, it’s gonna be a much higher friction for most markets that are impacted.
Sean: Right, one question, have you ever kinda run into the issue of, I guess you would call it, keyword cannibalization, where if you’re creating different shareable elements, whether it’s like a blog post, an infographic, and–
Johnathan: Like an image.
Sean: An image, or something like that, and they’re kind of all fighting for the same keyword, do you ever see it where those kind of take traffic away from one another, so none of them can really make it up onto page one?
Johnathan: Or are you saying, Ross, that they’re all part of the same piece of content, basically?
Ross: Yeah, that’s where the topic research comes in, if you’re really thinking about topics instead of keywords. So, if you did PPC tips, in the old school SEO world, someone might put, the best PPC tips, or PPC tips for a wide market, where really, you could potentially rank for all those with one page.
And that’s where people sometimes don’t understand that they can actually throw that up. And one way we can kind of saw through that, if you have multiple keywords you’re kind of serious about, google that other keyword and compare it to the original that you think might be competing with it, and if you see more than 50% overlap between the keywords, there’s probably a good chance that that one topic, or one page, can rank for both keywords at once.
If you only see like 20 to 10% overlap in terms of the same results, there might be a chance that you could build up a more targeted page and rank better than you would building just one page that tries to capture everything.
Sean: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Johnathan: Quick question for you, Ross, you mentioned about the infographic, the video, the visuals too, kinda piggybacking off what Sean was asking too, are you recommending that they’re part of that one piece of content so that when you do, if somebody sees it organically, they can share individual pieces of that, or is that also used for the outreach potential, like the email campaign that you’re doing to get those backlinks, or is it a mix of both?
Sean: Yeah just yes to both.
Ross: Yeah, it really is a mix of both. So, I would say the one element of that post, that how-to video that’s placed in a lifestyle space, if it was organic, most people probably won’t just organically link to an infographic before you pitch them. That’s probably more for the pitch process.
But the video and the images are definitely needed for dual, so if you did most how-to searches, you’ll actually see YouTube results of the videos in that result. So that’s kind of one of those examples in practice, where we need that video to actually solve for what people want.
Like in how to tie a tie, we want a video of someone doing it. One user wants a video of that, and one person wants text steps, one person wants mini-images. And someone might want the full infographic of that, breaking down the steps of how to do that. Like me, because I need to do better.
Johnathan: And Sean, Sean needs all seven different angles
Sean: I need all, yeah I need all of the angles to tie a tie, yeah.
Johnathan: He still doesn’t know. Cool, cool, is there anything that we haven’t asked you so far in regards to things that are, wins in regards to content? I know it’s not a fast thing, it’s not a quick turnaround, it’s a pretty much a big, big brand investment as well, too. What haven’t we asked you, Ross?
Ross: On the creation and research side, I think those are all important places to be thinking and structuring, I definitely think it’s worth considering what your differentiators are gonna be, not just create content for the sake of it. Like, how are you gonna compete against the KlientBoost who now have done a ton of good PPC content and you wanna be a PPC player.
Johnathan: You’re hyping us up.
Ross: You have to do something. You have to do something different, I think. So think about that differentiating quality, even when you’re doing that search engine result analysis, and make sure you leverage that, or you can end up losing. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing really good content but you’re up against some like, Moz, or something like that, you’re gonna really struggle because they’re so entrenched and have so many links and brand equity that you don’t.
Ross: So that, it has to be more than just a tactical, there has to be an element of strategic branding and thinking that through too.
Johnathan: For Siege Media, for you guys yourselves, what has been performing really well for you, ’cause I know you do more, content marketing isn’t necessarily just a blog post, it can be video, it can be literally this, which I guess I should preface, because you could be watching this on video or you can also be listening to it on a podcast version, or reading the blog, the transcript.
What, as far as potential, are there certain industries that have better traction with different types of content, or is it kinda like, hey, do one well, and do all of them well after that? What are your thoughts?
Ross: Yeah I mean, there’s definitely some industries that lean more towards certain verticals more than others. Then going back to differentiation, I think looking for what someone isn’t doing, or maybe there isn’t people doing it well is a good thing.
We specifically started doing video because we didn’t see anyone really doing video on SEO or content marketing very well. There’s a lot of people ranking for things, but like Moz isn’t really doing video.
We’re trying to rank for things on YouTube and things like that, but sometimes even the brand-building aspect and the social distribution is good too if you’re trying to sell thought leadership and not just convert here on my website.
Johnathan: For sure, for sure, awesome. Now is there anything in regards to some surefire bullet points that if you were to have the best amount of success coming out of the gates and you’re brand new to content marketing, I’m thinking about like, the Skyscraper Technique we spoke about, or even the word count.
Are there certain minimums that you would want to uphold that you can define that just give you a higher likelihood of being successful versus not? Because I think a lot of people can say, “Oh, subjectively, I think this piece of content is great, “but I didn’t run it through an analysis “or like a quality check to make sure “that before I hit publish that that’s actually true.”
What are your thoughts on that, Ross?
Ross: Yeah, we definitely have minimums. I do think of the thought like, go for content density rather than content length, which is the idea that you don’t need 2000 words, what you really want is every pixel, every word, really thought through.
Because not every query demands 2000 words. We talked about definitions, like if you’re searching, what is PPC, you probably don’t need 50,000 words on that. A general definition
Johnathan: I could do that.
Ross: would probably suffice, coming from the right person. So that’s good. I do think, if you’re trying to solve for something, I mean, you can use Yoast and things like that to solve for that.
I do think an editor, or someone Q-Aing everything and giving you rough feedback is a huge part of a good content marketing process where you’re holding each other to the fire, someone else who’s seeing the eyeballs on something and saying, “You could add this, you could add that.”
Those are kind of the qualitative things that still add a layer of sort of, not quantitative, but at least there’s a touchpoint of, we’re doing good stuff here from someone who hopefully knows what they’re doing.
Johnathan: And leads to consistency too. I’ve seen a lot of people either, kind of basics, not posting on a consistent basis, but not even that, more so the quality, like they might come out with some great piece, and then they won’t follow that up with the next couple pieces either.
