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How To Develop A Content Strategy That Actually Works (with Jeff Coyle from Market Muse)

The Co-Founder of Market Muse shares what he’s learned over two decades of researching and implementing successful content strategies.

We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.

Audio Transcription:

Ben Aston

Welcome to the Indie Media Club Podcast, I’m Ben Aston, founder of the Indie Media Club. We’re on a mission to help independent, bootstrapped media entrepreneurs succeed, to help people who create, promote, and monetize through content do it better. Check out Indie Media Club to find out more.

Today, I’m joined by Jeff Coyle, and Jeff has been in the business of inbound marketing, search engine optimization, and content strategy for 20 years, that’s two whole decades. He is the co-founder and chief product for Market Muse, which we’re going to talk about a bit today. But they use artificial intelligence, natural language processing, all the other words, including machine learning algorithms. And what they’re trying to do is provide actionable insights for inbound marketers. So he knows what you should be writing about. So keep listening to today’s podcast to learn more about content strategy and how to build a content strategy that actually works. Jeff, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s great to be here. 

Jeff Coyle

Thank you. 

Ben Aston

And I want to kind of dig into your story about, you know, I looked at your LinkedIn. You did a computer science degree, which was kind of my plan as well originally. But then I didn’t do it. But you did it. And then it seems like you just got into the world of SEO. But take us back to that beginning and how you started this. You kind of, I guess, journey into marketing, performance, marketing and SEO. 

Jeff Coyle

Well, yes, it’s a great, great point. So I went to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. I’m from Jersey originally but came down there for computer science. And I quickly realized I wanted to be I wanted to do things like usability theory and usability, architecture and the front end design and those sorts of things. But I was also really intrigued by a lot of what was happening with enterprise search. So like intranet search engines, that was what was really the heavy focus. There was only a really early web search and they were really bad. And then people were really trying to figure out that. So my specializations in school were on usability theory. And then I did some work for Enterprise Search Design, a time when I was a junior in college, I started working for a small startup called Knowledge Storm. And when Knowledge Storm was, I was their first intern of all things. And we were generating leads for software companies and we’re generating them with content syndication. So basically this was nobody knew what content marketing was and we were convincing large software companies to give us their white papers, give us their brochure where give us theirs. Do they have any content? Many of them didn’t even have any real big, huge top 20 Zapier companies that didn’t have anything out in the world on our websites or anything. And we were syndicating those in a directory. And we had a collection of about two hundred directories and we would generate massive amounts of traffic. And so quickly my role became generating all that traffic because we needed to generate those leads. So that was everything from early-stage testing. Legian figuring out how to manage an ad server, an internal adsorb, multiple search engines. We built a vertical search engine platform and all these things, and we got acquired in two thousand and seven by our competitor, who had an editorial focused publishing focus, a couple of hundred websites. And so I had basically learned that SEO before kind of was a thing and like ninety-nine, two thousand and then rolled through. And I’ve been doing that since. So when I was when we were acquired and I worked with that competitor, we brought our whole search and traffic team and lead gen experience and they were heavily focused on content, quality, and publishing. And we brought a different dimension to that team and say, let’s use data to make these decisions. And yeah, so that’s really how we got into it. Everything under the sun. I mean, I was doing AdWords before there was an interface. We would send them spreadsheets and try to buy remnant CPM, CPM impressions and like fight for words to get them at a particular price band. I mean. Yeah, so you name it, if it involves generating leads in traffic, I fortunately or unfortunately probably have done it. 

Ben Aston

So that’s cool. Obviously, you’ve kind of made the transition from working on the publishing side, or at least I think you have to developing now at all. So what’s your I guess what’s your why what kind of gets you out of bed in the morning and excited to still work in the world of content and making stuff rank and getting visibility, you know, is a great question. 

Jeff Coyle

What I saw in my experience and then in many of my peers and friends was just a lot of frustration, a lot of chasing algorithms, a lot of situations where especially in mid-market or larger teams, people feel still that search engine optimization is a lot of toute selling snake oil and a lot of black box mystical magic. And what my what really gets me out of it is like I want to make the search team and the demand team and the writers and the editor editorial team and the subject matter experts and the product team all work together really well because that’s when things are awesome when they respect the data that’s coming in when you respect the expertise. So it gets me out of bed in the morning as a team that actually runs effectively and efficiently. And they write content because, you know, knowing who is who, what, what value people are bringing to the table. Our subject matter experts are invaluable. Getting the information out of their brain and weaving that into content that is successful is special. And when I can do things to create that type of dynamic, that’s what really gets me out of bed. The actual ranking of the page is something that happens when you’re doing everything right. And that is the spirit of what, high quality, comprehensive, you know, the language of the user, you know the reader, you know your prospect base. You know these people and you’re also putting your best foot forward. And so with Market Muse, it’s really about getting teams from wherever they are now to that utopian situation?

Ben Aston

So, I mean, tell us about that utopia of like what your what you trying to build who you’re helping and what that. Yeah. What that utopia looks like to you, because I think for me, the utopia. It’s kind of for me kind of going back full circle where you can write about what you want to write about and have it rank without playing any games, that for me is a utopia. But tell us about what you’re trying to build, who are you helping and what the topia looks like? 

