Tons of companies are turning to paid advertising to drive traffic to their websites. You might be considering whether or not this is a good solution for your business too.
What’s the problem with paid traffic? The costs begin to stack up fast.
My guest Nat Eliason is the founder of Growth Machine, a digital marketing agency providing SEO-focused content to grow massive blogs. Today, Nat shares how you can grow your traffic for free and start bringing in thousands of visitors to your website every day.
Listen to this Episode:
- Why it’s critical to bring organic search traffic to your blog
- The biggest reason why most blogs don’t rank high on Google
- How to come up with 100 compelling topic ideas in one hour or less
- One ridiculously simple trick for outlining your article’s subheadings
- What the “Goldilocks Zone” is and why it matters for SEO strategy
- How to outrank big-name magazines for the #1 search result
- The counterintuitive approach to your content promotion strategy
- Made You Think Podcast
- How startups die from their addiction to paid marketing by Andrew Chen
- Summaries, Notes, and Lessons from Books I’ve Read – Nat Eliason
- The Wiki Strategy: How to Grow Your Blog to 100k+ Monthly Visitors
- Ahrefs: Competitor Research Tools & SEO Backlink Checker
- Clearscope: Modern SEO Software for Content Teams
- Growth Machine: Get More Traffic from Google
- @nateliason on Twitter
- Seth Godin’s Marketing Secrets to Launching a New Business
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour! Welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.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 grow your organic traffic with search-focused content marketing, and hopefully reach 1,000 monthly visitors or more. My guest today is the founder of the Growth Machine, which is a done-for-you content and SEO solution. He’s also the host of the podcast “Make You Think,” that basically examines ideas that as the name of the podcast says, make you think.
Previously he was doing marketing for Zapier or Sumo, and an interesting fact about my guest today is that he reads shitloads of books, and he takes notes on them and gives you access to these notes. You just need to pay for it. I think that’s quite an interesting business model. Nat Eliason, welcome aboard.
Nat: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
Louis: We can go straightaway into how to get more visits on your blog, and how to grow a business with content marketing–but I want to backtrack and think more about the principles behind it. From your perspective, why is it so important to get visits from search engines on your business blog or for your business? Why is it so critical?
Nat: There are a few reasons. I think the most obvious one is that you’re not constantly paying for it. The trouble with AdWords and Facebook ads is that there is diminishing marginal returns over time. The longer you run an ad for a certain product and after certain keywords, over time it’s gonna get more and more expensive to get new customers from that source.
So, ads kind of get worse over time. Andrew Chen has a great article about this, which is sort of the trap of building your business on ads, which is that you’ll use ads to grow your sales, and then you’ll need more money to continue scaling your ads, and so you have to raise money, and you can actually end up at a point where you’ve built a huge revenue business but you’re still burning money years down the line.
The nice thing with content marketing and SEO, in particular, is that once an article is created and up there, it requires very little maintenance for it to continue bringing in traffic, and basically very little ongoing cost. You could write an article that you publish today that sits on the top of Google for the next two years and brings in 100 to 1,000 visitors a day.
I’ve got articles that I wrote over three years ago now that still bring in well over 1,000 visitors a day, and I’m doing nothing with that content to continue getting that traffic. If you can find a content area where people are looking for answers, you can write good articles about it, and you can get them ranked on Google–that’s much cheaper traffic than you’re getting from ads. It’s a good way to balance out your acquisition so that you’re not paying through the nose just to get each new customer.
Louis: And I keep repeating that in the podcast, but I think repetition is absolutely key. The interesting thing about what you’re discussing, the interesting things about content and SEO is that it’s rooted in the human psyche and human behavior. You can rely on those channels to work for the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years.
Yes, things will change, people will search for things differently, but people will always look for information somewhere. They will always search for things, whatever it is, and people will always try to get better or do something better. They will always find financiers, and they will always like to get help or to find methods to do X Y and Z, right? Whatever the format we use, I mean, this is not a stupid growth hack that’s just gonna work in the next two months and then it’s gonna stop, right?
Nat: Yeah, exactly. The core principles of creating good information and helping people find it, that’s worked as a promotion strategy for 2,000 years. It’s not new. There’s just a new medium of doing it, which is Google. And the little intricacies of what works and what doesn’t, those are gonna change. But like you said, the underlying idea that good information is a way to attract customers, that’s always been true and will continue to be true.
Louis: There seems to be this mental threshold, or this threshold of this number, 100,000 monthly visitors on a blog, business blog, or on your website. So, I assume a lot of businesses come to you with less than that, or maybe more and they want to scale. But think about those people who have less than that, and I can feel a lot of listeners are probably in this situation.
They would love to have 100,000 monthly visitors to their websites and blog. From your experience, what is the biggest problem, the biggest challenge that prevents them from reaching this magic number?
Nat: There are two sides to this and I see both. The first one is impatience. If you’re listening to this–and let’s say that you’ve never grown a blog to 100,000 monthly uniques before. If your blog is less than two years old and you’ve published fewer than 150, 200 articles, you probably shouldn’t be there anyway.
