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The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

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The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization
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Generate more traffic, leads, and sales with search engine optimization

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"How A New Blogging Strategy Broke HubSpot's Website Traffic Records Ft. Kieran Flanagan of HubSpot" (Inbound Success Ep. 79)

By Kathleen Booth

Kathleen Booth also recommends this free guide, The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization.

"How A New Blogging Strategy Broke HubSpot's Website Traffic Records Ft. Kieran Flanagan of HubSpot" (Inbound Success Ep. 79) Blog Feature

HubSpot has experienced incredible growth since its founding in 2005, but in the last year, the company's marketing team has broken the company's website traffic growth records with a new strategy. 

Kieran Flanagan
Kieran Flanagan

This week onThe Inbound Success Podcast, I spoke with HubSpot VP of Marketing Kieran Flanagan about the company's "hearts and minds strategy," and how it has driven 80% year over year traffic growth (and a commensurate increase in new leads). 

The results that Kieran and his team have gotten are so strong that they have inspired a change in the way the company's editorial team is structured, and a new approach to how they carry out keyword research, develop editorial calendars, and measure their results.

This week's episode of The Inbound Success Podcast is brought to you by our sponsor, IMPACT Live,  the most immersive and high energy learning experience for marketers and business leaders. IMPACT Live takes place August 6-7, 2019 in Hartford Connecticut and is headlined by Marcus Sheridan along with keynote speakers including world-renowned Facebook marketing expert Mari Smith and Drift CEO and Co-Founder David Cancel.

Inbound Success Podcast listeners can save 10% off the price of tickets with the code "SUCCESS". 

Click here to learn more or purchase tickets for IMPACT Live

Some highlights from my conversation with Kieran include:

  • HubSpot is targeting marketers and business leaders and its new strategy does this by appealing to their hearts and minds.
  • All of the company's editorial content is segmented into those two categories - hearts and minds.
  • Content for the mind is more tactical in nature and targeted at attracting existing search volume for a particular keyword.
  • Content for the heart is more emotional and meant to tap into a pain point that their audience is experiencing and wants to solve for.
  • Because there is not necessarily existing search volume for the "hearts" content (as there is with the "minds" content), HubSpot has an aggressive content promotion strategy for the hearts content.
  • They started by rolling this strategy out on the company's english language web properties, and it has been so successful that they are now expanding it onto their non-english language sites.
  • For the minds content, because it is targeted at existing search volume, HubSpot is using a pillar content and topic cluster strategy to establish authority for its target keywords with search engines.
  • It is relatively straightforward to identify topics for the "minds" content using tools such as Google Adwords, Ahrefs, etc. For the "hearts" content, HubSpot relies upon customer research and interviews to understand the questions they are asking and the pain points they are experiencing.
  • Kieran believes that when it comes to hearts content, brands must choose a side and be prepared to attract some audiences, and repel others. 
  • Even in a B2B sale, you are selling to individual people, so it's important to appeal to things that matter to the individual, and be problem-focused before you are solution-focused, with your content.
  • When it comes to content promotion, it is very important for any company (large or small) to have a strategy for getting back links. There are a variety of ways to do this and Kieran talks specifically about the "surround sound" strategy and the broken link strategy.
  • If you are doing marketing for a smaller company with a lower domain authority, it is more important to produce less content that you heavily promote than to create more content that you don't promote at all.
  • For the minds content, you should focus on keywords that have a high "search click volume" as opposed to simply high search volume.
  • Kieran's hearts and minds strategy has resulted in 80% year over year website traffic growth for HubSpot.

Resources from this episode:

Free Guide: The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Listen to the podcast to learn how Kieran's "hearts and minds" strategy for content creation has broken all of HubSpot's traffic records.


Kathleen Booth (Host):Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast. I'm your host Kathleen Booth, and this week my guest is Kieran Flanagan, who is the VP of Marketing at HubSpot, and the host of The Growth TL;DR podcast. Welcome, Kieran.

Kieran Flanagan (Guest): Thanks for having me, Kathleen. I appreciate you having me on.

Screen Shot 2019-02-24 at 2.18.03 PM
Kieran and Kathleen recording this episode

Kathleen: Yeah. I'm interested to pick your brain. I always love talking to people from HubSpot because, obviously, you guys are at the forefront of the inbound marketing movement, and so rarely do most people get the opportunity to get a peek inside the kimono and find out what's really happening with the company.

I'm excited to do that here today, but before we jump in, if you could tell my audience a little bit more about yourself and just a little bit about what you do at HubSpot. That would be great.

About Kieran Flanagan and HubSpot

Kieran: Yeah. Absolutely. I've really had three roles during my time at HubSpot. Pre-HubSpot, I worked for other SaaS companies.

Then, I was lucky enough to join HubSpot when we opened up our first office outside of Cambridge, way back when I think the company was maybe 300 people. There was a small group of us who were tasked with growing out the international business. I did that for two and a half years. That business grew quite quickly.

