Brands are churning out more content now than ever before. Even though companies are paying more money to create more content to compete in a more crowded space, sometimes content falls flat and does not perform. The content doesn’t build business or drive results, rankings, or traffic. Is it time to prioritize quality over quantity?
Today’s guest is Gaetano DiNardi from Nextiva, a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software company. He's the Director of Growth Marketing at Nextiva, previously leading growth marketing teams at Pipedrive, Outreach, and Sales Hacker. He is also an accomplished music producer and songwriter, and creates music in his spare time to maintain his sanity.
Gaetano talks about what can go wrong from publishing too much content without a strategy. He discusses how to balance content quality with content quantity based on personal and professional experience.
Transcript:Ben: Hi, Gaetano, how's it going this afternoon?Gaetano: What's up? Thanks for having me. I've seen CoSchedule everywhere for many years. You guys do an awesome job with brand marketing, content marketing, search, and all that good stuff, content. You guys are great, so it's nice to be on the podcast with the brand that I've seen so many times throughout the years. Thanks for having me.Ben: Absolutely. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show and thanks for opening up the conversation with so many kind words for us. I really appreciate it.What we're going to be talking about is the struggle between content quality versus content quantity. The reason why this is such a hot topic and a topic that I spend quite a bit of time thinking about is because there is more and more content being published all the time, but not all of it is necessarily performing the way that its creators intend for it to. The more competitive the space gets, the more that problem becomes compounded on itself. How did we get to this point where companies are spending more and more money on content, but not everybody really seems like they're producing stuff that's likely to get the kind of return that they would want for the money they're spending on it?Gaetano: What a way to open the show. I think you have a number of things going on here. The first thing that I think about is companies don't think about distribution. When they get into content production, it's just, hey, I need to fulfill a certain number of content pieces a month because that's what I've been told to do and that's what I have to do. But then, once it's done, you don't think about how it's going to get out there. That's when you have a lot of problems.It's like a musician. I'm going to create an album for what? So I could listen to it by myself in my room? No, you share your music with the world. Musicians, bands, rappers, you've got to think about distribution strategy. How am I going to get my music out there? You don't just make the music and then that's it. It's not as easy as saying, all right, well, I'm going to just run ads. You can't buy your way to fame. You can't buy your way into becoming a brand. Maybe some marketing companies have done it, but they've had other things happening that enabled them to do that, like monday.com for example.I don't want to rant too much, but there was an insane statistic that came out that showed that monday.com actually spends all of their year's revenue and more on marketing. Imagine if they made $100 million in 2020, they spent more than that on marketing alone. Let's get back to content quality versus content quantity. Companies don't think about distribution. They just produce.The other problem is that most content actually lacks expertise and authoritativeness. It doesn't always seem like it's coming from a subject-matter expert because oftentimes it's not. You already know this, being in the space that we're in, but essentially, most of the stuff that you read is regurgitated, repackaged information from other sources that are already existing.Why do we get into this place where there's so much content being published? What happens is the top 20 marketing tools for small businesses article comes out. Then, some other company does the top 25 things. Then, in the next company, there's the top 30.Before you know, you have all these mega lists. Some companies will come back out and say, all right, here are really just the top five, but these are the best. Now, you just have all these lists. You have so much of the stuff. You do actually see marketing consultants, SEO consultants, putting out information out there that say, hey, we've grown traffic tremendously for X client. Do you know how we did that? By just focusing on publishing velocity. It is true. If you do publish 400 articles in a year, you're going to see something out of that, but would you rather have that strategy or would you rather be like Backlinko where you have 100 pages on your website but every single page carries a ton of weight? Maybe I'll stop ranting and just let you jump back in there, but that's what we can kick this conversation off with. Ben: Absolutely. I don't really find that response to be ranty in any kind of negative sense. Personally, for my own observation, I really feel like you just hit the nail on the head right there.You've touched on this a bit, but what are some of the real problems or maybe even threats to a business if they commit to just publishing more content rather than better content for too long? You stay on that hamster wheel because, like what you're saying, it's because it's what someone was told to do or it's just the way they've always done it. If you don't change track at some point, what happens? What's the end result of all that money, time, and