So when you talk about, it’s not so much the length of your post, or the length of your video, or the length of your podcast, it’s the density, and making sure that you have enough of these, which is why we’re doing this. No, that’s super, super cool.
Is there anything that we’ve missed that you think we should cover, Ross, or how are we lookin’?
Ross: Yeah, no, I think that makes sense, I, to kind of like follow along into a final thought, another thing I think is important for people, when we think about Skyscraper Technique, I think building a brand is a lot about consistency with quality rather than building a ton of 10X assets, which has been a jargon term in our industry of like, doing something 10X better than everything else.
Really, most brands are built by 2X better, and sometimes it’s even 1.2X better if we’re being realistic. And that’s why you see these big brands ranking on search results with crappy topics ’cause they’ve been, they’ve delivered a good brand experience.
Like American Express has some small business product, I forget the name of it, but you see the content and it ranks at a lot of places ’cause American Express has delivered a good brand experience that is 1.2X better than probably a lot of other stuff out there. They don’t have to go 10X.
And you’d much rather go that route, I think, over time, than go home run. Although home runs feel good, you don’t need to do that every single time. And I think that’s one way people think about it wrong.
Johnathan: That’s really good to know ’cause I’m kind of obsessed about the home runs, and that’s why Sean hates me sometimes.
Sean: J.D. doesn’t know how to do anything but swing for the fences.
Johnathan: That is all I do. And sometimes we miss quite a, or I should say, I do. But no, that’s super, super awesome to hear, and very valuable too, ’cause I think a lot of people think that the bar, and it should be high, but also not so high that it’s unattainable in regards to being able to consistently come out with stuff.
And like you said, it’s a long-term process. Even building a brand is going beyond just content marketing but it sure has a big, big influence on it. So that’s super, super valuable to hear.
Johnathan: Cool, well Ross, we’re super, super appreciative to have you on here. Thank you so, so much. And we might ping you again for some followup questions from our people listening. But if not man, have a great rest of your day.
Sean: Yeah, thanks a lot, Ross.
Ross: Yeah, thanks for having me on appreciate it.
Johnathan: All right, thank you.
Content Marketing Mastery With Andy Crestodina
Johnathan: Hello, Andy.
Sean: Hello, hello.
Andy: Hey guys.
Johnathan: Hey, thank you so much for joining us, by the way. The first time you and I ever met in person was at the Unbounce conference, I think I remember right. And you had to dip out pretty quickly, and you’re also at a conference now and making time for us, is that right?
Andy: That’s right.
Sean: That’s a big win.
Andy: Always at an evert, yeah, just one after the other.
Johnathan: That’s also one of the reasons why you’re on this podcast because you are very, very much regarded to as a thought leader, so we’re super thankful, and excited to pick your brain too.
Andy: Mm-hmm, yeah me too. Thanks for having me, I’m excited to be here.
Johnathan: Awesome, so Andy, one of the big things that I’ve noticed that you guys do extremely well, and also pretty extensively, is the amount of research you guys do across other content marketers, across the metrics and things like that too.
Before we even get into that, and the value of that itself, when you look at your own metrics from a content marketing perspective, or your client’s, what are the key things to keep in mind for the people listening, and how do they know that they’re making progress? What would you say?
Andy: Awesome question. I would warn people that if the metric is easy to see, it’s probably not very useful. The more visible a metric, the less important it is.
So for example, the size of your, pick your social network, the size of your following, followings don’t really correlate to revenue or profit or business growth. And shares, don’t necessarily correlate with traffic. So, the public metrics that everyone can see are the least important for a business.
Johnathan: Thank you, that’s a nugget right there.
Andy: Yep, yep.
Sean: For sure.
Andy: The website traffic conversion rate, these are much more important metrics, but they’re still pretty easy to find, you can just log onto analytics and see them. If you wanna get a lot of value from analytics, you should be slicing and dicing that data to see like, traffic per channel, conversion rates per page, and stuff like that.
So people who just look at aggregate data in analytics are much less likely to find insights. It’s really when you’re adding segments and secondary dimensions and filters, and drilling down that analytics becomes more useful.
And then of course, the most important metrics in business are the least visible. Like margins, and profit, and net promoter scores, and how do you , these are things that are very hard to find, but the most important metrics in business by far.
Johnathan: Okay, I like that, so you kinda took it even beyond that. Is there anything from a company that might be looking at things in aggregate that, if they were to slice and dice, or if you basically were to audit somebody’s analytics account, where would you start and kinda see if there’s any causation between what they’re publishing and what they’re trying to achieve?
Andy: Step one is make sure you’ve got goals set up. Ideally, you’ve got thank you pages for conversions that can easily set up–
Johnathan: That was a big one.
Andy: Destination goals, destination goals, people. Next, filters and excluding traffic from known bots and spiders, and there’s basic ways to make your traffic data more accurate.
Now, you can look at conversion rate per traffic source, like channels, we call it channel grouping.
Now you can look at things, my favorite, kind of tricky to calculate but, you can see path report, the number of people who were looking at a piece of content and then converted. If you take that number and divide by the page views for that piece of content, it’s a calculated metric, you can see the conversion rate from visitor into subscriber for each of you.
That is an amazing piece of knowledge because once you know which of your articles are the most compelling, the best for list growth, the articles that are inspiring your audience to subscribe to your newsletter, the minute you know that, is the minute you know exactly what to push hard in social, what to keep in rotation, what to put on your page, what to link to from your high-traffic articles.
So, I love to take a minute to calculate the conversion rate from visitor to subscriber per content asset, and then I know what my best mousetraps are, I know where to put the cheese.
Johnathan: Got it, got it, that’s super cool.
Sean: That’s great, yeah.
Johnathan: And we’ll follow up there, there’s a little bit of falling out here and there but we can adjust that and get the notes from you later too. So Andy, once you go through that you basically know where to look to see if you’re on track, and also be able to do more of what’s working for you when it comes to your business goals and the metrics you care about.
One thing I reached out to you for before we actually got on this episode was, the amount of research that you guys do, and the own first-party data that you guys are holding onto, which is extremely impressive.