Then, I joined another small group of people that were in HubSpot that had the mission of growing a Freemium business - so like a go to market, where you could try our software for free, then you could upgrade as you needed to get more functionality.

That went really well, and I did that for, I think, another two and a half years. Then, HubSpot really just adopted Freemium across the entire go to market.

Today what I do in HubSpot is manage all of the different teams that are responsible for our global demand, and that demand is a mix of leads. We generate leads, turn them into marketing qualified leads, and send them across to sales people, turn into opportunities and customers.

Then, we generate users who use our products for free, then can upgrade through either reaching out and talking to a sales person or actually upgrading themselves and buying the products themselves.

Kathleen: You are based in Ireland, correct?

Kieran: Yes. That's another interesting thing about my work in that I'm based in Ireland. I have a team of about 50 people. Four of them are based in Dublin with me, and everyone else is based in the States. I have gotten very used to remote working and appearing as a box on Zoom to everyone else.

Kathleen: I always tell people that I live my life on Zoom and that soon my headphones are going to grow and become a permanent part of my body, because it's the same for me. I work out of my house, and I'm on Zoom basically 24/7.

Kieran: Right. I usually check every single moment of every single day, and I've still got my AirPods in. I'm never sure if I've taken them out or not.

Kathleen: Yeah, I feel like Zoom needs to sponsor my podcasts because we talk about it so much on here, about how we live our lives on video. It's great. It's the greatest thing. I honestly couldn't do my job without it. I imagine it's similar for you with people scattered all over.

Kieran: Yeah, I'm very passionate about remote work. I believe that it's good for, not only companies, but just good for the world. It's a really great way to redistribute wealth across the different cities, not just all within a small group of cities that just become overly expensive.

Kathleen: Yeah, it also - to me, I used to own an agency. I transitioned halfway through my tenure as an agency owner from hiring everyone locally to hiring folks remotely.

For me, the greatest impetus behind that was really just to find the best person for the role no matter where they happened to be. Boy, what a difference that made to my company. It all of a sudden opened up this world of possibilities that was pretty amazing.

Kieran: Yeah, it's actually the exact same for me. Obviously remote worked, it was just a good thing for me because I took a role that would generally be based in Boston, to take over a bunch of U.S.-based teams. I was allowed to do it because HubSpot allowed me to do it remotely, which was really good of them.

They've done a lot to make remote work within HubSpot. The other benefit was because I was remote, I really didn't mind where I hired people.

It's definitely been one of the best levers to both hire and retain talent into my teams, and having that flexibility and allowing people to work where they want to work within reason. We do have some guardrails, but generally we've gotten pretty good at it over the last couple of years.

Kathleen: That's great. You said you manage all the teams that are responsible for this growth. I think you mentioned there are 50 people, is that right, that you manage?

Kieran: Yeah, it's about 50 people spread across different offices that are regularly charged with growing the global demand of HubSpot.

Kathleen: Wow, that is a lot to wrap one's head around.

How Kieran's Blogging Strategy Broke HubSpot's Traffic Records

Kathleen: One of the reasons I was excited to talk to you is that I was reading that in the last eight months you guys have broken HubSpot's traffic records, which is really impressive because for anyone who's familiar with HubSpot, this is a company that has had astronomical growth, both as a company in terms of its user base, but also in terms of its traffic.

I often think - you intuitively think - that gets harder as time goes on because you've already made those big early gains. You've identified all the low hanging fruit.

I'm very interested to hear how at this stage in HubSpot's evolution you guys are still able to break those kinds of records. What is it that lies behind that success?

Kieran: You are definitely right in that it's definitely harder because you're generally doing everything so there's not this un-hidden channel that you have not tapped into.

You're tasked with "How do I get better at the things that I'm already doing? How do I get better within these existing channels?" Or, "How do I layer on new channels for growth?"

We do that. We're in a fortunate position where we can have teams who are focused on long term bets. We have a couple of those in the works at the moment.

Really the thing that's been very successful for us over the last year is not only that the teams do get better - and they do get better just by the fact that they're super smart - but they also hire other smart people into the teams who bring you fresh ideas.

We've got to grips for our content in terms of segmenting it into what our CMO, Kipp, calls the hearts and minds of individuals. How do you win the hearts and minds of business leaders?

That approach to content marketing means you think about "How do I create tactical content?"

If you think about when you start a blog, or a company starts a blog, they generally think how do I make this blog really appealing to people? How can I get this blog known by a wider audience?

One of the things you can challenge yourself on is, does that actually matter? Does that really matter if you are trying to win the minds of business leaders through this tactical content? Content that does that is really created with promotion in mind, and generally through search.

What we do is we have our content team segmented into a team that are trying to win the minds of business leaders. We're thinking through "How do I create a huge editorial calendar based upon all the things we could create across the things that our audiences are actually searching for?"

We're not just creating content in the hopes that we can drive traffic demand to HubSpot. We actually think promotion first. There's actually existing demand for this content, and we create that content with that demand in mind.

