I love learning from my podcast guests every week and man did I learn a lot from Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media Studios. During my interview with him, he was sharing gems left and right about creating content that converts and other awesome quotes like:

“If you do that and eat your vegetables, you’re going to live a long, prosperous life. That is the secret. I believe that is the key.”

“That’s called Zero Waste Marketing.”

“The three Ps – prominence, promise and proof.”

“Everybody has an LBOW. You have yours today and you have what will be your future LBOW.”

Curious about what that’s all about? I was too! Andy Crestodina has all the answers and is just waiting to share them with you. He has devoted himself to all things marketing, focusing in on content and web strategy. He can help you leverage your sales funnel with content in ways you’ve never thought of before.

Join Andy and I as we find out the key to a “long and prosperous life” as well as:

  • Why Andy started his web design company and how it’s evolved since then
  • Doing important tasks before urgent tasks
  • Why you need to write your content marketing mission statement
  • Why delegating is so crucial (and why Andy hired a boss for himself)
  • Why you don’t need to publish every week
  • Why you should publish answers to questions you get frequently instead of constantly writing emails with similar content
  • Measuring the performance of content
  • How to construct and create content that converts leads
  • “Content Chemistry”: Andy’s book about how to repurpose content
  • Building your website with what people are searching for in mind
  • Winning the SEO battle and turning visitors into leads
  • Steps agencies can take right now to improve their content to convert more leads

Andy Crestodina is a co-founder and the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, an award-winning 38-person web design company in Chicago.

Over the past 15 years, Andy has provided web strategy and advice to more than a thousand businesses. As a top-rated speaker at national conferences and as a writer for many of the biggest blogs, Andy has dedicated himself to the teaching of marketing.

Andy has written hundreds of articles, many of which have been published on the top marketing blogs and media websites. Favorite topics include content strategy, search engine optimization, social media and Analytics.

Andy was named to Forbes Top 10 Online Marketing Experts to Watch in 2015 and Entrepreneur Magazine Top 50 Marketing Influencer in 2016, and is a mentor at 1871, the #1 incubator in the US.

He is also the author of “Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing.”

To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://www.agencymanagementinstitute.com/andrew-dymski/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.

If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript and is below:

Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)

  1. The Evolution of Andy’s Agency
  2. Developing a Vision for Your Agency’s Content
  3. Setting a Content Creation Action Plan
  4. Tweaking Your Content to Optimize Engagement
  5. About Andy’s Book
  6. Defining Content Chemistry & How to Incorporate it into Your Overall Strategy
  7. Tips & Tricks for Content Development
  8. Immediate Action Steps for Creating Better Content that Converts

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line.

Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise, as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew: Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for joining me, and I am really excited to have our guest with us today. Content marketing is a hot topic for just about every agency today, and Andy Crestodina is an expert at it. So let me tell you a little bit about Andy, and then we’re going to just jump right into the conversation.

So Andy is a cofounder and the strategic director of Orbit Media, which is an award winning 38-person shop in Chicago. Over the last 15 years, he’s provided web strategy and advice to lots of businesses. He also speaks all over the country and writes for lots of blogs, which he’ll tell us about, I’m sure, and he’s really dedicated himself to teaching the idea of marketing. He’s also written a book called Content Chemistry, the illustrated handbook for content marketing, and I believe the fourth edition was just released recently, so you’re going to want to check that out at your favorite bookstore or Amazon.

Andy also writes for lots of publications that you would recognize. He has been recognized by Forbes. He’s one of the top 10 online marketing experts to watch in 2015. Entrepreneur Magazine calls him one of the top 50 marketing influencers. That happened in 2016 and he is a mentor at 1871, which is the number one incubator in the US.

So Andy is going to have a lot to share with us today. Andy thanks for joining us on the show.

Andy: I’m honored, Drew. Thanks for having me.


