Episode 238 | Posted on

Evolve Your Content Marketing with Andy Crestodina

In these times when marketing budgets are stretched, it can be really helpful to have fresh ways of reusing and repurposing content across media. And if you’re smart about it, all this content marketing will simultaneously enhance your SEO. And you’re about to learn a bunch of ninja tricks to pull this all off. 

My guest today is Andy Crestodina. Andy is co-founder and CMO of Orbit Media as well as the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing. Over the past 20 years, Andy’s provided guidance to 1000+ businesses and published hundreds of articles on content strategy, SEO and Analytics. 

I saw Andy speak at Content Marketing World and he crushed it–I knew I had to have him on the show. Get ready for a fun and lively discussion on an area of marketing that is near and dear to my heart! Enjoy!

In This Episode

  • [00:29] – Stephan introduces Andy Crestodina, the founder and CMO of Orbit Media as well as the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing.
  • [05:16] – Andy shares an example of how a combined SEO and content marketing strategy can do wonders in attracting qualified visitors and ranking sales pages. 
  • [10:26] – Stephan shares his podcast content marketing strategy and how it impacts his rankings.
  • [17:16] – Andy explains how webinars can be an effective way to create content from the attendees’ questions. 
  • [21:19] –  Stephan shares how responding to testimonials impact customers’ decisions about your business. 
  • [25:50] – The guidelines on using the right tone of voice in doing content marketing.
  • [30:31] – How to communicate and address your customers/audience during COVID-19.
  • [38:17] – Andy shares their process in redesigning a more effective and engaging website.
  • [47:19] – How to avoid creative tension? What goes first in content creation? Container or content? 
  • [53:35] – Follow Andy Crestodina on his social media accounts and visit his website orbitmedia.com to learn more from his services and other resources.

Jump to Links and Resources


Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing by Andy Crestodina

Andy, it’s so great to have you on the show.

Thanks for having me, Stephan. Glad to be here.

First of all, let’s talk about content marketing and how you see that dovetailing into SEO. How do those two go hand-in-hand?

Well, content marketing is the other type of marketing separate from advertising. SEO is one channel for having your content discovered. What ranks in search? Content ranks in search. There really isn’t a difference between content marketing and SEO, it’s just SEO would be a subset that falls within content marketing. SEO is about indicating relevance, understanding competition, domain authority, and a hundred little things. But functionally, it’s really an aspect of content marketing. Similar to social, similar to email, it’s one of the channels through which your visitors can engage with you and your content.

Right. I think a lot of people make the mistake of unnecessarily siloing either content marketing or SEO, and they don’t see how something that is just a fundamental valuable strategy for one fits perfectly into the other. I’ll give an example, one that I learned from you, actually. When you spoke at Content Marketing World several years ago, when I saw you, you spoke about the evil twin and how this idea of creating (let’s say) a blog post around a particular topic. You have a headline, you have a hook and everything. But let’s say that you wanted to use that on your blog. You also have a column that you write for a magazine and they require you to assign the rights to them. It’s like an exclusivity arrangement for Adweek, for example. I write for them and every piece I submit has to be unique and I assign copyright of that piece to them. I don’t normally do that, but I wanted to be a writer for Adweek, so I agreed to their little bit of draconian terms there.

Good for you. It’s like a tradeoff.

Yeah. You don’t want to throw out all that great research and so forth to create that article in the first place so that’s where the evil twin comes in. If you could explain that whole strategy and then we can bring it back to the original question of how this strategy for content marketing is actually an SEO strategy and vice versa.

Let’s say, you publish a piece of content and you want it to get performance, you want it to rank, you’re trying to help a kid discovered. It’s not working yet. It’s not ranking yet. It’s not attracting visitors. What are the things that you can do to help promote that content? Well, the evil twin is a way to produce content in the adjacent topic or content just looking at it from the other direction.

Let’s say I read an article about headline best practices. It’s one of the things I’ve written, a lot of us have written that article. The evil twin of that would be headline writing mistakes. If you write the how-to, not write the how-not-to, what is the utility of that piece? Well, editors love that stuff, it makes a great piece of content, it’s a really interesting angle on the same topic. It almost writes itself because you’ve already done the research for the first piece.

Now, when you submit that to or place it on another website, lots of good things happen. You get a byline, you’re a columnist, you’re filling your obligation, you’re expanding your reach, visibility, personal branding. But also, that piece almost inevitably will link back to the original piece, building up the authority of the original page, helping that original page rank for its charter key phrase—headline writing, best practices, or whatever it might have been. It’s blurring the line between content creation and content promotion because you basically created that piece to help the original piece become more visible and discoverable through research.

It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s collaborative, it has long-term SEO benefits, it’s efficient. If there’s anything that you’ve written that you’re not getting the performance from it that you’d hoped you’d get, maybe you just haven’t surrounded it with all of the related content. Try writing an evil twin or two and submitting those to other web sites, link back to the original, can work very well.

That’s a great idea. You could see that as being an SEO strategy or tactic, and you could see it as a content marketing one. But the mistake is to only silo one, have your content marketing team use that for just content marketing to create more content and then not use it for SEO, or vice versa. I love that. What would be some other strategies or tactics that overlap very well between “content marketing” and SEO?

Well, there are lots of people writing on the same topics and a lot of things. I kind of joked a second ago, it’s like, “Oh, yeah. I wrote a post about how to write a good headline,” posted it, and then wrote a bunch. One of the things that a lot of people haven’t figured out about content and its amazing SEO implications is that you can produce an original statistic that makes your website the primary source for a new piece of data, a new sound bite, primary research that makes your site the primary source.

