CoSchedule started the Actionable Marketing Podcast (AMP) in 2015 and has recorded and published more than 300 episodes. CoSchedule has worked with some of the smartest minds out there that share their stories with you through this podcast. This season, CoSchedule brings back some of the best of the best evergreen content.
CoSchedule’s blog and content engine generate more than 1 million views and 20,000 leads every month. How do we do it? Listen and learn.
Today’s guest is Leah DeKrey, content marketing strategist and blog manager at CoSchedule. To know that a million people read the blog posts she writes every month is terrifying, thrilling, and core to CoSchedule’s growth.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
Reasons for Successful Blog:
Corporate and managerial buy-in
Standards of performance
Blog Posts: Be different than the rest, as the best
4 Performance Pillars for Blog Posts:
Comprehensive; at least 3,000 words
Content upgrade/value-add included
Keyword Domination Strategy: Drive content by Googling around to search and seek high-volume, low-difficulty keywords
Measure Success of Content and Blog: Give it time because reaching the top doesn't happen overnight and takes patience
What you know now: College system is ripe for disruption, real world is where you learn 90% of what you do
Tools to Try: Ahrefs, Google Analytics, and KISSmetrics
Eric: Leah, welcome to the show.
Leah: Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for having me.
Eric: Yes, sometimes we do we have internal team members on the show. We're huddled really closely in this little studio.
Leah: It feels 90 degrees in here.
Eric: Yeah, you take your jean jacket off. But this is gonna be fun. I'm excited to have you on the show. I love bringing CoSchedulers on, I think there's so much to learn, I think not only with our internal processes. I think we have some really good ones that we employ here.
Eric: It's really cool to see them in action, which is why I bring fellow marketers from coast control on the show. But also I think it's kind of fun to take a peek behind the curtain. For those listeners who are fans of CoSchedule, like our process, and so we can talk about how we actually accomplish some of those things. We face the same stinking challenges that everyone else does.
Leah: It’s true.
Eric: That's a lot of fun. Before I do so, I always make sure and let our listeners get to know a little bit about our guests. Leah, I know you're a huge fan of thrift store shopping.
Leah: I am.
Eric: Every Friday, you usually show up in your favorite thrift store apparel.
Leah: I call it Fun Shirt Friday.
Eric: Fun Shirt Fridays.
Leah: Last week I had a 1992 Billy Ray Cyrus tour t-shirt.
Eric: Yes, full mullet and it's always crazy to think that the kids now will know him from the...
Leah: Miley Cyrus?
Eric: No. Whatever. I can't think of the name of the song. But not knowing Achy Breaky Heart, so it’s good that you represent still. Well, good. You're not all about just thrift store, you actually are well accomplished and an excellent marketer. Leah, if you could talk about—you had an awesome wild career so far in marketing—how did you end up here at CoSchedule?
Leah: Oh, that's a really good story. After I graduated from school, I moved to Stockholm, Sweden and got my master's degree and sort of objects in motion tend to stay in motion, so I got a job there. I ended up working in an agency and a couple other big tech companies. I was actually a CoSchedule user when I lived over there, and I had no idea that it was a North Dakota company. I'm a North Dakota girl, thousands of miles away from home and I moved back to Fargo and realized that CoSchedule was headquartered basically in my hometown. I was really pumped and when I figured that out, I just said to myself, “I got to get a job there.” Here I am a couple years later.
Eric: I love it. That’s one of my favorite stories.
Eric: Across the ocean, using CoSchedule, move back home, and you realized our headquarters are here. We hear that a lot. A lot of people's jaws drop when they hear that we're headquartered in this market in front of North Dakota. It's fun being from the Midwest and cool to be able to work at this [...].
Leah: Yeah, it's the best company in North Dakota, I think.
Eric: Heck, yeah. I think one of the things that people are typically introduced to CoSchedule is through just a miraculous blog that we have. You've stepped into roles as our content marketing strategist, you own the blog now, you own the content. I think we really want to dive into this idea of what does it take nowadays to have a really strong content marketing strategy? What does it mean to have a really strong performing blog? What goes into having a really strong performing blog? What is strong performing even mean and what is the time or resources that actually go into it? Because I think a lot of people know, it's one of those things as a marketer’s list, whether you're listening and you're part of a larger marketing team, or maybe you are a solopreneur. Like, “I probably should have some kind of blog for thought leadership.” People kind of check that market of like, “Okay. I wrote a blog, and I'm writing something maybe once a week,” and that's fine, right?
