What do high growth companies with savvy marketing teams do to drive traffic growth?
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Directive Consulting founder Garrett Mehrguth shares what his team does to help companies like Allstate and Cisco boost traffic even after all of the low hanging marketing and SEO fruit has been picked.
TL;DR: It all starts with product marketing, SEO and a focus on bottom of the funnel, high intent leads.
Garrett shares the specific strategies his team at Directive uses to get results for their clients, as well as his advice for startups that want to do it right from the beginning.
Highlights from my conversation with Garrett include:
Garrett says that everything Directive does is based on the belief that your brand is more important than your website.
What that means is that when someone with high purchase intent is searching online for a solution, you need to make sure you're discoverable.
He says that sometimes your marketing metrics have an inverse correlation with your financial metrics, meaning that if you focus on the top of the funnel, you might generate a lot of traffic, but you won't get as many high intent leads as you would if you focus on the bottom of the funnel (which generally results in less traffic).
Garrett's advice is to track CAC (cost to acquire a customer) and LTV (lifetime value) and use that to determine whether you are paying a reasonable cost per demo, opportunity or proposal — NOT cost per lead.
For many companies, the best place to focus their initial marketing efforts is on ranking on review sites. Done well, this can allow a lesser known, newer market entrant to unseat an incumbent player very quickly.
You can pay review sites to conduct review generation campaigns on your behalf, and Garrett says it is absolutely worth it to spend that money.
Another strategy that works well is to use LinkedIn ads for awareness raising. Garrett says that leads that come through LinkedIn are not high intent, so you shouldn't spend a lot on a cost per impression basis.
Instead, he and his team "trick" LinkedIn by advertising on a cost per click basis. Not many people click the ads, so LinkedIn accelerates their placement in the feed and they get seen by a lot of people.
In terms of content, Garrett believes the traditional approach to pillar content and topic clusters promoted by HubSpot is wrong. Instead, he uses that same content and creates product pages as pillars, which he then uses to link to from blogs that address bottom of the funnel topics.
Garrett builds authority for product pages by guest blogging (where he can control anchor text and backlinks) and doing podcast guest interviews.
He says that where its tough to get your subject matter experts to create written content, you should invest more heavily in podcast guest interviews.
Garrett's advice for companies right now is to double down on online advertising. Because so many companies have shut down or pulled their online ads back, prices are down and it is easier to get found.
I'm your host Kathleen Booth. And this week my guest is Garrett Mehrguth from Directive. Welcome Garrett.
Garrett Mehrguth (Guest): Thanks for having me. Glad to be here. And yeah, excited to chat about search.
Garrett and Kathleen recording this episode.
Kathleen: Yeah, I love, I love getting into nerdy marketing topics, so I'm really excited about this. Before we dive in though, can you please tell my audience a little bit about yourself and your story and also Directive?
About Garrett and Directive
Garrett: I'd love to. I did my degree in three years in economics and I wanted to do my masters in a year. I was playing soccer. I thought I was going to go pro, be like a pro soccer player. I hurt my knee, and that kind of reset a lot of that stuff. And so I said, "Hey, you know, maybe I could try this consulting thing."
I applied to Boston, Bain and McKinsey. I'm not sure about Deloitte, but kind of the big ones and instantly got this auto-response. In the application process, I knew I was doomed because you go to their portal and the university I attended was not one of the options. I was like, "They do not tell you that before they take your money."
So from there I was like, "You know what? I'll just build my own agency and they'll have to acquire me."
I don't know why. That's how I thought, and was just like where I went.
I had no tangible skills, so there was that problem.
I have this belief system that perception is reality and I knew that people perceived I knew the internet and so I figured I should learn it. So I started to try to learn how to do WordPress sites.
And then I got this little shawarma shop in East LA. I was on my little moped. I had a 78 Peugeot 103. I was going around town on that thing and I essentially got the client. It was really, really small. I don't even remember because I was so bad at this point that I didn't put the amount in the contract. I still have the contract, but I don't remember the amount. It's probably like 200 bucks.
I did that for 30 days, came back on the 30th day to get the check. He said come back tomorrow. The whole place was boarded up. So that was our first client.
I was selling $5 social media calendars on Fiverr and I was just hustling and doing all this stuff. And then I got a hookah shop and the hookah shop asked me to build them a website and then I did that. It was okay. Looking back at, it wasn't the best website. And then he wanted to rank number one for hookah shop and all that stuff.
I ranked him number one and all of a sudden you got all these people in a shop and it was completely dead before. I was like, "This is kind of cool."
So, one of my best friends who's my roommate said, "Hey, don't go to law school. You know, come join this company with me. We'll be millionaires" or whatever he said. I was paying him $3 an hour at this point.
So we kind of just started from there and now we get to work with really large enterprise accounts and mid market companies, mostly SaaS, doing SEO and PPC still. So pretty fun.
