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An In-Depth Guide to Content Marketing for Long-Term Growth

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Ryan Bonnici

Chief Marketing Officer, G2

Want to learn how one B2B marketing campaign made $64 million from a $6,000 budget? Ryan Bonnici joins the podcast to share the exact steps he took and how you can follow his strategy. Listen in to hear us talk content marketing, search engine optimization, and how to drive tangible results without using growth hacks.

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We covered:

  • Why you should go after the top of your funnel vs. optimizing for conversions
  • How content marketing impacts your sales funnel and drives long-term growth
  • Why you have to validate data before you create any piece of content
  • How to get into your target buyer’s head to find out exactly what they’re searching
  • Why most of your content shouldn’t be about the products you sell
  • The effective way to search for keywords based on an intent to buy
  • Prioritizing low difficulty keywords vs. high difficulty keywords
  • Why you shouldn’t rely on blog posts to learn about new strategies

Full Transcript:

Louis: Bonjour, bonjour! And welcome to another episode of Everyone Hates Marketers.com, the marketing podcast for marketers, founders, and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to drive results in the most tangible way possible avoiding all of those hacky little tactics you can use and more focusing on the long term, so you can drive growth for your business.

My guest today is the chief marketing officer of G2 Crowd. You might have heard of this platform before. It’s the place where you search for reviews of your next B2B tech and software gadgets. It’s used by 1.5 million people every month. It’s quite big.

My guest today has previous positions in a lot of leading global marketing positions like HubSpot, Salesforce, ExactTarget. I’ve just discovered a few seconds ago that he’s my age, so his CV is much bigger than mine.

He’s been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker. Prior to G2 Crowd, my guest has had a lot of leadership roles in a lot of companies we know about, including HubSpot, as I mentioned. He also helped to grow ExactTarget, and he served as a director, head of marketing at Salesforce.

I’ve seen you speak a few times, once, not a few times, recently, and he’s a great public speaker. I’m very excited to have him on board. Ryan Bonnici, welcome.

Ryan: Hey, thanks, Louis. Nice to be here, and no pressure after that introduction.

Louis: Yeah, you’re going to have to deliver.

Ryan: I don’t think you’re actually talking about me, really, because I always feel unconfident. I always suffer from impostor syndrome, but I’m glad that the résumé looks really good.

Louis: The résumé looks good, so let’s make sure you look good now. I’ll make sure that you look good.

We are at a stage where most of what I read around marketing is about hacky little things that you can do to drive your growth tomorrow, about those things that will die in the next week or two.

But, you have a different philosophy that I share. Today, we are going to try to go into this, into your mind on how to drive results using tactics that are not sleazy in any way.

Let’s take a step back. I’m curious to hear from your perspective, you mentioned that you want to talk more about how to drive results without, in a non-hacky way. Can you just describe what you mean by that?

Ryan: Yeah, I think there’s the term growth hacking and conversion rate optimization. There’s just so many terms that are thrown around today. I find most people that do those things actually think about growth in too microscopic of a way.

If you’re taking email subject line optimization or click-through ratable landing page, all of those things are good. You should definitely be doing them. But they’re not going to make or break your business. More importantly, they’re not going to make your business. They’re not going to drive crazy growth.

I think I take a bit more of an approach whereby you should be thinking about things outside of the funnel or maybe at the top of your funnel.

By increasing the volume there, exponentially increasing the volume I should say, then even if your conversion rates stay the same for the funnel, you’re talking shit-tons more outcomes of whatever you want.

That might be leads, that might be MQLs, that might be sales opportunities, and then, ultimately, revenue. I think about it just more holistically.

Louis: Can you define MQL just briefly?

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. I think every business defines it differently, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, the MQL metric and definition is really to create connection and SLA between sales and marketing. For me, the most useful way I think of it is it’s literally someone putting their hand up saying, “I want to speak to your sales team.” That’s how I define it.

I guess what you could call that in the simplest way is there is explicit intent that there will be a sales conversation of some sort after this MQL event. Now, some people will then add a fit component.

If you think of two-by-two matrix where you got intent on one axis and fit on the other, high intent — so raising their hand with high fit — they’re the perfect target audience for you is great obviously.

But I find too often companies just look at fit. And then they will factor things like, “Oh, they visited our blog, and they read a random article about what we do, and they’re a good fit. Oop, MQL, send it across to sales.”

That’s the worst thing to do in my mind. At that point in time, sales will start to get pissed off with your MQLs, because they don’t want to speak to sales.

It’s marketing’s job in my mind not to hand them across until they’re actively waving their hand. That was my long way of I guess going into MQLs, because I think it’s a pretty misunderstood component in marketing.

