How To Become The Leading Authority In Your Niche With Nicole Kohler From WooCommerce [AMP 026]
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Would you like to be known as the go-to when it comes to getting information on a specific topic? Positioning yourself as an expert would help you build your following, increase your engagement, and grow your business. Publishing excellent content is a great way to do all of these things.
Today’s guest is Nicole Kohler, the content manager at WooCommerce, an Automattic brand. She’s going to talk to us about how to score and prioritize content, improve your processes, and become the leading authority in your niche.
Some of the highlights of today’s show include:
- Information about WooCommerce and what Nicole does there as the content manager.
- How Nicole gathers ideas for the WooCommerce site and blog, how they decide which ideas to use, and how they keep them organized.
- Tips for judging ideas that come in from people inside of the company, including the evaluation system WooCommerce uses.
- How Nicole decided that a former process for evaluating content wasn’t working and how she made the necessary changes.
- What a content brainstorming meeting looks like.
- How WooCommerce uses personas to develop engaging content that keeps readers coming back for more.
- Some of the results that Nicole is particularly proud of.
- Nicole’s best tips for someone hoping to improve their content.
Nathan: What if you could position your business as the number one source of information for a specific topic? You’d build your following, you’d dramatically increase your engagement and all of that would help you grow your business. I would say that’s a win-win-win. Nicole Kohler is the Content Manager at WooCommerce, an Automattic Company. Yeah, that Automattic Company that’s well known for building WordPress.
Today on the Actionable Marketing Podcast, Nicole is sharing how she’s taken control of her niche by publishing super engaging content at WooCommerce. You’re going to learn how to score and prioritize your content, improve your processes and become the leading authority in your niche.
I’m Nathan from CoSchedule and I’m excited to talk with Nicole. Let’s dive in. Hey Nicole, thanks so much for being on the show today.
Nicole: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Nathan: I’m excited to have you on the show. Could you fill me on WooCommerce and what you do there?
Nicole: Sure. For anyone who doesn’t know, WooCommerce is a free WordPress plug-in and it allows you to turn any WordPress installation into a store in a matter of seconds.
What I do at WooCommerce is basically round up our content production and that goes for our blog and for email and sometimes copywriting on our product pages and any special projects like pages on our website, thing along those lines. I primarily focus on our blog and emails to customer whether they’re store builders or developers.
Nathan: That’s a lot. To concentrate your efforts, you’ve done a really great job coming up with processes for content ideation, prioritization, finding your unique niche within a relatively big industry. I was wondering if you could share with me what challenge are you facing that inspired you to develop your content prioritization process?
Nicole: I started at Woo about 22 months ago. I’m coming up on two years in April.
Nathan: Wow, congrats.
Nicole: Thank you so much. When I started, the blog was my main focus and it was in this sad place. There was maybe on post a week, most of the content was developed either by our head of marketing or outsourced freelance writers. The content, it wasn’t really focused and it wasn’t really helping the story builders or developers who we primarily serve. There is a little general ecommerce advice. It was very similar to what you’re finding elsewhere in the internet.
We took a good hard look to what our audience really needed. When we started, we were continuing that general ecommerce advice but sprinkling in WooCommerce tailored posts as well. “Hey, this is something really cool that we know you can do with WooCommerce that we knew hadn’t written about yet.” For example, WooCommerce subscriptions at that time was one of our newer extensions and we knew you could do some really cool things with it. We were going to post about that.
What we saw in the first two or three months, looking at analytics and looking at the post that we were sending out via email, the post that were tailored more to WooCommerce specific advice were doing much better than the general ecommerce posts to the point that those general post were barely getting any attention and we were suddenly getting comments on the WooCommerce tailored post which we weren’t really seeing on the blog before. We were getting lot of clicks in WooCommerce tailored advice. It was like a little light bulb lit up over our heads, myself and the person who was our content lead and our marketing team lead at the time just going maybe this is what we need to focus on, maybe people aren’t coming to our blog just to learn how to run a store, maybe they’re coming to our blog to learn how to run a WooCommerce store. We shifted our focus to developing WooCommerce tailored content and that’s where we’ve been ever since.
