Episode 15: John Bonini

Jimmy and Jan sit down with John Bonini, the Director of Marketing at Databox, to talk about product, career, and podcasting. We talk about how John made his way from working as a sportswriter to working on a product and building a team, and what aspiring marketers and growth team members should do to advance. We talk agencies and how good ones operate. Lastly, we talk podcasting, and how John’s found success in persistence. You can follow John on Twitter @Bonini84.

You can listen right here, or on iTunesOvercast, or Spotify.

Episode 14: Lane Genee

Jimmy and Jan chat with Lane Genee, who runs marketing at Teampay. They chat about Lane’s early job helping her mother win a political election, the marketing lessons learned there, and how they tie into today’s political landscape. Then, we jump forward in time, discussing what it means to build a product around your content and how to build a marketing team from the ground-up. You can follow Lane on Twitter @LaneGenee.

You can listen right here, or on iTunesOvercast, or Spotify.

How to Use Templated Content and Cross-Cutting to Grow Your Blog Quickly

Teardowns, list posts, case studies, experiments—some of the best blog content originates from handy, well-worn templates.

Templated content can be one of the easiest and fastest ways to grow traffic to a blog. Paired with cross-cutting—a technique to expand on patterns you find—you can build a comprehensive and interesting blog in a few months.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea of “templated” content, consider that many successful content operations lean on repeatable archetypes. Podcasts and newsletters rely far more heavily on format than most blogs—a trend us content marketers can learn from. A template is the format that helps you turn a concept into an ongoing series of great content.

The examples we’ll talk through today are mostly teardowns. A teardown is a templated style of content that analyzes an existing business, marketing campaign, industry, workflow, etc. It is a versatile tool that every content marketer can lean on for useful, quick content.

How to Use Templated Content

UserOnboard is a classic example of excellent templated content in the SaaS space. UserOnboard founder Samuel Hulick has built a widely read and beloved UX blog almost entirely through the use of his templated teardowns—analyses of the user onboarding flows of different web and mobile products.

Each post on the blog consists of a series of screenshot-heavy slides—usually at least 60, but often significantly more than that—visually breaking down the process of landing on, signing up for, and using a new company’s product. With the extensible nature of this format, Hulick can plug an infinite number of companies into the formula and get great results every time:

CompanyTemplateExample
Product HabitsHow [Company] Grew from 0 to [Huge Number]How Square Became a $30 Billion Company by Reimagining Payments
JiltHow [Trending Company] Used [Strategy] to Accomplish [Result]Warby Parker built a 1,400-employee company by focusing on team culture
Price IntelligentlyPricing Teardown: [Company A] vs. [Company B]Tearing Down the Pricing of Headspace and Calm
First Round[Successful Company]’s [Subject Matter Expert] Explains How They [Achieved Massive Success]Trello’s Product Lead on the Unique Ramp to a 10-Person Product Org

The simple concept is easy for readers to understand, but keeps them reading because each “teardown” produces different results. It’s repeatable, it’s interesting and it scales well.

Here are a few other examples of content outlets that rely on repeatable templates:

There are a few important reasons why teardowns in particular help you grow traffic:

  • Templates make the format familiar to readers. Each piece has just the right amount of predictability and surprise, which keeps people coming back.
  • You can leverage other brand names for search and social traction, i.e., “How Airbnb …”
  • Doing one analysis after another means your content team learns the subject matter quickly.

As you can see from the examples above, most B2B SaaS companies follow a similar template. All feature brand names in the title and explain how [x] did [y] using [z]. There are plenty of other ways to approach templated content:

  • The Best [X] for [Y]: Wirecutter and our own site Keysheet use this to great effect. They review products by use case, i.e., The Best Cryptocurrency for Gambling. You can review or curate all kinds of things for different personas.
  • Letter to My Younger Self: The Players’ Tribune publishes an ongoing series of contributed articles from professional athletes. The format doesn’t vary much, but the stories are vastly different and always interesting. (This would be hard to emulate in the B2B space, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use your creativity to find a similar format that would thrive.)
  • How I PM: This interview series by Amplitude asks the same series of questions to product managers from various companies. Questions like “What’s the best thing you’ve read to learn how to be better at your job?” can be used over and over again with new and interesting results every time.

When you use templates, you create a content series that dives deep into specific topics, people, or companies. Creating more teardowns is an example of horizontal expansion, i.e., you create more of the same thing.