effort that gets put into that?Gaetano: The compounding effects are really what you're talking about. The compounding effects of this are devastating in more ways that you can imagine. I know this because I've dealt with this and I'm still dealing with this, actually. Check this out, nextiva.com, the website I manage, the company I work for. When I took over the site operations in 2018, they were producing blog content from 2013 up until that point regularly. They had a content schedule. They had a content calendar. They had brainstorm sessions. We're producing content. Goose egg in terms of results, nothing. Hundreds and hundreds of pages that just do nothing. No backlinks, drive no signups, don't rank, no traffic. Now, what happens? Somebody like me comes in and says, well, not only do we have to clean all this up now. We have to go through this process of evaluating. Maybe some of it was decent, maybe some of it got lucky and acquired some valuable backlinks, or maybe some of it got lucky and ranked. You have to go through this content audit process of clean up and then you have to actually create all new content that is going to be the next phase of that content strategy which is going to be much better quality. It's going to be keyword-optimized. We can get into all that.The compounding effects of publishing pages and pages, you create index bloat. Let's not forget this. You get made fun of. You actually get made fun of. While I was ripping other companies on LinkedIn when I first joined Nextiva, somebody actually went to the blog and said, hey, this guide on office plans looks really cool. Did you do that? I said, no, jerk. I just took over the website and I'm in the middle of a clean up process, but thank you for pointing that out. To close out on this point—you got to think about this—the more content you publish and the more that's out there live on your site, assuming it's all awesome content like Brian Dean from Backlinko, guess what he's got to do every single year? He's got to update all these pages. He's got to keep them all up-to-date. In 2020, guess what he's got to do? The 2021 version. Competitor companies are going to be gunning for your results. You've got to play defense. Some of them might even overtake you. You got to fight back.Adding to the problem that you're talking about of having all this quantity is you have to keep maintaining it and you have to keep it up-to-date. Unless you're prepared to go all the way to the end and not just produce content rank but keep it there or keep it producing for you while you're sleeping, you're not going to be successful unless you think really long-term about content because these are assets that never die. They live forever if they're good quality.We have pages on Nextiva that as soon as I came in, I said, we got to start ranking for this ASAP. We start ranking and producing. Three or four years later, we're still number one. We're still reaping that result. I'm sure you have examples of that at CoSchedule as well. I think I'll pause there.Ben: No. This is great. Again, you've articulated some very real threats. I appreciate your candor in being willing to share your own experience in having found yourself in a situation like the one you just described, which I really think is something that's more common than what gets openly discussed amidst the hype that we tend to see on social media. And understandably so, to be honest. That's not a knock on anybody by any means. If a marketer is listening to this conversation and they're concerned that they might be falling into this trap, they're just putting out more and more content, but they're not really certain if they're seeing the return from it that they would like, how would you recommend that they begin assessing their current content strategy and their current situation? Like auditing their content, essentially, to determine whether they might be better off just publishing less, updating or consolidating stuff they already have, or just otherwise rethinking what they're doing before they think about just creating more stuff?Gaetano: Very important crossroads that we have arrived at in this conversation. This is big. There are so many aspects to this. I want to make sure I nail this answer and get it right. Here's what I have seen and experienced. There's the portion that is determining whether the content is good or not—what is it's value, what is it's worth, how do we assess its performance? You have things that are clearly opinion-based like, oh, it lacks a narrative. It lacks a story component to it. It's too much text. It's too long-form. It's this. It's that. Then, there's, well, does it produce leads? Does it produce signups? When I was at Pipedrive, I won't name names but my boss there said to me, hey, I don't know if this blog stuff is worth it. I was like, why? He said, I don't see any leads. I don't see any sign ups coming from the blog when we're producing content. I don't see any leads. Where are the leads? Where are the signups? I said, that's interesting. Let me ask you. Have you ever read a blog article and then bought something? When was the last time you did that? He just gave me this confused, puzzled look. What do you mean? What are you talking about? No, it's a serious question. Have you ever read a blog article and bought something? If you have, when was the last time you did that? He was like, yeah, never. Exactly, that's the point. People don't read blog content and buy [...]