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What is most content marketers’ biggest concern? Not getting enough traffic. The struggle is real. Why? Declining organic reach on social media and increased search competition.
Today’s guest is Nadya Khoja, Chief Growth Officer at Venngage. Nadya developed a simple yet effective process known as the Goals, Research, Authority, and Promotion (GRAP) Framework. Venngage uses it consistently to create and promote content that boosts Website traffic and delivers results.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
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Nathan: If you ask any given content marker what their biggest concern is right now, there’s a good chance they’ll tell you it’s that they’re not getting enough traffic. Between declining organic reach on social media and increased competition in search, the struggle is real for all lot of marketers right now.
That’s why I’m so excited about this conversation with Nadya Khoja from Venngage. Her team consistently produces great work that drives tons of traffic, and it’s all thanks to a simple yet ingenious system she’s developed called the GRAP framework. It’s a clear process for creating and promoting content that gets attention and delivers results, which is evidenced by the fact that her team has used this very process to achieve 150% year over year growth. Plus, it’s actionable enough that you can start applying it to your own work right now, with really nothing more than a little bit of effort and a commitment to succeed. Here’s Nadya to explain how it works.
Hi, Nadya. Welcome to the show.
Nadya: Hi. Thanks.
Nathan: Would you mind taking a moment just to introduce yourself, and explain what you do over at the Venngage?
Nadya: Yes. My name is Nadya and I head growth at Venngage. I’m the Chief Growth Officer here. Essentially, my responsibilities entail taking care of revenue. I mostly manage the marketing team at Venngage, but also own some of the responsibilities around culture, as well for the team. So, partially management and alignment of the team but mostly the marketing and revenue side.
Nathan: Got it. What we’re here to talk about today is something that you’ve coined over Venngage called the GRAP framework, which is a framework for boosting website traffic. Would you mind giving our listeners a brief overview of how the GRAP framework works and what it is?
Nadya: Yes. I’m a big fan of frameworks and using different acronyms to create ways to remember methods and approaches for driving different results. The GRAP framework stands for Goals, Research, Authority, and Promotion. This is more specifically a framework for if you’re trying to drive organic traffic from any type of search engine like Google, Bing or whatever. But it can also be applied to any other channel that you’re trying to drive organic traffic from, whether that Facebook, Instagram, or whatever other methods that you’re using.
Nathan: What results have you achieved with your team over at Venngage by applying this framework?
Nadya: To give a little bit of background context, when I first joined Venngage in 2015, I didn’t have any marketing background or any education. I just got thrown into the deep end, was told to figure out SEO and “get links,” which I didn’t know what that was. So, I actually googled what SEO is in my first week. In my defense, nobody asked if I knew SEO, specifically, so I did by.
During that process, because I was told to get links, a lot of the focus was just trying to figure out what are better ways to get more links, because I knew that was a big indicator for Google’s organic rankings. The first part was obviously to do some outreach. We needed to do the promotion side of things in order to get the results and to get people to actually pay attention to us.
But then, I was like, “Okay, what’s an easier way to get more results from that outreach?” Better content gets better attention, so I started thinking about how to create better content. I started looking into more optimization strategies, et cetera. As we started to grow, we were growing and it wasn’t at a crazy rate. I wanted to grow faster, so I started looking into what are the things that we’re doing that always get the right results, and how does that loop together?
I realized that a lot of people approach content (especially when it comes organic traffic) in a very similar way. Every article that’s written, everyone’s always trying to hit all of the goals at the same time. They’re trying to get more traffic, they’re trying to get those backlinks, they’re trying to get higher conversions because they have KPIs to meet, and their boss is like, “Make something really, really amazing.” The reality is we’re not always going to create this one magical piece of content. Sometimes, it does happen, but it’s rare.
What I started to do is I started to just go through the data and look at […] what content is getting the best conversion rates? What are we doing here? What content is driving really great traffic? Maybe it doesn’t have great conversion rates. What’s usually getting us tons of backlinks but isn’t necessarily driving all of those conversion rates? How can those things support each other?
That’s where the goals part of the framework comes in. It’s breaking down what you’re actually trying to achieve and not trying to do everything at once. I use the analogy of working out and fitness. You’re not going to suddenly get really fit and look amazing all at once. You have to take an iterative approach and slowly add things on. Different things are going to lead to different results.
