You know that content marketing has the potential to grow your company. What if you’re not getting results, though? If you don’t have something unique to say or value to offer, it’s tough to get traction in a competitive environment. How can you create unique ideas and overcome mediocre results? Today we’re going to be talking to Jon Henshaw, an accomplished product builder and content marketer. Jon co-founded Raven Tools and is now with CBS Interactive. We’re going to talk about how to fix broken content marketing. You won’t want to miss today’s show!
Some of the highlights of this episode include:
- What Jon’s been up to over the past decade, from building up Raven Tools from nothing to entering the world of content marketing.
- Some of the “wins” that Jon has experienced over the years, as well as a “loss.”
- Jon’s process for staying ahead of the curve when it comes to content marketing.
- Tips on tackling the types of big, unique projects that will pan out, as well as Jon’s thoughts on the risks involved.
- How Jon promotes his biggest projects for maximum benefit.
- Where SEO fits into the promotion strategy.
- Jon’s favorite part of content marketing.
Jordan: Content Marketing has huge potential to grow your company. What do you do when you’re not getting the results you hoped for? It’s a fiercely competitive landscape. If you don’t have something unique and valuable to say or a unique and valuable way to say it, it’s really tough to get traction in such a noisy environment. But where do these unique idea come from and how do you overcome lackluster content marketing results?
Well these are exactly the questions this episode is here to answer. In today’s show, Nathan interviews Jon Henshaw, an accomplished SEO, product builder, and content marketer. Jon co-founded Raven Tools which was acquired by TapClicks in 2017 and is now with CBS Interactive. Now, here’s Nathan and Jon on how to fix broken content marketing.
Nathan: Hey, John. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Jon: Hey, thanks for having me.
Nathan: Let’s just kick it off. Can you tell me about Raven, TapClicks, and now, I know that you’re with CBS Interactive. What else you’ve been up to these days?
Jon: I spent the last 10 years at Raven building it basically from nothing to something significant. In March of 2017, I sold it to a company called TapClicks which has an enterprise of marketing reporting component of Raven. They brought that to sort of make their product even better and kind of expand their marketplace. I recently left that to pursue something different which is something that I’m equally passionate about which is, of course, SEO which is how Raven got started. Now, I’m a senior search analyst at CBS Interactive. I’m having a lot of fun there with their properties.
Nathan: You have a really cool story about content marketing or how you got into that. That’s kind of what I wanna dive into. How did you get into the world of content marketing?
Jon: I think the first reason I got into it is because it’s a bit of of a necessity if you do SEO. A lot of search engine optimization is about content, and the quality of it, and how it’s structured from a information architecture standpoint. Then getting people link to that content. I think that’s sort of the core thing that got me into it, but the other reason why I really got into content marketing was out of just pure necessity.
When we started Raven, we were just a boutique agency at the time. We didn’t have any money to do any marketing, any traditional digital marketing. This was really an opportunity for us to be able to bring attention to the brand.
One of the great things about content marketing is that it kind of levels the playing field among other companies and it really comes down to do you have something unique to say, do you have something to say that either hasn’t been said or could it be said in a different way, or can solve somebody’s problem that hasn’t been solved yet, that’s coming from the brain. That’s coming from an expert, from a good mind. You don’t have to have the tens of thousands of dollars or more in paid advertising budget. You just have to have good ideas.
Nathan: I’m sure you’ve had a few wins with that and maybe a few losses once you got started in content marketing. Would you mind sharing some of those with me?
Jon: Loses? No. We’ve never had loses.
Nathan: No mistakes at all.
Jon: Yeah. Everything works perfectly. What are you talking about? Well, I’ll talk about the wins first because that’s a little bit more fun to talk about. We’ve had several wins as you would expect over a decade of doing this. There are a handful that come to mind. What I will say, to sort of preface that is when we looked at building these, we try to look at things that weren’t being addressed in the marketplace. That’s where these came from.
An example would be GA Config. GA Config was based off of Google’s campaign parameters. Those are basically parameters that are put at the end of URL. They were originally made to track performance for a paid AdWords campaign. But it ended up being that you can use them outside of that. You can actually use them on a social campaign, on even your site, internal or external linking type of things, or linking to your site.