Then, there's also obviously how do you win the hearts of your audience? That's still super important, but that content is more focused on how do you facilitate emotion within people or how do you cause emotion with people? How do you make people feel something about your brand? How do you get people to connect with your mission?

It's harder to directly measure the success of that content through the traditional things, like has it drove the lead, has it drove the user, has it drove our sale?

Generally that's worked really, really well for us over the last year. We've seen a lot of success in doing that. We're just in the middle of replicating that strategy in all of our non-English territories.

Kathleen: Oh, that's so interesting. I have so many questions. In my head I want to separate this conversation into minds and hearts-

Kieran: Yes.

Kathleen: ... Because it sounds like those are two different approaches, or two different prongs within the one approach.

Kieran: Yes.

Kathleen: Let's start with minds because if I'm understanding you correctly, it sounds like what you have done is said "Instead of trying to focus on bigger think pieces, or esoteric topics, let's get really granular and figure out what the audience is already searching for and let's scratch that itch, and tap into that pain."

Is that correct?

Kieran: Yeah, exactly. We do both of those things again, because we are very fortunate that we have the resources to have teams for both those things.

I think there are companies of certain sizes that probably need to consider which one of those is the most important one for them to invest in. Yet, the minds team is really focused on "How do we create a whole editorial calendar?" We have this huge editorial calendar broken into all kinds of scientific metrics and ways to figure out the things you create content on.

But, it's really focused on content that attracts traffic through search engines. Not trying to figure out how does this cause someone to feel a certain way that they want to share on social. How do you read this post and then you remember the blog.

We're less concerned about that. It's more of a "Hey, I come in, I want this thing, I found this thing," then there's further information if you want to download that, or there're other ways you can explore more of the HubSpot ecosystem.

It's really tactical content created with promotion in mind, and we create it with search in mind.

For other companies it may be a different platform that they create that content in mind for that's applicable to however they promote their company.

Kathleen: I feel like this sounds to me like the "Field of Dreams" approach. "If you build it, they will come."

Kieran: Yeah, it's definitely "If you build it, and you have a really great promotion planned."

Again, there're different phases of how this would work for a company. HubSpot is a company that has a lot of domain authority, so generally when we created content about something we do a little bit of promotion on that content, it ranks quite quickly.

If I'm in a more early stage company, what I probably want to do is have a plan where I create, within the minds of whoever my audience is, content and I spend a lot more time on promotion than we would probably need to because I'm trying to build up the domain authority of my website.

That promotion could be acquiring the links for it, and all these different ways that you can attract attention to it.

Kathleen: Let's break this down even further.

You mentioned that you guys have this big editorial calendar. You're really trying to map out what are the topics that these business leaders you're targeting are already searching for, and what's going to be really useful for them.

Can you speak to that process and any kind of either strategies or tools that you use to surface those topics?

Kieran: One of the things we use is the cluster and topic strategy. We think about what is the topic that this business leader is interested in learning more information about, because they're actively searching for it.

Let's take the example of content marketing. Content marketing is a topic, it's an all encompassing topic that has many sub-topics.

We will look at content marketing and break that down into the many sub-topics that people are searching for. Maybe people are searching for how do I build a content market and process, how do I create a winning content marketing strategy, how do I measure content marketing, how do I turn content marketing into customers? There's all of these different sub-topics that are related to that topic.

We take one topic and break it down into all the things we could create content around. At the centerpiece we would create a piece of content on that core topic. Maybe it's the definitive guide on content marketing.

Then, we would create all of this other micro content that's applicable to all of the different things that people are searching for given the examples that I've just gone through. We would interlink all that content.

Basically, think about it as a hub and spoke strategy where you have the central piece at the heart of that, and you have all the many pieces around, and they are all interlinked.

Generally if you do that, what you're helping Google to do is understand that you are an authority on this topic. You've not just got one or two pieces of content - you have deeply covered that topic. You have many different pieces of content that are relevant and helpful to the user.

We do that by looking for those topics, looking for all the different keywords that are related to that topic, aggregating those up, deciding on the content we can create, listing out page titles, meta descriptions - all of the information that you actually need - and then prioritizing based upon the available search traffic for each topic.

We also look at things like how relevant is it to our business. We have guardrails in place that it needs to drive traffic, plus it needs to drive the user or lead because again, remember, this is a topic that's tactical within the minds you should expect a conversion.

Kathleen: Got it, okay. It has to be relevant to the business. It has to have a sufficient volume of search traffic.

Kieran: Yes.

Kathleen: I assume that the volume of search traffic, there's not one magic number that every company needs to look for? Is it relative to your company and the slice of market you're going after? Is there a magic number?

Kieran: No, it's definitely relevant to the company.

A topic that has 5,000 total visits available search traffic when you aggregate all this up, may be a lot for a company in a niche market. If you're a company in a broad market, maybe that's not that much at all.