That’s the approach that we took, and we started testing little things at a time. We broke it down on our end which we have three main topics. We’ve elaborated a bit more, so now it’s grown beyond just three types of goals that we have, but ultimately there is (like I said) the traffic, the conversions, and the links.
We call those pieces of content our actionable or how-to content, is usually what drives the conversions for us. Usually, this is geared towards our audience’s pain points, so we interview our existing users, we ask them what they’re trying to achieve, but also, more specifically what their jobs to be done are. We don’t want to just focus on specific intent at the moment. We want to know what they’re actually trying to accomplish in their day-to-day. We’ll use that to guide that kind of content. Usually, that drives a lot of conversions for us. By conversion, I mean lead gens, specifically.
The link building content, we don’t just want lots of links. We want good, quality cross links. We want brand mentions and strong authoritative mentions back to our site. That’s where the research and the authority part comes in.
In order to build up that authority, we need to get good sites pointing back to us, and the only time they’re going to do that is with very data-driven original research that is unique compiling, and that educates people at a higher level. It’s not always going to be very specific to our audience. It might be totally unrelated, but still gets our name out there.
One of our most popular ones was our Game of Thrones infographic, where we basically created a web of all the betrayals and everything that happened in Game of Thrones. We did another one where we sorted different tech companies into their Hogwarts houses, based on company culture and things like that.
Some of these articles have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Mashable, forums, et cetera, pretty naturally. We don’t have to do too much pushing for it. We never buy links because I don’t think that really works all that well. Also, I’d rather just get ones for free.
The final one is what we call inspirational content. That’s really just very keyword-driven research, where we look at not only the big keywords. Usually, somebody will do research and say, “Well, this keyword ‘leadership’ drives 150,000 searches a month. Let’s just try to get a page ranking on that,” but I’m like, “Okay, but it’s going to take you forever to get a page ranking on that term because there’s so much competition.”
What are all the subcategories or subsets of terms that people are searching for, that are not only more specific to what their intent is, but that you can rank for thousands and thousands of keywords at the same time with one piece of content and drive a lot more traffic, plus limit your risk? You might rank for leadership, and that might be your only keyword-driving traffic, but guess what? You drop one spot, you’d lose 20% of that traffic essentially.
Nathan: That’s very true. If a marketer is starting with a piece of content, and they need to select a goal between links, conversions, and these other types of goals that you’ve outlined, how would you recommend that marketer determine which of those goals might be best for what they’re working on?
Nadya: I always try to work backwards from the high level goals. Usually, most companies will start with an okay RA, like a main objective that they’re trying to achieve. That main objective might be something a little bit harder to conceptualize. For instance, we have an internal hashtag, like #wintheinfographicwars. It does not really mean anything, but it just means that it’s a market share goal. From that, as long as everything else that you’re doing ties back to that goal.
When I think about something like a market share goal, I’m looking at how much traffic can I take from a chunk of that market and what the size of the market looks like. If we know what the market’s general conversion trends are, I know that if I rank at a high rate in that specific market, the chances of me driving conversions are higher.
We start with the first level input, which is traffic for us. We know that certain pages will drive the ranking. We can always optimize the page later and make the conversion rate better if we need to. Or we can nurture people down the funnel if you want to get higher upgrades, whatever the case is. I will usually start with that high level goal because if you have no traffic, you’re not going to get anything else, anyway, but then of course, an input of traffic is you need to rank, so that’s where that framework comes in.
The research part, doing your research not necessarily just to rank for those terms but to guide ideas for what content people are actually interested in consuming. For us, we started with just trying to get backlinks and just trying to get cross mentions because we wanted to do SERP domain authority first.
My observation is you increase your domain authority, everything else is kind of easier to do, people start recognizing you as an authority, you start ranking faster, general, and everything else follows. That was the primary goal when I had just joined Venngage, when we weren’t really driving that much of anything to our site. We weren’t really known. Slowly, we started to tweak that process.
I would typically start with the goal of what is the overarching goal of your company, like what’s that main KPI that you have, what’s the main objective that you have, and then tie it back to that. Usually, your boss isn’t going to give you buy-in unless you can prove to them and justify why it’s going to help you achieve that higher level goals anyway.
