There are very few agencies today who aren’t trying to solve the content challenge. The content creation process is complicated and it’s often difficult to demonstrate the ROI to clients so they will pay you what it takes to actually create something worthwhile. Clients want high performing content but aren’t excited about paying for it. And it can be tough for us to document and demonstrate what’s working and what isn’t.
At this summer’s MAICON (Marketing AI conference) conference, I met Jeff Coyle, the co-Founder and Chief Product Officer for MarketMuse. Jeff and his team are doing incredible work with AI to help agencies and brands better understand how content is performing, what content is missing and how to fill those gaps in a way that is SEO and visitor friendly.
Technology and traditional content production methods are merging, and that’s creating a whole new level of measurability, predictability and performance metrics that can justify the spend. What would take us hours to number crunch and calculate can take tools like MarketMuse mere seconds.
Join me as I explore the possibilities with subject matter expert Jeff Coyle.
A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here: https://www.whitelabeliq.com/ami/
What You Will Learn in this Episode:
- The evolution of content marketing
- How Jeff Coyle is bringing AI and traditional content production methods together
- New tools and insights that agency owners can leverage to create more impactful content
- Creating content that has direct conversions
- Why you should be updating your content
The Golden Nugget:“For my agency and my clients, what should I be focusing on to ensure that the content I publish has the greatest impact?” @jeffrey_coyle Click To Tweet “The biggest miss for most agencies is the idea that all boats rise when you have successful content, regardless of direct conversion.” @jeffrey_coyle Click To Tweet “There are repeatable content paths that can work in every industry, but they might not lead to conversions.” @jeffrey_coyle Click To Tweet “Validation of the content brief and the end-content item will lead to a more successful and thoughtful workflow.” @jeffrey_coyle Click To Tweet “The four main reasons to update your content are: it is out-of-date; inaccurate; the world has changed, or the concept has changed.” @jeffrey_coyle Click To Tweet
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Ways to Contact Jeff Coyle:
Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. The Build A Better Agency podcast, presented by White Label IQ, is packed with insights on how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25-plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Build A Better Agency. I am Drew McLellan from Agency Management Institute, and I am delighted to be your host on this podcast every single week. I love doing this show. I love talking to all these people and picking their brains on your behalf. It is such a fun for me. I learn something new every time I have a conversation. And it’s always exciting to be able to share it with you. So thanks for being with me and getting ready to buckle in and learn something new and think about something a little differently.
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All right, so let’s talk about this episode. So content is, for most agencies, a big part of how we deliver value for clients. And the reality is, while we’ve been doing content for eons, we haven’t always called it content, but we certainly have been producing content for a long time in our agencies, the sophistication level of what we have to do for clients in terms of knowing what content to produce, looking at the analytics and the data around that content, just gets more and more complicated.
The good news is there are tools out there, and there are new insights out there, that allow us to be better at guiding our client’s content to do whatever it is we want them to do, whether it’s bring somebody in at the top of the sales funnel, or if it is to try and get someone to convert to a sale or a trial. I don’t know if you can hear it or not, but if you hear a crunching noise, sorry, I’m right by my mic. Unfortunately, I’m feeding my puppy a puppy biscuit to keep her quiet. So if you hear a little crunching, I apologize. It is not me eating while we’re talking. It is Heather having a bit of a nosh.
So anyway, content, more complicated. Clients are looking to us to provide more value for them. And now there are tools and folks out there that can help us. So I was at the MAICON Conference, which I’ve told you about. So that was the marketing, artificial intelligence conference that was held in Cleveland in July of 2019. And one of the guys who spoke there is a guy named Jeff Coyle. And Jeff is one of the leaders at a company called Market Views. And they are using AI to do some incredible things around content, not from a how to fix the writing part, but from a what holes … So they run all of your content from your website through their tool, and they’re able to tell you what’s attracting attention. Based on that, what other pieces of content should your website have that it doesn’t have.
So it really helps you plan out the content, and to tweak the content that’s already there, so that it’s even more valuable. So I wanted to talk to Jeff about sort of the evolution of content marketing, and this marrying of technology with content marketing, and good writing, and understanding your audience, and all the things that we still have to do, because I think it’s a fascinating new twist to some work that we’ve been doing for awhile, and I believe we’re just scratching the surface of what’s going to be possible for us as agencies, not only, by the way, for our own clients, but I also believe that we can be using these kind of tools for our agency as well, to attract the sweet spot clients that we want to have knocking on our door as agency owners and leaders.