There really isn't a difference between content marketing and SEO. SEO is about indicating relevance, understanding competition, domain authority, and a hundred little things. But functionally, it's really an aspect of content marketing. Click To Tweet

As an example, everyone talks about bounce rates and what’s a good bounce rate. I finally decided to answer this question. We’ve built more than a thousand websites over the years so I have access to hundreds of analytics accounts. I got a virtual assistant to look up bounce rates for each of the major traffic sources from 500 different analytics accounts and put them all on a spreadsheet. I calculate the average, I segment them by industry—B2C, B2B, email, search, social, direct referral—and I publish a piece of content and I’m like, “What’s a good bounce rate?”

Stephan, here’s the short version. The average website bounce rate across 500 analytics accounts we reviewed is 61%. The article I wrote around that kind of goes into detail about the accuracy of bounce rates, is that bad, and what visitor intent, and different types of content, different strategies. But what I really did was I created an answer to a popular question that really hadn’t been answered very well before. 

There are some articles that show an average bounce rate based on a much smaller dataset. What happened? I produced a piece of content, it aligned with our strategy, it’s original research. But now that piece of content gets cited by other websites. If anyone talks about the bounce rate, they sort of inevitably link back to my article because my article is one of the best pieces of content on the Internet for that thing. Improving my domain authority, which lets me rank for the money phrases, the commercial intent key phrases like Chicago Web design, web development, and WordPress stuff because that’s what we do. 

A rising tide lifts all boats.

Yes. Just writing an article may have value, may get traction in social and email, but if it gets traction in search, especially if it attracts links from other websites, it does wonders for the ranking of your sales pages and the ability to attract qualified visitors.

That’s great. You gave another example, again, when you were presenting, that I recalled. You did a blogger survey. I think you’ve done that for a number of years, actually, keep repeating that because it’s like an annual thing. One thing I really liked about what you did with that is you got all these great experts to weigh in with their own two cents about the analysis you did, the trends, and all that sort of stuff. People like Jay Baer, Joe Pulizzi, and so forth, and really highlighted those as expert insights. We set them apart in the document, in the articles, so that they get a little bit of limelight themselves with headshots, their title, company, and all that. It was great. I presume that would have gotten you some links from those authoritative folks, those influencers.

It is a killer marketing tactic that honestly is something that we do as a rule. This is how serious we are about this, which you could call a collaborative content marketing, or nowadays, might be called organic influencer marketing. It’s influencer marketing but it’s not paid, so let’s call this organic influencer marketing. You’re not done writing an article until you’ve gotten expert quotes for it. A journalist would never write an article without a source. Why would the content marketer write an article without inviting experts to contribute? A lot of good things happened.

First of all, it improves your network. You’re building relationships like we’re doing now. Secondly, you’re going to have greater social reach because if nothing else, that person is very likely to share it with their network. Third, you improve the quality of the content because Jay Baer, Martin, Joe Pulizzi, Ann Handley know more than me. I want their insights, I learned by reading. I actually learn just by creating content, I learned by reading my own blog. Fourth, if there’s a link, these people who write for high domain authority websites know about my article and may link to it. And fifth—I’m just going to keep going; let’s add one more—it’s fun. It’s more fun to work with people. It’s more interesting, like don’t do it alone. We say, “If you’re not making friends, you’re doing it wrong.” There’s the overlap not just between content marketing and SEO, but content marketing, social media, and influencer marketing.

Content marketing is a long and winding road, especially when there’s no clear strategy.

Yeah, it’s great. I love that. One that I’ve been using over the last 1½ years or so is a podcast content marketing strategy that has really reaped some rewards for us from an SEO standpoint, and that is taking our podcast episodes that have already been transcribed from the beginning and turning those transcripts into long-form blog posts, adding images to break up the text because nobody wants to read a long wall of text, Unsplash or Pexels, that sort of thing, pulling in a bunch of free stock photos, and then clicking to tweets which are visually set apart to also break up the text. Some great soundbites from the episode, that’s what we’ll do with this episode’s show notes.

Every single episode, I went back and I had my team go back through the entire back catalog all the way to the first episode of both of my shows because I have not just this show, I have Get Yourself Optimized as well. That’s hundreds upon hundreds of episodes that we reprocessed from the point where we started doing this just as part of our workflow and it’s just been a killer. Nobody wants to go through just a transcript that’s got the exact words.

Somebody wanted to restate something, then they restate it. There are awkward things that happen like I’m trying to find the words and it’s not grammatically correct sentences. Clean that stuff up. You don’t have the names of the people, it’s not labeling. Andy, Stephan, Andy, Stephan throughout the whole document, it reads like an article except my text is in bold or yours is in bold. It’s one or the other. It just is so much more compelling, gets more links, and it’s great for SEO. We used to have these short bullet lists sort of show notes.

It’s a really good outline of what the content is of the episode, but it’s not great for SEO; it’s maybe 300 words. There’s not a lot of content there and there’s not a lot of explanation around those bigger headlines of the topics we addressed. Now, we still incorporate that into the episode show notes page, but then the rest of it is that long-form blog post. It’s really good stuff. If you come across that before with other podcasts—I’m sure you’ve been on plenty of podcasts before—is that pretty unique or is that somewhat common?

No, it’s not common enough. The idea of repurposing content is something that a smart content strategist does from the beginning. That’s a great example because you’re creating content in a pretty low friction channel. We’re just having a conversation which is a lot less intimidating when you go create a written piece than staring at a blank page.

