Copy Weekly

#19. Long-term Growth Strategy: What 10 years as a SaaS Content Marketer has taught Elisa Gabbert

Brad Smith
February 12, 2020
49 minutes

In this episode, Brad and Elisa talk about everything from how to choose great freelance writers to evolving content strategies to the future of content marketing.

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SaaS industry leader Wordstream offers attracts over 2 million website visitors each month. This massive following is in part thanks to Director of Content Elisa Gabbert who forms the company’s content strategies to ensure that valuable, relevant content ranks and reaches users. 

Elisa has been with Wordstream for a decade and has lead the direction of content creation, staying ahead of trends and onboarding top talent to continually improve.

In this episode, Brad and Elisa talk about everything from how to choose great freelance writers to evolving content strategies to the future of content marketing.

You’ll Learn

  • The evolution and methodology of keyword research at Wordstream.
  • The methods Elisa utilizes to keep voice and quality consistent while scaling content.
  • How Elisa structures roles to avoid employee burnout and ensure they produce high-quality content.

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Brad: (00:00)

Elisa thanks so much for joining me. Could you please give a quick intro about yourself?

Elisa: (00:05)

Yeah. So, I am the director of content and SEO at WordStream and I’ve been there for over 10 years now. Um, started off, it was a very small company, kind of a different product and I’ve just really seen it grow and evolve and change a lot. Um, but a lot of the things that I’ve been working on have stayed consistent. Like I’ve been working on the blog since day one, so it’s been kind of amazing to see how that’s changed over the past 10 years. But yeah, so the things I work on from day to day are kind of like defining our overall content strategy, figuring out how to grow if we can still grow, it gets harder and harder every year. Um, and just, you know, making sure that like our audience is happy and we’re delivering a great experience and finding new fans all the time.

Elisa: (00:52)

Outside of work, I also am a writer, uh, have published a couple of books of poetry and essays and yeah, those are the two things that suck up most of my life.

Brad: (01:03)

Definitely. Like a real writer. Not like a fake internet crappy blogger one.

Elisa: (01:09)

Not just a blogger, yeah. One thing leads to another.

Brad: (01:20)

Awesome. Well, let’s kind of go back to the beginning and then bring it to today. What does content and SEO look like for words from 10 years ago? Cause obviously its a  relatively small site, everything is different, right? Like the strategy of the stuff you’re going after the content you’re producing what does that look like 10 years ago when you first joined?

Elisa: (01:35)

You know, I want to say it’s not actually as different as you would think. So when I started at WordStream I was working pretty closely with Larry Kim who founded it and probably your listeners know his name, he’s a pretty big name in the internet marketing space. Um, and he had a very kind of clear SEO strategy, which was like basically try to make your site like Wikipedia but for whatever niche you’re in.

Elisa: (02:03)

So you want to have this whole kind of branching out, system of like the broad topics that you cover and then narrower, narrower, narrower. And ideally, you’re like eventually covering every potential topic. And your space and all of those topics have to align with a keyword. Um, so it was really important to like start with the keyword research, pick the topic, write the content, make sure it was like super optimized for that keyword with the goal being like you want somebody searching for that keyword to find your content. Um, so it was very like hyper-focused in that way. And we still do that. I think what’s changed is like instead of you know, hyper-targeting for, five different keywords with five different pages, for example, we tend to think more holistically because Google has changed and they’re more likely to rank like one article that’s very comprehensive for a whole bunch of different long-tail keywords versus like 10 different pages for 10 different keywords that are all kind of variations of the same term.

Elisa: (03:01)

And I also think quality has become more important. So there used to be kind of like shortcuts that you could get away with. And so like as a scrappy startup at the beginning, if we could do something like the kind of cheap shortcut way, we might do it. And now we like don’t stand for that because it would be a waste of time if you do something, if you create a crappy level quality piece of content and you know you can optimize it all day. But if nobody wants to read it, it’s not going to rank. It’s not bring you any business values. So I think one of the things that’s changed along with just kind of evolving along with Google is that our standards have gotten a lot higher.

Brad: (03:37)

And I think of it as like content in general. We have gone from being an expense to becoming an investment. Like there should be a period, there should be. So if you’re going to the trouble you might as well do it right, otherwise you’re just wasting money essentially.

Elisa: (03:51)

Well, one of the cool things about having been there so long because I really see that evolution. Like I really know what the long tail looks like. And you know, often right after you create something, especially for a site like ours, almost all of our traffic comes from organic search. Um, so you create something new. It doesn’t have a lot of traffic right away necessarily. But if you make it evergreen and it’s really good over time, it can just like I’m doing like the Google analytics, you know, like traffic chart it just like keeps going up and up and up and up or it’ll get to a really high point and kind of like level off. But it’s amazing. These things that you haven’t touched in years, you know, could still be getting tens of thousands of page views a month.

Elisa: (04:30)

Um, you know, driving conversions and like there’s, we have so many pages like that that we don’t even think about them. They just like exist in the background. It’s like totally passive traffic. Um, so yeah, if you, if you just kind of started first two or three years doing content, you can kind of feel like this isn’t making that big of an impact. But if you see that longer perspective, you know, like you just have to have patience. How does the, does the actual strategy in terms of like topics and other things are going after evolve as the product evolves. Is there are a direct link or, or are you just trying to like blanket one area?