We’ve tackled the challenges that come along with setting up WooCommerce specifically, running a store, picking out the correct WooCommerce extension using WordPress, things that come along with that, like packing up your database and we’ve just seen so much success with that. We’ve seen the comments on our blog go up dramatically, our email open and click rates have gone up a lot in the last two years. It’s really great to feel that we are developing a community rallied around our product rather than just spitting out knowledge into an echo chamber of ecommerce stuff.
Nathan: Nicole, it seems pretty smart and I’ve been really liking the content that you guys are coming up with. I was wondering how do you gather those ideas at WooCommerce?
Nicole: The way we gather ideas is two folds. We have a lot of comments that come in with questions from people who are reading our blog posts or store runners and sometimes they’re related to what they’re reading on the post or sometimes they’re just the store runners are sole builders developers, they find that the comments are easiest place to get in touch with us sometimes. They might comment on there and be like, hey, have you read about this thing? This post is really helpful, can you also read about this? Or sometimes they’ll send us a ticket and actually ask if we can write about something specific.
We also have ideas internally from people working in support, form people working in other areas of marketing, people working on developing the product design, people working on developing new extensions. We filter all those ideas into a sheet and monthly we have a group of about five or six people, depending on who’s available at that time, who meet and go through all those ideas and score them to determine which ones are the most relevant for our blog and the most relevant for the specific period that we’re producing content for.
We don’t necessarily produce every single idea that comes into us nor do we produce all of the good ideas the moment they come into us. When we’re scoring ideas, we’re looking at is this relevant right now, or should we hold this idea until a specific extension has been released. Or should we hold this until a certain time of year. If we get a really good idea for the holidays, we might say okay, we’re going to hold this until October and November.
All the ideas that come into us, whether it’s from blog comments, tickets, our internal teams, we filter those into a spreadsheet and we score them and then we agree per month on which 8-12 ideas that we’re going to produce. The number varying based on what else is already on our calendar. For example, we have WooCommerce 2.7 is coming out next month, we already know we’re going to make a post about that, that would reduce the number of ideas we need for March.
That is a quick summary on how we come up with ideas.
Nathan: Something that you and I had talked about once was gathering tons of different ideas from internal folks. When you have a relatively large team or large company, how do you gather those ideas efficiently?
Nicole: What’s really helpful is that we created this culture of content as I like to call it, everyone’s brain is always firing with these great content ideas and I think what helps is with all of our products, we are already trained to look for documentation ideas.
Kat, who primarily writes and edits all of our docs, which is a huge job for one person, she is so good at it. I love her so much. She is always keeping people looking forward to documentation opportunities but we view docs as the how and blog post as the why. If we already have people looking for the how, how do I set up subscription? How do I do this thing with subscriptions? How do I do this thing with memberships? They are also looking for the why. Why would I do this thing with subscriptions? That inspires people to think on the other sided and come up with ideas as well as docs at the same time.
Often, someone will go to Kat with an idea and say, here’s this thing that should be a doc and they might come to me at the same time and say, we should make this into a blog post. This is why you should do this. Or maybe they’ll come to me and say here’s a customer we actually found who is doing this thing. We should write a customer story about them and then write a piece documentation showing how they did it. That’s one part of it.
The other part of it, like I said is a cultural content, people are always thinking about things you could write about. For example, I’m actually working in our ticket cues this week. We have a happiness week each year where anyone who doesn’t typically work in support will go through and pick a cue, like pre sales or shipping extensions, and actually working for a week just to see what it’s like to support our customers and sometimes do a little bit of learning. With me being in pre sales, I can see it’s a really good learning opportunity to find what people are actually trying to do with WooCommerce. Our pre sales folks often come to me and say, someone asked if they could do this with WooCommerce and that inspires a really great blog post idea.
One thing that actually came up when I was in the pre-sales cues yesterday was someone wanting to use our bookings extension which is usually used to sell your time to rent clothing. I never thought of it but you can absolutely do that. If you create a bookable resource with bookings, you can rent out the clothing for a set period of time and have a due day where it comes back and it’s like we could definitely write about this.
