Episode 216:

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 @jeffrey_coyle Click To Tweet “The four main reasons to update your content are: it is out-of-date; inaccurate; the world has changed, or the concept has changed.”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

Subscribe to Build A Better Agency!

Itunes LogoStitcher button

Ways to Contact Jeff Coyle:

Speaker 1:

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.

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.

Before we jump into the interview, I want to just remind you that we are giving away a free workshop, online or live, every single month. So every single month, we give away either a seat at one of our live workshops, or license or access to one of our on-demand workshops. Both of those retail for a little under $2,000, so we’re not talking chump change here. And all you have to do to get in the drawing to win one of those workshops is leave a rating or review on the podcast. And all I ask you to do is take a screenshot of your rating or review, because as I have told you in previous episodes, sometimes your screen names don’t match your real name, and so it’s hard for me to know what DisneyDad97, I don’t know which agency you own. I want to know, because I want to go hang out at Disney with you, but will be helpful if I have a screenshot so I know who to notify if and when you win.

If you have already done so, and you have not won yet, have no fear. I promise you, your name is still in the hat, and hopefully, sooner or later, you will be a big winner. If you haven’t done it, it would be awesome if you would do it and just shoot me an email at [email protected] And I will make sure you get in the drawing.

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.

Jeff Coyle:

Thanks, Drew. Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

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.

Jeff Coyle:

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.

Drew McLellan:

Right, it’s crazy.

Jeff Coyle:

It’s really wild.

Drew McLellan:

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?

Jeff Coyle:

Sure. Oh yeah.

Drew McLellan:

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?

Jeff Coyle:

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.

Drew McLellan:

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?

Jeff Coyle:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Yes, there was?

Jeff Coyle:

Well, converted better, my question for you would be converted into what?

Drew McLellan:

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?

Jeff Coyle:

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?”

Drew McLellan:

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.”

Jeff Coyle:

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.

Drew McLellan:

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?

Jeff Coyle:

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.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely, and probably educated guessing. So it’s not that it’s bad, but my question is really is it enough?

Jeff Coyle:

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.

Drew McLellan:

All right, so you said agency producing, but you meant clients producing right?

Jeff Coyle:

Well, no. If the agency is producing it internally-

Drew McLellan:

Okay, okay.

Jeff Coyle:

They’ll produce the net product as the content itself.

Drew McLellan:

Okay, yeah, right.

Jeff Coyle:

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.

Drew McLellan:

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?

Jeff Coyle:

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.

Drew McLellan:

And some of them are going to say what’s a content inventory?

Jeff Coyle:

Why would I ever do a content audit?

Drew McLellan:

Right, right, yeah.

Jeff Coyle:

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.”

Drew McLellan:

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?

Jeff Coyle:

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, my goal is to predict their content editorial calendar. I’m trying to write down what they likely will do, and then I can do a plus/minus likely variance of that and say, “Here’s likely what blah, blah, blah .com will do in the next 12 months.” Okay, if I’m better than them, and I’m building more, and I’m stronger than them, I can put a big hammer on top of them. What I do.

If I’m shorter than them, weaker, I’ve got to start punching up, up, up, fast, better, stronger. But if I can predict their editorial calendar, who’s writing, how well it’s going to do, I can get into efficiency. I can do a lot of layers. Yeah, so the big things is hos successful are they at each topic they cover? Do they write any content that never performs? I love it when they publish it. And then can I build their calendar out such that I can likely say what will happen unless something big changes?

That’s another thing. If something big does change, seeing when that happens. Let’s say they spike their creation, let’s say they stop their creation, let’s say one less author’s writing, might be a reason to reach out. And so there’s a lot of things that you can learn by watching them publish, and my watching them update. Updating content, if you seek competitors are updating content, it’s a very predictive measure to understand their editorial strategy or their content strategy.

Drew McLellan:

And when you say update, are you talking about updating things … So I’m changing content that is currently on the site already?

Jeff Coyle:

Exactly right.

Drew McLellan:

How often do people do that?

Jeff Coyle:

Not often enough.

Drew McLellan:

So what’s the advantage? So let’s say I’ve got a client that’s been producing a piece of content, like a blog post, once every two weeks. And they’ve been doing it for several years. What’s the advantage of going in and updating that content?