For example, you could add campaign parameters to URL. You could even shorten it and then you could put it on a printed flyer. It doesn’t have to be online. Those things would help you track via Google analytics, would help you track the performance of your campaign. The problem was, for everybody, was there was no simple way to do it. It kind of has funky characters that connect different parameters. For the general person who wanted to use these, it looked like coding jumbled stuff. That was something I identified as a need in a marketplace so we created GA Config. GA Config basically is a site that has a form on it.
They eventually made one but it was so popular, so first to be there that it stays pretty high up in the SERPs, and with that, we get tons of traffic, or who I was with, the company I was with, got tons of traffic. It’s nice because it emphasizes the brand in a positive way because you’re solving a problem for your target market. You can also, of course, put advertising or CTAs on there because it just happens to be that the people who would use this also need to do marketing reports.
Nathan: You know the name of this podcast is Actionable. That is super actionable, I like that.
Jon: It is. There was another one that we had a great success with that was kind of similar to that story and that had to do with a scheme at word structure data or the vocabulary that Google came out with. It was the same exact scenario where they came out with this technology. They did not make it easy for the common marketer to figure out how to use it. We did the same thing we did with GA Config and we created a site where they could enter in the information for that in a form. It will give them exactly the code that they needed with what’s called microdata.
We even took that a step further and we created a plugin for WordPress so people could have the same functionality inside of WordPress when they’re writing a page or post, they could insert the structured data right into the post that they’re writing. That was incredibly popular. Again, to this day, it still gets a lot of traffic. The last part of that being some other GA Config, it too also solved a problem that our customers or potential customers needed which is we, ultimately, are providing tools for SEOs including reporting.
This is exactly the type of thing that people who are doing SEO would need because it’s directly related to it. Again, it’s an example of paying attention to what is going on in the marketplace and paying attention to pain points and problems that your customers or your potential customers are having and solving that for them. Solving it for free, doing it in altruistic way, with the goal being brand awareness for yourself and possibly, of course, getting customers.
Nathan: I think you might have one more for me.
I would say that a third content marketing project, that was a really big win for us was we, in 2015, we looked at all of the crawl data from our site auditor tool. It was just a database. In fact, we just asked somebody to just output the data for us, just flat out output it, and we’ll kind of look at it ourselves. When we’re able to take that information and find just really cool insights into, based on something like four billion pages were crawled, what were the things that most people were missing? What were things that when we really looked at all these different sites, and these are all people who care about fixing their site that we were finding that were being neglected or ignored, and with that we were able to create an infographic.
We’re able to create different graphs and charts that, to this day, still get shared. It’s a 2015 study and I was just at a conference and somebody had included, yet again, a stat and a graphic of that which of course had the Raven branding on it which is fantastic.
Nathan: There’s so much work that you have already done, why not maximize it, right?
Jon: Exactly. That’s exactly what we’re doing.
Nathan: Earlier Jon, I kind of alluded that you might have some lessons learned along the way. Could you tell me about those? Where might you have messed up?
Jon: Content marketing is hard. I’m sure everybody who’s listening to this is nodding their head up and down like, “Yes, I’ve been trying to do this and I get so many things that don’t work, and I don’t understand why.” One of the things that I’ve noticed just in general is that when people think of content marketing, a lot of times, even just when they just go to conference and people they’re saying, “Right quality content and do this,” that type of thing, that’s about as far as they go.
A lot of people think that just writing blog posts is all you need to do and then nothing happens, and they wonder why wasn’t it usually shared, why didn’t we get all that traffic from that? Nobody knows why and that type of thing. It’s typically because of the scenario I just gave and also because the things that they’re writing about, not only are they not done in a really significant way, they’ve also been kind of beaten to death, because everybody has written about this over, and over, and over again.
They’re picking topics and writing about things that have been written about over, and over, and over again, so there’s nothing really unique or special about it. That’s something we’ve done and we experienced that same thing where it’s like, “Ah, I really thought this was a high quality, awesome article and it didn’t do anything.” If I were to take that into sort of one of the examples that I was just giving which is something kind of beyond a blog entry, I can think of one thing in particular.
We did a social media checklist. I thought it was pretty cool. It was kind of a one-pager. We picked a unique domain for it and made it into some little microsite and the thing is that, again, the thing we picked, while it got a little bit of attention, it didn’t get a lot of attention. It’s partly because we picked something that were not even really all that well-known for. We picked something that is really easy to find kind of anywhere else. It’s not really all that original.