It's definitely specific to whatever company you are, and the product you have, and the amount of all the search traffic you can acquire. The number for HubSpot is probably very different from other companies.

Kathleen: Got it. You have these really tactical, practical topics. Then, you have the ones that are meant to appeal more to the heart.

This is the one that I think is so interesting to me because I feel like a lot of marketers who listen to this podcast, for a lot of them, the concept of finding these topic clusters, going for things of high traffic, being really practical, that's going to feel very familiar. It's much of what we're taught. That's the whole Marcus Sheridan, "They ask, you answer" paradigm.

But, I find, funny enough, many marketers, especially content marketers are really bad at the heart side of things. I'm interested to hear how your team is approaching that.

Kieran: The heart is slightly more difficult to actually pinpoint the content that's going to strike or resonate with your audience because the research piece is harder.

The minds can be more mechanical because you can physically see that there's people interested in this, whereas the hearts are "How do I create things that help people feel some way about my company?"

We actually have a similar setup in terms of how the mind and heart are set up in that we have an editorial team that creates a calendar based upon content that they want to connect to our mission, our products.

The thing that differs is actually their research process. The research process has a lot more talking to people, talking to customers, talking to prospects, talking to other teams within HubSpot, figuring out what actually resonates with those people.

Then, the way that you figure out what's going to work is actually trial and error. You create content, you see that it resonates with people, and you tweak it over time.

The way they differentiate it is the mind has more tools that you can pull in relevant information from. I'm sure your audience knows, search traffic, all these different things.

Whereas, the heart, you're spending a lot more time actually talking to people, doing what you would do if you were building a product, a lot of customer research, a lot of insights from other teams within the company.

Kathleen: Is is fair to say that the heart strategy is more about pain that the customer is feeling?

Kieran: Yeah, exactly. It's more about the emotion you want that person to have about your company.

A good example of this, back in the day for HubSpot, what actually drew me to HubSpot before I worked there was Brian did a piece that was really a call to arms for marketers about why outbound marketing was not the best way to spend your time, why there's this better way of doing marketing.

That's the piece that's more your heart. There's not people searching for inbound marketing back there and there wasn't people searching why they shouldn't do outbound marketing.

That creates a tribe of people who feel that way about outbound marketing and then feel they need to actually make a change and do something else.

Kathleen: Is it about taking a position or taking a stance? Is that part of the heart strategy?

Kieran: Yeah, I think one of the most important things to do as a brand is choose a side. I think you should always have a clear enemy in terms of - a clear enemy is really what problem your product sells.

"One of the most important things to do as a brand is choose a side"

~ Kieran Flanagan (@searchbrat)

Click to tweet this quote

Be very clear about that and know that means that you're going to have both people who are attracted to your company and people who are detractors from the company. That is way better than actually being vanilla and just having people who don't care much about your company.

Kathleen: Interesting. For somebody who's listening, if they're thinking about this in the context of their own company, particularly with the heart strategy, any tips on how to get started on this and how to begin to identify those topics that you might want to cover?

Kieran: On the heart side?

Kathleen: Yeah.

Kieran: Yeah, I think the most important thing marketers can do that they probably don't do enough of is talk to their customers.

I've worked a lot with product and engineering because previous to the role I've done at HubSpot, I was in what we call a growth role. A growth role is basically a collection of marketers, product and engineers who are tasked with creating onboarding and all these different things to help people better use a product, and to upgrade to paid versions of your product.

The thing I took away from working with product is they are so focused on the problem, so focused on stating the problem clearly before they ever jump to a solution. They are really obsessed about "Do we truly understand the problem?"

The way they get there is through a lot of really great research and talking to customers. That's the thing, I don't know if for yourself, but definitely the way I used to work is I would always think about the solution. I would think a little bit about the problem and then I would think about ten solutions because marketers are generally creative. They're always on, looking to try to sell things.

I think on the heart content, I would be super focused on the problem and being able to articulate the problem, and then trying to figure out what would resonate.

What are the points within that problem that really resonate with a customer? They're, “Oh, yeah, I feel that way about this. I feel that way about that.”

Then, you can better understand how to create content that shows them that you have solutions to this thing and that you have a certain position on this thing that you believe in.

Kathleen: It's really interesting that you put it that way. I've now done close to 80 different interviews through this podcast. I've been trying to think about some of the themes that have emerged. People that are having a lot of success with inbound, what do they have in common?

One of the common themes I've noticed is that they are more persona ... I don't even want to use the word persona. They are more problem-focused than they are solution-focused.

What I mean by that is that the marketers who build campaigns and messaging around their products and services don't tend to do as well as the marketers who deeply tap into the person that they are trying to sell to.

Sometimes it means creating content that actually has nothing to do with their products and services. What I've noticed is that particularly at the top of the funnel, in non-marketing speak, the best way to open the conversation is not always to talk about what you have to sell.

It's to talk about something that that person is feeling that they want to solve for, that may have nothing to do with what you do, but you've opened the conversation.