Elisa: (05:09)

Yeah, yeah. So, we definitely try to be a little bit ahead of our product and I think that’s served us well. So if we know that like the vision and the next one to two years say is to add a functionality around something that we don’t currently offer, we’ll try to get out ahead and start publishing content in that topic area right away because it does take time, you know, for that content to like rank and accrue traffic and authority.

Elisa: (05:32)

So we think it’s best to kind of stay like top funnel and a little bit above what we actually offer as a company. So that’s always worked well for us. Um, the other side of it is just like if you only focus on what you do, if your product is a pretty small niche, sometimes you can kind of become like, an owner of that space almost in a way that it’s hard to grow all. So that happened for us with PPC basically like a few years ago. It kind of seemed like there’s no way to grow there because there’s a kind of a finite set of keywords, a finite audience that’s interested in that topic and like we sort of rank for, I mean not literally 100% but like a lot of them and so often like you create more content in that same topic area instead of growing, you end up just swapping something out like an older piece of content that ranked for it gets kicked off the SERP and you rank with a newer piece of content. And so it’s just kind of cycling through. And so one of the ways that you can still find growth is by kind of going these ancillaries subject areas that are outside exactly what your business niche is. And that’s been helpful for us as well. And we kind of just have to know that the conversion rate on content like that going to be a little lower, but look at it as like the long game of we’re still building our audience, we’re still building our brand.

Brad: (06:50)

And then too, I know you guys, like then you’re just using retargeting and do you also do work on or ever see a lot of like middle and bottom of the funnel stuff or because you’re SEO, are you focusing primarily top?

Elisa: (07:00)

Yeah, so we do a lot of nurturing. Um, we try to get people to do something if they land on our site. Um, they don’t always apply. A lot of it is just kind of like, you know, they come and they go. But like ideally we at least get your email address, like maybe sign up for our newsletter and you know, we know that a lot of that traffic because of some of those broader topic areas that we cover isn’t really going to be in market to do anything and become a customer. But the idea is like, well, if we make a positive brand impression, then if they ever are in market, maybe they’ll come to us or maybe they just know somebody. Like they have a colleague who’s like, Oh, I’m looking for advertising software and I’m not sure where to start.

Elisa: (07:43)

And maybe they’re just like, you know, I really liked the WordStream blog. You just check them out they seem to be doing some cool stuff. So the game is kind of like, as long as we’ve got brand recognition in the space where we’re getting some kind of win, but then we’ll, yeah, we’ll put people in nurture streams and we know that if they take an action, like, you know, downloading an ebook that’s about advertising, um, managing their budget or if they use our greater tool that’s kind of telling us, well, they actually have an advertising account, like we know they’re spending money on Google or on Facebook or whatever, so we know that much, so then we can take the next step and try to move them down the funnel. But definitely where I’m focusing is just very, very top. Like I just hope that you care about marketing at all.

Brad: (08:26)

Yeah, for sure. Does, um, does justifying that, like, I don’t know what to call it. So does justifying that approach become harder as the company becomes a lot more mature? So where I’m going with this, early on you’re like, okay, I know this is gonna work in five years so we’re just going to do it. And like who cares? I don’t care what traffic looks like. I don’t care what like what different, you know, little metrics look like. But as you become a mature company now you’re trying to report ROI. What, how does that look when you’re referencing top of funnel contact because it is so early.

Elisa: (08:57)

Yeah. Well you know, um, that hasn’t really been a struggle for me for the simple reason that so much of our traffic comes from organic. So that ends up being where most of our leads come from. And because our expenses for creating content are so low, it’s by far our most cost-effective channel. Even though like, you know, only a tiny percentage of people that actually visit our site go on to do like a measurable action that we can say like, Oh see they came to the site through organic person. Then they did that cause a small percentage. But because the traffic funnel right there at the top is so big, it’s still like, just clearly our best, most effective, like best ROI of any of our channels. So, the challenge there for me is kind of like when I want to spend more people say, but it’s like, it’s already performing so great and it’s so cheap, so why don’t you just keep doing it for almost no money? And I’m like, all right, I guess so it’s actually, um, I think it’s actually harder for the channels that have much higher investments to kind of like justify those small changes, whereas I kinda just get to play around.

Brad: (10:11)

For sure. And as a writer, you’re used to people not trying to give you the money. So

Elisa: (10:16)

Yeah, I am so used to it. Yeah. I feel like I’ll come in begging for like, can I have $1,000 to pay freelance? Meanwhile, like my colleagues are spending, you know, 20-30K a week. I don’t know. Yeah. I have no concept of that.

Brad: (10:33)

The reply you get is like, well a freelancers on Upwork aren’t that expensive, so why didn’t you do it on there?

Elisa: (10:40)

People have started to expect it’s going to be cheap to free.

Brad: (10:43)

Yeah, for sure. I mean, how does that look like, you know, 10 years ago it’s probably you doing a lot of writing. Five years ago to now, have you gone through all the iterations of like in house people outside people a mix? Like how does that look in terms of like actually getting the stuff produced and out?

Elisa: (11:00)

Exactly. Yeah. So I used to do writing every single day. Like I probably published like a webpage that I wrote more days than not. Um, so it was a ton of writing and that can be exhausting after a while. And so we did sort of start to kind of, um, spread it around the company at some point. Like finding what we would call internal influencers or internal thought leaders, like people who are not on the marketing team, but maybe they do client services or they’re on our managed services team. And so they know a lot about advertising. And have a point of view would be to get them to write for a then you’re not even paying a freelance there.

