With search engine algorithms constantly changing and the level of content saturation on the rise, what does it take to create content that will both delight readers and dominate organic search?
This week on the Inbound Success podcast, MarketMuse founder and Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Coyle breaks down the factors that search engines consider when determining how to rank organic content, and explains what content marketers can do to solve for search engines and the humans that will be reading your content.
From pillar content to visitor intent profiles, establishing authority on a topic, building site sections, and more, Jeff gets into the nitty-gritty technical and organic SEO details that factor into modern search engine rankings.
Check out the full episode to get the details. (Transcript has been edited for clarity.)
Kathleen (00:02): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast. I'm your host Kathleen Booth and this week, my guest is Jeff Coyle, who is the co-founder and chief strategy officer at MarketMuse. Welcome to the podcast, Jeff.
Jeff (00:31): Thanks so much, Kathleen. I'm looking forward to the discussion.
Kathleen (00:35): I'm really looking forward to this because I have a lot of guests that come on who are MarTech vendors. But not always are they from MarTech companies where I use the product and MarketMuse is not just a product that my team uses, but we love it. So, so we'll talk about that a little bit, but we're also going to talk about some really interesting things around organic content strategy and how you can craft a winning strategy, how you can really start to understand what the ROI of that strategy is going to be. So before we get into all of that, let's take a minute, and if you would tell my audience a little bit about yourself and who you are and also what MarketMuse is.
Jeff (01:19): Yeah, sure. So I'm Jeff Coyle like you said, I'm the co-founder and chief strategy officer for MarketMuse and what chief strategy officer means, it's actually a role that I just transitioned to this year and I'm focused on some of our really not even yet released products you know? Real significant data innovations and also kind of horizon scan. So where is the company going? But prior to that, I managed both the product, data science and engineering groups and the marketing group. And now we have a CTO and a vice president of marketing. So, I've moved on to do even wackier things. But I've been in the search engine optimization, content strategy and lead gen space for gosh, 22 years would be kind of a scary frame of reference. But I was really focused on anything that would lead to, you know, traffic coming to one, the site, and then converting it into something meaningful, whether you're a publisher, whether you're a B2B tech, you know, person or affiliate person, or you're just, you know, building content sites.
Jeff (02:24): And you know, we're now things are so, so, so driven by quality and comprehensiveness. And it goes very well for MarketMuse and our mission, which is, you know, I, sometimes I say, you know, it's ridding the world of bad content. But the actual mission statement for MarketMuse is setting the standard for content quality on the web. And what MarketMuse really does is it gives marketing teams the information that they need so that they know who they are, what they're about, where they have, where they have strengths and they can build actionable plans and cut down on the manual work that people don't want to do. So whether it's the, you know, ideation phase or having to prove why on a pro on a content plan, I know we're going to talk about that today is, is a lot of teams go through their entire content journey with a business and they never have, they never put a why on a content plan, right.
Jeff (03:27): And then all the way down to execution and our most familiar solution is MarketMuse Optimize which is, you know, you can put in a, a page, your page, a draft that's then published. A paragraph, some other URL you want. And it will tell you how well it's written from a standpoint of quality and comprehensiveness. And when I say that, I don't mean, you know, some sort of hack it's, it's really telling you if you were an expert and you were covering a topic comprehensively, how would you do it? And it gives you that juxtaposition instead of just giving you a, you know, make your title eight X D characters, and, you know, update this page tag, which as we know is, you know, only gets you it might get you the half of an invite to the party, but it definitely doesn't get you through the door these days. Yeah.
Kathleen (04:18): The thing I love about MarketMuse well, and so I'll preface this with saying, so the way my team uses it is when we're creating new content for our blog or for creating new pillar content, we run the topic through MarketMuse in the very beginning to understand like some of the things that need to be incorporated in order to really optimize it well, and then also run it through later, just to make sure that we've done that. But what I really like about it is, you know, we've, we were all trained on how to, to do good organic content. We all understand SEO. And in fact, you, you used to be a HubSpot partner, correct?
Jeff (04:57): Yeah, absolutely.
Kathleen (04:59): As was I, and so this is another thing we have in common. But you know, and so we worked with clients for years on this kind of stuff and, and it's, there, there are many best practices out there. There's, and, and I think good marketers know that if you want to rank for something, you got to go out and figure out what's already ranking number one for it are the top three, and you need to make something better. Right. And the better, there are a lot of different ways to define better. I'm doing air quotes, which you can't see if you're listening. But the thing that I like about what you guys have done is it's one thing to look at a piece of content in isolation and say, is this good content it's entirely another to say, is this good content? And, oh, by the way, how does it compare to what's already out there that's ranking? Well, because that's really important. Like you ha you still have to do better than the next best thing if you really want to get found. And I really appreciate that. It gives you essentially a simple, stupid roadmap to creating the best piece of, for that topic on the internet.