I'm interested to know with the hearts content that you're creating for HubSpot, does it always have some link back to the product, or is it really just purely problem-focused? Does that make sense as a question?

Kieran: No, it definitely makes sense because people are not looking for products and services. They're looking for solutions to problems that make their life better. They're looking for a certain job that they want done and when they visualize themselves doing that thing, it makes their life better in some way.

I think there's a balance because we've always tried to figure out this balance.

There was a time when you talked to a lot of people about what HubSpot was and not many people knew we actually sold software. They didn't know we sold software because we were doing exactly what you just said, which is we were creating content around problems and helping people solve those problems before we ever mention our tools.

I think that's a great way to draw people in, but I don't think you need to be overtly secretive about what you do.

I think if you have a clear viewpoint on something you can clearly state a problem. It's fine to say, “Hey, these are ways that you can sell them. By the way, we also have this thing that can help you do that thing.”

We have it tied back to our products because if you're consuming this content, you're generally on one of our web properties, so it's impossible to miss the fact that we are a software company.

We've worked on that. We're not, in any way, in your face. We're not, “Buy, buy, buy this thing.”

I think there's a thing in content marketing that most people struggle to measure the totality of their content marketing efforts because a lot of the content marketing is the law of serendipity when, if you give value through content, you know good things are happening, but it's not always easy to put a direct metric on it. That speaks to heart content.

Kathleen: How important is it when you're talking about tapping into the problems? The other confusion I see marketers experience is that there are the problems of the individual and there are the problems of the company, because we're talking about a B2B sale here, for you.

Kieran: Right.

Kathleen: How important is it with the hearts content to tap into the problems of the individual versus the problems of the company?

Kieran: That's actually a good question. I think they're one in the same in some respects. Let me try to give the example of one of our personas and see if this is true or not. I don't know if I've thought through that.

We have a persona called Marketing Mary, and when you think about HubSpot ... I'm not trying to just do a sell of HubSpot software to your audience. But I'm just trying to-

Kathleen: It is your day job, so...

Kieran: Yeah, yeah. We have a persona Marketing Mary. That's a person, in a certain company size, who we think is ideal for HubSpot.

The way that we think about how it helps her is that it makes her more efficient at her job, which is good for the individual, good for the company. It actually helps Marketing Mary figure out how she can be more successful to get a promotion because that's something she cares about.

Again, it's good for the individual, good for the company. I think most of the things within B2B, most of your personas what's good for the individual is generally good for the company.

You do want to make it individual-based, because even in B2B, it's the people making decisions, it's not the all-encompassing company making the decision.

You want to try to make sure that person understands how their life is going to be made better using your product, because they're ultimately your customer.

Kathleen: Yeah, that's really what I've observed, too. Going back to looking at all these interviews I've done, again I think a mistake that a lot of marketers make is, in the B2B area, we tend to focus on what does the company need? Yes, that's important.

Kieran: Right.

Kathleen: But, at the end of the day, I don't think you can tap into somebody's heart unless you make it about what they, as an individual, need.

Kieran: Exactly.

Kathleen: It has to somehow tie back to me. As you said, often it is either "I want a promotion", or "I want to look good in front of my boss." It tends to be things like that or, "It saves me time, and it makes my life easier."

Kieran: Yeah, great B2B companies still sell to people. It just happens that those people are in companies and the tool is making their life easier, or helping them to do something within that company.

Generally if you nail that value proposition what you'll see is your product within that company also spreads because that person is a champion of your tool. They start championing that tool within the company itself.

The Role of Content Promotion in HubSpot's Traffic Strategy

Kathleen: Yeah, now going back for a second to the minds content. You talked about how you come up with the topics and one of the things that you mentioned was that promotion is a really important part of this.

Acknowledging that promotion, as you said, is a bit easier for HubSpot because you have such a high domain authority, talk me through just a little bit, for the average person listening, what should that promotion look like, or what does it need to include?

Kieran: The hard facts about this is a promotion plan to getting better search traffic. The reality is that acquiring links still matters.

I think that it seems old fashioned because you hear all these new things that marketers talk about, but it's still super important for acquiring search traffic.

What you would probably want to have is an overall plan on how to acquire links to your site. That can be a lot of different things.

There're tons of different tactics. There's something called broken link tactics where you can go and find these sites that your competitors have links from. You can go find broken links that they have, that are relevant to content you have, suggest they link to you instead because the link they already have is broken.

There're just tons and tons of tactics you can go from. You should really have an overall domain link building plan that acquires links to your overall domain because that's going to help all content on your domain rank better.

You can have very individualistic link plans for certain blog posts. You're probably not going to do that for every single blog post. You're not going to try to acquire links to every single blog post because that's a lot of time commitment depending upon how much content you create. If you're only creating one piece of content a week ...

Again, if you're doing mind content, you may only do that because you don't create content unless there's actually available search traffic. What happens is your quantity actually goes down because you actually don't try to just plaster the internet with things and hope traffic comes in. You're actually way more strategic, so you create less content, but you put a lot more time onto promotion.