Elisa: (11:44)

Yeah. But yeah, through the years, uh, eventually I was able to kind of hire a team and then I would only occasionally write, and it’s mostly, you know, assigning topics to my team and, and um, regular freelancers that we’ve worked with. And now we’re at the stage where I’m not even really doing that anymore. I hired a managing editor who she’s the one who has writers reporting to her and manages our freelance budget and our whole kind of team of external contributors. And so it’s a lot more kind of teared and I’m farther up like, um, I keep getting further away from that kind of day to day weeds, which is nice cause I can focus on bigger strategy stuff. Um, but yeah, we’ve always kind of depended on a mix of internal and external contributors, which has worked well for us.

Brad: (12:31)

Yeah. What’s the, um, I mean I know there’s pros and cons of both. So like with the internal, with internal people are great, like you don’t have to pay them extra and all that kind of stuff. But at the same time- they’re usually like really knowledgeable. The problem is sometimes they’re not good writing.

Elisa: (12:46)

Yeah.

Brad: (12:46)

The problem too is that if it’s not their primary focus, they don’t have time for writing. So how do you, with like internal people, how do you get their buy-in or how do you get them to like commit to doing stuff on time?

Elisa: (12:54)

Yeah, I think, um, like with a full-time writer it tends to be kind of a high burnout role. That’s what we found. So, um, just production, even if like, we’re not like a, Oh, I shouldn’t, I don’t want to talk badly about any other brands. But there, there are companies that hire writers and you have kind of like a word quota. Like you have to write this many words per day. And that is like so high burnout, right? Because you’re just focused on quantity. And so we’ve really tried to never run the team that way and we’re much more quality level. Um, and we try to have enough kind of stables of writers that nobody’s like having to write a blog post a day cause that’s just crazy. But yeah, we’ve, we’ve kind of tried to restructure so that when we hire somebody on the content marketing team, they’re not just writing, they’re kind of doing other stuff like more collaborative work, more team works because otherwise it is kind of a high burnout role.

Elisa: (13:49)

And I think that it’s, it’s a really good role to outsource actually contradiction because generally it’s going to work better if you’re not doing it for like eight hours a day. Like sitting at your desk, you know, like creative types, content producers, they tend to work better in bursts and then have some freedom to like go on a run, make croissants or whatever it is they do to kind of, um, get out of that, just staring at a screen mode. So I think that, yeah, it’s always good to have either like some flexibility in terms of what hours you’re working, like remote content. People have tended to stick around and be happier in the role. I think just being at a desk all day, every day and that kind of role can be pretty exhausting.

Brad: (14:41)

Yeah, definitely. What, if you’re looking for outside people, what, what are you looking for? Cause especially in the marketing space, it’s not easy. So what, like what, what are you looking for both in terms of like, you know, subject matter expertise but also just general writing ability?

Elisa: (14:59)

Yeah. Um, we’ve managed, sometimes it’s just kind of trying people out and seeing how it works because there is sometimes people with a lot of subject matter expertise but not a lot of writing ability. But I don’t know what it is about like the marketing world. I don’t feel like that happens that often. I usually feel like when we find people who really know what they’re doing in terms of, they’ve got great insights about advertising on Google or Facebook marketing or, or whatever, you know, channel their specialty is like, usually they’re so smart at their job that they like automatically can write a good blog post because, it’s not really the same skills that you would need to like write a novel or something, you know, it’s it’s like if you can communicate what you’re doing in your day to day job, it’s easy for us to kind of superficially polish up the little voice things and you know, make sure it kind of meets our just general content standards.

Elisa: (15:57)

But like what we really want is somebody who has a point of view and interesting strategies trying something new who’s not just like kind of parroting the same best practices that you hear all the time. So it’s more important for us to find contributors who just like have something interesting to say, something interesting to share. Um, but you know, ideally you find somebody who’s been a regular writer on a blog or something before. So like we have a couple of contributors who, um, they’re like agency people, but they’ve always written a lot. And so it’s just, it comes naturally to them. Like they’re always trying out new strategies and they’re always writing and like they’re just awesome. You know, like every month they, they turn it in an article and like we hardly have to do anything to it. But there are other times where if it’s just kind of like a guest writer or something, they don’t really speak in our brand voice and it takes more massaging and editing and that can be more work than it’s worth at times.

Brad: (16:51)

Yeah. Gotcha. So one thing I always thought was interesting is you guys, I don’t think anyway, never had historically like a, like a concrete style guide or anything like that. So, so how are you, how are you consolidating multiple different people inside the company and outside the company, but trying to remain some consistent thread through all that?

Elisa: (17:12)

So we actually do have a stack out now. Yeah, that’s, that’s been one of the big developments since I hired Kaylee, our managing editor. She put together a style guide and keeps it up to date and she’s planning to actually update it with the new sections for some of these new channels we’re trying out this year. Like we’re working on a podcast. And so she’s going to create a section of the style guides, establish the standards for our podcast. And yeah, that’s been a huge help. So now when people reach out to us and they want to write for us or they want to submit a guest post, even we can point them to our contributor guidelines and say like, you know, this is what we would expect from you. This is the length that works best for us. We show them examples of posts that perform well, um, all that kind of stuff, which I used to sort of do like ad hoc every single time. Like I would just write up an email answering questions and now it’s like, Oh, we have this template thing that people can just read. So that’s been a huge process improvement.

Brad: (18:10)

Definitely. So how long ago did we meet? Four years ago, something like that?

Elisa: (18:14)

Yeah probably four or five years ago. Time flies man.