Jeff (05:59): Yeah. That's really the progression with our, you know, for, for people using artificial intelligence to accelerate each of the stage of the content creation life cycle. So whether it's the research, whether it's the planning and prioritization content briefs, which, you know, we can talk about more, you know, the actual writing and editing, you know, pre-publish, you know, tuning and expansion, and then post publish optimization, tweaking, you know, regardless there's ways that you can make that a smarter process in a less manual process. And what you're speaking about is really that, you know, I want to make sure that I don't have any blind spots. I want to make sure that there, I know how I'm differentiated or how I'm going to be better for the pages that you know, for the topics that I care about and what the specific intense, because it's, it's important to not just copy other people whenever I'm talking about competitive analysis, you know, a lot of people take it in there.
Jeff (06:57): They think it's just, we're, we're, we're doing what everyone else is doing, but it's good to know what those table stakes things are. So the things that you must do to tell the story that you're the expert, you know, I always like to use recipes as examples and say, you know, if you're, if you're making beer and you forget water, it's not really a great recipe. And, and, and so the, you know, a lot of these times you write stuff and you have a, you have a bias or your writer, or maybe they weren't as much of an expert, maybe your brief, wasn't very good that you sent to them. There wasn't a single source of truth that really got into the outline. And they're going to have significant blind spots. And so what we do is we build our recommendations by looking at every article that we can find about a topic, not just 10, 20 of them.
Jeff (07:42): We're looking at sometimes hundreds of thousands of topics. And we're distilling that into an easy, you know, easy map to what it would mean, like what you have to do. And then some things that are maybe ideas that would differentiate. And then when you're building content briefs, which are, you know, outlines effectively for your writer, it's giving them those topics, but it's also giving them a proposed structure for the page. It's giving them questions to answer. It's giving them internal and external linking recommendations. So it kind of tells them the whole story. And the whole point is really that writer is an expert on writing and telling a, building a narrative. I want them to focus on that. I want them to focus on building a beautiful page, high production value. I don't want them worrying about what words they have to include if they take that.
Jeff (08:28): And then they expanded and add another section. Great. You know, if that helps the narrative, but my dream was always that MarketMuse would bridge the gap between an editorial lead, a subject matter expert, and the search engine optimization team who traditionally just throws a word at the writer and the writer's like, girl, you know, I don't want that word in my page. And how can you make that actually make sense? So everybody accelerates and then, you know, you're on that single source of truth with the writer. So when they give you that draft back, you are editing it west. Your trust in them goes up their trust in their collaborative desire to collaborate with you goes up nothing is worse than when you write it. You're a writer and you write a draft and you, it gets marked up by the editorial lead. Then it gets marked up by the SEO team, and then you get it back and you're like, wow, this, now this doesn't even represent my view or my narrative because it's gotten, so it's kind of hacked up so much. So what we're trying to do is really raise all boats by making that less abrasive. And, and what it ends up doing is it makes it, yeah, I was to say, I've seen that.
Kathleen (09:43): Yeah, I've seen that. I mean, I have a full-time writer on my team and, and he would tell you when he hasn't used MarketMuse, like we come back with more edits. And so he's sort of been like, yeah, I just need to do it in the beginning and saved myself a lot of time.
Kathleen (10:01): So, so I want to kind of like peel back some layers of the onion here, because the way I understand this and tell me if I'm wrong, but you've built this tool to effectively mimic what a human being would do if they had a whole lot more time to really do a super thorough best in class content strategy and kind of optimization process. And so, so we can talk about the tool, but like these, I always come at these conversations with the assumption, like not everybody can afford this tool. So let's back up and talk about if the tool is built to mimic that, what does that look like? Like today? Where, where are we are now given everything we know about how search engines work? What are those components of the best in class organic content strategy and optimization process?
Jeff (10:53): It's a great question. Just to talk about it. And if you had to do it manually because I think it really starts at the, you can start at the page level, right? And then dive all the, you know, go all the way up to the site. I'm doing hand gestures too. I'm originally from New Jersey, but we're on a podcast, so you can't see them. So I went up to the site level, but if you're also a publisher and you work within a publishing networks can be network level. And you also need to understand your landscape. The various workflows though, a lot of like events at the page level, if you're just working kind of in a box, and this is where a lot of outsourcing proposal-based or outsourcing brief-based workflows breakdown is that the writer has no context. They don't know anything about your site of that much.
Jeff (11:45): There've been given a proposal and they write a page and will that page actually effectively fit into the structure, your site, funnel it up to the section of your site and the structure of your site and will it actually perform. So the workflows that we're liking, we like to do kind of solve all of those potential process issues. But they really start with, if I'm looking at something at a site level, I want to inspire someone to be able to prioritize. And how do you prioritize, like just what you're going to write or what you're going to update.
Kathleen (12:22): Let's, let's pick a topic just to use as an example cause I think that'll help. It's definitely gonna help me to like, make this more concrete. So I'm gonna let you pick the topic. Cause you're the one who's having to explain this. OK.
