Benji Hyam is an expert at content marketing and runs a website called growandconvert.com which focuses on teaching people how to properly do content marketing and measure its impact with key metrics that actually move the needle in revenue or customer acquisition.
- There is a gap in the market for people providing good content for content marketing
- The importance of using content upgrades
- The marketing tactics Benji uses when releasing a new blog posts
- Choosing a lead magnet for your content upgrade
- Using surveys in your marketing strategy
Q&A Session Transcript Between Jack & Benji
INTERVIEWER: Thanks for taking time Benji. Awesome that you could pencil out some time in the day from Grow & Convert, have been an avid reader for a while.
Just wanted to go through a few questions with you today about content marketing.
BENJI: Cool. Fire away.
INTERVIEWER: So our first question is, tell us a little bit about your business, who are is your audiences and how you’ve gone about leveraging content marketing for this?
BENJI: It actually started while I was still working full time for another company. I was running marketing for a start up in San Francisco.
I met my partner Devesh at a marketing dinner held in San Francisco run by Sujan Patel, co-founder of Right Inbox.
I had just left Thinkapps, which was another startup that I’d worked for in San Francisco. I’d built out an entire content marketing program for them and grew it from zero to 35,000 unique visitors a month and it was driving almost all the revenue for the business.
So it started with Devesh and I talking about this problem and then figuring out that there is a lot of marketing blogs out there but no one that’s really teaching this with really in-depth case studies and learning material.
So that was the angle that we wanted to focus on, really helping educate the market on content marketing.
INTERVIEWER: So you’re finding that there’s a gap in quality content available to people for learning content marketing.
Your website helps people ranging from solo entrepreneurs to large companies that need direction and education of how to turn content marketing into measurable results.
BENJI: For sure. Yeah that’s definitely simplified, that’s what we’re trying to do.
INTERVIEWER: Well after reading your blog post, you guys are publishing some pretty awesome stuff.
BENJI: Thanks. So basically we have Grow and Convert for education and then we came out with a SAAS product. Like I said one of the challenges for marketers inside of companies is scaling content.
So it’s usually hiring writers, a lot of people starting out they’re doing all the writing for their companies or they’re getting the founders to do a lot of writing and so once it goes past that level, like founders can’t be writing all the content forever.
It’s good to get the content off the ground but then you need the process to scale.
One of the things that I’d noticed being a content marketing manager and managing content for a few different companies was actually getting…you take all this time creating content and getting content and then when you actually have to go get it into WordPress, it’s a huge pain.
A lot of people are using Google Docs for guest posts, to write their own content because not a lot of people like writing in the WordPress interface, formatting it and pulling all the text and images and headings from Google Docs takes an hour or two for each post.
So we created a SaaS app called Postable.io which basically takes a blog post from Google Docs and places it in WordPress in 15 seconds fully formatted, so it saves hours of time from formatting blog posts each month.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah that’s a huge thing because I think Google Docs is so much easier for sharing, reviewing and all that sort of stuff.
If you’ve got a guest blogger, you don’t necessarily want to make them an admin of your WordPress…
BENJI: Exactly, so even the security thing too, it’s like consistency, getting a bunch of people in your back end is something people are already somewhat uncomfortable with.
Also the consistency if you have a specific tone or writing style or way that you format the blog post, getting a bunch of different contributors all using their own styles is difficult, and so having one person to manage the content and having this process only take 15 seconds to a minute depending on how many images you have.
It just saves everyone a bunch of time.
INTERVIEWER: Question number two would be – from your past experience what sort of lead generation and lead bait content have been the most successful with content upgrades?
For example out of ebooks, downloads, guides and checklists. What have you found to be the most successful in generating leads?
BENJI: So I’ve tested all of them throughout the career so I can tell you for Grow and Convert we’ve tested a lot of things from spreadsheets to calculators to PDFs of our posts.
The most successful thing that we have is actually a spreadsheet for Medium.
I wrote an article about how I leveraged Medium to drive 10,000 visitors in four days, and a big part of the process in the post was using Medium publications.
So these Medium publications have their own audience and basically their own email newsletter list and so just like any blog, going after a blog with a large audience, going after a Medium publication with a large audience will help you get visibility.
So what I did is I create a spreadsheet that took 2-3 hours that listed all the Medium publications by traffic and then write descriptions about the topics that each one covered.
The benefit to the end user was if you’re going to follow my process for getting attraction on Medium, this was a big piece of it was finding the right publication for your content and pitching it to them. This made it really simple for readers.
I think we have something between 8-12% conversion rate from visitor to conversion for that content upgrade.
