{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Content Marketing Strategy

{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Content Marketing Strategy

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris dig into the four pillars of content marketing strategy – creation, distribution, amplification, and performance. You’ll also learn about why backlinks are so important to both SEO and content marketing generally. Tune in now!


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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Content Marketing Strategy

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Christopher Penn 0:17

In this week's In-Ear Insights, we are talking about content marketing.

And so the four pillars of content marketing and the importance of each one.

So as a quick refresher, the content marketing pillars are content creation, distribution, which is where you, you publish your content, amplification, which is how you get attention on your content.

And then performance, which is measuring your content effectively.

And you need to do all four, reasonably well, a gap in any one of these things causes the entire thing to fall apart.

Because if you don't create content, you have nothing to distribute.

If you don't distribute your content, nobody can find it.

If you don't amplify it, your content just kind of goes out there into the ether.

And you don't measure it.

What was the point in the first place? So Katie, when you think about these four pillars of content marketing, how do you think about them from a content marketing strategy perspective?

Katie Robbert 1:11

I think about it in terms of having the right content at the right time for the right audience, which, you know, are hefty questions.

Because first, you have to do that audience research.

And then you need to do that keyword and predictive research to figure out you know, what they need at the right time.

But one of the things that I'm kind of stuck on in terms of how it fits into the strategy is this notion of backlinks.

So I know what they are, I know what they do.

And we have a client who, compared to their competitors aren't getting enough backlinks, but they also aren't generating enough content.

And so this is kind of where I want to take the conversation, because there's a couple of things happening.

This is an enterprise sized client who already has a lot of content, they already have a ton of content.

So what what purpose will generating more content do for them, and then the backlinks.

So this client is focused on conversions as most people are? They want to know, like, you know, who's coming into our, to my site, what are they doing? And did they buy something? And so I'm trying to wrap my head around how backlinks specifically are going to help them with this.

And so when I'm thinking about an overall content marketing strategy, I think perhaps that's the piece that I tend to leave out because I can't see that clear path from spending all of your time getting those backlinks to someone buying something.

Christopher Penn 2:47

Okay, well, why don't you start with what is a backlink for those folks who may or may not have heard of the term.

Katie Robbert 2:55

My understanding of a backlink is that, so let's say Trust Insights, writes a piece of content around how to do content marketing.

And then let's say we ask our friends over at marketing profs, hey, can you throw a link to our blog into your, you know, onto your website into your blog? Can you reference it, and so that then b care becomes a backlink? It's essentially referral traffic as I understand it, and so, you know, we get our link placed in somewhere in the marketing profs, ecosphere.

And then when people click on the our content in their ecosphere, it then is linking back to the Trust Insights.

Stuff, therefore, it's, it's classified as referral traffic in our Google Analytics.

Am I understanding all of that correctly?

Christopher Penn 3:50

You You are that is exactly what a backlink is.

It's just a link back to your stuff.

Right? Here's why it's important.

It is the foundation it is the underpinning of how organic search works.

From very early on back in 1997, when Sergey Brin and Larry Page created the very, very first underpinnings of Google.

What they chose to do, instead of having directories, which at the time were the way people found things, Alta Vista and Yahoo, and stuff were just really big directories.

They said, let's instead measure all the links connecting all the different pages on the web as much as possible.

And in order to classify which sites were the most important, they looked at the number of links back to pages, the more links that went into a site, the more they said, Hey, all these other pages are voting for this site.

So when your 1000 blogs all linked to the New York Times, gosh, the New York Times must be important.

Everybody's linking to the New York Times.

And so that became so the foundation of how Google works, even today with over 200 ranking factors, backlink are still one of the most valuable and most relevant ranking signals.

We know this from, you know, every year Moz and Ahrefs, and SEMrush all publish the the state of SEO stuff and backlinks are still the gold standard for how do you tell Google your site is important.

If you can get more people linking to your site, you are more important.

And it drives traffic in two ways.

One, like you mentioned, referral traffic, people can just click on the link and go to your site.

And that's great way.

And that is actually really nice.

Because if you think about, we always say to people in SEO, operate as those search engines didn't exist, right, figured out how to market your site as though there were no search engines.

But even today, with Google's advanced AI, that those links still form, it's understanding not only of what site is important from a network graphing perspective, but now they've started to work it into their understandings of what they call expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.