Kathleen: Great. Now one of the things that I think is interesting about the perspective that you bring — and we've had lots of people on the podcast talk about SEO and PPC, I was interested to chat with you because you do have these bigger clients and I think there are pros and cons to that, right?
The pro — having owned an agency myself — the pro of having big clients is they've got big budgets. They've got teams to support getting work done. They are generally very savvy.
One of the — I don't know if I would call it a con — but the tough thing about accounts like that is very often, they've already done all of the basic things that they should be doing.
They're sharp, they know their stuff, they have their act together, so being able to really show results and traction requires taking things to a much more advanced level.
As I think you were saying when we first started talking, you've already squeezed most of the juice out of that orange. So how are you finding those opportunities for the last few drops?
You had some interesting thoughts on that and I'm really interested to hear what you have to say and to get into that technical level of detail with you.
What do top SEOs do to prevent traffic from plateauing?
Garrett: Let's do it Kathleen.
So first and foremost, it's such a blessing because I got lucky. Everyone gets lucky, I think, in business to get somewhere. I had no capital. I started this thing with 20 bucks. We have no debt. We have no anything, right?
I think we got Allstate when I was like 23 to 25 years old. And we've had them ever since. Right? So there's little moments like that. Or, we did the global SEO for Cisco when I was 26, I think.
So like, you get these little moments and they really help you. And obviously you have to deliver, right? And then you can scale that.
But one of the things that I think allowed us to be successful regardless of who we were working with, whether it was a Series A startup who was trying to go to the moon, or a mid-market SaaS firm that was trying to go after the market leader, or the market leader, right?
You have these kind of three groups to work with and they all need to slow down and reframe how they approach the idea of search.
And that's what I think Directive is really special at, is taking a moment to say, how does your customer discover the products or services you sell, and how can we rethink our approach?
So here's what we do. We have two kinds of fundamental beliefs.
First and foremost, if you can eat enough humility as an SEO and say that my brand is more important than my website, you become an incredibly powerful and creative marketer.
So our first fundamental belief at Directive is your brand is more important than your website. What that means tactically is that when someone searches at the bottom of the funnel and has the strongest purchase intent, you need to make sure you're discoverable.
Now, the old adage was, you need your website to rank, but see something has changed in consumer behavior. I call this the Yelp and the Amazon effect.
See, consumers got trained at the transactional level that even before we spend $3 on a lollipop or on a breakfast burrito, we're going to look on Yelp to see the reviews.
Well, guess what? Before we buy quarter million dollar software, we definitely look at reviews.
See, Google caught onto this and they started to change the types of websites that they were showing when there was bottom of funnel purchase intent for SaaS.
That's G2, Capterra, Software Advice, PC Mag. It goes down for days and hours, right? There's all these review sites.
Well if you search your primary keyword, let's say "ERP software," and you layer it with "top", "best" or "reviews" or "comparisons", you have purchase intent.
Also your most expensive cost per click and Google ads, all the sites are review sites. That's because Microsoft Dynamics has no SEO. That's not because Oracle has no authority or content. That's because Google is choosing to show these types of websites.
So if we take that fundamental approach that our brand is more important than our website, we can be hyper successful.
Kathleen: Yeah, that makes sense. And I've noticed that, too, with reviews. Over the years I've spoken with some other review sites that you mentioned.
They've pitched me when I've been at different places and it's really fascinating to just do those searches.
And you're right, if you do it — if you search those terms — those are the sites that will absolutely come up first.
So when you consider that you need to appear on review sites, how do you go about tackling that?
Because it's not as simple as just claiming your presence and setting up your profile. You can still get lost in the sea of companies that have done that.
How to leverage review sites to drive traffic
Garrett: The first step we want to do is we want to take another fundamental hypothesis and understand it, which is that sometimes your marketing metrics have an inverse correlation to your financial metrics.
And it becomes very, very, very dangerous for SaaS firms.
So here's what I mean. Most agencies have this belief that in order to generate more MQLs for the demand gen team at a SaaS organization, they need to essentially increase the amount of keywords they rank for.
They need to start going to top of funnel and they need to generate more leads.
So what happens when organizations pursue what I call a "breadth approach" is they start to experience what's called in economics diminishing marginal returns. In other words, their marketing KPIs improve.
So let's say you're trying to go for "top ERP software", but you just have a Google ad running.
Instead of saying, "How can I show up more often when there's purchase intent?" and going with depth — and so essentially expanding search impression share in Google ads for your primary terms that have purchase intent and then ranking on individual review sites through their cost per click models, and then evaluating all of that at a cost per demo level, not cost per lead level, and then doing financial allocation, right?
That's what we do here. We focus first on demand capturing before pivoting to demand generation.
So we go to the bottom of the funnel and say, "Cool. When there's purchase intent, we're going to show up as often as possible and as many places as possible before we try to show up for more terms."
So this allows us to experience increasing marginal returns for our clients in the first two quarters and get buy-in.