So let’s get into the conversation. I’m super excited to welcome Jeff to the show and to pick his brain on all of our behalf. Jeff, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks, Drew. Thanks for having me.
So give everybody a sense of your background and how you came to the spot that you’re in now and know so much about content and producing content.
Yeah sure. So my background, I went to Georgia Tech and got out of school in the early 2000’s. Started out as an early employee with a company called Knowledge Storm. We were one of the first companies who was syndicating white papers, generating leads for enterprise and mid-market, B2B technology companies. And we did that, really the first people thinking about using content to generate leads at scale. We were generating millions of leads per year at that point. That company was acquired by Tech Target in 2007, where I worked for eight years as part of their in-house team, really focused on turning content into, whether it be conversions into membership, into leads where you can attribute our ROI.
A big piece of that also was we had a 300-plus person editorial team. So my team managed and thought through what ways we could more strategically build and improve content. When I left Tech Target, impartially I worked with a couple venture capital and private equity firms with their portfolios as a marketing service organization. So basically an internal agency for those orgs, but also was to begin starting Market Muse. And Market Muse is a content strategy platform, really focused on identifying where are my strengths? Where are my gaps? Where do I have authority? And what should I be focusing on for myself, or for my clients if I’m an agency, to ensure that when I publish content, it’s going to be the most impactful and the most effective? So what topics should I be covering? Where do I have weaknesses? Where do I have low-hanging fruit that if I were to cover that topic comprehensively, it’s going to be successful?
So spending a great deal of time as an in-house search engine optimization professional, managing all other aspects of inbound marketing for about now 20 years, as scary as that sounds. And I know you know that whole world and how it’s evolved.
Right, it’s crazy.
It’s really wild.
So I want to go back and talk a little bit about some of the things you learned when you were at Tech Target. So you’re talking about that at that point, your job, and which I assume informs the work you do today, right?
Sure. Oh yeah.
So you were talking about looking at content not just in terms of that it’s on topic, or well written, but that it actually is, in air quotes, converting into something, a lead, another activity, whatever it is. What were some of the best practices you learned? What were some of the ah-has that you learned from spending so much time thinking about does this convert?
Yeah. There are so many aspects of that. You have kind of the direct conversion metrics that everybody is likely thinking about. And so when somebody reads this particular page, what are they doing next? Are they going to a next page? Are they clicking on an advertisement? Many, many publishers and companies that have ads on their site for one reason or another often don’t even track those clicks on ads as engagement. So you’re looking at that.
You’re looking at clicks on other links, internal and external. It’s still a point of engagement, still an engagement attribute. But also conversions to whatever it is your key performance indicators are. Is it membership? Is it lead? Is it another action, so a content upgrade type action, or a webinar action. All of those are summed, need to be summarized, and that’s for your direct attributes.
I’ve found that oftentimes, it was motivated by the thing that motivates me when I talk to other groups and talk to agencies and friends. So it was the thing that I measured by when it should be all the things that have value, so then you can drive, “This is worth that. This is worth that.” And that’s my direct attribution. But the big, big, big miss that I saw there, as well as in every peer that I spoke with, was not reflecting on the fact that all boats rise when you have successful content, regardless of whether it has direct conversion.
So you can’t just go out and write content that targets one stage of the buy cycle, for example, without having those other ones covered. You can’t just go out and write the best two-paragraph definition and never have written about any of the other aspects of that concept. That content item will not succeed. It just doesn’t tell the story that your business, that your library, whether it’s a site or a collection of sites, has expertise.
And I’ve been speaking and preaching that for now more than a decade. It’s like you can’t just go target the bottom of the funnel. You have to exhibit your expertise through your content. That’s that number one. Direct attribution is great, but you also have to be able to note have I covered this well across the board so that my bottom of the funnel will convert. And that’s the part that I feel most teams are still working through, whether it’s agency giving advice for a client, they’re looking at individual pages, they’re not looking at the collective inventory.
Yeah. So when you were doing that work, because I think every agency owner is sort of leaning and hoping there is some magic formula like it’s a listicle post, or it’s got to be over a thousand words, or whatever. Was there a type of content that converted better, however we’re defining conversion?
Yes, there was?
Well, converted better, my question for you would be converted into what?
Right, right. So if I have a pre-defined next step, so whether it’s internal clicks, or external clicks, or it is … I think we all know better than no one’s probably going to click on a blog post and then go buy something. I don’t think it’s that conversion. But are there types of content, especially now as you’re actually taking … So let’s back up for a second for folks. We didn’t really get into this, but the work that you’re doing today in your current company is pairing everything you’ve learned for the last 20 years with the data collection and analytics that comes from AI, right?
