Do you want to learn how to scale content creation without a team? In this episode, we’re joined by Tracey Wallace, the Editor in Chief at BigCommerce. She gives us a breakdown of everything content marketing, and how you can rank faster on Google without using any tools.
Tracey explains the exact steps she took to help grow the BigCommerce blog into the leading ecommerce marketing blog today–with zero budget and a small team.
Listen to this Episode:
- The reason why Tracey thinks content marketing is here to stay
- Why content plays a role throughout your entire sales funnel
- Tracey’s step-by-step process for outsourcing quality articles
- How to do keyword research with Google only (no tools)
- Which style of keywords are proven to rank the fastest
- How to use HTML tags in blog posts to target keywords
- Why you should structure your articles for fast information
- How to use partners to help publish high volumes of content
- The surprising reason you don’t need to publish A+ articles
- BigCommerce Blog: #1 Ecommerce Blog on Marketing & Selling Online
- MarketMuse: AI Content Planning and Optimization Software
- Ahrefs: Competitor Research Tools & SEO Backlink Checker
- The State of Ecommerce Platforms in 2018: Cloud Commerce, Open SaaS and The API Economy by Tracey Wallace
- Tracey Wallace on BigCommerce
- The Skyscraper Technique by Brian Dean
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- @TraceWall on Twitter
- Content Distribution Plan: An In-Depth Process for Driving More Traffic
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 will learn how to build a scalable process and content marketing organization without a big budget or a ton of freelancers.
My guest today is the Editor in Chief at BigCommerce, where she covers all things e-commerce, including marketing, design, development, strategy, plus emerging trends–including words I don’t really understand like omnichannel, or cloud re-platforming.
So, she’s often featured in publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Mashable, Elle, and plenty of others. She launched her career in e-commerce with Y Combinator. And a startup called Shoptiques.
What’s interesting about her, and that’s probably one of the best biographies I’ve ever read about my guest, is that she’s a fifth-generation Texan, and third-generation family business owner. Her grandfather actually started the Fred Clark Felt company in 1953, manufacturing cotton fill and pillows for businesses across the south.
What’s interesting here is that it has nothing to do with what we’re going to discuss, but yet everything to do about where she’s from, and I suspect a lot of grit and a lot of ambition based on her family story.
As her personal mantra, she likes to write content that her own family would be able to read, learn from and put actionable steps in place to increase sales. So, Tracey Wallace, let’s see what you’ve got.
Tracey: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Louis: Right before we started to record this episode, you started to talk to me about the fact that one year ago you probably would have never talked about this topic of building this scalable process, and content marketing organization when you don’t have a lot of budget, or not a ton of freelancers. So, tell me more about what you mean by this?
TraceyYeah. So, I’ve been over here at Big Commerce for almost four years now. And was in content marketing roles before that, and then was in the journalism world before that. My experience, historically, with using partners or free people–so people who want backlinks or want to be featured by your brand–for content for your blog, at least a year ago would have been don’t dare do it.
They write terrible content. It’s a waste of your time. It’s a waste of your editing resources. You can write it better, and you can distribute it better. Just plain don’t waste your time.
And it was probably the most annoying thing to my partner marketing organization here and my counterparts. But since then, we have altered quite a few things, as I was mentioning before this recording. But I’ll say again now for everybody. Bigcommerce’s content marketing team is three people.
We drive more than a million page views, have more than 400,000 individuals coming to the site every single month. We do write quite a bit of our own content. But we rely very, very heavily on our partners to write content for us because we have no dedicated in-house writer. And no real budget. That doesn’t mean that the budget is huge, you can spend whatever. It means literally try to spend zero dollars. So, that is what we do.
Louis: Right. Before we dive into how you actually do that, because I’m super interested in this topic, one of the reasons is as listeners know I also work for Hotjar and this is basically my role, leading the content. And I think it’s interesting for me, personally. So, I will be asking you a lot of questions. But also interesting for a lot of you listening to this podcast. Because I think a lot of you are trying to figure out how to do content. But content marketing is a buzzword. I mean, it’s becoming a buzzword. Everyone is talking about it.
Perhaps before we dive in a step by step in how you actually do that, how do you actually scale without freelancers, and with partners, what is content marketing for you? Why is it important? Why are you employed by Big Commerce to do it?
Tracey: Sure. Content marketing is the writing of content to earn consumer trust and interest–or prospect trust and interest–in order to really kind of touch them at the very top of the funnel, bring them into the funnel, and then educate them throughout it. Ideally, hoping that they then choose your platform. And it’s important and becoming more and more important.
Because millennials and Gen Z, in particular, have grown up in the current internet advertising world. And are often banner blind to ads. They don’t like ads. They don’t like things that don’t teach them something. They don’t like anything that’s transactional up front.
That means for brands and organizations, whether you are an e-commerce brand who we’re often educating because the same thing is true for them, or whether you’re a B2B technology company like Big Commerce is–
What that ultimately means is that in order to win customer and prospect trust, or even industry trust and recognition, a lot of times you’ve got to be writing some really good, valuable content that truly educates without trying to heavily sell your product.
And you have to do that again and again. In a very, very reliable way. So that your brain begins to become a … When someone says big commerce they think, “Oh, the Big Commerce blog. I’ve been there multiple times. I’ve learned XYZ things. Those people know what they’re talking about.”
