Inbound in the sea of sameness – Kathryn Aragon
Kathryn Aragon is the Head of Content at SalesHacker. She is an experienced Content Strategist focused on building traffic, leads, and thought leadership with content. Kathryn is an expert in Digital Strategy, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Direct Marketing, and Copywriting. She is the author of The Business Blog Handbook.
The question that most content marketers and inbound marketers run into is how do you stand out. I think when we ask this question while thinking tactically, there’s so much more to it than meets the eye. Ultimately we need to answer what is inbound? Because inbound is so much more than just creating concepts. It’s actually about creating value through our content and creating experiences that are so memorable that people want to come back for more.
Therefore, it starts with your goals because inbound is a top of funnel thing. You should not necessarily be trying to sell. When you’re doing inbound, what you do need to be focusing on is traffic and subscriptions. These are things that are easy to measure, and then some softer skills awareness and engagement.
You know you’re nailing it if your traffic numbers are high. You are getting your topics right if your subscriptions are extraordinary. You know you’re building fans once you see awareness, word-of-mouth, and that your reach is extending. You know you’re standing out and if you see real conversations taking place both with you and about you. You know you’re building the relationships that will ultimately drive results, but there’s no one way to do this. There are a series of tasks that you need to be focusing on to make this happen.
So, it always needs to start with quality content. If you get that you’re going to attract readers, they will subscribe. You’re going to build engagement that will forge a relationship. It will ultimately even attract people who want to be part of your brand, write to you, and show up on your blog. Those are the tasks you need to be doing.
How you do it is going to help your audience, your brand, the product you offer? It’s just that you almost need to be testing to figure out the hell now here’s what is working for me. At Saleshacker, the thing that I focus on most is quality content, and to achieve that goal, I don’t have a team of writers. What I do is I seek out experts who genuinely know their stuff. So we get precise solutions. We don’t get general fluffy content and because we don’t want to be part of the echo chamber.
So, if we want genuinely original, precious content and to achieve that, we end up narrowing the focus going deep rather than broad now. It will create value for your audience, but you also need to be aware you have to provide value for your own business. You have to be driving growth. It’s important not to get distracted by the bright shiny topics that you might want to cover to achieve results. You need to stay on brand. You need to know what your talking points are. You need to understand what actions you are trying to drive and create content around that.
You are now having understood that you’re providing value for your audience and your brand. How do you create quality? There are two ways to do that:
- You’re going to do a ton of editing. All of your content needs to be easy to read and easy to provide very high value.
- Plan your content in four to six weeks in advance. Now that may sound like it’s going to tie you down, but in reality, it frees you up.
To be very flexible and some move with the trends. For instance, when the coronavirus happened, it changed what my audience was looking for content dramatically, but because I had enough content planned. I wasn’t just worried about what I’m going to publish tomorrow. I was able to change our editorial calendar entirely, and I had space in the time to do that.
Now the newsletter is the second growth lever that I use. I don’t do anything radical with this. It is a regular newsletter, but this is my engagement play. Remember, one of the things you need to do to drive growth with your content and to stand out is to drive engagement truly. At the beginning of every newsletter, there is a personal message, and I write it as if I’m writing to one person. And of course, I link to all of our posts from the previous week. I put announcements. I put little promotional blurbs if they’re needed.
But the key here for me the way I approach it mentally. I’m trying to engage my audience. I’m trying to get them hooked on our brand. And when I’d manage that people do reply and I answer every single reply. So that is one of the things that we do that helps us stand out, and it does attract a lot of new people to the brand.
Mind that also, once you have all your activities in place, you have to be measuring and tracking everything you do. The things that I follow are listed here again are content and newsletter. That’s what I gauge, but the only way you can improve what you’re doing overtime is to know what’s working and what’s not. So every week, if not sooner, if not daily, we need to be looking at the numbers and figuring out what topics are resonating. How, what’s not working, what kind of title, not just titles, measure subject lines on your newsletter. Things like that will change over time.
And you need to be watching then finally nothing is ever going to work forever. It is such a moving target. You are being able to engage your audience because what your audience needs today is going to be different from in the next six months or a year so. You need to be watching the trends and try to anticipate them. You need to watch what’s working for other people, keep an eye on your numbers, and by all means, test new ideas.
I wholeheartedly believe that if you get these elements in place with high-quality content that provides real value and engagement, you will stand out.
AMA with Kathryn Aragon
The following is excerpts from the AMA session with Kathryn.
What exactly is the edge in doing inbound these days?
Many people are doing Inbound. It is hard to be unique. We’re rarely the first, so you do have to find something that’s unique. That is brand authenticity. It is in your message and the way you interact. There are a lot of sales blogs out there right now, but sales hacker stands out. It is because we don’t have a team of writers; we have professionals writing our content. Then we edit it to make it more readable. It’s not that they can’t do that, but we help them.