Jeff Coyle:

Because content over time, imagine it’s like setting its roots into the ground. It’s seasoning. It’s passing off information and value to other pages on your site. If that is factually inaccurate, if it is out of date, that’s going to be the first reasons to update. But the best reason to update is you likely didn’t hit on everything when you wrote it. You didn’t cover that topic perfectly and comprehensively, or user intents behind the topic have changed, or the competitive landscape has gotten stronger. So your four main reasons to update would be out of date, inaccurate, the world has changed, or the concept has changed. And the information you may glean off of this is, “I may need to build supporting content around this to link to it and expand my cluster.” Or, “I need to improve this.” Or both in most cases.

And then the tactical side here is you’ve built a page that has strength or authority. Well, updating it, it’s real easy to go from seven to eight. I’m just making up numbers here. It’s super hard to go from zero to seven. So you’ve already lifted a lot. Why not write an expansion that covers this particular prospect type. “Hey, Jeff, we need more leads from manufacturing industries. And we’re covering ERP.” That’s a bad example. “We’re covering billing software.”

Well, if I go expand my billing mistakes post to cover a use case in manufacturing, well, guess what? I just made that target audience, potentially, convert. Plus, I’m going to catch a whole pool of keywords and topics with that expansion. So the other piece here is looking at pages that don’t solve user problems that I’m actually saying that I do. And that’s a big piece of what we do too. You can do that manually too. It’s just looking to see here’s the word that came into the page. Does the content satisfy that intent? If it doesn’t, it’s a mismatch. Either update it or write something new. I mean, it sounds so easy, but that’s that process.

Drew McLellan:

Well, in fact, as you’re talking, I’m thinking, “Oh my God, this sounds tedious.” Like if your client has hundreds or thousands of blog posts, or whatever kinds of content they have, the idea of going back and auditing all of them, and then manually figuring out how to update, or change, or delete, or augment each and every one of them, while you’re also creating more content, and by the way, you’re having a heck of a time getting your client to pay for all of that. I mean, that just makes my mind go … It’s exhausting just thinking about it. So I know that Market Muse does a lot or all of this using AI. So you’re doing these best practices on behalf of your clients every day. So what are some of the takeaways? Like now that you’ve done it for awhile, because you guys have been around for how long?

Jeff Coyle:

We’ve been in-market, with technology, selling over four years.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So you have four years of data. And I’m sure you’ve continued to treat the software and all of that. But now that you’ve watched it happen, in some ways, in an artificial environment that we could never replicate on a manual basis. So you’ve seen it bigger and kind of bold technicolor, in a way that many of us who are still doing this manually, can’t have that insight. What have you learned?

Jeff Coyle:

I’ve learned that some of the tactics of agencies for decades still work. The striking distance keywords tactics, you can still get away with that with a lot of clients. You can say, “Here’s the stuff that’s just on the verge of doing well. Let’s focus on those things.” You go build against that, and you get some incremental improvements, points on the board. High five, fantastic for a great deal of clients. So that still works.

But once you get passed out of that, there’s no tried and true practice that consistently works for clients. And that’s what you learn. You learn that you’ve really got to do comprehensive assessment, auditing. And if the client’s standing still, if they don’t have a culture of content, if they’re comfortable resting on their laurels or their wins, they’re okay over here, let’s focus over there, the biggest thing is there’s going to be constant education and re-education. If they’ve got it and they get it, and they want to produce … The one thing you said that I loved was the cost to value for content.

One big thing that we learned, cost to value for agency or with client, it’s show them how much their top-performing content is actually worth, and how inefficient or efficient their content creation or updating has been to date. Because if they have a top page that they can attribute, and hundreds of thousands of dollars too, and they’re fainting when you tell them that this page costs you $500 of writers costs, plus $500 in FUS, that’s a thousand bucks, then you’re going to have to have that ROI discussion. It’s just good selling, frankly, because you’ve got to get to quantified value in any sales discovery, or any discovery process.

If you’re having that challenge, what we’ve found, they don’t actually know how to associate quantified value with their investment. And in anything you buy, if that’s your problem, that’s a big problem. You’re not a black-box, voodoo creator. Or else, they probably think, “Oh, that’s the SEO voodoo.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. So how do you assign a value to that?

