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Content marketing is easy, right?! You just find a keyword, write a list post, rank #1 on Google, get tons of traffic, and crush your goals. It should be that easy, but the future of successful content marketing is changing. Now, the goal is to influence profitable customer action.
Today, we’re talking to Jennifer Pepper, the marketing manager for content creation at Unbounce. She shares why it is more important than ever before to go beyond lifestyle or listicle content, to publish content that solves for intent, and to connect the dots for between your audience’s pain and your product offering.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
Nathan: Content marketing is easy, right? You just find a keyword, write a list post, rank number one on Google, get tons of traffic, and subsequently crush your goals. I mean, it should be that easy right? Well, I’ve talked to a lot of marketers recently and it sounds like the future of successful content marketing is changing. The goal of content marketing after all is to influence profitable customer action and to do that these days requires a mindset shift. That’s why you and I are chatting with Jennifer Pepper today on the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Jennifer is the marketing manager for content marketing at Unbounce.
Now if you know Unbounce, you know their content is second class to none and while Jennifer’s mentality has always been about providing the best answer on the internet for every piece they publish, Jennifer has been trying a new approach that’s driving some pretty big results for Unbounce.
The good news? She’s sharing that story with you today. You’re about to learn why it’s more important than ever to go beyond lifestyle or listicle content to publish content that solves for intent and to connect the dots between your audiences’ pain and your product offering. I’m not gonna lie, this episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast is eye-opening. I’m Nathan from CoSchedule and I’m excited about this so let’s listen in with Jennifer.
Hey, Jen. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Jen: Thanks for having me.
Nathan: Yeah. I’m really excited to have you. Let’s just kick this off. Could you tell be just a little bit about Unbounce?
Jen: Sure. We’re the conversion platforms for marketers which means basically we’re the easiest way to build and test custom landing pages. We now offer website pop-ups and sticky bars. We help you lower your cost-per-click for your paid campaigns through using landing pages and just launching more campaigns fast. We allow marketers to experiment and really try things out at a quicker rate than if they’d have to go through developers.
Nathan: I think that’s a desperately needed thing for marketers who may not have access to developer resources. It’s been fun to see what you guys are up to. Jen, I’m kind of wondering then specifically what are some of the things that you do at Unbounce?
Jen: I’m the Marketing Manager for content creation here. In a nutshell, that means I manage the production of content marketing initiatives and help develop out our content strategy aligned with all of our marketing goals.
Nathan: Excellent. I could say that we’ve been following a lot of your content for a long time here at CoSchedule so it’s really exciting to be having this conversation with you specifically today. Can you just fill me in really quickly on some of that blog’s progression over the last eight years, some of the work that you’ve been doing to help bring this blog from where it’s started to where it’s at today.
Jen: We started blogging as a company before we even had a product. It’ll be nine years ago this years. We started it as a way of validating early on if the problem we were trying to solve for marketers actually existed. Did people actually need to find a way to build dedicated landing pages without a developer or IT? Sure enough, in that time, Oli Gardner developed a huge following. He was critiquing landing pages and writing about landing pages examples, defining the terms of our category, and that kind of thing.
From there, we saw content—specifically blogging at the time—was a great way to build a following. It was conveying authority and speaking to marketers in a way that was really resonating. But largely, it was an early traffic driver eight years ago, and eight years ago was kind of—you know Nathan, you and I have been talking about this—it was kind of like the wild west of content. As long as you are producing high-quality stuff, you’d kind of stand out and you could grow traffic this way.
Before my time on content, we grew the team, producing ebooks, and massive guides, and webinars. Those were kind of our bread and butter of the time. We did a podcast and videos. We increased publishing frequency for all of the above. But in this time, we wrote what I would say amounts to lifestyle content in B2C industries. You’re not writing about the backpack you’re selling, you’re writing about the adventures that you go on, for example. But in B2B, when we look at the attribution data, it was actually not a great idea for us to be spending so much time on content that was too far from our product. There had to be a stronger correlation there for something to have a fair likelihood to convert.