Somebody who has that perception of our company is much more likely to come in and start a trial with us, and ultimately to buy.
Louis: One thing I’m trying to do in this podcast is that every single episode I’m trying to make them timeless, or evergreen so that we talk about things that in five years or ten years, even fifty years hopefully, that should be still relevant somehow. Do you feel like content marketing is a phase, like Bitcoin? Or is it more like … Is it more something that’s gonna stay? Because it’s really ingrained, the fundamentals of what marketing truly is.
Tracey: That’s a fantastic question. I think content marketing is here to stay for the next 50 years for sure. You see journalism hubs now, so magazines and newspapers are beginning to really … Not necessarily latch on to this idea of content marketing, but they’re bringing something to the forefront called content and commerce. Which is the writing of content to educate people on a product or on a service.
And that is suddenly making a lot more money for those publishers who have been struggling to pay writers, you know, decent salaries for a really long time. On the flip side of that you have technology companies that hire content marketers like me, and content marketing teams.
I mean, ours is small. But I know tons of other tech companies where their content marketing org is just massive. They’re paying those folks a lot to write content to ultimately get people into the funnel and buy a service. I think right now what we’re seeing is that some of those more traditional publishers are really seeing what technology companies have been able to do, and the hubs they’ve been able to build. E-commerce companies are doing very similar stuff.
You look at Yeti coolers has an entire section on their site dedicated to just writing these amazing stories. Gear Patrol, which has been doing product journalism for a really long time, was acquired by Hearst to help teach Hearst how to do that kind of content marketing incredibly well. I think it’s going to continue.
Now, the format might change, right? Which is right now really long-form content works well, video works really, really well. But the video market will become oversaturated. Then you’ll begin to see things shift. Gen Z, in particular, is much more interested in in-person events.
Because the world is cyclical in that way. I’d imagine a lot more organizations and content marketers are going to be beefing up their event throwing skills, and their pop-up skills as well.
Louis: I need to give out to you, because you used the M word ten minutes ago. You said millennial, and then you said gen Z. Those are two words that are forbidden in Everyone Hates Marketers.
Tracey: Oh, no.
Louis: Jokes aside, jokes. Yes, I guess there are, we can generalize to the point that yes, experiences are coming back, events, people enjoy going to places in concert instead of just watching videos and all of that.
But the reason why I’m challenging you on this is because I think it could be dangerous to maybe generalize another population based on global trends. Although it seems to be that yes, video definitely is getting crazy, events and experienced based is getting quite popular. But as you said, it’s cyclical, right?
Tracey: Sure. And I can totally rephrase. People under the age of 60 or 50 around the globe do not like transactional ads, because they are used to being online, and having those transactional ads in their face, and those just plain don’t work anymore.
Louis: Yeah, it doesn’t work. Although billions are being spent still on those, right?
Tracey: Well, sure. And retargeting ads often seem to work. And then of course ads on, I mean, TV ads still seem to work really, really well. Both for that age population as well as 100% the older population as well.
Louis: I think that the main thing to say here is ads will work and will continue to work. Not in the way we expect them to work, in terms of I’m watching this ad, therefore I’m gonna buy straight away. But more in terms of very, as you mentioned, top of the funnel brand awareness. Whereby you, when you think of, let’s say a category like tires. You want to buy tires.
You only have two or three brands that come top of mind. This is due to you being exposed to advertising, and content and all of that for year and years for you to be able to make this choice and say, “When I get tires I got to this brand. Right?”
So, it’s such a long, long, long term thing. And it’s all, as you mentioned, as in your bio you mentioned, omni-channel. But this is kind of what it is, right? Content is part of it. Content is part of-
Tracey: Right? Content is part of the getting net new customers and prospects in. Content’s also part of the building of a community. Then that community goes out and shares word of mouth, right? It’s even a part of retention marketing. It plays a role throughout the entire funnel.
Louis: Right. Let’s dive into the how-to, the practical stuff. And I’m gonna stop trying to play devil’s advocate for this one. So, take me back to one year ago. How were you doing content in Big Commerce?
Tracey: Oh, gosh. How were we doing content a year ago? Decently similar to how we’re doing it now, in that we were, and remain very focused on keywords. We’re a very SEO, KPI-driven organization, at least in terms of our content marketing organization here. We do a bunch of keyword research. And then we go and write content.
Now, what I’ll say has changed since then is a year ago we would say, okay. XYZ topic is clearly important. There’s a lot of traffic on it. Here’s all the other articles that are doing really, really well on it. Here’s a bunch of customers we can reference as examples. Here’s a bunch of research we’ve done. And then we’d go out and A, either try to find a freelancer or partner to write it, freelancers would struggle. We do have a couple that we rely on pretty heavily now.
But freelancers historically would struggle to write at the level of expertise that we wanted them to. Our target audience are businesses that are making at least one million in annual online revenue. We’re not talking low-hanging fruit tactics here.
We’re talking, like, okay, you’re driving some traffic. You need to have an expert explaining things to you. Or, we’d try to go, we have partners write them. And essentially what we’d get back from either one of those sources was some of it would be very promotional, some of it wasn’t even always in complete sentences. A lot of it didn’t make sense.