INTERVIEWER: That’s really good for a blog post.
BENJI: Yeah, really really high compared to anything else. I think the average for our other stuff is somewhere 3-4%.
So it’s pretty much double if not triple, and it depends on the source too that the traffic comes from. When someone’s finding it through SEO we’re seeing double the conversion rate again.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, so it’s definitely worth putting in the time to make a really valuable content upgrade as it will pay off for months if not years!
BENJI: A hundred percent, and so I like to contrast that, we’ve done things such as PDFs or just like really bite-sized take-aways from our posts.
Some of it we’ve gotten feedback that the content upgrade isn’t that valuable so we’ve gone and changed some of those things, that was really early when we just didn’t put that much value and time into upgrades…
Now we’ve really started to put as much time into content upgrade almost as we do the posts, like creating calculators, template models or added blog content.
Basically anything on top of a strategy that we outline in our post that we think would be helpful for someone to actually implement for their company.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, we’ve actually had a bit of success creating guides, checklists and things in Google Docs and using that link as the content upgrade so people can do what they want with it.
Add it to their drive, download It etc. but it also gives us the flexibility to change it at any point if we need to. So that also helps.
BENJI: I think it’s all a function of time.
I think there’s a lot of ways that you can add value and build your list using content upgrade.
So again, I think it all comes down to how much time you spend on it. I think if you do put in the extra effort the content upgrade that do the best are the things that other people aren’t creating like ling form ebooks.
A lot of people aren’t creating ebooks; calculators or models, so it’s unique and we found that a lot of our people are downloading those as they have so much value.
INTERVIEWER: And is that sort of like a development resource that you need to build out those calculators?
BENJI: No, it’s actually in Excel using formulas. So some of the stuff we do use freelancers like we’ve gotten on Upwork, but most of it we can do all of it our self if it’s simple spreadsheet or anything like that.
INTERVIEWER: What’s a blog post that you’ve written, just as a reference, for a really good content upgrade?
One includes a calculator and one that includes your top converting content upgrade? Just people can go and look it up.
BENJI: Yes, so it’s going viral, I got 10,000 views of Medium in four days, so that was the one I was referencing the blog post.
In terms of the calculator, we just recently did a post on lead nurturing versus direct conversions to help people figure out is it better to offer a content upgrade, or is it better to actually go for a direct lead.
Some businesses it ‘s better to grow an email list and others it’s better to go directly to a sales call, let’s say if you’re an agency or something like that, it might not make sense for you to build your list.
It might make sense for you to go directly to a sales conversation even though the numbers are lower, and so this calculator helps you decide, based on your traffic metrics and your conversion metrics, which is better for your business.
We have also done a post on a growth model for your blog and that also has a calculator content upgrade.
INTERVIEWER: I was reading through your website and one of the blog posts that was very interesting is that you’ve used surveys to drive leads.
Obviously this is more of a nurture approach as opposed to direct response.
What’s the strategy you’ve used to integrate surveys and what sort of tools do you use to implement that strategy?
BENJI: Yes, so there’s two ways that we’ve been using surveys.
This actually stems from my background, start-up marketing, I mean for growth marketing, like early stage startups this is a big key.
It’s just really understanding your users in-depth, so we’ve been using it in two ways.
One – to help us figure out what type of content is most valuable to our customers;
Two – when we launched Postable surveying our users to figure out what features are valuable, what part of the product do they think is most valuable, help us improve and iterate on our product.
I guess because this is more focused on content I can walk through some ways that we’re using surveying.
So in our welcome email we ask the question:
“What’s the biggest challenge you’re currently facing in marketing?”
And we ask them to tell us a little bit about themselves, the reason we’re doing that is to really target marketers inside of companies, and so part of that relates to our content strategy.
We want to attract the people that we think are going to purchase from us down the road, and so by asking who these people are we’re able to kind of measure over time how many of these people we’re actually attracting that fit within the bucket that we’re trying to go after.
And too asking them their biggest challenge, we’re getting a lot of data from our audience about what some of the most challenging things for them are.
So these inform blog post ideas which then again go attract more people like these people back to our blog.
So that’s probably the biggest survey benefits, it’s like a simple thing that we’re doing, it’s not anything complicated.
It’s just when someone subscribes we ask them this simple question. And it’s something that not a lot of people do on their blog and it feels very personal.
We also identify compliments from people and we can actually respond to every single person trying to give them some advice or just pointing them in the right direction with a piece of content we’ve already written.
So it’s just going a little above and beyond and forming that relationship with our customers early on.