Over time, we sort of hit a point where we’re producing helpful content across the buyer journey but it wasn’t especially efficient. We were always creating more instead of looking to better merchandise messages and content that we’d already perfected and produced. It was a ton of effort but all these channels eventually tapped out of it in terms of results as I’m sure a lot of marketers are appealing. Rand Fishkin of Moz has addressed this pretty recently. I think we’re seeing it across the industry. He was saying like, “Content is definitely more difficult but it’s largely because people’s BS detectors are on high. What are you gonna create now that’s not a listicle post? What are you gonna create now that’s really gonna solve for intent and be what someone is actually looking for. Consumption habits are really changing.
Right now where we’re trying to get the blog to is actually, I should reverse that, we’re actually not trying to get the blog to anywhere. We’re trying to look at being more problem focused first versus bringing the solution right away. In the past we might have said, “We should make an ebook or we should make a webinar or we should make a podcast.” Now we’re saying, “Well, what is the problem that marketers are trying to solve and how—considering new consumption methods—how do you meet them on the other end with the best answer on the internet for that? Does that make sense?
Nathan: Why do you think it’s important for Unbounce to start blogging before you guys even had a product? How did that help serve in some of that product development that you guys did at Unbounce?
Jen: Absolutely. Again, it’s all about validation. When we had started blogging, Oli was asking things about how do you currently build your landing pages or try to validate assumptions given that we had about that market. They will fully tell you, back in that time, our customers would fully tell us or actually prospects would tell us, “I have developers but when I give them the design for a landing page, it really does take a lot of back and forth to get it created. There’s all this politics of changing your website.” We knew that we validated it through content that this was a real problem. You hear back pretty quickly that what you’re trying to solve for is real. That’s kind of what we used the blog for at the very beginning.
Nathan: That’s fascinating. We’ve done this similar approach too, here at CoSchedule too. It’s just fun to hear how other, maybe software companies like yourself, have done some of that. Jen, something else that you mentioned was that now you guys are really focusing on content that maybe isn’t just lifestyle-esque in a way but is connected to the core product. Could you share a little bit about that process?
Jen: Absolutely. I think it was maybe summer of last year, maybe even before then actually. The blog hadn’t been the traffic driver that it once was. It started to flatten out. In that time, we started looking at what other initiatives we should prioritize. What’s gonna be the next growth traffic channel for us in terms of content? As you said, it’s about identifying high-traffic opportunities that tie strongly to what we offer as a business and ensuring that we provide the absolute best answers and experience on the internet for the intent behind certain searches.
For example if people are looking up PPC landing page, if we don’t appear first for that, that’s not good. We really want to look at the content that we can create around things that are very close to our products. We used to write things in topics like email marketing, for example. We talk about email marketing and design in general and this is just too broad. It’s what I would say as sort of lifestyle content that we can’t really do anymore before you cover your fundamentals.
Our fundamentals are like, “What is a landing page? What is a PPC landing page? Why are those two things different? Why should you be using landing pages with your AdWords spend?” We have to answer those fundamental things first before we can have editorial meetings where things can progress beyond that. But again, it’s more about learning to optimize the content that you create as well. It’s one thing to create something for what is a landing page that the minute that gets stale, it falls in the rankings, and you lose some of the traffic associated there.
I think in the old days it used to be that people had to come up with this publishing schedule and understand it had a rhythm and you’re kind of caught in that rhythm. Now I think marketers have to really look at what they’re making efficiently and try to rank for those things. It’s like the fundamental core problems that your audience is searching for but trying to identify the ones that are closest to your B2B business is probably your best bet.
Nathan: We’ve found out something very similar here at CoSchedule too. We’ve been trying the same sort of tactics so it’s interesting to be having this conversation with you. You knew that the listicles, that lifestyle-esque content just didn’t work, how did you know when it was time to make the pivot? What were you looking at from that perspective to know, “Hey, something needs to change.”
Jen: We noticed something was amiss maybe in March, even January of 2017. We looked at two sort of things. We looked at net new traffic to a content channel like the blog, was it netting a lot of new eyeballs? And two, was the content really attracting people and was it then pushing them toward a new trial start, an NTS for us.
