This week, our panel answers the question, “Does Content Marketing Really Work?”
Our panel this week consists of:
Adam Fout of Blue Steele Solutions
Bridget Willard of WordImpress
Sallie Goetch of WPFangirl
Jonathan Denwood of WP-Tonic
John Locke of Lockedown SEO
The first WordPress news story that we looked at was the comprehensive article by Pippin Williamson reviewing most of the WordPress page builders on the market. Pippin’s Plugins is a plugin company with some large products in the WordPress eco system, such as Easy Digital Downloads, Restrict Content Pro, and Affiliate WP. The article stemmed from a Twitter dialog where Pippin said that most WordPress page builders were terrible.
I’m sorry is this hurts anyone feelings, but seriously, all of the majorly popular page builders for #WordPress are terrible.
— Pippinsplugins (@pippinsplugins) September 14, 2016
@dimensionmedia script loading, shortcake parsing, and more all break all too frequently on pages created with a builder
— Pippinsplugins (@pippinsplugins) September 14, 2016
Not only do they typically have incredibly subpar user experiences, they are easily the biggest compatibility problem for other plugins
— Pippinsplugins (@pippinsplugins) September 14, 2016
Currently testing every page builder I can find so as to be able to write up a fully-educated review of them all
— Pippinsplugins (@pippinsplugins) September 15, 2016
Adam said they did not really use page builders at Blue Steele Solutions. Bridget said they use Beaver Builder at WordImpress, and observed that Pippin’s article was mostly from the perspective of support from his own plugin shop. She noted that plugins are known to have conflicts, regardless if they are page builders or not. A developer can also make their own custom theme and that can also cause a conflict.
Bridget noted that Yoast SEO tests against forty different plugins for compatibility when they do development, but not every plugin or theme shop is going to do this sort of testing. She said she was more prone to trust a page builder than a random theme on a site. John said the original tweet probably stemmed from frustration with a support issue.
Adam said standardization was important. He said many people coming to WordPress are new, and page builder tools are necessary for them to run their own sites.
Jonathan said a big problem is the default WordPress editor, alluding to the fact that the page often doesn’t look like what you enter in the admin text editor.
Sallie said many of the conflicts with page builders seem to be with Restrict Content Pro, because many page builders use short codes, and Restrict Content Pro also uses shortcodes to restrict or hide certain pieces of page content. Many page builders also cause lock-in, where the content is not portable later, if you want to change the theme or deactivate the plugin.
Jonathan joked that the WP-Tonic WordPress maintenance service relies on page builders like Divi to stay busy, sorting out conflicts. John said there are people who don’t have a web design budget, and they rely on page builders to get things done.
Adam said it was ridiculous that you need a tool like a page builder to sort text into columns, and that you cannot do it in the WordPress editor. Bridget said if you use a page builder, it doesn’t make you less of a developer. Sometimes it is about saving time. She said there is a dangerous trend in the WordPress community determining who is real developer by the tools we use. Bridget used the example of non-profits, who use page builders to control their content under budget.
In the next WordPress story, we talked about the first theme on ThemeForest selling for $225. This is significant, because most themes on the Envato marketplace sell for about $59 to $69 dollars. John thought the theme market should have been going this direction for a long time.
Adam said it is not a simple thing to build a theme or plugin, and it should cost more, so the WordPress developers in the community can eat and continue to put out a quality product. HE said any time there is a price above Free, there will be some people who have a problem.
Bridget thought this might be a marketing ploy, to position themselves far above all the other themes on ThemeForest. She said they want to be seen as less flea market, and more Nordstrom’s. Even at $225, the end cost is far less than paying someone to build you a custom theme. She said inflation has gone up a lot in ten years, and people get stuck in the past, thinking that $59 is an acceptable price to charge.
John said there’s a word for people who want everything for free, which is “freeloader”. He said the jump from $59 to $225 is far less than from $225 to $5k-10k for a custom theme.
Sallie said it will depend what happens with this theme, to see what happens in the future. She said it will take more than one theme to reframe people’s expectations. She said the biggest jump is from free to one cent, because people expect so much for free. She said people will wonder what is special about this theme.