See, what most people do, is they start to go with their Gartner report and they start to leverage that, which isn't an intrinsically a bad idea.
But when they start to essentially go after informational intent and go to the top of funnel, they start to lower their cost per lead, they start to increase conversion rate and they think they're winning.
But if you're a savvy growth operator in SaaS, you know, like for example, I convert at 60% on lead gen ads on LinkedIn.
Okay, target market giving me their information — 60%. I get that all the way down to $17 a week.
Yet that is 17 X more expensive than buying that same lead from ZoomInfo, and I have no greater purchase intent than someone essentially downloading an asset or me buying them from ZoomInfo.
So now I'm paying 17 X on a cost per lead.
And so that's the diminishing part where your marketing numbers look better, but your revenue doesn't increase because you have horrible CAC-LTV on top of funnel versus bottom of funnel.
And so that's kind of the other approach, is putting everything through an LTV-CAC model and then focusing on bottom of funnel first.
Start at the bottom of the funnel and capture high intent leads
Kathleen: So let's, let's dig into that a little bit. So you talked about starting at the bottom of the funnel and going really deep to capture high intent leads for very specific terms.
If I came to you and I said, "All right, let's go. I want to do that," can you walk me through what that looks like? You mentioned showing up as often as possible for that one, high intent term.
Garrett: Yeah. So first we're going to do what's called category defining. So we need to find your category.
One of the most difficult problems in SaaS, as most people approach it, is they want to create their own category or they exist as a subset of an existing category.
You have a lot of experience in cybersecurity, correct?
Garrett: We do a lot there as well. So like we've been working with SentinelOne for a long time and other large players in that space. Now that's endpoint protection, right? People know they need a security solution, they don't always intrinsically know they need an endpoint solution. Right?
So how do you generate demand and increase MQLs if you're in a new category? Okay, so first we do what's called category definement.
And what we'd like to do is not only position you in endpoint, but position you in the security software category and then do hyper product differentiation through like product naming conventions and positioning.
This is so your CTO or whoever that person is who's your audience, they're searching and when they go to security software, we want them to show up above the fold with your brand as endpoint protection and then essentially drive awareness from the greater category to our subset or our pain solving product.
So that's kind of first step is define that category. Then we ask ourselves, are we above the fold? So on Capterra, when you land on that, do you have to scroll for a couple hours to find you? How many reviews do the top five have versus you?
That gives us a review target. Then we'll help you and say, "Here's how we've seen other clients go about getting reviews and here's the strategy you could pursue." Now we have a competitive amount of reviews on all of our categories.
Kathleen: Let me ask you a question about that real quick.
Most of those review sites have, uh, call them packages that you can purchase where they will, you know, you give them your list of clients, they'll email them, offer them an Amazon gift card or something along those lines to get reviews. And so essentially there's a cost per acquisition model that you can use.
Do you find in most cases that that's worth doing, or do you work with your clients to develop their own outreach and review generation campaigns?
Garrett: That's totally worth doing. I think there's nothing more important than other people advocating for your product, especially with how consumer behavior has changed at the B2B and B2C level.
So no, that's critically important.
Now, what we need to be able to do here though, is we need to be able to measure everything on a cost per opportunity, cost per demo, cost per proposal — whatever you want to call it — level, not a cost per lead.
What we've found across over 350 SaaS companies that we've worked with over the last five years is that the cost per lead between Google Ads, Capterra, G2, Software Advice, et cetera, has a really, like it's not that different, maybe 15 to 30% range between each.
But then I found that third party review sites have a 230% lower cost per opportunity. And so what we do, like, we got hired a couple of years ago by a publicly traded sales compensation software company and within one quarter we increased their demos by over 300% by only pivoting budget.
That's the craziest part of all this, is most people are still evaluating their demand generation at an MQL level, not at an opportunity level.
And so the biggest, easiest thing you can do is go one step further and look at opportunity. And then the furthest step that we've now actually evolved to as an agency is putting all our clients in LTV-CAC models, and then looking at activation rate.
So not cost per trial but trial activations, right? So how well people are going from trial to demo, or demo to close rate, and then we're evaluating channels by close rate or by trial activation rate.
And when we start to do that, that's hugely powerful for for financial allocation.
How can you use intent data to drive traffic and revenue?
Kathleen: Yeah, that makes sense. Now one of the other questions I had as I was listening to you talk about this, you talked about intent and bottom of the funnel and a lot of those platforms that you mentioned, in addition to being able to purchase a package and drive reviews, now they're selling their own intent data.
Are you also working with intent data and taking it and creating ABM or audience match campaigns around that for your clients?
Garrett: Yeah, so you can do a lot of that stuff.
I think we, like most people, are using that engagement data or enriching stuff with Bombora for sales dev.
Now the reason is, is we need to be able to do cookie-based targeting, not IP-based targeting. Because, for example, right now, if you're trying to run IP-based targeting campaigns during COVID, you're not reaching any of your audience.