. They may do that much later, but they typically don't read a blog article and then buy something unless it's one of those articles that are the top 10 alternatives to whatever CoSchedule's top competitor is; CoSchedule versus whoever your top competitor is. There's very bottom-of-the-funnel stuff like that that will drive opportunities, but you got to think about the intent of the content that you're creating. Anyway, getting back into the trap, if the marketing team is concerned they're falling into this trap, this hamster wheel of just production, measuring content effectiveness by leads is dangerous because that creates wrong incentives. Marketing teams should be seeking to educate and inform their audiences rather than just producing content that's purely for leads. You get into the point of the evaluation of your content that says, if leads aren't the way that I evaluate effectiveness, what are the ways that I evaluate the effectiveness of content? The way that I would suggest marketing teams to start looking at the effectiveness of their content is not just purely based on leads, but you have to look at engagement of the content. You really have to look at does this get linked to a lot? What is the average time on the page? I know bounce rate can be interpreted in many different ways, but it's good to keep a pulse on that. I like exit rates. Sometimes, the exit rate can be good. If the average time on page is seven minutes then they exit your site, that means they actually got a lot of value out of the last thing they saw. That's when it's up to the other marketing channels to reel that traffic back into retargeting email, social, and other means. Aside from all that, it's straight up especially if you're doing inbound marketing. Does it rank? Does it actually get organic traffic that gets engagement? Is there some kind of secondary opt-in, CTA, or goal conversion that you're looking at? Maybe it's not signing up for a free trial of the product, but maybe it is signing up for the email list, downloading a template, or something like that. That is what I would start to think about. If you feel like you're falling into the trap, you really need to put some numbers next to the content that you're producing and really look and see, is this doing anything? What is this doing? If it's not generating leads and signups, is it doing a secondary goal conversion that is valuable? If not, is it getting engagement, meaning consumption? Is it getting shared? Is it getting linked to? Does it get organic traffic? Does it rank for the incentive keyword? Are you achieving audience development? Those are the things I would think about.Ben: I think that's all excellent advice. Something that's worth reiterating here is that nobody just reads a blog post and then immediately gets the credit card out. Very rarely and maybe only ever in very specific circumstances would anyone ever do such a thing, but there are all kinds of profitable actions that you can measure or the steps that an individual would take on their way toward eventually making a purchase that you can track. I'd seen all those other things you're talking about. Just for our audience, I want to spend an extra moment calling that out because that's really important for people to remember. When it comes to quality, there are all kinds of different objective and subjective things that people might look at to determine whether something's good or not, and what two different individuals think as good could differ pretty wildly. But as marketers, it's helpful to have some sort of standards, guidelines, something that you can follow, or a process of some sort—whatever it may be—so you've got something a little bit more concrete that you can agree on. Like, this is what our content needs to look like or what it needs to do in order to achieve the results that we're after.In your opinion, how can marketers define for themselves or just understand for themselves what quality actually means or what it actually looks like so that they can know that every piece they publish is going to meet that standard or that threshold much in the same way that a piece on Brian Dean's blog would?Gaetano: That's a really good one. I'll just give you some thoughts. People internally can give their opinions and say, I think this, I think that, but what actually matters is would your customer really think this is high quality? Would somebody that is not a customer now but could be a customer someday think that it's really good? The way that you would be able to figure that out aside from going to a customer, sharing it, and saying, what do you think of this, is by simply doing a Google search for every topic before you begin the content creation process. Because guess what Google's whole thing is about? The content that ranks is the [...] people like. That's what it is today.It's like, yeah, can you game it in some way by flooding a certain page with backlinks? Maybe, but even so, people got to like it. Google itself is a quality control filter. Some people argue against that and say, not really. If you're just really good at optimizing for robots, then you can rank for anything. That's just simply not true anymore because engagement and user behavior is a key part of how SEO works. You can have the most perfectly-optimized page. You can flood it with backlinks. If people click it, they don't like what they see, they click back, and then they go and click on a different result, that means that there's something off there. Quality can also mean, does it satisfy the intent of the searcher? Rand Fishkin can call that user-searcher satisfaction score, happiness, or something like that, but it makes a lot of sense. When people internally say, yeah, I think this should be this or I think this should be this, no. What we actually should do is look at what's number one in Google because that is pretty much what the standard is. If it made it to number one, there's a good