This is valuable, but doesn’t comprise a content strategy on its own. As you create teardowns, you will begin to see patterns. This your opportunity to expand. There will be topics, themes, ideas, people, etc., that come up often. In Price Intelligently’s series of pricing teardowns, for example, freemium pricing comes up often. In Hiten Shah’s Product Habits posts, a pattern of early-stage pivots could emerge. These patterns create opportunities for a content strategy known as cross-cutting.

How to Use Cross-Cutting

Cross-cutting is the process of creating content that aggregates threads or narratives from the content you already have on your site.

Cross-cutting is an example of vertical expansion, i.e., you create a new layer of content that cuts across your existing content. This strategy dictates that when topics come up often, they are given their own posts. Using Price Intelligently as an example:

  • If freemium pricing comes up in five pricing teardowns …
  • … Create a post on freemium pricing: “How 5 Companies Used Freemium Pricing to Their Advantage”

Cross-cutting is good content marketing hygiene. When topics come up over and over again, they deserve their own pages. There are benefits for SEO and readers. These topical pages help readers dive deeper on subjects they are interested in, and result in pages that can rank for those topics.

Here’s how this works in practice. Identify all of the posts on your site that follow a similar template, then look for recurring themes. If a topic that seems relevant comes up even once, tag it. We recommend using Airtable to collect the posts and tag them. (Here’s a template you can use.)

Once you’ve added and tagged all the posts, you can use a simple pivot table to count the number of times each topic comes up. From here, put your content marketing hat on. Figure out why “mobile” and “fundraising” keep coming up, then write a post that informs an interested reader on the topics.

A good cross-cut includes general information about the topic, but also links to the teardowns where that topic is mentioned.

Here is an example from Appcues. They have mentioned “new feature posts”—i.e., blog posts to announce new product features—in more than 20 posts. That means the topic deserves its own posts, so Appcues created 3 Types of New Feature Posts and When to Use Which. It links out to other posts mentioning the topic and those posts can link back to it.

Move Horizontally and Vertically

A good content strategy addresses a few core topics from all angles. This is one of the tenets of our library vs. publication framework. It’s better to go as deep as possible on a few topics than it is to go light on a wide range of topics.

Templates and cross-cutting are just two tools. You can also approach topics by funnel depth, work from the bottom up or create a growth cycle—but whichever mix of these tactics you employ, make sure you’re giving each and every topic the attention it deserves.


Episode 13: Why Don’t More People Refresh Their Content?

When you have strong content review and reporting processes in place, refreshing an old piece of content is one of the best ways to get a great ROI on your effort. Refreshing a post can take it from 100 views a month to 300 views, can take it from 300 to 500, and so on: so why don’t more people refresh their content? Why is half the content you read dreadfully outdated? On this episode of the podcast, Jimmy and Jan look at it from the content agency perspective, the marketing perspective, and the perspective of the individual content marketer.

You can listen right here, or on iTunesOvercast, or Spotify.

How to Win Traffic by Refreshing Old Content

All content that grows via organic search experiences decay. This means that, over time and for various reasons, those posts lose traffic.

Decay occurs slowly enough that no alarms go off. The steady flow of new content usually makes up for the loss, making decay hard to detect without some investigation. Such is content marketing: two steps forward, one step back.

In The Science Behind 100,000-View Blog Posts, we outlined the five phases of growth. To refresh your memory, here’s what that looks like:

  • A spike phase when the post is first published.
  • A trough phase where it looks like growth is stagnant.
  • A growth phase as pageviews increase over a few months.
  • A plateau phase as growth levels out.
  • A decay phase as traffic to the post starts to drop off.

All posts hit a plateau phase before starting to decay. When a post hits a plateau, it’s because it has either maxed out on search volume for the target keywords or maxed out on rankings (usually due to content quality, backlinks and/or domain authority). Keeping posts in the plateau phase as long as possible is nearly as important as creating new content. It’s far less expensive and time-consuming to keep existing traffic than it is to build new traffic.

Here’s data from a real post (Instagram Ad Costs: The Complete Updated Resource for 2018) to show you just how much traffic can be won back simply by regularly refreshing old pieces to keep them in a “perpetual plateau.”