Brad: (18:21)

Tell me about it. I think you emailed me. Maybe you saw something on ad espresso or something like that. We start talking, I send you something. What is it before you have like concrete style guides. What, what are you looking at? You like this idiot , just sent me this post. How are you judging it? Cause it’s so much like accumulated knowledge that you have personally. Like what are you looking for or what are you trying to nail down in terms of, okay, yeah, it might not be 100% there but it’s like 70% of the way so here are the specific things we need to do to cross that bridge.

Elisa: (19:05)

Yeah. Um, so I did at one point, again like when I hired Kaylee to sort of get her up to speed in the role, I had to kind of really think concretely about like, yeah, what are my standards, what am I looking for? And so I kinda tried to pull it out of my own mind and I made a checklist and I called it like a quality checklist. And I was like, these are all the things we’re looking for. And if you know, one of these things is missing, that’s where you need to focus when you’re either sending it back to the writer or you’re just doing your own editing. So some of them are kind of like almost just really high level basic test stuff because like, we’re marketers ourselves and our audience is marketers. So one of the things I’m looking for is just like, does this grab my attention? Does this feel like completely rehashed garbage that I’ve read 10 times before? Or is it like, oh, I’ve never quite seen this angle, Oh, that headline caught my attention. I’m like, essentially I’m looking for something that sparks my interest because that is a really good analog for the people who were eventually trying to reach.

Elisa: (19:55)

Um, and then I think about things like, does the structure make sense? Uh, is it too wordy? Is it redundant? Um, you know, people read really fast when they’re reading on the internet in general, but you know, especially like on their phones, you know, we have to think about that more and more. 10 years ago a tiny, tiny percentage of our traffic came from mobile and now it just grows all the time and it’s a big part of it. So thinking about like, how can we make this more skimmable so that people don’t have to read every word? Um, images are important. We find that people like to have the text broken up by the images, they feel less overwhelmed that way. Um, are they, are we like backing up claims with statistics and sources or are we just making things and expecting you to trust us? There are all these kinds of different elements, but basically, if you’ve got eight, eight out of 10 of these, like it’s an, it’s engaging and it’s trustworthy and it’s helpful and it’s in like a friendly voice and it’s not bossy or telling you you’re stupid, you know, all these different things that you do eventually internalize. But it was an interesting exercise to have to like actually list them all out.

Brad: (20:59)

Yeah, for sure. How, how long does it take you when you read a blog post the first time, how long does it take you to know if you’d want to continue working with that writer again?

Elisa: (21:10)

Yeah, I think I do kind of like a really quick skim read, which is probably, you know, kind of the same way that people would read on the internet. And I find like an immediate first impression and then I kind of, I feel like I would do that maybe two or three times and like if I know on the immediate skim-read you like this isn’t going to work, I wouldn’t even bother reading it more closely. But if I feel like the immediate scan read is like, okay I think we could work with this, this look, it could be interesting. I’ll like read it a little more closely and it might be like jumping around a lot and then, you know, I would do kind of like a final, not even like a copy editing type read, but just like, let me make sure it actually makes sense from sentence to sentence because that’s the point where I would want to go back to the writer and start sharing some early feedback like, this is great, but what does it need? Um, so I wouldn’t even bother. Like that’s another thing that I think is helpful for like efficiency when you’re in a content editing role is like, don’t even think about

Elisa: (22:07)

commas and word choice and stuff like that until you get like really close to publishing it cause you’re wasting your time. It might all change and like to really just kind of think about the bigger picture and like what’s the argument, what’s the point he’s trying to make? What’s the, so what factor.

Brad: (22:20)

Got it. Yeah. That’s always like the thing I laugh at when we ask clients for like early feedback on something and they bring up like, Oh well we use, uh, we do like whatever, two hyphens when we separate something. And I’m like that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about all this other stuff over here. Like the structure, the like what you’re saying, I mean you’re, it’s like the forest for the trees argument.

Elisa: (22:43)

I should send you my quality checklist that I put together. You might find it useful. Yeah. Well yeah, let me, let me take a look at it cause I created it for like internal use so it might be sloppy, but yeah, I can definitely send it to you if you’re interested.

Brad: (22:59)

Yeah, definitely. So you can get flooded with a ton of terrible pitches after this.

Elisa: (23:03)

Right?

Brad: (23:06)

Yeah. So what we’ve tried, we almost created like a feedback form to now with clients. So if, if it starts going down that road, we like force them to like go provide feedback in a very structured, documented way. Cause otherwise what happens? And we tried this in the past where like an editor, um, doesn’t give us feedback and then like maybe they change a lot of it afterwards but they don’t give us feedback. So we just keep doing what we think they wanted. And that’s not the case. It’s like, well if we don’t, if we don’t have that feedback loop, then it’s really difficult for anyone to understand what the change, especially with something like content that can be so subjective but it shouldn’t be. It should be very, it should be very, I dunno, not black and white but, but certain

Brad: (23:46)

types of content you can make very objective in a way in terms of like, this should be written this way. Phrasing should be this way. Um, difficulty like reading difficulties should be this, there should be enough things you can piece together to make it relatively like self-explanatory.

Elisa: (24:04)

Yeah. Sometimes when we’re making an assignment, um, we almost treat it more like a creative brief. Like for a design request or something where we’ll be very specific about the requirements to the point of spelling out the structure, you know, like we want it to be eight sections and each section should have a few lines of introduction and then the section and this subsection. And just like just making it super templated and clear so that we make sure we get, we want the first time instead of just kind of hoping for it and then having to edit it or ask for revisions and that can be really helpful. Um, so it’s kind of like pre feedback.