Jeff (12:34): I'll give you a great example. And this is one that is a content plan in process for MarketMuse. I mean, we are avid users and so we identify, so we write content briefs, right? Content brief, you go search for content brief in Google. I hope we're number one. Right? But 99.9% sure we are. Right. And what we identified was using MarketMuse, that there were other intent profiles for people who were looking for content briefs, that they were landing on our pillar page for content brief, which is very informational. It's what is a content brief? It gives basic overview of why one would need one. But a lot of the intent profiles that we identified were maybe some more specific intent, like content brief examples were content, brief templates. We also look for different types of briefs right.
Jeff (13:32): So it was marketing content briefs. It was creative briefs. And they were all finding this page. So we identified that we might have those other pages or those topics covered in other pages, but they're not the ones that are performing. So we're both identifying the gaps in that cluster of content. For these intents that we're getting to our page, we may be ranking very well, or we may write maybe ranking on page two or, or somewhere else for these other variants, but there was intent mismatch. So if I looked for content brief examples and I landed on this page, I might look at and go, okay, well this gave me a great overview, but it didn't give me examples. So I referenced that as an intent mismatch. And so one plan dimension that MarketMuse identifies and that you should always be doing as part of your process is do you have pages that people land on and then they're not happy? You know, it's not just reporting bounce rate it's did they make them, were they successful? Right.
Kathleen (14:32): This exact thing happened by the way, I love it. Then we had an article that we wrote called what is influencer fraud. And all of a sudden we had this like 4000% traffic increase in a week on this article. And it was because there was this related thing that it, it must have happened. The news. And everybody started searching on that and landed on our article. And it really wasn't what our article was optimized for. And so we did see an increase in the bounce rate, but then it was like, so we had to think through like, are these people that, that are good fits for us? In which case do we want to try and keep them? Or is it just sort of like, yeah, go ahead. You can go.
Jeff (15:11): And did you, do you want to, do you want to capture that? Do you want to do something with it? Is it valuable? And so in, in our case, in this example, this intent mismatch it's, we need to go build out templates and examples, even maybe putting a content upgrade into this page that is, you know, download these top N content brief examples and, you know, maybe like e-book or so there's all these different strategic gains you can get by thinking about intent mismatch. That's just one example of ways that you can find situations by looking at a site and understanding where you have strong content. So one thing we use, we have our own metrics for authority. So we're basically telling you where you have authority on a particular topic. And that doesn't mean just, you know, you got a link, you got a bunch of links.
Jeff (16:05): Authority is quite often misused as generic link data. It's not how the search engines calculated authoritativeness, their search engines calculate authoritativeness. I don't, I don't usually get into this much detail, but at the site section topic level combination. So just unpack that for a second. It's if you're familiar with computational power, it's a big O, M times N challenge. The only people who could even think about doing this, it's like this crazy permutation would be people like Google who have this massive computing power. So they're calculating basically on this site section and this topic combination, is this person, is this entity, have they written great content on this topic? And that's one of the components of authoritativeness. So we do what we feel is the best job of getting you that data point. So, you know how well you've covered this particular topic on this section and then rolled up to this site.
Jeff (17:07): And so we can confidently say effectively, what's your momentum on this concept? And that's your breadth of coverage? How much content you have, how in-depth, and how well intertwined or interwoven or linked together is this content that's related to this topic. Do you have any really great standout pages? And then we can cross-reference that against the competitors. So by the way, I'm comparing, I'm saying all this, because you have to do this manually, right? You have to know, like, I mean, if you want to go in and say, I've got 10 pages about cookies or what content briefs I've got, you know, I wrote two long-form ones. I've got four support structure pages that just answer specific questions. I've got these many pages at this stage of the buyer cycle, right? This is the work of a content strategist.
Jeff (17:54): You need to know where you're at, and then you also need to know your wins. And then we do that for all of your competitors. And we do it for this particular topics, competitive landscape. And we factor in off-page factors like links, but that is not the dominant net number. And compare this to some traditional SEO practices that just look at links, they're completely correlative. And they basically say for this keyword, right, what is the link profile of the top-end ranking pages? And they say, if you are within this range, you can have a chance. That's not good enough. It's not predicted you might as well roll dice.
Kathleen (18:39): Not only is it not good enough, but I feel like of all the things that we've talked about, it's the thing that is the least within your control, right? Somebody else has to agree to link to you. And I know I'm on the receiving end of those requests all the time and 99% of the time I ignore them and delete them.
Jeff (18:56): Well, not even that, it's just, it ... nothing about that. Read your content and tells you whether you written this stuff and no matter what, right, you there's the, imagine the graph is a crazy log logarithmic graph, right? Unless you're super mega powered at the top end, first of all, I'll give, I'll tell you a little anecdote about the top end of the power chart, which y'all, everybody needs to be thinking about this, something you said earlier that like gave me a little bit of a trigger, which I'll get into. But unless you are, you can't go out and write something about grapefruit seltzer today and then kitty cats tomorrow and guitars and guitars the next day you can't. Right. So if you're just looking at links, those links could have come to your site through a different section of the site. They could be about something else completely. It's not giving you any information about whether you can rank for this topic.