Jeff Coyle:

Well, it depends on the company. If it’s an ecomm, you got conversion-

Drew McLellan:

Sure. Then you can map all the way to the sale. I get that. So let’s say it’s a law firm. So it’s a B2B sale, considered purchase, professional services. Nobody’s buying a lawyer online, or they shouldn’t be probably. So how do you assign a value to that?

Jeff Coyle:

Ah, great example, Thomson Reuters, customer of ours with their FindLaw group. So building content sites for lawyers, it’s they have particular value props. They may have live chat conversion. They may have a lead conversion. They may have phone, and call tracking is needed in those cases. So you do have those three points of conversion in many cases. They often have an attributed value of handing off the leads if they do not qualify. They have a secondary market for their leads in most cases. And you’ve got these four areas of quantified value.

But the biggest thing, this is a perfect example of a case where you have to build an infrastructure. You can’t just go write one article on your practice area. One article on your practice area does not tell the story that you’re an expert. So you have to look at the value that’s created of building the infrastructure. All that content allows your marquee page to produce. So you’ve got to actually attribute the cost of the content not just to that one page, but to all the pages to truly represent the conversion.

Because, yeah, we see it so much in those types of industries. Insurance, anything local, local that is not B2B especially too, is they will try to say, “I spent a thousand on this page and it got me $10 million.” I’m making up these numbers. But they’ve actually had to write about 100 pages to actually allow. It’s like opening up the door to let that landing page perform. And so it’s a more complicated calculation. First, get them to know their quantified value. Then say, “Hey, your whole mosaic of content got you there. That costs X. We’re going to have to spend Y to produce the next N value there.” So it’s hard. It’s hard, but that’s part of the sale. That is, every day, that’s the sale.

Drew McLellan:

So part of all of this sounds like by being smarter, what it’s going to mean is in many cases, you’ve got to scale up your client’s content production. You’re going to see all of the holes where they’re missing something, or they could augment it, or update it, which just sounds like, “Okay, instead of doing three blog posts a month for our fee, or whatever it is, now we know that we need to have this plethora of deliverables, whether it’s blog posts or white papers or whatever it is.” So how do you guys help agencies scale up the production side of their business, given the challenges we’ve already talked about?

Jeff Coyle:

Yeah, it depends on whether they’re doing it themselves, the actual writing, or if they’re using a third party, where they’re acting as more of a QA and expansion on the stuff that they get from their drafters. First really, scaling up, obviously that’s a bread and butter for us. It’s the research, the briefing process, the plans, the reasons to plan. All of that is click, done. So you’re not spending your time on that. So if you’ve got writing resources … We’re working with an agency who’s one of the largest writing agencies, I can’t say their name, in the middle of the country.

And basically, all the research tasks have been compressed into repeatable processes such that they’re able to write at least 2X more, and apply those resources to more strategic goals for the client account stuff, as well as the actual writing. So they’re able to produce N more. We have clients that now can produce about six times more because all of the outlines are written for them, all of the details are written for them. It’s fine. So they can focus on the things that writers want to actually focus on, which it’s a surprise. We do this. We’re in the weeds so much. Writers actually want to write, and be creative, and write engaging, fun stuff, or think about imagery, or engagement vehicles. They want to do that. They don’t want to do keyword research.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Right.

Jeff Coyle:

So giving the writer more time to actually write. Gasp. Then that actually solves most of their problems. It’s amazing. And letting an editorial leader, or a writer that actually has subject matter expertise, use that, and actually apply it, and not feel like they’re constrained in a box. They’ll get creative but stay within these rough boundaries, because that’s going to be the success story for us.

Drew McLellan:

So one of the things that we’ve mentioned a couple times, but we haven’t really talked about in specific, is the whole idea of AI and machine learning and all of that. And so I know you’re focused in on your own company and your own product, but you and I first bumped into each other at the MAICON conference, where everybody was talking about AI in a plethora of ways. So now I’m going to ask you to look into your crystal ball a little bit and tell me, based on what you’re experiencing from your own company, and from the other sort of friendly competitors that you see out of the space, everybody else who’s on the exhibit floor. Where do you think AI is going to take agencies? And is it good or bad? Everybody’s a little afraid that their job, of course, is going to be the job that gets eliminated. But how do you see it changing what agencies do in the reasonable short run, in the next three to five years?