Brad: (24:40)

for sure. I mean what’s the best, uh, I guess just reading other blog posts in this space. Like what other proven things have you found to like actually find and source new people?

Elisa: (24:59)

Mhmm. I haven’t actually done that in a while, so, but we have gone out and tried to look for kind of micro-influencers so when I say I haven’t done it, I was just kind of telling people on my team to do it and providing suggestions. But things that we might do are use a tool like BuzzSumo to try to find like a list of influencers, but then instead of kind of just taking that as gospel because you know, who knows how those algorithms work, but just like surfacing some names and then going to check them out and seeing, well, what’s their writing actually like what are their foe, what is their following? Like are they actually active on social? And to me it’s definitely more important to find somebody who is active in the sense that they care about their job, you know, and like, again, a couple of regular contributors of ours that I was speaking of earlier, um, Michelle Morgan and Jim Martinez, you might know them that like, they’re very active in the PPC space.

Elisa: (26:01)

So you know, they speak at events and they talk to other people in the industry and so, and maybe they don’t have 50,000, 100,000 actually maybe they do, I don’t know for sure. But the point is like, it’s not so much about them having a gigantic following and like keynoting inbound as you know, just like really caring about the industry and keeping up with that. So looking for people like that and some of it is just kind of social research and um, some of it’s just reading other blogs and looking for people whose voices seems to kind of mesh with our own brand voice. And if we can get somebody that kind of agree to regularly contribute and just bring them into the family, that’s ideal.

Brad: (26:44)

Yeah, for sure. Are there any negative correlations? Like are there any red flags? So your example, and it’s going to sound really snarky, but like when I, when I think of like a C suite executive at huge brand X speaking at inbound, my immediate thought is like, like this lecture is going to be terrible. Like a terrible speech. I better leave now. Go use the bathroom, get something to eat. When it comes to like the writing world, I mean even myself, like I don’t write at all. It took me, I wrote something for clothes the other day and it’s a call back. It’d be like six months, write one article. So like, are there any red flags or negative, you know, things that you bet stick out that you’ve seen that aren’t always positively correlated with like good stuff at the end of the day.

Elisa: (27:30)

I dunno if you can ever tell like the first time around, but there’ve been people who like I tried to establish a relationship with and then by the second article I was like, Oh, this isn’t kind of like out cause they’re just going keep rewriting the same article over and over and over again. Like it turns out, Oh, they have their one thing they care about and that they like talking about it and like writing about, and I would have to say this is really similar to the last one you sent us. And like, you know, we needed it to be unique every time. Um, and that might just be because they’re just so hyper-focused and hyper-specialized. Um, so that’s the kind of relationship where it’s just not gonna work out. I need them to have enough different things going on in their job that they have new things to talk about.

Elisa: (28:11)

And I guess, you know, sometimes you do get them to a situation where like a CEO or founder wants to have their name on the article, but you can kind of tell they’re not really writing it. That’s not always a bad thing, you know, like ghostwriting happens. Um, but sometimes you do end up with like more superficial content that way because they’re really just looking for the brand exposure and they don’t care about the content and why would they care because they’re not working on it, you know? Um, but other than that, I can’t think of anything that’s just like a no way. Like we’ve had founders and C suite people who have been awesome. So I think it just, yeah, it kind of depends as to somebody who actually likes writing and likes content or do they, are they just checking off a box because somebody told them that they should get their name out there?

Brad: (29:08)

Definitely. And like you said, it’s at least in the marketing space, it’s more about like communicating clearly as opposed to like being so clever with your phrasing.

Elisa: (29:16)

Right, right. Yeah. Clever is nice, but its not a requirement?

Brad: (29:22)

Um, awesome. So, so your team internally now you oversee content and SEO, which is I would say fairly rare for a company your size. Like most people have that stuff separated out. So what does your internal team look like? Do you have people, you have a managing editor, your editor to help with content. Do you also have like something similar with SEOs that you work together or what did that internal dynamic look like?

Elisa: (29:45)

Yeah, so currently, I mean this is, this is something that’s kind of changed over the years, just depending on like who we had on staff. But currently we have an SEO specialist who, we actually hired him as an intern a few years ago and he just kind of showed an interest in first content, but then like SEO as well. And so he was kind of doing content and SEO and he’s just decided like he wants to kind of go in the SEO route. And so he’s been really managing that channel and doing most of our like organic reporting. And, um, we used to outsource our, like our SEO audits we would do regularly and those would be pretty technical. And, um, he’s actually taking that over now. And so he’s been amazing. But we also, I mean we do have like a web team that we work with to implement the more technical stuff.

Elisa: (30:33)

My technical SEO knowledge is kind of, it’s not low, but it’s limited. Like I’m not, um, I’m not a developer. So, um, when it comes to getting down into our pages and improving site speed and things like that like I’m definitely not the one who’s implementing it. Um, but I might be the one who’s like advocating for it. So that’s kinda my role and basically the one who’s making sure that changes we make to our site don’t negatively impact our SEO, affect our SEO and that, you know, if I, I try to keep up on industry trends and if I see something coming down the pipeline that might affect us, make sure that people who can control it know about it and that we’re ahead of it and stuff like that. Um, so what is, it’s sort of a distributed responsibility, but you know, we’re all kind of at a position where a lot of our SEO like is running itself in a way. Like it’s just

Elisa: (31:27)

Again, kind of passive traffic that, you know, luckily has, has kept up, has been maintained over the years and you know, we try to stay on top of it. But I mean there’s always the fear always like you wake up in the morning and check analytics, like everything’s tanked. Um, that kinda, that did happen recently actually, but it turned out that like all of our, like our tracking on our blog content, which is like, which is like 60% of our site traffic had somehow gotten disconnected. And so it looks like we had lost half of our site traffic overnight. Um, we hadn’t, it just wasn’t getting tracked and pulled into analytics, but I had a full on heart attack.