The Evolution of Andy’s Agency

Drew: You bet. So talk to us a little bit about the evolution of your own shop. Because obviously, 15 years ago, the content marketing…I don’t even think we were using those words yet. So how did you start your shop and what as the vision then and how has it evolved?

Andy: Sure. So it was a passion project in the beginning, although my partner had already been building websites since the mid-90s. I was an IT recruiter in the 90’s and got bored. I wanted to do something creative. I wanted to point at something and say “I made that.” So I quit that job and started building websites with him which, to me, was just a dream because I got to combine art and science. I got to combine left brain and right brain, and the creative and the technical.

And we were broke. It was a tough time to start a company but I didn’t really care. I just wanted to work on things, and we had enough projects to keep it interesting. We were actually an outsourced partner to other agencies at the time, because we had some production capabilities. We could build things in digital. We could program fancy stuff in flash, and we could develop websites from layered Photoshop files. So in the beginning, we just reached out to 50 agencies, and got maybe 10 meetings and maybe two clients, and that helped because we were in business. We had clients with clients. I mean, web design, you build a website for someone and they don’t need you again for quite a while, but then we got better at marketing and got better in promoting ourselves, and figured out search, analytics and sales and so basically, added another partner who is the creative director. I became sales and marketing guy, and started to find our own clients and gradually grow maybe in 2004, and it’s been a long, slow curve upward ever since.

Drew: And so, when did you make the shift or have you made the shift? How much of the work you do today is content versus web dev?

Andy: It’s actually 100…well, we do content creation as it relates to building the sites. It’s not content as in an agency style, retainer based, ongoing publishing model. We build…we do content for the pages on the sales and marketing side. I mean, just basically the products and services, and the about page and pages like that so the home page. So it’s really a 100% web design and development. We do content to promote ourselves, of course, and the model here is really to build cars and then teach Drivers’ Ed.

So all of the teaching, and writing, and publishing, and videos, and conferences and all these things are really to help people get better results from their digital. Our clients get a lot of that high touch service where we’re doing a lot of training and upgrading and doing some strategy work with them, but the content is available to anyone, which is just extending the mission of Orbit, which is to help people get better results from digital. We do that for the clients that pay us by building the platform and building the website. But anyone can expose themselves to the content, and we teach everything we know as well as we can.

Drew: Right. So in terms of content then, as you guys…so as the podcast listeners know, because this is a pet peeve of mine, I get really tired of the cobbler’s children excuse for agencies. And it seems like a lot of agencies have really grandiose plans for content, and they can barely get a newsletter. Their monthly newsletter goes out four times a year.

So blogs are cobbled, and so how do you guys actually make it happen? Because if you’re out on the road, and you’re speaking, and you’re creating content, and you had time to write a book, how do you make that happen?

Andy: Yeah, I’m really glad to hear you say that, and it is not acceptable for people to say that they are serious about something and then not to do it for themselves or…

Drew: Right.

Andy: And I understand because I have priorities, and I have things that people ask me for all the time, and many demands on my time. But what we realized…and this was 2007, so this was nine years ago, I had no way to keep in touch with people during that super long sales cycle. It takes months to decide who to hire in development, and in that super long buying interval there’s like three or four or sometimes five years between the times that people rebuild their website. So content was my way to keep in touch with a large group of people without having to call them every day, or try to keep in touch that way.

So it started out, the newsletter and the blog were combined as a way to just have people…like a drip marketing kind of thing to keep them in our sphere of influence. But when you combine…and then later, maybe 2009, all these kinds came together in a unified theory of marketing, this content marketing thing got well established, and the tactics became…

Drew: Yeah.

Andy: Yeah, so it really all…search and social on email and analytics and conversion optimization, I think really become one unified practice and theory of marketing around 2009 maybe, 2010. And that’s when I realized just how critical it was for search.