It just took more time editing it. I said screw it. I’m just gonna write it all. And I did. Which is great … I’m a very fast writer. And that has served me very well, certainly here. And being able to kind of multi-task in that way, but clearly, that is not incredibly scalable. It was really helpful for us at the time.
Because that helped to grow our blog, Ten X. And it helped to kind of land us as position, and myself, in particular, a position as a real thought leader in the industry, which is fantastic. But again, not incredibly scalable to have one human being writing the vast majority of long-form content that you’re producing.
Louis: Right. You realized that it wasn’t that scalable. That it was difficult to talk to freelancers, and make them basically fit your voice, and your brand. And talk about the level of expertise. Let’s talk about how you do that now.
How do you scale content in your organization without a huge budget, as close as zero as possible, without a lot of, a ton of freelancers and relying on partners? So, if you had to teach someone listening to this podcast right now, who have a company, or are looking to get into content to do this, to scale that using partners, how would you tell them to do it step by step? What would be step one?
Tracey: Step one would be to figure out what keywords you want to go after, what keywords in particular you think or you have proof will convert people for your organization. Do a bunch of research. Copy everything Google tells you in the suggested search box at the bottom, as well as in the pop-up…
Gosh, what is that even called? Anyway, that little pop-up that shows up there. There’s a bunch of questions. Copy all of those down, move all of that information into a Google Doc, look through the top ten articles that are showing up for that keyword.
Take a bunch of those H2s, put those in your document, and then build out a super extensive outline with every single H2, H3, H4 already built out and headlined, and then hand that off to partners. It is amazing how well they can just go through those sections, add in the content that you need, and then you can get that stuff up and ranking within a ridiculously small amount of time.
Louis: Let’s back up a bit. No, no that’s good. At least I have the summary. So, now let’s dive in. First of all, you say do your research. So, we’re not gonna go into a crazy amount of details on it and the key word research. Because I think the connection with partners, how you find them, and how you get in touch is also important.
Step one you do keyword research. How do you do it, how would you advise to do it? I know tools are important, and in five or ten years those tools you mentioned are probably not going to be there. But how do you advise to do keyword research?
Tracey: We use AHREFs, or AREFs, however anyone listening says it. We use that tool, which is incredibly helpful. We also use Market Muse. And Market Muse believes in the philosophy that Google’s algorithm is based on keyword clusters, right?
So you can drop your content in there and it will analyze it for the individual keyword cluster that it believes that you’re going after. And you can make sure that you rank well there. Anyway, Market Muse, fantastic tool. In terms of doing the actual keywords, we truly just rely on Google.
I’m a really strong believer that Google will tell you exactly what it is looking for. What I mean by that is, for instance, if you want to rank for the term “e-commerce platforms,” you can type in the term “e-commerce platforms,” and see what is it.
The Market Muse is the second tool that we use. And that is a tool that believes in Google using keyword clusters for their algorithm rather than just kind of individual terms. Everyone listening can go look up kind of what that means. There’s just a bunch of theories out there around it, and I am not here to dispel any of those.
But we essentially drop our content in there. It’ll essentially show us what keyword cluster we would likely rank for as well as other keywords to add into that content in a way that doesn’t really change the context or the meaning of the content but does help us rank really quickly.
Louis: Excuse me to interrupt you. Let’s say we are selling tires, right? Then what you start doing, you’re basically trying to include any type of keyword that people would be looking for, like tires, bike tires-
Tracey: Yes. But you would be doing that in Google, not Market Muse. No, AHREFs could help you a little bit there. But I’m a big believer, as is our SEO lead here, that Google will tell you everything you need to know about what it is looking for.
If you need to sell tires, thinking through just the top of the funnel, like, you know, like, “What tires are the best?” Which isn’t even all that top of the funnel, because clearly somebody needs them at that point. But what tires are the best? Typing that into Google and seeing what pops up. They’re gonna have something likely that shows up there in position zero.
They’re also going to have stuff pop up there that will showcase other questions that are often asked and relevant to that topic. And if you scroll on down to the bottom it’ll show you additional, related searches. We copy and paste all of that information from Google over into an outline, organize it in the way that we think is the most relevant and informational. We’ll also then go through a bunch of the blog posts and stuff that show up there.
Louis: Let me cut you there again. Because this is super interesting and important. You have a bunch of keywords Google doc at this stage, yeah?
Tracey: Yes. They’re not keywords, they are phrases.
Louis: Okay, you’re going as far as basically phrases, like questions, mainly. You’re listing all of those questions up above. You take hours and hours. You go through Google. You go into a rabbit hole of Google search, right?
Because you don’t believe the amount of stuff that people search for. You basically go through all of that and you write them down. You copy and paste, and you put that in a Google doc. So, why are you focusing on sentences and questions instead of just short keywords?
Tracey: Sure, it’s because it’s what Google is ranking faster than anything else. And our goal is to rank number one, or at least in the top three. But ideally number one or number zero on every single piece of content that we’re publishing. Google cares a lot about questions.
It also, again, based on that cluster theory that I mentioned earlier, the articles and the content that seem to answer the most questions relevant to an individual search seem to get ranked the highest. Why wouldn’t you go and take everything that Google is recommending is relevant to that, and include all of that in an article?