For a time, I was a host of a webinar and someone transcribed the whole webinar and then gave it back to me. They had me review it because they were going to post it as a long-form text piece. I found it difficult to turn a transcription into an article in a way because to do it well is still quite a bit of work. You want to break up those super long paragraphs, you want to add subheads like you mentioned adding images, but it’s still much easier than writing an article. So, I love what you’re doing.

Another thing that’s implicit in what you’re describing is that a content marketer creates a piece. The expert content marketer creates a series of pieces, so the podcast kind of pushes you in that direction anyway to not just make one thing. Make one thing and publish it in every format. Make one thing and make it the next thing in a long series.

One thing that I’ve been doing that’s almost an automatic win is—again, just thinking in multiple formats—if you have a piece of content that’s ranking—I have an article that ranks like number one or something or ranks high for like website navigation best practices or website navigation something, I made a video version of that which was mostly repurposing presentations I’ve given—go deeper on it. Make it better, work very hard on the slides, make it super descriptive, practical, prescriptive.

Then, put that on YouTube and embed the video at the top of the high ranking article. It’s automatically promoted. That video is already getting like three days in, it’s got one hundred views. They’re all views of the embedded video. Whatever your highest ranking, best performing piece is at SEO, if it doesn’t have a video at the top of it, just produce a video. Embed it right there at the top and the views will go up very quickly on YouTube.

Yeah. One little nuance to that, I think it’s just killer, and that is to add to the end of the YouTube URL that you’re embedding, ampersand-related equals zero so you won’t get your competitor’s related videos being recommended at the end of your video.

Finally. I’ve struggled with that. They let you do that? Does that work?

Yeah, that’s been working for years.

I thought that YouTube might have changed that where they don’t let you remove the related videos. I don’t know.

What ranks in search? Not just content alone. Compelling, engaging, and unique content ranks high in search. Click To Tweet

Only on the embedded so it’s not able to be removed from your channel, just when people watch your video from your website from the embed.

Thank you, Stephan.

You’re welcome. Let’s talk a bit more about repurposing because I’m big into this. I love taking an article or a transcript of a webinar podcast episode and turning that into, for example, an infographic, a slideshow deck, a Lumen5 video. Are you guys familiar with Lumen5? Are you using Lumen5? Oh, I love Lumen5.


Yeah. lumen5.com, such a cool tool. You know those social videos that just have stock video playing and music and then words come kind of sliding in and stuff with graphic effects and stuff? They’re using tools for that and Lumen5 is one of the big ones. It’s very affordable, they have a massive stock video library, stock photo library, and then music library. It’s almost plug-and-play. It’s kind of a construction kit for creating these social videos.

Yeah, I’ve seen similar tools that do that same thing. It’s amazing what you can do now without video production skills.

Yeah. I have my team in the Philippines cranking out Lumen5 videos for our clients. it’s pretty awesome.

Awesome. Good for you. That’s great.

Yeah. So, Lumen5 videos, Infographics, SlideShare decks, what else do we create? Listicles, checklists, that’s another thing, too, that we’ll be adding to this episode is a checklist of action items that’s either as a downloadable PDF or you can just see the 10 items at the end of the blog post.

Well done.

You’re going to be able to download it or it just adds to the content of the page. It’s a really meaty page when you consider all those things that get thrown in there.

Well, two quick ideas that kind of enhance that. One of them is that the webinar is very special because if there are attendees on the webinar who ask questions, that is a way to create content. If you’d like, somehow go back and watch the recording and write down the questions that the attendees asked, that can sometimes lead to really good content because webinars (unlike what we’re doing) are more like a crowdsourced Q&A session. Like in presentations, the Q&A session. It’s a way to listen directly to your audience. I love that very much.

They Ask You Answer by Marcus Sheridan

Yeah, that reminds me of Marcus Sheridan, he’s been a guest on this podcast. He’s got that book, They Ask You Answer. He talks about taking all these questions that have been asked by your clients, customers, prospects, and so forth. Interviewing your salespeople, asking them what are the most common questions, turning that into FAQ content, turning that into blog posts, all that sort of stuff. Taking the webinar Q&A and turning that into FAQ content, blog posts, and what he calls the 80% video. You’re familiar with the 80% video?

I am not. I’m learning so much in this conversation.

It’s funny. Well, the 80% video which he didn’t talk about on our episode but he talked about on some of us his Facebook videos and stuff is the idea of taking 80% of the most common questions that are asked. You interview your sales team, you interview clients, customers, and so forth, and ask them questions that they had before they signed up, like, “What were some of the objections that you had?” etc. You collect all that and you take the top 80%. You turn that into a video, addressing all of those questions. It’s like an explainer video but one that is lasering in on the questions that people ask the most about using your product, or service, or hiring you, or just becoming a partner-customer. Really good stuff.

That is the key to conversions. We’re in the process now of redesigning our own site. I’m a guy that spent 20 years doing website planning. We’ve done more than 1500 websites as an agency, we build 60 sites a year and it’s time for us to redo our own site. What is my process for rewriting my own website? I basically have built up a list over the years of all the questions people ask us and the structure of all the copy and all these sales pages is that exactly. It’s basically like a high-converting webpage, guides the visitor through a series of roughly prioritized questions and answers, using visual hierarchy to guide their eyes through these messages, and then adding trust, testimonials, and statistics to support each answer.

I’ve never heard it called the 80% video but that idea of just putting all of the most important questions to your audience into a video and answering them all in one place, killer conversion tactic. It’s beyond content marketing, that’s like sales page content. That’s not just blogging anything, that’s like the most important page on your website.