Jonathan said you can get good themes from ThemeForest if you know what authors to buy from. He said it would make sense to pay a premium for a theme that had a limited release. John said if you aren’t one of the top sellers on ThemeForest, it is hard to sustain the support for a theme, and many low selling theme authors disappear after a few years. You have to pay more than peanuts to get a theme that will be supported into the future.
Main Topic: Does Content Marketing really Work?
John asked Adam what content marketing is. Adam explained that it designed to help people answer a question, as opposed to interruption marketing, like traditional advertising.
Bridget said she comes up with content marketing ideas by talking to customers, and being in the support forums. She also said is helpful to have personas, and know your audience. You have to assume a role, like a method actor, and think how your audience thinks. Bridget says she doesn’t latch onto news, because it is temporal, and no one will care in two weeks, but she aims for evergreen content.
Sallie says she writes about tutorials for herself, and covers problems that real customers have. Adam adds that using keyword research will reveal what you should be writing about.
Jonathan alluded to episode 129 with Chris Handy, where we heard that inbound marketing is very saturated right now. Jonathan asked Adam and Bridget how they come up with good ideas for content marketing.
Adam says that a random Google search for almost any phrase will reveal a bunch of crap, because people are doing content marketing just to get found, and not to help customers. He said it takes research to craft something that is worthwhile. One tip Adam has is to provide links to your research if you are producing written content.
Adam said personas let you determine whether written content is even the best way to reach your audience. Videos might be the best way to reach them, You also need to know how they are searching for things. Just because you see certain terms come up, that doesn’t mean that’s how people are searching for an answer.
He said he is not going to push out a 500-word piece of junk that barely meets the minimum requirements. He is going to take the time to produce something worth reading.
Adam also mentioned the skyscraper technique made popular by Brian Dean at Backlink.io. This consists of looking at what is out there for a given search result, putting together content that goes much farther than the competition, then reaching out to key people to share and link to it. Adam says there is stuff that ranks well in Google, but doesn’t answer questions.
Sallie says everyone is jumping on the content marketing bandwagon because their ads aren’t working anymore. They aren’t looking at content marketing from a perspective of helping people, but just as a means to make money. This leads to a bunch of regurgitated content that is badly written, just because people need the feed the content monster.
Sallie notes that content marketing done correctly is much harder than buying banner ads or AdWords. It is more difficult for sole proprietors and very small businesses to keep a consistent content publishing schedule, because it eats into the time they are actually working to make money.
Bridget states that at WordImpress, they have a very aggressive content publishing schedule. She says they are not making fast food meals, and the team there edits each other. Because they have high standards. It takes a long time. It takes guest writers.
Bridget cites a HubSpot study that shows that companies that publish 16+ times a month get 3.5x more leads than companies that publish between zero and fours posts per month. Bridget said that if you want more leads, you have to publish more aggressively.
John asked the panel is there was a measurable difference between companies that embraced content marketing and those that did not.
Adam said you can tell from the content whether someone is half-assing it or if they want to be there. You can see the difference in the quality and presentation, and also in the demeanor or the writing and videos. People who want to be there producing content will show it in the way they put the content together.
John said that everyone hears the phrase “Content Is King”, but if you are just publishing 300 word articles to meet a quota, it will not lead to anything. He said the reason that content is king is because it leads to an end goal of building a community. Building authority through content, and building a community through publishing leads to long-term sales.
John asked Sallie if there was a difference between people who published when they felt like it, and people who published on a consistent basis.
Sallie said there is a difference when there is a dedicated person making the content, or if the company takes content marketing seriously. She noted you cannot expect to make instantaneous sales from content; it is a long-term strategy.
Adam added it is about building long-term authority and trust. Bridget recounts a story from her days at Riggins Construction, where a three-year-old blog post netted a project that paid for her salary for six months. She reiterated that content sits on the internet for a while. John said you are planting seeds, and they don’t grow into redwoods overnight.
Adam says case studies can show what your company has done, and are effective in the sales funnel. He notes people have to make buying decisions, and are a good way to demonstrate real-world results. Case studies are more labor-intensive than blog posts, but can help who people what your company can do for them.
Bridget says WordImpress also uses case studies for the Give donation plugin for WordPress. Customers ask about integration with other software, so this is something they highlight. She points out their personas for this plugin are not just the secretary throwing up a website with Divi for a non-profit, but also the web developers who work with non-profits. Developers want to know if the Give plugin will integrate with things like InfusionSoft and Salesforce.