Louis: At this stage you have questions. Like, you have a list of all the questions. How do you figure out which one goes nicely into one article?
Tracey: That’s a good question. A lot of that just comes from us knowing our audience really well. One, clearly we’re gonna remove any questions that we don’t feel like we can actually answer that aren’t relevant to our audience. If we want to write an article on e-commerce platforms, and something shows up in there that either we don’t do really well, or we don’t feel like is incredibly relevant, we’ll just remove that.
Now, we’ll often stack rank them, though. Put an H2 on top of that. Put most of those in H3s. Typically that H2 is gonna be e-commerce platform FAQs. Again, because that’s what people are often searching for when they’re looking for answers to those individual questions. We also have a table of contents on all of our content. Google can accurately pool the exact content to the the exact place that the content is within the article because they’re all anchor linked.
Louis: Right. Let’s define a few things. When you talk about H1, H2, H3, they refer to the HTML tags that are basically … H1 would be the title, H2 would be the main subtitle, H3 would be sub-subtitle, et cetera. Let’s say we identify five questions regarding tires. “What are the best tires for winter driving? What are the best tires for summer driving? What are the best tires for rain?”
Let’s say we have five of them, and they seem to be related to each other. It seems like there is something there we can write about. What springs to mind is why wouldn’t you write an entire article about one of them in particular. Why did you decide to put them into a master article, should I say?
Tracey: With that particular example you gave it actually sounds like you might want to do an entire article on it. Because why you’d recommend certain tires for winter is gonna likely be very different than why you’d recommend certain tires for spring or summer. That’s not true for every question, though. A lot of questions can be answered really simply with a yes or no. And a very short little clip. Clearly, those are the ones that deserve to be in a longer form article related to the topic.
Anything that you find in there that could be expanded upon, or … And this is a really great test for it, just and type that question into Google, see what the search volume is, and what other relevant things are showing up there.
If the search volume’s really high, and if you think that you have a really great chance of ranking for that content, displacing who’s already there? Then heck yeah you should write a long-form article on that. And do this whole process again for that term.
Louis: The questions are complete enough so that people looking for the answer can get a quick answer out of it. And you just bundle them into an article. Can you give me an example of an actual article you wrote with questions that you answered?
Tracey: For sure, I mean almost every single one that we write we do this. So, bigcommerce.com/blogs/ecommerce-platforms is a great one. We have one on Instagram Shopping which ranks number one that’s showing up there. We have one on personalization. I mean, a bunch of them. The vast majority of our articles are written in this way.
You’ll see that in our table of contents. You can go there, read through the table of contents real quickly, most likely you’re gonna see an FAQ on that topic. We even do this for our product news posts. Like the other day we released something called, Checkout SVK which allows people to customize their checkout. Not a large amount of search volume there. But it’s very important and influential for developers and agencies.
As a result, we want to make sure that even though it’s a product news post we rank really highly for it. We went ahead and added an FAQ to it. Which helps. A lot of this is thinking through–people don’t have a lot of time. When you land on a piece of content, you stay there, depending on the length, if there’s a video, if it’s relevant to what you were looking for. If they are answering FAQs, if it’s salesy or not.
Google’s taking all of that data and information, and feeding that back into their algorithm, right? You want to make sure that somebody gets there and feels like they aren’t being sold to, feels like they can stay on the page for a while. Even more helpful if they click on something, right?
If you have links in there, if you have H6s, if you have things that say “copy and paste this,” a lot of that’s really, really helpful because that’s just sending information back to Google that that person’s actually engaging with your content. FAQs are some of the very, very top of the funnel, I’m trying to research this and I have a lot of questions thing that consumers are looking for. We make sure that almost every single one of our articles, especially if it’s a top of funnel article, has a FAQ section within it.
Louis: We’ve been quite technical, right? In these first 20 minutes together. I think it’s important to reiterate something. The reason we’re talking about SEO, Google, and H1, H2 tags and all of that is because this is just a mirror into people’s minds, right? This is what people are looking for.
This is what they’re searching, what they’re thinking. The problems they are suffering from is on Google. Like, people are searching for all of their problems every day. I don’t remember how many billion searches there are every single day on Google only.
So, it’s just a way for you, Tracey, the way you talk about it, it’s just a way for you to read your customer’s mind better so that you can create the right things for them, solve their problems so that in turn they might buy from you.
Tracey: Absolutely. Google is a fantastic directional source in terms of, we think this topic is important. Does it have search traffic? If it doesn’t then we’re likely the only ones who thinks it’s important. Or if it does have a lot of search traffic, what are the other things that people are confused about, or that people are questioning, or that aren’t being answered by the content that exists there?
How can we go solve that for them and provide that for them? Google will reward us for doing so. Is it hard to do so? Does it make content longer? Does it take a longer time to produce it? Yeah. But that’s the whole point, right?
You don’t want to produce any work that nobody finds. You want that content to be as high up in Google as possible, because that’s your opportunity to touch the prospect, and begin pushing them down your funnel.