From a pillar perspective, or also being like that source of truth for that data, how much has that impacted Orbit Media, where you’re from, or if you’re also doing it for some of your clients? So can you shed some light on the importance of that?
Andy: Yeah, original research is the most powerful format for content in the known universe, for sure.
Johnathan: Okay, dang.
Sean: Subtle statement.
Johnathan: That was very subtle, very big nugget right there, dang.
Andy: No doubt, try it. And anyone who’s ever done it, the Content Marketing Institute, the entire strategy was based on this.
Pick any brand and go look at what their top linked-to urls are gonna be, and if they’ve ever published research, it’s almost always one of the top linked-to urls. So, they just, they’re link magnets because it makes that brand and that website the primary source.
Johnathan: Yeah, that makes sense.
Andy: Why do people link to things? It’s because it’s citation, because it’s useful, because it supports what they’re talking about.
So, if you publish original research, it makes you the primary source and there is, you’re basically, you’ve solved the problem of originality and you have contributed to your industry and you will win the conversation.
You’re just gonna appear in all kinds of people’s presentations and books and articles, and you just made yourself relevant. We have statistics on our website that Wikipedia links to.
Sean: Yeah, in terms of like those statistics, have you ever found there’s some what of an issue, depending on if it’s like a new statistic, or a new topic that you’re talking about, of kind of getting that study seen enough, engaged enough to where people are actually linking it and sharing it as well, to where it becomes like an industry asset?
Andy: Yeah, that’s the game, right? Because it’s not, the best content doesn’t win, the best-promoted content wins.
Johnathan: There’s another one.
Sean: Boom, yeah.
Andy: Your job is to quick get that out there, so here are some tricks. One, people who cover that topic, include them in the research as contributor quotes, automatically visible to influencers. Number two, if you can, optimize it to rank for a phrase that includes the word statistic.
Sean: There’s another one.
Andy: So whatever your category, maritime logistics, statistics. People who search for that are gonna find it. You can also just, if it deserves video, make a video to promote it, write guest posts that refer back to it, create visual assets that summarize those juicy statistics or sound bites.
Example, what’s the average lifespan of a website? No one knows, no one knew that before. But I had a VA go look at a hundred websites in the Wayback Machine, in interval at which they redesign. The answer is two years and seven months.
Sean: All right.
Andy: We are the primary source for that data.
Sean: Yeah. Awesome.
Andy: Hundreds of people have linked to that page. So it’s just, people once they figure this out it changes their content strategy forever.
Johnathan: That’s amazing. Something that we are thinking a lot about because we have obviously a lot of clients, have a lot of access to their accounts too, but we never really sat down and dissected anything.
And so if we can be the leader in that piece of statistic, or that first-party data research, the thought leadership, like you mentioned too, of where you’re getting asked to be part of other things, part of books, part of this podcast, there you go, very specific, that’s impressive.
Now there are different ways that you go about doing that and gathering that insight. You either can do it through surveying, or what are some other options? Is it primarily surveying where you get the qualitative feedback, or how do you split between numbers and opinion?
Andy: Well, there’s data that can only exist if you survey. So, we’re known for this piece of content, it’s like, how long does it take you to write a blog post? The answer is three hour, 3 1/2 hours on average. That data couldn’t exist without a survey.
Johnathan: For sure.
Andy: ‘Cause your the survey. But, at other times, just observing, right. I just had a VA go look at hundreds of, like a hundred websites, and look at them in the Wayback Machine to see when they redesigned.
Another way is to aggregate other people’s data. So, we do a piece every 18 months about how much money do marketers make? And we just go to Glassdoor.com and Payscale.com, and we show the median from all their data.
We of course cite them and give them credit, and try to include them in the article. We’re not trying to steal anyone’s content but, you can aggregate other people’s data and produce original, even more credible, statistics.
Johnathan: Right, it’s funny because when we write blog posts, or when I did more blog writing back in the day, I would not even give credit to the aggregator, I would go try to find the original source because usually the aggregator would be a competitor. So I wouldn’t even go that route.
Sean: Skip the middle man.
Andy: Yeah, I mean, you wanna include, include people in it, you include the original source not just to be ethical but ideally, they’re probably influencers too, so I’d love to have a quote from Glassdoor, Glassdoor might share my article. We wanna make them, yeah so, never miss the chance to include people in your.
Johnathan: ‘Cause that also kinda falls into the promotion aspect, right? So if you get a quote from Glassdoor, they’re more likely to also be part of that once the piece is live, is that correct?
Andy: Bingo, an ally in creation is an ally in promotion.
Johnathan: There’s another one.
Sean: You’re full of the tidbits.
Johnathan: Yeah, he has an amazing amount of nuggets.
Andy: That’s the game, that is the game. You wanna include people in your stuff ’cause it’s gonna get much better social reach, much better visibility. It’s a bad blogger, or content marketer, that just makes everything in a vacuum and then hopes someone sees it after it goes live, you gotta kinda stack the deck, and put people in your stuff.
Johnathan: That’s really smart. Now when it comes to doing this research, is there any split that you guys have as an internal rule for, this is the amount of, percentages of written content that is research-based, and this is, I mean, I’m imagining that most of all of things you guys publish is research-based, but as far as like, actually doing the studies, actually getting the statistics, versus a regular blog post.
Or do you guys go so far on the data aspect and that’s what you only publish? How does that split work for you guys right now at Orbit?
Andy: There’s research that supports everything we write, but I’m not the source of all of it. We’ll do probably four to five original studies per year. Some of them are programmed so we just repeat them year after year, which is really giving much more value.
You’re not making these things for one time, you gotta do the research annually, ideally in January so the year looks good for longer. And then you get ’em on , you show the trends data.
So, the average blog post takes 40% longer to write than it did five years ago. I know that because I’ve done that every year for five years.
Johnathan: That makes sense. Okay, so that kinda falls into the updating of blog posts, not just in general, but it makes a ton of sense for the actual statistics and data that you guys are the first party source from.
Do you guys keep your blog posts up to date? How often do you find that that is necessary because of rankings drop? I can see the value in it in regards to comparing year over year stuff from your own surveys, but in general, new versus updated posts, what’s your take on that?