Jeff Coyle

You know, I’m trying to help the people who are in the kind of don’t know what they should do or if they have, like, loose ideas of life for themselves and for their teams. And it’s trying to integrate and amplify what makes them good. And so you may have a bunch of ideas of things you want to write like you just mentioned, and you’ve got them all in your head. You’re brainstorming is your thing. Well, I want to make sure we can put your best foot forward with every article that you publish. Make sure they have the best, the best chances they have, but also give you insights if well, to support this passion page that you want to write. Here’s the collection of content and maybe you need to support or you don’t have much of a shot for this to do well on its own. But if you feel that this is extremely important, what foundation do you need to get there? And so you have you know, I like to break them down into a couple of different groups, but you have people who are just looking for, you know, what’s my biggest win today? But you also have I want to own this space. I want to improve my you know, how I exhibit my expertise to the world and show my show people what my business is truly great at. How do I get there or I’ve got competitive pressures? What do I do in light of the fact that there is a billion people publishing on the topics I care about? Or, you know, you might be in a marketing services org-type role at a large enterprise. You have to approve your editorial calendar a year in advance practically. Well, I want to let you put points on the board with what you have to write, what the order is when they come in, so that maybe in six months you can say, hey, people controlling my budget. I crushed it with everything you told me to write. Can I have some more to write, stuff that I know we need? So any time, any type of situation where I feel like I can basically predict how successful things are going to be before I get published, and that’s what Market Muse does it really looks to say I’ve got a great chance of performing if we write great stuff here or we’re going to have to invest. This is tough. We’re getting beat up by a competitor and we have to really dig of it or it’s going to take a long time to get there. You know, you can’t go write a brand new blog tomorrow and go write a review of the new iPhone and expect it to do well. It’s going to take a lot of work. I just like to set expectations and then get teams in a situation where they can work together. You know, so often CEOs are maligned by the editorial board or vice versa. Gosh, you know, Joe always writes the stuff that he wants and got to get those two teams working from working together. And then you got to respect the CRO, a conversion rate optimization part, the promotional part so that when someone says, hey, you know, we got we’re going to build this as a great long-form page, but we also have something that is a content upgrade. It’s going to make this page make even more money. Everybody’s got to realize that if that page makes more money or whatever your KPI is, you’re going to get more budget to write more pages like it. You’re not different themes. You’re going to get all line on what value you bring to the table. And I think that that’s really the output that’s just gets—What gets you out of bed is teams that “get” that they’re all working together and they’re not just trying to SEO -edit someone else’s art and then it because it just makes people feel bad. Right. They’re plopping ads on my page or they’re wiggling in keywords into my creative writing. It’s like, no, that’s not what it’s about. And teams that still work on those operations patterns, they struggle. They typically fight to equilibrium or fight to the bottom. And ones that get together work together, they’re the ones that succeed.

Ben Aston

Yeah, so, I mean, what we’re beginning to touch into is its content strategy, so when you try and explain to someone like what content strategy is and how it works, how it’s how do you explain what to write about and how to write about it and the impact that can have, I’m not such a great question. 

Jeff Coyle

So it’s really about knowing the why, you know, like you mentioned, knowing the why for your content and also thinking about the learners or the readers or the prospects or the customer journey and how you map who you are today and who you want to be in your content presence or your content inventory to all of those things. So when I say learners, I say that because it’s not potentially only going to be in one format. You know, people learn in different ways. Do you truly know how are you marketing to the general populace or to a specific subset? Do you know how they consume content on what medium and what in what formats? And do you know how those formats map to different stages of the customer journey, reader journey, or otherwise? And when you can smush all that together into a picture for who you’re writing for and know who you are, who you want to be, that’s the answer, You’re writing the content and putting it in the forms that matter for the people who can consume it, and if you can do all of that, bravo. That’s your content strategy. A lot of times. A lot of times it gets limited to, you know. Just the word you’re writing today, so you can distill it and say, I want to grow to these KPIs. In any means necessary, it can be that simple or it can be OK. I know I need to speak to this entire group. I know you just write in these particular patterns, these writing structures. And here’s my strategy. So it can be very simple. It can be very complex, but it’s got to speak the language of the reader. And it’s got to the goal has to be clear. If it’s traffic, if it’s just traffic, though, I’d say and that’s all you’re thinking about is one metric, you’re probably in an isolated team. And so if your SEO team is measured only by organic traffic and your writing team is only measured by the amount of content they write and your demand management team is only measured on their lead goals, you’re in trouble. And that’s what we typically see is the content strategy is one where you have a unified group of KPIs driving those decisions.

Ben Aston

Yeah, yeah. I think that’s I think that’s super helpful because so often I think, yeah, we can think about metrics in isolation and then we’re surprised when we hit the metric, but we don’t achieve the impact or the result of it that we’re trying to do. And it’s because we’re extracting metrics from one another where that needs to be some conflation of some kind. But I want to go back to the idea of you’re talking about content strategy. You talked about the importance of understanding our users on the journey that they’re on. So the user journey that the users are on and their, I guess intent or need and how that aligns with what we’re trying to communicate. I think often when we’re doing going through that process, we can, as marketers develop personas, we can create a fictitious imagined user journey. How do you ensure that? These avatars or personas that you’re creating, the user journeys that you think these Avatar will personas are on, how do you make sure that you’re not just doing that in a vacuum and that you’re actually using empirical data to back the persona and the user journey that you think people are on? Because I think as marketers, we can be quite arrogant sometimes in thinking, well, this is the journey that everyone’s on, or I made up this persona and it’s Sally. She’s thirty-three. She lives in Atlanta and this is what she wants to do next. So I think theoretically and philosophically, we can create this lovely journey. But how do you use data to support that journey? And yet with the reality that it’s more of a flywheel than a journey with people bouncing in and off, you talked about different media and how we consume it in different ways. The way that we might read something on our phone will be different to a desktop, different from something that we’re watching on YouTube. So as we’re developing our content strategy, how you use data to support informed decisions and account for the complexity of the media landscape? 

