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What’s stopping you from reaching your goals? Are labor-intensive processes slowing you down? What processes can marketers implement to improve collaboration that makes SEO and content work?
Today’s guest is Lindsay McGuire, digital content SEO specialist at Formstack. What began as an online form builder, Formstack also offers automatic document generation, electronic signatures, bidirectional data integration software, and workflow automation. It’s not about taking things off your plate, but automating processes to free up time to do other things.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
You’re listening to the Actionable Marketing Podcast, powered by CoSchedule. The only way to organize your marketing in one place, helping marketers stay focused, deliver projects on time, and keep their entire marketing team happy.
Ben: Hi there and welcome to the latest episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. My name is Ben Sailer. I’m the Inbound Marketing Director here at CoSchedule and the new host for this show. Long time listeners will know my colleague, Nathan Ellering, and our good friend, Eric Piela, have done a fantastic job of getting this show to its 167th episode. Now, I’ve been entrusted with bringing you insightful interviews each week from some of the industry’s brightest minds.
Without further ado, on this week’s show, we have Lindsay McGuire from Formstack. She’s their Digital Content SEO Specialist where she’s involved in all kinds of projects related to the worlds of content and SEO, which happen to be two of my personal favorite subjects. We had a great conversation not only about what her day to day looks like, but how to implement effective processes to make collaboration around content and SEO work.
Also, there’s sure to be something that you can take away and start applying with your own team too. Hope you enjoy the episode and as always, don’t forget to subscribe and review the show on Apple podcast.
The first question I have for you, what can you tell me about Formstack and what your team does there?
Lindsay: Formstack began 13 years ago as an online form builder, but we’ve really grown to be so much more than that. Our focus is really to try to help organizations take manual and paper-based processes online to make their work more effective and efficient. Really just helping people figure out what processes are slowing them down and keeping them from achieving their goals and how we can help them through the use of our products to improve these processes, make them more efficient, and automate them. Recent customers said something about it’s not really about taking things off people’s plates, it’s more of automating to enable them to do more things, which I thought was a really great way to say that.
We’ve grown to be more than just an online form product. We’re so much more than that. Not only do we provide online forms and surveys, but we also do automatic document generation, electronic signatures, bidirectional data integration software, and workflow automation. Pretty much everything you would need to take a manual paper-based really long, just difficult process and automate it, digitize it, and make it a much easier, simpler process.
Ben: Awesome. You’re definitely speaking our language here. What does a day in the life of the Digital Content SEO Specialist look like at Formstack?
Lindsay: I know I have a long title. It’s a mouthful to say when I’m at networking events. I really split between two major pillars. There’s a content side and there’s the SEO side. I’ll just start on that content side. I oversee our blog and manage the editorial calendar there. I use CoSchedule for it and it’s great. I also have one full-time writer at Formstack who assist me with the blog writing and then we utilize freelancers as well on top of that.
I also do a lot of copywriting for web pages, especially for our templates for our surveys, our forms, and other workflow processes as well as vertical pages, whether that’s for healthcare, or finance, or insurance, or higher education, or something more career-driven such as HR, or ops, or lead generation marketing and things like that. I also assist with webinars and any kind of other marketing collateral that falls in the content, ebooks, guides, webinars, and things like that.
Finally, we are launching a podcast this quarter. We’re very excited about it. I’ve been playing producer for the podcast so it’s really enabled me to do a whole different part of content marketing and get a whole nother skillset under my belt. It’s that kind of next up and coming hot topic in content marketing. It probably is, honestly, with how much the podcast thing has exploded from 2018 to 2019 to now 2020,which is so weird to say 2020.
Ben: Yes it is.
Lindsay: That’s the side of the content in my content specialist role. The SEO part goes into just revealing and auditing our content and ensuring that our content we’re writing is aligning with the SEO aspect of that. Figuring out what our keywords are, ensuring they’re in our headlines, ensuring there’s enough […] but also not stuffing keywords randomly in the content, making sure things are both equally distributed between being appealing to Google and being appealing to humans because that really is that golden equation you want, is to be able to please the search engines, be high ranked but also still be a good read for people because at the end of the day, you’re trying to please people, not the search engine.