Kathleen: Oh, you are preaching to the choir, because the product that we sell incorporates IP obfuscation. So anybody using our products, you couldn't target them by IP. I think it's going to happen more and more, and more people are going to use tools like that.
Garrett: Yeah. I think to answer your question, yes, we are doing bi-directional syncs from HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot or Salesforce into our ad platforms. But you still have a really poor match rate because people are using personal emails on social because they don't want to get fired from their company and their LinkedIn goes down.
So, essentially what happens is, your match rate is really poor on social because the only one who still has firmographics after the whole Cambridge analytical debacle, — because you've got Axiom data in Facebook and you can be really powerful there.
Twitter has always been crap, but essentially GDN is terrible right now unless you're doing managed placements, you're actually going in a search engine results page and then searching keywords and then finding every site that ranks in the top five for your keyword that uses GDN and then doing targeted URL placements
That works because it comes off as a native ad.
But then other than LinkedIn, it's not working. But then LinkedIn fails because there's no purchase intent and the CPA is too high.
And so what we're finding is the way we're doing LinkedIn is awareness, with text ads and spotlight ads. And that's actually working. But there's a lot of nuance in all that for sure.
How to use LinkedIn ads to raise brand awareness
Kathleen: So then you're generating awareness on LinkedIn and are you hoping effectively that that'll get somebody to go to the client's website? Then, you can retarget them on other platforms?
Garrett: We're actually being a little bit humbler than that because I don't think I can control my user. And what I mean by that is, the click through rate is crap on LinkedIn. In fact, it's so bad for spotlight and text ads and we've tricked it and we've figured out a game.
So we run brand campaigns for our clients and for ourselves based on what I call "clarity." It's this concept of saying what you do and who you do it for, and being humble enough to know that you have to get your message across without the click.
So what we do is we actually do it on a cost per click level on LinkedIn and we're able to deliver because nobody clicks.
What happens is LinkedIn accelerates our impressions and gives us a much lower CPM when I do CPC, than when I do CPM on LinkedIn. And then we personify everything.
This is the biggest trick to LinkedIn. So you take your primary asset, let's say "The Ultimate Guide to Demand Generation," and then you turn it into "The VP's Guide to Demand Generation," "The CMO's Guide to Demand Generation,",and "The Marketing Manager's Guide to Demand Generation."
All you have to do is change the cover page and then run lead gen ads and we're converting at over 50% across the board.
So there's that route.
And then the awareness campaigns and the text ads and spotlight ads, you're on a CPC level and then you focus on what you do and who you do it for, and then you personify that.
You put that all together and you have really, really cool awareness campaigns. And then I say, spend as much money as you're willing to never stop losing.
And if you take that approach and you say, "Look, are you willing to spend $5,000 a month until you die and not know what it does for you?"
Because I'll tell you right now, I can target your exact audience to perfection and deliver your message to them till you've decided you're done with this organization.
"Are you okay 'wasting' five grand a month so that every person in your audience on LinkedIn knows who you are?" Yeah.
The trick is to not get results. Because what happens is, people go into it thinking they'll get results and they pause before they ever could have gotten results through a brand campaign.
And so when you take the other approach, it works really well.
Kathleen: Yeah. That's a really interesting way to think about it. I would love to be a fly on the wall as you have those conversations with clients to be like, you know, "You're going to spend all this money and I'm not going to show you any quantifiable results from it, but you're going to have to believe that the results are there."
It's like playing the long game and having faith.
Garrett: Yeah. Do you believe that this is your exact persona on LinkedIn? Here's your exact title, firmographic, industry, size of account, revenue...do you believe that? Yes.
Do you believe that your message is valuable enough to communicate it to them on a consistent basis? Yes.
Cool. How much does your company spend on snacks?
Kathleen: Give up the jelly beans and advertise on LinkedIn!
Garrett: Yeah. Honestly, it's the frappuccino a day is the kind of the joke I make.
What's your coffee budget? Cool. Could you spend that on this and never stop it? And it usually gets some pretty good buy-in.
How to optimize your website for traffic
Kathleen: That's a really interesting way to think about it.
Do you do anything with your clients in terms of what they should be doing on their own site to support all of this?
You talked about how it's not necessarily about everybody getting to your website, and how the brand is more important, but I would think that there are still some things they need to be doing on the site to provide supportive content and other assets that you can then use to go out and have success on these other platforms.
Garrett: Yeah, that's a relative statement to shock people to think differently.
It's not that your website's not important. It's that your brand truly is more important than your website.
You really have to understand your brand is more important than it was.
Now your website is obviously critical, so what you need to be able to do is communicate who you are and who you're for and what you do for them.
We do custom landing pages here. We have a really strong conversion rate optimization team.
And so all that review site stuff I'm telling you about, we're split testing two custom landing pages with messaging, calls to action and what I like to call psychological friction tests.