We’ve found it actually helps us in our sales process too just because we’ve already had conversations with hundreds and hundreds of people. So yeah, that’s a big surveying thing that we do.
In terms of launching products, we launch a mini course to kind of validate the concept before actually creating a larger course.
So a big aha moment for us was we through this user-research, because I come from the start-up world is very…I guess ‘abnormal’ for people that are marketers to implement before they ever do the content strategy.
Through surveying we realized that this was a common misstep. And this is like the most important step that anyone needs to have to be able to create a content strategy that can actually scale a blog.
So even from when we’re creating our product the surveying really helped us uncover some of those key pains that people were facing, and if we’d launched our product without that section.
I don’t think people would have actually been as successful coming out of the program if we didn’t survey them, we would have completely missed that step and told people to go directly to content strategy without knowing their customers.
Some tools that we use, Survey Monkey, just keep it simple, it’s free and you can create a free 10-question survey.
So we actually showed people our process for sending out the survey to people, what the results were and then how to transform the results into actionable ideas for a business whether it’s content strategy or blog posts.
INTERVIEWER: So do funnel people on the click to subscribe and then send them to a survey? Say I’m a user, I click to subscribe, fill out your survey, do you then segment lists based on those results or what do you segment?
BENJI: So that’s one of the questions I always get. The first few questions in the survey is just, who are you?
We wanted to segment users versus core audience, marketers inside of companies versus solo entrepreneurs.
There are some people that are outside the marketing industry, and in order not to taint the data and to paint the picture in a different way we try and funnel those out in the first questions so that we could segment our core audience.
We wanted to know what those people really cared about versus people who are on our blog who are still engaged but maybe weren’t in our core target audience.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. So from that Survey Monkey form, does that import into your ESP (email service provider) or are you manually doing that?
BENJI: Yeah we’re manually doing that, we export to Excel.
It doesn’t go directly into our email service provider; we weren’t using it to try to get a persona of people as we do not want to tie revenue or anything like that to the person.
It’s just for us to get a better understanding overall of who is reading our blog and what they’re there for and what their challenges are. So we do not segment our email drips at the moment.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah it’s a huge step that a lot of people miss I think just because it does seem daunting trying to set that up. Once you just get your hands dirty it’s probably worth it in the long run as you’re showing us.
INTERVIEWER: The next question. You obviously rely a lot of SEO coming in the content marketing space, what other traffic sources do you see high conversion rates from? Now obviously quality of traffic is very important.
BENJI: Yes. So we sort of uncovered a few things that we weren’t aware of. One piece of our promotion strategy is a community content promotion strategy.
The meaning behind the community content promotion is someone’s already done a lot of the work to develop an audience similar to yours.
For us there are tons of other marketing blogs and groups that contain marketers. Especially when you’re starting off it’s very difficult for you to go build your own massive community around a subject so just use someone else’s.
Someone’s likely already done the work for you, and so the constant promotion strategy that we follow is doing the research around what other groups already exist.
Or what other websites already exist out there that have the same audience, and then thinking through how we can go form a relationships with those people.
Write about those companies so that they will want to share it with their audience or become active in these groups.
Some of the high traffic drivers for us have been being involved with the GrowthHackers community, getting in the Inbound.org forum, writing guest blog posts.
That actually all stemmed from a presentation that I saw about Keaton Shaw two years ago in San Francisco.
He was the one that opened my eyes to the whole surveying process and how to do it and then through testing it on different startups, I honed in on a specific way to do it.
A big piece of content marketing success came when I saw his presentation and mentioned him in my case study, I reached out to Keaton and said “Hey I wrote this blog post about surveying and a lot of it came from your presentation.
He actually shared that in his newsletter which blew up to like 4,000 plus people, and then that really expanded our audience marketers in the start-up community in the VC world and founders etc.
Again there are tons of marketing Facebook groups out there, but there’s also the strategy of just finding people that have a similar audience and forming some sort of relationship with them.
That’s a big driver of traffic, it’s actually ahead of SEO for us.
And then the other one is providing quotes or contributing to content like this, so getting guest blog posts that are driving traffic from similar sites to sites in our same space back to our site, so getting links which also helps with SEO as well.
INTERVIEWER: So that’s like connecting and partnering with influencers in your industry.
BENJI: Correct. Yes.
So, just a lot of marketing blogs will contribute a portion of the post with a link back to our site and so it helps position us as an authority in the space.
It helps drive traffic, so people found us through a lot of other marketing blogs out there.
This was something that got revealed using our survey that we weren’t super aware of, just how much this was actually helping our growth.