Yeah. Just taking the FAQ idea and applying that to all your sales pages, your landing pages. If you have a search landing page that doesn’t answer people’s questions on it, you failed. I’m not a page search guy, but I think that’s pretty common sense.

Well, there’s research behind it. Jakob Nielsen from the Nielsen Norman Group was a good usability researcher. The number one reason why website visits fail is findability. 60% of the reasons why people don’t succeed at their website visit—in other words, converting, meeting their goals and your goals—is that they can’t find a piece of information. They ask, you answer, FAQ content, the 80% video or structuring pages to guide people through these.

That’s the job of the sales pages to basically emulate a sales conversation. The marketer that quarantines themselves away from the sales conversation, big mistake. You want to be as close as possible to the audience. You want to listen to the sales calls and then write down every question that every prospect asks. Salespeople don’t do that by default. They don’t think about writing down every question the prospect asks. But when the marketer does that and then answers that question in content, leads go up.

A lot of times people get these testimonials from clients and they’re like, “Wow, thank you so much. That’s amazing.” They hadn’t coached the client at all to address the questions or the concerns, the objections that they had before they signed up. Here’s a typical testimonial. “I just love working with Stephan. He’s like the SEO guru and we got a great increase in our organic traffic X% and I highly recommend working with him.” Okay, that’s good, solid.

Regarding synergy and social media, “If you’re not making friends, you’re doing it wrong.”

But this is a hundred times better, “I was very concerned about hiring Stephan because he is so much more expensive than every single other SEO that we interviewed, like at least three times more and I had sticker shock, I almost didn’t sign up. But then, after having enough conversations with the references that he gave me, I decided to give it a go. I even negotiated him down to like just a one-month initial kind of trial engagement and, oh my God, it was incredible what I got. We’ve been a client for three years now and I can’t imagine not having him on our team.” That kind of testimonial works in the customer or prospect objections and obliterates them, right then and there because even if you didn’t articulate that objection yet, they just did it for you. It’s really good.

Yeah. You are starting where the visitor is and then taking them across that bridge to where you want them to be. You’re starting with the psychology of the visitor who starts on that page, which is what? They have questions, they have objections. That’s a message that is almost impossible for the brand themselves to be the messenger for. If the customer is the messenger, in other words, if it’s a testimonial, it’s the difference between having a witness in the witness stand and the lawyer giving closing arguments. The lawyer’s obviously getting paid to be there, but the witness is just a thousand times more credible.

When they witness themselves, the testament starts with the perspective of the visitor on the page and guides them through the thinking first by expressing the same objection that they had—price, timing, quality, the fear of that person—the visitor are just so much more authentic than the brand.

Which brings me to another point. I was just talking with my team about this not even a week ago, that if we were going to create an article about (let’s say) doubling down on your marketing. Why is it important to do this? People would read that headline and say, “You know what? I’m not too sure about this because I think Stephan has his own agenda here and it doesn’t seem like it’s not looking after my best interests.” Right?

You’re biased, you have an agenda.

Yeah. I have my own agenda. Why doubling down on your marketing is actually the worst thing you can do right now during this pandemic is more aligned with their thinking. Then you can talk them off the cliff from cutting everything. You’re going to cut some stuff because that makes sense. You have to be much more deliberate about your marketing spend. Who was it who said, “Half of my advertising budget is wasted. I just don’t know which half”? Was it Wanamaker or Ogilvy?

I believe so. No, I think you got it right. I believe it was Wanamaker.

Okay. I love that quote. “I want to cut the craft out from my marketing. How do I identify that?” An article talking about how to cut the stuff that should be cut because these are lean times. “We need to make some decisions here and these are the things to reallocate more budget to. If you’re going to spend less money overall on your marketing, do it smartly and do it this way.” That would be much more aligned and wouldn’t seem like I have a hidden agenda there. 

And higher traffic because your headline is going to come from a place that the breeder is more likely to be standing right now. It’s like, spend more money. Why would I click on that? That’s obvious. But you bring up a really great question about where to focus and the prioritization of our ad spend, of our time expenditure right now, which is something everybody is asking themselves. Content in general along those lines, I think, we’ll be well received.

That brings me to another thought here. I’m curious if you work with your clients on identifying what their voice and tone should be, kind of like creating a voice and tone style guide. I’ve been doing this with my clients lately, so I’m curious if you’re doing something like that.

We used to as a separate deliverable. We found that it wasn’t as high a value as we’d hoped and the time that went into it wasn’t getting a great ROI. Maybe we weren’t as efficient in creating it. Right now, our copywriters do lots of interviews and they stay very close to that client. Again, listening in on sales calls, getting direct access to the end-users of that product or service, and then without any deliverables in between. It’s more like an agile approach, you just basically start creating content, showing it to the client, getting feedback instead of discussing tone. You just show examples of it, but yeah.

I remember the time when we used to use that and how that can be an important sort of a brand standard. A bigger company with a lot of different contributors, I can see how that would be important. Even me right now, I mentioned I’m rewriting our website. I think a lot about that, like how will this be received? I’m not rewriting every page and they could have a gap if I write some pages in this voice and other pages are in a different voice, I certainly see value in it for sure.

The first step to an effective marketing strategy is meeting where the audience is and then taking them across that bridge to where you want them to be. Click To Tweet

This came to my attention recently when I interviewed Lacy Boggs for this podcast and she gave us an example, Mailchimp, and how their voice style guide talks about being cheeky but never crass. I really liked that. I thought that gets everybody on the same page, not just the writers or even the ghostwriters who are blogging for you and so forth but also if you have a video team or people doing Infographics or Lumen5 or whatever.