Brad: (32:09)

That would be pretty stressful I’d imagine.

Elisa: (32:10)

Oh my God. Yeah, it was fine though. It was fine.

Brad: (32:16)

So does the SEO specialist work with the managing editor to like assign new topics or find low hanging fruit or stuff that needs to be rewritten and then does the managing editor kick that stuff out to the writers? What does that whole chain look like?

Elisa: (32:30)

Yeah. So the way that works is typically on mostly like a quarterly basis, but then also on a one off basis, um, he’ll start with keyword research and, often we’ll have a topic area that we know we want to expand into. Like you said before, it might be driven by product direction or some other reason. Like we’re kind of trying to expand our local marketing content this year. So we would go to Gordon or SEO specialists and be like, Hey, can you do some keyword research around local and we want to expand there, see what you can find. He finds some keywords and then we would take that into like a content brainstorm and me and Kaylee and Gordon and the rest of the content team, we’d like get together and think about like, well what can we do with these? How can we make these interesting and try to get into a space where it’s more like a topic and assignment and great headlines somewhere to start and then we’ll think about how to assign it out. So we are still kind of starting with the keywords in a way. Um, it doesn’t always work that way. You know, there’s other stuff that comes up that’s not keyword driven, but that’s probably like 50 to 75% of our content at any given time is kind of starting with keyword research.

Brad: (33:40)

Sure. Have you, and have you always done, I feel like you have, but I might be wrong. Have you always organized it thematically? So like one month you’re focusing on this subject or this quarter you’re focusing on the subject.

Elisa: (33:53)

It’s a little, it’s always kind of rotating through. We have, you know, like five or six sort of just core topic areas that we’re always kind of rotating through at any given month. But often we’re kind of in the background focused on building out an area where we feel like we’re a little bit short. So for example, last year we were trying to build out our e-commerce content and so that didn’t mean that it was like we were only posting e-commerce content, but we were just trying to get it into the rotation more. So if it only happened when it happened before, we were very diligently trying to write about it like once or twice a month. And we specifically tried to find some e-commerce influencers to contribute to the blog and stuff like that.

Brad: (34:30)

Gotcha. Does does growth become more challenging the bigger you get?

Elisa: (34:36)

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Big time. I mean, luckily, you know, our management understands that like we used to go 100% every year. Like, what would just do that again? Just get 2 million more visits. Um, yeah, it’s, it’s definitely slowed down and it, it gets harder and harder. But we grew, I want to say close to 20% last year. So, um, it hasn’t flattened out by any means, but it’s harder.

Brad: (35:05)

What, what do you look for now that is different, so like before, like you’re saying earlier, there’s probably like whole topics or subjects that you haven’t just haven’t covered yet. So it’s like, just kill it, throw anything up on those. You’re probably fine. Now. Are you looking for like those small margins? Like what, what are you looking for to define the low areas or pockets of where you can go from like, you know, 5 to 10% in this category and add those up across?

Elisa: (35:29)

I mean, one of the things that we’re looking to do is just try to get a little bit more out of content that we’ve already created because there is so much of it. So, um, were embarking on kind of a new pillar page strategy this year. So we have a UX designer for the first time ever, which is amazing. And, um, so Gordon, our SEO guy and um, Jed, our UX guy have been kind of working together on this project to figure out like how can we create some really well designed, really like conversion-friendly pages that are going to house all of this content we’ve already created, but just bring it together in a really kinda beautiful fluid way and hopefully will lift the rankings for all the different content that we’re pulling together and linking into there. Um, you know, we’re kind of forming them around these like big topic areas like local marketing or eCommerce marketing.

Elisa: (36:18)

Um, and so there’s, there’s that kind of trying to get like incremental organic traffic out of the content that already exists. We’re also just kind of trying some new channels that we haven’t tried before, like a podcast. So the goal there would be like maybe a different kind of audience that, a little pocket of our audience that we haven’t really reached yet reached them a different way. Maybe it gets more social shares. We’ve always struggled to get social referrals. Um, like we have a following but it’s just doesn’t drive a ton of traffic for us. Like it would for a Buzzfeed or something like that. So um, podcasts, video and like different formats like that are, are one of the areas where we’re kind of trying to grow traffic. Um, so not just from kind of like straight-up Google search but other ways that people might find us.

Brad: (37:01)

Got it. Like Tik Tok.

Elisa: (37:05)

That’s going to be huge for us. I know it.

Brad: (37:10)

Whenever someone asks me about it I’m like I don’t know. Does it look like I’m the demographic of Tik Tok. When you’re, with the existing content trying to bring a new pillars and stuff, are you doing anything to the markup of old pages, are you rewriting them or is it mostly with like the site architechture and internal linking?

Elisa: (37:31)

Um, kind of. So some stuff like general UX of our pages, um, we haven’t really like redesigned and a major pop away our blog in a while, so um, there’s probably improvements we could make there that would make it a lot more engaging. I think in the past there was such a focus on like getting people to take an action such as like I said, kind of downloading a guide or signing up for a newsletter or something that we’ve leaned away from stuff that would make our site more sticky, like having a better related content widget or like telling people what to do next that wasn’t going to require them to fill out a form.