Louis: Right, and it stands for marketing qualified leads, right?

Ryan: Yeah.

Louis: I cut you in your explanation of long-term growth using exponential. Basically, way more people discovering about your company, so that in turn some of them will end up buying from you, considering you, right?

It doesn’t really matter at this stage whether your landing page converts very well. Or it doesn’t really matter at this stage whether all of your blog posts lead to a good landing page that leads to the sign-up process.

What matters the most is almost flooding the very top of the funnel with a lot more people so you can drive the company, right?

Ryan: Yeah, I think so. I think by doing that you’re still going to get in front of the people that matter, the people that can buy right now regardless of what it is that you sell. But when you go after the top of the funnel, you’re opening yourself up to a lot more people that maybe can’t buy right now but will in the future.

That’s important from a brand perspective because you’re getting your brand in front of so many more people. But it’s also it creates, I guess, a flywheel effect whereby all of those additional people that now are reading your content online or trying your free tools or whatnot, they now are linking to you.

They’re sharing your content. They’re doing things that are helping you now get better rankings for your Google SEO and things like that. You can leverage the power of the top of the funnel to create more of a flywheel so that everything is benefited from that.

Louis: Let’s say you work for a company that doesn’t have that in place. They’re struggling to generate leads. They’re not growing that fast. You are joining them as the head of marketing to fix that problem.

You’ve decided that the best way to solve that problem is by what you describe there. I know it’s kind of a role-play. I know you probably need to define the industry if you want to, or whatever you need.

But for the sake of it, and because listeners really want the practical steps to turn this idea, that they all agree with into something they can actually tangibly take tomorrow in their business.

What would be step number one for that? Based on your experience and the way you’ve done that before, how would you do it starting from step number one?

Ryan: Look, I think you alluded to an important thing. I think what I’m talking about is definitely is more of a long-term strategy. I think it’s going to give you the best results, but it takes time to build.

I would always I think coach people to do this strategy for sure. But I think I would couple it always with more of a demand gen focused team.

Let’s say you got your content team thinking about the content upper funnel, long-term growth. I always build a demand generation team or a funnel team or a sales marketing team that’s basically working really closely with sales.

They may be doing things like ads. They may be doing things like events. They may be doing field marketing activities to help sales in the exact pipeline. That gets wins and growth for you quickly. But that allows you then to get some time to build this bigger thing.

I just wanted to call that out, because I think it would be wrong for someone not to do that and just to do the top of the funnel stuff. They probably would get fired before they could actually get the results from the top of the funnel thing.

But back to your point. So if they are starting straight up, firstly, this is really where most people go wrong. When they start creating content, they’re creating content out of a lens of, “Oh, my CEO said that I should write a blog post about this thing.”

“The sales team asked for us to write a blog post about this thing.” Those posts might be okay, but I think it’s really important to understand what the post’s purpose is, and how that will impact your funnel.

If your CEO’s asking you to write it, it’s probably going to be an interesting piece. It’s probably going to be a thought leadership style piece that might define you and your unique views on something.

But it’s more likely than not going to be something that drives traffic in the long term. It might drive some social traffic spikes from when people share it, but it won’t do that much for you in the long run.

Similarly, with the sales content, that won’t ever really help you build top of funnel traffic. It might help you create content, so sales reps can accelerate people that are actively in a deal with them if there’s a longer sales cycle.

And that’s okay. I just think it’s really important that people understand that, because most of the time, they’re creating content that they actually haven’t thought through the strategy of. It’s not data-driven.

The approach that I would always recommend people take is an SEO-led approach. When I say that, I don’t mean writing content to hack the Google algorithm and things like that. I literally mean doing research and validating, what are people out there in the market that I am trying to sell to, what are they searching for? Really simple.

Because you could write about so many different topics, and it’s really important before you do that to actually do proper analysis and working out what they’re searching for. More often than not, you’ll find that they’re rarely ever searching for what you maybe do or sell.

They’re looking for things that relate to their day. If you can connect them and pull them into your website on those things where they need help, then you can ideally convert them and then nurture them over time. So that when they’re ready to go they can go.

To make this really practical for folks listening that are like, “Okay, that makes sense. Where do I start?” I would use free tools like SEM Rush or Ahrefs to get or even just literally Google AdWords to try and work out.

Put in some examples of content topics you’re thinking of writing and see, how many people actually search for these things every month and in the locations that you want to attract. And then how difficult are these terms going to be.