Eric: We all can do what we want, but I think to really accomplish what we want to get out of content marketing, and specifically a blog at least at CoSchedule, there's a lot of science process and meticulous planning that goes into accomplishing that. That's what I really want to dive into on our conversation today. Let's give a quick—I hate to call it a history lesson of the blog—but wow, CoSchedule has been around since late 2013 but we really saw tons of growth and opportunity I think with our blog as a way to grow our business. Would you mind kind of sharing where we started and how we ended up where we are today?
Leah: Sure. I guess we can start back in like 2014. I didn't work at the company then, but one of the most important drivers of our blog success was really the corporate and managerial buy-in and belief in content marketing. Back in 2014, I think Garrett and Justin, their first marketing hire was actually a writer; they brought a writer into to be solely responsible for content marketing efforts. Really, this blog engine has been driving since 2014 and without that engine, I don't know that we would be the company that we are today. The number one thing that got us kicked off on the right foot was having that executive and managerial buy-in.
The second thing that has really contributed to the success of our blog is these strict standards of performance that we have. We can dive into each one of those a little bit later and talk about how those have contributed to our success, but I really think that getting off on the right foot from the managerial side is what has contributed the most.
Eric: That's a good thing to bring up because I think maybe we take for granted here that like, “Hey, yeah, blogs are important. Duh, it's a huge driver.” Inbound marketing and content marketing is our number one lead generator in the way we're growing our business. I even sometimes forget that that's not always the case for a lot of other marketers, the importance of content marketing, and specifically a blog. Wow, talk about a faith in that marketing medium to hire, you're right, it is now Nathan Ellering, who is our head of marketing, right was that hire. Then we also hired a designer because we wanted every one of our pieces of content to have really beautiful imagery and graphics, because at the time there wasn't, right?
Eric: There was tons of evolution I think that made our blog. What do we get now? What our number of views that we typically get?
Leah: Yeah, we get about a million page views every month, and about 20,000 people every month coming into our marketing funnel just from our blog.
Eric: That's crazy.
Leah: To think that there's a million people reading the blog posts I write every month is really terrifying but you gotta push forward.
Eric: Yeah, but that's powerful and we started at zero. With a lot of companies, that maybe are even just thinking of starting a blog right now, they’re listening, we started zero just like everyone else. I know that maybe you weren't in that role at the time, but what were some of the things that we decided to really do to make our blog stand out?
Leah: When we first started our blog, it was really a remarkable difference from the content that was already out there. Our blog came of age, in a time where there were so many blog posts like, “The top three things you need to know as a content marketer.” They were 450 words, they had stock photos; they were just kind of pretty basic and didn't add a ton of value. What we set out to do, at that time, was to really make sure that all of our blog posts were remarkably different than these types of posts and that is really what then drove our content standards of performance.
Eric: Let's dive into those because I think that's really kind of the meat of what I think makes our blog so magical. I know there’s what we call four main pillars that make up our centers of performance. Let's start with the first one. You talked about a lot of blogs you see out there are kind of 450 words, maybe even 1000 words, but we do a little more than that, don’t we?
Leah: Yeah. Our number one thing is that our blog posts have to be comprehensive. What that means is, we really won't post anything that's under 3000 words. When we say that our blog posts are comprehensive, we aim to be the most in-depth blog posts that you can find on any topic on the internet. What I do is I use something called the skyscraper technique. I take some time, and I Google around, and I try to find what other people are writing about the keyword, then I take that and then 10x it. I take what contents’ already been written and then just add as much as I can think of to the content that already exists. We really want to be like the place on the internet where you will go to learn about any given topic, but it has to do with marketing. That skyscraper technique really ensures that it's that all of our posts are comprehensive in nature.
Eric: Yeah, that's a huge commitment. There may be really good proficient writers listening like, “Okay. Wow, I could do that, I guess.” There might be a lot of marketers are thinking, “3000 words? I haven’t written that since my final essay when I graduated in college.”
Leah: For my master’s dissertation.
Eric: Exactly. I think you talk about differentiators and I think that’s really a big win for us. I think it takes a lot of time. You’re doing research. Right?