Andy: Well around a third of our articles are rewrites of older articles, recycling counts, so if those urls have been linked to from other websites then that url is already authoritative and it’s kind of, half the battle’s already won.
I just have to make the article the best page on the internet, which is the goal in SEO, make the best page on the internet, and then go just super deep on the topic, you know 3, 4,000, images, statistics, so I just did one, like four years ago I wrote an article about how to write a good headline.
It never really ranked, it was never that strong. I agreed with Google, it was like a so-so article. Rewrote it a couple of weeks ago and just made it bigger and deeper, with better visuals and more data, and better insights.
And because it was already somewhat authoritative, it did have likes from those last four years, it ranks on page one now, and it’s getting I think 40 visits a day or something, which is far better than just, it says about durable visibility.
Sean: Floating around on page 12.
Johnathan: That’s amazing. So another thing you mentioned too is what you fill the piece of the content with. You mentioned statistics, you mentioned visuals, you mentioned quotes as well too.
What is that list of things, if you guys have like your own editorial guidelines, which I’m sure you do to keep the quality high, what is the anatomy of a blog post for you guys?
Andy: Great question, off the top of my head I think, there’s an article, search for web content checklist and you’ll find an article I wrote on it, but here we go. The headline that is both keyword focused and includes a number and an unexpected word, or a weird word, that’s gonna be a good title tag.
Johnathan: Like add hash browns.
Andy: Hash browns if you can, put the hash browns in there. Or cluck, cluck.
Johnathan: There you go, cluck, cluck.
Andy: The header, the header should be surprisingly long. The title’s one thing, header’s another thing, you can go like, the average, the most shared headers and like 15 words long, so you can go really long there.
The article should have short paragraphs, no longer than three lines. The article should have an image or something of visual interest at every scroll depth. So, no matter where you scroll in this thing, there’s something interesting to look at.
Andy: Yep. Contributor quotes, statistics, internal links to related articles, internal, and then this one is rare, most people stop, internal links from other articles. If the article is good so take a minute to find your closely related post and link to this thing that you’ve made.
And, a keyword-focused body, answers to every related question, a simple dictionary-definition style sentence somewhere that defines the terms, that’s good for winning featured snippets in SEO.
Sean: Ranking number zero.
Andy: Yeah, yep, rank above the top position. So, there’s a whole handful of things, pictures of people, type on faces somewhere in this at least, contributed quotes will have faces.
Johnathan: Huh, eating hash browns.
Andy: Eating hash browns, get the faces, right, taking that bite.
Johnathan: Dang, ultimate.
Andy: Yeah, and then there are, if it’s a big topic it’s probably a couple of thousand words long, I’m not writing shorties.
Johnathan: Andy, If was hitting the cluck, cluck button on every single thing you said, one, I think this episode would be like 90 minutes long. Two, you wouldn’t even be able to say another word because we’re gonna have to summarize this and it’s gonna be too annoying for the listener. That is unreal.
Okay, so you have, we now have the understanding of the value of data, and like the source of truth being you’re the first party, either aggregator or doing the research yourself. We now also understand more about the anatomy.
When it then comes to publishing this piece, and you’re looking at promoting it, I think a lot of people stop and because, either one, they do content for the sake of content ’cause everybody’s doing it, but I also kinda treat this analogy the same way as your blog post is basically a TV commercial, but if you don’t have the airing rights on a channel, meaning the promotion of it, it’s not gonna really be seen by many people or have the ultimate potential that you want it to have.
So, how does that look for you guys when it comes to promotion in general? Is there like a checklist you follow, or some nuggets off the top of your head?
Andy: Well, if you’re really serious about the piece, you should make like a one minute commercial for it, even though the piece is kind of a commercial, you make a commercial for your commercial.
And that’s gonna go on social media. It’s going to mention all of your contributors, so because you included other people in it, it’s gonna get better social traction. If they helped you make it, now they’ll help promote it.
And so there’s like, a great social post would include a video with captions, captions are thumb-stoppers, the person’s gonna stop scrolling through their social stream because your video doesn’t have audio until they slow down. So, yeah, captions are a big trick to social media videos.
And then, hashtag, mention, a number, a headline, a secondary headline, the link back to the content should have Google tracking, or UTM tracking codes to make sure the total attribution. So, social video is, we’re in a golden era for that, it’s super powerful.
But yeah, if you’re really serious about the piece you just made, maybe it’s a major piece of research, go write about it on some other websites. You gotta create content around your content. So write some guest posts that refer back to it, super important.
Johnathan: Ding, so the amount of things needed to be able to, one, get the most value out of your piece, plus just doing more because it’s getting more competitive, seems pretty audacious in regards to what you’re hoping for.
Is there anything else that you guys do in regards to backlink outreach, or do you kinda handle those things and allow a lot of them to happen organically, or how does that work for you guys?
Andy: Well, one trick for me, this may not be helpful to everyone but, if you can build up your network of content creators so that you are, you’ve invited them to be part of your content, and they’re inviting you to be part of your content.
When you give contributor quotes to other people, or you’re part of a roundup for other people, or you’re interviewed somewhere, you wanna look for little opportunities to link back to these pieces that you’re promoting.
Now, that’s easier, I’m givin’ away a big secret here, I’m never really taught this before but, if that piece that you made has an original diagram in it, then when you talk about, when you’re included in other people’s content, use that diagram in your contributions to other people’s content.
Now, they’re definitely gonna, the link right, the image-sourced link, I’m doing image-sourced link building, which is only possible if you create original diagrams and charts in your original piece. The editor of that other website is very unlikely to remove an image-source link because that’s you know.
Sean: Creates hesitation.
Andy: So it’s a little bit sneaky, yeah, yeah, but they want–
Johnathan: That’s amazing.
Andy: They love it, they love it because they want images anyway, they want their content to be more visual anyway.
So, if you’re really planning to make a piece work well in search and you’re trying to build links to it, and you use those links to build the authority of your overall website, it’s extremely helpful to make small, original diagrams and graphics and charts so that you can include those in contributions to other things, which will then link back to the original thing.
It’s not image SEO, it’s just giving yourself an opportunity to refer back to your original thing because the images were so useful you put them in all kinds of other contributions.