I think a lot of people will read these articles about site scaling from 0 to 100,000 monthly uniques in six months, and then they think oh my gosh, I’m such a failure. Why hasn’t my site done that?
You’ve gotta be honest with yourself that it takes a lot of time and a lot of consistent effort, and a lot of it with basically nothing to show for it in the beginning. You might get no traffic for the first six months, or fewer than 50 visitors a day, and that’s totally normal. You have to first get over the impatience element.
But if you’ve been doing it for a few years and you’ve got a few hundred articles up there, and you’re still not at 100,000 or even 50,000 monthly uniques from Google, then it’s really gonna be one of a couple things.
The first one is just are people looking for what you’re talking about? A lot of people think that they can sort of write about whatever and it will have search potential, but that’s just not true. If you’re writing about how to knit super intricate hedgehog sweaters, not a lot of people are looking for how to do that each month. There probably aren’t 100,000 people to even come read your blog. You have to actually be writing about something that people are actually searching for.
But assuming you’re doing that, then the next most common thing is really just content quality. When we primarily work with businesses that have already put some effort into blogging and it’s just not working for them, and they’re trying to figure out why they’re not getting traffic from Google. What we come in and do, I’d say 95% of cases, is point out that–hey, your articles just aren’t that good.
You’re churning out 500 to 1,000 word articles that are written like a high school essay that aren’t particularly useful or solve the problem that someone is trying to solve by searching this term, and the question you kind of have to ask looking at every single article is: Does this article deserve to be the one that Google serves up as the answer to this question? The only way that’s gonna happen is if–to a reasonable extent–your article is seen as the best piece of information on the internet on that subject.
Most people don’t hold their content to that level of quality. They aren’t hitting that bar, and that tends to be the biggest reason that they aren’t ranking. They think they can just churn something out, and it’ll be fine. They’ll rank. But if you’re not going completely in-depth and totally solving the problem or answering the question that somebody has when they plug that term into Google, you’re not gonna rank.
So, we’ll go in and we’ll take these old articles that people at the company have written, and we’ll expand them, we’ll make them more in depth, we’ll give them better citations, we’ll make them longer, we’ll make them more actionable, we’ll add images, republish them. We’ll try to make them the best piece on the web that we can for that question.
And doing that in particular, we’ve doubled or tripled the organic traffic to some sites within two or three months. It’s actually pretty amazing the gains you can get going back and revitalizing your old stuff. And these are even for sites that are already doing 100,000.
We had one site that we worked with that we took from I want to say about 30,000 uniques per week to over 120,000 uniques per week without publishing any new content, just refurbishing the old stuff, and we did that in about four or five months.
That’s pretty much always the best place to start if you have been doing this a while and you have published a lot. Go back and say, “Which of these articles are about things that people are legitimately looking for, and how can I make them the best piece of information on the web about that subject?”
Louis: Thanks for the thorough answer. I guess the main thing that happened in my mindset in the last few years and recently few months was I always knew when you write about something it needs to be the best fucking content out there about this particular topic. And it used to overwhelm me.
It used to be so challenging for me to think, “Wow, I need to compete against Business Insider and those massive websites, massive blogs who know their shit, and I have to write something 10x better, 5x better every time.” I’d feel completely demotivated–until I discovered something that I had in the back of my mind. But you know, when you read something that you kind of already know but someone else is telling you this, you’re like fuck okay, I need to follow that.
I read this super interesting article by–you probably know them–by the guys from Grow and Convert, which is a content marketing agency. They talk about the specificity strategy, and I think this is probably the key to write quality content or to produce quality content out there. It’s the fact that you can write the best content on the internet, as long as you pick a very specific and practical, actionable angle.
Instead of talking about marketing in general, content marketing in general, or SEO content marketing in general, you can dive into the very nitty-gritty specific challenges, specific problems, and write the best answer on the internet for that. That’s gonna start to bring the result you need. I think when you say that, when we talk about quality content, it needs to be 10x better, a lot of people feel probably the same way that I used to feel, and that really removed this mental roadblock, right?
Nat: Well, it’s hard to create that quality content in a broad area or in an area where you don’t have experience and knowledge. At Growth Machine, we work with a dozen different clients in different industries, but we’re not the experts in any of those industries. We’re experts in the strategy.
What we have to do–and this is probably one of the hardest parts of the process–is we go out and we find writers who are subject matter experts and extremely experienced in that area to write the content. Because if you don’t have some personal understanding that you can bring to the table, then the content’s really gonna fall flat. People who are reading it who do know something about that area are going to know that you’re just spinning, really.
You’re just sort of making stuff up in order to try to rank, and you don’t want to do that. You want to only try to create content that can rank in an area where you have experience and expertise, and that’s how you’re gonna do that specificity strategy. It’s how you’re gonna create something useful is by bringing some of that personal knowledge to the table.