Right. Exactly right. Yeah, so we’re able to look at at concept and say, “If I were an expert on this specific topic, and I was exhibiting that through by website, what would it look like?” And then doing basically an on-demand gap analysis or inventory of what we have, or what our clients have. It also has applications for competitive analysis, so I can see what my competitors, or who I’m competing against, if I’m a vendor, publisher competitors, aggregators, or direct competitors, to say how are they achieving their success? Where do they have gaps. But we can also look at our content to say, “Where should we be focused? What do we need to remediate? What do we need to improve?”
And we’re informing that by analyzing massive quantities of language to say where do we have gaps in the buy cycle, for example? What topics are we not covering? Where do we have blind spots. So like you mentioned, the gap, when you say will it convert to whatever my metrics, it’s really doing that mapping exercise and saying, “Do I have types of content that in my specific space, it moves the user from point A to point B?” Whether I have an information-led inquiry, whether I have somebody who’s expressed direct interest in my particular products or services, that’s a different type of lead. If I have something that’s much further down the funnel, asking for pricing, et cetera, et cetera.
When you can map, it won’t be one-to-one. If it is one-to-one, that’s a great deal. You should do a dance. It won’t be one-to-one, but you’re going to have situations where content items tend to lead to more of those transitions. And if you can map those, then you can make sure that you’ve got infrastructure around those. So let’s say you found that it was, I’ll use your term, listicle. Well, what’s the infrastructure around that listicle that allows that listicle to outperform the average listicle? And then you’ve got to keep building out when you find those hotshot content items that do move people down the funnel.
It could be that that’s one of five articles that your ideal customer profile reads on their journey to actually contact you too, so don’t just look at one visit. Don’t just look at the last touch attribution. You got to look at their entire journey, because you might have the situation where they’ve touched you from a LinkedIn post, they’ve touched you from a social post. And then they come and read this and this. You’re like, “Wow, that’s my perfect spot. How do I make that happen more?”
So what I think I’m hearing you say is, “No, Drew, there is no magic content structure that produces better than others, but there probably is some sort of magic content structure that produces better results for a specific business or industry if you have the data to do that analysis.”
Exactly right. And there’s also a few repeatable content strategy plans or paths that can work in almost every space. So where you have … And that might not lead to conversions. That will give you that infrastructure, that fortified starting point to say, “Do I have content that exhibits that I understand the user, that answers all common user needs? How am I structuring that? And is that represented on my website?”
If I can answer those questions positively, then when I discover my pages that will convert, or I have a hunch that I can test which ones will actually lead to a content upgrade conversion, or a demo conversion, or an inquiry conversion, or I have a cool hook and call to action. Well, I can pair that with it, because so often we see when we’re looking at sites, they have this page. It’s their anchor, right? Nobody wants to touch it. They’ve got 25% of their traffic coming. They’re not looking to say, “How are we getting those people to the things that matter? We had this win. Let’s use it. Use the authority to build support pages, to build conversion pages.” And that’s really an exhibition of, when I look at existing content, when I’m building new content, how am I making sure that I’ve got pages that are going to solve all the user goals that I care about.
So I think about how a lot of agencies are doing content for their clients, and for themselves if they’re doing content at all, is they’re putting together some sort of a content plan, but it’s really driven around topics, maybe keywords. And either the client’s producing the content internally, the agency’s producing them externally, they’re going to an outside source, like a Writer’s Access, or someplace else to have them produced. But I think at the end of the day, they have a calendar. They either honor or don’t honor the calendar, but let’s assume they do. But at that point, they’re guessing, right? So talk to us a little bit about kind of the process that you believe an agency should take. Let’s say they’re selling a content package to a client, what should that look like?
That’s such a great question. So the things that we see a lot, like you said, guessing. Or it’s being led by the client’s desires, which there’s a value.
Absolutely, and probably educated guessing. So it’s not that it’s bad, but my question is really is it enough?
Yes, exactly. And so it can be driven by aspirations. So your client, “I want to own this. I want to have thought leadership on this topic. And you, agency owner, you need to tell me how to get there. What’s that gap between me today and me at that point where I have that thought leadership.” That’s the one type of model.
The others are things like low-hanging fruit opportunities, explicit gap analysis, or when the client said, “I know I’ve got a problem here. Fix these problems.” And so when you have … I think one is make sure that what you’re presenting is validated with the client that that’s actually what they want in that plan. So it’s, “Here’s why this has happened. Here’s the reason why we acted, the reason to act, the mission of this particular content plan.”