Jeff Coyle

That’s a really tough question. But no, it’s not just about Late-Stage-Buyer Ben who owns a tractor and wants to own two more, and I’m going to sell them to them. It’s really about do I know all the possibilities of what might occur with this audience and why they might seek out what I’m doing? So it is really doing a robust analysis of the whole funnel. And that’s where writing teams get into trouble, is they only write for one stage of that journey or they’re running towards the bottom of the funnel because those pages have the highest conversion rate or the writing into the middle because there’s sort of enlightened or the writing only top line, early-stage because it gets a lot of traffic. And that’s where the merged KPIs. I think it makes it makes sense. And the way that I describe it is you have to earn it. You’ve got to earn anything for anything to work, and that’s where. How do you know you’ve gotten it? You have content that tells the story that you can solve the problem for many different industries, many different stages of the funnel, but also even post-purchase troubleshooting, retention, adherence if you’re in pharma or otherwise. But you have to have somewhere where you’re the valuable resource in that path. If you’re not the place for that thing, then you haven’t earned the right to perform well for that search. And so your package of content for the things you’re writing about The litmus test is “if someone is this persona and they have this need or this specific intent, is your site a great place to be?” Can they get to the page or not? And if it’s not, how do you make it the place to be? Because that’s that’s really that tells the story. Are you putting yourself in that type of situation? Can you always say you’ve picked everybody in the world, you’ve covered the whole journey? No, that’s where that kind of additional persona now is. Let’s see if we can say we have the most amazing collection of content. If I’m in this stage of I’m on that stage, I can answer all of these questions. That’s great. Well, what if I’m a, you know, a coffee roaster in Canada making this up? Is this still the right collection of pages? So you really ask yourself, what is my site the best source or or at least a good source for someone to take that take those steps? So often people think about it from a a word perspective or have I have I have I generated the right personas when it’s really just asking that question about today’s current state and then fill in the gaps. And that can often come off and be a splash of cold water when you have focused too much on one stage of the funnel or just because you go out and just because I give you the error, right. The error is looking at the search results only to tell you what you have to write if you go to a search result and the search results, a bunch of definitions, you know, what is X, what is Y? And you say, oh, I need a definition. I’m going to go write the best definition, the best one in the world. And that would be my best way of ranking. Absolutely false. That is the complete false statement of current SEO. It’s you may not have earned the right for your definition to rank, yet. You don’t have the rest of that funnel. You don’t have content about all the related concepts. And so when you’re writing for personas you, you have to make sure you don’t get lost in the page or chasing correlations because that can just it can just ice you out. I mean, and people will say they’ll go in there and they’ll write a page that they see— There’s other things we talk about here, but that is really to get to the nuts and bolts of it. It’s I know my persona. If I can say if they went to my site and they had these needs, would they be happy when they left? Yeah, and that’s that’s the basics. 

Jeff Coyle

And so, I mean, you talk about creating content at different stages of the funnel, top of the phenomena, the funnel bottom of the funnel when we’re about to transact, as we’re developing the user content strategy and your content rollout plan. So we have a good idea about what we’re trying to write about because we’re thinking about those different stages of the funnel. We’re thinking about who we’re writing for. But in terms of, you know, this is kind of like how long is a piece of string? How much money do you want to throw at content and how in terms of kind of? Yeah, creating impactful content, starting with the low hanging fruit to create the most impact. How do you what’s your approach for prioritization? And what you’ve been talking about is earning the authority or earning the right to rank for a particular topic. So as you’re trying to earn that right and you’re trying to combine it with low hanging fruit, is there any kind of uniformity in terms of the approach you should take in sequencing the things that you write about? 