The way we put it together was not much different than anybody else. I would say that the thing that I learned from that is that if you’re gonna do something, not that you necessarily need to take the whole tactic of controversy or anything like that, but if you’re gonna write something or you’re gonna do something that you really are kind of looking for the expectation that this is gonna give us a really good return on the time we invested in it, it needs to be unique. It needs to be something that is being done in a way that nobody’s done before.
If possible, it needs to be something that is a little more related to what you do. The social stuff for us was only sort of related to what we did. We definitely have social reports and that type of thing but it was probably a little too far away from our wheelhouse. That didn’t work out that well. One other thing I can think of is when possible, particularly even if it’s just a blog entry, it seems to help if the author is more well-known. We would have people write internally, on our team, and they would write things, and I would look at it and be like, “Man, this is awesome. This is something that should be shared and people sort of really like.”
There seems to be a bias of many people within each industry where they automatically like and believe, and wanna share things from people who are already trusted or known regardless of the quality of the content, that’s kind of another thing I learned. You either kind of go big and let the content speak for itself, kind of like those earlier projects that I told you worked well, or you might wanna consider trying to hire or have somebody who has–I hate using the word influence on because I think it’s over used–but who is more recognizable in the industry.
We’ve done some of that in the past and that’s worked for us. We’ve had a site in the past called Squawk and I hired people who I thought were one, incredible writers and had great minds, and two, already had some kind of recognition in the industry, and each time, they would write both, because of the quality and because of they more well-known. Those would get a lot of attention, even if the article itself was of the same quality of somebody who’s less-known. Those get more attention because of who they were.
Nathan: This has been floating around in my mind lately, Jon. It’s just like if it’s easy, it’s really been done. You really have to think differently if you wanna stand out.
Jon: That is a very true statement. The internet is a big place and yes, most things have already been done. Even the crazy things that you can think of off the top of your head right now. It’s probably already been done. You have to be even more creative.
Jordan: What do you think? Are you enjoying the Actionable Marketing Podcast? I certainly hope you are. I hope you’re learning a ton and more than that, I hope you’re able to take this knowledge, take this expertise that we get to share with you every week, and apply it to your day-to-day so that your marketing can get better, and better, and better, that you can grow your revenue and get better results than you ever have before. That is exactly why we created this show.
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Nathan: You’ve obviously figured out some things that are working. What’s your process for that? Of finding those things that are very likely to pan out?
Jon: I’ve always tried to stay ahead of the curb. I had to especially early on with Raven, trying to figure out what’s next so that we could innovate faster than other people particularly as it relates to the product. This is also me as an SEO, I mean, this is how I’ve always done in SEO which is to try to think about how Google thinks and where I think they’re going next. I always kind of kept my mind in the future.
What makes sense as far as the next thing and that’s where I would keep my eye and that’s where I would keep my thoughts. The reason why GA Config was created, the reason why our Schema creator was created was because I was already been thinking about that before it even was announced, before it even became a thing, because I knew that it was sort of the next big thing.
I knew, for example, with Schema creator, that structured data made the most sense for Google. In fact, it frustrated me for years why they didn’t use something called microdata or already RDFa which are standardized structure data formats. Google just ignored it. I was like, “Man, it doesn’t make any sense to me. This is exactly what Google Bot and their algorithm would love to have.” Of course, today, they do. Today, they’re all about structured data because of course, it made sense, and they eventually caught up.
I think what I’m saying is, if you’re really passionate and into the thing that you’re actually selling or that you’re trying to bring attention to, then take that one step further and be thinking about what’s next. Be thinking about what are unsolved problems whether it be for you or anybody else in the industry.
That’s basically my ideation. That’s the first place I start is I’m constantly looking for what are problems that haven’t been solved by my target customer and even actually that’s one step further, a lot of people will approach this as in, “Well, I’m, solving their problem by them having my product.” Well, you actually wanna step back and say, “What is the problem that needs to be solved before they get to your problem?” An example of that will go back again to the GA Config which is I know that I’m selling reporting but my potential customer, even my current customer doesn’t know how to track things correctly so they can even run good reports.