You want to choose a mixture of high volume to low volume, and there’s typically a positive correlation with difficulty. The more volume typically the more difficult the term will be to rank for because other smart people have done this kind of research and have worked that out. That would be where I would start.

Louis: Thanks for going through it that quickly. The way you would actually drive this long-term growth is by using content, and not only using content, but focusing on what people search for. I very much like what you said about SEO. I used to have this bad thinking about SEO.

This bad image of it a few years ago before I really started understanding what marketing was all about. Exactly as you said, SEO is not about hacking Google to make sure you appear on the first page of Google.

SEO is really about understanding people, what they search. It’s a window to their brain, isn’t it? They search for what they have in mind.

Ryan: You know what? As you said that, and now I’m thinking back more about what I said specifically, I think SEO actually isn’t the right term really for it. Let’s say I write a blog post about a topic that no one searches.

I can have the right alt text. I can have my H1s, my H2s, and everything all set up perfectly. I can have the perfect number of words, and it might rank in the first position for Google. The SEO tick crushing it. But if no one searches for it, what was the point?

I guess, maybe what I should say is that this is actually less about SEO. This is really about reverse-engineering demand and validating what. Before you create anything, before you send an email, before you write a blog post.

Validating with the data that is available to you, and there’s so much fucking data available to us today, what are people searching for? That’s the most important thing really.

I think this concept of reverse engineering is one of the rarest skills that I see in marketers today, because I interview probably, maybe two to four people a day. I’m building out my team at G2 Crowd remotely.

We’ve got a remote team around the world, so if there’s anyone listening to this that’s an awesome marketer, hit me up. But you can reverse engineer any role. The moment people tell me that you can’t, they’re lying.

If you are a PR person, you can reverse engineer your funnel and work out, “How many emails did I send to journalists?” To then, “How many journalists replied to me?” To then, “How many journalists agreed to publish?”

To then, “How many journalists actually published?” This is a mini-funnel from a PR person. You can do that with social. You can do that with email. But this is effectively what we are doing with blogging and content, before we create the content.

Louis: Let’s say you joined this company that is struggling. This what we’re discussing, reverse engineering demand and identifying the topics that have high volume that are relevant to your business and writing for that, it’s the first thing you would do, right?

Ryan: It’s probably not. It depends what role. If I’m going in at a CMO level, then no, that’s probably not the first thing that I would do. I would probably think more holistically about actually personas within the market.

Who is it that we’re selling to? I would chat to people in the organization. But if we’re talking about the content strategy specifically to drive traffic, yes, this would be the first thing that I would be doing.

Louis: Let’s talk a bit more about what you just mentioned there. We’ve talked about that in the podcast many times, but I want to see your approach to it.

You said, “I want to have an understanding of who I’m selling to,” and you would talk to the team internally. What else would you do to make sure that you understand those people?

Ryan: There’s understanding the demographics/profile elements of the person, and that’s where I think speaking internally to a team would be useful, aka sales team, who do we sell to? What size of company are they at? Are they in a certain level or above?

That just helps me better understand the person, but then I would then better understand, how long is the sales process? Because depending on those things, the different activities that we will use will be different.

But I think the content stuff, the reverse engineering, the validation that I talked about earlier that’s like, now, “Okay, I understand who I’m targeting.” Now, let me put myself in the shoes of that person or people and work out what they actually search about.

Because the percentage of time in their day where they’re searching for you specifically and your business is probably less than 0.1%. But they’re doing shit-tons of searches every day. We all are on our phones, on our computers, on our tablets.

It’s like thinking into that mindset of who that person is and then working out what they’re searching for throughout the day. That’s I think really the most useful thing to do. That’s where I’ve had the most success I think in my career is by really thinking through that process and then validating it with data.

Louis: Let’s say you join a business. You start to have a deep understanding of the persona, who they are, the demographic, the profile, as you mentioned. But you’re not too sure about their day-to-day, the type of stuff they search. How do you actually get into their head to translate knowing someone into this is the type of stuff they search for?

Ryan: I think there’s a few different ways. Firstly, if you’re marketing to a persona that you know or is similar to you. I oftentimes have marketed to marketers in my career in many of my roles, so it’s really easy for me to understand what marketers do in their day-to-day job because I have done that.

But if I was marketing to a lawyer or a legal person, I would potentially chat to someone like that. But it’s not that hard to sit down and think about like, “Okay, if I am trying to attract,” if I’m lawyer say, and I’m trying to attract people to my business.

Let’s say I’m a lawyer, and I specialize in workplace harassment as an example. The first kind of content I would probably create is literally content around, “What is Workplace Harassment?” and, “7 Things That Are Workplace Harassment That You May Not Realize,” and those things.