Beyond the content piece of it, I do a lot of link building, do site audits, or just fixing broken links, adding new links, making sure we’re making a spider web across all the content. Then I play in Google Analytics, in SEMrush just to ensure that I know what’s trending, what’s happening, what are doing well, what are not doing well, where we might need a little help. Just being kind of a big bow on all of our content ensuring there’s that marriage between SEO and copywriting.
Ben: Awesome. It looks like you’re on the content and growth team over there at Formstack. I’m curious, is that a sub team within your marketing department? What does your marketing department structure look like? I know you mentioned you have one writer and some freelancers working directly with you. I’m just curious what does the big picture of the marketing department look like there?
Lindsay: I’m really fortunate that I work at a company that truly values marketing and understands the benefit of having a robust marketing team. We do really have a lot of powerful, really smart people on our marketing team. I’ve been with Formstack almost a year-and-a-half-ish now. I’m really amazed by the mass of our marketing team, the talents there. Because of our growth recently as a company, we’ve broken up actually our content and growth teams. Now, there are two separate teams build out of that original growth and content team. I now sit on the content side.
The content side is made up of a senior copywriter who does most of our website copywriting, a technical copywriter who falls underneath most of the blog writing, and in a lot of website copywriting, myself. We also have an SEO lead and a social media specialist. We all fall under a content team lead. She reports up to our VP of Marketing.
On the growth side that we broke apart from, that includes a digital media specialist. She handles all of our PPC projects and things like that. We also have two growth-focused marketers who report to our Director of Marketing Acquisition. They’re really focused on generating our trials, getting our leads, boosting our reach, expanding and developing our audience, and ensuring that we’re generating enough traffic to keep our sales team happy and busy. We also have a rock star design team that I work with a ton. This team includes a creative director and then three designers and developers.
That’s one thing I really like about our design team at Formstack. All of our graphic designers are also developers. They can take a project from inception, and storyboarding, and even just me having words on a page to seeing it as a graphic design and then coming to life on the website. That’s a really strong point for our design team. Within all those other teams, we also have a large product marketing team, an ops team, and then a fairly new partner team. They sit half in sales and half in marketing.
Ben: That absolutely is, like you said, a very robust marketing team. It’s great to hear that. That is very similar to how we operate here at CoSchedule, too. I’m very fortunate to have buy-in for a robust marketing team from the top down for sure.
Lindsay: I think it’s nice, too, when you enable people to specialize a bit more. You don’t have to wear 10, 15, 20 different hats. You can really drill down into what you’re good at and excel in those areas.
Ben: Absolutely. When you have that many people all working together under one umbrella, what challenges do you experience working as a unified marketing department?
Lindsay: Recently, we’ve really come to a head with this because we’ve grown so much over the past two years, that the processes we’ve been using really aren’t cutting it anymore. We use to follow a sprint process and every two weeks, we’ll have new cards, new projects. In that two weeks, we’ll get that work done. And because we have not only so many more teammates, but also so many more products, we’ve made five acquisitions in two years. That’s a lot of new projects under our wings and a lot of products to come to market within the past year.
We realized that we need to reinvestigate what works for our team, maybe make some edits to this process so that it can expand as our team expands. We’ve just been struggling with these projects that scope so many more sprints than we ever have before. A lot of times, we might now even have projects that go multiple quarters or even have something that branches through the whole year. The way we were doing sprint planning and that whole experience just wasn’t really giving us what we needed as far as scope and clarity in communications.
Now, we’re in this area where we’re taking a real deep dive into what do we want for our project management, what do we want for our timelines, and how do we want to work. Right now, we’re still investigating that but it’s looking like we’ll probably work in month-long sprints and be able to schedule out more of a quarterly planning from the get-go. It’s not just hopping from old sprint to the next and still being agile but having some extended qualities to that agile.
Ben: Definitely. I think that’s one thing that’s great about agile. It can be adaptable to your needs as it sounds like your team is coming to learn. That sounds pretty intense, trying to keep everything straight with that many team members and that many acquisitions and just all the different things you’ve got to have going on right now.