Sean: It’s creating linkable assets within the blog post.
Andy: Mm-hmm, yep. It wasn’t true 10 years ago, or 15 years ago when I first started doing search, but now I would say that a piece that’s really built for search should include original assets like these kinds of visuals that you can put everywhere.
Johnathan: That’s crazy, we’re only 20 minutes in and the amount of nuggets that’s already been dropped has way surpassed I feel like any other guest that we have on on any episode.
Andy: You’re asking great questions.
Johnathan: Thank you, well yeah, you give so much ammo for every single question that we come at you with.
Is there anything that we’re missing, or anything in regards to that you think is gonna be very valuable to the listener, or in fact, the watcher or the reader ’cause we’re gonna repurpose this content and take your advice Andy, and do exactly what you told us.
What are your thoughts, is there anything that we haven’t touched on?
Andy: We did touch on headlines but there is a point there that I think is still underestimated, and it’s kind of easy to understand if you just think about your own behavior.
Everywhere that you see a headline that you like, social streams, in your inbox, and search results, you do a cost-benefit calculation before you click. So, it’s like every call to action on every website.
The visitor is doing a cost-benefit calculation before they click. So if you want to make, if you wanna increase the click-through rate from a headline, wherever it appears, the subject line, you can kinda make the cost seem lower or the benefits seem higher.
Andy: So, do this, this is a valuable thing or this is an easy thing. Valuable, the benefit’s higher, easy thing, the cost is lower. So you guys know this from PPC work but it’s like, using words like now or instantly, or at least you’re telling the visitor that they’re gonna get something at lower cost. They’re I’m more valuable.
Johnathan: Yeah, so easier or more valuable.
Andy: Yep, every headline is a benefit. Headlines are benefits to clicking. That’s the reason to write a headline. So, make that benefit bigger. It’s the absolutely, no question, the key to traffic.
Johnathan: That’s awesome, so Sean is immediately thinking that he’s gonna say, “91 quick wins that you can establish “in less than five minutes, plus you get a free hash brown.” That’s basically every headline now.
Sean: Plus free hash brown.
Andy: Right. Okay. Hash brown increases the benefit and quick wins, it lowers the cost, exactly.
Johnathan: That is an amazing nugget by itself too. This is so incredible Andy. We are so, so thankful for having you on the show. Basically, we’re most likely gonna do a follow-up episode. We’re gonna hear from our fans and our watchers, readers, and listeners, and we’ll be in touch again.
Andy: Any time, and I’ll be in a better place to talk to you. I’m in like a weird spot right now, I’m in the back room of a big conference center, so–
Sean: You still provided more nuggets than anyone so you’re fine.
Andy: Sorry if it wasn’t the best connection.
Johnathan: Yeah, still, still, yeah, still dealing out ammo like it’s nobody’s business. What conference are you at, or where are you located right now?
Andy: I’m in Chicago, I’m at the Chicago American Marketing Association’s BrandSmart event, which is pretty fantastic. These guys have built an awesome community and there’s tons of pros and veterans here.
Johnathan: That’s rad.
Andy: But yeah, I was glad to make the time, and anything else, any time, any reason, any topic, I’ll get into a better zone and we’ll do it again whenever you want.
Johnathan: All right.
Sean: Sounds awesome.
Johnathan: So, so thankful, thank you so much Andy, we’ll talk soon.
Sean: Thanks a lot.
Andy: All right, take it easy guys.
Johnathan: All right, bye.
Andy: Bye, bye.
Content Marketing Mastery Within Kristin Tynski
Johnathan: Hello, Kristen.
Sean: Hi there.
Kristin: How are you guys?
Johnathan: Doin’ amazing, thank you so much for spending some time with us.
Kristin: Yeah, no problem.
Johnathan: For the people who don’t know, Kristin is actually the co-founder of Fractl, an organic driver of growth when it comes to content. And so, we’re super excited to learn from you today.
We wanna basically start off with understanding, if you were to bring on a brand new client, they’re a good fit for you, and you’re trying to help them basically grow their business from an impactful way, where does Fractl begin, where do you guys start? What do you look at?
Kristin: Well I guess I would say our perfect client is a client that’s looking for organic growth, and one that can benefit from improving their overall link profile. Especially those that need to drive a lot of high-value, high-authority, inbound links to their domain.
Johnathan: Got it.
Johnathan: Okay, and so when you guys go about it, what’s the, how do the strategies differ from what kind of content you create, like how do you get started on that and how do you decide on that? Do you go after individual pieces of content, do you go after linkable assets, how does that work?
Kristin: So, for most of our clients, I guess I should mention, we’re kind of a full service content marketing SEO agency. So some of our clients come to us with other motivations besides link building, and see our outreach for link building.
Some of ’em are interested in on-site content, or resource siloing building, but I would say that Fractl’s really core talent, what I’d say we’re better than the rest at, is developing data-driven, newsworthy, emotionally-compelling content that can get placements on major media sites, and then enjoy the syndication that happens when you add a top tier placement.
And then the value in that for most of our clients is the link value, which, with enough volume can create huge improvements in overall organic ranking ability for their entire site.
Johnathan: Got it, so you said emotionally-driven content. Does that mean you make people both laugh and cry at the same time?
Kristin: Yeah, it’s really the audience that we serve is the audience of the publishers that we push our content to and they’re really trying to create content that’s sharable. So, emotional, data-driven, newsworthy content is sharable and it’s what publishers are looking for, so that’s essentially what we’re trying to create.
Johnathan: Okay, super cool. Now, we’ve spoken to different agencies before too, and the owners of them, and a lot of times the things that we see that are very similar is that they have these execution recipes. We have that ourselves for our own agency.
Is there something that you guys go through? Tell us about the research that you do. How do you actually go through that and decide what you wanna prioritize for a client?
Kristin: Yeah, so it really begins with our internal ideation process, which is informed by a conversation with our client. So, we’ll start by oftentimes doing a deep dive, SEO dive, to sort of understand what sorts of pieces of content would work really well for them, and what keywords or topic there is, and makes sense for their particular brand or their particular industry.