Nathan. Got it. This something that you have touched on a little bit, so that is a fantastic job (I think) of covering the goals portion of the GRAP framework. Something that you touched on they’re a bit was research. Why specifically do you feel that it’s important to start every piece with research?
Nadya: I like to make most of my decisions based on data and try to remain as objective as possible. I think when you start putting too much subjectivity in your decisions, not to say not to be subjective at all—you need to have some type of intuition to make creative decisions—but I find that from my observations, […] our managers that make a decision purely based on what they want is very much driven by ego. That’s usually the downfall of most business and most organizations is it always ties back to ego. But if you’re looking at the data and your main objective, and then you kind of inject your instincts a little bit, I think you can create a lot, like more engaging, compelling, and result oriented to content.
We start with research (like I said) to guide decisions. It’s not always the be-all-end-all, like if somebody comes in and says, “Well, here is a bunch of keywords that are high volume. Let’s run a bunch of ads on that or let’s create a bunch of content on this,” and I’m like, “But this doesn’t tie back to what our main objective is, and is it what the user actually wants?” Sure it might drive all the traffic, but is it the right justification behind it? Usually, when you start to see all of the data laid out, you can start to build and draw those connections, and make really compelling and creative decisions.
I’ll go back to that example of the Hogwarts culture sorting that we did of different tech companies. At the time, the Fantastic Beasts movie was just coming out, so we wanted to ride that wave, but we didn’t want it to be too trendy. We wanted it to still be evergreen but ride the wave of trend. Harry Potter is now an evergreen topic, but Fantastic Beasts might not be. But everyone’s talking about that now, so let’s use that.
The other part is, a lot of our audience is in the exact space, a lot of HR users, so company culture was a topic that was pretty engaging for them. So, how do we tie in this trendy thing, but the general public likes a job to be done, which is how do I build company culture in my company, and then target the right roles and use cases, which is tech stuff companies and CEOs, that kind of thing.
We looked at a bunch of different companies. A range of larger companies like Apple and Google, but also down to more specific companies like Venngage, that are a little bit more niche. We categorize them and that spread really well because we were able to share it with our friends at different companies to be like, “Hey, check this out. We sorted you into your Hogwarts house.”
Naturally, what they did is they’re like, “This is cool. Let me share it with my team,” and that created internal company virality. It also gave us an opportunity to build links on the right sites, like the HR sites, exact sites, but also on the Mashables and all the other ones that are more interested in Harry Potter and are already writing about it. That’s how we would use the data, to create a narrative that was built on instinct, but it was always tying back to a specific objective.
Nathan: The point about research here is crucial. Smart, strategic keyword research is so essential for developing a high traffic content marketing strategy. Something to pay attention to here (in particular) is grouping keywords together by theme. Often, when you do this, you’ll find that your ideas leads to more ideas, which leads to yet more ideas, all of which are related around one central theme that you can turn into a content hub or a topic cluster, that can really help establish you as an expert, not only on one small set of keywords but an entire topic from top to bottom, where you’re really seen as the authority. That’s what Nadya is going to get into next.
The next step from research within the GRAP framework is authority. This something you’ve touched on a little bit and something that some of our listeners, (I think) particularly those who are a little more SEO-savvy are probably very familiar with the concept of authority, like domain authority, domain rating and things like that. But for those who aren’t, could you briefly explain how the concept of content authority or domain authority works?
Nadya: Yes. I think the acronym that Google uses is EAT, which essentially refers to expertise, authority, and trust. You can see the way that every change that Google makes is always going back to that idea, like is it credible? Is it authoritative? Which makes sense because they want people to have the right information. You don’t want to just google something, and come across something that’s completely BS.
Just to go back to what I’m saying about before, that’s our objective. We think how can we create something that’s not only useful, that’s fresh, that’s relevant, that’s actually backed by science, data, and credibility, that we can create and promote that our audience wants to consume. By always having that mentality at the back, it really makes it a lot easier to create something that’s going to get seen because subconsciously, even if you don’t know much about Google, chances are you only want to credit relevant content.