Louis: Another thing that is connected to that is, let’s say even if you have no clue about a specific topic but you’re a very curious person. You can do basically what you’re doing right now, which is talking, interviewing experts or successful customer who know their stuff way more than you do.
And your job is just as a journalist almost to uncover the tips, to uncover the challenges, the methodologies that those people use to be successful–and just literally talking about them and putting them forward is a great way to build credibility and starting to also rank for certain things.
Let’s say I interview you right now about SEO content marketing, and there’s a specific point of the interview, you share something super specific, super interesting that I feel like okay, I could write a blog post about this, as long as there’s a keyword. As long as there is demand for this topic. I could write it without a lot of knowledge from it because I got your knowledge.
Nat: That’s a good way to do it too, is if you can do a good job of summarizing information from other people, that can be a pretty good search strategy as well. I mean, you mentioned my book notes in the intro. I publish pretty much all of those on my site as well, sort of in a separate section from the blog.
It’s really just me summarizing or pulling out the main points from these books, but I’ve got 200 some of them up now, and they bring in about 50,000 visitors a month along, just from people searching for summaries and info from these books. The areas the books are covering are not things I have any expertise in. But just by doing a good job summarizing the main notes and takeaways, that’s turned into a really good SEO strategy as well. So yeah, you can completely do that.
Louis: Let’s go into a step by step kind of scenario, shall we? The scenario is, let’s take a website, a blog that is not getting 100,000 uniques a month, right? And even more challenging I think, let’s get a blog that doesn’t have those 150, 200, 250 pieces already there to play with, right?
Let’s take the scenario of a blog that is roughly starting out, not a lot of content out there. How do you take this from the current situation to reaching this magic number of 100,000 uniques? What is step one?
Nat: Well, step one would be figuring out if it is, like I said before, an area where search traffic makes sense. You know, a personal travel blog is probably not gonna be one of those areas, but if it is about a topic that people are looking for, then you’ve checked off box one. For this thought experiment, I’m gonna use a site that we’ve built as a company called Cup and Leaf. It’s a blog about tea.
And we started the blog mostly because we saw that while the tea industry is very inundated with companies, the content wasn’t. There weren’t a lot of good tea-related blogs out there. So we said okay, maybe we can actually create a really good tea blog.
Step one was going to one of these SEO or marketing tools and looking up some tea-related keywords to see if people were looking for them. And there’s a lot of tools you can use for this. You can use the AdWords keyword planner if you want to stay free. There’s a cheap one called Mangools keyword research, I believe it’s called. I like Ahrefs, just A-H-R-E-F-S.com. I think they’re great.
We would go into there and we would plug in some ideas for tea keywords, like best green tea, caffeine in black tea, how to brew oolong tea. Stuff like that. By the way, I’ve got a deeper article on this strategy called the wiki strategy for anybody who wanted an even more detailed step by step than I’m gonna give here. But that’s step one, are there topics up here that people are looking for?
Louis: How do you go about it? I know it’s tool specific, but maybe try to answer this question by thinking if this episode is aired in five years and you’ve got to be relevant. What are the things that you kind of need to do regardless of the platform, that you need to think about when it comes to is there demand for a topic, and what type of subtopic or search terms can I start playing with?
Nat: I would say you should be able to come up with at least 100 topics within an hour that somebody could search for. Sometimes you can do that programmatically. For example, with tea, if I come up with an idea like how to brew black tea, then I’ve immediately got ten article ideas because I can do that for every kind of tea.
You know, if you’re doing a blog about dog training, then one topic you might write is mannerisms of poodles. Or somebody googling what is a poodle’s behavior like. But now you’ve got 150 articles just on the behaviors of different dog breeds. You want to have some way to come up with tons of topics because you don’t want a blog with just 50 very niche articles.
Okay, that’s fine if you do want to go that route if you have a super niche thing, but if you’re trying to build a huge amount of traffic, you need a good number of topics. So you want to kind of sit down and brainstorm and say, “Okay, what is everything I could write about? Does that pass this 100 ideas in an hour threshold?”
There are a few ways you can cheat at this. The best one is actually to just go to other blogs in your niche and see what they’re writing about. This will really frequently give you really good ideas where you might say oh, I didn’t think about writing about the history of tea.
But now I can write about the history of black tea, green tea, oolong tea, all of those. Getting ideas from other blogs is a great way to hack that process to make sure that you have a really good bulk of topics to start with.
Louis: Literally, if you have a team or if you’re on your own, take a blank sheet of paper and start just wording out topics and any question that you might have. And that might sound stupid. It might sound very stupid to you, that might sound very basic to you, but people are not in the same stage of knowledge otherwise awareness than you are. Therefore, they’ll always search for things that seem basic to you.
Step one sounds like brainstorming anything that comes to mind. I think a bonus is when you talk to customers, when you have a good knowledge of your own customer base and know who they are, you’re likely also to know what type of stuff they ask you about, right?