Adam said voice is very important. If the voice of the content stands out and speaks to the reader, the content will go farther. Bridget said the voice of your content also needs to resonate with your brand. Whatever your image of your brand, the voice of your content needs to match. Sallie says if you have a brand voice with no personality, it will be difficult to stand out from the crowd.
On to the bonus content section, where we continued the discussion on content marketing.
Jonathan asked the panel how they choose a piece of content to write about.
Adama talked about an e-book they were producing, which would allow people to sign up for their business marketing analysis. He says at Blue Steele Solutions, they focus on what people seem to get the most value out of, but he also looks at what other companies, so they can see what they need to include. Adam says consider the audience you want to draw in. He says they want people who will do the work, and the make potential customers run a gauntlet, so they will be good clients.
One innovative thing they are doing at Blue Steele Solutions is take the e-book into a live workshop, so they can have customers look at the content and then they can gauge their reactions, to see if they get confused at any points.
Bridget says you also have to think very deeply about quality content. She cites a piece on mentorship she wrote, where she talked to people, and read tweets, and thought a lot about the things she was going to say. She says she does more reading than she does responding, because she sees it on Twitter all day long.
Bridget has a Google Sheet for ideas, and she admits she tricks herself through the writing process, doing just a bit at a time (research, outline, fleshing out the content).
John asks the panel why people give up on producing long form content or a publishing schedule too early.
Sallie says it is hard work to produce content. She also says it is difficult for solo people to take time away from work to research, write, and then promote content. Jonathan said there are people who will get promoted no matter what and are regarded as WordPress gods. John asked, “How do you become a god?”
Bridget told her story of how she worked full-time, and wrote on her personal site since 2011, and helped in the WordImpress forum for several years before getting her job there. She said you have to put in the work and you can’t quit just because it’s hard. She said, “that’s the only way you’re getting out of Alcatraz”.
John asked the panel how does a small business get started with content marketing, and what should they expect to commit to?
Adam said they should commit to what they can maintain, and don’t overwhelm yourself at first. If you burn out, you’ll do it for a little while, then stop. It’s really important that you want to keep producing content. Think about what type of content you want to produce. See if there’s someone on your staff who likes to write, or make videos, or produce a business podcast.
If you make yourself do something you don’t want to do, (like blogging), you’ll get caught up in your normal tasks and forget about content production. Consider your audience, and consider what type of content you like producing.
Adam says once a month may be enough for some businesses. You may even be able to get by with a quarterly piece of content, if it is something high-quality, like a white paper.
Bridget says you probably have a lot more content than you realize. Think about all the sales calls you’re on. If you start answering all your questions (What makes you different? What’s your unique value proposition? etc.) then you will have content in no time.
If you don’t like to write, you can always do speech-to-text, or hire someone to transcribe your words. One way is just to talk aloud and record it on your phone, then have someone write it all down from there.
Bridget recommends Jen Miller at NeedSomeoneToBlog.com if you need writing services, so you don’t necessarily need to hire an employee to do your blogging.
Bridget says sometimes, someone will need to work more than 40 hours a week. She says work-life balance is not always attainable if you are trying to grow a business. You can’t build something by putting in the least amount of time. It’s never happened in the history of the world.
John says everyone wants to jump straight to the four-hour workweek, and they don’t realize those people still work more than four hours a week, and put in grueling weeks for years to build that up.
Sallie said that blogging and speaking is working for her for content marketing. She says for some clients, video is going to be the best solution, but it depends. You have to know your audience.
Jonathan said you should write long form content instead of short stuff. He also said commenting on people’s blogs intelligently can be a way to contribute, and they will be more likely to want to support your content in the future.
Adam agreed that blog comments are also content. He mentioned Robert Nissenbaum at Tactical Social Media as someone who always has great comments that add information and insight to the conversation. Being involved in other ways besides blogging is a way to get on people’s radar.
Sallie says she used to do a lot of commenting back in the day, and people could get to know you that way. Where comments are left today is a much more scattered fashion.
John said he has gotten work from blog comments left on other people’s blogs, and it is a form of guerrilla marketing. It is all about being seen in different places. He said the most important thing is to build relationships with people that you are commenting on.