Stackify and Onspring Share How to Amplify Your Reach with Content Marketing
Content marketing. It’s a sometimes elusive term that’s tossed around marketing circles as a strategy small businesses can use to nurture leads and retain customers. But what does it really mean—and what does it look like in action?
We reached out to two Kansas City businesses that are rocking the content marketing funnel to get their take on how they use content marketing, what results they’ve seen and what tips they’d share for others who are thinking about content as way to reach, delight, educate and convert customers.
And so, meet Chad Kreimendahl (CK) and Sarah Nord (SN) of Onspring and Matt Watson (MW) and Natalie Sowards (NS) of Stackify. (We’ve punched out their convo with their initials, so you can follow the insights.)
Take it away, Onspring and Stackify.
KCSourceLink: Let’s get on the same page with our readers. What is content marketing, why do you do it, and what does that look like in your business?
Natalie Sowards@Stackify: Content marketing is the practice of offering informative and useful information to your audience in order to help educate and solve their challenges. At Stackify, we want to empower the developer community with information and solutions, so they can build better applications with less effort.
Sarah Nord@Onspring: I would echo NS@Stackify. Content marketing is all about helping people solve problems or advance their careers...and in the process, develop affinity for (and understanding of) your brand. It’s a method of engaging with your target audience and developing rapport and understanding without bombarding them with advertising. Effective content marketing should be a win-win (for you and your reader).
KCSourceLink: So let’s get tactical. What “content” do you actually create and how does it help your business?
Chad Kreimendahl@Onspring: [Our content creation includes] blogs, buyers’ guides, data sheets, videos, language on our primary website, advertising language, etc. The purpose of our content marketing is engagement. Some things target SEO. Some target events we attend. Some target specific markets and advertising channels. All of it is now managed through SharpSpring.
KCSourceLink: How is content marketing is good fit for your business model?
MW@Stackify: Content marketing is a great fit for our market for a few reasons. Our audience is potentially millions of software developers and we need a way to reach all of them, when they are looking for solutions to solve their problems. Like most people, using Google is the primary way they search for solutions to problems they are having. Content marketing is a low cost way for us to reach our massive audience, when they are also looking for us.
CK@Onspring: We sell a product that can automate just about any business process you can imagine. However, it’s rare that enterprises will ever scour the Internet looking for a system that solves everything. Instead, they go in search of solving a specific problem. Our content marketing is around a very specific, and rapidly expanding, set of processes in which the current market products are either not appropriate for enterprises or have aged badly. [Think about using a website that hasn’t been updated since 2004 versus 2017.]
KCSourceLink: Yes, scalable, relevant, timely, and low cost. So content marketing is not about putting your solutions in front of customers, it’s about empowering your prospects and customers to find and use those solutions. That makes you not just a “hawker of goods” but also a thought leader and trusted resource. That’s powerful.
SN@Onspring: Our mission is to help business people innovate and solve problems for themselves. We achieve that by delivering a flexible, easy-to-use platform for process automation and reporting. We also deliver content that helps people work smart. This content might come in the form of an E-Book with templates and samples, a webinar with subject matter experts, or a user conference where we bring people together to share ideas and challenges. At the end of the day, we want people to be equipped to help themselves. They shouldn’t have to wait on technical resources to accomplish their goals.
NS@Stackify: Stackify gives developer teams access to critical, code-level application performance data, in a single view/platform, so that problems can be found and fixed proactively, and before customers find them. If we can share solutions via use cases, visuals, and articles at the time of need, we gain trust and authority in the industry. The software development industry is constantly evolving so developers need a trusted source to rely on for new information and advice.
KCSourceLink: And content marketing let’s you be that trusted source.
NS@Stackify: Content marketing can directly increase your website traffic from organic search. Google loves fresh and compelling content. There is an old SEO saying about how BLOG stands for Better Listings On Google.
But organic website traffic will only get you so far.
Really good content pieces have to answer the user’s question in order for them to view your company as a thought leader. Once you’ve established yourself as an industry expert, users are more likely to try your products or services.
KCSourceLink: As founders (and for those who have to pitch this up to a CEO), what’s the compelling argument behind content marketing? What convinced you?
MW@Stackify: Over the last few years we have tried several different forms of advertising and have not had a lot of success with them. Content marketing has proven to be a good way for us to drive awareness of our company and products as well as a way to drive demand and leads for our products. Content marketing can take some time to ramp up, but once you get it going it provides long term benefits. Really good content that ranks well on Google can live for a long time.
CK@Onspring: Matt convinced me. He was nice enough to show charts and graphs of the value their content generation added. At Onspring, we like to constantly be performing experiments for our next round of marketing. We’re always doing the things that work, and always making sure we’re trying new things. We dedicate about 20% of our marketing budget to “new things.” After talking with Matt, we decided to migrate to a different CMS and begin producing content at about five times our prior year’s pace. Our market differs from Stackify in that we’re targeting a much smaller group of people, with larger budgets. For us, the customer’s deliberative process (what it takes to go from “looking” to “buying”), is significantly longer.