chance that it's been vetted. Even Google themselves have content quality scores that randomly select pages and give it a human review. That is what I think about when I think about quality. I evaluate what's already ranking, or the top two or three positions, compare that to what we are about to produce or what we want to produce, and say, how can we make ours different, unique, better, and more valuable? Can we produce something of higher relevance, more in-depth, maybe something less fluff, cuts to the chase faster, explains more clearly, the content flow’s more logical, includes videos, includes diagrams, includes little explainer sections in step-by-step fashion? Whatever it is, you identify what is missing or what is lacking in the results that are already at the top, and how do we produce something of better quality, higher relevance, more value. That's how I think about it.Ben: Gaetano's story about spending a full three months working on one piece of content and then even more time on top of that promoting it might sound crazy, but I can confirm from having worked on similar projects before myself that were similar, that when it comes to highly competitive topics, sometimes, that's what it takes to get results. If the opportunity is actually strong enough, it's well worth putting in all that effort into one piece that's really going to establish you as an authority and help you build new business, versus maybe publishing two or three dozen pieces that you might feel a lot less sure about where the opportunity is just not quite the same.This isn't something that you want to do without a plan. It's probably not something you want to do before you've built up a little bit of content on your site that is already driving some long-term results so that you can have some breathing room that you'll need to really go all in on one awesome 10X piece of content. But once you're at that point and you're ready to take on something like what he's described, the pay off is there for those who are bold enough to chase after those types of opportunities. Even if you don't decide to create something with quite that much scale on quite that long of a timeline because it is a hefty investment and it is intimidating, you can still commit to just taking more time on fewer pieces and create stuff that you feel is really the best that it can be and is really the best thing on the Internet on that given topic. Ultimately, that's the real takeaway and what you should really be striving for with each piece of content you create. Now, back to Gaetano.Once marketers have identified that they have some issues in this area, they've taken some action to turn things around, make their content better, they start seeing some results, and maybe some of the metrics they're looking at start to move in a more positive direction, how should marketers measure that content so that they can prove to their stakeholders—whether that's their boss, CEO, or client—that this ‘less but better’ strategy is actually outperforming what they were doing before?Gaetano: That's also a very good one. I think that like how you were saying in the beginning of the question, you actually do have to switch things up. Let's say you're in this cadence where you're doing 4 articles a week that are 1000 words in length, you're on that hamster wheel—you're hammering it—then, you just stop doing that, and you focus on building the most comprehensive guide possible on sales management, which happens to be a project that I did while I was at Pipedrive. What we actually did was we focused on just this guide for three months straight—we stopped everything else—and we all put our heads together to build the best possible guide out there on sales management, perfectly optimized piece—to the T—scientific, everything perfect. Then, we went on a backlink campaign for two or three months straight until we became number one. Once that content became number one and ranked for sales management, outranking some really heavy-hitting sites like Salesforce, HubSpot, Wikipedia, all those, and just looking at that amount of traffic, links, lead gen that that one page produced compared to all the other thinner, less strategic, content that was produced with less preparation around it, you can immediately see that that sales management guide was significantly more valuable than anything else that we had produced. It got significantly more traffic links, leads, and shares. The numbers just explain them for itself. At that point, doing a content strategy where you develop cornerstone content, pillar content, and then you build those thinner, more long-tail tree branch–style pages adjacent to that pillar cornerstone Hub content, that’s what's going to take you far.But without knowing what that cornerstone pillar content is going to look like, you're just driving blind. You're just trying to be all over the place. You just spin your wheels churning and burning. Maybe you'll get lucky on some of those. Maybe some of them will hit if the topics aren't super competitive, it's not super obscure, or whatever, but that's the way I think about how you would prove that a less-is-more strategy is actually working. You try it, do it, and you look at the results. The reason why a lot of companies struggle with that, marketing teams struggle, is that they can't break the chains. They can't break the cycle. But if you have enough guts to go do that, change things up, and say, all right, I'm done doing it the old way, I'm going to try something new, that's one way to go about it.Ben: Yeah, for sure. I think that it's really important to note that it can be pretty nerve-wracking. If you were used to putting out 2 or 3 pieces per week and you