Louis: Let’s say, in an ideal world we have an outline of an article with a few questions that are part of it that fit nicely to the topic. You started to touch about the fact that you will send that to partners directly. Let’s say you’ve decided to write about tires again, those winter tires. There are a few questions related to winter tires. All right? That you’re gonna answer in this article. Once you have that–
Tracey: Well, so we’ve been focusing a lot on questions so far talking here, but questions are, I’d say a smaller part of the article. Again, you’ll see in a lot of our articles we include them, but they’re included closer to the bottom. It’s more like a wrap up before an executive summary.
What’s also incredibly important though is just hitting on those relevant topics. For tires in the winter, without me doing a Google search, I’d imagine that if you were looking at the US, there’s a lot different winter types, right?
There’s gonna be places where it snows a lot, where it rains a lot, and as a result there’s sleet. Or, maybe you’re also talking to both a US audience and an Australian audience. In Australia, it’s freakin’ summer.
Making sure that you are addressing all of those issues appropriately within the content, both in the title, right? Maybe it’s, “how to choose the best winter tires in the US broken down by geography.” Which lets somebody know exactly what they’re getting. Then as soon as they land there, making sure that there’s a table of contents for them that they can say, I live in the southwest, perfect. Click on that. I don’t need to read the rest of the content.
For you that’s great, because you just got a click on your site, right? Which just shows to Google that somebody engaged and is liking the content. Then the FAQ portion of it comes later. You still are providing that educational content on hey, in the southwest, these are the individual factors that you have to think about.
Maybe in one state actually buying in the winter there’s also increased taxes. Again, I haven’t done any research. That is probably not even true. But maybe there’s small things like that that are really important that you find in your research that other articles aren’t talking about. Just making sure that you’re including all of that in there.
And structuring it really well for them. Keep in mind, again, people are on the go, they’re looking for fast information. Trustworthy information. Bullet points are really helpful. Anything that speaks to their location or their personal situation is helpful, which is why breaking down by geography is fantastic.
Pull out quotes are helpful, especially if it’s something that you think is really important. People tend to– we’ll use tools like Hotjar and others to see how people are reacting on a site. People will highlight those pull out quotes. It’s just kind of part of that reading process. People are trying to get through the info.
But ultimately at the end of the day, what your table of content is. If you were to look at that and read through the table of contents, you should be able to get a dang good idea of everything that we’re gonna cover in there. As well as, be able to hop around to the stuff that you think is most important without missing any relevant information on the way.
That is really important, one, for humans. But also because as Google’s algorithm continues to get smarter and smarter, it functions based on what humans want. If it’s built for humans, if it’s built for that kind of reading experience where, yes, it’s long because you want to get the right keyword cluster in there, but it allows people to browse, it allows people to scroll really quickly and still find the information they’re looking for, then you win.
Louis: Yeah. It’s all about really understanding people so well that you can write exactly what they’re expecting, what they want. And the answers that they want. Now, we don’t have budgets, we don’t have freelancers to rely on, we’re a small team. How do you advise then, people to move on to writing these things? You have an interesting take on it. How do you deal with partners, and what do you mean by partners?
Tracey: Big Commerce has tons of partners. I mean, 3,000-5,000 plus. We have agency partners, we have technology partners. So, think of the smile.ios of the world, even the Hotjars of the world. We have SBD partners, or strategic business development partners like Amazon and PayPal.
Historically, we would go to them and say, “Hey, PayPal, we want to write an article about checkout options or payment options on our blog, and we’d love for you to be the author. And they’d say, “Great.” They’d send over 500 words of why PayPal is the absolute best checkout option online. That just is terrible. Right? Then we’d go back and forth, and they’d get upset, because they had spent time doing it, and then we get upset, because it’s not what we want. Then there’s just a not fantastic communication.
Then we moved to, okay, let’s build on content guidelines and explain to all these people what we want. Which is we want at least 1,000 words that include at least three real examples of customers doing this on Big Commerce that we can reference and show people exactly how to do.
You need to include data and stats. You also probably need to include other tools similar to yours. Yours can be the first in the list, but recommend other tools too. Because if you just recommend yours, super salesy and not helpful.
Most partners came back to us, some even went to our CEO and complained about it, and were like, “I don’t understand why your contact guidelines are so difficult to hit. There’s absolutely no way we could do this. This is absurd, nobody does content like this.” It’s like, all right, great.
Most of them told us no. Or would just get really upset about how extensive those were, or if they did write content out we would often get it back and it was pretty clear that they had farmed it out to somebody who English might not have been their first language, or who was really, really junior within an organization. As a result, the piece read crazy small business or was impossible to read at all.
Now you have a partner who’s upset because they’ve paid for something, or an employee has spent hours writing out a really long piece that still doesn’t meet our quality expectations, right? That just wasn’t fun for anybody.
What we do now is we build out very extensive guidelines. We still expect our partners to write 1,000 words or more. We still expect them to go through and find examples. But the difference is we are handing over-it’s kind of like going, and this is the worst way to think about it.
It’s kind of like going to a kindergarten class and just saying, like, “Okay, everybody. Write about your family, and the things you did this week.” And just seeing what you got back. Versus handing them a worksheet that was like, “What did mom do this week? What did dad do this week? What did your brother or sister do this week?”