Lindsay: Yeah. I think the key for us has really been to pay attention to which team members need to be involved in a project from the get-go and having all of those voices at the table from the inception of a project, or initiative, or idea, to make sure no one is coming in at the eleventh hour and has to do all this backend, “Get me up to speed.” Instead, they’re there from the very beginning and they can be brought along for the project. If you’re a graphic designer, you might be on the project for two, three, four plus weeks and not have any work yet, but it’s nice to have all of that knowledge beforehand so you can just take it and run with it when it is your time to get going.
Ben: For sure. It sounds like this maybe an influx with your team a little bit right now but I’m curious, how does the marketing department at Formstack prioritize projects? What does your prioritization process look like? When it comes down to determining which project you should take on and in which order?
Lindsay: Each team in our marketing department does it a little bit differently, but I can touch on what the growth and content team does because we have done our content planning together and all the project planning together, even now I work two separate teams. About a month before the next quarter, our team lead provides us with a Google Sheet to track any projects we might want to get done in the upcoming quarter. These fall into two different buckets. There’s needs and there’s ideas. Needs are must-have projects that need to happen. These are things like content around a new product or launching a new template or workflow pages, things that align with projects we know are going to go live in that next quarter, and things we need to do to help those see success.
That idea bucket usually falls in the more creative and fun side of things. We did a contest a while back. It was a Game of Thrones death pool. Things like that would fall into more of an idea. We try to come up with some creative fun ideas to engage people. Another example of that was we did our workplace productivity timeline. That was another one of those things that initiated as an idea and then came down the process in the pipeline.
In short, we have a few fun ideas every quarter just so we can give our audience fun ways to interact with our brand. We know we probably won’t do more than one or two larger versions of that at a time per quarter, but we like to have the idea there so we can just ensure we have that piece of the puzzle.
We also categorize projects by the investment of time or the resources and then also note the impact that project will make. This gives our team a better overview of what each project entails and how it can fit into the schedule of our projects. It makes prioritization much easier. If you find something is a big investment but it has an expected low return, you’re going to easily rule that out. You want to make sure that those things balance. Ideally, you want to find things that have a low investment but a really high return.
Putting those things into those categories really help us balance the amount of small and large projects we take on each quarter. We can work remotely. I have an office in Indy but it’s open office. We don’t have a lot all closed off rooms. Anytime I have to record anything, I have to be home because it’s just going to be a hot mess […] the office. Once our team has compiled all of our ideas, our team leads all get together to review the sheets and make decisions on which projects we’ll go forward.
These sections we include in that sheet I was talking about make this process go super quick, since all of our team leads have all of the details they need up front and then can easily understand what each project will take to complete. They kind of know going into it the skeleton of each project, or each initiative, or each idea so they can get a grasp on better knowing the investment upfront and not either under promising or over promising our team. I think that’s a huge thing when you’re doing quarterly or yearly planning, is knowing where are your resources or how much resources you have and knowing how you can delegate those out. This way has really helped us figure out a good balance there.
Of course, all of our decisions and projects, from those we pitch to the ones we just want to go forward with, we each align with our goals. We set four company-wide objectives each quarter and then each team decides on what goals […] objectives. This year, we’re aligning our goals with sales, which I think is a great way to add some synergy between our teams. When our team leads are all sitting down looking at that sheet, of course, when we built it, we’ve put that into consideration, but then they’re honing down even further into those goals and what we’re trying to reach and ensuring anything we go forward with really aligns with what we want to go for the quarter.
Ben: As you’ve heard, Lindsay wears a lot of hats in her role at Formstack. If you’re like most in-house content marketers or SEO specialist, odds are you can relate. I know I can from my own experiences throughout my career both at CoSchedule and in previous roles. What she has to say about project prioritization and workflow, though, is particularly worth paying attention to here because while those areas may sound simple, they’re essential for making the nonstop balancing act of content marketing work without losing your mind. Enjoy the rest of the episode.
For once, you actually do have a project on the docket that you know you’re going to work on. What does your actual content creation process look like and how do your projects flow from idea to execution?