If they’re on board with being cheeky but never crass and all those other attributes, let’s say they’re five or seven of them or whatever, then you’re going to be aligned in your messaging across all the different platforms, across all the different social platforms, across all the different types of media that you might be producing. I thought that was just really clever.

I started producing these for my clients, these voice and tone guidelines. I didn’t really understand until I started doing this. The difference between voice and tone, voice is consistent and kind of never changing, whereas tone is very much dependent on the circumstances, the environments, and the audience you’re speaking to. As we’re recording this, we’re all on a stay-at-home provision or requirements. That’s a different world than, let’s say, three months ago when we didn’t have that requirement.

Meeting people where they’re at is about your tone. If you want to have a great certain style to your sentence construction, the vocabulary use, and all that, that’s your voice. But then changing that to that tone to be mindful of where people are emotionally is super important because otherwise, you seem tone-deaf to people.

I just oversaw a website relaunch that was done by Studio1 Design. Greg Merrilees, by the way, was the guest on this podcast, I love him. Great episode, listeners. Definitely check that out. I oversaw that whole thing. One thing we added at the last minute, I’m like, “This needs to be here. It’s kind of the elephant in the room.” This was from borderbuddy.com, “Let’s address the whole Coronavirus thing with an important message that’s featured. Here’s our response to COVID-19. We’re keeping our staff at home.” That doesn’t seem that relevant. I’m not interested in hearing about what you’re doing to keep your staff safe. I need to keep my staff safe and I need to work on my own cost reductions and so forth, I don’t need to hear about yours.

That’s where it’s all about importing, exporting in a COVID-19 world. This is the stuff that you need to know so that you know whether you need to disinfect the packaging and stuff and if you need to address certain additional regulations or what have you. That went live with the new site, thankfully, because it’s the elephant in the room. If you’re not addressing it, people are going to be like, “When was the site even built? They’re not even talking about it at all.”

I saw a site today. I’ve had several of these conversations where we are all now acknowledging that our audiences have moved down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where it was at one time, self-actualization and being a better version of yourself and elevating your position in the marketplace. But really, each of our prospects, each human that we’re interacting with may have serious safety concerns like physiological needs. People have anxiety about their own health at a level that was just totally unknown. How do we message for that?

I’m going to read to you a little bit of a website that I was on and these are showrooms for plumbing supplies. “Coronavirus company procedures. We are open. Restricted access to showrooms. Showroom consultants work with you on new and existing projects only via phone and in virtual appointments. Parking lot pickup only for counter areas. Our counter doors are locked, blah blah blah.” This is center-aligned, red, bolded text that talks about it basically from a point of fear.

Really, the message that would work for that audience is, “The pickup window is open. Come to the parking lot. Our staff are wearing masks and gloves and can bring out to you the product you ordered in a safe and healthy way.” It’s to say that you can do business with us in a way that won’t put your health at risk. That’s what you’re trying to say. You’re not saying like, “We’re locking our doors.” How does that help your market? First of all, it’s obvious. Secondly, it’s fear-driven. Thirdly, it’s not even friendly. It’s not a business.

That’s not building rapport relatedness, it’s not reassuring people. It’s not good at all.

No. Restaurants or some are figuring it out a little faster because they’re disrupted sooner. There is a place where I can go pick up a pizza, where if you start walking toward this business, there are people outside wearing masks, vests, and gloves who yell at you asking your order number. They run inside a check on your order. When it’s ready, they come out, they hand it to you from a maximum distance. You just feel very safe. They made you feel safe.

I know it’s not negative, they’re not scared. They’re just doing this to protect themselves and yourself. That message of, you can do business with us in a way that we’ll not put your health at risk. What a fundamental and important message. It’s a tiny bit of copywriting that could make a big difference because this business isn’t closed. They can bring the product to you but you’ve got to be a little more reassuring about the visitor’s needs. That’s Marketing 101.

Innovate and collaborate. The more friends you have online, the better it is for you.

Yeah. It’s like, “We got your back.” It goes back to the voice and tone guidelines like, “We have your back. We’re cheeky but never crass. We have your back and we’re not your mother. We’re not going to mother you or smother you. We’re not going to helicopter parent you.” I think it sets a really important lighthouse for people, whoever they are, contractors, employees, accountants, producers, whatever, they all can see where we’re supposed to be heading. Get everybody on the same page.

It’s important for all of us to remind each other that we’re all in this together, that we all want the economy to succeed as a whole. Those of us that are open for business remind others that this is a safe place to do business with. It’s just incredible, the change, but that message is simple and it’s important that it really does connect, that you are not alone.

The first thing we did when this happened was I paused my content calendar and produced a study that showed the impact of different agencies. The service providers of this service impacted how negatively this service provider. The point of it was just to put a little bit of data around that “you are not alone” message. That’s the best I can do right now. That’s my way of being part of a community to be helpful, to not dodge this issue, and to give people a reminder that we are all in this together.

Right. It’s important and also, it humanizes you. If you are out there saying, “You know what? We lost our three biggest clients,” and actually we did. My company lost its three biggest accounts last month and that hurts. That hurts a lot. But we’re positive and upbeat. We will not just survive through this, we will find a way to thrive. If you’re transparent and you’re real with people, you’re authentic, they can really appreciate that. We’re all going through hard times.