Even the relationships, the people who are communicating back and forth with us, a lot of those people had come from other sites.
INTERVIEWER: Okay so it comes back to the quality again, you’ve got more validation than just your own from other blogs which makes content a lot more compelling and authoritative.
INTERVIEWER: What’s the typical launch strategy after you finished creating your blog post?
BENJI: So I would say I don’t use any tools, I think the myth that most people think is there’s all these tools that can help you do this.
I think a lot of the strategy comes down to what I was talking about earlier, the community content-promotion standpoint.
So a primary promotion channel are these general marketing groups, there’s groups that almost all of our posts will fit that we can share. there’s a list of influencers that all of our posts would be a good fit for them to share.
So there’s this general concept of marketing overall which is primary, and then secondary is specific to one of the posts that we wrote.
So for example I wrote a post about why marketing has become the hardest position to hire for.
Again it fits in that primary bucket of it’s a post about marketing but then the secondary category is actually hiring, and so if you think about the audience it’s a little bit different. So you have general marketers who are interested this post, but then the secondary channel is recruiters, and so how does this even help us get in front of the audience that we’re going after because maybe that there’s marketing recruiters who now see this post and it helps them make the point to their client that marketing is actually hard to hire for so hire us; some recruiters might be interested in this post.
So when it comes down to promoting it I’m thinking okay let’s find a bunch of recruiting groups or hiring groups.
So it’s thinking about each specific post in this really specific framing, and so we do this with every post.
It’s like the general go-to places but then there’s also different influencers, different groups.
Maybe some different people that would find this interesting and so there’s this research process that we do for every single one of these posts like who are the influencers that are talking about hiring for marketing?
What are the groups around hiring or recruiting or sites that talk about this and pitching our posts to them.
There is a whole separate checklist that we do for every single post which is posting the key areas and then go find these other areas that are specific to the post and go after those, and use some of the same strategies but it expands our reach a lot and it brings a lot of other people who maybe typically wouldn’t have come to our blog to read our content, to our blog and it expands our reach a lot.
INTERVIEWER: How much time did it take you to build up that authority in those groups?
Obviously you can’t just go in and start posting your links saying “Read my blog post.”
What sort of time frames do you think is adequate enough before you can start doing more salesy posts (your own posts)?
BENJI: Yeah, it really depends on the group.
I think you bring up a good point, I think a lot of people just say go join a group and go drop a link in there.
It’s not going to be easy for you because people are going to flag you and they’re going to get upset, they’re going to say like you’re just here to promote your own content.
There’s a lot of time involved, it’s really like being a genuine active member in the community, helping people when they have questions and then also sharing your own content when you think it’s valuable.
When you’re posting two or three or four times a month every single week, it’s too much for these groups.
You also can’t post in all the same groups, you have to time it, so like maybe one post a month and maybe you contribute in some other way in some other way in the meantime and you go find other groups or other promotion channels, and then maybe you come back to the same post two months down the line and re-promote it.
I don’t think content promotion is ever dead, I think a lot of people put the focus on the first week or two and then kind of forget about it, but it’s like an ongoing cycle where it’s like you have to keep re-promoting these things and figuring out new channels, and so that will continue to drive growth overall.
But I think, going back to your original question, I think the key thing is being real and I think being genuine contributors in this community is really what’s going to help you be successful using the strategy.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah for sure.
And do you see more success using that groups approach or when you’re promoting your new post on all of your internal channels like Facebook, Twitter, infographics with Pinterest or anything?
Do you see more traffic from your current following or from those groups?
BENJI: I think it changes as a business just like when you’re first starting a blog.
Social channels, referral channels are probably going to be your biggest source of traffic.
Over time SEO starts taking over more and more, and the longer you’re around probably the more SEO contributes to your blog traffic. I think it’s the same here.
So the goal is in the beginning to use some of these different promotion strategies to continue to build your own email list and to build your brand recognition and to build your following.
We first started out and no one knew who Grow and Convert was, now the biggest organic traffic driver is branded search keywords which helps us a lot because it means that people are starting to recognize the brand.
They’re not only searching for long tailed keywords that are bringing them to a specific post, they’re starting to recognize the brand overall.
So I think the goal is to use some of these promotion channels early on, continue to build your brand and hopefully over time you’ll have enough of an audience, enough of an email list where your internal channels will drive a lot more traffic.
Than you can spend your time just creating better and better content and continuing to grow your internal list.
But yeah, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing, you have to do this first.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, it’s kind of a combination of everything, you can’t just do one channel.
Note – If you loved this interview, Benji also offers an in person workshop!