So the biggest issue right now in all of SaaS that they could change if they listened to this, is changing their call to action.
Almost universally it's "request a demo." There is nothing more psychologically friction than "request a demo."
Every time I speak to an audience, and I get to speak about 30 to 40 times a year at conferences, I love to ask, who here likes to do a demo? Who here likes to have a day of demos? Nobody raises their hand.
Kathleen: That's like saying, "Who here likes to sit through an hour long webinar?"
Garrett: Yeah, and so when I ask them, I said, what if you did something really simple? What if you change it from request a demo to watch demo video? You still gated it.
You still sent that lead to sales development or your account executives, but you are asking yourself, can I give my visitor something of equal or greater value to what they're giving me?
That's the number one question with calls to action and demand generation is, am I giving someone something of greater value than they're giving me?
When someone requests a demo, they fill out a form and nothing happens and it says "Someone from our team will contact you in 24 hours." You're not doing it.
So what we always do, and we can take clients universally from around 2 to 3%, to over 10% conversion rates by simply doing watch demo video.
And then all we do is have a form that says "Fill this out and we're going to give you a five minute demo video so that you can have a better educated sales conversation when we follow up."
Close rates go up, activation goes up, sales development teams are begging for these leads because they're having product conversations, not like "who we are and these lame 30 minute intro slides" to finally get to price.
It works universally, exceptionally well.
So that's what we do on the website level. But when it comes to content, and I think that's kind of where you're headed with this, is like what do you do with that content engine?
Are you familiar with HubSpot's pillar content approach that everybody's following? I think it's a bad approach, financially. The reason I believe it's a bad approach financially, it's due to what I was communicating earlier.
HubSpot's approach is you take a really, really beautiful strong asset, and then you lead to that asset with other types of content clusters that support that and you essentially do lead generation through that asset.
I say, do that same thing but with features.
Here's an example. We do our own SaaS products at Directive to make sure that we're not just full of crap. Not enough people do that. We rank in the top five for all our keywords. We actually spend a ton of money on PPC and we try to actually test everything and our hypotheses on ourselves.
What we're doing right now is, we have an educational product called Institute. This teaches our clients and we give to our clients free of charge because we believe that education drives adoption.
As consultants, you don't need to only make recommendations, you need clients to adopt them, right? And so we need to educate them as to why. So we educate them on SEO, PPC, et cetera. We sell it to the market for $39 a month.
It teaches people how we do what we do, all our templates, our approach, et cetera. We have 40 lessons. So I'm asking myself, at a $39 a month product, my CPA, my cost per lead is too high to do a ton of paid acquisition. So how can I drive organic leads from my product?
So here's my strategy and I'll share with your audience because hopefully it can help them. I'm taking the top five to 10 keywords for every one of my lesson pages. So, "how to do Google ads" or "how to do keyword research for PPC", okay?
So then I put "keyword research for PPC" into a keyword research tool. Now I take the top five questions people ask around that. Now I'm going to use entity tools like Clearscope or Content Harmony or something like that to really understand what I need to write here to rank.
So then I write five articles all around that one lesson.
Then, above the fold on all five articles, I link to that lesson and say "Want to learn how to do it with video?" and come up with an offer that resonates with where they're at in intent.
In other words, they intend to learn this. That's why they're searching it. I can satisfy that intent with my product feature, AKA my lesson. And now I also create a content cluster.
So all of these content pieces around this topic are internally linking back to my lesson page, which I'm trying to rank at the bottom of the funnel. And so I'm using middle and top of funnel content with lead gen assets all internally linking and with magnets essentially generating leads for my product.
So instead of trying to generate informational intent leads, I'm trying to generate purchase intent leads.
So their hypothesis of what they want to do with content clusters works for HubSpot. The issue is that getting someone from informational intent to purchase intent is incredibly long and most marketing people won't survive their tenure if they're only focused on driving informational intent leads.
So we try to pivot everything to purchase intent. Does that make sense?
Kathleen: Yeah. So it sounds like what you're saying, if I understand correctly, is basically the product page on your site effectively as the pillar.
Turning product pages into content pillars
Kathleen: The same exact approach applies only you're not writing a 4,000 word guide. You're creating the product page.
Garrett: Yeah. You just audit all the competitors in the industry to say, "Okay, how many words do I need on my product page to rank? How many internal links do I need? How many referring domains do I need?" And then you say, "Cool, now I'm going to create the entity, the topical understanding to Google that we're the best answer to the questions people have related to the product we sell."
And then when you do that whole approach, you're amazing at what you can do when driving MQLs and demos at the bottom of funnel.
What should your SEO strategy look like if you're just getting started?
Kathleen: So one of the things we talked about when when you and I first chatted about this was that, you work with a lot of big companies and they're coming to you and saying, "We're already doing a lot right. How can you take us to the next level?"