What I usually tell my team is, “Think of every article that you’re writing as an essay. When you’re in university, in college or whatever, you have to create a compelling argument and it has to be backed by good, relevant sources that everyone trusts. If you’re not doing that, and you can’t write an essay for Google, then you’re probably not going to get an A, which is your number one ranking.” That’s the way that we see it. We approach our content like a journalist would approach theirs.
By authority, the more that you do this, naturally your domain authority will go up because you continue to show to Google that you’re getting mentions from other credible sources. Your domain authority is 50 (let’s say), ideally you want to get more at DAs that are higher than 50 linking back to your content because that’s just an indicator that other people that are highly credible think that you’re credible and you’re worth talking about, so Google will naturally just consider your site more authoritative in that sense.
Nathan: One tactic that’s very popular for building authority around the topic is creating something called a topic cluster, where essentially you have a piece of pillar content and lots of spokes coming off of it; they’re related subtopics. Can you explain how you’ve applied this tactic in the past at Venngage, and what results it produced?
Nadya: Yes. It’s funny because every time I talk to somebody about hub content, they’re like, “So, should I just write all of the content now, and then […]?” Just start with one because that’s also the lead to the demise of your blog. Start with one article and slowly start drawing connections to it.
I used the example of a leadership hub, so we’ll go back to that keyword of leadership which we have identified has 150,000 keywords. Maybe this is true or not. I don’t know anymore, but let’s say that’s a term that is very relevant to your site and something that you really need to write or need to build authority in.
Using the goal strategy, that becomes one of our pillar goals. We don’t necessarily just want to make one article rank for that because (as we’ve established) something that’s high-converting or high-traffic may not necessarily get you tons of backlinks. For instance, you have a sales page on marketing automation software. I don’t think the New York Times is going to want to write-up about your marketing automation software unless you pay them to (and even so, it’s not relevant).
One of the things is how can we create stuff that’s going to be appealing to all of these different subgoals that we have, but in the end get us to be authoritative, as a leadership site or whatever it is. What we might do is the idea that the cluster is that you have one hub page or (let’s say) this is our leadership landing page. We have other subcategories interlinking to this big hub page. They try to push it up and create this network of credibility. Essentially, authority.
So, the more content you have—where you’re talking about the subject—and the more it’s connecting back internally within your site, the more recognition Google has. Part of the reason for that is internal click-through rates across your website. If people keep clicking into different leadership-related articles, chances are your time on page for generally those ages (and anything related to them) is just going to go up. They’re going to be recognized for that.
We took the goals that we had, and approached it in a similar way. I was thinking if I want to rank for this really boring landing page that I know is going to drive tons of conversions and I want it to rank for a high keyword page or a term (because I want more people to come to that page) because it’s going to drive so many conversions, but I’m not going to get the backlinks on it as easily. What we would do is we would create other content like our viral pieces that are a little bit more engaging and a little bit more trendy, that tie back to the topic.
Let’s say the Game of Thrones, one of the leadership articles. The leadership landing page we have as our hub page, I might write a viral piece on here’s what 500 different executives and CEOs have done in the past that have led to their success. I might get people words, whoever might ever pick that up, actually credit that, and then I might write my actionable piece of content, which is how to be an efficient and good leader so that people want to work for you.
That might be something that my audience wants. I might have my inspirational piece of content which is a lot of long tail keywords and traffic, like 50 inspirational quotes from leaders throughout the ages or throughout the decade, and now it can leverage different leaders’ names, which also drive a ton of traffic, and try to rank for different things like Tony Robbins quotes or Jeff Bezos quotes, whatever the case is.
What I’m doing is I’m actually internally linking all of that back to my hub page and pointing my audience into that funnel, by driving all my links and on this topic, and increasing the referral click-through rates back to this post where I’m constantly saying, “This about leadership,” and all these other pages are driving all this traffic. Eventually, you start to gain a lot more traction on that page and you actually start to move up.
We’ve had pages that we didn’t even do any outreach on. When we look at it, there’s almost no backlinks on it, but they are ranking first, and they drive tons of traffic and conversions. I think part of that is really just by very strategic and specific internal linking.
Nathan: Got it. It’s always better when you can just control your own links rather than have to ask.
Nadya: Yeah. It’s also easier for you to do outreach on the content that is fun to read, so might as well make it as easy for you as possible. I’m really lazy.