Some of our clients are actually just killing it with new leads and sales coming in because of the industry that they’re in. But many of us are seeing a revenue drop because of the economic crisis, the health crisis we’re facing, and all the various repercussions. I don’t know. I’m of the mindset that, the more real, transparent, and human you can be, the better you’ll do at the end of the day. Some people do business with people, not with faceless corporate entities.

My instinct was to just do massive outreach and just to contact clients, partners, friends, just to check-in. We sell websites. Some of them, if it’s a prospect, they know what my agenda is, ultimately. They have a proposal open with us, but the sales message, just pause that for a minute. Just check-in. “Everyone okay over there? Is there something I can do to help you in any way? Do I know someone you like to meet? Would you like me to maybe look at trade analytics with you to find some low-hanging fruit? Can I support you somehow? Is there something you’re creating that we can promote for you?” These are common right now. I’m very encouraged by that. I’m seeing a lot of that type of interaction.

In some ways, I wonder if the best content strategy right now isn’t just a conversation strategy. What kind of content works? Content is good but what’s better than that is a conversation where you can listen. Maybe instead of another article or just making a webinar, what if you just get 10 companies with similar needs at a big conference call? Let’s just turn on our cameras and just share ideas. Some of those things are really powerful. The conversations coming out of that are highly supportive, the relationships will persist long after this is over. When content fails, just try conversation.

Yeah, I like that. Your role isn’t just a content producer, it’s more facilitator and curator because they’re relying on you to curate the right 10 companies to show up on that Zoom call. 

Yeah. You’re creating trust, you’re creating rapport, you’re honoring their time by inviting people that are going to add value. I have a live event strategy that has been crushed by this. We can’t do our conference, we lost a huge deposit with a big conference center. It’s a mini version of Content Marketing World, it’s called Content Jam. It’s a 500-person conference in Chicago. Ouch. We can’t recover that deposit. It’s like in the tens of thousands of dollars just disappeared that day.

But that’s the need for people to connect with each other, the desire for people to be part of a community, stronger than ever. What do you do? You take your monthly event and make it a webinar. We would get 35 people in my conference room every month. It’s Wine and Web. It’s been nine years, we’ve done it. This year, it’s Wine and Webinar, with more than 35 people signing up, and 150 people signing up. Like what? Wow. That’s really dramatically larger because people need to connect right now, especially physically. Look at us. I’m the only one in this office anymore. There are 40 people all working from home. Help your alliance partners, your prospects, your customers. Help them feel connected and they’ll remember that.

Content marketing is all about creating trust, rapport, and honoring your audience's time by guaranteeing them that you're going to add value. Click To Tweet

Yeah. For sure. I’m curious when you said something earlier about you’re in the process of a website redesign for your own site. Could you go through some of the processes, your workflow, and some of the milestones and things for doing your own site, and then we could apply that to our own sites? Well, for our listeners, they’re going to try and extrapolate and see how that could apply to them. What sort of style guides or documents do you produce that help you to end up with a much more effective website at the end? I’d be really curious to hear.

Oh, it’s a great question. We are using an alternate version of our normal process for ourselves. What I’m doing for us is a little bit different and maybe isn’t the best example because we’re updating the website without really developing and we’re not even relaunching all of the pages, it’s just a finite part of it. But you know this well. Any SEO understands that every website redesign has a risk of negative ROI because that company rewrote pages, removed pages, or changed URLs for something that was already getting traction in search. 

Step one for redesigning a high-ranking website or any site getting performance from search is to audit all of the URLs, all of the content against all of its current performance for all of its key phrases. That goes on a giant spreadsheet that shows this is ranking how high and for what. Now, those URLs need to be handled carefully; it’s a little bit of surgery. If those are moved, do so deliberately for good reason and with a 301 redirect strategy. If those are rewritten, do so carefully and with good reason because you do need to preserve the relevance and ranking of those pages.

This is why websites sometimes launch and get less traffic than the week before; it’s terrible. It’s a myth that website redesigns inherently lead to 10%–20% drop in traffic. It’s not true, I can show you dozens of accounts where we can’t stop that from happening. That’s step one, I would do that first.

Before we move on to step two, here’s an example I’d love to hear your opinion on whether this is a positive or a negative. I’ll take it from my own website redesign. I can see how it was actually negative from an SEO standpoint but I’d love your opinion on this. I think it was better overall that we did this. 

We used to have a praise page, that was what it was called, praise. It included quotes from other authors and different luminaries, experts who had provided book blurbs from my three books. They had maybe given a video testimonial or video praise quote. Then, there are folks who are clients who gave testimonials as well. We were about to start creating case studies. 

What I did, instead of adding another page called case studies—where would I put that; the top name was already really full—I reorganized it so that there is a page called Results. That included the praise quotes in a section, some non-client praise quotes, there were the client testimonials, there were the case studies, and then a client list of logos of all the bigger name brands that we’d work with. That’s the new page. If you go to stephanspencer.com, you’ll see that under the Results section.

I could have taken a different tack and had a case studies page. I could have had a client testimonials page, I could have had a praise quotes page because I have plenty. There would be enough content to fill each of those three pages. I decided to simplify it down to one page which actually was negative from an SEO standpoint, but I think it’s a positive from conversion and just overall kind of brand/messaging standpoint. I’d love your opinion on that.

Well, if that page had SEO value, it would have been in that it has attracted links and had authority or that it was already ranking because it was relevant to a key phrase. If it has no links to it, and if it’s not ranking for anything, then you can move it or combine it with something else fearlessly in theory because that page didn’t add any value within Google in one way or the other.