Nat: Definitely. I actually typically suggest using a spreadsheet, not doing it on a piece of paper, because if you do it on a spreadsheet then it’s really easy to kind of create those automatic keyword generating formulas. Where if you come up with a form for a type of keyword, then you can kind of drag it across all the variations within your category.
Like the example I gave before, you could come up with a few template keywords topics like how to brew black tea, and then you can automatically create ten more keywords for all the other types of tea. It’s just a really quick way to fill out your list of initial keywords in a cool spreadsheet magic-ey way.
Louis: Step one sounds like coming up with as much topic as you can. You mentioned coming up with it yourself, talking to customers, looking at other websites to get ideas. Are there any other sources you can advise people to go after?
Nat: Those are the main ones. If you want to really get more in the weeds, the other thing that I’ll do is I’ll go into Ahrefs, the keyword tool I mentioned before. Just to be clear, this is not something you need to do, it’s just something I find helpful. I will take a keyword and you can plug it in there. Then you can look for things, or it can show you keywords that the pages that rank for this keyword also rank for.
For example, if I plug in how to brew green tea and then I look at other keywords that these pages rank for, I might see temperature, water temperature for green tea, and then I’ll say “Oh, I didn’t think of that as a topic. That could be a good article too.” Then I’ll add that to my list.
That’s just a third way to kind of speed up and broaden the brainstorming process. But with just those three techniques, you’re gonna get pretty far assuming you’re planning on writing about an area where there’s a lot of search volume.
Louis: Another thing briefly that I like to look at is actually typing the keyword in Google and look at the suggestions that Google comes up with. Usually, that leads to a lot of different angles as well.
Nat: Yeah, that can give you more ideas. My only problem with that strategy is that it usually recommends narrower, more specific ideas. In the beginning, you’re trying to capture the really broad expanse. I feel like that can be super helpful for narrowing down a specific–or actually you know, where I find that is more helpful is coming up with subheadings within an article.
So, you take a root keyword like how to brew green tea, and then you’ll get all of those suggested searches that are more niche, and boom, you’ve got all of your subheadings within the article. They basically just wrote your outline for you, and that’s really, really helpful.
Louis: We need to dive into that. Because I’m familiar with this strategy, but I think we need to dive into that in the steps. Step one, come up with as many broad and different topics as you can. Step two, I think you mentioned volume, Basically, all those topics that you mentioned, are the people actually searching for those, right?
Nat: Yep. This is the other reason I like to do it in a spreadsheet is that once you’ve got that initial 100+ set of ideas, you can just copy and paste all of them into a tool like Ahrefs and do a bulk search on their search engine stats.
If I’ve got 150 keywords, I copy them, paste them into Ahrefs, and then it shows me how many people are searching for each of those keywords, and how hard it will be to rank them. What that tells me is A, is this an area worth going after because people are looking for it. And B, could I actually rank on these keywords given the difficultly?
A few different scenarios could play out. You could have keywords that tons of people are searching for but that are really high difficultly, which tells you that you probably don’t want to go after them–especially as a new blog–because you’re just not gonna rank in the near term. It’s gonna be demotivating, it’s gonna be extremely hard. It’s gonna be an uphill battle. You don’t want to start there.
Sometimes you’ll have keywords that are really hard, but no one is searching for just because they’re super niche and high value. They’re written by super authoritative sites, and that’s an even stronger don’t bother.
You could have keywords where they’re very low difficulty but also no one is looking for them, and those aren’t really worth writing about either unless you’ve got a super high-value product. Where even if you’re only getting 100 visitors a month, you could still make money off of that and it could be worthwhile.
But the real goldilocks zone are the topics that have that high volume, and I usually look at a volume of 500 or higher and that have a low difficulty. Low difficulty will vary based on your site. For a new site based on Ahref’s rankings, I usually look for stuff below 30, because what I’ve seen is that a newer site going after topics with difficulty below 30, at can reasonably start to rank in the four to six month timeframe.
That is kind of the Goldilocks Zone I’m looking for. The nice thing is that the tool lets you filter and say okay, I only want to see the keywords that hit these criteria, and then you’ve got your initial topics that are worth going after.
Louis: I guess what I’m always trying to go back to is what if somewhere hears this interview in five years or ten years’ time, and Ahref doesn’t exist anymore. So what you’re saying is–I’m not trying to reword it because it wasn’t clear–I’m just trying to reword it when it comes to without any tools, what are the principles behind that?
You’re basically trying to look at the low hanging fruits, so the things that people search for a lot that you can have your result appear in front of them pretty quickly so there’s not a lot of competition, right?
Nat: Yeah, and I’d even rephrase it a little differently and say the things that people are looking for a lot that nobody has done a good job of explaining yet. Because you know, even if you don’t have Ahrefs, an easy way to figure out if you could actually rank on this topic is just by going to Google and searching the keyword, and then asking yourself how good of an article is this?
How thorough are they?
How detailed are they?
How many examples do they have?
How many images do they have?
How long is it?