Lindsay: I’ve loved the content creation process. I’m a content marketer so that is just my cup of tea. Coming up with new content ideas can be really, really fun. I’ll dig into how we go about creating content for our blog because that really is the world I spend a lot of my time in. We publish anywhere from 3-5 posts a week. We’re a very busy content marketing team so I’ll just walk through what that looks like for us.
It all starts with SEO. We take a look at quite a few different aspects to get our idea phase going. That pulls in a lot of different questions and a lot of different processes and tools. We take a look at our own content. We look at what was doing well organically over the past quarter, the year, all the time just to get a sense of what content is working and why that content is working. We’re also looking at what hasn’t resonated as well, what’s not doing so well. We also dig deep into what keywords are trending in our verticals, in our products, in our focus areas. Also taking into consideration what those goals are for the quarter and how those areas play into keywords that we see are going up or going down.
We also take into consideration what are we ranking for, what do we want to rank for, maybe what has changed in our content strategy, especially in our situation. There are so many acquisition and so many products and so much growth over the past two years. We’ve had a lot of adjustments not even quarter to quarter sometimes. Sometimes just month-to-month and where our content is going. What our SEO looks like. What we’re targeting. Just ensuring that our messaging is still aligned with where it needs to be and where we want to be going.
Of course, we also look at other data points to align with those SEO pieces. We look at the overall site search history. We look at the blog search history. We look at our overall traffic, our email statistics, competitors, all those different things that are important to create better content and content our audience is more likely to read. Just looking at all of the past predictors. Of course, team content is also really, really important. So, being able to connect with our sales team, our product team, our customer experience team, on what content they think will be helpful to them and our prospects and our customers, and really talking with the people who are in the frontlines.
As a content marketer, I do get to talk to customers every once in a while, but generally it’s very, very finite. It’s either, “Oh, tell me about your use case,” or, “Come do an interview on our podcast,” or, “Speak about how you use our product.” It’s not really, “Oh, tell me what content would be helpful to you,” or, “What videos do you want to see?” or, “What walkthroughs will be helpful?” That’s not the role I play within our team, but I have so many teammates who do play a role like that or can be asking those questions, so ensuring that we’re always connecting with them and keeping them in the process as we start at the beginning of each quarter. We try and go into each quarter with as much of a holistic viewpoint of a content as we can.
Once we’ve gathered all of that information, it just helps me get a grasp of what our strengths and weaknesses are, what has been working and what has not, and what might be needed going into that next quarter. After we’ve done all of this and we have all of this data and input, we then dig into what our big projects for the next quarter look like and what content is going to be needed for those. That’s really the first initial set because we know we’re doing these big projects. We know we’re doing these big initiatives. This is a big thing for the quarter. What do we need to produce to ensure that these projects are successful? We reach our customers. We reach our clients, our prospects, wherever those markets and audiences might be.
This gives us a really good initial framework for our editorial calendar, but then we also have content we produce every quarter such as our news updates, our healthcare trends, quarterly product updates, and things like that that I already know need to get onto our calendar. That really gives me a great back bone for our calendar. Once those pieces have all connected, I then go into a final meeting with our content team and other important stakeholders. We just really take the time to fill in the gaps in our content calendar. Figure out what fun ideas we do want to bring to life through the blog.
We also have an idea sheet that we use all the time where we just go in and plug ideas as they pop up and then we can review that sheet together, decide on what aligns with that quarter, or which areas we haven’t touched on yet in the editorial calendar. That’s always really important to me, is that we try to address all of our audiences sometime within the quarter.
Since we have such a flexible product, we talk and work with a lot of different kinds of businesses and people and roles. Just ensuring that, “Oh, have we talked to the healthcare audience?” “Oh, have we touched on something in IT and security?” “Oh, have we produced something that speaks to higher education, the marketers?” Anything like that, just being sure we’ve covered all of our bases, to say.
After all that, we also really like to at least include two company culture for our support, just to give some idea of what it’s like to work at Formstack. That really fuels our Instagram content and our recruiters are able to use that in HR while they’re doing interviews. It helps people to get a glimpse into what it’s like to work here. It really helps in our recruiting and our retention rates.