Again, lots of links from good sites are up votes for your site.

What they've gotten much better about over the last 15 years is spotting, like bot farms and spam blogs and things because people figured out very early on, you could spin up 200,000, you know, Blogspot blogs and just create spammy links to make it look like your site's important.

But Google pretty quickly figured that out.

So that's why backlinks are so important to SEO, because they are the underpinning of here's how you tell Google were important than that.

So the more of them you have going into your site, the better you show up in search rankings.

Katie Robbert 6:35

So let's say I'm responsible for budgeting out, you know, my resources, and I need to figure out how much money goes to content marketing.

You're saying that there needs to be a decent amount of my budget dedicated to getting these backlinks for my content marketing in order for me to continue to see conversions and sales.

And I think that's the piece, you know, as we're talking about, I'm starting to understand it better.

But us communicating how backlinks are an important part of content marketing, to someone who's making that decision, I think is a little trickier.

Because it's not a direct, at least as far as I said, it's not a direct one to one in terms of, if I get 100 more backlinks this month, I'm going to get 100 more sales.

Christopher Penn 7:28

That's correct.

Is it is it? Well, it's messy.

From an SEO perspective, you're absolutely right, there is no you know, if this than that, if you if you just want to plop down money and get traffic, run ads, right? Forget about SEO, just run ads.

And you get a pretty clear, you know, one to one, if I put $1 in the machine, you know, four cents comes out, or whatever the case may be.

From a referral traffic perspective, it can be a little bit more that way, in the sense of if I go out to say, you know, martec, Scott Brinker his blog, and, and I miraculously get a placement out of him, right, that traffic will actually show up in our attribution funnel directly, because it's usually very high quality traffic.

And so we can see people coming in and converting at least to it like a newsletter subscription or something.

So from that perspective, you can from the referral side, it's the organic SEO side that you can't make that one to one.


Katie Robbert 8:26

So as we're thinking about content, marketing, and thinking about all of the things that need to be done, you know, backlinks are obviously an important part of that.

And so the other side of that was, you know, we had recommended to this client that they generate new content, but we also know, they already have years and years and years worth of content, it just may not be organized the right way.

So for content marketing purposes, is it more important to be organized and re optimize the existing content? Or should they be generating new content? And just getting all of that out? You know, doesn't that just contribute to the noise that's already out there?

Christopher Penn 9:12

So this is where you need to do a content marketing audit, right? And look at each of the four pillars creation, distribution, amplification, and performance.

Where are you strongest at? Where are you weakest at? So a content? Inventory audit is one of the first things you do to say, Okay, well, we know we have a list of topics that people are searching for, maybe we have some predictive analytics to give you a sense of what's going to happen.

And you say, how much content do we have that answers the intent of each of these major topics, right, you know, management, consulting, change management, Google Analytics does, you know, do we on the Trust Insights blog have that content? And is it and does it fulfill the intent of the user? So that would be part one.

The second part is the distribution.

Where are we publishing our content? Are we putting it on our blog? Yes, we're putting our email newsletter, yes.

Are we putting on Facebook? No.

Are we putting on LinkedIn? Yes, and so on so forth.

So you map out and you audit where you distribute your content.

The third part is the amplification, how are you getting people's attention on that content? Are you getting backlinks? Are you getting social mentions? social shares? Are you running ads? All these things you do with that? And then of course, the fourth part is like, is your content working? That's where your attribution models come into place.

And if you don't have any, from a content perspective, then obviously that's a gap.

So that that's really your next step is mapping out all four pillars and saying, Where, where are we strong, were weak.

But that is predicated on something you said very early on, which is you need to have mapped out to your audience, right, if you have not figured out who your audience is, and what they want, and why they would pay attention to in the first place that this whole content marketing pillar system is is not going to work for you, because you're gonna make stuff that people don't want.

So you got to figure that part out even beforehand.

Katie Robbert 11:02

Well, and it strikes me that a lot of companies that we've been talking with, in recent months, are all having a similar issue where the company itself may have been around for a while, so their audience tends to skew a little bit older.

And so what they're struggling is struggling with is trying to figure out how do I reach a younger generation of audience where they are? What kind of content does that need to be? Can I recycle my existing content to meet the younger audience where they are? And I don't know the answer to that question, because I don't know those audiences, you know, in detail, but I think that's a big part of it is doing that audience analysis, before you even start planning out your content, because you need to know who you're creating content for.