I’m gonna solve the problem before the problem of needing to do reports and basically say, “Hey, here’s how you need to actually set up your reporting or set up your tracking and analytics so that then, once you do that correctly, you can come to me and I actually provide a tool that does the reporting for you once you’ve done that correctly.” It’s the problem before the problem is a really good one. Always keeping your eye on where things are going so that you could be the very first person to be talking about and that way, you bring the most attention to yourself.
Nathan: That is amazing advice. I know you’ve got this process for actually how you work on those big projects. I wanna talk a little bit more about that.
Jon: I think that once you’ve identified the thing you wanna do, I think a lot of people, they try to just pinpoint what it is immediately and just do it. I’m a really big fan of starting big, thinking about things that are probably impossible at least from the surface when you bring them up, but I like that. Part of the reason for that is because that usually leads to a very doable idea or that big idea’s great as long as you kind of then take a step back and kind of put it into chunks of projects that you can do.
When people just write off what seems like, “We don’t have the resources for it or it’s just too big of an idea, I think that they can miss really cool opportunities. Even on top of that, this is just sort of like as an aside, and somebody who has experience building software, you might even come up with a new product idea out of just your content marketing initiative.
Think big when you first start off. Then, after you’ve kind of gotten all the ideas out on the table, then you start being critical, then you start asking the harder questions of how doable is this, does it make sense, does it actually reach the right audience that we’re trying to reach. Then eventually you’ll be able to get it down to sort of a smaller list.
Then you just pick them whether you’re doing them by a small committee or you’re doing it yourself. You eventually order them, prioritize them, be like, “This is what I’m doing first. That’s what I’m gonna do.” That’s typically how I do it.
Nathan: If you can do it big, it’s going to be different. That’s the whole point of this or how you stood out, specifically to a bunch of us at CoSchedule, all the work that you’re doing is because it feels big, and different, and unique.
Jon: Exactly. That’s what it is. It really is about bringing attention to yourself. In order to do that, you have to do something different.
Nathan: I think there’s some risk in that too. How do you justify the risk that you take if you put a lot of resources or energy into one of those bigger projects?
Jon: It’s tons of risk. Sometimes, I have the habit of seeing things, I make it sound easy and it’s not. I think I’ve, as an entrepreneur, I am not afraid of risks and that’s even to my own demise. I’m an eternal optimist which is a trait of lifelong entrepreneurs.
Reality is which you really bring up is that has a lot of risk in doing something that can take a lot of resources which is equals money for businesses and when there is no sort of guarantee that it’s definitely gonna work. It’s one of those things where I would hope that people get a chance to fail in a company, hopefully they not fail too many times, but I would encourage people to, “Yeah, let’s try that.” If it doesn’t work then we’ll ask ourselves why it didn’t work. If it’s salvageable, we’ll salvage it.
What I mean by that is, “Okay, what didn’t work with this? Why didn’t it really take off? Oh, well, I think it’s this and that. Okay, if we can fix it, let’s fix it, then kind of reintroduce it in a different way, or add this thing that’s kind of missing. If it’s not but we know why with the post-mortem, then let’s do another project, and then let’s make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes.
Then, there’s always the task that should take place every single time that you’re doing this and that is look at what has worked in the marketplace. It doesn’t mean you’re going to copy exactly what they did from a context perspective but you can certainly learn a ton from the content marketing campaigns that caught your attention from the ones that you have seen whether it be your competitor or just some other company that have just kind of gone huge.
Look at what they did maybe even if you can, reach out to them and ask them, just say, “Hey, can I talk to you for a few minutes because I just wanna know sort of how you did this. Obviously, that won’t very well with the competitor but somebody who’s not a competitor would probably be willing to spend a few minutes and be like, “Yeah, this is kind of like how we approached it. This is what we did.” They’ll just be happy that you liked what they did.
Nathan: Jon, that actually is a good transition in this. How do you, let’s say, you ship this big thing, you know it’s a risk, what are some of the things to make sure that your audience knows about it. Let’s talk about promotion around this. How do you make sure that it’s a success or give it all you’ve got to make it successful?
Jon: Right. If you’re lucky, you already have a network of people. That’s the obvious place to start is to be able to do just, I’ll say, organic or at least non-paid outreach to your existing network, customers, that type of thing. That’s gonna be email, it’s gonna be your blog, that type of a thing. If you have a product it might make sense to have a note inside of the app to let them know about something that it’s related to the app that they’re using.