Jeff Coyle

Yeah, that’s a really great question. By the way, was the phrase you used, how long is a piece of string? Yeah, that’s such an awesome phrase. I’m stealing that. I’ve never heard that before. That’s like magic. I don’t even know why I’ve never heard that before. That’s great to know. So it’s like it depends on the amount of money you have. Right. To invest like you mentioned. I think that’s where the how on a piece of string comes from. But also your do you have any of those powerful existing entity pages on your site? Where do you have existing momentum? Where do you not? I always describe this as if I’m building a brand new Website, what do I need to do? I only can look at what my goals are and I can look outward. Right. I can look at competitive cohort profiling. So I could say, you know, Ben wrote this site. He wrote one hundred and fifty pages about these topics over the course of two years. This was his link velocity. And this is how each one of those things did. I believe he’s going to write four pages per month. Here’s his historical trajectory. And I can smush those together from multiple competitors to get a reasonable expectation of what my investment needs to be. Right. So if I don’t have a site, that’s the path, right? If I do have a site, I have a faster path to reality because I know where I have current strengths. I know that if I cover this topic well, I have a higher likelihood of succeeding than this other one and how much investment I need to make. So then I’m basically just prioritizing the outcomes and what I think they’re going to influence when I’m doing for ordering. If in the end, you’re in the same aspirational state, well, I want to create the things that are going to move my KPI sooner first and then at that specific aspirational say in the end. So I want to have more time to marinate with the stuff that’s making money as soon as possible or influencing the values that I want. And that’s so that’s how I would order those things. But at the end goal I. I know why I’m doing this or what I’m doing, it’s great. The one other cool thing about content strategy is you learn from pages, you can build what I call them, like one-page plans where I’m actually telling the story of what I’m going to build. Next, By analyzing some of my more powerful pages. And so I might have written this great article. Right. And It doesn’t Satisfy the intent of maybe some of the words, it’s ranking for it is a great article for generalists what is X, Y, Z? But it doesn’t tell the story of the middle of the funnel, but its ranking for some of those things. It doesn’t tell the story for someone who’s going through this particular pain point, but it is ranking for that page. So I need to go write those pages. So I like to also learn as I go about these intense mismatches or these variants that pop up. I’m ranking on page two or sometimes ranking number one four. But I know when people back to my first comment that people land on the site, they’re actually not happy. So Google didn’t do a great job. I’m ranking for this work. Right. But my pages are the best experience for them with that specific intent. And the more cycles you can do on that, the more you win. And so that’s where Market Muse can give you the how do I own this topic or what’s that Next page plan for this page? And they keep going. Keep going. I have a great example. on our site, we have four content briefs, which is one of our offerings. We were performing really well for content, brief examples, and samples, but our “what is a content brief” page didn’t have examples or samples. So we go for the content item that shows a bunch of examples, right, because we’re getting there and they were OK, this is what is but it wasn’t giving them what they actually wanted. And so we should go through. And then when you hear competitors, do they have pages that are ranking for stuff that they don’t satisfy the user intent? So that’s reflective or reactive strategy. And if you when you weave that into your proactive strategy for the goals of the business, that’s when you start when that’s when you start really seeing upcycling. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. So we’re looking at user intent and we’re trying to create content that matches that user intent as accurately or as specifically as we can, building off the things that are working or looking at our goals and identify, hey, these are the kind of user content that we’re trying to match. So you’ve got a whole bunch of stuff. And let’s talk about what we do that we have a big list. So what are your content plans look like in real life as you kind of we’re talking about creating a prioritized backlog of stuff, is it? Yeah. What do you use to use Google Sheets? How are you prioritizing it all and then taking that through your workflow? 

Jeff Coyle

Well, yeah. I mean, the prediction is the priority for us, for for us, for marketing specifically. So we will look at the upside potential. Is this cluster support as a support page for a page that already exists. So it doesn’t have any it doesn’t have the goal of having direct value, but we know all boats will rise. Is it a direct value? How much direct value is this based on a quick win that we’ve identified? And so we’re looking at the value we’ve associated predicted to associate with the page and then how much upside the other wiggle in there is if it relates to a a specific date, an important date for the business. So, for example, for the past six months, we’ve been writing on natural language generation to support our generation product, which comes out in the third quarter for this year. It’s already out in Alpha, but for release. And so whenever that content item about that will be flag, it would get additional priority because it’s there to support that overall initiative. So we also might have a situation where we’ve identified we have a unique piece of intelligence or knowledge in our brain that no one else has. So this is unique differentiation. Where does it fit in the topic? So we basically say what topic is this covering? What intents is it targeting? How is it differentiated and what’s the predicted value? If you have those four things, you can you can prioritize very quickly. What I would shy away from is sorting the here’s my trick, right. Giving you a good one. But I would shy away from shorting only by a search volume metric on the target top. I won’t tell you why that’s not always right. What I’ll say is go back to your top ten articles on your page on your site. Right. And look at what the target topic was and look at the search volume and say, if I were to have predicted how much traffic these pages get by just using this metric, what number would I have guessed? And then go look at your Google Analytics and look at the real number and look at the correlation on those things. No correlation, because that’s the fallacy of using a metric like that. Only use it for direction, but don’t use it to predict specifically because you can’t you won’t be calling it. You’re a page that’s very powerful, will rank for thousands of topics of keywords, and each one of those contributes value. And so if you compare that top and search going no, and it will that the multiplier is a great indicator of your authority. But like, if you only use that to prioritize, you’re in trouble. I mean, it’s just like first of all, your competitors have a huge advantage if they know that you’re prioritizing based on that data point. And then second, it’s just it’s not related to the overall success of the page like you when you really do that type of exercise. It is again, it’s like cold splash of water in face, like, oh, wow, I should have been focused on actually creating a great experience here. That’s the only way I’m going to get to where I need to go. And it also can create other types of problems. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. So moving from that strategy, creating a plan, prioritizing down into actually creating the content, satisfying that user intent as best we can. Obviously we’re doing some keyword research. How have you seen that evolve and change. For me, the big thing was when I discovered SEMrush and Ahrefs, but how have you seen that change and how do you see it evolving? 