While SEO matters quite a bit to us, it matters more in terms of creating name recognition than an immediate buy. The vast majority of our customers are going to do two to six months of research before signing a contract. Our goal is to get in their heads and stay there. We do that by showing our expertise, and consistently focusing on our value.
We also attempt to take advantage of in-the-news items, when they apply to our target markets. Most recently this was the Equifax breach, for which I was personally one of the first to identify and confirm the stolen data in the wild.
KCSourceLink: What are the best ways you’ve found to build an audience with content? What works?
MW@Stackify: You have to pick a topic that is important to your audience and write the very best piece of content possible on the topic. High quality topics are important. Quality content ranks well on Google, people are more likely to share it, and engage with your content and company in the future.
- Be a compelling writer. That, I am not. However, if you’re not a compelling writer, surrounding yourself with brilliant people who are capable will easily solve the problem.
- Solve a problem. Know the types of problems you solve and how people might find you in helping to resolve them.
- Educate. If you’re not going to solve a problem, at least provide some value. Make the reader want to come back and learn more.
- ●Develop compelling content: Understand your audience’s pain points and present the solution in a well-written format.
- ●Know your audience: All of our writers are practitioners so when they write an article about a problem they’ve experienced, chances are, our audience can relate to it. I think people want to know that other people in their same position have similar challenges.
- ●Promotion: We share all of our blog articles on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, through our our email newsletter, and some paid campaigns on relevant websites. Making sure the content gets visibility where your audience spends time is key.
KCSourceLink: Be in love with your problem, not your product. And offer compelling content that solves a user’s problem. What else would you add?
SN@Onspring: I would add:
- Be a little unconventional. If you don’t have a voice or perspective that stands out among your competitors, then why bother adding to the noise?
- Go to the watering hole. Figure out where your target audience goes for information and meet them there. Do they spend significant time on Twitter or LinkedIn? Go there. Do they attend industry conferences? Go there. Do they talk to their friends? Get those referrals. The point is, you can’t wait for people to find you. You have to go to them.
KCSourceLink: How long did it take you to see results? How do you measure the effectiveness of your content marketing?
CK@Onspring: They were nearly immediate. Once we migrated our site to our new CMS, including a rewrite of our primary product pages, we saw an immediate uptick in SEO clicks and conversions. Our organic search traffic has doubled since March (when we started this). Our referral traffic lags behind that by about 2-3 months. It’s up almost double. Our direct traffic has tripled. That’s a great sign that we’re on people’s minds. Our social traffic went up by about 20x. It’s not as dramatic as it may seem, going from ~20 to ~400.
Our most dramatic gain, in terms of value to Onspring, has come in our Goal Conversion Rate. We’re converting around 10 percent today, which is up from 2 percent prior.
KCSourceLink: That’s compelling . . .
NS@Stackify: When I came on board, Stackify had blog articles that had been published two years prior and hadn’t been updated, but were still driving 1-2K readers/month from each article. That shows the value of evergreen content! In April 2016, we started publishing articles daily. We saw an immediate boost in organic traffic. We also redesigned our website and optimized our pages and blogs to be more SEO-friendly. The combination of these initiatives led to a huge spike in organic traffic (458 percent since October 2016). The increase in traffic has helped us triple our number of monthly trial sign-ups. We then expanded our content marketing efforts to include guides and e-books, which we promote on relevant blog articles and through a variety of marketing channels.
We produce a lot of content so we try to evaluate each article once a quarter. If the article has received less than 20 pageviews/mo, no conversions, and doesn’t have any backlinks, we decide to either redirect it, archive it, or give it another chance by promoting it.
KCSourceLink: Love the audit. So how you approach content marketing logistically? What types of content do you develop and why? Who writes it? How do you staff it? How much content do you create in, say, a month (or quarter)?
CK@Onspring: Sarah, our director of marketing, manages the schedule for content creation and sharing. So she’s kind of everyone’s boss when it comes to meeting our company goals of content creation. She’ll identify the topics or ask you for ideas, and then give you a date by which you need to finish that content. That most typically applies to blogs, but will also be relevant when we’re in a refresh schedule for our data sheets and other guides. The employees themselves do the vast majority of the writing. So, when you see a blog from me or Jason, about 80-95 percent of the content is our own. Sarah’s our editor-in-chief. She’ll give feedback, correct our grammar, and work to keep things clean and concise.
SN@Onspring: I am technically a one-person marketing shop, but I’m fortunate to work in a company where everyone values content marketing and is willing to contribute. We have a number of individuals who are great writers and are willing to invest the time (sometimes the midnight oil) to produce content for our readers. I’m lucky there. I don’t have to do all this work myself. My job (in addition to writing and designing content) is to orchestrate our content producers and guide people on topic selection, keywords, and relevant calls to action. We try to produce 2 new blog posts every week and at least 2 new case studies each quarter. We also develop e-books and videos, though we’re not in a regular cycle yet. (That’s a 2018 priority.)