And then we use that to build what we call internally a client brief, which is really just a set of opportunities and restrictions for the types of ideas that we can come up with. And then we sit down all together, our whole creative team, and we basically come up with a bulk ideation.
So we’ll spend a few hours together, about 20 of us, just coming up with as many ideas as we can. And most of those ideas are data-driven ideas, so they’re either based on data sets that we know about or data sets that we search and find, related to their topic area in the client brief.
Or they’re ideas where we’re finding and compiling our own data sets, so we do a lot of surveys, we do a lot of data scraping.
We do a lot of social media scraping, and basically we use what we find during that research phase that ideation phase, to come up with ideas that we think would be compelling and fit that profile of being new and newsworthy, finding kind of hidden information that no one’s really explored before, and presenting something that’s also emotionally compelling.
Johnathan: So when you guys do that and you go through the research phase, which sounds pretty intense, like 20 people, that’s a massive amount, is it like a lot of first-party data based off the client’s data that you can then get from the surveys?
What do you guys see of the type of content that you then breathe life into that preforms the best for your clients?
Kristin: It really does depend on the client. I would say, when we’re able to use client’s internal data that hasn’t been explored, or exposed externally, that can make for some of the easiest types of content to get placed, because it’s kind of hidden information that sometimes is really, really fascinating.
Johnathan: I like that.
Kristin: But it really just depends. For some clients, surveys make a lot of sense because their industry is just something that’s very general interest and you could ask a lot of fascinating questions that are directly tied to their product or service, or something that’s slightly tangential to it.
And then oftentimes also there are applicable existing government data sets. And every year there’s more and more data coming out. It’s almost like the sky’s the limit because there’s so much out there, it’s just really how deep can you dig to find something new and unexplored, or how can you come up with an idea where you can get data that no one else has gotten before through data scraping.
Johnathan: Right, cool, how do you guys go about doing data scraping if it isn’t surveys and it isn’t the client’s own data? Are there certain tools that you guys are using? How do you go about that?
Kristin: Well we have an internal development team, but also a lot of our creatives are pretty well-versed in programmatic data scraping.
There are some web browser tools that are pretty efficient for basic data scraping, and sometimes you get lucky and the data is pretty accessible or in a format that’s relatively easy to scrape, but often it requires using Python to scrape it and clean it and do other things with it.
We use our internal development resources, and/or our creatives, there are particular projects they do it themselves. Or sometimes we’re also lucky and there’s a lot of government data sets have built-in user interfaces for exporting data in a clean format.
So, some of the largest data sets are really good about that, but there’s often a ton of work that needs to go into cleaning the data, and then analyzing the data.
Johnathan: I can imagine.
Kristin: But, that’s probably the bulk of the work that our creatives are doing, are getting the data, cleaning it, and then examining it and trying to find interesting aspects to it, and then putting it into a cohesive narrative that makes sense and is compelling.
Johnathan: Right, okay.
Johnathan: So, for the sake of anybody watching or listening to this right now, if there’s anything that’s off the shelf, they don’t have the resources to have their own developers or their own Python developers, like you mentioned too, what would you recommend that they get their feet wet with in regards to anything like a software product out there that would be helpful for them?
Kristin: There’s a number of scraping tool, like scraping plug-ins, trying to think of the one that we use most often. Typically we’re doing it programmatically internally.
Johnathan: Yeah, what does that mean, by the way?
Kristin: Totally ranking them and, just using Python usually to actually crawl and then scrape the site specifically, or scrape many sites, yeah.
Johnathan: I see, I’m doing my own Google research right now as we’re talking, I see that it–
Kristin: But if you just, if you–
Kristin: If you search for scraping plugins, I think, Scraper.io maybe, or something like that. I forget exactly which one is the one that we often use. There’re a bunch of good ones though. It doesn’t really matter which one you use.
Johnathan: Got it.
Kristin: Whichever one I guess you find that’s most straightforward, just find one that has a relatively easy-to-follow tutorial and you can use that.
Johnathan: Sure, okay, so I’m seeing this now. Can you give us an example if okay, you got a web scraper, what do you actually go scrape? Like if you give me a very basic example, what would that look like?
Kristin: Yeah, so in one example we did a project on obituaries.
Johnathan: Oh wow.
Kristin: I believe we used the New York Times, we scraped the New York Times obituary section over the last, I don’t know, however many years, and we just get all of that data and then put it in a format that was easy for us to parse and to examine.
And then pulled out interesting insights so, like common names, common words and phrases used in those obituaries. We do quite a bit of practice analysis as well, just so as far as scraping open-ended test data sets, there’s a lot of interesting stuff that you can do, that’s like, finding common words, or common phrases.
So we tend to do a lot of text analysis with the data that we’ve also scraped. With something like an obituary scrape, which is an open-ended text scrape. But a lot of other times it’s structured data, it’s just not something that was easy to export. So it just has to be scraped directly.
Some good examples of that are sports-related data sets are often, they’re a ton of them, there are a ton of sites that have sports data sets, but the data’s not exportable. So you often have to parse the information to it, get the information back, and scrape that information and then iterate through a bunch of different push requests then to get that information back, and then you can paginate it and then you can run with it afterwards.
Sean: You guys are really making advanced keyword research look lazy.
Johnathan: Yeah, I was gonna say, anybody who’s thinking they’re gonna do better, they just got a long way to focus and grow. That’s amazing.
Okay, so you basically have done the web scraping or the scraping in general, you’re getting the data back, you’re cleaning that data, you’re then using it for actually creating it in a cohesive way that looks like, pretty.
It’s compelling, like you mentioned too. Is that the next step of the equation? Now you decide whether it’s a, is it an infographic, is it a blog post? How do you decide on what it looks like and what it feels like?
Kristin: Well we don’t really do, we don’t really like to do long-form infographics because we’ve found that they don’t really, they’re not easy to promote like they used to be.
It used to be that you could create an infographic that was essentially just like a bunch of, information from a Wikipedia page put in a nice visual, long visual format, and you could get a major publication to pick it up.
That doesn’t really work anymore, so, essentially what we’re doing is creating a lot of little consumable pieces of information in graphical form, so that we just call them assets internally but, they’re just different aspects of whatever the data is in a data-visualization form, and then that’s part of an article, essentially.