Eric: “What's the best content on this topic out there right now and how do I 10x that? How do I be the most comprehensive?” And that's something that we decided to do, right?
Leah: Yes, and it does take time. We were just talking at [...] today. I'm writing this post right now on social media marketing tools, and really having it be a rundown of all the tools that are available. I also struggle with like, “How much is too much? How much time is too much time?” You're not alone in wondering those things; we wonder those things ourselves.
Eric: Absolutely. But it’s something we’ve committed to and every one of our blog posts follows that [...] performance. Love it. Okay, so that's number one. Number two, well, it's also the name of this podcast, the Actionable Marketing Podcast, we make sure all of our podcasts are extremely actionable. It's more than just pie in the sky platitudes. Right?
Leah: Exactly. It’s a really nice segue into our number two pillar, which is that everything that we post has to be actionable. We kind of work under this understanding that we want to teach a man to fish. Everything that we do is screenshots. It's, “Here's how to make a template in your Google Drive,” or we even provide templates, which brings us to a different pillar, but everything that we do, we really want it to be actionable. Walking people through how to actually do something, versus just saying, “Oh, go into Google Analytics and find this.” We show you how to find it.
Eric: Yeah and that's huge. If I’m doing my own research, even as a marketer, you know how you find articles, we got a little bit of tidbit there, and then you find another, you feel a little bit more of that story. We want to be, you should get everything you need on this topic in our blog post. You're not going anywhere else. I think being actionable is so important because I think you're right, it's one thing to say, “Here's some generalities on how to do something.” But if we can show you step by step, which I think goes hand in hand with the comprehensiveness and the length of our podcast, because we're taking the time to show you how to do it, which is huge.
Leah: From a selfish perspective, writing these really actionable blog posts has also contributed to me becoming a better marketer. I've learned personally, how to do so many more things than just saying, “Oh, blah, blah, blah. Go do this.” I actually have taught myself how to do it in the process of writing these blog posts, so it's pretty cool.
Eric: I know Ben Sailer who was a previous blog manager as well, talks about that as well—just how much you learn in the process. Because when you go in 3000 words deep, you're really having to get in-depth in some of these topics that maybe you aren’t efficient with, so that's really cool. Let's cruise on to pillar number three.
Leah: Pillar number three is that our content must be relevant so we call it the content core here at CoSchedule. If you followed our blog before we've talked about it before, Garrett is a big proponent of this. What the content core is it's like this nice little Venn diagram where what you're producing as your product intersects with what your audience cares about. It has to be relevant for both of us, but also relevant for the audience and their interests.
With that said, we target keywords like marketing project management because that's something that our audience cares about, and it's also something that we produce within our product. You might be thinking, “Okay my blog is getting tons of visitors and it's driving a bunch of traffic,” but you won't see your sales increasing in step with that. We call that the traffic trap, it's not producing great value for your business, which is something that a lot of content marketers struggle with.
Eric: Yeah, that's the big thing, and I think for us to pump the brakes a second because I think, marketers are like, “Hey! Look! Our blog is getting views.” I think the thing that I know that's part of Garrett's 10x marketing formula book is like, “That's great, but what the goal of it is to eventually create sales for either your servers, your product, or your business.” I love that Venn diagram of, “What is our value prop and what our customers care about and where do they intersect?” Because it's easy to maybe focus too much on your product.
Eric: Too self-promotional and no one will care. Or on the other side where I can write a topic on that something I know is going to get tons of posts. For example, one of our best performing posts ever is the best time to post on social media, right?
Eric: Which is super fast. Everyone knows when to post, “I want to get more likes, more engagement,” etc. When I say best performing means the most visited, most traffic. But we looked at what resulted in trials of our product and sales of our product, it really didn't perform very well at all. Therefore, is that really the kind of content we wanted to continue to create? I think, for marketers to say, “Okay. Hold up. Let's look at what really our goal is of this particular piece?” I think it adds a new lens.
Leah: Yes, that posts and some other posts that we did in our early days in our blog has really caused us to pivot in what our goals are now. We've pivoted from traffic and shares and things like that to company-grade high trial signups. Are we attracting the right people to our trial signups? Not just anybody. We really want it to be our key personas, our target audience.