If you’re looking at it and you’re going holy shit, this article is terrible, then that’s a great opportunity. But if you’re looking at it and you’re going wow, it’s got 4,000 words and a custom infographic, and they’ve got 500 comments on it. It’s like all right, this is probably not a good place to start. Your intuition on that is usually gonna be pretty good. I think that’s a really great way to do it as well.
Louis: That happens quite a lot where you’re either absolutely surprised by the shitty quality of what you’re seeing, or by the sheer quality of what you’re seeing. But most of the time it’s the former rather than the latter, which still means that there are absolutely massive opportunities. And obviously there are always new problems and questions and challenges people come across.
There’s always new things, so there will always be new opportunities for you to have the best answer on the internet about a specific topic, which is always nice to know. But sometimes I wonder when I do this exercise, and I look at a keyword that we like to rank for and we’re thinking about it. I look at the first page of results and I only see the low par articles, I start questioning myself thinking, am I missing something here? Are people actually liking those, or is it just the best that Google can come up with?
Nat: Yep, and you shouldn’t be turned off by big names showing up near the top, like magazines. If you see Men’s Health or Cosmo or one of those types of sites showing up, that usually means that a more niched and focused site hasn’t done a good job on the topic yet, so you can still completely rank for it. Or my personal blog outranks those magazines on a number of topics. It’s totally doable.
And you should definitely not be turned off by social media sites showing up. If you see Reddit or Pinterest, in particular, on the first page, that’s usually a sign that it’s a completely open field where you can really do a good job ranking on this topic.
I mean don’t do this, because this is kind of blackhat, frowned upon, and shitty–but if you search for a topic and a Reddit post shows up in the top three, you could basically just take the information in that Reddit post, summarize it into your own article and publish it. And you would probably outrank the Reddit post, just because Google doesn’t like showing stuff from Reddit and Pinterest when it can avoid it. That’s a really good sign that this is a topic that people haven’t done a good job with yet.
Louis: So that’s why everyone hates marketers, huh?
Nat: Yeah. Laughs.
Louis: Do not do that. It definitely doesn’t add much more value. Instead, if you see that, why don’t you interview a few people if you don’t know about the topic? Or try to gather information yourself and to provide a much better answer than what the Reddit post has provided for example, right?
Louis: Let’s say we have 50 search terms, 50 things that people are searching for that we know we can safely say in three, four, five, six months, we should be able to rank for it if we create something that is valuable, right? Then what’s the next step? What should we do?
Nat: Well, if you’ve got your list of topics and basically, once you’ve filtered that down based on their difficulty and volume, that’s really your content plan for the foreseeable future. I typically recommend trying to do two to three articles per week.
If you’re just doing one, it’s gonna take so long to get a reasonable body of content up there that it’s gonna be hard to see results in the near term. If you’re doing way more than that, unless you’ve got a team of writers who you can throw at the problem, you’re probably not gonna be creating very good articles. I like the two to three per week range.
But once the content is created, the real next challenge is how do you promote it to get an initial set of eyeballs on it? And I actually think this matters quite a bit less than other people will say it does, because we put much less time and thought into promotion than we do to creating good content, and it still works out totally fine.
I think a lot of people like to focus on tons and tons of promotion stuff because they don’t have to wait. They get impatient, and they don’t want to wait a few months for it to start to rank. They want to do something now to see traffic and feel good about themselves. But whatever you can do to get some initial eyeballs on it helps.
That’s as simple as posting to your personal Facebook, posting to whatever company social media you have, if you’ve got an email list, sending it out to that. It’s like all the stuff you’ve heard before. There’s really no secret promotion tricks out there.
The only reason some people are better at promotion than others is that they’ve been doing it longer. They’re not doing anything particularly special, they just have more of an audience. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but when you don’t have an audience, the promotion doesn’t do that much because you don’t have that many people to push it out to.
When you do have a big audience, you don’t really need to do promotion, because people will find it anyway. So the question you kind of have to ask is, what can I do to just generally grow my audience? Whether that’s getting more email signups, Twitter followers, Instagram followers, and is there anything I can do that allows me to leverage other people’s audiences or other sites’ audiences? And that’s where you can kind of get a big bump.
The best ways to do that are typically some form of influencer marketing, so involving people in your content. It’s kind of like what you’re doing here. I’m gonna send this interview to my email list, and that’s gonna be thousands of more people who might listen to it, or who might find it than otherwise would. So an interview podcast is a perfect example.
I don’t like expert roundups. I strongly recommend marketers not do them, because they’re terrible articles, and they’re just written to try to get people to share your content. But they typically do a good job of getting people to share them. That’s the conflict with them. It’s a terrible article, but you’ll get all these people to share it and so you’ll get traffic and feel good about yourself.
Louis: Can you define what expert roundup is? Because I know what you’re talking about, but I assume some listeners might not know.
Nat: Oh yeah, I mean it’s those articles where it’s like 20 SEO experts tell you what you should do in 2019 for more traffic. That’s not a useful article, because you’re just gonna get 20 random tips that you don’t know what to do. It’s like that book Tim Ferriss wrote, Tools of Titans. It was an incredibly useless book, because it’s just 600 pages of random shit in no particular order that you have no idea what to do with.