You wanna do sort of the quick low hanging fruit, easy, cheap stuff in regards to that. However, I would say that today, a lot of things have changed for many years ago just with the effectiveness of social ads.
Today, I would actually spend a lot of time and money doing social advertising and one of my favorite things to do is to take my network or any other networks, emails and stuff that I can get ahold of and then target those people and have a look a like campaigns on things like Facebook and then promote it that way. Get it in front of other people who make sense.
You can even target your competitors or show up with people who like that or might be customers are that if you’re trying to pull them over. The beauty of these types of campaigns that we’re talking about is we’re not talking about, “Hey, come look at my new feature.” That’s not what we’re doing. We’re not doing advertising of our software or whatever it it that we’re trying to sell. We are approaching it from an altruistic standpoint. That’s one thing I meant to say earlier which is all of the things that I’ve talked about so far that have worked well for us had been altruistic in nature.
They are about solving a problem that are potential our current customer has without talking about ourselves. That alone is, to me, historically the best way to get people excited about something that you’re doing. In fact, that’s why in the past, all of those things that I’ve told you about, I didn’t even put them on our site at first. I created a unique domain. I created this microsite because I wanted the emphasis to be on their problem being solved.
It just happened to be something that we did in a non-in-your-face way, kind of we’d have our logo on there just so it’d be like, oh, this was done by Raven. This was done by TapClicks. I think that is the best way to promote and push basically your content marketing. It needs to be altruistic. It needs to not be so spammy. It needs to be solving a problem for them. I think that that would maybe saw a little bit paid social ads will take it pretty far.
Nathan: Obviously, Jon, I need to hear your perspective on the SEO side of that. Could you talk a little bit about more as SEO as an element of promotion?
Jon: That’s my favorite thing about content marketing. As much as I would like to think decent path ideas, ideation, and getting things done, the part that I geek out the most on is actually putting that content together and writing the code behind that content so that it can perform really well.
From an SEO perspective, it’s gonna come down to everything from, like I said, I like to do microsites even though exact match domains, they say the keywords don’t really impact in the algorithm. When people see exact match domains and it’s related to what they’re doing, I think there’s genuinely a sense of more trust with it, it’s like, “Okay, yeah. It’s definitely what I’m looking even the domain says the thing I’m looking for.” That’s sort of a maybe more of a UX thing as it relates to a search result.
But just the information architecture, how you put together the URL naming convention, how you name all the pages, how fast you make the site, just how easy you make it to use, how non-spammy you make it, the structured data that you add to it, it can potentially be picked up, anything from answer box to knowledge [00:32:27] or whatever it might be, all of those things are, at least to me, as an SEO, super important.
They’re many, many times completely missed by content teams because they aren’t thinking about SEO but the goal of what you’re doing with these different initiatives, it’s not just, “We’re gonna write great content, people are gonna tweet it, and talk about it,” that type of thing. But the goal is you want them linking to it. You want ultimately for somebody be searching for that particular thing that this solves and for you to be number one, for you to be in the top three because that’s easy money.
We just talked about how it’s kind of important in the beginning to promote this via paid social ads or stuff like that, because it’s very effective. The reason why I’m in SEO is because I don’t like spending money. I like free traffic. To me, the ultimate goal is to have something that stands the test of time, something that is so good, and is used everyday, that people are even just directly typing it it, you’re getting direct traffic. People, like I said, with Schema Creator and GA Configs still or even that research we did, still reference it in their presentations and stuff.
The goal is to make it be something that sort of becomes something on its own that can drive traffic, not only are you getting good search performance with your main site, but this alone gets tons of traffic. That becomes ultimately becomes a free lead gen source because when somebody types ‘URL Builder’ and when we have thousands of people hitting this thing a day, and you have your brand, and you have that call to action on there, that to me, once you get past all of the cost it took to put it all together and all of that stuff, this has been going on for years, and years, and years, and it’s free.
It’s a free lead gen. We’re not paying anything for it. I think that is the importance and sort of the magic of making sure that we do great SEO with this content and not just focus on the content.
Nathan: I think all of that is awesome advice. That’s probably a good place for us to end. I just wanna say thank you so much for being on the podcast.