But then there is this other school of thought that, if you have, let's say a startup or a new company or a company launching a new product, they have this opportunity to do it right from the beginning — to greenfield it.
Paint a picture for me of what that looks like. You're starting a new company and you want to really ace it out of the gates.
Garrett: First and foremost, I'm going to look at all the review sites and ask myself how many reviews I need to be perceived as a market leader.
It's the coolest thing in the world, right? Because someone searches now "top whatever software" you sell, and a review site shows up.
You don't actually have to be the best! You might not be because you've only been in the game for a couple of months. But if you can get the reviews there, you look like you're the best and that's 99.9% of marketing.
So first and foremost, we're going to position ourselves to be discoverable. When there's purchase intent, we're going to focus on demand capture, okay? Because to rank our website as a new organization, we don't have the authority, link profile or content, and investing in all those things takes a large financial upfront investment and has a long runway — probably two years to build that organic engine.
So if you have a 24 month runway to build your organic engine and you need MQLs now, the easiest thing to do is paid SEO.
Now with that being said, we don't want to wait two years to try to rank because now we have another two years to get there, right? So we need to start from the beginning to try to position ourselves organically, to lower our cost per acquisition and have a better CAC-LTV ratio.
So what do we do? We are going to say, when someone searches for your product or your features, we're going to try to create as much bottom of funnel content as possible.
So not only a product page, but a feature page and solution pages. These are saying when someone has pain that your product solves and they go to discover that, can we show up?
Perfect. Next what we're going to do is, we're going to start with our link building.
So one of the things I had to do at Directive is, before we niched into SaaS, we were niched into just B2B. We had a lot of like manufacturers like Pelican Cases and stuff like that. So we had a lot of B2B players as well.
So I couldn't rank for the keyword "B2B SEO", but I wanted to. I didn't have enough authority. My site wasn't large enough. It just wasn't going to happen.
So what I did is I went on Search Engine Journal and I wrote, or Search Engine Land, I think it was, a fresh perspective on B2B SEO. In other words, I used someone else's site to rank for my keyword and they control the narrative.
So with a startup, what you're gonna want to do is, you're going to go on CIO or Tech Crunch and instead of just bragging about how much money you raised, you're going to want to actually try to position yourself for what your buyer journey is like.
We're going to leverage these other third party sites to do what's called guest posting to then rank exceptionally well for these top of funnel queries while internally linking from those guest posts back to our bottom of funnel pages we already built so that we can once again increase our rankings for purchase intent.
So you can actually win at the bottom of funnel faster than people realize because nobody's product pages naturally build links. So if you do a really aggressive link building strategy early, using guest posting where you can control the anchor text and the destination URL to point to bottom of funnel pages, you can grow.
And so then from that guest posting for bottom of funnel, now we'll focus on those products, kind of clusters we were talking about and our blog strategy, as well as Google ads review sites.
And next thing you know, you're 24 months later, you might have one of the best imagine engines in the whole entire industry because you did it right.
How to get executives and subject matter experts to create content
Kathleen: Love it. One of the pieces of pushback I hear often, especially when you're a startup and you don't have a huge team where often your CEO or your CTO are the primary thought leaders and they're busy, I hear a lot of "Oh, we don't have the time to do all that writing."
Any tips for how you can get the goods out of their heads and onto paper in a way that's efficient and scalable?
Garrett: Yeah, the most scalable, best link building and PR you can possibly do is exactly what I'm doing right now. Podcasts.
There's zero preparation for the thought leader. It takes exponentially less time and you have a much more engaged audience than an article.
The best part is, when you guest post and you pitch a guest post, your success rate isn't always as high because not everybody accepts guest posts. Not everybody cares what you have to say. Sometimes editors are busy.
On the flip side, the entire podcast content medium is guest dependent. So Kathleen's job is to secure interesting, engaging hosts for her audience. And so when you pitch Kathleen, you're going to have a much higher success rate than if you pitched Kathleen blog articles because now Kathleen has to edit your blog. She might not agree with your opinions because blogs aren't intrinsically the same format as podcasts. They're not op-ed like podcasts are.
And so the best thing SaaS companies can do right now is link-building via podcast, hands down highest success rate, most scalable, easiest ended up.
Kathleen: I totally agree, but I will say please, for the love of all that is Holy, take two minutes and learn something about the podcast and what it's about and tailor your pitch.
I get pitched a lot, by a lot of podcast booking agents. Generally they're pretty good at doing their homework. But I can't tell you how often I get pitched from people who are like, "So-and-so built his real estate empire and can talk about earning money and like changing your life."
And I write back and I'm like, "What does this have to do with inbound marketing? This person sounds like an amazing entrepreneur, but that's not what my podcast is about."
Garrett: I'd say we have over a 75% success rate. So I'd give your audience some tips on how they can pitch. Get their name right. I know it sounds simple. Write a subject line that doesn't stink.
Everything should be about how you make the podcast host's life easier and better for their audience.