There are SEOs and website managers that believe that just the size of a website has an SEO implication where sites of a certain mass like sites with thousands of URLs have different attributes. Huge sites with tons of pages, technical SEO’s more important and content’s less important, hypothetically. Small sites with a few URLs, technically SEO is less important and content’s more important, hypothetically. This is like the crossing lines on that graph of importance, technical versus content SEO.

For conversion, I think it’s probably better to put these things together because if you call it a page praise or testimonial, it doesn’t necessarily align with the needs of the visitor. They’re not that likely to go to that page. In analytics, testimonials pages are not frequently one of the less popular pages. Everybody knows you’re going to see a bunch of happy news there. Why click on that? It’s the LC stuff. 

My best advice normally is to embed just like you said. If you have an FAQ conversion content that answers a visitor’s top question, addresses an objection, put that testimonial right next to it so that without leaving the flow, they get answer-evidence, answer-evidence, answer-evidence, call to action. That’s the structure of a classic high converting page. It’s filled with answers and evidence, but a CTA in the bottom and you’ve got a conversion-optimized page.

The best practices are relevant only in the absence of first-party data. Don’t take my advice because I haven’t seen your analytics. If your analytics shows that that page has a higher page value, assuming you’ve applied a monetary value to your goals in GA, then maybe that’s a more successful page now. I would have done that fearlessly for SEO, I would have done it with hope in terms of conversion, but I also would likely put those testimonials and videos in other places as well to make sure that they’re highly visible.

Which we do. There are testimonials everywhere on the site. I do think that this is more aligned with the visitor now. They care about results, they want to see evidence of results. They don’t want to see a bunch of praise.

I know. It sounds like, “Yeah.”

Yeah, that just sounds bad.

So bad. It’s like a “we love us” page. That’s not what visitors came for. Results sound good; that aligns with the visitor. 

Okay, thank you. I appreciate that. What’s step two now? You went to step one, what’s step two?

Step two is to understand the visitors’ needs, to construct a context such that it guides them through their needs, whether that’s through them choosing navigation items and going to pages to segment themselves into more specific topics, or whether it’s on one page to guide them through the flow, through which they get all their information needs met. We just sort of set answer-evidence, answer-evidence.

It's breathtaking how much demand you can create through high-performing websites. Click To Tweet

What we do in our process is create a conversion guide that says, “This target audience asks these questions. These are our answers or evidence to support those answers.” This target audience asks these questions, a question, answer, evidence action. That would be the next step.

Now, the third step in this process is debatable. Content before container or container before content. It really depends on whether or not that company can invest the time to produce content in advance of the design, in which case, the container can be more specific to that message, or whether they want to just show me designs, show me designs I want to see look and feel because everyone’s in a rush and web design is emotional. They would want to see a design fast, then you get the content created and brought in later.

I’ve got an example of this and I think that it is really important for our listeners to really understand how important this is to get right. I had a container designed—Studio1 is my favorite design company that I’ve been using for years—and they designed a case study template or container using one of my clients as an example—this was numerologist.com—and it looked beautiful. It just looks stunning, but it wasn’t repurposable. We couldn’t use that for any of the other case studies because it was so specific. Everything was all very much kind of—woo-woo’s not the right word—more metaphysical, let’s say. Numerology is not hard science. There are some astrological things and all these cool effects and stuff that weren’t applicable for the other case studies, and like, “Yeah, we need to redo this because I can’t swap in a different case study into this template. That container does not fit anything else.”

That is the creative tension. When you think about it, this is the problem with web design. Web design has to check so many boxes to be successful. The containers have to be flexible enough to support whatever content you want to put into them whenever—a month later, a year later. It has to rank and search. It has to leverage trust and persuasion, and trigger conversions. It has to be measurable in analytics. It has to be accessible to people with disabilities. It has to be mobile-friendly and responsive. It has to connect with all kinds of other systems. It has to avoid lawsuits in privacy law violations. Plus, it has to be beautiful.

The first thing everyone asks about is like, “Show me the pretty pictures.” There are at least nine. What about page speed and load time? What was that? 10? Yeah, it’s tough. These are sometimes conflicting, competing interests. It requires a team of experts, it requires you to use both halves of your brain the whole time, plenty of those deliverables are emotional, it’s political for a client, sometimes it’s a whole committee of people working on it.

Add to this the fact that there are DIY tools that make it free, which push down people’s expectations for cost. It’s in fact, a very complex service to offer, but when done well, there is nothing that comes close to the ROI of a high-performing website. I’ve probably generated leads while we’ve been talking. It’s breathtaking how much demand you can create through high-performing websites.

Yeah, that’s awesome. Which one did you do first? Container or content?

I did content first. I wrote all the content, I gave it to my design team, and I’m going all out. I’m designing images, charts, graphics. I’m a content strategist with some drawing skills. This isn’t a classic approach, but when they go to design this, they have subheaders content, scannable bullet point list, internal linking sketches for supportive elements. I don’t have photography or video yet, but once that’s there, there will be nothing to slow them down except they already have piles of keyword-focused conversion content.

Awesome. I know we’re getting to the end of our time here. You have this great book, Content Chemistry: An Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing. Do you want to give our listeners a pitch for why they should check out your book and then where they would find it? Also, how would they find you and your awesome agency?

I’m easy to find everywhere. I finally have a copy close. But one thing that people might like about the book is that it is the illustrated handbook to content marketing. It is far better in its printed form. Look, this is the layout of a high-converting sales page, which we just discussed. It explains the two types of visitors, commercial intent versus information attached.