One of the teams that I have, they have this thing called "surround sound strategy." Surround sound strategy is trying to make sure that anywhere there's content related to the thing you've created content for, like listicles and "best of" posts, and all of these different things, that your content is also listed within those posts.

That is basically just building relationships with different publishers and things like that. Also, creating content that is better than what's currently available on Google.

So if you go and search something, whatever the top page is, can you create a page that has better quality than what's already ranking at number one in Google? If you can, then generally you are in a pretty good position to get people to link out to your content.

Kathleen: I feel like isn't that Brian Dean's skyscraper technique?

Kieran: Yes, Brian Dean is the person to keep up to date on if you want really solid link building strategies, so his skyscraper technique.

Finding dead back links and reaching out to people to get them to include your content is a really old tactic. I was doing SEO ten years ago and we used that, but you generally find the things that work in SEO still work today if you can do them to a high enough level, if you can do them better than other people.

Kathleen: I think this is the challenge that many marketers feel, especially marketers in small and medium sized businesses, when they hear about back linking.

I've had this conversation so many times over the years. It's, “How am I going to do this in a way that's efficient? I have a small marketing team.” Or, "It's just me, how could I possibly create the content and try to get links for it?"

Many marketers, in my experience, just fall back on "I'm just going to push it out to my Facebook, and my Twitter, and my LinkedIn, and spray and pray."

How does a small marketing team or a one-person marketing team do this?

Kieran: Again, I think if you are being more strategic about the content you create, and only creating content that you think can drive a certain amount of volume.

There's an important part in that is one of the things to think about, in terms of volume, is historically we would think about key word volume. How much key word volume is available for this key phrase?

More and more you should probably think about the available search clicks. The difference there is that with featured snippets becoming way more popular on Google, the amount of search volume available for key word is a lot less than you think. Featured snippets cannibalized the amount of actual clicks different key words get.

So, you would look at search click volume, only create content for keywords that have a higher threshold, whatever your search click volume is. Then, create a promotion plan.

Know that the time spent promoting that content is probably better spent than you creating additional content if you are not able to promote it at all.

If you're not able to promote it at all, you could create 10, 20 pieces of content within a month, and generate less traffic than creating two or three pieces of content that you actually have a real promotion plan for.

The balance of creating content to promoting content shifts from when you're a start-up to when you're a bigger company. It shifts really with domain authority. You'll see that shift happen by just how quickly you start to rank for things when you have a bigger domain authority.

Kathleen: Yeah, you said something I want to clarify because this is really important. You talked about the difference between keyword volume and search click volume.

I think many marketers are familiar with how to find keyword volume. You can go into Google Adwords, or other programs like that. Where should they look to find search click volume?

Kieran: I'll give you one tool, but there's probably many tools. Ahrefs is a tool that has click stream data. That means that you can go into Ahrefs and actually look at the search click volume of a keyword because it has enough data to show you what the effect of images or featured snippets or videos they're going to have on the amount of volume that that keyword gets.

I think it's an interesting way to start to categorize volume of keywords in the world we live in today, where Google is cannibalizing a lot the traffic we get by showing users these different things.

Kathleen: Yeah, it's really interesting. We experienced this this past year.

Last March our traffic really took a bit of a nose dive. We couldn't figure out what was causing it. I had a couple people looking at it. We were digging deep.

It was funny, I actually wound up sitting with someone from HubSpot's SEO team when I was in Boston for partner day, and he helped me figure it out. I think it was a guy named Victor who works for Matthew Barby. He's amazing. Victor is a magician.

Kieran: They're both on my team.

Kathleen: Yeah, he narrowed it down and helped me figure out that essentially we were losing traffic to featured snippets. As soon as we started optimizing for snippets, and started getting some of the snippets, it just came right back up again.

Very interesting what's happening with that, but thank you. I didn't even know he was on your team, so thank you for giving me an hour of Victor's time.

Kieran: I guess one of the things we did really well is, aside from all the different tactics, because actually the most important thing ...

There are three things a successful company does is hire and retain talent, which is priority number one.

Set people up for success in team structures. Team structures become a lot more complex when you grow. There's something you have to continually optimize, which is the second thing to get right. The third thing is actually the tactics. The tactics are not successful if you can't do the first two.

One of the things we invested in a lot in over the past 18 months is building out a really great SEO team. Two of the people you've talked to, so Matt, he's on my team, runs a whole group that acquires all Freemium users, including our search team. Victor sits on the search team.

Kathleen: I've never actually spoken to Matt, but I've always wanted to. So Matt, if you're listening, you could be my next guest.

I've listened to his entire Skill Up SEO podcast series. He's just so smart, and I love the content that he creates. I consider him one of the people I need to follow to understand best practices for SEO.

Kieran: Yep.

Kathleen: You have a good team.

Kieran: They're super smart on that team.