Jeff Coyle

I see some evolution that’s good and some that’s bad. And so I still see so basically the first flight of evolution was people getting away from using PPC data only—using Google Adwords Keyword Planner in isolation. Google Adwords Keyword Planner is you know, it’s not robust. It’s not comprehensive. The search volume data is, you know, sometimes quite misleading. The competition data is for paid. No correlation between that and organic search difficulty and even less correlation to how hard it will be for you personally to rank for this topic. And so SEMrush takes it to like SEMrush and Ahrefs or any of these these, they take it to another level where they’re trying to take from a huge database that they have. They’re trying to draw data insights. And they’re they’re doing things like these are topics that top performing pages on this topic also perform well for. So they say that’s a nice step in the right direction. But where they struggle are in making that real for you. You know, so you can get that you can get a list of the word and all the variants of that word. But what does that how do you turn that into something actionable is the challenge. So I see people thinking critically and doing a great job. Now, if they’re really trying to build models for what it means to be an expert on this particular topic, those are the people doing things that are evolutionary. The ones that aren’t are looking at search results and saying that the search results show me the true intent of this word. It does not. The search results show you the favored intent of Google for this word. And it can also have mixed intent or multiple meanings. It can be meaning disambiguate, meaning ambiguity. It can also be different intents. So you have to really research outside. You got to research separate over here and then figure out those favorite things. And that’s really where the rubber meets the road on great research versus correlative research, and that’s where the difference is, I see the evolution going in those two bands and one’s going down a road of hurt and the other one’s going down a road of long term happiness. 

Ben Aston

So, yeah, I guess kind of comes back to, like, really understanding users and that genuine user intent so that you’re not just following numbers blindly, which can be tempting because it feels like you’re being data driven, but you’re not using your brain. 

Jeff Coyle

Well, you know, it’s interesting. There’s so many pitfalls. It’s just a it’s tough because it seems right. It seems it feels like you’re doing it right. And then you also have to question, you’re like, well, I’m doing this because I see a large site do it. Well, the large sites don’t play by the same rules. All right. They don’t have to. They can get away with using black hat techniques. Major, major, large, mega billion dollar corporations—a great deal of their success comes from techniques you’re not allowed to do. And so why would you follow their lead with the pages and ranking? You just can’t do it. There’s a major publisher who’s head of SEO commonly says, please don’t copy us because it won’t work for you. And I am not allowed to tell you why. And it’s kind of funny because if you really dig in, that’s what is being touted as the goal, the best practice, the “do what X, Y, Z does”. And no, please do not. You will eat it and and you won’t see it coming. And that’s really the you know, if you want to talk about a big, big mistakes, it’s copying your heroes. That’s a big mistake right now that I see all the time sorting by search volume and copying your heroes are one and two in my book of of ways to not build clusters of content. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. I mean, let’s talk about what you can do then. And like content optimization, that does work. So. There is I mean, there are things that we can do using that keyword data, those things we can do, we can optimize the homepage experience. So what are some of the things that you found to be the most impactful or successful? And what we’re trying to ignore a lot of what we see being successful elsewhere, being staying true to kind of identifying and meeting that user intent, what works and what doesn’t?

Jeff Coyle

Well, what I’ve just said isn’t to say that you can’t be inspired by—you can be inspired by the data, but don’t only be inspired by that data. So the path that works is you want to have that validation in your you want to be the validator in your brain, you want to say, OK, well, here’s information about this concept. Is it a fit for this page or do I know that I should cover it somewhere, but maybe not this page, maybe on another page? You know, the way you can optimize effectively now is to try to take the data you can get from a keyword list from wherever you get it, from a topic list, from a topic model, from a research effort and truly say, yes, it makes sense to the narrative and to the structure of this page and their user experience that it should be covered here. One, because if you think about it right, if I may, two workflows. If I’m a writer and I’m writing this article and some come to me and said, hey, you didn’t really talk about this, let’s say I’m writing an article about content marketing strategy and feedback from somewhere comes in and says, hey, Jeff, you don’t really talk about target audience or buyer personas. And oh, yeah, you’re right. It’s completely a blindspot there. If I’m reading a great article about content marketing strategy, I should definitely have areas about target audience and buyer personas. That interaction is how you optimize content. Right, it’s not plopped in this word five times, it’s having that woven in dynamic and saying, actually, I do want to cover buyer personas, I’m going to just cover it lightly here. And then I’m going to go write a huge, awesome article about my personas as a support article for this is not really a fit for this page. So you’re getting that info. Maybe you’re getting that info from direct competitive analysis. Maybe you’re getting it from more other types of content research or topic modeling research. And you’re saying, is this a natural fit or am I sticking a am I plopping a box in the middle of a beautiful story that I’m already writing? That’s how it truly is. And here I’ll give you the opposite of this. Major health publisher. Major health publisher does the opposite, right? They look at all the competition and they write pages that try to cover all the intents of all the pages in one page and you read them and they make absolutely no sense. Right. It’s like what? It’s like 19 different user intents. It’s just a whack a doodle mishmash of stuff. And, you know, does that make sense? That’s that. We got to ask yourself, does that is it truly makes sense that we have something that tells us how to butter bread and on the same page, it’s like the benefits of stretching before a workout. It’s like is how is that possibly a sensible? So I think the motivation is about when you get the insight, do you acknowledge you need to approach that target audience and connect to that concept? And can you naturally figure out a way to weave it in? And if not, can you plan to cover it in some editorially appropriate way? And if you can do that, that’s the path to success. And if you think back to any optimization process you’ve ever done, that’s the process you should have done. It’s not in finding the right keywords that should be there is hard. It’s hard to figure out the best ones. Right. But if you go through that quick process and say, yeah, that makes sense, actually, now I’m not going, whoa, this is often left field. This is this doesn’t make sense. It’s stupid. Then you’ll end up at the right places if you have that little angel or devil on your shoulder, the devil the devil’s like spam this n. Try to work it in any way. The angel is like, is this editorially appropriate? You know, basically, that’s what you’re looking to do, is be more like the angel there. 