The reality is that’s the bottom of the funnel, really. People that know or are just trying to decide if they were harassed at work. The bigger audience is people that actually have been maybe harassed at work and don’t know it.

They may google random things like: What is okay in the workplace? How to be a good manager? What are the signs of a good manager, a bad manager? Topics that probably have nothing to do with law, that’s probably what they’re searching for. Once you brainstorm those ideas, then you would use tools like I mentioned, Ahrefs and SEMrush, to then start to work out if that is true.

You then might put in workplace as a keyword, and look at everything that people searched around that. The majority of it probably has nothing to do with the funnel that you’re trying to attract, but you’ll see a few little gems of things that will come up there.

Another example I guess that I would say there is. That was a more specific one in relation to the service that, that might company might be trying to sell. But I think too often we forget that, and this is everyone talks about this, “It’s not B2B. It’s human-to-human.”

And all that bullshit, which is partly true. But I think my biggest takeaway with that and my feelings about this is just that they are people. They do human things. If you are a human, you can work out what they do maybe with 50% of their day, because they’re humans like you.

An example might be, regardless of who I’m trying to attract, I know that they work each day. If they work, they maybe have work stress, or they may have some days where they feel more or less motivated like I do. They may be looking for jobs. They may want to work out salaries of new jobs.

These are all content topics that just me being a person living that has been in business knows that I have searched, and everyone in business searches.

There’s no reason why I can’t attract them in on that content and be useful for them. I don’t just have to pull them into my business on the one thing that I sell them. I think that’s what we learned at HubSpot, and what we did a good job at doing.

Louis: Having the mix between what you discussed. Let’s summarize what you said so far because I think that’s quite interesting. One, have a basic understanding of your persona, who they are, talk to your salespeople, talk to a few of them, have a basic understanding.

Two, it seems like the second step you mentioned is basically writing down a few topics that spring to mind. As you said, if I’m a lawyer, and I specialize in workplace harassment, let’s just write down a few topics, a few themes that come to mind, right?

Ryan: Mm-hmm.

Louis: That’s really just based on brain, and what I’m thinking about. Three, you started to mention tools like Ahrefs. Today, the day we are recording this episode, the episode with Tim Soulo from Ahrefs is live. So that’s quite interesting to hear from you on that as well.

You mentioned using free tools or pay tools like Ahrefs and other SEO tools to really understand whether what you think they are searching for, and what they actually are searching for. Where is the intersection?

You also talked about difficulty and volume and the relationship between the two. Why don’t we go through that a bit? Let’s say you start into this business that is struggling. You have a list of topics that you think we should write about.

How do you turn that into a prioritized list of things, “Oh shit, this is what we need to write about right now?”

Ryan: Okay, you said a prioritized list. Great question, I actually would. I’d build a spreadsheet out, firstly. I would use SEMrush’s API, and I would connect Google Sheets up with SEMrush.

And what I would do is, do all of my research in lists around different topics. Then, I would spit that all out into a Google Sheet, and then I would start to build a custom formula based on certain fields.

I might add one of my own custom columns. And that might be, I would call it maybe fit, so how closely related is this topic to our business? One might be low, two might be moderate, three might be high, and then I might choose another column that’s intent.

Okay, so it’s related to my business and then the intent column might also now be, how much intent is this search key phrase or keyword in relation to buying our product or service?

I would then literally go down through all of those keywords that I found and add those metrics in. Then I would basically create a calculation that’s like, I’m going to simplify it just for talking now, but it’s way more complicated than this.

But it might be like a million searches for this keyword. It’s low fit, so it gets a one out of three, and it’s low intent to sell. That might then take that one million monthly searches for that keyword and actually spit out a number of 100,000. Yeah, you can get a lot of high traffic, but maybe 100,000 of it’s actually going to be the right fit for you.

Then another keyword might be only, let’s say 200,000 monthly searches. But it might be moderate fit, and it might be moderate intent, so half-and-half. That would cut the 200,000 down just to 100,000.

Now, these two keywords are both on par. I would do that for all of them. Again, I just simplified it for those two things. But the way I would do this is factoring in difficulty as well.

I factor in difficulty over a timescale, so depending on how difficult the key word is I project when traffic will come from that keyword. If it’s really high difficulty, the traffic might not come for 12 months. And I would build that all in.

But that would then help me then. I would filter my list from top to bottom on my calculated column to then have a calculated traffic score per keyword. That would be one of those ways that I would do that.

It was interesting actually I did that at HubSpot maybe about two and a half, three years ago. This is just like I know we might chat about career growth later on, or we may not get around to that, but I’m a big believer in the core responsibilities of your job are typically the most boring parts of your job.