Kathleen: Okay, we talked about understanding promotion. I loved your point about, to me it's the 80/20 rule, you're going to get 80 percent of the results out of 20 percent of the things you do. The 20 percent, in this case, sounds like it's create less content and focus more on promotion, especially if your domain authority isn't really high.

The Results of HubSpot's Hearts and Minds Strategy

Kathleen: Talk now about results. I would love it if you could give me a sense of ... I know broad-brush that you guys have broken traffic records, but can you speak specifically to what kind of traffic growth have you experienced over what time period and how are you measuring the success of your hearts and minds strategy?

Kieran: This is where I'm always not very good on in terms of exact numbers because we're a public company.

I think the best thing to do is even if you go to Ahrefs, you can use it for free. You can look at our domain. You can look at organic search traffic. I think it's something in the region of 80 percent year over year growth. I don't know.

Kathleen: Wow.

Kieran: I would need to go back and re-look the numbers. I could be under or over that because I haven't looked at that number in a while.

Kathleen: If it's anywhere near close to that, that's amazing.

Kieran: Yeah, it's large, but I think that is probably broken out into ... We look at it broken into many different things because we have a core site, we have blog, we have academy, then we have all of the non-English sites.

Any one of those could be that number, or any of them may not. I could be wrong. It's quite substantial.

The cool thing actually we noticed was our demand grew by a similar amount. Not exactly, so it's never going to be if you grow by 60 percent, you get 60 percent more demand. It's always going to be, I think, less. But, it was still correlated pretty well.

The other cool thing was we saw, if you go into this tool called Similar Web, where you can break out your traffic by brand and non-brand. I was doing a lot of investigation, using that tool on our site and other sites.

The growth in brand traffic, people searching for HubSpot, grew in line with our non-brand of traffic, which does show there was a correlation between this law of serendipity, which are people coming into the content that doesn't overtly mention your brand and its informational key words. Then, discovering your company and coming back at some point on a branded key word. We've seen really good growth over the last 12 months.

Kathleen: That's amazing. You mentioned earlier it's somewhere easy to measure traffic growth, and specifically that's an out growth of your mind strategy. You talked about how it's a little bit harder to measure the success of the heart strategy.

Are there any other metrics you're looking at to measure the degree to which you're tapping in on the emotional side?

Kieran: There's a whole series, a whole document, that that team has put together under Meghan Anderson, who is VP of HubSpot, extremely smart, and manages and looks after all things brand.

A couple of things, I'll give you a couple because this is quite large, but you can look at things like direct traffic. It's a good signal that your brand is growing. You can look at branded traffic, again a pretty great indicator that people are searching and care about your brand.

You can look at number of mentions of your brand, which I'm sure people are all aware of, either on social or you can look at placements, the number of people who are mentioning you across the web. You can look at placements, and those placements can be put into different categories of publications, like Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3. I think there are some ways you can do it.

I'll give you another example not from HubSpot. I had a really great conversation on this hearts and minds with the content marketing director called Jimmy Daly. He works at an agency called Animalz. We were talking about this.

His metric for hearts was does our content create one conversation within a potential client. They figure that out by asking them on the phone, "Have you heard about us?" That speaks to a smaller company who thinks about content, and through that hearts lens, and their metric is not so easy to measure. It's something actually that you have to ask people about.

Kathleen: It's interesting because we're struggling with this. Struggling is not the right word. We're grappling with what is the best way to measure that because as a company we've moved more from an agency to really leading as a publisher.

Instead of measuring, for example, subscribers, we're measuring engaging subscribers, like number of subscribers that have really clicked on an email in the last month.

Looking beyond sessions on our website to not only unique users as an aggregate measure of the audience size, but pages per session, and dwell time on the site, things like that.

This is something I'm so interested in because I feel like nobody has really cracked this one yet. There's an opportunity here.

Kieran: I don't think there's ever going to be definitive metrics because it's just so difficult to put your finger on one thing. You can also look at, what you're doing, health of subscribers, in the same way you could look at users of a Freemium product. What is the net new users you add? What is the attention of those users over time? How many of those users actually churn  and stop coming back? I think that's a good gauge.

I think most companies would be better served to choose the things that they think are the best indicators, and be happy with those things, and know that they're still not going to be 100 percent of what they need.

Kathleen: That makes sense. It's not a perfect science at this point.

Well, so interesting to hear about all these strategies that HubSpot is pursuing. Now I'm going to pay much closer attention to your blog to see if I can determine which articles are more about the mind or about the heart.

Kieran: We should put a little icon of a heart icon.

Kathleen's Two Questions

Kathleen: Switching gears for a minute. There's two questions that I always ask everyone that comes on the podcast. In your case I'm very interested to hear what you have to say. I was looking at your LinkedIn profile, and before you were at HubSpot you've been at Marketo, you've been at Salesforce, you have a very interesting perspective on this industry.

Company or individual, right now, who out there do you think is doing inbound marketing really well? Who should my listeners go to and look at to see a great example?

Kieran: That's a good one. You can tell me if this is not a good answer and to come back with a better answer.