Ben Aston

I want to kind of go back to what you’re talking about with I think this is what you were saying, how you can challenge or be competitive against large content machines. So people who are just churning out terrible content, frankly, but because of that domain authority, that ranking for it or for a term when they have really no right to be because they don’t really know what they’re talking about, they’re just spitting out content. And so how do you how can you compete with large content machines when you’ve talked about listening to your angel and being editorially appropriate, thinking about user intent, matching that user intent with content that is cognizant of where they are in the funnel. But what else, apart from not spamming people really with like content, what how else tactically can you compete with those content machines? 

Jeff Coyle

It’s a great question. It’s my passion. My passion, my passion is competing with large content machines. Competitive cohort analysis is something that I personally have focused on as a part of my research forever. I love competitive analysis. I think it’s it’s the path to being good at content strategy. Search editorial. Like so many editorial teams live in their own bubble. They never even look at it. They only think of that saying, I don’t want to do what they’re doing or be different. Right. And then SEOs think you’re only as competitive as the words that they’re asking for. And so we’ve got a problem here. Right. And. How can you compete with content machines, it’s to know their editorial calendar. And know what they’re likely to do and likely not to do and then track that back to their content. And do they have content that performs four terms where they do not satisfy user intent, where they do not have content that is better than yours, and then it’s creating the past that basically chops down the tree if you know likely what they’re not likely to do and maybe where they are focused. And I’m talking getting into the weeds. I know that Joey at this place typically writes six articles a month. He writes on these three things like, I almost want to create a dossier if it really matters that much to me to compete with these these these machines. How much of a profile can I build for what they’re likely to do in 2021 and then when they do, when they go outside of that pattern, what does that telling me? So when they do bubble pattern or let’s say Joey leaves, right. You know, what can I predict is going to happen then? Then I become very powerful. Do they have pages that they don’t touch? Very, very important factor. If you’re competing is do they have pages they don’t touch because maybe have a church-state problem internally, maybe it’s a particular type of page. How predictable is what they’re doing? We can see that we’re getting beaten up by trying to never say any people’s names, but we get beat up by this large publisher and they are writing at this velocity on our topic. Here’s what they did last year. Here’s what they do this year, I predict are probably going to put out this much content on these things. Here’s their powerful pages used or weak pages. 

Jeff Coyle

So basically, I’m setting up almost like a strategy in a predictive layer when I’m trying to beat these kinds of issues. And what I do is then they’re zig-zagging and then I’m taking their content that is weak and I’m taking advantage of it. I’ll surround that piece. I’ll do like what Berry-Short says, you know, write the next five articles, I’ll write the next five articles they should have wrote to support that page. I’ll write a better version of their pillar. And just lather, rinse and repeat, I’m slowly chopping down the tree. They don’t attack, they don’t connect the dots between their content and the industries that they focus. They’ve got what is CRM page? They don’t talk about what CRM for coffee roasters, what CRM for brewers. I’m going to write those pages. So I’m really trying to think about the stuff they’re not likely to do. And if I can really peg out a predictive lens on what they’re going to publish and I’m right a few times, then I can set my watch to it. That’s how you beat the big guys. The only way. 

Ben Aston

And so the way that you’re doing, I mean, you’re saying, you know, you’re going into their sites. You’re looking at what they’re publishing, that publishing cadence, what they’re writing about how you automate that process? 

Jeff Coyle

I mean has. So I mean, that’s go with one of the mechanisms that we built. But you can actually automate some of that as well is some of it is not. You know what the workflows should be, so you have to take that data and you have to apply it towards that end. But you can I mean, you can really do that a lot of times, relatively simple because sometimes if it’s a big box, I’m not focused on their whole life and I’m only focused on a section. Or you can really tune that in. The thing is, no matter how hard it is, it’s still an unfair advantage to do it. And here’s why they spent years to do it. You can do that if you really put your nose on the ground and really work, you can do that in a couple hours a day for even if it took you a month. Right. And you just unpacked all the work they’ve ever done. It’s worth it, right? It seems like a lot, but you really can take all the fruits of their labor and unpack it in a week or a month. Because you’re taking out their wins and their losses, you’re predicting their efficiency rates, content, content, efficiency. How many times do you publish or update versus how many hit the KPIs that you strive against? Your competitors are typically going to be the best of the bunch, 40 percent, 50 percent, typically, especially big box in five to 10, 15 percent. And if you know their efficiency, you know they’re pretty good lens for what they’re going to publish, then you can really begin to figure out how to shop. Now they need to go maybe 20 percent of your writing to it. You know, maybe this is my knock out, knock out Louis’ editorial team, you know, because I know he’s likely not going to shift. He’s likely not going to pivot. Yeah, not going to catch up with all you want to do stuff that they’re not likely to get in front of. And for a long time, people a lot of times will look at best practices, actual strategy topics like in B2B tech. For a while, a popular strategy was because large B2B tech companies wouldn’t write for competitive content because they work at SAP or whatever, and SAP doesn’t want to write any content that has this competitor on it. So these mid-market publishers, you know, had a buffet of killing, they’re willing to publish anything to get ahead. Right. So, like, that’s just that’s not saying you should always write those pages. But this is an example because you saw that these folks wouldn’t do that because they’re big and fat. Right. And so they that’s how they work their wheat and weave their way into the narrative is by looking at what these other guys don’t do as an abstract version. But you can do it for any industry or any topic. And what’s great is when you find a zombie. A zombie is a site that’s dead, publishing cadence went down. They got historical value. That’s when you can just have the whole pizza. 