  • The graph below looks at weekly traffic over a 66-week period. This piece shows the spike, trough, growth, plateau and decay phases clearly. The first spike is the initial launch of the post. The second spike is the result of a refresh and relaunch.
  • The blue line is the actual weekly traffic. The red dotted line represents estimated traffic had the content never been refreshed. It assumes a steady weekly decay at -1.21%, which is the average weekly traffic loss during the twelve weeks leading up to the refresh.

Here are numbers based on this analysis:

  • The post received 90,137 pageviews during this period. Without the refresh, we estimate it would have received 59,927, meaning the refresh has been worth 30,000+ pageviews so far.
  • Before the refresh, this post averaged 1,111 pageviews per week. After, it averages 1,733 pageviews/week, a 55% increase.
  • Traffic is growing at about 12% per week since the piece was refreshed. Not only has the decay been reversed, but the post is experiencing another growth phase. (This does not factor in the spike resulting from the relaunch.)

It’s easy to see the value of content refreshes on a post-by-post level, but the importance is even more clear when we examine an entire site. The average B2B SaaS blog is constantly losing traffic to older posts and gaining traffic from newer posts. This trend cycles—soon, the new content becomes old and starts to decay. New content is created to ward off the decline of the blog as a whole. This cycle—a very expensive and inefficient one—repeats in perpetuity.

If you could X-ray your Google Analytics, you’d see layers of content. Some would be trending up, while others trend down. Cumulative traffic is growing, but is slowed significantly by the decay of older content. The “best” scenario is nearly impossible to achieve in practice, but it’s what we all should aim for.

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far in this post. Let’s step back and highlight a few key takeaways:

  • Refreshing content decreases decay, which makes it far easier to grow total traffic. In the same way that a business requires acquisition to grow, it’s still easier and more profitable to expand, up-sell, and cross-sell existing customers. You need both.
  • Is it possible to eliminate decay? Almost certainly not. But if you decrease decay, you greatly increase your ability to grow cumulative traffic.
  • Google Analytics data helps you visualize broad trends, but requires additional analysis and configuration to paint a complete picture of your traffic profile.

We’ll get into how to refresh content, but first let’s look at why content decays in the first place.

Why Does Content Decay? (Or, How to Choose a Refresh Strategy)

Understanding why a post decays should inform how you refresh the content. Here are a few reasons that content loses traffic over time.

Increased competition

As the B2B SaaS space has evolved, competition for a huge swath of keywords has increased significantly. Reader demand for many of those keywords has not increased. Additionally, large companies with powerful domain authority have started investing in content marketing. There was a time when content marketing was the leaner, faster growth channel. Blogging used to be a “free” way for early-stage companies to attract attention. Now, large companies have dedicated teams and plenty of resources. Competition is stiff.

If you notice a slow decline in traffic, look first at the competition. We recommend tracking your target keywords in a tool like Ahrefs or Moz. This is the easiest way to spot changes on search engine results pages and keep an eye on your competition.

Small changes on a SERP can have a big impact. Slipping from a #1 ranking to a #2 ranking could result in a 50% drop in traffic. Dropping to #6 means you’ve likely lost 90% of your traffic.

Freshness

Google factors “freshness” into its rankings in a few important ways:

  1. Google prefers that individual pages be updated regularly.
  2. Google prefers sitewide freshness, i.e., new content published regularly.
  3. “Query deserves freshness” is a ranking factor that favors new content based on search intent, e.g., queries like “2018 sales trends” or “taylor swift new album.”
  4. Backlinks decay over time as well. If a page is newly refreshed but hasn’t earned new links in a while, Google may not think it’s as “fresh” as you do.

If you’d like to read a really deep dive on freshness, check out this guide from Moz.

Other

There are a number of other variables that impact decay, including:

  • Content quality: Your competition creates a resource that is simply better.
  • Technical issues: Site speed, site structure, indexing, and a host of other technical issues can decrease your site performance.
  • SERP changes: Google is always experimenting with search results and sometimes keeps the traffic for themselves.
  • The Search Algorithm Black Hole: Search algorithms change all the time. Search volume and keyword tracking are imperfect measurements. You simply may not always be able to determine the exact cause of content decay.

With an understanding of why content decays, let’s look at how to combat it.