Johnathan: Got it.
Kristin: Production process, basically the way that it works is once we’ve gotten the data for whatever topic we’re doing our creative strategist will then start to develop what we call a production card, which is essentially just the bare bones of whatever story they’re telling, and all of the data, visualization assets that make up that story, in a narrative format.
And then after we’ve iterated on that, then the second step is to write copy around it after the data’s kinda been formalized and we’re telling the story with the data. And then we add the filler copy to explain what we’ve found, essentially.
Sean: So for these assets are you relying a lot on image source or image citation link building? Is that where we get, or you guys get, a lot of these links?
Kristin: Some of them, but I would say it’s mostly getting links about the whole story itself which lives on the client’s site. So we’re trying to create a real narrative that is interesting enough that the publisher will write about either the entire thing that we’ve put together, or sometimes they’ll write about an individual asset, but they’ll still link back to our client’s page, which has the entire story on it.
Sean: So do you feel like this–
Kristin: The writers are not always interested in everything that we put together, but they’re interested in maybe one aspect or two aspects of it, and they’ll embed that particular asset that we created, or two or three assets, sometimes more than that.
Sean: Yeah, so you guys focus primarily on writing, in most cases just for your clients, right? You don’t do guest writing or guest publications or anything like that on other sites for link building sake?
Kristin: Not really, we kind of do for our own brand. We create a lot of data-driven thought leadership posts and then put them on columns that we’ve gotten over time.
Sean: Or podcasts.
Johnathan: Ha, like this one.
Kristin: Or podcasts, yes. I think that that can work well depending on how much time you have to put in to developing the relationship to actually get a guest blog spot. But oftentimes just pitching your story will be enough to get you a good link to that story without having to develop a full-fledged relationship with a particular outlet.
Johnathan: So this is really, really cool and I like how we’re going through this chronologically. So you’re doing the research, you’re then putting together the content. You have in that piece of content many more digestible assets that somebody could pick and choose what fits, what they wanna share, basically. Is that correct so far?
Kristin: Yeah, I guess one other thing that I should mention is we incorporate our promotions team into this whole process because they provide a lot of great feedback on the different angles that a story could be pitched.
So they’ll weigh in on each individual asset and say, “I like this, I think that this particular writer, “this particular outlet would like this angle.” Or, “Could we explore this part a little bit more, “because I think that this would then give us the ability “to go after a different topic area or a different beat.”
Maybe it’s a business-oriented post but there are aspects of it that are relationship-oriented maybe, so, we’ll look for opportunities to extend our ability to pitch writers that cover different beats. And that really extends the overall opportunity for branding particular projects.
Johnathan: Yeah, so do you guys do this process for every single, I’m gonna call it blog post, or piece of content on your client’s website?
Or do you do this research where you do the survey and do the scraping, you get the first-party data and then that gives you enough ammo to create multiple pieces of content? Or do you rinse and repeat for every piece of content?
Kristin: It depends, there certainly are cases where the data that we’re scoring just happens to be a lot more in depth, or has many more angles than we initially assumed and we, and/or the project that we’re executing, in order to tell the whole story, needs to be broken up into several pieces.
So we do try and get as much value as we possibly can out of it, and oftentimes we will split up campaigns and do different things, or do multiple projects out of them. It just really depends on kind of what we find in the data.
I would say when we’re coming up with an idea though, we try and keep the idea to something that is self-contained and discreet, so it’s not, it can be a danger to come up with an idea that’s too broad and not focused enough because then you don’t, it can be difficult to build a narrative around that. And you can kind of get lost and the story isn’t so strong if it’s not real focused.
Johnathan: Okay, that makes sense. So let’s say that you have the research done, the content piece is done. You touched on this briefly just a second before in regards to the outreach.
How do you guys, the way that we see the world is that we get pitched from these cold emails quite frequently and there’s no incentive for us to give them a link for whatever reason. How does Fractl approach that differently?
Kristin: Well, I’d say we have a bit of an advantage because we’ve been doing this for a long time so we’ve built up a lot of relationships with writers and editors at all of these publications that we pitch to on a regular basis.
So getting our pitches seen, or focused in their inboxes is I think a little bit easier than it would be for somebody who was just starting this. But ultimately, I don’t think that’s the biggest thing that matters, I think the biggest thing that matters is that the pitch is something that’s actually interesting and applicable to what that writer is looking to write about.
So if it matches what their beat is, it matches things that they’ve written about before, and then more than anything, it’s really compelling and presents something entirely new. Which is why data-driven content marketing like this, is really the key.
If it’s something that’s rehashed, or it’s something that’s not entirely new, then it’s not newsworthy and no one’s gonna wanna write about it. So, when we’re pitching, we really try and make front and center what the major findings of that particular campaign were, what the main takeaways were, what the really interesting pieces were, that the writers’ audiences will find most compelling.
And if we find it compelling and we think it matches their audience, then it’s likely that they will too. And the truth is, a lot of these writers and editors have really big quotas to hit, so they’re expected to write a ton of content. And, when they get a pitch that is a story that’s completely unique and is an exclusive for them, then they jump on it usually.
It really comes down to their interest in this type of content, and really highlighting what was found in it, either in the subject line or really early on in the pitch.
Johnathan: Yeah, that makes so much sense too when you break it down that way, because you’ve obviously, you’ve built a reputation of coming with quality work that’s been well-researched, that will make them look almost on a genius level for being able to use what you’ve already given them almost on a platter. So that seems again–
Kristin: Yeah, exactly.
Johnathan: It seems like a lot of work but it, again, if it’s long term and you’re continuously doing this day in and day out, then it seems like a complete unfair advantage to everybody else who’s trying to build their backlinks right now.
Kristin: Yeah, it’s worth doing if you can get the placements at the major publications because the other writers from other publications and small- or medium-sized blogs, they look to those major publications for story ideas.
So, you get a lot of downstream syndication, which I’ve written a bunch of posts about on Moz recently that show some examples of some of our work, and the syndications that happen as a result of that.