Ben Aston

I like we are talking about in terms of analyzing what competitors are doing. And yeah, if you can be more efficient with your content, if you can improve your content efficiency, you will generate that ROI. It’s about writing about the right things in the right way that meets the user intent around on the set of topic areas and you will begin to outrank them and and outperform them. 

Jeff Coyle

Exactly. And people often say, well, that sounds boring. It trusts me, it’s not. And it doesn’t say that you’re a good idea. I get random good ideas from a dream in the shower. I’ll write them down and then I’ll send them to my head contact strategist. And I say, you know, like and the response is typically, well, like, OK, which outcome is this driving or is this just a random thing that just came up with? The brainstorms are good because that’s your creativity, that’s where your subject matter experts come in. And then how do you weave that back into the goal we’re writing about? We’re writing a post about right now about the hidden world of enterprise SEO and that enterprise SEOs get away with everything.  And we saw that Patrick Stox from Ahrefs wrote—an amazing guy. If you haven’t read it, you’ve got to read it—to Enterprise. But it was like how it is truly politically. And so we moved up this other piece because we’re like we can reference Patrick’s article. So, you know, your brainstorm still very important. And can you tie them back because your brainstorms typically represent your subject matter expertise and how can you connect those to your opportunistic creation goals? What’s the thing about this topic that only then knows, like when I work with a lawyer or a doctor or something, that I don’t know the space I’ll always like. What’s the thing about using, you know, Monday that only, you know, I’m just like and you’re like I’m like fifty things nobody knows. Right? Well, if you were the lawyer, what’s the thing about this local justice system where you mainly operate and are in the courtroom? What’s the what is the stuff about this that no one knows? And I’ll go through a topic model with them and I’ll say, what’s the thing about the court docket system that only, you know, because you live it and what? Nothing special about that. And then you’re like, no, like, you know, what time of day? Who’s involved? Is there ever any hiccups? Are there ever any is it ever later? And then they start telling stories and they start telling stories. And then you’re like, this is stuff. This is the stuff that nobody knows. Right. Is that you have to how you have to do an X type scrape. You know, Data format to get render JavaScript out of Screaming Frog like there’s like, you know, there’s people who are writing those articles and that’s, you know, that’s a stupid example. But, you know, it is when you are the expert, it means something to you and then you can turn that into a narrative. So there’s always a place for brainstorming. Yeah. 

Ben Aston

And I think I think that’s what excites me. It’s about identifying this because I think. When we look at things like medium, which have great content but typically doesn’t rank, it’s like it’s like the yeah, you’ll find fascinating content in there and it’s thinking, OK, well, how can you apply that kind of great editorial great content that you find in somewhere like Medium with some understanding of that user content, the user journey and content optimization? And that, I think, is that that’s the sweet spot of what to write about. And insight versus how to write it. 

Jeff Coyle

Right on the nose. It’s what’s something that was meaningful or impactful and why was it impactful? Like why? Why did it look like the article I was talking about from Patrick? It was because unless you’ve worked in a large enterprise, some of the stuff he talked about, about the politics and aligning teams like you never know. And so, like it really was it really examined what it really feels like to be in his shoes while it’s still an issue, while it’s still actually is informative. So I think that, you know, I always like to put your personas in situations, know that’s what are what are their pain points like? I’m worried because, you know, I’m maybe not the decision maker for my marketing technology stack. And but I really wish there was a better solution than this one. We are we have this as an installed offering all software. OK, what’s the thing that that person would want to read? You know, I want to switch from blah blah to that. So those other software. Now, look, the article that they would want to read and you just kind of trust the more times you actually hit on a real pain point with your content or really get someone to relate to it. Now, that’s the stuff on medium. You’re right. You’re reading this is really good and you’re mapping that back to the journey. You’ve got to that content, back to the journey. And then you ask, does your sales team and your marketing team have two different buyer journeys? That’s another story for another day. But most of the time the two completely do your your your sales team’s process map to your marketing teams via a journey as well as those two things are often out of alignment. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, it’s good. Let’s finish by doing a quick lightning round. What of your personal habits over the past couple of decades you’ve been working in SEO do you think has contributed most to success? 

Jeff Coyle

It was really hard for me to, in my early years, to naturally have natural empathy and I think my ever striving goal to be empathetic when I wasn’t naturally that as a child is the thing. I have to force it like and really focus on it to be successful. That that’s what keeps me going is I actually care about the people that I work with and are my customers. If I actually want them to succeed. It’s not bullshit. I mean, and that is true. And that’s usually a us the passion. I’ve got to actually want them to be successful for me to be. And that has worked. If I work for a place where I didn’t actually care about the customers or people being successful, it wouldn’t work for me because I would just be like. You know, I would feel like a fraud, you know, so I have to care. 