Elisa: (38:14)

Um, so in the future, I would kind of like to focus their longer visits, um, more pages per session, um, things like that versus just more brand new traffic coming from Google. Um, so that’s again, it’s kind of like that involves talking with our design team and our web team and rethinking how our site works on mobile since that audience is often faster to bounce and less likely to take any kind of action. So there’s definitely a lot of improvement I think just in the kind of site experience that way that isn’t so much about more content as like just better way to absorb it.

Brad: (38:56)

Sure. Has your, has your pricing model changed drastically over the last few years? Cause I find that, um, it’s like with, with more like consultative process, the higher ticket price, usually you care more about stuff like that about like keeping people on the site about impact as opposed to just like, you know, views like and eyeballs.

Elisa: (39:20)

Right. Um, yeah, I think our pricing structure is kind of always evolving and to the point that I don’t always really even know how it’s working. Um, I do know that like, you know, with a Saas company, um, sometimes there’s like a minimum commitment and there’s been an evolution and what that minimum commitment is. Um, it’s never been, I don’t think it’s ever been just like, you know, you can set up and quit anytime, there’s always been a minimum commitment just because with online advertising

Elisa: (39:54)

it can take a while to see the return. Um, but that hasn’t been something that’s really affected our strategy too much. Like we still have, we still have lead targets that we’re trying to hit every month, then they’re always going up. But I mean, often if we’re like, if we’re short, where we’re going to change strategy in the middle of a month, for example, it’s going to be closer to the bottom of the funnel because like, it’s not like you can say, Oh, just write a different blog post and we’re going to be able to deliver this number of leads to the sales team at the end of the month. It just takes so much longer that, um, yeah, we’re always going to be like, well, we’ll just spend, we’ll spend some more money on advertising or, you know, work our email, listen a little bit longer. Um, yeah, my stuff definitely takes longer to convert.

Brad: (40:53)

Got it. Oh, I have a couple of just super broad high-level questions before we bring to a close. What, over the 10 years, have you ever like tried to go hard in one direction or one campaign or project and that in hindsight you were like, just completely wrong on. Like a total failure.

Elisa: (41:12)

Oh wow. Um I’m sure there have been total failures.

Brad: (41:21)

or have you just been flawless over the past 10 years?

Elisa: (41:24)

I can’t think of like a major thing that I spent years on that was a total failure. I would feel really bad if that was the case. I think the thing is, like I said, like my budget has always been very low and so often like even when I was trying something a little experimental that kind of fails, like the investment was so small that it was really not a big deal. It’s really allowed us to be agile and just kind of throw things at the wall. And um, certainly we’d like spent money on stuff that didn’t seem to do anything initially. And actually one that I can think of now is we had a little bit of a like kind of a gift of some budget, um, that we had a short amount of time to spend it on. And it was more than we usually had.

Elisa: (42:08)

And so we wanted to kind of try something new. And so we contracted a video company and this was a few years ago. We actually have a full-time video person now, which is awesome. So we, we contracted this video company to turn like some of our top-performing content into little animated videos with the hope of like, you know, driving some referral traffic through YouTube or whatever. And so we spent kind of a lot of money on it. It was like, I think it was like $5,000 per video and we did three of them. And initially, it seemed to have no impact whatsoever. But because it was just like this one-time thing, you know, we tried it, we failed, whatever, I kind of forgot about it. But then, so we’re starting this new YouTube series now and we were talking about a certain topic that we were maybe going to create a video for.

Elisa: (42:58)

And I was like, actually, you know, I think we already have a video on that. It’s pretty old. It’s not very good. But I just, I Google it and it was ranking on the first page for that keyword. And I clicked on it and I hadn’t looked at it in years and I had like 80,000 views or something, like not nothing. And so even something like that, like overtime, it’s just, it’s kind of crazy. The investments that ended up paying off if you’d just like leave them alone and don’t pay attention to them. So I feel like my role has been, there’s been a lot of hits and misses but because there was never a gigantic amount of investment poured into any one of them, there haven’t been too many massive failures and the stuff that we’ve spent more money on has always had like multiple channels involved where, you know, the acquisition team and the nurture team and everybody else was working on it too. And it was like we were going to make it work one way or another. Like we wouldn’t let it fail

Brad: (43:55)

For sure. I mean I guess to your point, like I think you can’t, you can almost not fail in content if you, if it’s done well enough or at least you know, above a certain level, even if something isn’t as good as you want it to be, just getting it out there now is better. The simple fact of SEO, like it’s going to take a few months for that page to get indexed at all, uh, and start moving up. And so therefore you might as well get something out that sucks and then just come back, come back like a month or two later and then revamp it.

Elisa: (44:20)

Yeah, you can always make it better. That’s the thing. So, you know, we do go back all the time and refresh and edit and update older content and make sure that, um, especially if it’s like, if it is ranking and getting traffic, if we don’t want it to be a bad experience, if we’re like, oh wow, we would never publish that now. So, um, but that, that feeling like, yeah, you can always, you can always make a better is nice.

Brad: (44:43)

Yeah, for sure. And everything you publish doesn’t have to like go to the public eye. You don’t have to promote it. You can just publish it on this part of your site, don’t promote it to anyone upgrade it. And then bring it up.