I've been more focused on what we call the flywheel force and friction than  inbound recently. I'm sure you've probably heard of it because you're aware of HubSpot. Just for your listeners the flywheel is basically ... in cap stage you're inbound in a loop, which basically is a tracking gauge to light. Each one of those stages you have force and friction. Force helps spin that loop and friction stops that loop from spinning.

The examples I have are actually specific to some of the customers on the force and friction because they are the ones at most top of mind because that's what we've been looking at.

Kathleen: Oh, yeah. I'd love to hear more about that.

Kieran: Let me give you a couple of examples because they're quite different from giving you companies who are doing really well at creating content. These are actually slightly different.

There's a customer called WashCard who has payment stations for car wash operators.

If you think about one of the things that drives friction in the engaged stage is not showing your pricing, which seems pretty simplistic. If I add my price in, I create better force, because customers generally like experience and transparency.

They're an example of a company that did not even just show their pricing, the simple task of being more transparent around their pricing, actually turned that page into their third biggest source of leads within two weeks.

It's a very small example of how focusing on this idea across your entire flywheel can benefit you.

There's another company called ChargeBacks911 who allows you to integrate their software into e-commerce and handles charge backs right when their customers want to give back their products.

They had some friction again within the light stage where they had an onboarding process that allowed you to set up, that they had some friction within. There was missed expectations, so sales people were setting expectations that they were not fulfilling on. They didn't have the right documentation.

What they did was took the difficult decision to put a sales rep in every onboarding with a new customer. That sales rep could then fill in the gaps. That sales rep could provide that additional context, but also the sales reps understood the friction they were creating by setting the wrong expectations.

I can't share their public numbers, but just by doing that they vastly decreased their amount of churn they were having. They are not the traditional, "here's a company that's crushing inbound," but I think that the force and friction across your flywheel is definitely something that can give you a lot of actionable things to work on.

Kathleen: I love those examples. It's always interesting when I ask this question, because it's a bit of a Rorschach test. It depends on when people hear "inbound marketing" what they think I'm talking about.

Kieran: Right.

Kathleen: That obviously has changed so much over the years, and over time. Even right now if you took a snapshot and asked ten people what it was, you'd probably get ten different answers.

I love that answer. It's very different, and I love how specific you got. I'll be curious to go look at both of those companies' websites to see more of what they're doing.

Kieran: Cool.

Kathleen: Second question is, the world of digital marketing is obviously changing at a lightning fast pace. How do you personally stay up-to-date with all of the new developments?

Kieran: There are three ways.

I'm lucky that we have a Slack channel within our company that is called "What's Next." I get everything sent to me on the Slack channel, as does everyone else who's part of that Slack channel.

I generally get content pushed at me outside of HubSpot through my network, which I find really interesting. I no longer actually go looking for content or subscribe content that much. I just wait until it comes to me. I probably miss out on content, but it suits me because I'm kind of busy.

Then, the other thing I've gravitated towards is I'm an introvert, I started a podcast to be more extrovert and talk to people. Talking to other smart people has been the number one way I've learned above all else. It's the best investment I've made in terms of my own time, and just learning and becoming better at what I do.

Kathleen: Amen. I talk about that a lot on this podcast. I, too, am an introvert although I fake it really well.

Kieran: Same as me.

Kathleen: I started this podcast out of purely selfish reasons because it's a good reason to talk to people I otherwise would not have a reason to talk to.

Kieran: The two of us are on the podcast faking being an extrovert, on the podcast.

Kathleen: Exactly. It's great. It's the perfect tool for that.

Kieran: Right.

How To Connect With Kieran

Kathleen: Kieran, thank you so much. I really enjoyed hearing all of this. It's fascinating to get an understanding for how you, and your team at HubSpot internally are thinking about growth and the approach that you are taking.

If somebody is listening, and they want to learn more about HubSpot, or if they wanted to reach out and ask a question of you, what's the best way for them to connect online?

Kieran: HubSpot, you can reach at There's so many different ways if you go there that you can connect with us.

Me, you can connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. I'm randomly called @searchbrat on Twitter, which is one of the worst handles. I've had it for too long. I need to change it. You can just find me on LinkedIn at Kieran Flanagan.

Kathleen: I love it. I will put those links in the show notes. At the end I always tell people to tweet me if they know someone doing really great inbound marketing work. You will laugh because my Twitter handle is @workmommywork, because when I first started on Twitter that described my life. I guess we now have a club of introverts with really strange Twitter handles.

Kieran: Yeah, really strange Twitter handles. Yeah, that's us.

Kathleen: Yeah, so if you're listening, and you found this useful, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or the platform of your choice.

As I mentioned, if you know someone doing kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me at @workmommywork, because I would love to interview them.

That's it for this week. Thank you so much Kieran.

Kieran: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

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The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization
The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

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The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

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Search Engine Optimization
Content Marketing
Inbound Success
Published on February 25, 2019

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