10 Questions with Ross Hudgens on Content Marketing
When it comes to content marketing, there are many articles for what you search, but the chances of finding what might actually help you are quite rare. There is so much wisdom out there that it can be a little exhausting.
That’s why we came up with Freshmarketer 10. This is our own humble attempt at fighting this marketing clutter and delivering a little value. We ask 10 questions each to the marketing professionals who’ve been there, done that. So you can learn from the pros!
We’ve talked about different marketing topics with marketers who’ve had hands-on experience. In this video, we talk about content marketing. We go over marketing campaigns that worked and didn’t. Also, there are great tips and advice in there as well. All of that in 10 questions. No more, no less.
10 Questions with Ross Hudgens on Content Marketing
Ross Hudgens is the founder of Siege Media, a popular content marketing agency based in San Diego. His work has been featured on Moz, Search Engine Land and Forbes. He is also a frequent speaker with appearances at well-known conferences MozCon and LearnInbound.
1. How you got into content marketing and how is the journey so far?
I’m originally an SEO guy at the core. I was doing SEO and primarily link-building early in my career. I was working for an insurance mortgage lead generation company, where I built websites from scratch. Link builder was a big part of that, but on the side, I was always blogging. Because I kind of knew that would help my career and build some momentum that way. I had done creative writing in my past, so things sort of worked together.
Google got smarter through the Penguin update, and then, It made sense to start doing really good content in order to generate the same links. And thankfully, I had a good base of being a writer and blogging, that I think building that muscle in terms of being good at what Google wanted and also knowing the SEO funnels but also being decent as content and things. So that kind of brought me into that.
And then in my other company I decided to quit, it felt like it wasn’t adding a lot of value anymore to what they were doing, and I ended up being wrong about that, but I quit because I was blogging on the side to start Siege, which was content marketing. And yeah, the kind of rest is history there.
2. Where do people usually go wrong when it comes to content marketing?
Some of the common things are that a lot of people just hear about content marketing and think they need a blog, and then they just start publishing content without a strategy. They publish once a day because someone told them they need to publish once a day, without even really knowing what that does. And I think there are even some people in the SEO world who say — publishing more helps. I mean, it’s good to have more confidence, but you need to have a strategy behind each of them. So I think one of the things is just not having a distribution strategy. That’s a big component of it.
And not tying it back to the audience as well. I think a lot of people that start with content marketing don’t have a clear strategy of how this is going to eventually turn into a purchase, in some way. So maybe they haven’t done the proper keyword research. Thankfully there are tools today like AHrefs and SEMRush that allow you to see people are bidding on what topics or keyword, so there’s probably a pretty good chance there’s buyer intent around this. So, if your competitors were bidding on that, or maybe you are as a company should too.
But, I think those are the most common — is not having clear distribution strategy, and then publishing just to publish, which generally means they’re not quality-focused. But those two kinds are very often things that fail.
3. Tell us about successful content marketing strategies? Why do you think it worked?
I have a very search-driven approach as distribution is in-built at all times. What we usually do is one of three things, create content that ties to search volume in some way. So if we can get that ranking, that’s distribution by default, or we do bottom-funnel content or middle funnel content. All of it is tied to search volume in traffic that we think can convert. And then we also do a lot of link building, which is email outreach, to generate links to these and also to help those bottom-funnel pages be more effective.
So it’s about being very deliberate about each piece of content you put out and having a distribution strategy. Primarily through search. The way it typically maps out is the middle funnel and the bottom-funnel. Because they’re too close to the purchase, they’re not necessarily promotable in terms of doing email outreach because people are going to say, you’re trying to make money off of me because you’re saying I need to buy this best software thing or what have you. But if you do something top funnel-like tips for videoconferencing or something, that’s more likely to be promotable. So we’ll do email outreach for the top funnel for clients and generally suggest people do the same.
4. Does content marketing work for all types of industries?
Definitely, it’s less effective in some industries. So for some clients, they don’t have any top or middle funnel, but what we can help work with the content marketing is just general brand awareness and also link acquisition, which powers their bottom-funnel. Most industries will have some kind of bottom-funnel.
For example, we had a client in VoIP software, which is like the best VoIP or Voice over IP phones. And there’s not really a lot of top-funnel or middle funnel around someone trying to get a business phone. So really we did some top-funnel around business communication, more not tied to search, but for the purpose of helping them rank those bottom-funnel pages.
In some industries the company or the brand will generate so many links naturally that you really don’t need to do traditional content marketing, they likely to do it through Instagram and social, at least from the search standpoint. But for one industry that we’ve occasionally struggled with is fashion. There’s not a lot of search volume around, like how to put a t-shirt on or something similar. But obviously, you know a lot of fashion brands. I think a lot of how they should generate momentum and brand awareness is probably through social more than blogging, for the most part, and they can generate links by doing that too.
5. How do you know if your content marketing is working?
So the way our strategy works, we’re primarily tired to search. There are leading indicators and then lagging indicators of success. So our leading indicator of success would be you start seeing keyword rankings improve for those articles, you’re not going to see views really at the beginning.