extrapolate that out to over the span of 3 months, maybe that's 36 pieces that you're going to put out and you are banking on to produce some kind of result. Now, you're going to just do one. That puts so much pressure on that piece.I imagine that when you went into that project, you identified this is one of the most important keywords for our products that we absolutely have to rank on, this is what it takes to get there. It's going to take a very robust piece. It's not going to just be a blog post that's going to do it most likely. Obviously, the results have borne that out. It sounds like that was the correct approach.We've done some similar types of projects that required a similar lift here at CoSchedule, so I understand 100% why and how you would make a decision that way. But here at CoSchedule, it's pretty easy for us to get buy-in because everybody involved in marketing thinks this way already.For a listener or even for the situation you're in at Pipedrive, I imagine that might not have been the case. You might have had to actually get some buy-in before you could ease that anxiety a bit when you tell people, all right, we're doing one thing for three months and it's going to work. How did you approach that conversation internally just to get the green light to actually kick off that project and actually see some real success with it?Gaetano: You're certainly right that there is anxiety because what comes to mind for people is, my job may be at risk. What am I going to be doing here? They thought I was going to be a production horse, a work horse. Now, like you said, I was anticipating 36 pages being produced over a course of three months or whatever. Now, it's just going to be one? That's scary. But what these content marketers don't realize is that there are off-site activities that you can be doing to drive results for the business. It's not just internal content production over and over again. One huge part of making content successful is the distribution. This goes back to what we talked about in the beginning. It goes back to in-house content marketers sometimes unfortunately forgetting about the distribution. It's not as simple as producing something, handing it off to whoever runs social media in your company, and says, hey, go boost this post on Facebook. It wasn't too hard for me to get the buy-in because I had already done projects like this at other companies, so when I was saying, look, this is really what it takes to be number one for very difficult high-volume keywords, but what would we rather do? Would we rather be spending our wheels or taking a very long time to build up traffic with a long tail? Because that's the other thing, too. At the time, Pipedrive's website was not super strong in terms of domain strength so it had a harder time ranking up against more established, more credible, and more powerful websites. The thinking was we have to go long tail all the way. We do have to produce a lot of volume in order to catch up, but this change in the strategy clearly showed that it is possible to get results by being hyper-focused on the same thing for a long period of time. That is a scary thing for a lot of teams, but once you do it once then you lather, rinse, repeat, and you do it again, nobody's going to want to go back to the old way. Trust me. I'm telling you. My team at Nextiva love the strategy we're working on because you don't feel like every day, there's pressure to just hit that publish button. You can take your time with it because we know that spending a week producing the ultimate guide to unified communications and then building links to it for a couple months straight is going to be well worth it. That's just really what it comes down to. It's the Law of Diminishing Returns too at the end of the day. Would you rather work 10 times as hard for the same output? Probably not. You'd probably want to work less and get that output so that it's about working smarter, not harder.Ben: Yeah, 100%. It's also important to note that you do have to create some of that long-tail stuff but you will hit a point where you've got to just go all in on something big if you really want to own your space. I think that's awesome advice. The last question I'll throw your way. Who do you think is creating the awesome content right now that our listeners should go check out? You mentioned Brian Dean in Backlinko, but who else is out there who is really creating content that you think can serve as an inspiration or an example of what people should strive to achieve?Gaetano: I would say some of these are going to sound familiar, but some of them may not. Here are some sites I'll just rattle off the top of my head. I really like Ahrefs. I love what they're doing. They mirrored their blog content strategy on YouTube, so they got double whammy. We do that as well. For every blog article that we feel is a cornerstone piece, we mirror it with a YouTube video and we double down, so I love that strategy. Gong, fantastic all-around content marketing, social media marketing strategy. They have really a unique way of spreading the word about what they do through thought leadership. They have basically all the executives of the company onboard with this. It really radiates and you can see that. I love NerdWallet. Great website. It’s a tough category. Your money, your life stuff. They've definitely done a great job of nailing the expertise component of that and their content is really easy to understand. They take tough, complex financial subjects and break it down in ways that the average person can understand. They're doing great.My friend, Eric Siu, runs a company called Single Grain. He just launched a book called Leveling Up. I love his personal