That’s what an expert roundup is. It doesn’t give you a step by step strategy. It doesn’t tell you this is important, this is unimportant. It’s just a way for the writer to get other people to promote their content. Whenever you see something like that, you should never read it, and you definitely shouldn’t be creating more of that.
But what it does a good job of is leveraging other people’s audiences. What you want to ask yourself is, how do I create something that can leverage another audience but that is also useful? One-on-one interviews I think are great. Getting stories from people about how they did something, because they’ll be much more invested in sharing that as well, because they have a more personal connection with it.
Or another version is doing something where you can leverage a community. I like Reddit a lot. 90% of the time if you post an article there, it’s not gonna do well. But the 5 or 10% of the time it does do well, you just get a stupid amount of traffic from it. I’ve had articles where you get 50,000 uniques in 24 hours just by doing well on Reddit.
That’s pretty significant. It’s a pretty significant bump in traffic, and that bump in traffic actually helps your articles rank faster. So that’s kind of the main big lever you can pull with promotion. How can you get another audience or community to do the work for you until you have an audience of your own?
Louis: I have plenty of questions on this, but I think we missed a step in between, which is the black box of we have the topics, we write them, and then we formulate them. So we mentioned one thing I want to go back to about writing, and you said something very quickly, but it’s super interesting.
I’ve learned that at HotJar, I’m the content lead there, and this is something I’ve recently learned how to do properly, which is outlining. And you mentioned actually using Google for outlines is perfect. You can do your H2s there. Let’s drill down into that. Let’s try to nail this particular way of writing articles that we have a certain chance of ranking for properly.
Nat: I mean the first most important part is like I mentioned before, having it written by someone who knows the area. If you don’t have that, it’s just not gonna do well. You want to make sure you get that right first. Second to that though, it’s kind of figuring out what are all of the tangential topics to this core keyword that I need to make sure I include in my article.
There are a few ways you can do that. You can just search the keyword and then look through what’s currently ranking for it and see what they cover in their article, because that’s a good sign that those tangential topics need to be covered in yours as well to outrank them. You can do the recommended keywords trick that we mentioned before. You plug in the keyword and you see what else Google recommends you search instead of it.
You can use a tool to tell you what they are. That’s what we use. I use something call Clearscope, and it’s great because you can plug in a keyword and it’ll give you the 50 or so tangential topics to that keyword that it thinks need to be in an article for it to rank, and that’s just incredibly useful, because it saves a lot of time on our end.
Or you can do some of the stuff I mentioned before, like going into Ahrefs and saying what other keywords rank alongside this keyword, and that gives you a good idea of tangential topics that you want to cover.
What we’ll do is we’ll get that list of–it could be anywhere from 20 to 50 or 100 tangential topics for a keyword. Then put them in a bulleted list and then move them around in order to figure out okay, what order makes sense here in covering all of these and making sure that we’re going as in depth in this article as we need to outrank the other stuff on the first page.
That gives you a really good starting point for outlining your article because then you know the topics that need to be covered to beat out the competition. And from that, then you get into the actual narrative of it.
You don’t just want a list of discordant topics just trying to hit all the keywords. Nobody wants to read that. You want to create a narrative that covers all of these topics in the most sensible order with good storytelling and explanations and citations and all of that.
That last part about actually weaving it together into a good article is probably the hardest part of this whole thing. It’s where people are going to struggle most because most people are much worse writers than they think they are, and it’s hard to find really good writers.
We keep a database of about 1,300 writers that we pull from for different projects, and the biggest reasons someone will be disqualified is just not good enough writing quality. So it’s hard. You gotta be really honest with yourself about whether or not you are a great writer who can beat the other writers who are on the first page. And if you’re not, then you should probably try to hire someone to do it.
Louis: Yeah. Or just keep at it and keep at it and keep at it every single day, and you’ll get better.
Nat: Yeah, that too.
Louis: If you have the patience.
Nat: It’s like I’ve been doing it for five, six years now, and I’ve probably published thousands of articles and over 1 million words. It takes a lot of work to get good at that stuff and that’s a very specific type of content too. The how-to explanatory content is very different from an essay, it’s very different from fiction, and you’re not usually gonna be a broadly good writer. You’re gonna be good in an area. So it’s fairly specialized knowledge.
Louis: I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m a shitty writer. I’ve realized I’m a much better interviewer and I’m much better at getting other people’s stories and people to talk to me, and then finding other people who are much better than me of distilling that down into a different format. Thanks for going through that because I think that was an important mention.
Basically, I know we are talking a bit technically about SEO, but it boils down to core principles once again. It just boils down to when someone has a question about a topic, like talk about black tea, and they want to know how to brew it properly for best taste, they definitely by definition have other things that they wonder. They wonder whether the tea is gonna be burned at certain temperatures.
