Storytelling: Creating Content that Converts
Camp CallRail Workshop, Storytelling. Session 1: Jeff Coyle, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at MarketMuse, and Rob Wade, Content Marketing Director at CallRail, run through how you can create killer content to convert more prospects into customers.
Jeff: I’m Jeff Coyle, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer for MarketMuse—a leading content intelligence platform that helps teams produce more comprehensive, accurate, engaging, and authoritative content.
Rob: And I’m Rob Wade, Director of Content Marketing here at CallRail.
Jeff: Today, Rob and I are going to run through how you can create content that converts and that has a genuine impact on your business.
We’ll be covering how to prioritize and optimize content creation, how you can repurpose existing content, whether or not you should gate your content, and how to judge content performance. Finally, we’ll run a short Q&A session to answer any questions that you might have.
- Prioritizing content creation and optimization
- Repurposing existing content
- To gate or not to gate?
- Measuring content performance
Jeff: I hope that this session not only provides you with some immediately actionable insights, but that it also helps you review your own internal content creation processes. How do you currently approach research? What do your planning and prioritization processes look like? How do you currently create briefs, and are these lacking in any way?
That said, content creation is just one piece of the puzzle. Once your content has been published, are you analyzing the results and working out what you did well and what you didn’t do so well, as well as identifying potential areas for optimization going forward? If not, then you’re missing out—it’s as simple as that.
Prioritizing content creation and optimization
What’s the ultimate goal of producing content?
Jeff: The ultimate goal is to make sure that your content isn’t hit or miss—you need to guarantee that your time, money, and effort in producing content is producing tangible business results down the line.
What causes content to be a ‘miss’ rather than a ‘hit’?
Jeff: There are a few factors worth exploring here. The first is trust. Readers take an average of 2 - 3 seconds when first reading your content to determine whether or not you’re a trustworthy source. They’re trying to assess if it exhibits expertise and whether it’s written by someone who’s genuinely knowledgeable on the subject matter in question. So this is arguably the most important factor in determining if your content is going to be a hit—it should demonstrate that you understand your customers in detail: their industry, their pain points, their desires, and their purchase journey.
The second, and perhaps most obvious factor, is topical authority. What is topical authority? Well, it’s when your content—whether it’s one page or a full-blown report—covers all the things that a subject matter expert would’ve naturally covered. Imagine I’m writing about the different causes of heart failure. If I neglect to tell you about myocardial infarction or pulmonary hypertension, am I really the right sort of person to tell you about heart failure when I’ve left out two of the most common causes?
That's the type of thing that's happening on the majority (probably around 65%) of sites today. People are landing on pages before quickly realizing that the writer has no idea what they’re talking about—as a result, not only do they lapse, but they’re also unlikely to come back to that site again.
How can you ensure your content gives off this ‘expert’ status?
Jeff: Spend plenty of time researching before you sit down to write. Conduct user interviews, talk to your internal product team, and get in touch with genuine subject matter experts. Have a clear view of your user profiles when you begin writing—you need to make sure that your content resonates with your readers.
Make sure that you also cover all your bases when speaking about a topic. If you leave significant gaps, then not only have you failed to educate the reader as comprehensively as you should have, but you can also create distrust. You don’t want readers to come onto your site only to then have to read another piece of content to fill up all the gaps that you left.
What common content mistakes do you see time and time again?
Jeff: The way that we consume content is constantly changing—so teams need to keep up with these changes on an ongoing basis. However, despite this, many organizations still rely upon outdated keyword research and outdated templates. Our research shows that around 90% of teams still rely solely upon metrics like Google search volume and their PPC results to dictate which keywords and topics to include in their content strategy going forward. That’s so outdated. Not only are there better data points out there to analyze, but people are now using different methods (such as mobile browsing) to search for content.
Plus, these types of metrics are generally telling you more about paid search than they are about your own expertise. They’re just telling you how much traffic you can expect on a certain topic via Adwords, for example. While this can be important, it’s not the be-all and end-all of creating effective content.