You’re gonna get a lot better answers from that second one because you’ve focused their attention and you’ve made it a lot easier for them, right? It also takes a lot less time. They’re not starting from scratch. So, that’s exactly what we do. We hand over an outline. We work with them, figure out a topic, which often is a topic that we need to rank for. And we get an outline to them. They get to decide what the headline is.
Typically the outline comes with, like, “Your cool headline here. Include this keyword.” Then the rest of it is, “These are your H2s, these are your H3s.” Often those will be, you know, say we’re talking about retention marketing. “Retention marketing examples.” Then it’s example one, example two, example three. We’re not writing it for them. But we are showing them exactly what we need and where we need it.
We’re pretty strict that if we get something back that did not follow our outline at all, it’s not accepted. We sent you the outline. And from partners, as well as from freelancers. Because at this point we just do it across the board, we’ve just gotten in the habit.
We hear time and time again that this is incredibly helpful, this is saving hours on writing, this is the best direction we’ve ever received, and we just get much, much better quality content back, and content that we don’t have to edit extensively. Historically, we would completely rewrite articles and put other peoples’ names on them, because the communication process just hadn’t gone as planned.
Louis: Let’s say I’m not BigCommerce. I’m not a big company. We’re a small company, or even a consultant, a freelancer. We don’t have a budget or anything. How do you even convince a partner to write for you?
Tracey: That is a fantastic question, and my best advice for that is to begin to build out a partner and influencer network. And to do that, you can use a tool called Buzz Stream. Now, this likely will mean that you will need to write the majority of your content, maybe for the first three months or so.
You don’t need to publish every day. BigCommerce only publishes two or three times a week. And we’re scared to even go up more from there, because it’s just more work. Don’t hold yourself to any crazy output numbers.
You want to hold yourself to a quality standpoint here. So, let’s take retention marketing again. If I can’t find anybody to write that for me without budget, I will go through and find–and Buzz Stream will allow you to do this. Go through and find all of the people that are experts at retention marketing, customer loyalty marketing, whatever all the keywords are showing up as relevant to that.
Go and find all those people, find their email addresses, build out a list, and then email all of them and say, “Hey, we are writing,” and again, Buzz Stream will let you do this in bulk, so it’s fantastic. “We are writing an article on retention marketing. You’re an expert in this space. Would love if you could answer this one question about retention marketing.”
And typically what we ask is, “What’s your number one tip for e-commerce people for retention marketing?” You’ll be surprised how many people will get back to you, because every influencer, every brand out there knows that they need backlinks. They want to be mentioned, and they need that thought leadership, and content marketing’s important.
You will be surprised how many of them will email back with, like, you know, a two or three sentence recommendation or tip. It takes them two seconds. And then you, after you’ve gone through and built out your outline … Gosh, I have some examples of some old ones that we’re about to update on BigCommerce where we did this. I have some examples I can send.
But go through, build out your outline. Add those FAQs in, all of that. Then at the bottom add a section that says something like, “Twenty retention marketing experts on their number one tip for retention marketing.” Drop all of those in there, link back to them, and when that article goes live, you email out to them, and let all of them know that it’s live. Here’s the links where you can help share it. Thanks so much for all of your insight, and all of your help. So on and so forth.
Most of them, a lot of them are likely going to email back, saying, “Thank you, let me know if you ever need help again.” At this point, especially after you do that with a couple topics, you’re beginning to build a network.
You’re beginning to build people that you can rely on, and on top of that, you’re beginning to get in front of other content marketers and influencers in the space. And build up a reliability with them in terms of your ability to produce high quality content. Those are the people in the future who are going to help you write that content. But first, you’re probably gonna have to do it yourself.
Louis: Yeah, what I like about your approach is first you write stuff yourself, you produce content yourself. It doesn’t mean writing yourself, this podcast is an example. I am not writing much. But I’m doing podcasts, and I’m interviewing something new every time. And the second step instead of sending an email to say, “Hey, Tracey, there’s this article I’d like you to write on Everyone Hates Marketers, because why not, and here is the outline,” And all of that. That’s gonna be quite difficult for you to say yes.
Unless, in the past I’ll ask you to contribute to an article, to leave a quote about content marketing, or retention marketing, or e-commerce. This is how you build a relationship. I mean, you are basically laying out how to make friends, and how to connections in the professional world, right?
Tracey It is true, that’s my favorite book, “How to Make Friends,” “How to Win Influencer …” Oh, God, I can’t remember the title. Everyone knows it. It’s that popular book. Always says, “You know, Charles Manson used that.” I’m like, oh my God, yeah. Because it’s really good. It’s how you convince people of things.
“How to Make Friends and Influence People.” By Dale Carnegie. Anyway, that will be in the resources at the bottom of this episode page on EveryoneHatesMarketers.com. But I guess this is a nice way to go. So, you write articles first, you publish content yourself. You then start to ask for quotes and input.
Another thing that we’ve done in Hotjar in the past is basically to add input when an article is almost being published, or to get their input when it comes through, does it make sense? Or get people’s input on the title. That’s quite nice sometimes. People come up with a crazy good title. Don’t be afraid, I would say to ask for others outside your company organization to get involved in the creation of the content, but only just promoting it because you want them to promote it, right?