I hope you’re enjoying the conversation of Leah DeKrey, our content marketing strategist and blog manager here at CoSchedule. We’re just pulling the curtain back, showing you all the behind-the-scenes details on what is the process that goes into creating our blog, some tips and actionable advice that you can do when you create your content on your blogs that you can stand out and get traction as well. It’s good stuff.
Hey, if you’re enjoying this podcast, I would love for you to do me a big favor. If you could write a rating and review on iTunes for Coschedule and the Actionable Marketing Podcast, I would love that. You know what, before you hit submit, if you take a screenshot of that rating and review, and if you email that screenshot to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, as a thank you for your time and for being a listener, I will send you a really sweet CoSchedule swag pack as a token of my appreciation. I would love that. Thanks so much for listening. Speaking of listen, hey, let’s get back to our great conversation with Leah.
Eric: Okay. We're onto our final pillar. I love this part of what we do at CoSchedule. Again, it's a bit of that actionable, but it's about arming marketers with the right tools that they need, right?
Leah: That's right. It kind of goes in a little bit to being relevant and some of our other pillars, but every blog post that we publish has to have an additional value add that we call a content upgrade. This is really like the lead magnet, this is what helps people. There's something of value that can take away with them. It’s a template, it's a worksheet, it's a pre-made spreadsheet to help them manage their marketing.
Every blog post that we have has this thing called a content upgrade, which is adding value to the visitor, but it's also adding value to us, and that people then can come into our marketing funnel and be nurtured through the process, and hopefully, end up making a sale at the end. Like I said before, about 20,000 people every month are downloading these content upgrades and coming into our marketing funnel, so it's adding value to them, but it's also serving our marketing funnel and our sales team.
Eric: I think it's really important that you say that because, sure, it helps us with that funnel but also, we're providing more and more value. Because like “Oh, not only am I creating a 3000-word blog post that’s actionable, that has content core, that's comprehensive. Oh, also, it has some awesome content upgrades, resources, templates, guides,” whatever it is that they can download for free and adds additional value—that's huge.
Leah: One soft thing that comes alongside of these content upgrades is some trust. People build trust with us and they can be successful without CoSchedule, and we want them to be successful without CoSchedule, but we can also a lot of value with our product. If they can't do what they want to do with the spreadsheet, adding another spreadsheet to their toolbox, hopefully, CoSchedule will come to mind when they're ready to ditch the spreadsheets.
Eric: Absolutely, that's really good stuff. I think it's really kind of [...]. We had to find our own formula, we had to figure out our own way to approach a blog. I think everyone should be thinking, “Wow, okay. This is how CoSchedule was able to look at their particular blogging strategy.” Maybe you're not that far advanced and maybe you are, maybe you’re ready to take that step, but look at your content and figure out what do you want to be a thought leader on, how are you going to break through the clutter, what we call the kind of that competition-free content, how are you going to do things that no one else is doing here? Those are the examples that we decided to do to make sure CoSchedule’s blogs stood out, right?
Leah: That's right.
Eric: It still does because no one wants to put in the kind of effort that goes into that. It takes time and energy and resources. We just don't do this willy-nilly, though I think one thing important is there's, well, gosh, there's a strategy behind our content. We talked about you're working on a blogger now that social media tools. But I think an important part of the blog is obviously, search, it's going to be rankings, it's going to be a lot of different things. We use this philosophy [...] actually been able to jump in a couple of these medians, from a brand and buzz standpoint, but we kind of call them keyword domination medians right?
Leah: That’s right.
Eric: Kind of peel the onion for me. What does that mean?
Leah: With our keyword domination strategy, it's taking our content core and kind of putting it into a strategy. I take a lot of time using Ahrefs which is one of my favorite keyword tools. Also going through and trying to figure out what keywords our target audience is interested in and what keywords intersect with our product. I've created this massive spreadsheet with thousands of keywords and different iterations on what type of product we provide and what our audience is interested in. I also have been put in how we target these keywords, we really look for high volume, low difficulty keywords, we want lots of people looking for this specific keyword on search. But we also want it to be fairly easy to rank on. We want the sweet spot of maybe 10 backlinks to be able to rank on that.