We also see plenty of companies focusing solely on analyzing competitor content. Simply deciding to mirror your direct competitor’s strategy is an incredibly flawed process—you can never hope to surpass your competition if you’re always one step behind and following the exact same strategy.
How can companies overcome these mistakes?
Jeff: First things first, understand yourself. What do you already have in your content inventory? What are you telling the world about your business? In which areas do you have expert knowledge? What are your traffic patterns?
Take a look at all the content that you’ve written in the past, see how impactful it has been, and whether or not it has effectively demonstrated that you truly understand your customer. Whether you sell leads to financial practices, or you’re a law firm, or you have a B2B SaaS offering, the principle is the same—your content should guide prospects through the following stages (though not necessarily in such a linear order):
- Having an unknown need
- Having a known need
- Not knowing your brand
- Knowing your brand
- Trusting your brand enough to purchase from you
- Trusting your brand and liking your products enough to remain loyal customers
It’s crucial that content teams undertake regular SWOT analysis(strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). This should be the catalyst for all strategic planning going forward.
Essentials of creating a content strategy
Jeff: I think that topic clusters are incredibly useful. It really helps to have an ultimate guide, a piece of pillar content, that demonstrates why your company is the go-to source of information on a specific topic. You can then link specific subtopics to this main pillar and essentially provide an all-in-one resource on the subject matter at hand.
Make sure you also think about how each of these pieces map onto the buying cycle and your particular user intent profiles. It’s far more worthwhile to produce a limited number of highly relevant and targeted pieces of content as opposed to just writing as much as you possibly can.
What’s the best way to get to know your customers?
Rob: There are a ton of different tools that you can use to gather information/insights about your customers. We offer a couple ourselves here at CallRail—I’ll go through them in more detail later on. Keeping it high-level, however, you first need to gather the appropriate information before then developing customer personas. These customer personas will dictate your messaging going forward: what you say, when you say it, and which channels will work best.
It’s always a good idea to conduct surveys and check out trends on social media. Take a look at what your competitors are doing, read reviews for similar businesses, and download industry trends and reports. These are all very important things that you can do to get to know your prospects and to inform your personas. At CallRail, we offer something called conversation intelligence—it's a solution that bundles 3 things together.
- Call recording: This gives you a comprehensive archive of all your calls and conversations. You can then listen back to them or share them with others.
- Transcription: Once you transcribe your calls, you're able to then identify keywords and key topics that can help you understand what really matters to your customers and your prospects. If you're developing user personas and trying to lay a foundation for your audience, you can use these transcriptions to find out what your customers and prospects really need.
- Conversation Intelligence: If you look at your CallRail transcriptions, you’ll see boxes around some words—these are your highlights from the conversation. They can help make your marketing efforts more effective and ensure that what you’re offering is aligned with what your customers and prospects need/are asking for.
Imagine you own a dog wash. You’d expect words like grooming, nail trimming, and haircuts to appear, but if you see that boarding keeps on coming up, then something might be amiss with your marketing strategy—alternatively, perhaps this is a completely new business avenue that’s worth exploring in the future.
How to create user personas
Rob: You essentially capture all key data-driven insights within your different user personas. These insights might show:
- Who this person is (whether they’re a prospect or a customer).
- If they make and/or influence purchase decisions.
- What challenges they’re currently facing.
- What they need and what problems they’re trying to solve.
On top of that, you can also include things like if they’re primarily mobile or desktop users, whether they’re on social media, and which channels they generally use—these are important when assessing how to communicate with them. In general, you should have a persona for each of your core audiences, and you should speak to each persona differently according to their own unique context and motivations.
I also want to add that your persona work is never completed—they’re always changing according to emerging industrial or societal changes. As such, you should keep coming back to the drawing board and reassessing your personas.
Once you've developed your personas, you can then begin to build out a messaging architecture that will lay the groundwork for how you communicate with them going forward. The first thing you want to do is come up with the single most important thing, the number one thing that you want them to know.