Tracey: Right. We actually did that very early on at BigCommerce. Which was, okay, we don’t have maybe the relationships built quite yet to prove to someone, why they should even spend those two minutes to write an answer back to us, right? Instead, we build out the content, design it out, make it beautiful, make it super smart, and then send them a preview.
They can say, “Hey, this is gonna publish in two weeks. We really want to make sure that we aren’t speaking in a vacuum. We want influencers’ and experts’ advice on this. Check it out, let us know what you think. Also, we would love to include a quote or a tip from you if you just wanna answer this quick question.”
What’s that’s doing is–showing someone who’d never heard of you before your content quality, what your content quality is, what it’s going to look like. Rather than just them assuming and trusting that your site–or the work that you do–is gonna be something they want their name associated with.
Louis: With this process, how many pieces are you publishing a week?
Tracey: Right now we have about three pieces of content a week, and we just went up this past summer. We were only publishing two. Most of our content includes influencer content and quotes. I send out an influencer and expert email both to influencers and experts I know in the space that I’ve built these relationships with over time. As well as to all of our partners. I send out about each quarter. It’s based on all the content I know we have coming up.
What’s your number one tip on email marketing? What’s your number one tip on whatever, right? And then as we build that content out I’ll add that in, and then we have an outreach process, right? And all of that is just very helpful. But we’ve had to flex that muscle over time.
A lot of this for us started with the Skyscraper approach, which I’m sure everyone’s heard of, and if not, look it up. It is a painful, you-will-hate-creating-content process. But it works.
We did that maybe a year and a half, two years ago. Followed that process for about two to three months. Almost every piece of content we had. Then after that had built the proper relationships, and the proper domain ranking, and the proper strategy that worked for us to not do that process anymore. And instead, do something that was more scalable and fit better.
If you are completely lost, go check out, look out skyscraper technique, skyscraper content strategy. No joke, it’s gonna be painful. But follow every single point in those for at least a month for the content that you produce. Or say, maybe at least three posts.
At that point in time, you will have begun to prove to people that you really can produce the quality content that they’d want their names associated with. It’s gonna help you get those folks to respond to your emails.
Louis: Yeah, the Skyscraper Technique, it was coined by Brian Dean from Backlinko and it’s basically the concept of picking this … I’m gonna butcher his method. But let me try to explain in my own words. It’s basically the concept of trying to pick, to get probably the best content on the internet for a specific content, by focusing it on what? Am I confusing that with the Ten X content or am I getting lost here?
Tracey: I think it’s very, very similar. I actually don’t know what the difference between the two of those are. But yeah, you are producing, or working to produce the absolute best content on the internet on a given topic. It’s hard.
The Skyscraper Technique does have specific points in there about influence or outreach, preview links, the data that you might need to include. But that’s of course because it’s coming from Backlinko, which is an SEO organization. And none of us are anything without those backlinks.
Louis: Yep. Exactly. One thing I would say, though. It’s interesting to hear from you saying that is like you’re scaling your content way more. Three, four pieces a week. And not disrespecting the quality of the content you’re putting out there. But it’s clear that what you’re doing now is really trying to reach as many people as possible.
But it’s good quality content, but it doesn’t have to be necessarily the best answer on the internet for every single thing you’re writing about, right? It needs to be good, straight to the point, giving the answer they’re looking for. But you’re not clinging yourself to that every single article must be kind of this golden article that people really like to remember.
Tracey: Yeah, definitely not the golden article. We’re not looking for the A+ content. But we definitely want a solid B+ or an A on every single piece. What’s helpful about us is one, because we’ve been following this process for two years–and again for two years only publishing twice a week–us upping up to three now is because partners and other people in the industry have seen what we’ve been doing, and they have been reaching out to us saying, “We will do whatever it takes. We will write however long it is. We will include whatever data. We actually did this proprietary study, do you want that?”
That clearly makes it easier to create more content, right? When it’s like, “Oh, awesome. Like, you’re willing to write 5,000 words for us? Fantastic. We can tell you exactly what to write.”
But to get to that process clearly we had to prove over the long term that we knew exactly what we were doing. That it was a repeatable process, and that we were making other people out there really happy by doing so. We’re in that unique position now. And if you start now, a year and a half from now you will also be able to scale up in that way.
But first, you have to begin to flex the muscle of knowing how to produce that absolute best content. Knowing how to spot it. Also building out your community and your networks, because you do need people to backlink to you. You do need the help of getting people to immediately begin circulating it once it’s out there. Even with skyscraper content, it is not a produce it and they will come. It is a produce it and continue working your butt off to get people to see it.
We’re lucky now again because our domain ranking is really high, and because of the processes that we have that almost any piece we put up will rank on page one very, very quickly. Then we work to get it up even higher than that. But that’s part of following a scalable process over a couple of years.
Louis: Things are not getting easier in the realm of content. As we talked about it from the first minute. It’s here to stay. It’s rooted in people’s behavior. People don’t want to be sold too. They hate to be sold too, but they love to buy, they love to learn new stuff. Therefore, content is one way to do it. It almost always existed.
The reason why you are so wired to stories is because, since the dawn of time we’ve been telling stories to each other as a way to socialize. I’m from Clermont-Ferrand in France, Clermont. I don’t know if you know that, but Michelin–the tires–are from there. Michelin is actually one of the first companies that started marketing very well more than a century ago.