NS@Stackify Our goal is to produce the highest quality content so we’ve added several steps to our process over the last six months in order to meet our goal. Our workflow to move a topic idea from just an idea to a high quality published article is somewhat extensive. We start with keyword research to make sure we’re choosing the topics our audience cares about. This is an ongoing effort as new topics constantly surface. We use tools and data to prioritize topics by traffic potential, but also incorporate topics that are closely related to our product offering. We then assign a writer based on their expertise.
We are very fortunate to have our CEO, Matt Watson, write an article each week. We also have several great internal and external developers write 1-4 articles/month. Once we get a draft, we create a custom feature image. (We try to avoid stock images in order to make the article more interesting). The article is then reviewed by a technical copy editor and either Matt or one of our developers will check it for technical accuracy. I optimize the meta tags, links/CTAs, images, and schedule it for publishing.
I’m responsible for publishing 5-6 articles a week. We have additional team members that work creating guides and client case studies (1-2/mo). We hope to incorporate more infographics and video, but we find the articles perform really well for us.
KCSourceLink: That’s great, specific info. For those new to content marketing, what advice do you have for them? Where should they start?
NS@Stackify: Start reading popular content, SEO, and growth blogs (ex. Growth Hackers, Hubspot, Neil Patel, etc,) and take note of best practices. Be cognizant of what you find compelling about a content piece. (Is the title catchy, do you click on the internal links, how do they word CTAs?) You can start by publishing one content piece a month and scale from there. Do your keyword research, but more importantly, talk to customers directly and use their feedback to identify topics that will resonate. Look at how your content is performing and draw out trends. Use performance data to drive decisions on what additional topics to write about and what content formats work best for you.
MW@Stackify: I would start with writing about your product on a regular basis. Even if it doesn’t rank well on Google at first, it can be used as excellent product marketing for visitors to your website, email nurturing, sales materials, etc. Get in a rhythm of blogging at least once a week and grow from there.
I think the most important thing to know when starting out is that a Google search is like a question. People are searching for answers. Use your content to provide the best answer on the Internet to their question and you will dominate the Google search results.
SN@Onspring: I agree with NS@Stackify. If you want to start producing content, first read a lot of content. You’ll get some great ideas from folks who have been doing this for a long time. (No need to re-invent the wheel!) I also highly recommend that anyone who produces content is in regular dialog with clients. You need to hear the language people use, the concerns they have, and the ways in which they try to solve problems. I spend a chunk of my time on consulting projects, and this is where I get all my best ideas for content.
CK@On: To add on to what the other two said, I recommend following writers you enjoy. Find the patterns in their work that make you come back. I’d also recommend 3 books, which deal heavily with persuasion.
- ●Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (http://a.co/5TthPVx)
- ●Pre-Suasion: Channeling Attention for Change (http://a.co/iaYE7Rt)
- ●How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (http://a.co/hRlAid2)
KCSourceLink: Love those tips. Any favorite tools or resources?
- ●Favorite tools: Google Search Console, Ahrefs, Google Trends, DivvyHQ
- ●Favorite resources/blogs: Growth Hackers, Neil Patel, Search Engine Land, Content Marketing Institute, Think with Google
SN@Onspring: I have a monthly “marketing swap meet” with some other folks who work in content marketing, and I get a lot of value out of our discussions.
I also spend a lot of time reading blogs and articles in the industries we serve. That goes back to my point above about “going to the watering hole.”
Tools we use (and like):
- ●Onspring platform for content/event planning, web engagement tracking, CRM, document repository, etc.
- ●SharpSpring for marketing automation
- ●Nelio (WordPress plugin) for social media scheduling and analytics
CK@On: Adding to what the others already said
- ●Google Analytics (can’t believe this wasn’t first on everyone’s list)
- ●Wordpress w/ the following plugins
- ○Enfold Theme
- ○Kraken Image Optimizer
- ○Redirection (if migrating from previous install)
- ○LayerSlider WP
- ○The SEO Framework
- ○Any good Minification library
- ●Onspring (eat our own dogfood)
- ●Matt Watson (he’s usually tried content stuff before we have, and is a good sounding board for ideas)
KCSourceLink: Matt Watson. Always! Thanks all, this has been awesome and actionable.
Okay, KC, it’s your turn. How do you use content marketing and where do you go to hone your craft? If you need some marketing inspiration or education, be sure to check out marketing events on the KCSourceLink calendar (that link there should filter or 100s of monthly events to just the marketing ones).
If you need specific tips, connections or introductions to grow your business, you can always call us at 816-235-6500 or drop us your info at www.kcsourcelink/myplan and we’ll get back to you within 1 business day with your customized list of resources to help you reach your next milestone. And that’d be for free.
Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash