In April 2016, Benji Hyam launched Wordable, a SaaS app that aims to export pages and posts from Google Docs to WordPress with just one click. Within over a month, they were already serving 500 customers worldwide. Today, Benji is the co-founder of Grow and Convert, a content marketing agency designed to provide blogging for business. In its first five months, it served over 16,000 unique visitors.
In this episode, Benji shares what it takes to be a successful business blogger. According to him, the key is identifying and addressing your target audience’s problems. He also talks about writing blog posts for SaaS businesses versus service businesses, and we share actionable tips to produce meaningful and measurable returns on investment for your company.
Tune in to this episode to learn how you can maximize blogging for business, the Benji Hyam way.
Click here to read transcript
[02:26] I’ve decided that instead of the traditional interview where I ask all the questions, and Benji gives all the answers, we’re going to make this more of a co-host situation where it’s kind of like two entrepreneurs who are both fairly knowledgeable on a certain topic, sitting in a coffee shop, talking about how to be successful at that topic. Only we’re recording this and turning it into a podcast episode for you to listen to and hopefully learn from, so thank you very much for tuning in yet again. For people who aren’t familiar with you, Benji, let’s start there with an introduction. Who are you? And what do you do?
- Sure, I’m a co-founder of Grow and Convert, which is a content marketing agency, specializes in written content, blog posts, specifically. And the reason we started this company goes back to my previous career. I ran marketing at a couple different startups in San Francisco. When I was running marketing for those companies, I didn’t want to build a team in-house, I actually wanted to hire an agency to do content marketing for us so that I can focus on other aspects of marketing. However, once I started interviewing different agencies, I realized that none of them did what I wanted them to do, which was to actually drive results with content marketing.
There were a lot of agencies that were kind of these glorified writing services. They essentially said, “We’ll write eight pieces for you a month. We have this team of writers that can do this, and we’ll publish them for you.” And that was kind of the extent that they held themselves accountable to get the results. And so when I left San Francisco, I decided to start an agency. Well, actually, there’s a lot of things that happened in between but fast forward to starting an agency, we wanted to solve that problem. So to actually hold ourselves accountable to traffic and leads, and report on that to our clients on a monthly basis.
[04:29] Okay, and you’ve been wildly successful at that, which is why I asked you to co-host this episode with me. Let’s do a little bit of name-dropping, if you can. What’s one of your clients and give it, maybe just quick results, so people understand that you’re awfully good at what you do.
- Yeah, sure. Let me just pull it up because I forget some of them. But yeah, we’ve got companies like Patreon, Geek Bots, Circuits, ReportGarden, TapClicks, Leadfeeder, ServiceTitan, there’s, yeah, we can go on and on. mostly SaaS businesses that sell to B2B.
[05:08] So the first thing that we are going to wrap about is, why do most business blogs fail? So I’m going to give my quick answer. I think most of them fail, one because they’re boring. They’re not unique. They’re not writing for a specific enough audience, and they probably aren’t doing a good job of producing the content. Or if they are doing a good job of writing at least decent content, they suck at promoting it, and so they’re not getting the eyeballs. There’s a lot to unpack in that. But yeah, let’s hear your opinion.
- And then I was gonna say, I’d love to hear your perspective first. I think you nailed a lot of the things on the head. Writing for the specific audience is really key. I would actually say that that problem starts with companies not understanding who their customer is well enough. So one thing that I realized when I was in San Francisco, doing marketing for these different companies was, there’s a lot of assumptions around who the customer is without the customer research and the real understanding of who these customers are, what the problems are.
What we realized is that when most people approach content marketing, they jump into the ideation and the topics, because that’s the fun part. They just kind of, the normal process is go into a company, do some sort of brainstorm, or the content marketing person does a brainstorm with some people on their team or on themselves, and they come up with these topics that are loosely related to what the company sells, or they’re very broad. And it’s a function of just not understanding their customers well enough. I would say that that’s the first problem.
The second problem is the content is not written by someone who has the expertise to write it. And so a lot of these companies want to be thought leaders, yet their process is, “Let’s outsource all the writing and the thinking for the piece to a freelance writer who doesn’t come from the industry, who doesn’t have knowledge on whatever they’re writing about.” The process is, they typically write a Google research paper. They go on Google, type in the keyword that they’re trying to rank for, read the top 10 posts and regurgitate what’s already out there. What happens is, you end up with a lot of subpar content, and then on top of that, they don’t promote it. The last thing is, they have no clue whether contents actually driving any business for them.
[07:53] So one of the things that I have found to be absolutely true when it comes to, so we’re going to talk about ideal customer profile ICP —or we’ll call it a buyer persona— is and I did this as an experiment in the spring of 2020. I was launching a coaching program, which was all done through my blog. And so I surveyed, I did a lot of phone calls with my target audience, which was very painful and laborious. But here’s what I learned: I learned that the phrase that my target audience used most to describe their biggest problem was they wanted to “get more leads.”
Rather than come up with some other weird copywriting whiz-bang headline, my headline was, “Get more, want more leads, need more leads.” I’ve literally used the same words to describe their problem that they used. And I see so often companies, they don’t do this. They’ve got somebody in the marketing department that says, “Well, we should describe a garbage can as a highly flexible trash relocation,” and you know, blah, blah, blah, whatever, when nobody who says, “I just have too much garbage in my house,” would ever use those words.
- I completely agree with you. I think when it comes to the customer profile, a mistake people make is they get way too specific on their persona. To be honest, I’m not a fan of creating personas at all. Because what I think a persona is, is essentially a stereotype of who your customer actually is. You end up focusing on the demographic details and trying to typecast someone into this bucket, and more often than not your customer is pretty wide-ranging. But I think the commonality that lets you know who your target customer is, is the problems they face. So exactly what you’re touching on is, what are they trying to accomplish, or what is the problem that they face in their role, and doing customer interviews helps uncover a lot of those things.
When we do the customer research, we try to focus on a lot of the qualitative stuff, and not too much on who the specific buyer is. That helps us back into what topics we should write on because we know what problems the customer face, and what they’re trying to accomplish. And then we have a solution that we can educate them on, being a service business. That’s how we think about finding out who the customer is. In the beginning of any engagement, I said that most people just jump immediately to the ideation and the topics.
Step one is we talk to sales, customer success, potentially founders, people on the marketing team, and ask the same set of questions to those people, such as what was — for the salespeople that could be, “Talk through the last three sales calls you had. What was the problem that these people came in with? What was the last deal you remember closing? What was the problem that that person faced? What was the solution that you recommended to them?”
If you asked us to the people inside of the company, that helps you back into who the buyers are, that would be best for the product or service. That gives you a lot of the information you need to be able to do the marketing. That’s just how we approach it being an outside agency. Ideally, it would be great to do the customer interviews with the actual customers themselves. But oftentimes, being an outside agency, companies are a little bit wary of you going directly to the customer. So we use people inside of the company to help get that information for us.
[12:07] So for the folks listening, I want to give a couple of hacks that I have used to be able to do this. So I don’t function in the agency capacity. So I had the opportunity in my case to speak directly to the customer. So that’s the ideal scenario, you’re going to use direct one-to-one messaging, cold email, or LinkedIn, whatever it is, to get someone to do a call with you, someone’s This is so much better than a survey, by the way. So you’re going to get on the phone and you’re going to ask a number of open-ended questions. And ideally, you’re going to record that call, because you want to get a transcription for that call. Because if you’ve— once you’ve done 15, or 20 of these calls, you then want to look at those transcriptions in aggregate and look for patterns of keywords. So like I said earlier, get more leads. I literally used spreadsheets to figure out how many times that phrase showed up versus all the other phrases that we’re putting in. That one came out as a winner. So that’s a piece of advice number one: be very, very, I think quantitative is, that’s the right word in this situation? That qualitative, quantitative?
- It could be more qualitative. Just because you’re looking for the long-form answers rather than digging through numbers.
[13:31] Correct. Now, some people listening to this are gonna think, “Well, I don’t, I don’t want to send all those emails manually. It’s really time-consuming. I know most people are going to tell me no, or isn’t there some other way that I can hack that?” And then there is. I’m sure there’s many ways. The one that I have used with success and relative ease is I will take batches of 100 people who— so I’ll use an app like Apollo, which is, or Salesforce Navigator, and also— Okay, so I think that for the people I want to talk to, they need this and this and this and this and this criteria. So I filtered down my potential list of customers. So now I get 100. I’m going to use some LinkedIn automation software. In this case, I use software called Expandi, makes this work very well. Because it resides in the Cloud, it’s throttled well, and it doesn’t put my LinkedIn account at risk. I’ll send 100 connection requests using something that I think is that, get more leads, that keyword in the connection request. And then once they accept the request, there’s another message that will go out, and then I’ll start manually interacting with them as well.
I believe that this is an effective use of time because you can get results very quickly, you can test 100 people in a day. And if you’re, if your connection rate on your campaign is only 10% or 12%, you’re off the mark, you’re way, way off the mark. Whereas I’ve done campaigns where I’ve had connection rates of 60% to 70%. So then, you know, whatever your message is, you’re relatively on point. And in my world, because I don’t like doing things manually, it takes a lot of time. And it’s really boring, but it can be valuable. It’s a way to get, quickly get some validation. Without spamming because you’re not sending an email, there’s no, there’s nothing wrong with getting a LinkedIn connection request. And it gives some good feedback. So do you have any hacks or shortcuts that you can talk about to try and get this really valuable data from the horse’s mouth as it were?
- Yeah, so yeah, I explained how we do things as an agency. We’re actually in the process of growing a SaaS product as well, on the side. I won’t mention what it is yet, because it’s not ready. But I can tell you what we’re doing in the very early stages because I think this is relevant for a lot of people that are starting businesses or trying to scale at early stages. So we manually went and got the initial 20 or so customers, just through network and referrals. I think that’s how most people typically grow a business, is just through their network of referrals early on. But you really want to scale beyond that as quickly as possible.
What we did for the early customers is, we asked them if they had any feedback on the product, and if they’d be willing to hop on a 30-minute call with us. We go through a set of questions just asking, “What is the main benefit that you get from the product? How would you describe the product to someone else? What is the competitive advantage? What other products would you try in the space?” Try to just get a holistic understanding of how they’re thinking about the problem and same thing, you’re looking for patterns and the responses and things that you can kind of hone in to.
What you can do from there is then you want to test the messaging on your homepage and try to, again, take those things that are repeated multiple times, use that as the messaging, and then test that to a cold audience. Then what I would do is redo the whole homepage with all these new learnings from the customer base, and then send it to someone cold. And then oftentimes, I’ll reach out to someone who I know could be a potential user and just say, “Hey, what do you think about this?” And just hear where their mind goes and see if immediately, they’re like, “Oh, this is really interesting.” Or, “This is not something that’s interesting to me at all.”
If they do respond, if it’s not something interesting, just ask why. And see where their mind goes, and then keep iterating from there. But that’s something that we’re doing right now. Actually, I just, before this, got off the phone with one of the customers to try to figure this out.
[17:54] Cool. All right, in the interest of time. Now let’s shift to talk a little bit about the high level of strategy. So we’ve got— now we figured out who our ideal customer profile is. But we still kind of have to have a strategy before we start just randomly writing blog posts. So tell me about how you go about developing the strategy of what should I fill my editorial calendar with?
- Yeah, so I would say it actually depends a little bit on the business model. I’ll explain how they differ. So if you’re a service business, I think the goal of content is a little bit different than a SaaS business. The reason is because you have a different sales methodology. So in a service business, oftentimes you’re sending someone to a salesperson, and the person cannot try the service before they purchase it. You need to build a lot more trust on the front end, versus a SaaS business. The way that I think about the strategy there is the goal is just to get someone to discover it and buy-in enough to sign up for a free trial, or something like that.
For a service business, let’s take our own agency, for example. When we’ve talked to a bunch of customers, we try to figure out what are those key problems that they face. And then we’re writing posts that are educating them how to solve those own problems for their business in extreme detail, and sharing case studies of how we’ve solved these same situations for other businesses that are just like them, so they can see themselves in one of these examples and say, “Oh, I actually have that exact problem. If you solve it for another business, and you can likely solve it for me, let me reach out to this company and learn more about their services.”
So that’s the way that I think about the strategy for the service businesses, whereas the SaaS businesses are much more keyword-driven. And so what we found to work really well there is category keywords. So let’s say you are a CRM app, literally going for the CRM software and getting as specific as possible. So oftentimes, people, you said in the very beginning, people aren’t specific enough in their content. It’s also true when picking keywords. So for example, there’s a help desk app that we work with that is only good for a very specific group of users. It’s not helpful software for any SaaS business, it’s a help desk for people that want a hosted solution, or their own—
Instead of just going after helped desk software, it’s actually probably, if someone came across that website, it’s probably not going to be a good fit for them, because they serve a very specific group of users. So going after the extremely specific use cases, from a keyword perspective, talking about alternatives. So when we were saying, what other products would you use in this space? Using that as a keyword strategy as well. So using your competitors’ names and alternatives, because if someone is looking for an alternative solution, you can then present your product as the best. They’re really trying to figure out what features are the most used in the product so that when someone’s searching for a potential use case, you’re showing up for those keywords. And so that’s kind of how we think through the strategy for the different types of businesses. So the SaaS businesses are much more keyword-driven. Whereas the service businesses are much more pain-point driven, and then you try to back into a keyword.
[21:54] So I would add to that, when it comes to— thinking because I have a SaaS business, and obviously we use content, I think there is a couple, I don’t think I know, there’s a couple of different strategies, which can work very effectively. So the first approach, which has been proven to work by many people, is long-form content, or as Brian Dean likes to call them power pages, where you’re producing a comprehensive guide to whatever. And you’re writing 5,000-6,000 words in a single post. The reason that that works well is you’re actually not necessarily writing for your audience. You’re writing for the authority sites that have your audience that would be willing to link to your piece of content because it’s such an incredibly valuable piece of content.
Brian Dean with Backlinko has done a phenomenal job of this. I don’t see too many other people, like I’ve interviewed over the years, many, many folks on the topic of content marketing, they used to have a content marketing agency years ago. And that generally wasn’t the conventional wisdom. They weren’t out there saying, “Hey, produce your content for your target audience.” So that’s the first subtle shift. So that’s one of the things that we do is we look at, well, who has our audience? What are they writing about now? If we write something that is aligned with that, and it’s exceedingly comprehensive, are we stacking the odds in our favor to get that super valuable link?
Obviously, when you could start getting links from authority sites in your niche like that, your domain rating is going to go up and all of your content is going to rank higher. So then when you decide, well, I’m going to produce some to use your words, some very specific keyword-focused content, some more short content, maybe it’s only 800 words, then you have a much higher chance of getting those shorter pieces of content to rank. The other thing that these really long pieces of content are great for is they, if you have a 5,000 or 6,000-word post, you can literally rank for dozens, if not hundreds of different longtail keywords, and especially if you craft the content correctly. And there’s a number of software tools out there that help you to be able to do that.
The second type of content that we’re doing is, and it’s really become popular lately, is, and I think you can search for this hashtag called #BuildingPublic. I first ran across this more years ago. There’s a company, it’s a ticketing software called Groove HQ, Alex Turnbull is the founder. And he, to his credit, in his genius way back before anybody was doing this, that I’m aware of, hAe was writing literally, about what he was doing and failing at and succeeding at to grow his company. And he was writing to add as much value in terms of teaching his audience of small business owners what was working for him when it came to growing his organization.
Was he directly pitching his ticketing software? No, not at all. As he was writing about the top 10 features you should have on ticketing software, and the top 10 lists of ticketing software? Not at all. But what he was writing about was the thing that his audience was most interested in, which was how to grow their respective businesses. And of course, the byproduct of that is that he built a great deal of affinity over time with that audience, and then credibility. And as a result of that, because his ticketing software, much like my SAP software, could be used by quite a number of different businesses. The fact that he was successful in building this audience of small business owners, lends itself very well to lead generation and conversion efforts.
- Yeah, I’d agree. So we actually did. That’s how we started our business. So in the beginning of Grow and Convert, when we first had a blog, we wrote about, well, I guess, to take a step back, we were unknown people in the content marketing space. And so to prove to everyone that we can grow a site and that they should trust us, we did build our site from scratch. And showed everyone how we thought about our strategy and how we were driving traffic. We set a public goal of growing to 40,000 readers per month, in six months.
The reason for that goal is, I had come from another company where I’ve grown the blog to 35,000 readers in six months. And so just I wanted to beat my own goal. I— some learnings on that though, I would say that the strategy should shift a little bit once you really define what the company is. Because one thing that we noticed is that strategy attracts a lot of people that want to be you, and not necessarily your best customers.
For example, in the content marketing space, that strategy would work really well for our course, teaching other people how to do content marketing, but it wouldn’t work very well for selling a larger business on your service. And so it worked really, really well to gain an initial audience quickly. And then we had to kind of pivot our strategy and focus more on case studies and how we did content marketing for various businesses, rather than speaking about ourselves all the time.
[27:50] The same thing happened for group two, by the way, so I completely agree with what you said. So now let’s talk about the actual process of content production. So content production, you can hire writers, you can work with agencies, you can work with freelancers, there’s all sorts of ways to actually get fingers to push buttons on the keyboard. But in order to get the highest quality output possible, regardless of who’s actually pushing the buttons, it does behoove you to have a framework of some kind, whereas you’ve got, maybe it’s a fairly detailed post outline, you may have a standard operating procedure that defines, okay, so these are the attributes that the introduction paragraph has to have. And the post must have seven different headlines and it must have two to three sentences per paragraph, it must have five sentences in each or five paragraphs in each section, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So what are some of the things that come to mind for you, Benji, when you think about making sure that you get the highest quality output possible?
- Yeah, I think there’s two pieces to that question. There’s just who writes the content, and so I can kind of explain a little bit about that. And then the second piece is just what is the process to actually get that piece written? In terms of hiring, we’ve tried just about everything in terms of, do you hire freelancers, do you hire people with industry expertise, what is the right background of a writer? What we’ve landed on is, you want to hire a smart writer who is actually not a blogger. Because what we found is bloggers have really bad habits, such as the Google research paper example that I shared earlier. Instead of completely outsourcing the idea, what most companies do is they just say, “Hey, here’s a topic, go right on it.”
Instead of doing that, the writer should act as a journalist, interview someone inside of the company who is a subject matter expert on the topic. That way, the company voice and expertise comes through in the content. And so you can truly educate someone from the brand’s perspective, rather than interviewing just some random subject matter expert in the industry, because the subject matter expert in the industry might not share the same opinions and perspective as the company. And so that’s kind of the process that we use. We have a very lengthy hiring process of multiple test projects. Once we find the person, they’re responsible for interviewing someone inside of the company, and then turning that interview into a fully written blog post. Some of the details in terms of how we actually do that, we have a questionnaire that we require the writer to fill out prior to the interview, that takes care of some of that initial research.
Let’s say we’re going after a specific keyword, we want to see, we need to analyze the search results and see what is the intent of this search? So what type of blog post is Google ranking more often than not? Is it a list post? Is that a how-to? So it starts there. Okay, let’s say we decided it’s a how-to. We have the writer fill out what is the big idea of this article, what are some of the main points, and do an initial outline. And that’s what they come prepared to the interview with. So that it’s very specific, and they can go down this list of points that need to be filled in from whoever they’re interviewing. And that way, we can make sure that we extract all the right information for the piece, and then we go write it. So that’s kind of the process that we use.
[31:53] So the big takeaway, when it comes to getting your content effectively produced is, the more preparation and legwork you do before fingers hit keyboards, or you hit the record button on the camera if you’re recording, the much better your output’s going to be. The worst-case scenario is: “Hey, we need a post on email marketing, can you write one for me?” That’s not going to turn out very well. We’re not, as if you say, “Hey, we need to post on email marketing, we need to cover these seven subtopics.” Here’s a content expert, who’s not going to be the writer, but who’s the expert. Here’s what these topics are going to be. Okay, now we’re going to hit the record button. I’m going to ask you these questions. You’re going to give me an answer. We’re going to produce a video or an audio file. Either way, we’re going to transcribe it so that we have the thought leaders, expert’s words clearly hashed out with all the uhms and ahhs and whatever on the page. Now, we’re going to let the writer take that and turn it into an effective article that matches that outline that we came up with, to begin with.
- Completely agree.
[33:00] All right. Something that I think I have been deficient at is repurposing and promotion. Now thankfully, because I’ve recently been paying attention to people who know a lot more about this than me, I want to spend probably the rest of our time talking about repurposing and promotion because the old joke that, if you cut down a tree in the forest, and nobody hears it, did it fall? The stupid thing goes— I think there’s a lot of folks out there, and I’m guilty of this myself in the past. I remember a few years ago, I produced a fairly long post, couple of thousand words on how to get started selling on Amazon, and I hit the publish button. And I was like, “Okay, I’m done.” And you can guess how well that turned out for me. If it turned out very well at all.
Let’s first of all talk about repurposing, and then we’ll talk about how repurposing plays into promotion and I’ll lead in. So what I’ve discovered is that it’s actually fairly easy to produce large volumes of content, raw content in a short period of time, if you’re reasonably well prepared. So let’s use the example of, okay, so we’ll take this interview as an example because this is what’s going to happen with this interview. I’m sure your team will do it with your half, and my team will do with my half.
You and I decided okay, these are the things that we’re going to talk about in this interview. So we’ve got some bullet points and beyond that, we didn’t really have to script anything because we both were relative experts in our respective areas. We could literally top off— talk off the top of our head to produce this piece of long-form video footage. This will get turned into a podcast and it’ll get turned into a YouTube video. But then, what can be done relatively easily is, there’s all sorts of little snippets and sound bites, 30-second clips, 90-second clips, two-minute clips, that are great little standalone pieces of content that if you have a plan, to begin with, and you’ve done some keyword research and you know the stuff that you want to pull out, you can then give it to an editor.
Maybe you’ll have to, someone on my team will literally review this alongside the keyword plan. They’ll make timestamp notes and they’ll say to the editor, I want this snip, and this snip, and this snip, and this snip, and this step, and this step. We’ll end up with literally several dozen short clips, that will end up being several, maybe even 100 or 200 social media posts because of course, there’s lots of different social media channels that you can put this stuff on. You having an audio problem on your end there, did your headphones just die?
- Yeah, I can hear you, for a second, I just decided to switch.
[35:50] No problem. So my point of this is one piece of like, for an hour of my time and an hour of your time, I can actually end up with a couple 100 different social media posts and in aggregate, those posts will help me to promote the main piece of content very, very effectively, and do a lot better job at driving traffic. So I’ll stop there because I want to hear your perspective on it.
- To be honest, I was gonna ask you what you do, because this is something that we don’t focus too much on, is the repurposing of content. Our strength is on the promotion side. So historically, we think about content the same way that you did, which originally when you said, “Find the site that your customer goes to and try to be there.” That was the way that we had rethought content promotion. We coined something called community content promotion, which when we first started, was to find various communities where the target audience would hang out and engage those communities and share content in those places, with the goal of driving the right people back to your website.
Historically, that was Facebook groups, it was LinkedIn groups, it was sites like Growth Hackers, or Inbound, or Reddit, all these different communities where someone has already done the hard work of building an audience in those places. You just need to show up in those places to drive those people back to your site. That has become a lot harder over the last two to three years as Facebook groups, changes to the algorithm happen. A lot of people started spamming people. And so that completely changed. So about two years ago, we had to rethink our whole content promotion process from scratch.
The way that we think about it now is short-term and long-term promotion. Short-term is what happens immediately after you hit ‘Publish.’ And what we landed on that, that does scale because the challenge with community content promotion is, I think it works really well if you are a marketer inside of a company or just trying to promote your own blog. But it becomes very difficult if you’re trying to do this for a bunch of different clients in different industries because then you have to find those groups and communities.
What we ended up on is, we do a combination of Facebook ads, Twitter ads, and Google ads. And so Facebook, we do three things there: run cold audiences or try to find cold audiences to advertise the content to right after we publish. We create lookalike audience based off of key pages on the website, again, just to try to get in front of the right people. And then we use straight retargeting with our content that drives an initial surge of traffic. It also allows us to test whether the article will convert. And the long-term goal is for us to drive traffic and conversions through SEO.
Twitter is the same thing. It just works well for different types of businesses. And Google Ads is something that’s really interesting that we’ve been testing over the last couple months, or like maybe like three or four months. But essentially what we’re doing there is, let’s say we are going after very specific keywords, and they’re not head keywords in the industry. So it’s not like that CRM software example. But it’s, I don’t know, ‘how to find contacts’ and some— it’s a longer tail keyword that very few people are bidding on.
What we’ll do is we will set up a Google Ad going after the long-tail query. Oftentimes, Google will say that there is no volume for that keyword, and there’s probably no one bidding on that keyword as well, which allows us cheaper click costs, there’s just—
[39:46] A way to get clicks.
- Yeah, exactly. So it allows us to essentially get a spot on the search engine result page that we want to, but faster than ranking there organically. So it allows us to test conversions from an organic perspective, without having to wait six months or so for the actual piece of content to rank. And so, yeah, we use a combination of all three of those methods. In the short-term, to show results immediately right after that you publish. And then the long-term goal is to get the content to rank in the top three positions for the keyword that we’re going after. And so part of that is through the on-page optimization. And part of that is through building links back to that page.
[40:34] Tell me a little bit about your process for link building. Because this is something that I’m literally going through with one of my long-form posts right now, and I’ll talk about what I’m doing. But I want to hear what you’re doing first.
- Sure, yeah. So we actually subcontract out the link building part, because we’ve just always felt that it’s better to focus on your core skill and outsource the things that you’re not good at to someone else. And so the process that the agency that we work with uses is they guest post on sites that are related to, sites that are in the industry, related to the the topic that we’re writing about.
Again, that CRM example, it would be some tech site or software site, or a site that talks about different software. We would guest post on there, write an article that’s related to how to do something with your CRM, and then get that published on that website. In the article, there’s multiple links, linking out and one of them would be the blog posts that we’re trying to build a link to. The guest posting thing we found is probably the easiest and most scalable, rather than the outreach. However, I know that outreach works well, you just have to have a very good process and good copywriters for it to be effective.
Because, as someone who owns and runs a blog, we get horrible pitches all day, every day. And they’re usually just blocked immediately. Because they’re just really frustrating. People don’t do the initial research to even see what your blog is about. And so, for me, I run a marketing blog, and oftentimes I’ll get a pitch saying, “Hey, I see your site is about or mentioned, healthcare in this blog post, we have this blog post about health care, would you be interested in linking to it?” You didn’t even look— you din’t even take the time to look at the blog, it’s not even about health care!
I would say if you’re gonna take the outreach approach, do it more manually and actually put in the time to do the research, know who you’re reaching out to, because I think you’ll get a much higher hit rate than if you just set up some programs, send out a thousand mass emails that are templated, and trying to parse fields, because you can just tell immediately that that’s what’s happening.
[43:04] So beautiful segue to what we’re doing for link building. So the first thing that we do, there’s two phases. One, we’ll call it the promotional phase, and the other we’ll call it the link-building phase. So in the promotional phase, I will develop a manual list of influencers, who I can tell from looking at their LinkedIn profiles and their Twitter and their blogs that they write about this topic, all the time. It’s super relevant to their audience. So then, of course, I’m going to create the very best piece of content that I can possibly create, in which case we call them the power pages. And so this is a big long-form piece of content. And I just did this and the response rate on the emails was fantastic. I wrote some people who, some of them whom I knew because they’d been on my show, but others who’ve never heard of me before, like Jason Fried from 37 Signals, for example. I got a reply from him.
Subject is: “Hey, quick question. I love what you’re doing with your blog, and you get a lot of emails like this. So right to the point that you write a lot about this topic. I’m working on a post that’s going to be this, and I’d love to get your feedback on it. Is it okay to send you a link when it’s ready?” He wrote back, as did several others. “Yeah, sure. Absolutely. We’d love to see it.” What I’m shooting for there is to get them to leave a comment for some—
- Yeah, I love it.
You get some comments from people who are known and maybe it goes somewhere further than that, but If it does, that’s just icing on the cake. So do that with five to ten influencers, hopefully some of them, especially once you start to do this repetitively and you build a relationship with them, they’re going to say, well, “You know, I’ll give you a tweet, or I’ll put you on my LinkedIn,” or what have you. Now, sidebar, you can do another thing called shout-outs. There are many folks who are successful on Instagram or wherever else that have an audience. And you can simply say, “Hey, how much would it cost me to pay you to write a post about this piece of content?” Now that link isn’t going to be a good backlink from an SEO perspective, Google doesn’t count, and correct me if I’m wrong, but only Google counts social signals as “backlinks.”
Nonetheless, it’s getting your post out there to a wide audience, because this particular influencer has exactly your audience. So now we go into the link-building phase, there are some really low-hanging fruit ways to get good quality links.
For example, you can use tools to find pay, so you can pick a site. And then you can go into Ahrefs. You can say, whatever site, show me all the broken links. And then you can look at those broken links. And you can then do the site owner a solid because it’s hurting them to have broken links. And you can write to them and say, “Hey, I discovered that you have a broken link leading to this article about whatever that article is now gone, I just so happened to have a great replacement article that you could link to instead fix that broken link, would you mind linking to me?” That’s one way of doing it. The other way is simply like, if I’m wanting to get a link from let’s say, I wanted to get a link from you, and I didn’t know you, the last thing I’m going to do is just cold email you.
Instead, what I’m going to do is I’m going to take a piece of your content on LinkedIn, I’m going to share it, I’m going to write something really nice, I’m going to tag you in it, I’m going to leave a beautiful comment on it, I’m going to follow you on Twitter, I’m going to retweet a couple of your things. And then I’m going to email you and I’m going to be super relevant, because I’m going to say “Hey, you know, because then you’ve heard, you’ve seen my name, some way shape, or form and some of your notifications, I’ve done you a favor, you didn’t know I existed.” And I’ve, then I’m going to say, “Hey Benji, I’ve got this super relevant piece of, I read your article, and so and so. And I think like, I’ll take a screenshot with a big red arrow, I did this too. I think if you were to insert a link right here to this article, that would make your article more valuable.” What are you thinking that you’re going to pay attention to that email versus the healthcare cold spam email?
- 100%. That’s actually a process that I’ve used in the past that works super well. So I completely agree with that approach. It’s really just about building relationships, and showing that you care, versus the people that are just trying to optimize for speed and their own results. They don’t even think about the person on the other end. So I know both approaches work.
The only time that I’ve ever added a link to our site has been a broken link, where someone did send a really relevant resource that was similar to the one that we had referenced. And when people, when I notice people, they do share articles, they engage, or they ask questions, and they’re sharing stuff. And then they make an ask, I have some awareness of who that person is at that point. And so I’m much more likely to do something for that person than I would be if someone reached out completely cold. So I think those are both great approaches.
[48:06] You’re just taking advantage of the law of reciprocity, do things, do nice things. For other people, they’re gonna just naturally feel indebted to you to return the favor. And as long as your ask is not too high, more than likely they’re going to return the favor.
With that said, it’s been fun, we’ve run out of time, and we need to wrap up because I have a hard stop. That is why we’ve run out of time. So Benji, I want to thank you very, very much for coming, being the very first co-host in 10 years of The Bright Ideas podcast.
- Yeah, it was fun!
I hope the audience got a lot of feedback out of this. If you do have feedback on this new format for myself, I would love it if you can get a hold of me on Twitter or LinkedIn, or comment on the blog or wherever you would like. But send me, please do send me your feedback. I really thrive on getting the feedback, because that is what tells me that I am adding value to you guys. And of course, my number one goal is always to add as much value as possible. And without your feedback, it makes that job harder for me to do.
Benji, if there’s anyone who’s been listening to this, and they’re thinking, hey, I want to talk to Benji or someone on his team about maybe working with them, what is the single easiest way for them to get in touch with you?
- Yeah, it’s either just get our website, growandconvert.com, or reach out to me on Twitter. It’s @benjihyam, B-E-N-J-I-H-Y-A-M.
[49:34] All right. And if you were driving and didn’t get that, don’t worry, all of those links will be in the show notes. And I don’t know the episode number now, but right at the end of the recording, you’ll hear me say it in post-production, it gets recorded. So thank you everybody for tuning in, and we look forward to seeing you in another episode soon.
- Yeah, thanks for having me.
[49:54] Thank you so much for listening. Please subscribe, rate, and review the show on your favorite podcast listening app. To get to the show notes for today’s episode, go to brightideas.co/365. That’s it for today. Take care and we’ll talk to you in another episode soon. Bye.
Benji’s Bright Ideas
- Business Blogs Fail Because of Subpar Content and the Failure to Promote
- Companies Can Get Too Specific in Creating Personas
- Ask for Feedback
- Blog Post Strategies are Dependent on the Company’s Business Model
- Educate from the Brand’s Perspective
- Use a Combination of Short-term and Long-term Content Promotion Strategies
- Link Building through Outreach Works if You Have a Good Process and Copywriters
Business Blogs Fail Because of Subpar Content and the Failure to Promote
Most problems in blogging for business begin when companies do not understand who their customers are. One thing Benji realized is marketing companies make a lot of assumptions about their customers. However, they don’t back these assumptions up with customer research.
Next, Benji observed that content is not written by someone who has expertise in it.
He added, “The process is they typically write a Google research paper, they go on Google, type in the keyword that they’re trying to rank for, read the top 10 posts and regurgitate what’s already out there. And so what happens is, you end up with a lot of subpar content.”
Then, they do not promote it.
Companies Can Get Too Specific in Creating Personas
In creating a buyer persona, companies end up focusing on the demographic details. With this practice, companies end up mistakenly typecasting audiences into a specific category.
When it comes to customer research, Benji focuses on qualitative stuff. What you can do is look into the problems your customers face. From there, find inspirations for what you can write to help them.
To create meaningful content in blogging for business, talk to the people in the company you’re promoting. Ask them the following questions:
- What was the problem your potential customers came in with?
- What was the last deal you remember closing?
- What solution did you recommend to them?
Benji stresses, “We use people inside of the company to help get that information for us.”
Ask for Feedback
In the initial stages, Grow and Convert relied on networking and referrals to grow their business.
Benji asked for feedback from early customers. Here’s what he asked them:
- What is the main benefit that you get from the product?