Now, you make a promise when you have a subscriber and hopefully your email subscriber…subscription signup box has a call to action and it says “Sign up for our monthly…” you suggest a newsletter. So you’re promising them something. The only way to make that…to keep that promise, is to take it as seriously as everything else. There’s a…I heard someone say “What if content was as high a priority as payroll?”

Drew: Right.

Andy: Just get up in the morning. Go to bed early. This is weird advice but I do this every day. Go to bed early, wake up early, and then do something important before you do something urgent. Write something before you check your email. Answer that important question. Yeah.

Drew: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Say that again. What you just said about email, because I’m sure half the people listening are now clutching their chest.

Andy: Do something important. Before you do something urgent. Write something before you open your inbox and check email. You want to produce content every day in order to begin creating content that converts. It’s called willpower depletion. Everybody suffers from this. Whatever…as the day goes on, it gets harder to get the motivation to exercise or eat right or whatever you’re doing. So that very first thing that you do when you wake up…you could shower, shave, brush your hair, and then open your laptop and start typing your best advice into WordPress or a Word document or a Google Doc. If you do that and eat your vegetables, you’re going to live a long, prosperous life. That is the secret. I believe that is the key. Go to bed early, get up early and write before you check email.

Drew: Or go to bed late, work late, sleep in a little bit. Yeah, you’ve got to listen to your body clock. But your point is and I think you’re right, get the vital priorities done before the day takes advantage of you.

Andy: Yeah.

Drew: Yeah, regardless of what time it is. Absolutely.

Andy: Yeah.

Drew: Yep.

Andy: I think that’s the key.


Develop a Vision for Your Agency’s Content

Drew: Yep. So talk to us a little bit about your content creation. So what’s the vision for your agency’s content? How do you create a plan and then how do you execute on that plan?

Andy: Well, what everyone can do and it’s a fun exercise and it takes maybe 10 minutes, is to write Joe Policy style your content marketing mission statement, if you haven’t done it yet.  And if you do this, you’re statistically more likely to say “Yes, you’re successful” in your content marketing. That mission statement…my template for it…it’s in the book but it’s super simple. I can tell you now.

Your website, podcast, newsletter, social streams, everything you do is where audience X gets content Y for benefit Z. It’s very powerful. I did this last week with a company that does…they’re in the passport expediting service and they said “Okay, Swift Passport is where international travelers get passport, Visa and travel tips to make travel easier.” As soon as they did that, we wrote it down. It was on a piece of paper in front of all of us. Looked back, turned my head left, looked at the blog and saw a category for company news. Okay, get rid of that. Saw a category for…these are blog categories. Saw a blog category for domestic travel. Okay, get rid of that and then put at the top of the blog “Swift passport is where you get passport, Visa and information tips to make international travel easier.”

Now, you’ve got a call to action. You’ve got a reason to publish. You’ve got a promise to your audience and you are going to be aligned…far less likely to burn calories with no result. Makes a big difference.

Drew: Well, and it’s exactly the advice we give our clients all the time and yet, we struggle when…I find it fascinating how agency owners, and leaders, give basically that same speech to their clients and get frustrated when their clients can’t narrow their focus, and yet they go back to their own office and their blog or their Facebook page or whatever it is. It’s all over the map because they can’t narrow their focus.

Andy: It’s such a trick, isn’t it? It’s hard to do. It’s hard work but it’s…the people I know that are in the more specific niches are the ones that are succeeding the most right now.


Setting a Content Creation Action Plan

Drew: Yep, absolutely. So going back to your content. So first thing you did was create the mission statement or the vision of your content, and then how do you flesh that out in terms of an action plan, and actually getting the work done while you’re trying to take care of clients. Because I’m sure your clients are like everybody else’s who’s listening. They’re erratic, they make changes at the last minute, they…you do a lot of “Hurry up and wait.” And so, your life in many cases, your agency’s life is no different than our listeners’. So how are you getting it all done?