If you’re a demand gen marketer, driving MQLs is probably boring work. But you have to do it, otherwise you get fired.

For an email marketer, you have to send emails. But that’s probably the boring part of your job. But you really need to work out how to tick the boxes of your job and hit your goals in the most sustainable and reliable way to free up time, so that you can then experiment and try new things. If you’re an email marketer, you should be playing with chat bots, etc.

Anyhoo, so I would free up that time to be working on these new things. But when I was at HubSpot, I was hitting my goals, and I noticed that globally our leads were starting to flatline. They weren’t growing at the rate that they were previously.

Basically, what I did was kind of what I just explained to you. But instead of doing it proactively based on keywords, I actually exported all this of every single web page that we had live on the internet. HubSpot.com every single page, there were hundreds of thousands of them, and I basically exported it from GA into Google Sheets, imported it into there.

Then what I did was I went through all of the content pages that were driving traffic, and I tagged them with topics. If there was a blog post about marketing I would tag it marketing. If it was about email marketing I would tag it email marketing. If it was about social media, I would tag it social media.

Then what I did was I then basically pulled the organic traffic for all of those pages and was able to combine them at a topic level. I created a new tab. And if what I’m saying doesn’t make sense, Louis, let me know. And I’ll explain it because I might miss something.

But I would then basically in a new tab do a VLOOKUP or a COUNTIF or a SUMIF or an AVERAGEIF. I think in this situation it would be a COUNTIF or a SUMIF. I would basically say, “Okay, for every single blog post under the tag email marketing, what were the total number of organic visits last month?”

Then I would, obviously, that would auto pull for all of those topics. So email marketing, social media, etc.

Once I then had that I’d then exported all of the data from our CRM based on first-touch, organic conversion. I was then looking at, “Okay, all of the leads that came into our CRM, whereby they came from all of those URLs, how many of each of those pages drove organic leads in the last month?”

Now I see at a topic level, “Okay, the email marketing topic drove for us across all of our pages around the topic email marketing. Maybe let’s say 100,000 organic visitors, which then maybe, let’s just guess, drove 10,000 organic leads.” I could see that’s a 10% conversion rate from visitor to lead, and I would do that for all my topics.

What I started to find was that the topics that were really closely aligned to HubSpot like marketing automation, email marketing, social media, topics that HubSpot sold products for, naturally, we had created more content around these topics.

But what was happening is we were reaching a ceiling. We ranked in the first position for all of those key terms so creating more content around maybe the term email marketing was pointless, because we already ranked in the first position. As long as we keep that content updated and evergreen, we’ll do okay.

That helped me start to then identify, what are some topics that there’s a really high keyword volume, but we’re only capturing maybe 1% of the total traffic on that keyword?

Then I started to work out, “Cool, there’s heaps of topics that aren’t as related to our business. They convert at a lower rate from lead to opportunity from opportunity to sales business, but there’s so much more volume that I can drive shit-tons more revenue.”

It took me a couple months to do all that analysis and connect up the Google Analytics data with our CRM data and look at it and look through. I needed heaps of help from people on the team.

But I published it internally as this internal research piece, which then helped our content teams and all of these other teams re-evaluate how we were choosing content.

One of the findings from that was the fact that email signature was a topic that there was crazy high volume in, but we hadn’t created any content around it other than maybe one blog post around cool emails, email templates for your email inbox.

It was a pretty cool blog post. It got good traffic, but there were so many more searches. I worked with our team in the Sydney office to create HubSpot’s email signature generator.

We worked with a developer in Sydney. It cost us $6,000. If you search today, right now, email signature, email signature generator, HubSpot’s email signature generator’s the first thing that comes up.

Over the course of a few years that one page on our site became the sixth most trafficked page to the entire HubSpot.com site organically, because there were so many people searching for email signature generators.

That perfectly fit the person that we were trying to sell to. People in business. You don’t create an email signature if you’re a student, or if you’re unemployed. You create it if you’re in business.

Perfectly, what’s nice about that as well is that everything that goes into an email signature is the things that go into your lead form. It created this tool that converted at like an 80% conversion rate from traffic to lead which is unheard of.

It was driving something like 70,000 visitors a month. You can work out from that conversion rate, it was driving more than 50,000 leads a month, net new leads.

That was something that came out of all of that research. I have written about that on the G2 Crowd blog earlier this year, and I have all the screen shots and all of the workings and templates that I used for Google Sheets. So how to come to email signature generator as that.