brand content strategy and I love the company content strategy as well.The marketingexamples.com, this guy, Harry Dry, from the UK just launched it a couple of years ago and it really picked up steam. I think he had a really unique breakdown of how some rappers have gone viral. He's taking a lot of B2C examples and bringing them to B2B. Love what he's doing.Then, some weirder examples, but I'll just throw them out there as well. I love the Salt Bae guy. The chef, Nusret, the Turkish dude who does all the salt on top of the steaks. Check him out on Instagram. Brilliant marketing. It's stupid marketing but it's brilliant. The way I could explain it is like how hit songwriters have to dumb down their songs for the masses. He does that with a social media strategy but it works. He's one of the most successful restaurant owners ever. I love Dave Ramsey, another good financial content creator. He's all just straight video content. That goes back to the subject-matter expertise. He really knows finance, real estate, and investing. If you're somebody that is a guru that really knows their stuff, all you really need is a camera and a mic. Just start talking and it resonates. Same thing with this guy, Kinin, on LinkedIn. He talks about sales. John Barrell is another guy. They get in front of the camera and start talking about knowledge. They just start dropping knowledge. If you have the knowledge, you have the power. Finally, this guy Peter Schiff, another guy who podcasts and does a lot of social media marketing on the economy, stocks, gold, Bitcoin, and all that stuff. His content is killer because he's such a subject-matter expert.You go to think. Imagine if the marketers producing content for their audiences were as knowledgeable, authoritative, and expert-level as these guys like Dave Ramsey, Peter Schiff, and Salt Bae. Even a lot of the great marketing content that's been produced nowadays is coming from truly experts like Peep Laja. I really love my friend Chris Walker's point of view in this state of demand gen. There is a lot of heavy-hitting content out there, but it's not so much about the pizzazz and the flash to the content. It's more about, this is great knowledge that has a unique point of view, and you should consume it because it's going to make you better. That's what I like about all the examples that I shared above just now.Ben: That is an awesome list of folks or people to go check out. Some I'm familiar with, some I'm not, so there are definitely some names you've tossed out there that I am for sure going to go check out, so I appreciate that. It really sounds like if there's a common thread between everyone that you just listed, if you can arrive at the intersection of authenticity and actual expertise, that's what it takes to really take off because if you're of the belief that Google is a quality filter, really any other platform that you're on is, too.You've mentioned Instagram and YouTube. It's the same thing. The stuff people like is what ultimately rises to the top. Obviously, it's more complicated than all the different signals and things that go into it, but that's what it takes. You can't fake your way to the top anymore.Gaetano: You definitely can't fake your way to the top. In fact—you're going to laugh at this; this might be a funny way to close out—the first job I ever had was at a marketing consulting company, SEO company called iPullRank in New York. I worked with this guy, Mike King. In his past life, like me, I still am a musician. Prior to my professional marketing days, I was a music producer and song-writer, grinding it out in New York City just trying to make it. Mike was probably more advanced than I was. He was an international-touring indie rapper. He was doing shows in Copenhagen, Germany, France, and all these places in Europe. We did this experiment with him to try and make him rank number one for best rapper in the world. We actually built the content, built a ton of links to it, and actually got him ranking pretty high. This was 2012 or 2013, or something like that. Guess what ended up happening? Even though we got him to rank, people didn't want to see him. They didn't think he was the best rapper in the world. They didn't know who he was. We're talking mainstream. He ranked for a little while, and then it tanked and plummeted because that's not what people wanted. It just goes to show you can try and game stuff, but if it's now what people want, then forget it. You just can't bulldoze your way into something. That was a really interesting lesson, but it was a funny one. It reminded me of why we're talking about paid ads. If you're an unknown brand starting from ground zero, you can't just guerilla market your way into becoming a household name brand. You can't just dump millions and millions on YouTube pre-roll ads from nothing and become something. It's too difficult. I guess we can close on what you're saying about expertise and authority being the common thread. If you can hit the intersection of those, I think you'll be in good shape.Ben: I got to say that that is one of my most favorite stories anyone has ever shared on the podcast. That's amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time this afternoon to talk shop with us. This has been a super fun conversation. I'm sure our audience is really going to appreciate a lot of what you have to share.Gaetano: It's been fun. I feel like we could talk shop about all this stuff—growth, content, and inbound marketing—for days but maybe we'll do a part two in the future. It's been good. Thanks for having me.Ben: Thank you again to Gaetano for coming on the show and sharing all this insight with us.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.