What I mean by that is there's a really important word when you do outbound or pitching. You say, "I am emailing you because", and that quickly allows someone to know why.
And then you hit them with why the audience cares, not about yourself.
So a lot of people like to say, "Hey, you know, my client, uh, built his agency from one to $10 million, you know, would love to be a guest on your show. He's been featured by Forbes, Tech Crunch, in the Inc 5,000."
And then the podcast host goes, "Who cares?" Right?
Compared to saying, "I'm emailing you because I'd love to talk with your audience about a topic that I know they care about, that I happen to be an expert in. Here's three different topics I think your audience might be interested in. Do any of these resonate with you?"
Ideally, you want your podcast host to just say "Yes, this one". And then that's all the preparation required and you're good to go and it works.
Kathleen: Yeah, I totally agree. At the last two companies I've been in, it's been a part of my strategy to get my CEO as a guest on podcasts. It's so much easier than trying to get them to write blogs.
I think there's a human connection element of, you hear the person's voice, you get to know their personality, that that draws you in so much more than written content can do. So there's that aspect of it too.
Kathleen: Well, any other last words of advice that you think my listeners should know about related to this topic?
Garrett: I guess one of the blessings we have with our portfolio is we have a lot of first party data. So I guess some encouragement.
Since March 1st I wanted to look at what happened across our portfolio. Spend is down 24%, but conversions are down only 18% because click through rates are up, CPCs are down and conversion rates are up.
So here's the really cool part about cost per click advertising is that it scales with demand and doesn't create waste. In fact, at a unit economic level, your advertising is actually more efficient now than it was before.
Is volume down? Yes. But also auction competitiveness is down. See, all CPC advertising and all channels is based on an auction. It's based on inventory. It's like an economic model. Supply and demand.
Well, because fewer advertisers are advertising right now, you're actually able to satisfy the existing demand that does still exist for whatever product or service you sell at a lower rate and you will have better efficiency and effectiveness in your advertising right now than you did before.
That's just at the ad level. It's not necessarily the close rate level or at the volume level. But just at the actual cost per click and cost per acquisition level, it's actually much more efficient right now to advertise, which is kind of cool. That's across over $1 million in spend.
Kathleen: That makes sense. So don't give up your ad budget altogether.
Garrett: Just to meet demand. But remember your ad budget will do that intrinsically. So as long as you're not spending a ton on display and CPM type stuff, you're going to find a ton of efficiency on CPC because fewer people are advertising, thus lowering your cost per click, and there are some people out there buying and you want to make sure you're discoverable to those people. So it's a kind of a cool way to still win right now.
Kathleen's two questions
Kathleen: Absolutely. All right, well switching gears, I have two questions I always ask all of my guests and I'd love to hear what you have to say about these.
The first is, this podcast is all about inbound marketing. Is there a particular company or individual that you think is really killing it right now with inbound who my listeners could go check out as an example?
Garrett: I mean, HubSpot's a monster at this. They still are. I know. And everybody knows that.
Kathleen: I'm going to make you tell me someone besides HubSpot though.
Garrett: I know, I know, I know. The thing is, it's a lot harder now to move somebody out of a top 10 ranking. And so you see a lot of people pivoting away from that old school, gated content theory of inbound. And so that's why off the top of my head, I can't think of someone who's like doing that part of it exceptionally well because the game's kinda changed.
Kathleen: Who do you think is killing it with marketing right now in general?
Garrett: I always like what is Zoom is doing? Because I liked what they did with like offline advertising and I think that's so cool. I think they're really creative in the sense of thinking about how to position themselves.
I love the organizations that are investing heavily in podcast ads. For myself, that's one of my highest performing channels is niche-based podcast ads.
I advertise on almost all the SEO or PPC podcasts that I can find because it works exceptionally well at a low CPM.
I like the D2C stuff. I think the D2C people are kicking B2B butt. Like Baboon to the Moon. I love their branding. I think if B2B had a little bit more boldness like this...
Kathleen: Yeah. What did they, I've never heard of them. I'll have to check them out.
Garrett: So yeah, if you want to see somebody who I think is brilliant and actually has a brand opinion and stance and is hyper creative and out there — Baboon to the Moon.
Drift gets way too much credit for it because I don't actually think they're that good at it from a branding standpoint. They just have a free product so it's a lot easier to act like you're doing really good at it. They like try to take the human side of positioning.
I think Baboon is doing something really cool because they're taking a hyper creative approach and it's like they're on acid. It's like a goldfish on a human's body using their product, but it's brilliant because they are so consistent with it in their messaging, copy, and creative that it actually creates a brand theme that I don't recognize in B2B.
I think B2B organizations need to do a better job creating a brand theme. Like for us at Directive, we're trying to do a lot of people in our branding, but instead of just doing people in our branding, we're also like labeling them with their titles and their names so that it's so people know it's not a stock photo.
So we're trying to bring it to life. We can obviously do it a lot better.