It’s a reference guide, you could pick it up and look up any part that you need. You don’t understand domain authority and how links work, just go to that page. A lot of schools use it as a textbook, a lot of teams use it as a training guide, and it’s basically 20 years of SEO and analytics and 13 years of content strategy, influencer marketing, blogging, social, and email between two covers. You’ll know everything I know if you pick up the book that you can get on Amazon or anywhere.

That’s awesome. How many pages is it?

This is the fifth edition, Stephan, and I added 100 pages to this version. Right now, it is 275 pages but it’s super scannable. It’s got screenshots of everything. It’s got template emails for outreach. It’s got lots of GA reports, it’s everything.

See my book (which you’ve seen), it makes people’s heads hurt and they haven’t even opened it yet.

I know, yeah.

It’s 2000 pages and it’s mostly text. There are some screenshots and things in this, but this is a little overwhelming for people. There’s an illustration. It’s all text.

The Art of SEO by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, & Jessie Stricchiola

Those of you in the podcast, he’s holding up the Art of SEO, which is a very famous book and the evidence of a true thought leader. He’s actually documented everything for you. So, check out Stephan’s book.

Thank you. But it is overwhelming for people and this is the problem. It’s not actually a good thing. Our publisher, O’Reilly, has said, “You need to cut the book in half because it doesn’t sell as well. Nobody wants to have their head hurt like that, trying to work through a book like that.” What part of SEO I’m going to cut out? It’s tough. 

Anyway, I don’t mean to go off on some tangent, but it is really a feat to create a book that has a timeliness and timelessness to it. It seems like your book has fulfilled both because the process and strategy for a winning sales page is going to be relevant six months from now. Yet, you’ve got all the latest tools, techniques, and stuff in there, and that’s why you added another extra 100 pages in this edition. That’s fantastic. It’s at Amazon and everywhere else. Do you have a book website, like a companion website for the book?

No, but that’s also strategic. If you search for the book title, there’s a page on my site that has the best page on that, separate from Amazon would be on my site, which is kind of a link magnet. One of the benefits of writing a book is that out of hundreds of websites over the years, you’re settling to that URL. 

Yeah, that works great. Have you guys created a WordPress plugin or anything like that? Because that works the same way. It just kills it in terms of bringing in link equity.

I bet. My team is always busy, so I don’t really get much of their time to create tools, but we’re working on one, so stay tuned.

I highly recommend it. I created a WordPress plugin back in 2007 or 2008 for SEO. It’s called SEO Title Tag and it was the best link building initiative that my previous agency had ever done. It killed it, WordPress plugin. What’s your website and maybe share your Twitter handle and maybe another favorite social media account that people can go to?

Sure. orbitmedia.com, I write an article there every two weeks. Literally, you’ll get the best of everything I know at that website, orbitmedia.com. The newsletter is just every other week. Twitter handle is my last name, it’s @Crestodina. LinkedIn would definitely be my next best network, probably my best network is LinkedIn. Just follow me on LinkedIn. 

I change my default so that it prioritizes the follow button instead of the connect button. If you’re a listener or watching us doing this, don’t let that stop you. Just click on whatever the button is to connect with me, feel free. I’m happy to connect with anyone and answer anyone’s question anywhere. I love to teach so if I can be helped anyone in any way, let me know.

Awesome. Are you doing Facebook Live, YouTube Live, or anything like that?

No. My YouTube strategy is evolving and like I said, I’m starting to produce YouTube videos as supportive content for existing high-ranking pages. I’m not and I don’t really use Facebook, so I’m probably missing out on stuff, but I get plenty of interaction and conversations like this without Facebook.

For sure. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Andy. This was just a ton of fun and so enlightening. Your strategies are just so world class, I love everything that you do.

This was a pleasure. I would do this anytime. With the camera and a recording in that, you were just great to talk to. I got to say, I learned a lot.

Thank you so much. Awesome. Listeners, again, go check out Andy’s book, Content Chemistry. Check out his agency, orbitmedia.com, and follow his stuff because he puts out really great stuff. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak. I’m your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.

Important Links

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ Write “how not to” articles in addition to writing how-tos. This is a good content marketing strategy to entice people to read what not to do regarding a specific topic.
☑ Strive to be a primary source so my published content can be considered the go-to resource for certain information. I will benefit through excerpts and credits that drive more traffic back to my content.
☑ Integrate collaborative content marketing by teaming up with other contributors or experts and ask to feature them in my content.
☑ Build my network through content. Engage and strengthen my relationships by reaching out to different brands and notable members within my niche to talk about the topic I’m focusing on.
☑ Get to know who my competition is. Knowing who they are and what they offer can give me a better idea on how to make my brand stand out.
☑ Always monitor my analytics and domain authority. Let the data be my guide in making sound decisions for my content marketing strategy.
☑ Repurpose blogs into other forms of content, such as videos and infographics. Share them on social media and other communication channels.
☑ Collect testimonials and good reviews from buyers. They help build trust and loyalty among my audience.
☑ Hire a content expert who can help me build a foolproof strategy that will guarantee an increase in customer awareness and following.
☑ Check out Andy Crestodina’s website, Orbit Media, for more information and resources on creating content that stands out.

About Andy Crestodina

Andy Crestodina is a co-founder and CMO of Orbit Media, an award-winning 40-person digital agency in Chicago. Over the past 20 years, Andy’s provided guidance to 1000+ businesses. He’s written hundreds of articles on content strategy, SEO, and Analytics. He’s also the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing.



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