The mission of this particular content plan may be, “Let’s update all of the content that we think has gaps.” And how do we identify those gaps? “Let’s build the content needed and schedule the content needed to achieve thought leadership on this specific topic. Here’s the related topics that you weren’t covering well. We’re going to address each one of those, month over month. And we’re going to set expectations properly.”
So it’s really … I think it’s what’s the current state? What’s the aspirational state? What are we doing to get there? And then, if it’s backed up by research, communicating that research. And I think that there’s a couple states you asked about. One, if the agency’s building the content internally, a lot of those agencies feel that they’re not then liable for presenting any sort of content briefing or proposal documentation. I feel like the agency still needs to present.
All right, so you said agency producing, but you meant clients producing right?
Well, no. If the agency is producing it internally-
They’ll produce the net product as the content itself.
Okay, yeah, right.
What we see in the most success with clients who are agencies is where they’re actually delivering the brief that’s used to develop the content item, in addition to the content item/ Getting validation on the content brief with the client, as well as validation on the end content item, will lead to a much more successful and thoughtful workflow. Oftentimes we see just that end content item being delivered to the client for a review and feedback. Imagine how much could have been saved in time, expected validation feedback cycles, if you got at it at the brief stage.
If they’re using external sources, or what … I’ll use a … Using external resources, like the Writer Access you referenced, or let’s say, whether it’s super high-end, like Write Source, whether it’s middle of the … Or they have a agreement already in place with [crosstalk 00:21:06] whatever the case may be, the source of truth that was delivered by the agency to that writing resource group should be delivered inside that package that. So we gave this proposal to Writer Access, or whomever, or to this firm. This is the discussion that was had. Here’s the notes from that. That should be delivered as well.
If the client’s expected to do the work, they need to have a comprehensive content brief delivered to the client so that you can be really sure what the client writes meets the research expectations. And so the client doesn’t have as much of a chance of dropping the ball, or then being blamed. What you just described is a loaded question. That’s such a huge percentage of challenges that we see is where the client hasn’t been equipped to write the page that we recommended, because they’ve been given, sadly enough, a list of five keywords, and 80% of the chances they got with the words they could fit on a Post It note, and it’s like, “Go write this page of the top 10 ways to get bees out of your garage.”
And that’s all they get. And it’s just not enough. And even if they wrote a great article, it’s not going to meet the research expectation of the agency, unless the agency actually hasn’t done the research to give them that source of truth.
Well, I was going to say, as you’re talking, I’m thinking a common pain point for agency owners is that clients don’t really understand or respect what it takes to create content. And so agencies have a hard time getting paid a reasonable wage, if you will, for what it actually takes to do it. So I’m channeling all my listeners going, “You got to be kidding. A brief for every frigging blog post? We can barely get them to pay for us to do the blog post.” Because they’re doing all of this, obviously, manually, right? So everything that you’ve described in terms of identifying the gaps and all of that, can all of that be done? Like were you doing that at Tech Target before you moved over and were starting to use AI in the current product? Or was that not possible before Market Muse?
That’s such a great question. A great deal of it was possible in manual fashion through processes, but the quality of the output was completely inferior. And some of it, there was always the gap that was a hunch, or it was from tribal knowledge where you were making that decision or brainstorming. But I’ll give you an example. To build one, high-quality model of a topic would take about 30 hours of manual labor. To look at one topic and say, “Here’s how to cover it well.
Now that’s a 30 second endeavor. So it’s 30 hours to 30 seconds. I mean, that’s for one thing. So obviously if you do it on one thing manually, like you were in the past, you’re researching multiple sources or you’re taking shortcuts. Because if something takes that long, you’re going to take a shortcut. You’re using some inferior technologies that are easier or cheaper. You’re doing keyword density analysis or something like that on your competitors. Something that’s not actually going to give any actionable insights, but you may task them off as actionable insights.
So all of that was possible. It was possible to do manual research on individual pages for improvements. But you’re talking about many, many hours, and manual content brief development. The average brief takes about six hours of manual labor to produce. Now, those can be produced in seconds with automation. So there’s still value there. It can be done. If you’re producing a small number of them, doing them manually, there are some applications that are part of our platform, as well as other, that you can use to craft your own mini brief, or a tactical brief, that you could pass to the client.
So there are some ways to do augmented with technology, as well as full automation. And then you can also do all of these things manual. It’s just the quality of the output is always going to be a level of fidelity. And the biggest gap being can you truly take the output and overlay it with what you currently have? Because it’s going to give you what you should do, but can you really, consciously say you’ve got it covered from the inventory?