If anyone that’s listening to this wants to see that, if you search “World’s Most Effective B2B Marketing Campaign,” I think it will come up. But I’m sure Louis can add a link afterward.

That’s maybe a good example of how all of that work then informed actual outputs that then changed the content and the free tools that we created.

Since then, we created an out of office message generator at HubSpot, which I created that when I was in Sydney and never got around to publishing it before I left. The team, I think about a year later after I left, finished it.

But if you do a keyword research of, out of office message or holiday order responder, there’s hundreds of thousands of people that are all people that are in business, and they’re searching for a standard little professional template to put into their vacation responder.

Now’s the perfect time with the holidays coming up. That would drive again tens of thousands of leads for HubSpot every month organically.

When I pitched that first idea of the email signature generator to my boss, our CMO at the time, Kip, who I love, he’s one of the best marketers that I’ve ever worked with. I fucking love him. He’s amazing.

But he thought it was a stupid idea, because it had nothing to do with marketing automation or email marketing. Luckily, I was a little bit of a shithead, and I just said to him, “Well, I’m sorry, but I’m going to do it. It’s my budget.” I did it, and it worked.

I think there’s topics that just people wouldn’t ever realize that would be good for your business that you can create shit-tons of growth and impact for, but you really need to be able to back it up with data.

Sorry, I realize that I just talked for a really long time then.

Louis: No, it’s really interesting, which is why I didn’t stop you. Because, usually, I do stop guests. But, you went into a great level of detail for everyone.

Let me summarize what you said. First, you talked about turning those ideas you had about keywords into a spreadsheet that you can use and start wondering whether there’s demand for it, so the volume.

Whether that there is a fit with your business, whether that’s something that relates to you. Whether there is an intent to buy from it.

When someone searched for customer experience software versus someone searching for how to improve customer experience, the second one has a less intent to buy than the first one.

Ryan: 100%.

Louis: Then, you basically have your own formula to prioritize those. You have a way to know, “Okay, because it’s a high volume, therefore it might be super difficult as well to rank for, and because it’s not super relevant to us, then it’s only 10% of this volume that you can capture and hope to turn.”

However, if it’s a lower keyword in terms of volume, but it’s very relevant to you. So, for example, anything that is Hotjar review, to go to G2 Crowd. So that’s big intent for G2 Crowd that wouldn’t have necessarily high volume, but more people are likely to find it helpful in G2 Crowd.

Ryan: Totally.

Louis: That’s the first thing you mentioned.

Ryan: You might then build into your formula that if there’s high intent, and it’s a high-fit thing. Maybe there’s only a thousand people that search that a month, because that’s a very bottom of funnel search term.

But you might then assume that you might factor into the algorithm. So that actually the number that shows is 10,000 instead of a thousand, because you want that key term to be more prioritized in your list.

Louis: Yes. This score doesn’t necessarily mean the amount of people that might actually see these or convert, it’s more like a priority score that you use to say, “This is the top one. It’s a priority. We must write for it first,” right?

Ryan: Totally.

Louis: That’s the first thing you mentioned, which is super interesting. I’ve done a similar exercise, and it’s eye-opening as you mentioned. You wouldn’t believe the amount of terms you think people search for that actually don’t and the other way around.

The second thing you mention is super interesting, but I think that fits more into companies that already have a shit-ton of content to play with, which for most is usually not the case.

Just a goldmine that you can just optimize. But it’s worth mentioning, and this is what you talked about when I see you speak in Dublin a few months ago.

You turn things into topics. You basically identify each blog post, link that to a topic, and then try to understand at a glance, are we maxing out this topic? That’s a quite interesting concept, because there’s only a certain amount of people searching for those terms every day, right?

Ryan: Yeah.

Louis: If you’re in the lucky position of HubSpot where basically every single article you write about anything ranks a number one, then you hit a plateau pretty quickly to use a French word.

You hit a plateau pretty quickly, and then you’re like, “Fuck, we’re not going to grow if we keep writing about those.”

This is when this idea of topics that are very, very top of the funnel to generate shit-tons of new traffic came to be, and this is a very, very successful marketing campaign that you ran. You said $6,000 marketing budget and generated $64 million worth of business. That’s pretty good.

To go back to listeners who might think, “I’m not a HubSpot. I’m not G2 Crowd. I don’t have a big team.” It seems like the first thing you mentioned, prioritizing things based on volume, difficulty, the fit, intent to buy. It seems like it’s the best first step for people, right?

Ryan: Yeah, totally. I think part of maybe if you were someone that was just starting fresh out, what you would do is you would do exactly what I said, but you would maybe set a difficulty filter of max 20 difficulty out of a 100.