Also, thought leadership is always important. We also like to have that lighthearted content. Things are a little bit more fun. We just produced a really long article about Slack tips that are super helpful because we use Slack all the time. We also did one that was highlighting top productivity tools for marketers. CoSchedule is a piece of that article. It’s just having those things that just are easy to read, light, easy to share in social media.
By the end of all those planning, we have our entire quarter blog content sent. Like I said, it’s anywhere from 3-5 posts a week. Right now, we’re transitioning a lot of the older content from our other sites. Not necessarily older, but a lot of the content from our other products that we’ve acquired onto our Formstack site. This quarter is a little bit different with our content schedule because we have a lot of the content that we’re just editing, revamping, and putting on our site just to ensure that we don’t lose SEO juice from those sites.
But then from there, it’s pretty easy. I plug everything into CoSchedule and everything is templated so it’s just works, kind of like bada boom bada bang. Each sentence begins with a sentence or two descriptor, what it poses about. Our SEO expert comes in, provides all of our keywords, and there a draft is produced either by myself, my co-worker Lacy, or one of our freelancers. We have editors selected that review every single post, then our social media specialist plugs into WordPress, makes it pretty, and off it goes.
Ben: Very cool. That’s great to hear that you’re using CoSchedule that way, too. That’s what we hope to hear. Something in there, too, that I think is really interesting as you say that everything starts with SEO and it sounds like your content strategy and your SEO strategy are very tightly integrated. Something I’m curious about, though, because sometimes that can be challenging to keep content in SEO aligned, especially when you may have some content ideas that don’t maybe neatly lend themselves, like a particular search intent or a particular set of keywords or anything like that. I’m curious, do you have any challenges that you’ve learned how to overcome when integrating content with SEO that way?
Lindsay: It’s just one big puzzle at the end of the day. Like I said earlier, it’s really trying to figure out how can you please both the search engines and your audience, the real people you’re trying to connect with. I think most importantly, it’s always about pleasing your customer, or your prospect, or your partner, or whatever that audience is because at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to close the sale. That’s what’s going to build your relationship. That’s what’s going to do whatever final success rating that is. That’s what’s going to bring that home.
At the same time, you have to think about the fact that if no one is seeing your content or if a very limited audience are seeing your content, it’s not doing what you created it to do. It’s really just that marriage of trying to figure out how to ensure everything we put out the door is SEO optimized but in a way that doesn’t impact how the reader reads it, or engages with it, or feels about the article. There are some articles that you can definitely like, “Oh, it’s on the third ranking of my first page in Google. This has been great,” and you open it and you’re like, “What is this?” Luckily, Google is getting better about not providing search results like that, but it still is very prevalent.
You just have to keep that in mind and don’t fall into that trap. I think that it’s easy for either SEO specialist, or copywriters, or people who are in a hybrid role like myself to fall into the SEO trap of being able to get every keyword and every headline, ensure you have synonyms, right terms and all those kinds of things. You get so far down that rabbit hole, it just starts sounding very unnatural. We need to just take a step back, ensure that we’re hitting the bare bones of SEO, and making sure that those pieces that are just drastically crucial and important to ranking are there, but not letting that over encompass your whole entire creation because it’s the people, it’s the company, it’s the business, it’s your audience that matters at the end of the day.
Like you said, sometimes it can be very difficult. There are some keywords I find and I’m like, “I have no idea how I’m supposed to intertwine this into this content or get this to work.” Sometimes you realize you just have to knock a keyword or two off because it just doesn’t make sense or it’s unnatural.
One thing we’re going to see in SEO in the next one or two years is a shift from these unnatural words to more natural speak. We keep talking about voice being so crucial and natural language being so important, just understanding that you need to keep that inline as you’re looking at keywords. If someone wouldn’t say something or write something in the way that it’s showing up, that’s a red flag of, “Oh, you know, I know that this is what our tool said, but we just have to step back and think about where are we going and where it has been.