Andy: Well, I have a huge secret weapon which is I hired a CEO, and he and my partner together are much more back of the house operations, managing the teams. They built…the CEO built a layer of managers, the CEO built and I hired and trained the sales team, and that day that he got those pieces in place, I suddenly had an extra 20 hours a week because I was no longer doing all of the sales work myself.

So delegation, super high level delegation including…and I know people…it’s hard to do. It’s a risky hire. It’s difficult but if it works it’s a miracle. Hire a boss. Hire a boss for yourself and at that level…I mean, that’s one of the tricks but delegation at any level is a trick. There are many things that we do, and I have a call later today to onboard someone for help in this category.

If you can spend maybe some of that early time before you get busy with the urgent stuff.  Documenting all those repeatable processes, create a training manual for all those things that you do that can’t be delegated. Now you can hand those things off. I just read Chris Ducker’s book called Virtual Freedom. It’s about hiring virtual assistants, and I spent the next couple of months spending an hour or two a week documenting everything that I do, complete step by step processes with screen shots. Now I can hand that off to a production person basically. So things like content promotion, email production, lots of scheduling things, all of these…LinkedIn management, some social…lots of social and content related things.  I can take off my plate and hand it over to somebody who is going to be thrilled to do these things for, honestly, $22 an hour and that’s going to save me probably 10 hours a month at least.

Drew: So for agencies that are smaller and maybe don’t have some of the opportunities to build the layers that you have, and I’m sure that as you started and as your company was growing, you had to wrestle with this too. Any other tricks for getting it done and is there an optimum blend of content? Is there such a thing as too much content? Is there…so what’s a reasonable expectation for an agency? How much time should they spend on this do you think?

Andy: Well, I would immediately free yourself from the notion that you have to publish every day or publish every week. So for most agencies, the sales cycle and the buying interval are such that you can stay in front of your audience in something that’s published every two weeks. I think monthly is a minimum probably for almost anybody, but you can’t stay top of mind for anything if you’re monthly…unless you’re monthly at least. But I would say probably first reduce your frequency if you’re pressuring yourself to publish weekly or more, and spend a little more time and energy and thought on the content to make sure that it’s meaningful. You can do that very quickly by first asking yourself, “What are the questions that my prospects need to have answered before they hire me?” If you do that…so I’m going to…I’m basically telling you how to be super-efficient by taking a ton of stuff off of your publishing plate.

If you first published the answers to the questions that people ask before they hire you, that address the top objections or that are the most common questions in your category, in your industry. And make that just a great piece, right. A 2,000 word…spend a month on it and make it just an awesome piece on the topic. Now, you can give that directly to people who are in your pipeline.

Drew: Right.

Andy: That’s called Zero Waste Marketing. You can write directly for people. So next or any time you send an email…if you’ve ever written an email twice or people have asked you a question more than twice, publish that answer and next time someone asks you, send them a link. That is a way to get much more efficient in your communication, in your sales, in your customer service, your client management. All these things can be done through content. Content is really…I mentioned it a second ago as a training tool. Content isn’t just marketing. I mean, it’s also sales support. It’s really powerful as a way to just speak while you’re not there, thus content itself is a way to move the fulcrum and become more efficient, and leverage your own time. They say “Never waste a good conversation by having it in private.” If you give a great answer to someone over the phone, it’s kind of sad because you didn’t capture that in a way that can be seen by hundreds or thousands over months.  So that can help.


Tweaking Your Content to Optimize Engagement

Drew: That’s a great idea. Great idea. So do you get a lot of feedback from your content? Do you get…I know I talk to agency owners and they’re like “We write blog posts or we create newsletters and we get crickets back.” Do you get a lot of feedback and how do you tweak your content to create more interaction?

Andy: Well, I am…I would never create content without measuring the performance of it, and the performance of it has to do with the measurement, and the KPIs have to do with what your goals are. So one of my goals, for example, is list growth and I want an email list of active subscribers. Because that decouples me from being beholden to Google, and Facebook, and Twitter, and everybody else, right. You own your email address. You don’t own your Facebook likes or your Google rank. So it’s a diversification of your traffic sources and email is your direct connection to your audience and so…okay, so list growth is important. Let’s measure that.