- How would you describe the product to someone else?
- What is the competitive advantage of the product?
- What other products would you try in this space?
Create messages based on feedback and test these messages on your new audience. Benji says, “Oftentimes, I’ll reach out to someone who I know could be a potential user and just say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’”
Blog Post Strategies are Dependent on The Company’s Business Model
How you write a blog post will vary depending on whether the company is a service-type or a SaaS business. This is because the two types have different sales methodologies.
You need to build more trust on the front end for service businesses. For example, figure out the key problems of your target customers and educate them on the matter. Write on how you can help them address these pain points.
“SaaS businesses are much more keyword-driven. Whereas the service businesses are much more pain point driven. And then you try to back into a keyword.”
Here are some of Benji’s keyword strategies for SaaS businesses:
- Utilize extremely specific use cases.
- Use competitors’ names and present your product as a good alternative.
- Find out the most used features of the product you’re marketing and integrate this into the keyword.
Educate From the Brand’s Perspective
To get the highest quality output, you need to address the following:
- Who writes the content?
- How does the piece get written?
In blogging for business, you want to hire a smart writer who acts as a journalist. This way, the company voice, and expertise come through in the content. Also, you can truly educate someone from the brand’s perspective.
Use a Combination of Short-term and Long-term Content Promotion Strategies
Grow and Convert looks for online communities that their target audiences hang out in. From there, they drive these people to their customer’s site.
However, because of changes to the algorithm, they had to rethink their content promotion strategy. They developed strategies for short-term and long-term promotion.
For Facebook and Twitter promotion, they try to find cold audiences to advertise to right after they publish. But for Google, they’ve been testing a different type of approach. They use keywords with no volume as a way to get clicks.
Page optimization and building links are also parts of Grow and Convert’s promotion strategy.
Link Building through Outreach Works if You Have a Good Process and Copywriters
In building multiple links, guest posting on sites is more scaleable. However, outreach can work well.
According to Benji, “You just have to have a very good process and good copywriters for it to be effective.”
You need to do research and make sure that the content you’re promoting is relevant to the person you’re reaching out to. Take the time to build a relationship and provide value to the other party. Eventually, you’ll be able to bank on the rule of reciprocity and have these people promote your brand.
What Did We Learn From This Episode?
- Don’t just assume a target customer’s profile when blogging for business.
- Base your content on the problems your clients are facing.
- It always pays to ask customers for feedback.
- If you want to use blogging for business, you need smart writers and have them write content as a journalist would.
- Page optimization and building links are also important in creating a successful blog page.
- If you want to use outreach to build links, you need to invest time and build relationships.
[03:02] – Benji gives a brief background about himself
- Benji is the co-founder of Grow and Convert, a content marketing agency specializing in written content and blogging for business.
- His company is accountable for traffic, leads, and monthly reports.
[05:49] – Why most business blogs fail
- Most companies assume their customer’s profiles.
- The content released is not written by someone who has the expertise to write it.
- The company also fails to promote the content well.
[09:22] – What Benji thinks about customer profiling
- In blogging for business, Benji is not a fan of creating personas because you stereotype your customers.
- Instead, Benji focuses on qualitative information.
- He looks into the problems people face and the solutions they can educate them on.
[15:41] – Hacks and shortcuts for connecting with more audiences
- Initially, Benji got 20 customers just through network and referrals.
- You can also ask your customers for feedback about your product.
- Take the most common responses and test them to a cold audience.
[18:23] – How Benji develops his strategy in blogging for business
- The strategy depends on the business model.
- For service businesses, writing posts that educate your clients works best. You address their pain points while showing them how you can help.
- For SaaS businesses, writing blog posts is more keyword-driven.
[26:01] – How Benji’s business started
- Grow and Convert built their site from scratch.
- He learned that the company should shift and redefine itself as it grows.
- For example, their strategy in the content marketing space is to teach other people.
- This strategy does not work for larger businesses in the service space.
[28:55] – How to get the highest quality output possible
- In blogging for business, hire a smart writer that will write like a journalist.
- Have them interview the people of the company you’re promoting.
- Their outputs can reflect the company’s expertise on the subject.
[36:17] – Benji’s opinion on repurposing content and promotion
- Grow and Convert doesn’t focus too much on repurposing content.
- They try to find the site that their target customers go to and try to be there.
- Blogging for business has been a lot harder, so they rethought their whole promotion strategy for Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
- They developed short-term and long-term strategies.
[40:30] – The process of building a link
- Grow and Convert has a subcontractor that builds links for them.
- The subcontractor guest posts on sites that are related to the topic Benji’s team is writing about.
- Guest posting is more scaleable than outreach.
- When you do outreach, you need to invest time and effort to research and build a relationship with your target.
- Benji believes that outreach is really about building relationships rather than optimizing for speed.
Which of Benji Hyam’s bright ideas sparked something in you? What did you learn about blogging for business? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts with us.
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Benji Hyam is a Co-Founder of Grow and Convert – a conversion focused content marketing agency for SaaS, service and ecommerce businesses.