Content Marketing Experiment: Building a Definitive Guide
It’s hard to rise above the noise with content marketing. Bring super creative ideas well executed, or a distinctive voice that speaks to a loyal tribe, or forget about it.
My company, CPI, has been pumping out news blog posts for years. It started because Google appreciated a site that produced a consistent flow of content. And, it gave us ample opportunity to point internal links to important pages on our site. Meaning, the more blog posts we uploaded the more chances we had to link to a page on our site with anchor link text that we wanted it to rank for. This was a great tactic. Our site, as most established sites, had enough link juice to push around internally and make some real gains in the SERPs.
Leslie Rohde and Dan Thies were still teaching this tactic several years ago and it worked well. After the Panda and Penguin Google algorithm updates, you can still move link equity from page to page on your site.
Just don’t overuse keyword link text. That’s a tactic spammers use to manipulate Google. Google doesn’t like that. At least that’s what Thies told me in a bar in Seattle in 2012. I agree. You might be on the wrong side of the algo if you use too many anchor text links. In most instances keywords that we want to rank for are not the most natural link text.
We still do lots of news and blog posts, but the top priority isn’t internal linking. Rather, it’s being the most trusted source for information about the markets we serve.
Earlier this year, I decided we needed to attract fresh links and engagement to our site with a “mega” content project. Our product and service is tops in the industry. We work with schools, hospitals, and government entities, so we get a lot of good links. I haven’t done a lot of intentional link building in my tenure. Most of our links have materialized because of a great product and amazing customer service.
Plus, I have plenty of other stuff to keep me busy.
With such a natural flow of high quality links, I figured artificial link building techniques would end in misery. Marketer’s Braintrust, Rand Fishkin, and Eric Ward kept me on the straight and narrow. None of those experts believed in building spammy links because they knew it was an unsustainable practice. Google always catches up. Boom! Panda and Penguin blasted a ton of sites.
But…our site is only in the 50s for Moz domain authority. So, something should be done. Right?
Mega Page Content Project
Moz and Brian Dean inspired me to try a big content play.
- From Moz: The Beginner’s Guide to SEO and The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media
- From Brian Dean: Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide
Well written and designed pieces that help their visitors do their jobs better. Beautiful. Links and engagement follow this formula.
Check out this data via Open Site Explorer.That’s a lot of nice activity around these pages.
Education Definitive Guide
I want links and engagement too, so I decided to map out a “Definitive Guide” for our Education Market.
Early on, writer extraordinaire Erin Harris decided that that was way too broad of a topic. She suggested narrowing it down to school bullying, which is a hot topic, and specific enough to build a nice focused piece.
We developed an outline. It included a ton of helpful information with contributions from influencers. But, as we shaped the idea, it seemed too expansive and redundant. It doesn’t take much research to realize there’s a ton of amazing resources available on the topic. So, the definitive guide idea got trashed.
How could we get influencer participation and narrow the scope? How about making a list of the top school bullying prevention difference makers and celebrating their accomplishments?
This was straight out of Fishkin’s playbook. He’s suggested this tactic in this Whiteboard Friday. What better way to get people with significant followings to link to the page and call it out on Twitter.
So, with the help of Buzzstream, I started doing legit outreach for the first time in my life.
Building Content and Good Relationships Through Outreach
Outreach is not easy. There’s a lot of legwork. Tons of emails. Oodles of research to find the right people. It’s time intensive, but fun communicating with educators, advocates, and orgs doing amazing work.
Part of my inspiration came from this amazing post from Groove. Here’s their simple outreach checklist.
I cheated. I discovered that our “ask” was so attractive that I didn’t need to do the suggested blog commenting and social engagement.
I would have melted into a gelatinous puddle if I had to pitch these people something that cost money or substantial time. Instead, I was lobbing softballs.
“Hey, we’re putting together a list of school bullying difference makers and we would like to include you. Would it be okay if we celebrated you for being awesome?”
A few ignored me or flat out refused, but many fantastic people agreed. They even took the time to answer two questions.
Question 1: we asked about their work.
Question 2: we asked what they would say to the bully during an incident. We compiled the answers into a helpful collection of ideas for people that witness bullying.
Five top notch folks even agreed to do interviews for our podcast series. I suggested this after they sent the answers initial questions.
Our “ask” turned out to be a “give.” We made great friends in the bullying and education space, who are potential collaborators in the future. That’s invaluable. In fact, that accomplishment makes this project a win.
Of course, the boss needs more.
Hypothesis: Justifying This Project
To justify the staff hours to manage, write, design, and build this content we needed tangible goals. What would make the effort worthwhile?
My hypothesis included some pretty aggressive goals.
- Traffic Boost: 15% more sessions on our site than our most active month ever.
- Inquiries: 450 forms filled out in October to get our School Bullying Prevention Tip Kit.
- Moz Domain Authority increase from 53 to 56.
- Social Engagement: several micro goals, including a 10% engagement increase over our best month.
I didn’t make a specific goal for how many links we would get from these efforts because I had no idea. Plus, a Domain Authority increase is a good indicator that we scored some strong links.
I also made a list of “soft stuff” that would also make the project worthwhile, including…
- Solidify relationships with existing partners. We sell videos and books by education safety and bullying experts in our store.
- Kickstart the podcast series. We have a new podcast series, Unrestrained. Before this project we had only interviewed CPI staff. This initiative gave us a great excuse to start connecting with outside experts.
- Boost product awareness. Highlight the bullying-related products in our store by creating a collection of them on one product page. Link to them from our mega page.
- Create a new lead generation offer. After getting four difference makers to contribute material, this turned into a nice package of free resources. We also built a survey and turned the collected responses into a crowdsourced guide to include in the kit. Both of these resource generation tactics are new to us. The experience will help us build dynamic content offers in the future.
- We’re way behind on mobile-friendly page development. Any time we can do web development that keeps mobile visitors in mind the better. Thanks to Terrence Foulk the main page is mobile friendly.
- Twitter and Facebook relationship building. We have not done much @mentioning of people that we write about. We did a lot of that with this project, and got a lot of engagement.
- Close collaboration between design team and Terrence (our web guy). We have a new designer that has a much stronger web background, so it was exciting to hit him up for ideas and wire framing, and then watch the two teams work together to actually make it happen on the page.
- Start a relationship with potential joint venture partners. There are dynamic orgs working in the bullying, empowerment, and emotional intelligence space. Their work aligns with CPI’s mission. There may be an opportunity to enhance our offerings for the education market.
- Encourage more staff to blog and use Twitter to promote CPI content. Eight different staff members wrote school bullying-related blogs in October. Usually we have a two or three. We also had five or six staff members tweeting out our school bullying content throughout the month. This was rarely happened prior.
Document the Results
That’s a lot to do in a span of a couple of months. Was it a success? I’ll let you know soon. I need time to…
- Gather the data
- Meet with the key players to determine what worked and what didn’t
- Put together a recap of the project
I’m interested in how the numbers shake out. Though, no matter the results it was fun contributing to a large content project. The team learned many valuable lessons along the way.