But that’s really what it’s all about is getting the great content that we’ve created the most visibility that we possibly can with the major exclusives and then supporting that with additional followup syndication work, so, continuing to reach out to other publications, writers and editors at other publications.
And then also, some of the kind of more manual labor of going back and finding all the places that it’s been mentioned and getting the links updated if they were, either just like a text mention, or a mention of the original publication and not the client’s site. You can get those linked back to the client’s site instead.
So, there’s a lot of followup work that needs to be done but–
Johnathan: I like that.
Kristin: The value really comes through that syndication.
Johnathan: I like that nugget, never even thought about that myself. So you’re saying if people mention you or your client via text, you then followup with them afterwards and say, “Do you mind swapping that for a link instead, too?”
Kristin: Yeah, exactly, so say we get something on “Business Insider” that links back to our client’s site. A lot of the additional syndications that happen will link back to our client’s site and/or the original “Business Insider” placement, so we’ll go back through all of those and try and get people who linked to “Business Insider” to also link to our client’s site.
Johnathan: All levels here.
Kristin: Yeah, just to make sure that we’re good at extracting all the link value that we possibly can. And then, this sort of work sort of builds links in perpetuity, and so we’ll often go back six months or a year later and there’ll be a whole crop of new ones.
Actually, we did a study recently that found that in the year after the first six months after publication we often see again the same amount that we saw in the first six months.
Sean: Oh yeah.
Kristin: It’s truly like a compounding thing.
Johnathan: That’s crazy. I’m blown away, I was taking you through the steps and obviously the actual work that goes behind it, building the own thought leadership that you guys already have. There’s no shortcut to it, it’s just hard work, and good quality work too.
Is there anything that we haven’t asked that you think is important to share with the people listening?
Johnathan: We went through a lot.
Kristin: I guess I would say it’s not, I don’t think it’s as hard as you might assume. I guess it sounds a little bit intimidating, that’s all our data-driven projects. And I guess that maybe I should’ve said earlier that 100% of our projects are not data-driven.
We also do things that are more like artsy or conceptual. A bunch of our most successful campaigns have actually been, like we did one on beauty standards in different countries and we just had a bunch of Photoshop artists, Photoshop an image of the same person to whatever the epitome of beauty was
Johnathan: That’s crazy.
Kristin: in that particular country. And that one did incredibly well because it was highly visual, it was highly emotionally compelling, completely new information. But it wasn’t really data-driven, it was just a visual exploration of cross-cultural differences.
So, we do things like that too, and I would say there are certain ideas that are a little bit harder to come by and maybe a little bit more risky than data-driven projects. But they’re not, there are other ways to go about creating new and interesting content that’s not entirely data-driven.
I guess I would also say that you can start more simply than going into crazy programmatic data scraping, or, you don’t need to have programming knowledge in order to be able to write a data-driven post.
There are, like I said earlier, there are lots of data sets that are very accessible, where you can just export the TSV and then explore that TSV and find takeaways in it. And there are a ton of really great products for examining data, so internally we use Tableau a ton. I’d say all of our creatives learn Tableau and use it on 95% of projects because it’s just so great at helping you to explore many different aspects of a data set very, very quickly.
And it’s really pretty fast to learn too. I think you probably learn it in less than a week, less than a day honestly, to be able to do 60, 70% of what you typically would need to do to explore a data set. It just makes the whole process a lot faster for us. I would definitely recommend Tableau as a way to take a CSV and then explore all the different aspects of it.
Sean: Also, when you’re in that early ideation phase of a new client and you’re trying to figure out what type of content you’re gonna be creating, do ever kind of, if the data-driven content doesn’t, if you can’t really find that data set or the specific numbers you’re looking for and you need content, do you ever fall back on keyword research to kind of prioritize the content?
Or do you, when you have a list of 200 posts from your 20 people brainstorming about data stuff, do you use keyword research to prioritize which post is gonna be written first? Or did you guys kinda throw keyword research out the window?
Kristin: I guess I would say we, more so than keyword research we try and get our clients to agree to do things that are topically related to their business but not super, super niche. The broader they let us go while still having it make sense then our client can use that content, the more opportunities there are for pitching that content to major publishers.
So, we do a lot of research to find out what has been written about in the news around the topic areas that we identify for our clients. The topic areas are often, we use keyword research to identify those topic areas, and just kind of flesh out the sub-topic areas that we could look at.
And then we use, we use BuzzSumo a lot to sort and investigate stories that have been most popular around any event, topic, or sub-topic area. And then we’ll kind of use that as a basis for coming up with ideas, and search for data sets that are related to those ideas.
Johnathan: Wow, every time I feel like we have a guest on the show for anything that we do, there’s a different way of doing it that we’re looking at ourselves, we’re like, “There’s a lot to take advantage of here.” So, this is super, super cool.
I know that what we’ll basically do is we’ll prioritize the nuggets together when we actually, basically turn this into written content too. And so I feel like we just did our own first-party data research scraping ourselves in a sense.
Kristin: Yeah, you guys did.
Sean: Scrape ourselves, it’s getting too meta.
Johnathan: So, no, we’re super, super thankful that you’re spending the time with us. Very excited to see the reaction of the people listening to this too. Kristin, thank you so much.
Sean: Yeah, thanks so much.
Kristin: Yeah, actually let me mention one more thing–
Johnathan: Oh sorry, go for it.
Kristin: You made a really great point and it’s kind of, not in our methodology that we use for clients personally, that isn’t, I guess I wouldn’t say it’s super data-driven although oftentimes there are data-driven takeaways from it, and they’re expert roundups.
So, it’s surveying people who are, either do a particular thing or are experts in a particular field, and then aggregating their feedback around a set of questions. And that often in and of itself is newsworthy enough to get great pickups so yeah, I think the strategy that you guys are using is a really smart one.
Johnathan: Yeah, sweet, well thank you.
Sean: We’ll ping ’em back.
Johnathan: We’ll do more of that but also everything else you told us about.
Johnathan: Cool. Well thank you so much Kristin again, and we’ll be in touch.
Kristin: Yeah, no problem at all.
Sean: Thanks again.
Kristin: Thanks guys.
Johnathan: Take care, bye.