Ben Aston

Can you share, apart from Market Muse, obviously, an internet resource or tool that you use regularly that you really like? 

Jeff Coyle

Oh, gosh, so many of them, but let think. I really love I’ll give you a blog and a tool will give you a blog and a couple of tools, I’m blog. I think Kevin Indig writes some of the best content on the Web. It’s becoming a little bit trite to say that because like now everybody knows who he is. But her is wonderful. Go read his blog, Kevin-indig. And I really think he gets it, but no one else does. And I just watching him, like, become super a super power of of SEO has been very happy to see he’s so cool. So I love his stuff. I think the crafts blog is one you got to read. I mentioned Patrick Stox, but there’s a couple of people writing for that that are just super good. They’re not just touting their software product. The software products are awesome. But that’s not what they’re doing. 

Jeff Coyle

Tools. There’s a software product called Mad Kudu and it does predictive lead scoring. I think that the company is destined for great things. It’s a wonderful, wonderful software and artificial intelligence software, AI machine learning software product. The other one that you may not have heard of is called Phantom Buster. Go check out Phantom Buster. It’s an automation platform for things like, you know, for hustlin. It’s as automation platforms for people who want to hustle. check it out. It’s pretty cool. That’s people. So those are my four. You asked me for one. 

Ben Aston

What book would you recommend and why? 

Jeff Coyle

You know, it depends on the goal of the book, but I like to see how things were done manually. So I always keep a book on me. It called Content Audits and Inventories, and it’s in the content wrangler series, which is Scott Abell vehicle. It’s a couple of years old. It tells you how hard this used to be manual because they actually like walks through like the gross—and they have another one in that series. It’s about enterprise content strategy. It’s like the gross manual processes. Right. And great content and a great book to get is Content Chemistry by Andy Crestodina, I love that book. If someone’s just getting into this, I always like issue that as a must-read. And then there’s a great book by a late friend of mine, James Mathewson, called Outside in Marketing, and he used to work at IBM and that is such a super cool book. It’s like a completely different lens on persona development, so relevant to what we were talking about today. But yes, outside in marketing, content, chemistry, or more like now and then, you want to show how the people used to do it manually, go check out content audits and inventories. It’s super dry, but you got to read it like it really shows. Oh my gosh, this is hard. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. So and finally, for someone at the start of their digital media journey, maybe they’re just starting out. Maybe. Yeah. Maybe it’s a new Website they’re creating in a new publication. What is one piece of advice that you give them to stay on the straight and narrow. 

Jeff Coyle

Look at the bags under my eyes. Do you want to be this? No, I say it is really try to pass out opinion from fact, the biggest mistakes I see are when people take advice from Toutes and for people who are. Figure out what their what their true motivation is to be giving you this information and. Is it because they get an affiliate cheque every quarter and really in our space, that’s the toughest thing to differentiate. If you’re just getting into this, you know, think about the motivation. I love this game. Right. I love making people successful. I also am a co-founder of a software project that I want you to buy. I mean, there’s no question you should buy Market Muse right now, but I’m very clear about it. Like I will also help you. I’d also stay up late if you called me on the phone and do this with you, because, like, I really give a shit, right. Sorry, but if this is expletive deleted. But what it makes sure that the advice you take is truly for the art of the game, for the spirit of the game. That’s why I like books like The Art of SEO is a great one to cross-check anything you hear with. That’s Stefan Spencer and Eric Enge and like make sure that the advice that you are taking doesn’t feel cheap. It doesn’t feel like a hack. It actually connects to things that makes sense for your business. And for someone new going into the game where they where you get steered for the wrong ways is looking for the, you know, looking to hit a slot machine for a number one ranking. It might you might get lucky, but you’re probably like I mean that’s the way I like it. So if you’re just getting into it, don’t try to cut corners. You know, it’s not as the kids say these days, it’s not a good look. 

Ben Aston

Jeff, thank you so much for joining us today. Where can people find out more about you and what you’re up to? 

Jeff Coyle

Go check out Market Muse. We have a new line of offerings for at the low end as well as a price or price point. We historically have been a very premium offering. The premium offering still exists, but we’re also offering some stripped-down versions of the solution at a lower price. But check that out. We have a blog. We have an amazing content strategy crash course, it’s free. Go to the site and check that out. It’s beautifully done. The blog is also a great resource. I’m on Twitter Jeffrey_Coyle, also LinkedIn, I accept almost all real requests LinkedIn. As long as it’s not something that says that you appreciate the fact that I’m into computer software and Jeff@marketmuse.com, I answer all my emails. If I didn’t think it was a security risk, I’ll give you my cell phone. But yeah, I do. I answer all my emails. If you’ve got any questions, Websites you want me to check out. I do like audits in the content strategy collective community. We have a Slack community called the Content Strategy Collective, has over a thousand content strategists in it and you’ll usually find me in there and or on Twitter. So, yeah, check it out. 

Ben Aston

Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you with us. Thanks, man. And if you liked what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on IndieMedia.Club adds being sure to leave us a review on iTunes as well, but until next time. Thank you so much for listening. 

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