They have things in their head that they wonder about, right? And the way to know that is simply to just look at what Google tells you in terms of what Google cares about. What type of topics relate to the main keywords? That’s basically to say, trying to read people’s minds, what they have in their mind, giving them the best answer out there so that when they read the article they know, shit, this is exactly what I was looking for.
Nat: That’s kind of the underlying question you’ve gotta ask yourself is when somebody reads this article, are they going to not go back to Google and keep looking for more answers?
Louis: I think this is something that Google looks at. Obviously, the algorithm that Google uses is updated every day, and it’s not that much of a black box, but there’s one thing that I know they’re looking for is the time of Google. It’s like when someone uses Google, searches for something, clicks on the website, how long are they not going back to Google?
Are they going back to Google straightaway? Which literally means well actually, that was a shitty answer and this didn’t get me my answer–or are they basically spending 20 minutes on this site before going back.
Nat: They definitely consider that. If people are immediately going back to Google and continuing to look after reading your article, it’s probably not gonna rank very well.
Louis: Then you mentioned about promotion. I want to go back to that. So you said expert roundups are useless. Everyone is doing them. I agree, although as you said a few people still answer them and still share them. I would challenge that not in the essence of it because I completely agree with you, but I would challenge the fact that exactly as you said at the end, you said as long as it’s a strategy on how to do things, then that’s a different ballgame.
Avoid for sure the just kind of shitty roundups where we just have ten quotes one after the other with no value, and it’s all in disarray. You don’t know where to look, a bit like as you said, the Tim Ferriss book. Instead, try to think about it in terms of a problem you want to solve, or a tactic or strategy you want to put together.
Definitely do use experts to help you to build it for you, as long as you are able to put it back into a digestible, step by step, interesting, answering all the questions type of article, then that’s in a different ballgame, isn’t it?
Nat: Yeah. If you’re getting people to add in information to supplement a narrative, then I think that works pretty well. But if you’re just having a 40 item numbered list and it’s like, here’s what Nat said. Here’s what Justin said. Here’s what Anthony said. That’s not useful.
Louis: Then you mentioned a few interesting things. I too have tried Reddit to promote stuff in the past, and it’s definitely hit and miss. Sometimes you get insulted and get downvoted to the oblivion. Sometimes it just picks up and it just goes crazy. It’s the front page of the internet at the end of the day, so the traffic there is absolutely fucking massive.
I would just give you the one tip if people want to use Reddit as the thing. What I try to do whenever I post on Reddit is I’m trying to imagine that I’m not posting on Reddit, that I’m writing an email to a good friend of mine. I’m trying to explain things to this person in detail so that they don’t have to just click on the link and be like, I want to figure that out on my own.
I’m trying to treat the community as a very–how do you say that–someone who questions shit a lot. Like this friend or whatever is very conscious about it, and always asks a lot of questions, and wants to know stuff before they click anything. I try to put this mindset all the time, force me to do that. 50% of the time, the community answers positively, 50% not that much. So I wonder if you have a particular thing that you try to use on Reddit that is more often than not successful.
Nat: It’s actually pretty similar to that. It’s not dumping an article and then running off–not just trying to post a link and hope it goes well. It’s like you said, trying to make it kind of like you’re talking to a friend or sending something to a friend, and adding some context, including part of the article in the body to pique people’s interest, responding to comments, trying to be engaged.
That goes way better than just trying to milk it for traffic with very little effort. You’ve got to be willing to put in the work to make it do well there. And if you don’t, then like you said, you’re usually gonna get punished pretty hard for it, and it’s not gonna make you feel good.
Louis: No, it’s not. Seriously, if you have low self-esteem, and trying to promote your stuff on Reddit without a lot of care, your self-esteem is gonna go even lower, I guarantee it. It’s ruthless out there, isn’t it?
Nat: Yeah, it’s not gonna be a good time.
Louis: Another thing you mentioned is the influencer outreach, reaching into people who have a network of other people that trust them. I fucking hate the word influencer. I have to use it because everyone else is using it. But yeah, it boils down to people like you Nat, who have a following, a network that people trust. And therefore, reaching out to those people, having them share your stuff or participate in your stuff will do you good.
That’s a strategy that will work in 50 years, in 100 years, because that’s how human relationships are built. I wonder if I give you just one type of influencer outreach to do…if you have an article that you’ve written and you wonder what is the best approach to get the biggest result, what type of people should I reach out to. How should I approach it, how would you answer this question?
Nat: I mean, the best people are gonna be the ones who have some influence, but who aren’t in the marketing space. It’s hard because those people might not have as big of audiences, but they won’t be as inundated with these influencer outreach emails. I get a few of these a day, and so as soon a someone sends me something like it, I just immediately archive it. I don’t even read it.
And that’s what most people in the marketing realm are gonna do too. But if you can find people who have kind of niche blogs that aren’t really marketing related and who don’t seem to be super serious marketers, they will probably respond to it much better and they’ll really appreciate it.