Jeff Coyle:

Yeah, I’ve got good news and bad news on my crystal ball there. So there are agencies with outdated strategy, outdated process, and a lot of their process that can be automated. And it can be automated right now. It will certainly will be able to be automated in the future. So staying ahead of that is key, and making sure you can apply value, or you’re starting to use these technologies … Maybe you can use it as a secret weapon, depends on how competent you are. Or, you can do it as, “Yeah, we are empowered by this or that.”

Because I think that’s a step that needs to be taken for anyone who wants to sell deals to clients who are over $5 million and more sophisticated businesses, if that’s the type of business you’re selling to. If you’re selling to mom and pop, it’s going to be a little bit different type of sale anyway. But as far as the technologies I see, crystal ball, outside of what we focus on with content strategy and content-focused competitive analysis, natural language generation is going to be something that grows in value over the next few years. How people can apply that is going to be big.

We’re working on that at some level where we’re going to see a lot more offerings claim to use that for very relevant or a lot of different types of technology. The other big is going to be personalization. Personalization, for a lot of different reasons. Newsletter, email communications, email personalization, webpage personalization. The buzzword of the last four years is account-based marketing, obviously. It’s an application of personalization. If a user can come to your website, and you’re targeting Boeing, and then you can tell they’re from Boeing, and you deliver them a custom experience on your site, that’s focused on maybe not Boeing, but it’s on aviation, and you walk them through the perfect funnel where you show them exactly the materials you know map to that buy cycle. That’s going to start happening.

There’s already technologies out there that will get you close to that. They’re not perfect yet. There’s already custom email nurturing and email platforms using this type of technology to send the perfect email to John at Boeing. And so those types of things are going to create dramatic efficiencies. If agencies are harnessing that, they can deliver that to people that don’t know that those exist, or they don’t want to figure them out. They don’t want to create the technical debt internally.

So I would say that exhibiting expertise with these technologies so that the product you deliver feels like it’s four steps away from anything that they could do internally, without creating massive amounts of training needs, or technical debt, that’s how agencies will stay ahead. And I always say, make sure that you connect to value with what you do, with the packages you deliver. If you’re baking on building that up-front audit, and then parceling out the wins over time to keep your client on the hook, okay, I give you that. But it’s going to have to be a little bit better than that if they can go buy the same value for the same price.

Drew McLellan:

So one of the conversations at MAICON, I’m curious about your take on it. Granted, acknowledging you have a bias. So a lot of agencies are fretting that they’re going to have to start hiring data scientists and folks like that. And if you’re an agency of 12 people, the idea of bringing on somebody who’s probably, even in the Midwest, 150K, and probably has headhunters calling them every single day, that’s a little daunting.

So do you think agencies have to do this ultimately? Do you think agencies are going to be doing this in-house? Or do you think this is going to be one of those offerings that, because it’s changing as often as it is, and because of the skill level of the people you need to build it out, are agencies of all sizes, or is there a size break? Are most agencies going to partner with third party vendors? Or are most agencies going to start home growing this stuff?

Jeff Coyle:

Yeah, I think it depends on how full-function your agency is to me. So if you imagine the T-shaped online marketer graphic that everybody’s shown a million times. If you are an agency below N people, can you really think that you’re going to be an expert on that whole T? Or are you really focused? “We’re the technical SEO agency. We’re the ecommerce optimization agency.” If you’re planning to deliver services outside your target practice area, you will have to partner. I mean, it’s just only … And you can get real deep on your specialization, but if you’re selling adjacent products that are collected, I don’t see how you can keep up with the Jones’s on that.