And, you know, get the idea out of your head, that content is just a 500 word blog.

I think when we think content, it's like, oh, I need to sit down and write something.

That's not necessarily true.

You and I right now are creating content that isn't us sitting down writing something, we're having a conversation that will then translate into, it's a podcast, it's a video, it's a piece of text, it's all of those things, it becomes fodder for social posting.

And it's all still considered content.

Christopher Penn 12:23


In fact, I ran a survey in my personal newsletter last week, saying, Hey, would you like this newsletter in text, audio video, and I let people vote for as many options as they wanted.

And I was stunned by the answers.

Only 38% of people said text, right? 31% said, audio and 29% said video, I was shocked at how many people wanted my newsletter in a format other than text, I was expecting to like 98% text.

And then like, you know, five people saying I'll listen to this, I know it.

And when I checked my inbox this morning, after I published the results, I got notes back from people saying having in multiple formats works really well for me, because sometimes I want to read your newsletter, and I don't want to bother the rest of people in my house.

And I'll read it at 1230 in the morning.

Other times, I want to listen to your newsletter because I'm in the kitchen cooking, and I'm like, oh, okay, so from a, when we think about those four pillars of content, marketing, the creation is important.

But the distribution, like you said, we almost to figure out where and how people want to use your content.

And that can inform a good chunk of the creation part.

So it's really important to survey your audience to do your market research to, you know, have focus groups and things so that you can understand, how are people going to consume this thing? You know, I've been shocked at the number of people, for example, who still use Snapchat, I'm like, people still use this thing.

And it turns out actually, yes, but not for its intended purpose.

People use it essentially, as a messaging platform.

Not a, you know, a photo, snap calls itself a photo company that's not on it isn't.

But people are using the application just as a different form of texting.

And so that audience research and researching how do people use these different platforms is so important.

Katie Robbert 14:19

So it's, so you're right, it's a precursor to the content marketing piece.

And so, you know, let's say, Chris, you came to me and said, Alright, Katie, it's time for us to do our budgeting for content marketing.

You know, what are we going to do this year? So it sounds like where I would start is, I would, first probably want to understand, well, where does content marketing fit into our overall, you know, digital marketing plan does content.

Does the creation of content lead people to buy things from us now having done our attribution reports? For the past four years, we know that it Does, we just have to make sure we have the right content? So then that goes into you.

So step one, is figure out like, does it contribute to your overall business goal? Step two, who's your audience? And what are they looking for? What is their intent? Are they looking for your content to educate them? Are they looking for the content to push them over the line and make them buy something? Are they looking for the content to retain them? Maybe the answer is all of those things.

So then you need to start figuring out, can I create content for my audience of who they are, and where they are in the buyers journey.

So that's, you know, you could have a few different kinds of combinations of content, because you could also have market segments.

And so you start to get into this really detailed plan of, it's not good enough for me to just post a blog once a week of like, Hey, here's what Trust Insights is doing.


And assume that that's going to be good enough to reach people where they are, and loaded up on my website and say, Okay, go with God.

Here you go.

Christopher Penn 16:06


And again, that goes back to that model, create, distribute, amplify, and then and then performance and measure the performance.

When we think about content marketing, we've got to think about, how are we doing all those steps and how we budgeting for each of them, because each of them are important, you know, we we often say you should be spending at least 10 cents on the dollar on measurement to make sure that you're, you're doing things properly, if not more than that.

So that leads you at 90% of your budget, right? And then you have these three buckets, well, if you are a company, you've got 12 years of content, and it's still mostly relevant, right, it's still useful, it is still helpful, it's still, you know, answers user intent, then maybe you don't need to put 60% of the budget there.

Maybe you can put 20% of your budget there.

But then you look at your distribution, you know, do we need to invest more in in the people who run our social media accounts, we need to look at our servers and all that stuff.

And again, if your infrastructure for for publication and distribution is in good shape, you know, maybe that's another bit of maintenance, you can keep that as a maintenance level 10% or so.

And then you look at your amplification, how are you getting attention to your content? How are you getting eyeballs to it? If you look at your multi touch attribution analysis, and you see the organic search is like 70% of your conversions and your traffic, guess what? You need to be investing very, very heavily in SEO, because it is already working for you.