It wasn’t a roundup article, but it was a blog roundup, like the best tea blogs on the internet, and we sent it to everybody who was featured in it. I’d say that half or maybe even two-thirds loved it. They shared it with their email lists and they shared it on Twitter. A few of them gave us links back to our site.
They were so appreciative because nobody does that in that niche. If you’re going to use influencers, try to do it in an area that is not completely inundated with those influencer marketing tactics already. Because the people in those areas will appreciate it a lot more and be more willing to, I think, engage with you from it.
Louis: That makes a lot of sense. I mean, I wouldn’t consider myself an influencer. I think one of my previous guests where we talked about influencer marketing told me I was this micro-influencer type of people, which is even worse than influencers as a whole.
I’m not that much of an influencer, but I do receive a lot of requests every day at this stage. It’s very similar shit. I will just mark them as spam or just archive them depending on my mood. So it shows-
Nat: You’ve got a marketing related podcast, so you’re a hot target.
Louis: I am a fucking hot target. Please, if you send me stuff, be nice and personalize the outreach. Because you can smell it from a mile away or ten miles, or 50 fucking miles away, can’t you?
Nat: Oh yeah.
Louis: Right. So I think that’s it for the step by step. I’ve squeezed as much information as I could out of you, Nat. Thanks for playing along.
Switching gears, a bit about you, because I don’t know you that well. I’ve followed you for quite a while. I know a few listeners wanted eagerly you on the podcast to talk about your stuff. But I can sense from talking to you, looking at your blogs, looking at what you write, looking at all the stuff you do, that you are quite a driven person who wants to achieve shitloads in life. And who wants to do a lot in very little time.
I might be wrong. You might contradict me. But I can feel a lot of ambition out of you. I’m curious. If you had to select and pinpoint a specific event that made you who you are today, what would it be?
Nat: Made me who I am in general, or as it relates to marketing?
Louis: It could be anything that you feel is, maybe your top personality traits is the fact that you’re super ambitious. Is there a story that kind of summarizes? Or it could be about marketing. Anything really that you feel kind of summarizes well who you are as a person as much as you are a marketer.
Nat: You know, it’s hard to pick a single thing. But one thing that definitely stands out is for the first couple of years I think of college, I definitely had the typical job mindset where I needed to graduate and go work for a big company. I needed to study something relevant to what I would go work in, and I would get a paycheck every two weeks and all of that.
Then I think junior year I did my first actual freelance work, doing some of this writing. Basically, just creating content for another blog. The first time I got paid for that, that was really huge. Because it was like oh my gosh, you can actually do something and set a price, and make money from it that’s not like having to get hired and get a paycheck.
I feel like that completely changed my relationships with money and work. And really started this whole cycle and interest in both entrepreneurship and marketing that’s been going on ever since then. For anyone who hasn’t been actually paid for creating something of value for someone else, I think that’s a huge really important experience. It gives you a very different relationship with money than just getting a paycheck.
Louis: Yeah, it really changes a lot of things. I concur with that. When I sent my first invoice as a consulting company a few years ago, that really changed my mindset as well. If you start thinking about the time you’re spending to deliver this value, you start thinking of ways to be more productive, you start thinking of raising your prices so you can do more.
Your mindset switches from being comfortable should I say, in a comfort zone where you know you’re gonna get paid at the end of the month if you do something decent, to challenging yourself constantly to make sure that you get better pay, then you deliver better results.
Nat: Yeah, exactly.
Louis: What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Nat: I would say the big thing is just learning how to communicate value. It’s useful in content marketing, it’s useful in copywriting, and it’s useful in sales. I think a lot of people get too in the weeds. And too wrapped up in their own understanding of something and don’t know how to communicate value to a consumer who doesn’t know anywhere near as much about the area as you do.
And practicing explaining why something is worthwhile, interesting, and valuable. How it can make someone’s life better. That kind of carries over into all realms of marketing, whether it’s creating ads, creating articles, creating product pages. And it’s a really, really difficult skill to master.
I certainly don’t think that I have. It’s something I feel like I have to work on a lot. But it’s also a huge leverage point in pretty much everything marketing and entrepreneurial. Whether that’s reading books or looking at other products online, or getting someone to mentor you, that’s a really amazing skill to try to get better at that I think can help pretty much anyone in marketing or entrepreneurial in general.
Louis: Amen to that. Nat, you’ve been an absolute pleasure. Thanks so much for going through all of that. So yes, plenty of websites to check from Nat. There’s your personal blog, NatEliason.com, there is your podcast Make You Think, there is also your agency, I mean your consulting, TheGrowthMachine.com. Is there anything else I forgot?
Nat: No. But it’s actually YourGrowthMachine.com.
Louis: YourGrowthMachine.com. Well done, thanks.
Nat: Those are all great. I’m very active on Twitter, so you can find me there too just @nateliason.
Louis: All right, Nat. Thanks so much for your time.
Nat: Thanks so much. Talk soon.
Louis: Talk soon, bye bye.
How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers
Insights from Seth Godin, Rand Fishkin, David Darmanin and 6 other world-class tech marketers.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.