Elisa: (44:52)

Yeah. And we do have a lot of hidden content that we’ve just completely forgotten exists.

Brad: (44:59)

So you mentioned podcasting already. What’s, what’s like another area or another trend or another like general direction you’re looking at over the next year? Like where is all this content stuff going? Cause I look at it and we’re producing these crazy like 10,000 word articles and I’m like, it’s like no one wants this. It might help for Google but like people, real people don’t want this. So it’s only a matter of time before that stops working. So like where, where are we heading?

Elisa: (45:26)

So another big project that we’re working on this year is, we actually just launched it, I think I might’ve mentioned this to you over email. Um, Growth Academy is what we’re calling it. So instead of just kind of throwing everything up on our site and making it like free content that you find through search, um, we’re trying to make this much more of like a training experience. And so it’s much more video-based and you do have to sign up for it. Um, but it’s free. But it’s organizing a lot of our, our kind of online advertising training material into lessons and courses. And we got a learning management system to host it all. And it’s much more like, okay, I have an hour today. I want to learn this new thing that I have to do at work that I’ve never done before. Or you know, maybe you work in an agency and you hired somebody new and you’re trying to train them.

Elisa: (46:20)

It’s much more like, okay, watch this video and there’s a little quiz and you can get like a certification at the end. Um, so it’s, it’s meant to be like a much more engaging experience than just reading a blog post or something. And also just like a different kind of people who are in a different learning mode. And so it’s partially reaching a different audience, partially just reaching them in a different way. So just kind of thinking about, yeah, how do people want to learn? And so, um, instead of just doing more of what we’ve always done, we are just like kind of trying to think of maybe our audience a little bit more like their customers and figuring out what all they want and how can we give it to them. So trying to evolve in that way.

Brad: (47:03)

Definitely. I feel like it’d be more, uh, I would feel like it’d be more of like a subtle sale too into the product and then also help maybe people who stick here cause they’re not churning cause they’re actually getting more value out of knowing what to do with the tools.

Elisa: (47:16)

Exactly. Exactly. That’s the hope. So I’m like, we’re promoting it to our customers too and you know, hoping to get a lot of feedback and figure out how we can make it better. And like there’s a lot of, there’s a lot more production that goes creating one of these courses than just creating a blog post. So making sure like we’re doing the right course next. And um, yeah, it’s been really interesting. It’s a big change, but I think it’ll be good. We have a lot of sign ups already. It’s very exciting.

Brad: (47:45)

Well, thanks again for joining me. I really appreciate it.

Elisa: (47:47)

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. If people want to learn more about you or about WordStream, where should they go? Um, then go to wordstream.com/blog it’s probably the best place to start. You can read our blog and um, if they sign up for our email newsletter, they’ll get one every week with just like the highlights from our blog.

Elisa: (48:08)

It’s not very pushy. It’s a good email too, people tend to like it. Or you can Google me. My name’s Elisa Gabbert and, and find my published poems.

Brad: (48:26)

Or catch you on the book tour right?

Elisa: (48:26)

Yeah, coming out later this year. I might very well be.

Brad: (48:29)

Just traveling the country.

Elisa: (48:32)

I might yeah. Probably nothing. I know people who like take a year off work and just hit every city. I’m not gonna be doing that.

Brad: (48:40)

You’ll be like emailing right up until you go out to like shake hands and kiss babies.

Elisa: (48:45)

Yeah, I’m too old for that. But until they offer to fly me first class and then we’ll talk.

Brad: (48:52)

Or one of those rockstar buses. Like with the rooms and the open bar.

Elisa: (48:57)

Yeah, I could go for that.

Brad: (49:00)

Well, thanks again. Really appreciate it. Good luck on everything this year.

Elisa: (49:04)

Thank you for having me.

Highlights

Elisa discusses an element of SEO needed for success- patience. (03:57)

And you know, often right after you create something, especially for a site like ours, almost all of our traffic comes from organic search. Um, so you create something new. It doesn’t have a lot of traffic right away necessarily. But if you make it evergreen and it’s really good over time, it keeps going up and up and up and up or it’ll get to a really high point and kind of like level off. But it’s amazing. These things that you haven’t touched in years, you know, could still be getting tens of thousands of page views a month.

How Elisa’s proactive mindset influences Wordstream’s content performance. (05:10)

So, we definitely try to be a little bit ahead of our product and I think that’s served us well. So if we know that like the vision and the next one to two years say is to add a functionality around something that we don’t currently offer, we’ll try to get out ahead and start publishing content in that topic area right away because it does take time, you know, for that content to like rank and accrue traffic and authority. So we think it’s best to kind of stay top funnel and a little bit above what we actually offer as a company. 

 Elisa made this change to avoid employee burnout and ensure quality content is produced. (13:37)

We’ve tried to restructure so that when we hire somebody on the content marketing team, they’re not just writing, they’re kind of doing other stuff like more collaborative work, more team works because otherwise, it is kind of a high burnout role. And I think that it’s, it’s a really good role to outsource actually contradiction because generally it’s going to work better if you’re not doing it for like eight hours a day. Like sitting at your desk, you know, like creative types, content producers, they tend to work better in bursts and then have some freedom.

A peek into the creative process at Wordstream. (33:03)

He finds some keywords and then we would take that into like a content brainstorm and me and Kaylee and Gordon and the rest of the content team, we’d like get together and think about like, well what can we do with these? How can we make these interesting and try to get into a space where it’s more like a topic and assignment and great headlines somewhere to start and then we’ll think about how to assign it out.

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