Kathleen (19:55): Well, and I feel like, at the end of the day, it's solving for machines and if there's one thing I've learned in my marketing career, which is as long, if not longer than yours, by the way, it's that when you focus on solving for machines, you set yourself up for failure because the rules that the machines go by will change. That is inevitable. And if you, instead, if you focus on solving for human beings and their needs, that is the thing that the machines are trying to solve for. So you're really like cutting to the chase and doing yourself a lot of favors by focusing on people and not machines.
Jeff (20:26): Exactly. And longevity. I mean, it was another thing, a lot of the advice and the and the, what you hear about how this stuff works, comes from people who are, they don't really care about the longevity of their sites. A lot of them are affiliate marketers. I love affiliate marketers. We have a ton of marketer clients, right. And, but the thing is they can be a whole lot riskier than if you're a B2B brand or a major publication because if you screw up, you're a B2B brand, you can't just change it overnight and you have to build stuff that's going to have. And you're also thinking about the people part, that's why, like some of the SEO tricks, they, they bug me out because it's like, I actually, I might be able to do this a couple of times and build this operational practice, but wouldn't it be better if I had a team of my four writers and search engine optimization professionals and content strategist, all on the same page so that we actually launched 30 articles that were great, and we all liked, and we still like each other, then we did some crazy trick that was risky.
Jeff (21:34): I mean, it just doesn't even, it doesn't even compute. And when we were talking about doing things for the machines, the machines get smarter, that's the nature of the gang. So, you know, there's a lot of these, I was like web dot archive is my web.archive.org is my source of truth for the opinions and the opinions and the thought leaders in the industry go back to their same pages and see how often they update what they say is best practice. Right. And so, yeah, if you have a, if you have a four-hour break, go look at all of it and go back through these articles and look how they change over time because stuff changes the best. So these, these tricks, you know, they don't last forever. And so I much rather build my house on a strong foundation.
Jeff (22:25): And one that also creates harmony inside my organization, and nothing does that better than quality. And, and you, you know, that that's really, and that's where you're gonna end up getting your longevity from anyway. But what I will, the one thing I did want to mention and then we can dive back in is when you were, you said the top-performing pages, when some of when, when those pages are in the top elite pool of sites, so are, you know, the dominant publishers in the world, the dominant entities, depending on what industry you're going for, they play a whole different game. They're on a, nothing, not even, they're not even playing a different sport, they're on a different field. They're in a different gravitational level than you are. So if you're copying Amazon, if you're copying you know, three letters, three levered, or three-letter publishers names, if you're copying Wikipedia, you're in for a world of hurt.
Jeff (23:26): For so many different reasons, which could take, you know, a three-hour podcast. But I see so many folks dive off the wrong end of the pool because they think that mimicking their idols is going to be the way that they can be successful in organic search. And it, trust me, it just doesn't work. And, and it's you know, when we're talking about predicting outcomes, what I'm trying to do is give advice. That's going to be dramatically more predictive than 50, 50, 50. And is this gonna work or is it's not and that's where the one thing I've seen time and time again, is, is mistakes made from because a lot of the pundits they'll say look at the top three ranking pages that have in, in, and then do it, ideally the skyscraper technique. Right. It's great. It's great. If those articles it's great, but there's a list of disclaimers. Like
Kathleen (24:30): If their Alexa rank is, is 80 and yours is 15, it might not work that well.
Jeff (24:37): Well, it's, it's just to say, make sure that they focus on the same intents, make sure that they're within the same cluster structures make a lot of things have to be cohort. They have to be similar in order for that to actually work. And it's it, there's too many gotchas in that in that, in that problem. And then also, you know, Google is getting so great at understanding the intent behind queries. And if you're optimizing for a topic that has what we call intent fracture, it means that a user is diving in and I'm like, oh, I'll give an example. Then there's an esoteric concept. There's meaning ambiguity. So I'll use the word shell, right? If I, I always pick a different one, but if you just type the word "shell" in to Google. Who the heck knows what you're looking for? Right. Nobody knows there's both meaning disambiguation, you could be looking for an actual thing you'd have on the beach. You could be looking for the company shell. Right. You could be looking for, you could have mistyped ...
Kathleen (25:47): Outerwear.
Jeff (25:49): S-H-E-A apostrophe L, you know, possibly it could be the outerwear. Right. and so what Google has to do, if you type in "shell," is it is saying, OK, fractured intent. I don't know, I'm looking at all the data I have. I'm going to present to this person based on a lot of detailed data points, who they are, where they're at their history if they're in incognito mode and through a proxy, right? That's when you get them the most ambiguous, they throw out what they call their favorite intense, and they, it might be a blend of them. You know, if you wrote the word back, you know, these are things that it meaning ambiguity, ambiguity, but there's also intent ambiguity and intent fracture. So if I type in "CRM software," for example, "CRM," softwares, you know what it is, it's CRM software, but I don't know where the person is in their journey.