That’s the other side of it, we have this culture of content where everyone’s looking for these ideas and constantly coming to me and saying, here’s a really cool thing I saw someone say and we can write about that.
Nathan: I really like that idea of the booking example. At least for software companies, there is really no wrong way for your users to use a tool, however they’re using it is correct. It’s fun that you take that feedback and you roll forward with it.
Nicole: Absolutely. With a lot of our extensions like booking, subscriptions, memberships, we are sometimes caught off guard with how creative our customers get. They’ll come through and say, I want to use it for this, can I do that? We’ll be like, we didn’t plan on you using it for that but yeah, maybe we’ll find a way that you can.
Nathan: That sounds really smart. I was just wondering, let’s say we have all of these ideas, that are coming in from our audience, they’re coming in from internal folks. You have a process for judging these ideas that you shook up, could you tell me about that?
Nicole: Yes. We did just shake the process up a little bit. What we do currently is evaluate all the ideas that come into us based on a small set of criteria. We are basically looking for ideas that match up to about five categories. Those categories are, does it line up with what our primary audience of store developers and developers are looking for? Does it line up with a focus on one of our best-selling extensions? Does it highlight a store owner or a store developer?
Basically, is it a customer story? Does it look at how to do something new with WooCommerce or does it highlight a group of extensions or a group of free functionalities in WooCommerce. Those are the things that we found over time that are the most successful on our blog. We don’t limit our content to just those five categories, juts cast studies, just highlighting sections, just highlighting major extensions but those are the five categories basically that are the most successful types of content for us.
Having said that, I mentioned we just shook up everything. This is because prior to last month, we were evaluating all of our content based on a lot more criteria. We had about 20 columns, I want to say, and it didn’t start out as that many. We had maybe 10, we would actually put a point, like a number one in each column for each idea if it mashed up to one of the criteria. If it was highlights major extension, we’d get a one. Highlights a customer, get a one. But then it went even further now that it was like highlights free functionality get a one. Like, oh gosh, we had so many.
I added one, it was passion point, are you passionate about this idea because we had so many ideas at one point that the ones that didn’t match to all these criteria were getting lost to the bottom. I’ll add passion points so the ideas I like but don’t match up to anything can still get noticed.
We have 20 columns and yet the highest scoring ideas were still getting fours, and it was taking five minutes to evaluate every single idea on there and at one point, we had almost 100 ideas in a backlog because we were getting so many content ideas with so many sources and I just threw my hands up at the end of last year and was like, you know what, this needs to stop. This is overwhelming, it’s taking too long and clearly we’re not identifying what makes a good piece of content this way because no piece of content is getting on 19 or 20. We’re not hitting every single note, we’re only getting fours or fives here.
With this new process, I tried to boil it down to what really mattered, what really produced the most successful pieces of content and what types of content we really wanted to have on the blog.
With our new process, we are still going to get ideas that don’t hit any of those boxes but we will know from experience and from sometimes gut feeling that there are ideas that will still be successful. If they aren’t, sometimes we have to take a gamble and see how they go. That’s the gist of how we’ve shaken things up. So far, we’ve done the new scoring process with five comments from one month. We’re going to see how it goes, it saved us a lot of time but if it doesn’t produce a lot of successful pieces of content or we feel like the content is not missing the mark because we’re not being as careful with it maybe as we used to be, then we’ll go back to a more critical scoring process like we had before. Just not maybe with 20 columns, I don’t like spending 5 minutes on 100 ideas.
Nathan: I absolutely love hearing about that when people figure out that the process just is isn’t working or that there’s always ways to improve a process. I think that’s a really good thing. I don’t know if you want to talk about more about that. What did you notice that you wanted to improve there?
Nicole: I think a huge thing for me was the amount of time that I was spending on that spreadsheet every month. I ultimately wanted to jump in blind eyes, maybe 20 minutes before content meeting each month and evaluate the spreadsheet and it got to be like I would have to start an hour before the meeting each month or two hours before the meeting each month. By October, November, I was getting up earlier in the morning just to start evaluating that spreadsheet before my meeting which wasn’t until 11 AM. Okay, this is a problem. I shouldn’t be getting up at 8:00AM to start evaluating content ideas. That was one part of it.