I’ve seen some of the best agencies, from a tactical side, try to get stuff in-house. Hate to say this, because it’s a little bit probably controversial. The problem is those folks shouldn’t be building products. They should be building their in-house weapons. And so what we’ve seen a lot of times is those folks are trying to build market-facing products. That’s not their expertise. That, you need another 50 people to build. So building those weapons internal does have a place. And some of the better agencies in the United States, or across the world, are reaping the benefits from having proprietary tech internally. And they’re also realizing that it’s some technical debt. Which, when I say that, I mean you have to maintain it. You have to improve it. [crosstalk 00:52:54]

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeff Coyle:

But you’ve got to account for that. So that’s where you got to do the build or buy. But you can build things that really give you an unfair advantage over your competitors. Or you can buy them white label, which costs more, but it’s worth the investment. I think if it’s in your core sweet spot, consider building it. If it’s an adjacency, you’re probably never going to get really good at it internally for years.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. I think about like a brand shop. They’re developing brands for clients. They’re not technically based at all. But I think about the conversation we’ve just had around content, which is a big part of sort of activating the brand. You can totally see how this sort of technology, or this insight, whether you do it manually or with a technology, would be super helpful in providing value for the client. But I just can’t … I’ve got a couple agencies sort of in my world that have developed a product. And whether they’ve gone to market with it or not, even if they’ve used it internally, what they find is … And some of them have done an accounting software, or a project management software, or an asset management software.

What they find is they spend so much time maintaining it trying to keep it updated and make the user experience better and all of that, that it gets exhaustive. And comparatively, that technology is much simpler than what we’re talking about with machine learning and AI and all of that. So I guess, as you meet agencies across the land, because I know you’re at conferences and places all over, what do you think the pain point is for them now that AI is going to solve?

Jeff Coyle:

Yeah. I think it’s going to allow them … Well, gosh, on two fronts. One, to prioritize their own opportunities, and so that they know which clients should be receiving more resources and less resources. The other one is going to be being able to get more time back, and then being able to apply resources where they think it’s going to have the biggest impact. Agencies may find that their core players, who are practitioners, or managers, or above, today, can spend more of their time selling instead of delivering. And I think that that’s what you’re going to find.

And then you’re going to also be able to offer some things as white labels, as secret weapons, more often, for this gap between now and then full knowledge market. But those two things are going to be … That’s where the winners are going to be separated.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s an exiting time to be in the business, that’s for sure.

Jeff Coyle:

Pretty wild. It’s pretty wild.

Drew McLellan:

It really is. Thank you so much for being on the show, for sharing your expertise. If folks want to learn more about you guys, if they want to connect with you personally, what’s the best way for them to reach you?

Jeff Coyle:

So my phone number … I always joke. No, [email protected] If you heard about us from this podcast, send me a personal email, please, and just note the podcast, and we’ll make sure it gets processed. We have agency partner program that has special discounts for your clients and for you. And we can walk through that specifically. You can also go to the website. And Market Muse, if you type in Market Muse topic report, there’s a couple promos. You can get free topic report for yourself or for your client. You can also run, we have a sample report you can get online. But you can get a full one if you use this other form that’s on the site. So look for Market Muse topic reports. And you can always shoot me a note, [email protected]

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Thank you so much for being on the show. Appreciate it very much.

Jeff Coyle:

Thanks again.

Drew McLellan:

All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build A Better Agency. I assure you that I am completely confident that this got your head spinning a little bit, and thinking about possibilities. And if you’re producing content for clients, which is sort of where we spent most of our time because of Jeff’s expertise, you can begin to see the power of collecting and analyzing data in a way that we just haven’t been able to do in the past. So I think it’s an exciting time to be in the business and to be experimenting with all these tools.

And I think it’s a way for us, if we’re brave enough to give it a try, to be a huge hero to our clients, which I think is a beautiful thing in this day of looking for attention and growth in your existing business. So take what you learned today, apply it. Think about it. Share it with your team. And begin to experiment. I think we are going into a season of experimentation in our industry. And I think that’s kind of cool. Hopefully, you do too. I will be back next week with another guest, get you thinking a little differently.

Huge shout out to our friends at White Label IQ for sponsoring the podcast. As always, if you go over to WhiteLabelIQ.com/AMI, they’ve got a special deal for you. Super grateful for their support. And I will see you next week. Talk to you then. That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Build A Better Agency. Visit AgencyManagementInstitute.com to check out our workshops, coaching packages, and all the other ways we serve agencies just like yours. Thanks for listening.