And probably unless you are the category leader Far and Away.

Probably you need to be spending a lot more.

The the way I try to look at SEO results is I look for like a half and half mix of branded and unbranded, right.

So if someone's searching for if half of your organic traffic is from branded search terms, you've done a great job with your reputation, right people know you by name, they're asking for you my name, good job.

But then you should be seeing half of your traffic also coming from unbranded stuff, the problems people have that you can solve, but they don't know to ask about you by name.

If you're all branded and no unbranded, then you're doing a great job in your PR and mindshare, but you're not answering anybody's problems that they have.

If you're all unread and no brand, you've got some work to do on your brand.

So all that factors into where are we going to spend our money? So going back to where we started, you know, how do you decide what to spend more on creation or, or in this case amplification? For a company that's got good content? The lion's share your budget should be on the amplification side.

Katie Robbert 18:43

Now let's say you just you're like, you know what, I just want to pay, I just want to put money behind my content to get it shown on other people's sites, because a lot of websites sell ad space.

And so theoretically, that is you could go about doing it that way.

So then it's not organic backlinks, it's paid backlinks, is that correct?

Christopher Penn 19:09

That's correct.

And those are supposed to and reputable publishers will will indicate their paid sponsored links, and that will then no longer factor into the ranking formula.

Katie Robbert 19:23

So if, okay, so that's an interesting point.

So you can pay for amplification, but it doesn't then help your organic search results.

And so that may be a misunderstanding by a lot of companies is no I'm still getting all of these backlinks.

Why isn't it working as intended because when you pay for the backlinks versus getting them organically placed, the paid backlinks aren't going to help.

You know, tighten up your organic search results versus the organic ones.

Christopher Penn 19:57

That's correct.

They will not pass any little link juice as the as the industry inside of chambers.

Now there are plenty of disreputable sites that will negotiate say, like, well, we'll charge you $2,000 For a link, but we'll charge you $4,000.

If you want the link, and we don't, and we don't disclose that it's paid.

There's a lot of very disreputable sites, there's a lot of, I can't count number of pitches I have in my inbox for people saying, well, we want a do follow link, as opposed to a nofollow link, willing to pay X dollars for that and said, like, Nope, because if Google ascertains, that you your site, is not doing according to best practices, they'll just D index you.

And then you have you know, you have no, there's no incentive to to to play fast lose unless you want to make a quick buck and then have your site vanish.

Katie Robbert 20:44

So I know we're kind of going down a little bit of a technical rabbit hole.

But what is a do follow versus a nofollow link.

Christopher Penn 20:55

In website links, you can specify an attribute on that link saying that tells search engines like Google, I am voting for this other site, right.

So if I'm Christopher Penn, I link to trust insights.ai.

And I just make a plain link with no other adornments that's called a do follow link that basically says, I have some whatever authority my site has, I'm going to give a tiny bit of it to trust insights.ai.

And so that little bit of link juice gets passed along.

And it's essentially a counting vote, to say I vote for TrustInsights.ai dot AI.

If I in the code, I specify that this is a nofollow link.

I'm saying to Google, you can know that I'm linking to this website, but I'm not voting for it.

I'm not endorsing it.

I'm not saying it's, it's it's credible.

So I'm gonna keep my link juice to use to myself, I'm not going to give any to this site.

And so Trust Insights would, if Google didn't know TrustInsights.ai existed, then it would say, Okay, I'm going to follow it like an index it.

No, that is there.

But I'm clearly saying that I understand that Christopher penn.com is not voting for TrustInsights.ai.

AI, and so it wouldn't boost its reputation.

reputation in rankings.

Katie Robbert 22:10

That's interesting.

So I never thank you for explaining that.

Because I never really understood sort of what the difference was and what they were.

And so it sounds like, you know, what we're coming to in terms of your content marketing, is there are no good shortcuts in terms of getting, you know, backlinks properly, getting them, you know, to get the credit to increase your organic search results, and then factor into your overall content marketing plan as that factors into your overall business plan, like the work is the work is the work.

And so trying to automate, it could get you spammy links and get you, you know, blocked out by Google.

Spending money is fine, you'll get the traffic but you won't get the link juice to help your organic search results, which is what the intended use of the backlinks are.