Because guess the worst, worst pain point of content teams at mid-market to enterprise is how often they’re able to do end-to-end content inventories and audits. Ask them. How frequently do you … Great discovery question for every agency owner. “How frequently do you content inventories?” You want to see someone cringe, like you just shot something in the air at them. Because they’re going to say either never, or once a year. The best ones are going to say quarterly.
And some of them are going to say what’s a content inventory?
Why would I ever do a content audit?
Right, right, yeah.
And so being able to have that information on demand makes it so that you can be a superhero. Have that always on inventory. Here’s the changes we recommend this month. Here’s the changes we recommend now. By the way, we use real data for that. We didn’t write you an editorial calendar that’s 12 months in advance. I mean, when you have an editorial calendar that goes more than three months in advance, you’re not reacting to competitive influence. You can get your pocket picked by your competitors if you’re building 6, 12 months out. They’re just chopping you off at the knees. We’ve seen it happen so many times. Clients, “Oh we’re working against our editorial calendar.” I’m like, “But they’re not. They know your editorial calendar. They’re trying to pick you apart.”
So from that perspective, it’s not just doing an inventory of my own content, it’s also doing some competitive analysis. So I want to ask you a little more about this competitive analysis piece in a second, but let’s take a quick break first.
Hey. Sorry to interrupt, but I want to just remind you about the Build A Better Agency Summit. So as many of you have heard me talk about before, I am sticking my neck out and I am saying it’s ridiculous that there is no conference built specifically for truly small to mid-sized agencies across the globe. And it is time for someone to do it. And I looked in the mirror and I said, “Actually, Drew, it’s time for us to do it.” And so we are.
May 19th and 20th of 2020 in Chicago, some amazing presenters and speakers. And some of the topics are things like building your agency’s value. So whether you want to sell the agency, or you just want to use it as an ATM machine, how do you get more value out of your agency one way or the other? And how do you decide which way you want to go? Do you want build an agency to sell, or do you want to just run it, use it as the ATM machine, and someday just close the door? What does that look like? How do you earn a profit every single year? And we’re going to show you exactly how to do that.
And around the idea of agency thought leadership, what does that actually mean and what does it look like. And how can you, as busy as you are, as busy as the agency is, how can you go down that path, and how can it serve you with an incredible ROI? And we’re going to talk about some of the agencies that are knocking it out of the park. And you’ll meet some of them there because they’ll be there as attendees as well.
So the content’s going to be awesome. If you’re struggling with impostor syndrome, if you are struggling with how to concisely tell a story in a way that is so compelling, people can’t help but be drawn to it, if you are worried about how to build wealth outside of the agency and you want to talk to some experts who are doing that in real estate and other places, the Build A Better Agency Summit is the place for you. So please grab your ticket. Just head over to AgencyManagmentInstitute.com, and the very first choice on the nav bar is BABA Summit, so Build A Better Agency Summit. Click on that and that’ll take you right to all the information you need, including how to register. So I hope to see you in Chicago in May. But let’s get back to the content.
All right, we are back with Jeff Coyle, and we’re talking about content, and content creation, and content inventories. And right before the break, we started to talk about the fact that not only do you have to do content inventory or audits for your own site, or your client’s sites, but that really, to be able to take full advantage of the opportunity, you also need to be doing competitive analysis. So what kind of things should I be paying attention to? So let’s say I’m doing this on behalf of a client. What kind of things should I be paying attention to in terms of their competitor’s sites?
So the way that I always like to start for that type of question is you’ve got page-by-page analysis that you can do, one off. So if you’re looking at things where you’re struggling to produce outputs, whether it’s search engine, search engine optimization or organic performance, or otherwise, you can manually look and see what have they done that I have not. You can use relatively basic technologies to do that.
But the level-up that agencies can really take advantage of is looking at each of the competitors … Obviously it matters what the goals are, right? If you’re looking at launching a brand new site, well, you’re going to have information guiding that, plus you’re going to have competitive analysis. So you can look at cohort analysis of people who have done a similar thing and see how quickly they’ve ramped, how much content they produced, what other factors were in play. So that’s very useful for a brand new site launch.
That’s very, very similar set of data points, to go back to your question, that you’d want to look at if you’re examining a competitor. How much content do they produce in each topic that they typically cover, or content type that they cover. That cadence is very important because, here’s the fun part, most people don’t change. Most people aren’t tactically optimizing existing content, or improving it. And most people aren’t changing. They’re working with the long editorial calendar.
When I’m analyzing a competitor individually,