Now, I like to measure the performance of any piece of content in its ability to attract subscribers. So make sure, of course, that you’ve optimized for conversion or for subscribers, your email signup box and you can use…here’s a quick side note. Make sure your email signup box has the three Ps. It’s prominent, visually high in the hierarchy. It’s got a promise, you tell people what they’re going to get and how often. Your content mission statement can help. And it has proof or evidence that you’re legit. Let’s say you’re small. Put a testimonial or a quote from someone who’s happy they got your email.

Prominence, promise and proof will increase the percentage of visitors who subscribe to your newsletter and will ultimately help you in your quest towards creating valuable content that converts.

Drew: Absolutely.

Andy: Now I’m going to measure the performance of my content based on what percentage of visitors to each post subscribed. That’s the percentage…the conversation rate. The percentage of visitors who became subscribers for each piece of content. Now, you can see that in analytics by going to something called the reverse, if you have your goal set up properly. Let’s hope our listeners do because that’s the point in analytics is to set up your goals. Tell analytics where your thank you pages are so it knows when someone was successful.

The reverse goal path report will show you what people were doing right before they hit your thank you page. So you can look at that and see which of your articles people were reading right before they subscribed. Now, there is a little more to it than that but for the most part, suffice to say, that is the content…that’s the performance of your content. That’s which of your articles are succeeding or failing against that important KPI list growth, because email is a way to diversify your traffic sources.  

So the reverse goal path is a good way to do it. There’s lots of ways to measure performance, but that’s one that anyone can look at, and you’ll see a huge gap in the great stuff and the bad stuff immediately.

Drew: And as you’ve observed that and you tracked that, what are some best practices? What have you noticed gets traction, gets you subscribers or interaction, and so is something that you repeat more often now?

Andy: Yeah. That’s a great point, Drew, because when you do find the ones that perform…my friend Larry calls these unicorns. Your first job is to make baby unicorns.

Drew: Absolutely.

Andy: Publish these things in other places, in other…if it worked on your site, great. Publish the evil twin of that. Publish it from the other angle on another website. Give it as a guest post to somebody else. Or it worked as text, publish it as a video or a diagram. So yeah. That’s our job once we identify these things that are working. This is optimization, right. This is the ongoing improvement. This is why publishing a little bit gives you data which you can use to then get smarter. But the things that I noticed that get better results than others are the things that are more detailed. Equality, basically. They tend to be longer, they tend to be more practical, they tend to include how to step by step instructions, very thorough, exhaustive pieces that answer every question related to the topic. I think that it’s important to include multiple images in your content, so there is no scroll depth at which you can’t see at least one picture, right. Don’t send your visitors into a desert of text.

I think collaborative content performs much better, so include quotes. We’re doing it right now but any article can include a quote from an influencer, or a contributor, or an expert. So treat yourself like a journalist and use people online as sources.

So lots of formatting. Make it scannable. Headers and sub headers and bullets in bold. Never write a paragraph longer than maybe four lines. Maybe it scans…make it easy to consume. Make it accessible. These are the kinds of things that affect the conversion rate from visitor into subscriber for your content.


About Andy’s Book

Drew: Awesome. So we’re going to take a quick break and then we’re going to come back, and I want to talk a little bit about the book. So folks, we’ll be right back.

Podcasts are a great way to learn and a great way to educate your staff. Another great way are live workshops, and AMI offers many of them throughout the year. If you’d like to check out the schedule, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/live. Okay, let’s get back to the show.

All right, we are back with my guest, Andy Crestodina, and we are talking about content for agencies. So Andy, talk to us a little bit about the book. Why did you write it? Did you have a process for writing it? Lots of agency owners want to be authors, and have something that really should be captured in a book, but they have a little trouble getting out of the gate. So what prompted you to do it and how did you get it done?