Content, you do want to be critical of it when you’re producing it. Especially in our case, our content is the backbone of a lot of the marketing we do. It’s what goes out at our emails to store developers and to extension developers and to a lot of our customers. It’s the backbone of the first interactions that new WooCommerce users get.
But at the same time, we don’t want to be over thinking it to the point that we are just modelling it up and over focusing on these specific things and throwing away ideas that might be really, really beneficial for customers just because they don’t focus on these certain categories. I think it’s really important to, as we did, keep in mind that what you could be doing is as you’re evaluating things, you might sometimes be throwing away really good ideas or if you’re not looking at data you might also be throwing away things that are really successful. If we judged all of our content success based solely on comments, we might never know that some of our posts are doing really well. On the opposite end of that, if we based our blog success based solely on Google Analytics, I would feel really terrible.
Nathan: Sometimes, your most successful content isn’t the ones that get the most page views. You have to look at the right kinds of metrics, right?
Nathan: Nicole, something that you mentioned was that you do a content brainstorming meeting. I was wondering if you could tell me about that. What does that look like?
Nicole: It goes along with the idea evaluation meeting that we do each month. After we evaluated ideas, if we come up short which the last month or two we kind of have because it’s a new year. We try to wipe our ideas sheet clean, get rid of anything that’s been lingering for six months and hasn’t gone anywhere which sometimes unfortunately that does happen. Either we don’t have the resources to produce something or an extension has been on hold for that long which sadly sometimes it does happen.
We will brainstorm amongst ourselves and talk about what we’ve noticed lately, what kinds of content maybe are missing, anything we’ve heard about that might be in the wind and come up with anything that we could put on the idea sheet for future months to develop together or anything that we could put on standby in CoSchedule. The way we do that is just drag it instead of dragging onto the counter, we drag it into the content on the right side. That content, we revisit at later times and drag on to the calendar and actually assign a date too when we have more definite details for.
Sometimes we’ll come up with an idea and say we should write about this extension but I’m not sure what to write about it. We’ll put that on standby and then maybe two or three days later, one of the members of our content team might come back and say, I know what we should write about with this because I thought of this thing that’s coming up with it. We’ll take that item out of standby, drag on to CoSchedule and put it on a specific date, maybe a month in the future.
That’s one of those things that goes on in that brainstorming meeting. Sometimes we just end up chattering about what someone saw at a wordcamp or what we heard about a new extension that’s coming soon but it’s all helpful because it helps us keep in mind a few things that we should be talking about with our content in the future or something that could inspire a piece of content later down the line.
Nathan: Another thing you eluded to a little bit earlier, circling back on your five points that you’re scoring ideas against. You mentioned targeting the right people and I know you and I had a good conversation about personas at one time. Could you fill me in on how you use personas at WooCommerce to publish really engaging content?
Nicole: That’s another thing we’ve had a little bit of a shake up with. When I started, almost two years ago, originally we’re targeting store owners and store developers. That’s a little bit broad but by that we meant the people who were owning and running the store day to day. Handling processing orders, getting in touch with customers if they had any questions or issues and maybe setting up new products occasionally.
Developers was this catch-all thing meaning everything from someone who works in the agency to build and run their own store or develop extensions or plugins for WordPress. We’re shifting that a little bit because what we found through doing analytics, reading comments, reading tickets, talking to customers at wordcamps and events and countless other interactions is we have a lot more store developers who were people who do it all themselves. They build the store and run the store and do the day to day stuff. We have a separate section of developers who we’re not sure what to label them, persona wise, but they are the ones who do something for clients. They probably work at an agency or are an independent developer and create something whether it’s a store or custom code and then hand it off back to a client and the go between sometimes.