That said, if there's a keyword that has a high volume and really high difficulty, no one's going to find us on that keyword, which then doesn't add value. If you if you're not going to show up in the top page or even a second page on a keyword, then it's not worth our time to spend 3000 words trying to rank on something. Finding those sweet spots of keywords is really important for your content strategy. Otherwise, it's not going to be justified spending so much time.
Eric: Yeah, it's definitely our North Star, it provides us the right strategic direction, because we are we're putting tons of resources, your time. By the way, we didn't mention this, but every single one of our blogs has custom graphics. We have a designer right now, who's actually creating custom graphics to go with these blog posts. We're not using stock images. You've got your time to do research to write, you've got a designer that's creating custom imagery. You're also creating those add on up content upgrades. If we're not being really thoughtful and tactical on the topics that we choose, there's danger in that. It’s kind of that effort versus result kind of thing.
Leah: One story when I first started working in content marketing, I was living in Sweden at the time, the blog post with the company that I worked there, the blogs that I worked on there, we weren't as strategic in thinking about keywords of high volume, low difficulty types of stuff. I was writing blog posts about—this was in 2015, when Google was releasing their algorithm called Mobilegeddon. I wrote a blog post on that, but realistically, we weren't going to rank for that because we were competing against TechCrunch and Wall Street Journal. All of these behemoths in search. We would maybe show up in page number 200. Who has ever been on page 200?
Eric: No one made it that far, right?
Leah: Yeah, so these newsy stories are easy to write, but you can't really add that much value because you're not going to add a unique take to it. You're also not going to be able to take down these big agencies or these big news sources on topics like that. To think of that story, like how am I going to rank on this topic is really important.
Eric: Yeah, I like that advice. Is there a process you recommend that people go through, depending on their business or their industry, maybe it's leveraging a tool like Ahrefs? What's the process? Maybe a quick, “1,2,3 do this, start with this, then focus on this, and then start writing.”
Leah: The first thing is to really understand your target audience. Really understand what their pain points are, how you can help solve their pain points, what verbiage they use like how do they refer to things? What do they search for? Really understanding who they are is of paramount importance in so many different areas of your marketing, but particularly when it comes to content marketing. To really nail down your target persona is super important. Then using that persona to drive your content strategy so finding all these keywords and targeting the high volume, low difficulty keywords. Those are the two real pieces of the puzzle, I would say to driving your content.
Eric: That's awesome, that's really actual advice. I hope you're taking notes if you're listening. I love that. Good stuff. The big question that might get is like, “Man, is all that time and energy worth it? How do we measure success with our blog or with content?” Do you have any advice? Maybe we're listening and you've got someone totally convinced, but now they need to go talk to their managers boss and be like, “Hey, I think we need to double down on our blog strategy or process.” Because maybe they're doing whatever else is doing and they're thinking about, “How do I make sure this is more of a point of emphasis for my company?” What's the rationale you can provide them as they would go to their manager, potentially?
Leah: I think CoSchedule is a great case study in this and that content marketing really is the long game. It's greater than the sum of its parts. To start would be to give it maybe a half a year trial run. If you're really purposeful and really strategic and finding those right keywords and finding what your target audience is interested in. Give it a try just be publishing great content and really devote a bunch of time to it and give it a quarter or six months and just see how it goes. What's the worst-case scenario that you're not going to get better results than what you have right now? Well, then no loss, no gain right?
Content marketing really is an important engine, you can spend tons of money on all of your ads but once you run out of budget, those ads are taken off; they're not going to be visible to anybody anymore. Whereas, if you spend a lot of time devoting to making sure that your posts are showing up in the top page of Google search results, they'll always be there. They'll take some time once in a while to update but you're never going to get away from that. You know what I mean? Does that make sense?
Eric: It does. It doesn't happen overnight. Even some of our content that's finally ranked in the first page that takes time. People linking to that backlinks are really huge and it goes to that domination. We've tried to find a formula based on if we create really good thorough content. People are going to reference this content as the de facto which will again, slowly move us. We monitor like, “Oh, we're in the second page. Oh, we're climbing.” That takes patience. I think it's an important piece, it's not an over the night secret sauce kind of magic bullet, right?
Leah: Right and that's with ads. If you have unlimited budget overnight you're going to be in spot number one, but you might be paying $12 per click, and that’s a lot of budget.