Jeff (26:44): I could be what they may be looking for a definition. They might be looking for lists of software packages that they could be anywhere. So the way I like to think about it is how much fracture is in my query from the buyer journeys perspective versus ambiguity. And when you're just analyzing search results to look at competitors, some of those pages may be at different stages of the buy cycle. Some of them may be different meanings if you smush all those together and try to copy that, and you're in deep trouble, could you be creating, I've seen the funniest pages in the world, right? Where they, they smushed together two meetings of words. And like, there's a section about some people when they're thinking about bats are thinking about these flying, you know, flying animals, but other ones are talking about baseball bats.
Jeff (27:31): And they actually that, and that's, that's that mentality, right? But it's just as bad if you're writing a content page that is not comprehensively covering the buy cycle, but you weave in concepts that are good for a beginner early-stage awareness. And you also were touching on bottom of the funnel. You're creating the logical content. You're creating content. That doesn't make sense for someone to consume all in one place, because buying a, you know, buying a CRM package is not going to happen in 2000 words of reading. So if there's these, these, just these general concepts, and I love this because it dovetails well with our conversations, like how do I build great content? You build great content by understanding the client and speaking to all the possible levels of understanding they may have and covering the whole buyer journey and throwing it, the idea that you should create one page for each keyword out in the window, you create one package, maybe even a site section on this topic, if that's what somebody would need. So that every time anyone has a question about this topic, or they're at any stage of the buy cycle, you have the right page for them.
Kathleen (28:47): Can you just define what you mean by site section?
Jeff (28:51): Sure. so you may need based on where you are, based on your authority you may look at, and we have a metric in our system called personalized difficult. It's the laser beam for organic searches, it's the deadly weapon. All right. And it tells you based on your existing authority, based on your momentum on this topic, right. And how hard it is to rank for this topic based on us reading all the articles that we can on this topic. And, you know, what's out there how much content you need to build. So we can actually tell you with the degree of predictability, how much content you need to make on this topic, where related topics in that cluster. So what I'm saying, the site section, I'm looking at this from saying, let's say I have no existing authority on this topic.
Jeff (29:42): And it's a really hard one. I'm not going to be able to get away with just adding pages to my blog on it. It's not going to happen for me with any degree of speed. I'm going to have to devote an entire wing of my house to building a foundation on this topic, and then expanding on that. I just, I haven't earned it yet. I haven't earned the ability to just build a cluster. So I'm actually going to have to build out significant foundation on this. And that's a possible situation. One might be in it. It often comes up in a situation where someone wants to start to cover a topic, but hasn't gotten there yet. Is it,
Kathleen (30:26): Is it like, are there structural things you need to do? Meaning is this building out like a sub-directory with that topic name, or is it more about creating, is it that sort of pillar content approach where you need to create the really long form, massive piece first and then build the cluster around it? Like what, how does that play out?
Jeff (30:45): In, in an ideal scenario where so the site, the actual URL or the structure there's different schools of thought on that of whether it works or not. In the end, if you're talking, if all variables were taken out, kind of doesn't matter on that front, I like having topics, topics driven sub-directories in my instructors that I'm building out ideally and as long as they are smartly structured, if everything's bucketed in, you know, one pool of pages, it's still going to be grouped logically by the way that it's linked. And then the inbound links that those pages get, which also inform the search engines on what these pages are about. And cause every link passes, both, it passes a lot of information. It's information about the page that is linking to the other page where, you know, the actual node on both ends, the strength of those have been information.
Jeff (32:02): And so when I'm saying site second, I just mean somewhere in a logical place. Yeah. And, but it's just, it gets to the sense of like what breadth of coverage is needed with respect to your entire pool of pages. You're not going to get there. Like, let's say you have a thousand-page site you're not going to get, and it's a, it's a big lift. You're not going to get there with a couple of pages. It's just, it doesn't mean Rome wasn't built in a day. It doesn't make sense that you're the authority on Gibson guitars on your personal blog. If you've only written three articles about Gibson guitars. And I see this all the time, people are like, oh, I just had to go out and write a cluster. They write a six-page cluster about, you know you know, red wine. And I'm like, you are not the authority on red wine. I mean, and even though you wrote this great cluster, I can't break out of page seven.
Kathleen (33:06): Oh, I will say the opposite can be true. Some of my favorite moments in my marketing career had been when I search a topic and I find no exact match results for it. And I'm like, yes, universe, you've handed me this opportunity. All I have to do is write one blog and I can rank, right.
Jeff (33:25): That's the trick. You've absolutely nailed it. So if you go and that's where an intent mismatch is beautiful. That's a no-rank authority. So a no-rank authority is where you can assess that a site has authority on a topic, but has no pages represented, has no ranking pages or is ranking very poorly with an unrelated page. Those that's your, those are your dream scenarios. That's what you get out of bed for, right? Because you can go write one page. Sometimes you don't even have to write one page. Sometimes you just have to add a section to an existing page, and those are really dream scenarios. And so those sweet spots, they happen all the time and they require a lot of work to find. And we've built technology that just finds them.