Nathan: Absolutely. The last piece of the puzzle in the GRAP framework is promotion. A problem with promotion that a lot of markers run into is they spend much more time creating content than they do promoting it. In your opinion, why do you consider that to be a problem, and what do you think might be the cause of that phenomena?
Nadya: I don’t know if this mentality stems from like own pride and sense of vanity. In a lot of ways, I like the spotlight. Sometimes, I’m like, “What’s the point of putting all this work into doing something if no one’s going to come and see me and praise me for it,” because I love much praise. It’s the same idea with any type of content. Traffic is in itself a metric of praise. Conversion is the same type of thing, likes, engagement, whatever your main metric is.
If you’re not doing the proper promotion for it, but you’re spending all this time creating something, creating this awesome piece of content that you work so hard on, and no one’s going to see it because you just publish it and you move on to the next thing. So many companies do this and it’s really […].
I’ve talked to so many B2B companies where they’re like, “Well, we drive 10 sign-ups to this article a month,” and I’m like, “Cool. We’re driving 60,000 sign-ups story tools a week. Why are you not focusing more on the higher level stuff?” We need to break down the metrics. They don’t think it’s relevant, and they want to just get the right quality user. I’m like, “Sure, that makes sense, but there might be people searching for the intent of what you’re offering without you even realizing that that is a user because you’re hyper-focused on this one.”
Going back to promotion, again why spend so much time creating something if no one’s going to see it? You’re probably missing out on a ton of opportunity for much bigger results. Our team uses the 80/20 rule. When you’re pitching a piece of content or any type of project, you need to think about the promotion first. You already have a strategy for how this thing is going to be promoted. Whether it’s an internal piece just for the end user and just to help them with engagement and retention, what’s that campaign or funnel going to look like? Versus if it’s something purely for press, it’s a PR hack, and you’re trying to get just backlinks to it, how are you going to do that? If you think about the promotion first, that will actually guide your article to become what those people want.
Sometimes, what we do is we’ll reach out to journalists before we even start writing anything with a few ideas. We’re like, “Which of these things stands out, and what are you likely to write about? Are any of these interesting enough?”
Now, we have a few friends and journalists. Of course, they don’t want to harm their own integrity and publish something just because I asked them to. They’re not going to do that either way. They want to make sure that what we’re working on and what they’re publishing is the right thing. It’s good to just work with somebody like that and have this outside eye to give you that feedback. We wouldn’t be able to create that type of content had we not thought about the promotion first and really focused on it from the get go.
Nathan: Interesting. So in your opinion, if I’m a marketer listening to this show, and I am struggling with content promotion, where would you recommend that I get started?
Nadya: It depends on what channel you’re trying to focus on, but I think at its core, all promotion comes down to relationships and good relationships, so just start building good, strong relationships and eventually move up that ladder. Expertise and the quality of those relationships.
I get it. We’re all markers. We all have to do the same thing. We all have similar results that we’re trying to hit. I’m happy to help other people, but it’s all about the quality of the outreach I get and the type of relationship that somebody’s actually trying to build. I don’t want a one-off win. When I want something that’s going to be an ongoing thing. When I think of outreach and partnerships, I tell my team to try to become that person’s best friend. If that’s your friend, you just instinctively want to help them when they ask you to help. If they’re your friend, they’re going to do the same thing and feel the same way.
A lot of our partners I know, we try to support them with anything that they need, even if it’s not just a backlink, a piece of content, or a share. It’s like, “Hey, can you help me get some survey results for this thing?” I’m like, “Sure. Why not? We will help promote that as well.” If you start thinking about it as a relationship, the results will come naturally to you because you’re not approaching it again with that ego in mind.
Nathan: I think that’s great. Well, that does it for all the questions that I have. Thanks again for coming on the show. This has been a great conversation. Hopefully, our listeners are able to start putting some of the listed advice into practice and get more traffic.
Nadya: Yeah, and for the viral content stuff, if you guys want any of those tips, I have a web series where I just get drunk and talk about marketing. You can just google “drunk entrepreneurs” and you’ll find it.
Nathan: Fantastic. I love that. All right, take care and thanks again for coming on the show.
Nadya: Thanks so much. Bye.
March 3, 2020
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