How to Refresh Content

First, you need to find content in need of refreshing. We recommend refreshing any piece of content that:

  • Previously had or currently has some recurring organic traffic
  • Has been in decline for at least three consecutive months
  • Accounts for at least 1% of total content traffic (excluding traffic to non-content pages)

It will look something like this:

You can approach content refreshes along a few mutually inclusive parameters. A content piece may require just one of the following strategies or all of them. Choose your approach(es) based on the reason for the decay.

Expand It

This is the most common way to update a post. Make it bigger, longer, broader or more comprehensive.

There’s plenty of data out there to suggest that content simply needs to be longer in order to rank well. We encourage you to fight the urge to make content longer for no other reason than “the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words.”

If you choose to expand a post, consider the dimension on which you choose to do so. Perhaps there truly are twenty ways to optimize Facebook ads instead of the ten you previously listed. But maybe those ten ways lacked context and could use supporting information to make them more useful. Perhaps you left a section out of your ultimate guide to marketing automation, but maybe the section on video is too light to be truly useful.

Use a critical eye to examine why a piece should be expanded before just adding words.

Update It

Advice doesn’t always age well. Sometimes, this is obvious. The best sales tactics for 2018 have an expiration date. Other times, it’s less predictable. You may need to update your email outreach guide post-GDPR or adjust your office productivity piece based on remote work trends.

We recommend making a list of posts that will need to be updated regularly …

  • Any posts with mentions of dates (The 2018 Sales Guide)
  • Any posts with lots of screenshots (10 Great Instagram Ad Examples)
  • Coverage of ever-changing topics (What’s the Optimal Image Size on Facebook?)

… and keep an eye on trends that impact the useful life of other content.

Optimize It

Sometimes content decays because less useful pieces are better optimized for search. You can run old posts through an on-page SEO checklist to make sure they’re well-positioned to rank:

  • Make sure the title tag includes the target keywords, ideally near the front.
  • Write a reader-friendly H1 that also includes the target keywords.
  • Include a detailed meta description based on the current standard character count.
  • Use variations of your target keyword in the article’s subheaders.
  • Put keywords in the URL and keep the slug short.
  • Make sure images are optimized for the web and have relevant alt text.
  • Verify that technical issues like page load speed and click depth aren’t holding you back.

You can use tools like Clearscope or Yoast to ensure you’re checking all the boxes on every single post.

Merge It

If you have duplicate or overlapping topics, try to merge them. (In some cases, however, it is better to prune.)

Here’s one way to think about this. Your keyword research will turn up related keywords. If you write content for each and every keyword, you’ll end up with a lot of duplicated information. Here’s an example of how this might look for a site like QuickBooks.

  • [what is a 1099?]
  • [what are the different types of 1099s?]
  • [how do I pay 1099 employees?]
  • [1099 vs. W2]
  • [common 1099 mistakes]
  • [1099 taxes]
  • [1099 instructions]
  • [printable 1099 form]

This also happens with a number of other terms (W-2, W-4, 1040, etc.). With a simple framework, you can clean up your content to prevent a lot of unnecessary writing (and navigation and SEO problems later on). Each topic gets the same treatment:

  • Definition post (“What Is the 1099 Form?”)
  • Comparison post (“1099 vs. W-2”)
  • Explainer post (“How to Issue a 1099 Form to Your Contractors”)

All of the query variations can be adequately covered within those posts. If QuickBooks were to create a post like “The Ultimate Guide to Payroll,” which would obviously need to cover 1099s, they could link to these posts rather than repeat information.

Merging content within a framework like this means you should have to prune content less. It also means you should end up with fewer, but higher quality, articles on your site.

Promote It

Sometimes, a new round of promotion and link building is all that’s required.

If a post has decayed over a two-year period, you’ve likely published lots of new content in the meantime. Start by looking through your new content for opportunities to link back to the decaying piece. A simple site search will reveal all kinds of interesting anchor text opportunities.

If I want to build new internal links to our content strategy guide, I can quickly search the site to places where I’ve mentioned strategy but not linked:

content strategy site:animalz.co

You can also send old content to your email list, write guest posts to build external links, share it on social media as if it were new and drive paid traffic to it. Promoting old content works best when you’ve expanded, updated, optimized or merged it.

It’s All About Process

The only way content gets updated on a regular basis is if it’s built into your workflow. Make sure refreshes have a home on your editorial calendar. Plan resources and budget to ensure this gets done.

Need help with refreshes? Use the form above to get in touch.