They did this guide for cyclists, to teach them how to ride. It turned into the Michelin Guide, right? And the restaurant and all of that. And that was purely content marketing. And those two companies, it’s the same company. They do restaurants guides, and they also do tires. Because the two are connected, so another big example is the bible, but I don’t want to get into that, because that’s another type-
Tracey: Yeah, or I mean, Air B&B has put a magazine out. They’re doing some really cool stuff. What other, like, more out there content marketing? I mean, any kind of podcast that’s a company’s podcast, that’s part of content marketing. There’s a bunch of really fantastic content marketing out there. Again, none of us want to be marketed to.
But the vast majority of the content marketing … I won’t say that. A lot of content marketing is very educational, very interesting, very helpful. And it’s the brands are helping make sure that the people producing that stuff are getting paid what they deserve to produce it. That’s helpful.
Louis: Thanks for going through this step by step with me, and for challenging my thinking. I think you’re giving a lot of food for thought for people listening. Thanks for doing that with me. Especially because we need to share a secret with your listeners. Most of the time that’s what happens.
We came up with this topic, what, five minutes before this episode? And I think it turned out quite well. So, I have a few questions before we wrap up that I always ask my guests. The first one being, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them for the next 20 years, 50 years, 100 hundred years?
Tracey: There’s a topic that I’m beginning to hear more about, and it’s gonna sound so salesy and gross. But it’s, like, being called, and I’m doing air quotes, “the other AI,” which is aesthetic intelligence.
There’s this idea and theory that as AI continues to grow, as artificial intelligence continues to grow and become more popular, what humans are inherently good at is being curious, talking to their customers, figuring out how to solve other peoples’ problems.
I think that is the role that marketers play in today’s economy. I think that’s the role that they are going to need to get better and better at playing over the next twenty years, which is the I am truly here to help you. I write content for you. I write email nurture streams for you.
I go and talk to my product marketing team, or my product team for you. I have tons of BigCommerce’s larger customers and smaller customers email me often with just very random problems. And I work to forward their emails off to the right people, or ask questions and get them the right answers.
We have a support team, and we have an enterprise account organization that manages them, and that are their real touchpoints. But because of the emails that I’m sending, because of the way that I’m talking to them, because of the videos that they’ve seen me on, they have built a perception that I’m incredibly helpful.
Which is great, because I do want to be incredibly helpful. The work I do is for them. If anything I produce isn’t helping them get closer to an answer, or closer to a solve for their problem, then I’m not doing my job well. I think that’s what marketers need to get really good at, is resetting the mindset.
It’s not just storytelling, it’s helping people. Truly, truly helping people find the answers, and there’s a lot of ways to do that. Content marketing is one. Clearly, there’s tons of other channels in a marketing org, or in a business structure in general. But we have to truly help the customers, especially as experience really begins to become an even larger part of what our customers are expecting.
Louis: Absolutely. So, curiosity, problem solving, and being genuinely nice, a nice person. That would make you a long way. If you had to say, like, three resources that you would recommend listeners, what would they be? They could be anything, like, books, podcasts, anything.
Tracey: Sure. “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Again, one of my favorites. I don’t listen or read a lot of business podcasts or books. Instead, I read a lot of nonfiction, which I actually find really helpful. Not business nonfiction, just other nonfiction. Which I find really helpful, because it gives my brain a break.
But in terms of podcasts, especially if you’re interested in psychology, and as a marketer you are, I’d very much encourage you to begin listening to “More Perfect,” which is the podcast about some of the Supreme Court decisions that have happened in the United States.
They dive really deep on the philosophy behind why those decisions were made. Philosophy in my mind is very, very tied up with psychology. Especially as we begin to build closer relationships with our customers, the philosophy of who they are and why they think the way they think I think is really important.
There’s also a free Harvard course online, just on YouTube. It’s like, sixteen episodes, each an hour long, called, “Justice 101,” which is a breakdown of philosophy from the history of philosophy, and they just walk you through all these different scenarios.
I found that to be not only life-changing, like, personally life changing for me, but incredibly helpful in my role at work especially as I interact with partners, and agencies, and customers.
Louis: We should have talked about this instead of content marketing. What do you think? We’ll see listeners think.
Tracey: We can always do another one.
If they send me emails saying, “Yes, let’s talk about it with Tracey again,” then yeah. No, of course. I think that sounds really good as well. And yes, philosophy, psychology and the human mind.
As you said, marketers naturally should be interested in that. But it’s not always the case. Some of them are lost in their way because they think that numbers are more important, and growth hacks are more important. But definitely in the long term, if you want to win, it’s all about people. Always will be.
Tracey, you’ve been absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for showing all of those tips, and insight and processes, and all of that with me today. Last question I have, where can listeners connect with you?
Tracey: On Twitter. That’s where I hang out in my professional life. So, it’s just tracewall T-R-A-C-E-W-A-L-L, you can DM me there, or just follow me, or tweet at me. And I will get back to you. I don’t let anybody get away with saying something to me there without me also saying something. So, it’s a very good, quick and easy way. And then also on LinkedIn. I respond to in-mails and all of that stuff as well. Awesome. Thank you.
Louis: Once again, Tracey, thank you so much.
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.