People have a hard time remembering more than one thing, so make sure you're not overcomplicating it for them. Believe it or not, I've seen lots of “single most important things” that have an ‘and ‘in them. If your single most important thing has an ‘and’ in it, it's no longer a single most important thing anymore.
Then, you need to give them a reason to believe that single most important thing. In other words, if you've made some kind of bold statement, you want to back it up. Usually stick to 2 - 3 bullet points to help get the message across. From there, then you can begin to look at your individual segments. The single most important thing for working mum Wendy will be different to the single most important thing for young professional Joe or recent retiree Rachel.
Different messaging for different personas
Rob: You want to make sure that you let what matters to each of them rise to the top. In this example, our single most important thing might be that we’re the city’s only full-service dog spa. For working Mum Wendy, our primary message could be that she can leave all the dog grooming to us: washing, trimming nails, cutting hair, etc.
For young professional Joe who doesn't have all the extra family commitments, he might want to take care of the dog himself—so for him, the most important message is that we’re open early and close late.
Retiree Rachel, on the other hand, may want to be involved in the dog grooming but might need some help doing it. Therefore, for her, our primary messaging should be that we’ll help her groom her dog.
This is quite a simplistic snapshot of how your messaging can be fine-tuned according to the specific user personas in question. However, hopefully it gives you an idea of how this works in practice.
Repurposing existing content
Jeff: The first step is to map all your existing content out to your search intent. You need to have great pieces of content for buyers at every stage of the purchase journey: awareness, consideration, purchase, post-purchase adherence, and retention.
During awareness, your prospects are looking for thought leadership content. During the consideration stage, they need specific product information—and during the decision-making stage, they’ll want all relevant details (price, the product, delivery/set-up time, etc.).
Use the image below to help map out your content to your purchase journey.
When it comes to quick wins, think about whether or not you can take the same topic but write multiple pages according to your different user personas. Plus, you should also think about repurposing content for different industries. If you’re a point-of-sale software company, you might write one piece for coffee shops, one piece for breweries, and another for tequila tasting rooms.
In general, you can/should repurpose content according to different:
- Content types
Every time you invest in long-form content and/or research—every time that you spend a long time producing high-quality work—then you should get more than just one form of content out of it.
To gate or not to gate your content
Jeff: To be honest, I don’t think you have to pick between one or another. If you end up making several pieces of content from one topic—a report, a series of blog posts, an infographic, a video, etc.—then you can gate depending on where prospects are in the buying cycle. If you produce top-of-funnel content but gate it, then it probably won’t be very successful—it’s like asking someone to marry you on the first date.
Imagine you’ve produced an in-depth thought leadership report. You can keep this gated, but have a series of other pieces of ungated content that will lead prospects to the final gated piece. By having many routes in, you’ll get more out of this piece of gated content then if you just stick it up but don’t have any other freely available promotional content.
Rob: You also want to think about why you gate. You gate so that people will fill out a form and will share their personal information with you. Using form tracking (something that we offer at CallRail), you can see how prospects engage with your brand: where they click and when they call.
This then shows you which of your marketing efforts are actually working. Once you find out what’s working, you can basically rinse and repeat—not only that, but you can also stop spending on things that aren’t working and instead focus your marketing dollars in the right place.
Measuring content performance
Jeff: I always think that it’s important to think critically about content performance before you’ve actually published the piece in question. If you don’t consider its potential impact, or you don’t think it’ll make a significant impact at all, then why are you publishing it?
Really think about where your biggest opportunities lie to take advantage of existing momentum, if there are any areas in which you have a competitive advantage, and if there are any particular audience segments that your content doesn’t yet appeal to/target.