What we noticed was there was a portion of posts that we’re definitely driving NTS but they were quite old. This was cornerstone content, it had kind of aged. When we looked at things like landing page example posts, those are doing pretty well but they hadn’t been updated in a long time. But what we also noticed was the traffic to those was dipping. We had lost a significant portion of that traffic because it wasn’t ranking anymore.
It was really important to be able to look at the trends and understand traffic was flat lining at the time. Do we invest further in this channel were questions that we had to ask but it was like, “How can we go back to that content and refresh it such that it will pull in the eyeballs for us and it will rank and be the first thing someone sees when they look up certain things that are highly related to our product. The moment for us was really early 2017 when we started looking at the attribution data and how much traffic was coming in.
Nathan: I love this idea of cornerstone content. I wanna know how you keep that relevant at the top of those search results.
Jen: There’s two ways. We look at content that we’ve created and we ask, “Does it still answer the core question?” When we think of what people would type into the search bar in order to find that piece of content, we’re thinking okay, well, if I ended up here, one, would I click it from a SERP when I look at the metadata? Would I have clicked on that from a SERP to answer that question. If not, make some changes there. But two, when you get onto that page, how quickly does it get to the core answer? Are people gonna get there and then need to use the back button right away or does it really answer that question as the best experience on the internet?
Also, this may involve asking yourself is the best experience on the internet for this particular question best suited to a blog post or do you make something like an online experience? Like this very top of funnel FAQ style resource for example or do you put it in a course or what does that experience look like that it’s the best answer on the internet.
But second, you can start all the way back at keyword research again. If you look at that piece and say, “No, we’re gonna put that to bed.” We either have to refresh it or we’re gonna put it to bed and we’re gonna start again with some keyword research about discovering the intent behind what people are actually looking for.
Nathan: Jen, something that you kind of mentioned earlier too was that you try to make sure that you find those synonyms for what people should find they’re closer related to your products such as PPC landing page. When someone searches for that, you want them to find Unbounce. How do you go about finding those sorts of synonyms, how do you make sure that that is part of your processes, you’re going into this idea of optimizing for search engines?
Jen: We use a few tools that are very, very handy for this. One, we use AHREFS. Basically, you can use this for keyword research and use or navigate to the keywords explorer and you’ll get all kinds of ideas for different variations that you can run and export that list. Another tool that I use is SEO Book. That way, you can find all the possible variations of a given keyword for eventual inclusion in the content. But basically, it helps you uncover different permutations of the same keyword and it’s very, very helpful.
Nathan: We’re talking about this whole maturation over the course of eight years and identifying this time to pivot and really focusing on this intent behind someone’s searches, you want to be there. Why is it more important now more so that ever before to consider this sort of pivot from lifestyle content to optimize for product intent?
Jen: I think that’s a great question. I think it comes down to how people are interacting with the internet now. I think we’re seeing a rise of things like voice search already as a trend starting in 2017 onward. We’re starting to understand that when people are looking for businesses, they’re not just going to your resource hub or your blog, you know what I mean? Like the famous saying, “People don’t read blogs, they read posts.” Unless you’re sort of getting on their radar via your social or your paid, or if people are still paying attention to your email for example. You do have to sort of reach them in different ways.
I think examining search intent is a great way to do that but you have to do it right. You don’t wanna blindly attract a bunch of people to your site for a high-level terms that you’re going after that aren’t connected to your product or are only loosely did. You have to make that connection very, very clear. But following the sort of fundamentals approach, I think it’s kind of like both time-saving and cost-saving. Things like podcasts, even though they’re really cool to do, I think you can do them after you’ve covered the sort fundamentals approach.
It’s not to say that you can’t ever do lifestyle type content—I keep calling it lifestyle but you know what I’m talking about—stuff that’s one step away from your fundamentals, it’s fine to do that as long as you can support it. It may mean that you need a little bit of paid budget or you just have really good discovery on your site. If there’s some kind of resource section that gets a lot of traffic. It has everything to do with your site’s domain authority and whether you’re attracting the right type of people there. It’s not necessarily a new way of doing things but certainly if you have not covered it when you first started, now is a good time.