You would only tackle like only those topics that are under level 20. Once you start to get those ranking for all of those key topics, then you’d expand your filter to zero to 30, and then you’d add any additional topics, and then you might go zero to 40.

What that’s going to do is allow you to get traffic from those longer tail, lower difficulty keywords quicker, which then, in turn, will build traffic to your site and then links to your site organically.

Obviously, you can do your own outbound community outreach to see where people could add links to your content to be helpful.

That will help you slowly build your domain score over time to then start being able to go after more and more difficult terms like the parent term. Search for media might be the parent term, going to be super difficult to rank for, only a HubSpot would be able to rank for that or a Sprout Social.

But any company who might be able to rank for best types of social media examples. Again, I’m just making that up, that might be low difficulty, so that’s where you start.

Loouis: I’m glad you mentioned difficulty, because that’s something we talked about with Tim Soulo from Ahrefs as well. Usually, companies like SEO software like Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMrush use a score from 0 to 100 to talk about difficulty.

Usually what they use as their main metric is the number of backlinks required to be on the first page of Google for this exact term. Backlinks are still very much thing that search engines look at to make sure that a piece is popular, that it’s good. People linking to it, therefore it must be good.

Difficulty in Ahrefs, a difficulty of 50 over 100, you might require around 50 backlinks, but then it’s exponential after that. A difficulty of 80 might require you 250 or 300 backlinks.

A backlink is very difficult to get, as you know, unless you have a massive following, a massive community. That makes sense for you to focus on longer tail keywords that have lower difficulty, so that you can start building your domain, building your content.

Ryan: Yeah, and I think that will just allow you to start to get traffic early on. Then, you’ll start to then get a percent. You’ll start to generate some links from that traffic. It might not be much.

It might be like one a month or something like that. But if you’re not getting any traffic, then there’s no way to generate organic links in the first place, so that’s a nice way to help,

At the end of the day, it’s impossible for everyone to be able to do this. But I think when you’re creating content — what I do with my team, I have a team of 10 writers here at G2 Crowd. We take I guess what some people call the Skyscraper Technique or the 10x technique or whatnot.

Whereby we will research what do all of the blog posts for the keyword that rank on maybe the first two pages have in them. Our blog post on that same topic that we want to rank for that keyword will have all of those things that they wrote and more.

It’s all-encompassing of that topic, which again obviously takes way more time to write. But if you can embed good YouTube videos that are relevant. If you can create your own custom graphics with alt texts that relate to the keyword that you’re searching for. If you can do all those things, it’s going to be so much easier for you to get links and get traffic.

Because it’s not just about what the stuff that’s happening offsite. It’s also about what’s happening on page as well. When someone comes to your blog post, and they spend ten times longer reading your article than anyone else on that page, Google sees that through your Google Analytics tracking.

They see if someone clicks back and comes back to the search result to find something else, because they didn’t find what they were looking for. Google’s always learning.

I think my team takes a pretty proactive approach to regularly going back. When we rank for a key term like that, we’re always updating our old content to see if there’s like a new competitor that now ranks on the first page for a key term that’s really important to us.

If there’s some elements in their blog post that we didn’t have in our original post, we will re-add those additional things to our page with original writing. So that our post is now all-encompassing, again and again and again.

Louis: As advice, don’t try to go against G2 Crowd.

Ryan: I don’t know. Who knows?

Louis: 10 writers is a dream though. That’s nice to have a team of 10 to work and to write new topics.

Louis: But thanks for going through all of that. I guess, I’m definitely going to add to the show notes, the article you mentioned where you talk about templates and stuff. I suspect if you’re listening to this podcast, you’d like to see those spreadsheets.

Because I saw them, and that gave me this visual representation. It’s easier for me, then for you to tell me about them and re-explain. But, for someone completely new to that, that will be more difficult.

I don’t like to speak too much about tools, because they change, they die, and others appear. But if you don’t have a lot of money to invest in a tool like Ahrefs, what tools would you recommend people to use for this exercise?

Ryan: It doesn’t matter, you can literally just use Google AdWords. It’s going to be a bit of a pain to get all the data out, but you can get it out if you want to go completely free. But I think it’s worth the investment.

Ahrefs for one user and even SEMrush I think we’re talking less than $50 a month. They’re not expensive tools. It could be maybe a little bit more than that, but I don’t think it’s more than $100 a month, which isn’t that bad.

If you are only going to do this once, just pay for a monthly subscription and then quit after a month. This isn’t much money.