We're not nearly as creative as that, but I think if B2B looks at the direct to consumer brands that are doing so well right now, at the end of the day it's very similar if you have a self onboarding SaaS company to a D2C product. It's very still transactional.
And so if you can take your self onboarding, your trial-based SaaS company, and do that, and take that DDC stuff, and build that brand guide and just be really bold and crazy and ambitious with it, I think it'll pay off.
Kathleen: Yeah, that's, and you need to have leaders within the company that are willing to take a risk and be different. There's a lot of sameness in general in marketing and I think when everybody else is going right and you go left, there's a lot of opportunity there.
Garrett: Oh, a trillion percent. It's hard to get that buy in. I mean, I don't know anyone in my portfolio is actually doing it. That's why I'm in my head trying to think. It just starts at the top.
You just need a CEO and a board that supports a bold new direction, not just verbally, but actually, and really actually sees it all the way through, especially when they get that first negative feedback or whatever from someone who doesn't like it.
Kathleen: Yeah. There are going to be people who don't like it, that's for sure.
Garrett: B2B is terrified of making anyone feel anything. That's truth, right? They're terrified of if someone doesn't like something. And the point is, the worst marketing is marketing for everybody. And so if you can be bold enough to have people hate you or like you, that's when you actually have marketing.
Kathleen: I totally agree with you.
All right. Second question. The biggest pain point I hear from marketers is that trying to stay on top of the changing landscape of digital marketing is like drinking from a fire hose. And so I'm curious how you personally stay up to date and educate yourself on all of that.
Garrett: I think it's actually less important to stay up to date with things than people think, and here's why.
Most marketers don't have a fundamental belief and a hypothesis of how they approach generating revenue for an organization.
What's allowed myself and my organization to be successful is we have a fundamental belief that you need to make a brand discoverable at the bottom of the funnel regardless of channel.
Now, the beauty of that is that it doesn't matter if digital marketing changes. See in 1997 when Google first came out, what was the whole point?
People came to people and said, "Hey, I want to show up on this new search engine. How do I do it?" And the answer was, "Well, you need a website." See, the new answer is, "Well, you need reviews for your brand and you need to be positioned."
As long as you don't get married to Capterra and G2, but get married to the idea of showing up when someone has purchase intent for what you sell, everything can change without changing anything because your fundamental belief is that you need to be discoverable when there's purchase intent.
And so my encouragement to people is ground yourself in a fundamental belief of what you actually believe. It's such a critical part of marketing.
If you want to make a ton of money in marketing, you need to actually have opinions. And you actually have to have beliefs and a hypothesis. You have to also be willing to adjust those, but you need to have them.
And so I think if people have a real belief system and fundamental approach and then say we want to be essentially discoverable when there's purchase intent, that allows you to just naturally adjust whatever happens in the market because all you're doing is maintaining your belief.
And that's, I think, what's so important for marketers, is to get away from this idea of, "Oh, what could I try? What new trick or hack can I try in a channel?" to say, "How can I essentially take my belief of discoverability and apply it to all my channels?"
When you do that, it allows you to stay really even keeled and focus on your customers.
Kathleen: Yeah, and I would add to that, the best marketers I know in many cases are not actually marketers.
You're a great example. You studied economics.
The best marketers I know tend to be the most avid students of human behavior. People who understand people make great marketers because they're focused on the things that are timeless.
It really doesn't matter what Google does with an algorithm because, honestly, Google is just trying to solve for people, right? So if you're focused on people and how they behave and how they buy, none of the bells and whistles matter.
Garrett: Take that same person and then they learn financial modeling. Now you have the best CMOs in the world. People who have a really authentic, true belief of understanding of people and how they buy, and then they also understand financials?
You put those two people together — those are the CMOs of the Fortune 500.
How to connect with Garrett
Kathleen: Amen. I could go on and on about that.
If somebody is listening and wants to learn more about some of this or has a question and wants to get in touch with y ou, what is the best way for them to connect with you online?
Garrett: I'm active on Twitter. I'm @gmehrguth. So first initial, last name. I'm active on LinkedIn. Shoot me an email, it's just initial last name at Directive consulting.
I'd love the chat and help anyone who has questions around demand gen. I'm pretty active on there trying to share all of our data and different tactics and things that we're doing.
Almost daily I shared a new tactic or approach and a thread for essentially how SaaS markers can generate revenue.
So if you're interested in that, feel free to follow and engage.
Kathleen: Great. And I'll put all those links to Garett's social profiles and his email in the show notes. So head there to check that out if you want to connect with him.
We talked a lot about reviews in this interview and we know how important they are, and they are equally as important for podcasts as they are for products. So take a minute and do that. That would mean a lot.
And if you know somebody who's doing kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me @workmommywork because I would love to make them my next interview.
That's it for this week. Thank you so much, Garrett.
Garrett: Well, thank you Kathleen. Glad to be here.
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