Kathleen (34:15): Well and I think sometimes they require a lot of work, but sometimes they're literally sitting in front of you. But the quote, unquote marketing best practices give you, make you blind to them. And what I mean by that is I ran into this at my last company. We sold a product that had a very, very, very niche use case. And in most cases, when you learn about content strategy like I don't care where you learn it. Usually, when you're taught how to do a content strategy, you're told to look for keywords with a certain search volume, right? And yes, if you can do that and succeed, it means you'll get more traffic, a higher volume of traffic. But in our case, when we looked at the highest intent keywords for the product that we were selling, there was like zero measurable search volume. But, and oh, by the way, there was the only other source that was ranking for those keywords was the National Security Agency.
Kathleen (35:10): Cause this was in cyber. But the thing is, if somebody is actually searching them, there could be 10 people searching a month, but those 10 people are like perfect, amazing fits for us. And you know, it was, we were a business to government sale. And so one contract was worth a lot of money. So it was like doing a whole content strategy around what effectively might be 10 searches a month was totally worth it. And fast forward now a year. And that company is getting a ton of really high-quality leads that are leading to actual pipeline and revenue from that. But because we're taught as marketers look for search volume, I feel like people see that they'll do their homework and they'll say, but there's no, there's no search volume for this. And then they say, so I can't do it when, in my opinion, it's like, oh my God, do it cause nobody else is, right.
Jeff (36:00): Preaching to the choir for search volume. And you know, search volume is a point of reference. But it is the most misused data point in content, in SEO. And I always give a test for folks right on this one. And I, and I can walk through why I love that you've walked through this, by the way I call it the search volume illusion. It is, it is a, it is a blankie. It's a blankie for content strategists. It's a blankie for large enterprises because they say you can't write a topic that's higher, low that isn't over this, right. It's such a mistake.
Kathleen (36:43): And, the high search volume ones are always the most competitive also.
Jeff (36:47): But it allows, it allows really smart search engine marketers to wreck you. If you can see that a competitor writes against Google AdWords Keyword Planner sort and descend by search volume and has a line, right. You can actually chop their legs out from under them with a good content strategy. It's about chopping down the tree. And so if you see that that's happening and you can watch that strategy occur, it is, it makes you so susceptible to competitive risk. And what, the way I always explain a great example of this is pick your favorite search volume for something you were successful with, right. Let's say it was 10,000 search volume and you got number one and your click-through rate on that page is you know, 10%, I'm just making a fake. So you're supposed to get a thousand entrances. If your prediction, if your, if your math and your guidepost was right, you're supposed to get a thousand answers, go look at your analytics for that page.
Jeff (37:50): And let's say that page is now getting 3,800 entrances. Well, you look at, then you're like, yay, that's a win, right? But what it tells you is that the frame of reference for using search volume was worthless because you couldn't come close to a predicted the gap between those 1000 and that 3,800. And that pool is called a term pool multiplier. And that term pool comes from adjacent variance comes from concepts that are one-time searches. It comes from maybe things that are intent mismatch, right? And you couldn't have predicted those. And the same is, goes for the opposite direction. And so when you're, when you're looking at pages and they rank well, they're also ranking for lots of other stuff that is trackable and they're renting for lots of other stuff that isn't trackable. The amount of intent fracture is that term pool multiplier. I have a huge article about this on my blog. I believe it's called keep search volume in the keyword research delusion or something. I love it. I love it. And so you go to check that out. It actually walks through how to do that process manually to prove your point intern. The goal of this piece is to prove your point internally, that search volume should not be your north star.
Kathleen (39:07): Wow. I totally agree with that. You don't have to convince me because every time I tried to go after high search volume keywords, it's just, it's been a lot of work for very little payoff. And the opposite is true for low search volume keywords. So I don't know. That's, that's just been my, you got it. I mean,
Jeff (39:28): You got for me, I just want, I want to set expectations properly. I mean, I, I, I've owned, you know, multi-million search volume tops positions for seven-plus years, right? I've also given advice to B2B companies that an entire content strategy for their entire year is on stuff that's below 10 and it's either, you know, it has to be a fit for the, for the company. And the cool thing is knowing how much work you need to do to get that money, you know, to get, to get that money. You know, I mean, we had so, you know, good, another good example. You said you can give a lot of examples, you know, content strategy, right? I believe I'm still number one for content strategy. I hope I still have.
Kathleen (40:17): That's a tough one because there's some really big guns going,
Jeff (40:21): Right. And to gun down, somebody who has that much power, it's a different strategy. You have to do some of those things I was talking about. You have to pick them apart at the intent level, at the question-answer level at the zero search volume level, they're giving away some of my tricks to build the foundation. They're not going to build, you have to know their strategy. You have to document what they're likely going to do, and that's painful. And that's really hard, but to win in the big leagues against the big players, you have to actually know exactly what they're going to do, where their gaps are. You need to know, did this writer leave and they were really good at this. So they're not going to update those pages. I mean, getting into that level of detail, which we have to, I mean, to beat off spot, we have to that's HubSpot was the one that was in the back of my mind when I was in there.