And working with reputable sites versus just trying to get placements anywhere, because that's a factor into it.

So I guess what I'm hearing is shut up, do the work, get the backlinks, and just, you know, do it the right way.

Christopher Penn 23:20

You're right now here's where I think we can add some nuance onto your initial question.

People don't link to unhelpful content, right? People link to stuff that they naturally think is either helpful or is really cool or fun or something like that.

Right? It's the same as with any type of content sharing, like when you're when you share something with your friends on text messages, or slack or discord, or whatever.

You don't share stuff, right? You share like things that you like, you'll like you'll share a song on Spotify, you actually like you won't share some random song for fun, you will share things you actually like.

So one of the the the flip sides to this is that your content really has to be stellar.

Right? People don't share, okay? People don't share math.

People don't share average people share good stuff.

People don't give links to math.

People give links to I, I'm excited, I'm interested, I'm eager to share this thing.

I'm pissed off and I want to share this thing, whatever the thing is, it's got to have something that people have a strong reaction to.

So if your content is all unhelpful, or unentertaining, then yeah, you might need to rethink and reinvest in content that people actually care about.

One of the things that we try very hard to do is like with our weekly newsletter, we try to provide some content and that's helpful, and you're never going to see anywhere else, whether it's how brands are doing on Instagram or how to solve your word or puzzle of the day, whatever the thing is, we're trying to figure out a way to create value and share and if your content doesn't have value, then you that's where you start, right? So there's a part of that content audit has to be looking at.

If I didn't work at this company, would I share this? And the answer is honestly, deep down inside your heart is no, then that's where you need to start.

And then you do need to invest more heavily in content.

Katie Robbert 25:21

And if you're like me, and you can't educate, then you try to entertain personal stories about your own foibles and blunders and hope that people can relate to and go, Oh, yeah, I've been there.

I understand that one.

Christopher Penn 25:35


That it's the three E's, right, educate, entertain or engage it gets get people? I wouldn't.

I don't I personally don't think it's a great plan from a Karma perspective to make people angry and afraid all the time.

But you know, that clearly works for Facebook.

But for other companies, yeah.

entertaining and, and educational content.

It's hard to go wrong.

If you're sharing something that legitimately helps other people.

Katie Robbert 26:01

Mm hmm.

I would agree with that.

Alright, so in terms of content marketing, today, I learned more about backlinks.

And how important they are that you can't necessarily draw that one to one correlation of, I got this backlink therefore, I got more sales.

But understanding how backlinks work in the full 360 picture of organic search, which you can then you know, draw that connection to your sales is a helpful piece.

And so backlinks is one of many components of getting better organic search results.

Christopher Penn 26:42


It's arguably one of the most important obviously the other one being having great content, because, again, you know, we've told people for 20 years now, act as if there was no Google, how would you get traffic? If there was no Google? What content would you create that would get people to naturally want to share your stuff with their friends, because that's the only way it spreads.

in a sustainable manner, if if the content you're publishing is like a, you know, we say at shows you if it isn't, if you didn't learn something when you made it, if you don't laugh when you're writing it, or creating it, or if you don't love it so much that you're talking to your significant other about it, unsolicited, they're like, oh, my gosh, then it's not good content, it's got a hit at least one of those three, two out of three ain't bad.

And all three is perfect.

If you can, if your content does all three of those things three L's, then you're in good shape.

So part of content marketing, that that audit is being really honest with yourself and saying, You know what, this this content doesn't teach anybody anything.

It's not funny.

And I wouldn't even tell my spouse about this, even if they did ask.

Katie Robbert 27:56

Well, I think that that's a great place to wrap up this episode.

You know, make sure you have the so what of your content? Why am I reading it in the first place? What am I getting out of it? So Chris, thank you for helping me better understand how backlinks fit into my overall content marketing plan.

Christopher Penn 28:15

And if you've got comments or questions or perspective on the four pillars of content marketing that you want to share, go on over to our free slack group go to trust insights.ai/analytics for marketers, where you have over 2200 marketers are asking and answering each other's questions all day long, and wherever it is, you watch or listen to the show.

If there's a place you'd prefer to get it.

We have most of them over at trust insights.ai/t AI podcast.

Thanks for tuning in.

We'll catch you next time.

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