Ben: Absolutely. Totally preaching to the choir. I love it. The last question I’ll throw your way. We’ve found through our own research that the most organized marketers are most often the most likely to be successful. What advice might you have to help marketers get organized and stay organized?
Lindsay: I’m really an old school person when it comes to how I stay organized. Of course, I have my digital tools. Like I said, I use CoSchedule for my editorial calendar. I use Formstack for lead gen and for any kind of form gathering, information gathering. But I am a calendar person. I am a calendar reminder person. I love written to-do list. It’s kind of gross how much I love just to sit down, take five minutes, take about all the things I need to do. It might be in the next hour, next day, next week, whatever it might be, but I love written list. I feel like it gives you a little more sense of accountability when it’s written down and you can look at it and it’s physical on a piece of paper. But I also stare at a computer all day, so it’s nice to step away and actually hand write something for once.
Taking breaks is crucial if you’re creative. You think you’re so bogged down in your work and you start feeling that the words aren’t flowing, or you sound repetitive, or you’re making really silly typo errors. I have to check myself and say, “Hey, it’s time for a brain break. Go do something fun.”
What’s really great about Formstack is we have a very fun, active culture. At our Colorado Springs or our Indianapolis offices, we play a game called power struggle. It’s kind of a suit up version of ping pong. Look it up on our Instagram; it is awesome. That’s how I get myself out of those creativity funks or those brain faults that settle in, especially when we’re staring at computers for so long. It just really impacts your eyesight and brain after a little bit. Just getting off, getting some blood flowing, getting a drink, just taking a few steps, it just really makes me refreshed and I can come back. Then all of a sudden, my creativity is flowing again. The gears are going and I can really knock out quality work instead of just knocking out work.
I think it’s just a balance of having those electronic computer-based digital tools. Not only the physical tools or writing a list, but just the mental capability to know how to keep yourself on track, how to keep yourself accountable, how to equate your time appropriately, knowing what you can take on, what you can’t take on. That of course takes time and each project, or role, or initiative is different but over time, you can just make mental notes about, “Oh, this is going to take me X amount of time,” or, “This is going to need as many hours, “ or, “The work time is this.” Just making those notes to myself and then using that calendar again.
When I know if I need to do something and I really have to just schedule some time, don’t be afraid to put it on your calendar. That is one of the best things you can do especially in a situation where you have meetings all the time and sometimes you just need that hour to just bang out a blog post, or get this draft done, or send those tiny emails, whatever it might be. I find that very, very helpful.
Ben: Absolutely. That’s awesome stuff. That does it for all the questions that I have for you today. Thanks again for joining us on the show. Best of luck with your marketing in the future with all the growth, acquisitions, and everything else you’ve got going on. That all sounds great.
Lindsay: Yeah. It’s been a really amazing year. I don’t have a tech background. This is my first tech job, so to come in to a company that’s out of start-up phase (which is nice). I don’t know if I would ever really want to be in the start-up phase, but to come in a company that’s just grown out of start-up phase and to see them have the leadership they have.
Chris Byers, our CEO, has been so brilliant, especially everyone who’s around him and supporting him figuring out what are the strategic decisions we need to make to level up our company. We were an online forms company for a good 9 or 10 years and now, to make this revelation of this is going to be the next chapter in our book and be smart about who we’re bringing into that.
We brought on really excellent products. Our […] major product is the number one rated on […], which is phenomenal. We’ve been able to scout out really great products that really have a good fit with what our core product is and we’re super excited to see where that brings us to the next level. We can provide our customers so much more than we ever have before.
Ben: Very cool. Congrats on all of the above both to yourself and to your team. Thanks again for coming on the show.
Lindsay: We appreciate it. If we can help you guys in any other way down the road, feel free to reach out to us. We’re always open for collaborations, however that might be.
Ben: For sure. I’ll definitely keep you in mind. There are all kinds of things I’m sure we could collaborate on. I’ll keep that in mind for sure.
Lindsay: Awesome. It was great chatting then. Thank you so much for the opportunity.
Ben: You’re welcome. Have a good afternoon.
Lindsay: Thanks. You too.
January 14, 2020
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