Jeff (41:17): I mean, that's what we had and we, we're kind of doing it, the proof points, right. Because you know, how much actionable conversion do I get off of that? I don't know. But it's, it's one of these things where you have to think cutting your money, where your mouth is, and you got to think like them into to really get it done. Yeah. And you know, I was looking at a customer of mine site yesterday, funnily enough, it brought me and it was a three-letter word that is a common networking acronym. I'm not gonna say it out loud, but I said, yeah, a person I was speaking to this, this page has ranked for seven years on this term in the top five. And I said, and he also has another one of the ranking pages in the top five.
Jeff (42:11): And we walked through and said, you know, the only way you will move on this high volume mixed intent keyword is to truly put yourself in the mind of the content teams publishing and you're going to have to do a whole lot of work and is it worth it? And then we walked through the way we're actually gonna make moves there, the way you make moves on head terms, isn't publishing against the year. It's publishing against the infrastructure. Yeah. And then the head term moves. It's the rising boat. You know, the rising tide raising all-boats scenario and a lot of editorial teams that don't get it. They don't realize that that head term will move along with the mob. The mob is the rest of the, of the mob is the rest of the fleet. Right. So mixed metaphor. I could literally nerd out on this all day with you,
Kathleen (43:07): But we're going to run into a time constraint, right. So so I mean, I think you've really covered the ground on a lot of the basic building blocks for how we should be thinking about content strategy and how to really like the David versus Goliath, if you're trying to do that, how to, how to approach it. Can you share, do you have any, like, just recent examples of having done this and what the results were?
Jeff (43:31): Oh yeah. Have a few, gosh we work with so many teams and it, you know, some of them we can, you know, get into the details. I'll give you a great example and it's going to be an upcoming case study. We worked with, and I'm going to have to be a little abstract with the company. So we worked with this company and they are one of the most prominent brands in this B2B technology space. And just an amazing team led by their, you know, wonderful SEO, wonderful content, wonderful conversion rate optimization team really understands everything, but they had a competitor who is an exact match brand name for the term they were firing for. Right. And, and they weren't. Right. So you know, so let's just say you were, you know you're, you were called Halo, right.
Jeff (44:35): And the competitor's name were remote speakers and you were trying to rank for remote speakers. So they had this, then they had a goal and they were trying to outperform for this query and the opposing company's brand within it. And they also internally had a problem where they wouldn't allow their team to publish for, I think it was below 400 search volume. Yeah. And we dug out that route, tossed to the side, built up a huge infrastructure around this concept in bridge out. And now they outperform that exact, like exact match hybrid competitor. Right. Fun fact on that one, because we're anonymized, I can talk a little bit out of school, right. Is when this all happened, everyone got jealous internally. Right. And they want, they wanted some of the other, the juice from this. And it was like, wait, we'll wait.
Jeff (45:36): But not all these pages are set up for you know, it's content upgrades and all this other stuff. And so I just love that because it's like, okay, you've moved on from this one challenge of visibility. And now you've moved on to this next level of maturity where it's like, all pages grow the business. Now you got to figure out, once you got the eyeballs, now you got to figure out how to monetize it. You got to figure out how you look for those intent fracture situations. And we see it. That's a great example of one where, you know, you did the time, it felt hard. But you're trying to get to that next level where, you know, I, you know, what is, is it is, it is a website I used to manage what is.com? And so many early, early-stage awareness definitions that just own it.
Jeff (46:27): Right. And a lot of the conversation was how do we get those people into some sort of level of conversion, right? How do you progress them? What I like to say is your content has to answer the next and the questions, not just this question, if it needs to be the source of truth, but it also needs to escort them across the journey. If you're in e-commerce and you're on a category page, that's your chance to present all the content you have. That is part of the buyer journey, not just a picture of the pair of socks. And that's it, that's the other piece of it. If this fits for any type of content, like you want to escort them through all you got and where that, that, that if you're in a pillar page, don't just think you are, you're escorting them across the entire inventory. You got to go back to your old content and update it. You got to do all those things so that when they land there, they truly know who you are and all that you have to offer. So many times, I talked to the strategist, I land on their page. I can read it. I'm like, whoa, this is really good. That's it?
Jeff (47:38): You know, and so often because they ... put their best foot forward. And that's what you have in a lot of these teams where they're not thinking about the journey and that they are escorts, they're Sherpas. And I don't want someone coming, reading my 3,000-word article, and then not knowing that I actually have six other great articles for this. You know, that that's where you know, the user experience is so important and conversion rate is so important. So I love that.
Kathleen (48:08): All right, we're going to switch gears and I'm going to ask you the two questions that I always ask all my guests. The first one being, you know, this podcast is all about inbound marketing. Is there a particular company or individual that you think is really setting the bar for what it means to be a great inbound marketer these days?