Predict and improve content before publishing:
- Score content based on comprehensiveness
- Know where you stand among competitors
- Predict content impact before publishing
Ensuring your content performs well on SERPs
Rob: It helps to know a few SERPs tricks. Fortunately, I’ve got a few secrets to share. The first one is really obvious—as Jeff alluded to earlier, you need to ensure that your content is written by experts/someone who is really knowledgeable in the subject matter. Search engines are surprisingly attuned to whether or not content makes sense and answers the topic in question.
Next, make sure that your content is based on original research if at all possible—by this, I mean research that you’ve conducted yourself via a study or a survey. This makes your content more unique, which in turn helps make it more SERP-friendly. If you’re just regurgitating something that you found elsewhere, then there’s no real value—and SERPs won’t reward you for this type of content.
Case studies are also incredibly valuable. Not only will they help you demonstrate what you offer to potential customers, but they also perform well in SERPs. Last, evergreen content is great. That doesn’t mean that you should never develop topical content, but content that’s built to last generally performs really well.
To help you out, we’ve put together a key checklist to help you nail your SEO strategy.
1. Will gating content reduce its overall impact?
Jeff: I love this question, and it’s something that we touched upon a little bit earlier. I personally think that you need to look at the supporting materials. If you just wrote one really short paragraph to promote it, then yes, you probably wouldn’t get your desired impact. However, if you really thought through how you could devise a cross-channel strategy to pique interest in the main piece of gated content and produced appropriate teasers for the target audience in question, then you’ll likely get much more out of it.
For example, I've taken 200-page books and turned them into entire websites. Are some people going to read the entire website? Yeah, sure. But there’ll likely be plenty of others who are so excited about all this great information that they decide to go ahead and just download your book.
Rob: Another filter to think of when deciding whether or not to gate your content is the type of content and where it sits within the buying cycle. If it’s a general study or a guide that’s quite widely relevant, then you probably get away with gating it. Alternatively, if it’s towards the end of the cycle and sits in-between the consideration and decision-making stage, you don’t want to put too many barriers between the customer and making a purchase.
2. Is it okay to repurpose content word-for-word online?
Rob: If you use the same piece of content across different platforms, I wouldn't really call that repurposing—I'd call that promotion. If you've developed a great piece of content, you want as many people as possible to see it, and you can use all channels at your disposal to get them there. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.
We’ve also failed to mention republishing, i.e. if you have a great piece of content that’s performed well in the past so you publish it again. These can perform really well, especially if you add something new to it that makes it even more relevant.
3. How do you set up your content marketing in a way that lets you know when prospects move to the next stage in the buyer journey?
Rob: I think you have to make sure that you have content that spans the entire buyer journey. During the awareness stage, they’re looking for thought leadership information. During the consideration stage, they’re looking for specific information, and during the purchase stage, they need further details like costs, features, benefits, etc. I think to a certain extent, buyers can guide themselves through the journey if you have enough readily available content for each particular stage.
Jeff: I think that’s a great point—you really have to have a full spectrum of content and to know where your gaps are (if there are any). The easiest way to answer this question is that you have to have your analytics in line. You have to know if someone’s consumed multiple pieces of content. Even if they just popped in and read one, the minimum that you need to understand is how far they scrolled. In an ideal world, you’d even have multi-page dynamics.
If you have the right sort of analytics set up then you’ll soon be able to access a dossier of information on each and every reader. You’ll be able to see what sort of content they’ve read, how long they spent reading it, how many times they came back onto your website, which other pages they clicked on, and more. In other words, you’ll immediately be able to see all their intent signals.
Going back to the original question, this means that you should be able to fairly easily monitor whether or not a prospect has moved through the buying cycle by seeing what sort of content they’ve previously consumed. Of course, this won’t always follow a neat, linear path from awareness to purchase—but you’ll generally be able to see which direction they’re moving in based on their content consumption.
Rob: Exactly. If you have a marketing automation platform, you can also trigger different content to be pushed to your prospects based upon what they’ve interacted with previously. For instance, if they’ve received a piece of thought leadership content and have responded to it by reading the entire report, then you can put them in a nurture thread to receive consideration content at a certain stage later on down the line.