Eric: Not everyone has that luxury. I totally get it. That's the thing you never know because I noticed this, our social media intern ,Cassidy, she came across this and she posted this tweet in our Slack channel. I loved it. The tweet goes, “I've been following CoSchedules blog for a long time. Today, I decided to give it a test run to solve a content creation scheduling house with the client. Oh my god! I am in love with this tool. This is a game-changer.” What an awesome testament to content marketing and long game. Someone who didn't use our product, but had just started to trust our content and are like, “You know what, I'm gonna give this thing a try.” This is really hard to track, so it's fun to see these things and be like, “Wow.” These are examples where this happens.
Eric: Yeah, good stuff. Anyway, I had to share that. I was super jacked. Before we end today, I always take some time to learn a little bit about as marketers, we always learned a lot in our journey, I think. Man, if I could just go back to that 20-year-old marketer, fresh out of college. Maybe the question I have is, what's one thing you wish that you had known when you began your career that know now?
Leah: Sure. That's a hard question to answer. I think I'm going to go with my personal opinion that the university system is really ripe for disruption. You really learn so much about marketing on the job. Whether it's keyword research and content marketing strategy, and target personas and all that. Once you get out into the real world, that's where you learn 90% of what you do. Sure, there's some SWOT analysis, and some working with teams, and meet time management and that type of stuff. Youth is wasted on the young. I kind of wish I would have told my 19-year-old self or my freshman in college self, “Just calm down a little bit,” because I was really a high strung, Type A student and just to kind of say, “It's gonna be okay.” That’s what I would say.
Eric: I love that. You're never done learning. Especially, like you said, when you get out there and actually doing the experiential learning, and you're actually doing it, that's when you learn a lot. The thing that you're done when you graduate is kind of a big misnomer. I like that advice. Has there been a resource, or an individual or whatever that you feel has helped you in that growth during those years?
Leah: That's another really good question. I think my time abroad has really helped me grow so much as an individual like being able to rely on myself. I grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and I went to college in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and my parents live there. I was really in this little bubble. Getting out of that bubble and learning to rely on myself and learning to kind of trust myself was really like a coming of age type of story. If I hadn't gone abroad, I never would have become that person again.
Eric: Self-confidence is huge. I think we all go through different—maybe we’re not all studying abroad—but it's a great story. How do we stay confident in who we are as a marketer, as an individual, to continue to grow is awesome. I got one last question, which I like to end with nowadays, which is, if you could step into my shoes, Leah, what would you have asked yourself that I didn't?
Leah: I'm probably something around the tools that we use.
Eric: Of course, yes.
Leah: My tool stack for content marketing...
Eric: Tell me it’s CoSchedule.
Leah: Yeah, of course. We really eat our own dog food here. CoSchedule really is the backbone of all of our planning and everything we do. But you have to have support from some other tools. Ahrefs is my go-to tool when it comes to keyword domination and keyword research and all that. Ahrefs is a must-have, I'm in there every day. Next would be Google Analytics. Google Analytics helps us track how many page views we're getting, which blog posts have the most views, which blog posts are driving the most traffic, that type of stuff.
Finally, probably Kissmetrics. We're using Kissmetrics a lot right now to gauge the company-grade trial signup. Who is the right audience and how we're getting the right people in? We're in the process right now of our funnel team is moving all of that stuff from Kissmetrics over to Google Analytics, so we’ll have kind of a one-stop-shop in there. Eventually, we’ll retire kiss metrics, but it's been a real integral part of our content marketing reporting and our strategy.
Eric: Yeah, that's a great question to ask because I think that we have to arm ourselves with the right tools and technologies. I think having that, one, I think we need to measure which content is getting traffic which is a no brainer, right? But then that next piece, which we talked about previously in the show was, “Okay, which content is creating the best leads?” And that is what we need to learn and understand because that's going to shape how we create future content which is so important. We wouldn’t know that without Kissmetrics, now eventually, Google Analytics. That’s awesome.
Good stuff. Well, hey, this is a lot of fun, Leah. Thanks for coming on the show again. Just breaking down the CoSchedule blog and all the learnings, I hope this was extremely insightful for everyone listening so I appreciate your time.
Leah: Thank you, Eric.
Eric: Can't wait to see what’s your next thrift store Fun Shirt Friday.
Leah: Sounds good. Thanks, everyone.