The engagement plays a significant role, so we’ve found two ways that we can be unique. That’s what you have to do. Every brand has something that you need it, maybe a personality, or it may be a way you engage with people. Lean into those differences, and you can stand outright.
What’s your tip for getting expert perspectives and pieces when you’re not well-established?
A – For that, you need to figure out where those experts are for me. They’re on LinkedIn, and you have to start building relationships through social media and get introductions. Do email. I have emailed people cold. I don’t pitch right away, but I do try to let them know the value that they might get from working with me.
I did one little thing when I was also running the Mailshake blog. Since that’s a lesser-known blog, I put it in my description and LinkedIn that I was looking for people who had wanted to share their ideas about sales. They will just connect with me if you do so, put all kinds of little hints out there and then do as much reach outreach as you can.
Share some examples where a Content experiment that you did failed, and then you figured out how to tweak it to success
I was back when I was running the Crazyegg blog. Neil Patel and his brother-in-law own Crazyegg, and I was watching what Neil was doing at the time with advance guides. I wanted to do advanced guides on Crazyegg because I felt like it would attract much attention, and it did a little bit, but not nearly as much as I would have hoped. In the long run with advanced guides, you often get this initial spike and then this massive decline. It’s like this considerable investment of time and energy to put it together and publish it.
It’s not that much more value than just an excellent blog post, and so it’s not truly a fail, but it was a test. If you’re measuring your metrics, and keep an eye for how are people responding to your content. You can learn something from every one of them. What I learned is that the advanced guide may look super impressive, and you can have a few things out there that may be more worth your while to publish. Just focus on content in a more readable format, shorter, more conversational. Don’t try to be so impressive in just words, and that’s what I learned.
You need an expert to write quality content, but in case of a start-up and we cannot afford an expert. How to create good content when you are in such a situation?
You don’t need to do traditional content to use the content. You don’t necessarily need a writer. You don’t necessarily need a content marketing person right away. It helps you if you’re busy trying to start your business and making sales. That’s your highest priority in making sales. So you only need to be creating content that will help you do that, and yes, you need some informational pieces that were top of the funnel pieces, but you need things that very quickly lead people into a funnel or to a conversation with you right now. Video and audio are fantastic tools for that.
I would say lean into that and focus on LinkedIn that’s a place where you can get much engagement and do short daily posts or at least say two or three times a week post. Start getting engagement and awareness. I do video whenever you can where you could just stop whatever you’re doing, share your idea, and then move on. It’s you don’t have to worry about the technicality of creating content. That way, just get your ideas out there and direct them to talk to you so you can do your selling.
I sell a product that is used by every department like HR, marketing, finance, and other departments. How to develop an effective email marketing strategy for such a broad audience?
You need to segment if you’ve got a broad audience. I’ve struggled with this, sometimes myself. Where I feel like none of my emails connect with anybody because I’m trying to communicate with everybody, you can, in the beginning, create a series of emails—each series aimed at a particular segment.
If you have it, you can technically create sections within your list. If not, just make sure at the beginning of each you address the person so that they can self identify ” this one is relevant to me “or ” this one is not,” and that way, you can be much more narrowly focused. You can speak directly to pain points without necessarily putting off everybody because it’s just too vague.
Are there any monitoring tools to monitor the content? May be from competitor content anywhere?
A- You can check competitors out with SEO tools like AHREFS, SEMRush, and SEO Suites. It’s a neat tool I haven’t dived into it very acutely any of them. Those are going to help you do competitor research and also figure out how you are comparing to them. It is vital information I did content for many years without that information. Whereas I did ok, I could have done so much better if I had had the numbers and since getting to a point where I had all the tools I needed.
It made a huge difference you do want to be. Right next to the list of content I’m producing or have produced, I have the numbers on those pieces. That helps me see right away how well things are performing. Is it this writer who does very well, or is it this topic that does very well that helps me to see the big picture. Ultimately it is what you want.
What is your process of selecting or discovering new topics?
I use a search volume on keywords as a proxy for people’s interests in the topic. So there are many topics that I think got to be relevant. But if no search volume around it tells me people already have what they need, or they’re not interested one or the other.
Now having said that right now, we’re in an exciting space where there is no search volume on how to sell in a pandemic, but I know people need to know that. So that’s where you have to bring your intuition into play. There are times when you have just to watch the trends, and you’ve got to cross your fingers, go ahead, and publish a few pieces. Test ideas on social media, if they work there, you know they will probably work on your blog.
How do you think inbound as a demand generation/ acquisition process with the outbound philosophy?
I think they integrate very well. If you have an excellent inbound funnel put together, you have a perfect topic level top of the funnel content that your outbound people can use or that you can leverage in an outbound funnel. Whether you’re doing it through a content funnel or with salespeople, I do feel like if you have the right informational pieces in your arsenal, then people can you can just pick and choose. You need to have a cluster of content around it. Once you have that, then you can start leveraging it in your outbound.