Jeff (48:25): Oh gosh. So many. One person I'll call out. I like to call different people out whenever I get asked these types of questions, but one person I'll call out is, his name's John-Henry Scherck and J H S are his first three letters. And you can look it up. John-Henry Scherk Growth Plays is his agency. If you've never read anything that he's written, you have a whole weekend and you will be 10 times smarter, that's on all topics and he just gets it. And we've been friends for a very long time. But I find so, so many people, like, unless you're in this kind of B2B content growth hacking space, you kind of, you, maybe you didn't hear about him cause he's not writing for a big blog, but I love everything he reads and everything he writes.
Jeff (49:19): And yeah, J H S, he's a superstar and he's doing it. He wrote a lot of stuff about working with Notion lately. And really do, he just, he has his he's always ahead of the game. And I like to think I'm ahead of the game too. But like Dave, sometimes he's ahead of the game. I should interview for this podcast. Yeah, you definitely need to get J H. I'm happy to make that intro. But yeah, go check out his Twitter. It's, it's, it's really hot.
Kathleen (49:49): Awesome. All right. Second question. Most marketers I talk to say that one of their biggest challenges is just keeping up with all the changes, whether it's an algorithm change or regulatory changes or best practices or new platforms, are there particular sources that you turn to, to really stay up to date other than JHS?
Jeff (50:08): None other than John Henry? Yeah, there is, I'd say though it's changed for me over time and I rely a lot on the communities that I'm in and my mastermind groups and things. Because I'm so overwhelmed. I have two small children you know, I run a business and, you know, multiple that says and I also, you know, my job probably is four jobs at MarketMuse too. So I have to rely on, I can't do it. Right. And so I really rely on my peer groups, rely on my team to surface things. I think if you have a Slack or something in your office, like have a learning channel, we do, we have a learning channel where everybody posts the stuff that led to information gain for them. Right. And then you have 10 minutes. You read what the, you know, in my case, the 35 to 40 people that I love so much what they learned from this day, you know, sometimes there's some dumb stuff on there, but it's usually really good, but, but also my other, the other community is the content strategy, collective slack channel, which is a community that we manage.
Jeff (51:18): But also I'm in an entrepreneurs group called Rhodium. The Technical SEO Mastermind led by Pat Stox and a few others. But like whatever your space is, I think get into these groups so that, you know, you get their collective hive mind impact because, you know, Twitter can be noisy. You could like be really hard-working one day and miss a whole bunch of stuff like, and because you didn't do your updates and you follow 3000 people and especially if you're doing a lot of different things I think that that's key don't just rely on a few influencers to filter, like try to get a kind of a hive mind approach. That's the way that I'm able to do it and still keep my sanity. I still miss stuff though. Yeah, you're gonna, you're gonna miss something.
Kathleen (52:08): You are human.
Jeff (52:08): A big, big one for me is like, MarketMuse doesn't really get into a lot of the structural type analysis and of sites, but we don't do a lot of the speed and or core web vitals. And that's the hottest topic right now in organic search, other than, you know, content strategy and natural language generation, you know, which I'm in. Right. And I'm building products in generation. and the other one is core web vitals, but like, we don't do anything on it. So I've had to rely on like my, my crew really like, and get that from Haas MOSIS. And luckily, you know, a couple people that I mentioned, all that notably Patrick stocks, who, if you haven't read his stuff about core web vitals, just type in P a T R I C K S T O X core web vitals. You now will be as smart as, you know, 98% of the SEOs in the world.
Kathleen (53:11): I love it. There's some good resources you're dropping here.
Jeff (53:15): Build your network and just like find ways to give them, you know, a little bit of your time and you're gonna, you're gonna get to at least sound smart. Yeah. It sounds smart at parties, right. Or not be ignorant. Right, right. That's a good, a good goal to set.
Kathleen (53:35): Well, this has been so amazing. If, if somebody is listening and they want to learn more about MarketMuse, or they want to connect with you online, what's the best way for them to do that.
Jeff (53:43): Go check out MarketMuse. We have on our blog, it's an amazing blog. We have a content strategy crash course is kind of, it's like a huge walkthrough. If this is something new to you. We also have hundreds of articles that get into the details. Go check out that keyword volume, keyword search volume one from what we're discussing, but there's also a really cool, really cool ones on there about kind of myth-busting some common practices. Jeffrey_Coyle on Twitter. Jeff@MarketMuse.com. And I'm very active on LinkedIn, but please, please shoot me a note. DM. I answer everything. I love this stuff. I'm extremely passionate about it. I even will. If you give me, you know, your site, your page, I typically will dive way too deep into the details. So as long as you don't have thin skin, feel free to shoot me anything you want me to look at. I love it.
Kathleen (54:35): That's an awesome offer. So I will put all those links in the show notes. So head there if you want to get in touch with Jeff. And if you're listening and you enjoyed this episode, please consider heading to Apple Podcasts or the platform of your choice and leaving the podcast a review. That helps other people find us. And if you know somebody else doing kick-ass inbound marketing work, tweet me at my crazy Twitter handle, which is @workmommywork and I would love to make them my next guest. That is it for this week. Thank you so much for joining me, Jeff.
Jeff (55:05): It was awesome. What a fun discussion. Cheers.
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