Nathan: Jen, something else that you kind of mentioned was that you focused on this idea of the customer journey, and the last time we chatted you had mentioned focusing on this idea of curriculums. I really wanna hear your perspective on this because I think it’s really amazing to think about marketing as a form of education and nurturing prospects and the customers. Could you elaborate on that idea and what that means for you at Unbounce?
Jen: Yeah, sure. I love this too. Basically, we look at sort of a whole process for creating content that will rank. First, we start with that keyword research and AHREFS or Google Keyword Planner and you’re looking for terms that relate again, strongly to your business, but present a high volume traffic op. But then, to create this sort of curriculum, you start grouping up keywords by intent. You imagine what people typing these keywords into Google are really wanting to know.
If I type in, as we said, PPC landing pages, I, as a marketer can kind of look at that and go, “Okay, that’s super tied together with what is a PPC landing page. How do I create, build, make PPC landing pages?” You kind of come up with this intent and start grouping together similar questions. This is what Cody and I, my colleague, call the curriculum for your content. This is mapping out all the stuff that a given piece is gonna cover.
You may realize as you start to go that, “Okay, this is starting to look like five different pieces.” Or, “We have the opportunity to tie four pieces together whereas maybe we would’ve only made one blog post in the past.” But we kind of look at this curriculum and ask, “What’s the best way to show this info online? If I was searching for this, what am I hoping to find?” We basically determine do we need a web experience like I said, or do we need a series of pages, is this a quick blog post on the topic? That’s how you put that curriculum together.
But we also consider after you read something like the answer to X, what would you be now looking to know next? This is how you figure out what your calls to action throughout the content will be and how you’re mapping out that journey.
Nathan: This whole time, we’re talking about getting the right sorts of people in with the right sort of intent, at the right time, and they’re doing this through search and well-beyond, you guys are looking at automation to help bring in those right people and nurture them further.
What’s your best advice for marketers who need to mature their blog or their content to go beyond those pages, to go beyond the lifestyle content we’ve been dropping in this episode? Where should those marketers focus first or where should they start to implement some of the advice that you’ve provided today?
Jen: I know Moz just published a really great piece. I think it might have been a whiteboard Friday. Actually, I think it was just a regular blog post that they did on identifying traffic drops on any pages of your site.
Similar to us, you could do sort of this analysis and determine, “Okay, we’ve had a few traffic drops from posts that used to perform really, really well for us.” That is a really good indication of where you should maybe go back and look at the intent behind those post and figure out if they need updating or if you need something new at this point. Identifying posts that maybe aren’t performing as well as they used to.
But also starting to do your keyword research to determine in this core problem area related to your business, have you covered all the fundamentals there? You could do lifestyle content until the cows come home but these days, you kind of have to pay for it a little bit. You’re gonna have to pay for it to get it in the right places for your target audience to see. It requires a little bit of extra juice, I will say. But what can you do that is gonna bring in compounding traffic month over month that is more reliable and more sustainable than this high-level editorial?
Ask yourself have we covered the fundamentals, and second to that are they the best experience on the internet for those things? If I’m searching for how to write an editorial calendar, for example, and someone on the other side, a business, has great tools for editorial calendar, scheduling things, you wanna make sure that you’ve answered every possible permutation of that question either in one really, really large content piece or that you’ve mapped out the curriculum for several other content pieces that kind of all link back together and help the authority of the other pieces, linking them together and making sure that they each boost each other up.
I think that those are good places for marketers to start sort of analyzing your current traffic for trends. Are you flatlining, are you not, but also asking is it efficient? Is what we’re doing especially efficient? Second, looking at whether you’ve covered those fundamentals. Even starting with a list of things that you know people might be asking in your target audience about your company but certainly doing the research to back that up. Are people actually looking for those things? Are there even high-level buckets of keyword opportunities that have high volume but you could connect your product to them?
Nathan: That is amazing advice, Jen. I can tell you that we are focusing a lot on the same things, it’s amazing actually. I think that’s a great place to end it, great advice, great tips, this was one of my favorite episodes I’ve done in a long time. Thanks for sharing everything that you have shared today.
Jen: That’s so nice. It was really a pleasure to chat with you today. Thank you.
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