But if you see your ranking 40 in the first month, and then it goes to 30, then it goes 20, that means it’s starting to work and you’re starting to see momentum from that. But, also you’ll see the leading indicator if you’re doing outreach to promote this content and linking it because that’s a good sign that someone is liking this content and you know what you’re doing.
So what we do for clients is we set expectations. You should see this amount of coverage this month. And that’s how you’re going to know that we’re doing the right thing. We tell them that we should be able to achieve this, and then the rankings will improve, and then the traffic will come, maybe in months four to six to six-plus, depending on if you’re a new website, it takes almost a year, if not longer. The established website might only take six months or so.
6. What to expect from content marketing? Leads? Brand recognition? Or something else?
It depends on the company. If it’s B2B, you’re probably trying to drive email sign-ups. Or maybe it’s ebook downloads or form fills and things like that, then you’re likely not going to generate a lead that day. You can also do retargeting. So you build the lists and maybe more on the B2C and B2B, you can retarget those companies or those people slowly over time as well. But direct sales are less likely from the top funnel.
There might be some middle funnel where you see some direct sales, but it’s a little less, there’s not always a ton of that, just depending, but it’s mostly to fill your other marketing funnels. In an ideal world email, but sometimes it’s social retargeting or social signs. Maybe you get them to like you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter etc., that’s still a positive win for content marketing.
7. How to develop a successful content strategy?
It depends if you’re a startup or not. But if you’re an established company, look at competitors, using tools like AHrefs and SEMRush and see how much traffic they’re generating from their blogs and resources section.
So that’s a good indicator of whether the market has a lot of opportunities or not. And then we can glean from those companies, maybe they’re not exactly the same product, but maybe 50% of their content could make sense for our audience. You could combine some other ones and just start making sense of what is the total opportunity.
Definitely use the traffic value, which is what people are willing to bid on those same keywords to kind of put a monetary number on it. This is how much we think we can generate their value of content marketing.
Also from an SEO standpoint, another component is not just the search volume, but the value of your bottom-funnel pages. One of the things you want to look at is how many links your competitors have and how many links you have. So a successful strategy would be understanding — how can we go about generating links? What the value of those links are? And one of the things you can do to kind of create that value is to see what is the value of a competitor’s traffic and then divide by the number of links they have. And that can kind of give you a rough ballpark.
8. How to hire a content marketer or a content marketing agency?
To hire a content marketer we have a few typical checks. I do think subtle things like the resume also play a role. A good looking resume is also a good indicator because it shows they actually get visuals and design, which is good. Writing is huge, but still, I think today people don’t want to read that much. A big part of the content market is understanding the visual component of that. So that’s big for us.
So we do a quick, three hour-ish test. Where we give them an actual piece of content to promote and ask them, who they reach out to and who would not be relevant as well? Because we find both of those can be interesting. Can they actually understand this company would not want to receive this email pitch? That’s valuable. And, yeah, that’s kind of our hiring process for content marketing.
From a content marketing agency standpoint, there are a few different ways of doing it. If you’re just looking for content creation, it’s a different game. But if you’re trying to hire someone who’s going to full-funnel, I suggest finding someone who’s niche supplies to you.
I would suggest finding an agency that is best at what your company does. Because it’s more likely that expertise is built through that focus that they have. And then ask for case studies, look at their previous work. They should ideally have previous work and sort of similar verticals to you. We’ve built a lot of email outreach and press contacts simply from repetition. So all of those things I think are good barometers for qualifying as a good agency.
9. How to determine the ROI for content marketing effects of a business?
We think about this from the search standpoint. That’s why we like search because I think it’s a very clear ROI measurement for content marketing. So the way we do it is, we’ll look at competitors and see what their traffic value is on a monthly basis. Then divide it by the number of links, as we talked about. That will give you a monthly value of those links.
Let’s say approximately the value of a link is $10,000per month, which is not uncommon. What we’ll also do is multiply that by 24 months. Say the value of this link will carry your site for two years. That gives you a lifetime link value of 24,000. So if you spend 500 to 750 to generate that link, that’s a good ROI.
Some industries like if you’re trying to do content marketing for Facebook. The value for them per link is actually really, really low. I think it’s like 23 bucks because they generate so many. So the value of a pure content market strategy for Facebook, at least from that search standpoint, is really low. So when we’re looking at a client, we do that math to understand, will they actually realize ROI from us. And some clients, just the math doesn’t work. Local businesses, it rarely works. There’s probably exceptions like lawyers and maybe luxury real estate in big cities.
10. What advice would you give someone who’s just getting started with content marketing?
I do think going to an agency early in your career is great in terms of accelerating your knowledge. You speed up getting exposed to more industries, learning what you’re good at, what you’re not good at. I do think in the content marketing world today, being active on Twitter, LinkedIn can hurt you. Slowly building a personal brand can be helpful. Like following people who are smart and are talking about those things, working on engaging with them, going to conferences. Those things are, I think good for a career.
And in general, early in your career, I think you should be willing to take a little less money. I’m not saying agencies should pay you less. but be willing to learn and soak that up. Then you can accelerate your career path.
Like I made an investment on a personal website, I paid someone to do that very early in my career. I don’t think it’s necessary today. Investing in yourself is highly recommended in content marketing or any industry really.
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