The most important thing though with any of this is just regardless of the tool you use, to use one tool. Because they all have different difficulty ratings based on their own algorithms and different scores. That will help you keep consistency in your spreadsheet.

There’s a really nice metric that Ahrefs have that SEMrush doesn’t have, which I love. And it’s basically, I think it’s called, like click rate I think it is. There’s your search volume, but then it’s like how likely people are to actually click-through.

A keyword like a definition, so like CRM definition might have a lot of volume. But it might have a 0.2 click-through rate, because once the snippet pops up, and the person sees, CRM stands for customer relationship management, they’re done. 80% of the people that do that don’t need anymore.

I love that metric when I’m doing these spreadsheets because I think I will then use that alongside the search volume. If there’s a million monthly searches, and there’s a 1.5 click-rate then that adjusts my calculation to 1.5 million monthly visitors potential. Or if there’s less than that I factor that in.

But they’re the tools that I would use. Again, I said they’re cheap, but you can use AdWords as well. I would just say you can check G2 Crowd, and you can search by free SEO tools as well.

If you search free SEO tools G2 Crowd, you’ll definitely come across a blog post or a grid by us. Again, none of that’s based on our opinion. It’s based on reviews from people that have used them, so you can trust it.

Louis: Thanks, Ryan, for going through this exercise with me.

I have a few questions left before I let you go that I always ask my guests. The first one being, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next five years, 20 years, 50 years?

Ryan: Oh, that’s such a tough question. Look, I think I’m going to go a little bit different from my whole other technical stuff that we’ve been talking about. I would say that one of the skills that I think is becoming more and more important is actually the understanding of brand.

Because I think there’s been such an over-indexation for people doing technical marketing like what we’ve been talking about and growth-focused marketing. I think that’s still the most important type of marketing by all means.

But I think there’s more and more of a deficit now in marketers where they don’t understand branding and how important that is. I would say looking to like what consumer brands do in the branding space is a good place to start.

Because B2C companies typically have much bigger branding budgets. Which you need to keep in mind because you might not have that kind of a budget in the B2B world. But I think B2B marketers need to take a few pages out of B2C marketers’ books, especially when it comes to branding.

That would be I think the one area I would say people should learn, again assuming that they already value technical marketing and growth marketing, because they’re listening to this podcast.

Louis: They bloody do, I’m telling you. Maybe as part of the next question you can answer when people wonder, that’s all well in good, but where do I learn about brands? Do you have anyone that you should recommend about it? What are the top three resources you would recommend listeners today? It can be anything, podcast, books, conferences, anything.

Ryan: I get asked that just about all marketing topics, career topic to anything, and I really think the best place to look for isn’t necessarily a blog. Blog posts can be useful for really technical things where we’re talking about spreadsheets. And you need to visually see mathematical stuff.

But for most stuff like branding or anything, I think you literally need to be a consumer and go out there and look at, who do you see ads for everywhere, and what ads capture your attention?

Similarly, if you want to grow your career, don’t read a Google post. Don’t google, how to improve your career? Go to LinkedIn and look at who has had a really fucking, fast-growth career and work out what they did, reverse engineer their growth trajectory.

I do that all the time. I will find someone that I admire, and I will literally read everything that they have ever written, and I’ll look at the moves that they made between companies. That helps me better understand them, and how they grew.

Then I’ll reach out to them as well obviously and try and organize a call. That gets easier and easier as you obviously get more and more senior in a company or work for a public company.

But I really believe that there’s a pretty finite limit of what you can read about. I think the best way to learn is from either doing it yourself and trying. Or by surrounding yourself by people that are doing it and watching what they are doing. That’s the easiest way in my mind to be the best at something.

If you read blog posts, you can be best practices, for sure. But everyone’s reading the best practice blog posts. Best practice in my mind is the idiot stuff really. If you’re not doing it, you are an idiot.

You should be doing it, but you shouldn’t be relying on those posts to learn about new strategies, because no one’s writing about those new strategies until a few years later, so you’re always behind.

Louis: Great answer. I think that’s the first time I’m hearing someone mention watching other people’s career projection and reverse engineer that, so you can ask them and all. That’s a really good tip, so thanks for sharing that.

Well, thanks, Ryan, once again, for your time. Thanks for going through all of this practical stuff. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and being no bullshit. Where can listeners connect with you and learn more from you?

Ryan: Yeah, if they search just my name Ryan Bonnici, last name’s B-O-N-N-I-C-I. I think that’s my handle on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, all of the social media channels. If they follow me, and if they reach out, I’ll do my best to get back to them.

Louis: Awesome. Once again, thanks so much.

Ryan: Thanks again, Louis.

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