Andy: Yeah, I was proving a theory. The idea was first…and I wrote about this as a guest post on someone else’s website, and then I went ahead and did it. It was work but the idea goes like this. First, before you do anything, maybe after you write your mission statement, do an outline of your…what will become your lifetime body of work. They literally call this your LBOW, your elbow.

Drew: Sure, everybody has an LBOW, right.

Andy: Yep, everybody has an LBOW but you can have…you have yours today and you have what will be your future LBOW.  So, if you first write that down, maybe in outline form of everything that’s in your head, all of your best advice, the structure of it all, how it fits together, sort of like the Drewpedia, right. Drew, you’d actually…if you documented…

Drew: Oh, yeah. I like that. The Drewpedia. I’m going to borrow that.

Andy: Do it, do it. Write down the Drewpedia, put it…I did mine in Post It notes on a wall.

Drew: Wow, okay.

Andy: And then…yeah. And then it stayed there for months. And then basically, I immediately saw how content I already created fit into that. Okay, check. And then I thought about gaps. “Wow, I’ve never actually wrote about this thing here. I’ve got to fill that in. I talk about it a lot but I never really put it down on screen.” So basically, what I’m suggesting and then you can…you’re halfway there.

You blog into a book. You publish things on these topics that fill in the blanks and you’re gradually building up this body of work. What will happen is you’ll get feedback on things that you publish. You’ll see what performed well and what didn’t. People will contribute or your ideas will become refined as you share them more and more often in more places in more formats. And then you’ll have…someday you’ll sit down. You’ll be like “Okay, I’m 80% of the way there. I need to write an intro.  I need to fill in these blanks. I need to go deeper on this topic. I need to give it structure.” And then you’re…take an hour or two a day for a month or two or three, and you’ve got it. There’s your book. There’s the manuscript. You’ve got two final steps. Give it to an editor. Give it to a designer…well, three, I guess. And then send it to the printer. I did not wait to get a publisher to say they liked it or didn’t like it. I self-published this thing, and then made it available through a distributor, different than a publisher.

And the distributor does a lot of what people think the publisher will do. The distributor does the eBook formats, they negotiate and make deals with Amazon, they send the book out, they give you the ecommerce page, they…IPG, they’re ipgbook.com. They are my distributor and if I didn’t want to, I’d never have to touch a book. They did all of that stuff so…

But basically, the answer to the question is you can…if you think of…if you make your content more structure than it would’ve been, and if you are more persistent than you would’ve been, you can…any content creator can gradually write a book over time and it’s just a matter of forethought.

Drew: Well, and it also…even if you never write the book, going through the exercise of what you did allows you to build better, more cohesive content. Yeah.

Andy: Exactly right, yeah.


Defining Content Chemistry & How to Incorporate it into Your Overall Strategy

Drew: Yeah. So talk to us a little bit about content chemistry. Tell us about that phrase for creating content that converts and what it meant for you, and what our listeners can learn from checking out your book.

Andy: Well, what year…probably six years ago, I realized that content appeared in different formats, and that, with a little guide, I could teach people how to reformat their content as we just mentioned, right. That blog post becomes a video, several little posts become a bigger article. A podcast can become a presentation, or we add video and make this a webinar. So I wrote the periodic table of content, and it was the most successful thing I ever published at the time, and it was basically like a little guide for repurposing. Take little things and combine them into big things, take big things and atomize them into small things. It was like a physics themes or chemistry themed article about repurposing content.

Since it did so well, I had vetted the theme, and I used that theme of science and chemistry when I wrote the book which was the…combined everything that I know in 160 pages. It fit well because the book is structured into two parts. There’s the lecture and there’s the lab just as if you’re in college.

Drew: In class, right.

Andy: Yeah. So the lecture is