We also have the separate subset of extension developers who develop WooCommerce extensions or WordPress plugins that sometimes work with WooCommerce. It’s a long winded explanation but it’s my way of saying that we now have these three personas and now that we figure out what they are going into this new year, we use those personas develop content that meets their needs and we do that on the blog, simply by going okay, we should be writing about this for store developers because say with the release of this extension, this is what they’re going to know about how to use this for their store or in the case of how to hand this off to their client for their client’s store or for our emails we’re basically going to be creating email lists for each of those personas. Right now, we just have a store owner and a developer list. We’re going to be changing that up in the future. If you identify as someone who owns or develops a store, in some means, you’re going to be getting emails with content tailored to those interests and the same for extension developers and for people who are developing a store for someone else.
Nathan: I think all that is smart and good advice. I love everything that you’re doing with prioritizing your content, the improvements you’ve been making to your process. I’m wondering, what results have you noticed?
Nicole: One of the biggest things I’ve seen and one of the things I’m most proud of with our blog being like my baby, it’s the thing I work on the most. It’s the thing I’m proudest of. The comments that we’ve been seeing, especially the last year, not only have we been getting more of them, they’ve been more immediate. I’m not posting a blogpost and waiting until we send out a mailer to a couple hundred thousand people to get a response. I’m seeing comments come in an hour after the post goes up, a day after the post goes up, a few days after the post goes up depending on that subject of the post or what it’s highlighting.
We posted a customer story yesterday and I think there’s already three comments on it which is the first time that has ever happened. As of this morning, the co-founder of Reddit tweeted a link to that post, it has nothing to do with me. It’s because Eli and Monique, the couple that run the particular store, they did an AMA on Reddit, they got featured on Reddit. Some of their success is because they were on Reddit. They grinded a lot but to see one of our posts get tweeted out by Alexis, the co-founder of Reddit, I’m just like feather cap, I did a thing. I’m proud of that and I think that’s definitely a measure of our success, seeing the comments and social shares, in that case, go up a lot.
I think another thing too is looking at our emails. The fact that we have high and consistently high open rates and click rates that I’m actively trying to improve is showing that the content that we’re sending in those emails which is usually our blogpost, the post from our development blogs, sometimes other sites like WPTavern or other sites in the WooCommerce and WordPress sphere. Seeing the interaction with those emails stay and grow or stay consistently high and then grow even higher, that’s another thing I’m proud of because it shows that we are engaging our audience and giving them things that they respond well too. Hopefully, we are going to continue recognizing what they want to read and what is helpful to them. I’m proud of that and I’m glad that our team has done a good job with that over the last two years.
Nathan: I echo that your team is doing a great job. That’s the whole reason why I wanted to talk to you about improving your content and around all of this. I was wondering then Nicole, to wrap this up,let’s just say I’m a new person, what’s your best advice you’d give to someone looking to improve their content? Where should they start?
Nicole: I want to go back to what I was talking about with tailoring the focus of our blog when we started, how we were dabbling in regular ecommerce content then we started doing some WooCommerce focused content and that content was what end up being the most successful.
You have to think about what you’re good at and what you know better than anyone else. I think the biggest mistake that some content producers make is trying to focus on everything in their particular area. If you are for example a fashion company and you make cool t-shirts, some companies might make the mistake of blogging about t-shirts and jeans and shoes and jewelry and necklaces and going why isn’t our content working? It’s like you can read about those things on a lot of other spaces but you know t-shirts and your t-shirts and what goes on those t-shirts and why your t-shirts are great, better than anyone else. You have to own that thing. Show that you know it. Show that you’re great at it and focus your content on that because that’s the kind of content that you can’t find anywhere else.
I truly believe that that’s why the WooCommerce blog has become so successful because you can’t find the level of information and detail and advice that we’re producing anywhere else. You only can get it from us and maybe a few other places. I’m not saying no one else can write about WooCommerce, there are plenty of other sites that do a great job writing about us but we’ve owned our topic. That’s what a lot of other businesses need to do when they get started.
You are a genius, you, whether you realize this or not, are genius about your subject and own your genius, own your thing and write about that. That’s some of the best advice that you can give someone who’s first starting out. Don’t feel like you have to tackle everything, just tackle your own thing. You might be surprised by how well people will respond to that.
Nathan: That is awesome advice, Nicole. I think that’s a great place to end this episode. Thank you so much for sharing all of these with us today.
Nicole: Sure! Thank you so much for having me. It was great.
March 21, 2017