Business Unusual: Website Content 101

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We all know that simply creating a website isn’t enough to keep traffic coming, and that’s where content creation comes in. In this first or three parts discussion with Justin Dunham from Ercule, we demystify content creation and dispel the belief that creating content needs to be difficult.

Jill McKenna:

Thanks, everyone, for joining us today. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the campaign marketing manager at Ruby and I’m delighted to be speaking with Justin Dunham today from Ercule. Justin, thanks for joining me.

Justin Dunham:

Hey, Jill. Yeah, it’s great to talk to you today. I am, as you said, Justin Dunham. I started here at Ercule a few years ago and I worked with the team. We are a content performance and SEO agency. We focus on taking existing content marketing that people are doing, and really making it work all the way up and down the content stack, and also optimizing the entirety of our clients’ libraries so that they get the most out of them. I’m joined here today by my Sylvia Plath the finger puppet and my Salvidor Dali finger puppet. I’ll try to work them in. I can’t guarantee anything, but I’ll keep them ready.

Jill McKenna:

I’m just delighted. Puppetry and great artists, two of my favorite things. This is the best interview I’ve done. I think that content and SEO are two things that, as small business owners, you can often feel overwhelmed by. It feels a little bit like a wave that’s going to crush you, like you can never do enough, and you’re never keeping up, and it’s never good enough. I think part of that is kind of the unknowns. I think that you all really de-mystify that and that’s a really important thing to be able to do for small businesses.

Justin Dunham:

Yeah. One of the things, and one of the reasons we started Ercule, was that content marketing and SEO are way harder than they need to be for people who are trying to run a business and trying to educate customers and prospects. The way that we approach this is pretty different. A lot of agencies, when folks bring them on, they’ll come in. They’ll take a few months to do a keyword strategy. They’ll take a couple months to do a technical audit. We’ve seen technical audits that are dozens, hundreds of items. Then a lot of that just gets kind of thrown on the client to sort of deal with, figure out.

Justin Dunham:

We started Ercule partly out of frustration with that status quo. The way we really try to focus is on, first of all, the fundamentals. Just to take something like technical stuff, you can go out there and you can find dozens of guides that have hundreds and hundreds of things that you can do, but what we recommend on the technical side, when we work with clients, is we’ll do a technical audit. It’ll take us a week or two and we’ll find lots and lots of things to optimize, but we really try to focus on things that are related to high quality user experience and just related to, “Does Google know what’s on my site?” That’s number one, I think, on the technical side and that’s the easiest to dispatch with.

Justin Dunham:

There are a bunch of high priority items that we try to work with clients on, things like, “Is this site relatively fast? Is the design good? Is the user experience?” All the fundamentals that you would expect, rather than like super long detailed lists of things, but then in addition to that, we really kind of view that technical piece, which is important, as just kind of getting your out of your own way. You don’t want to have it so that your site’s not indexed. You want to make sure that all the great content you’ve produced can actually show up, but what we very quickly pivot to is the right strategy and the right content.

Justin Dunham:

The way we think about strategy, and for folks out there who are watching this video the way you should think about strategy, is what you want to do is you want to find a set of topics. Depending on the size of your business, it can be as few as 20, it can be as many as 50 or 60. Most companies will only be able to focus on three or four at a time. Pick those topics. Pick the things that are relatively high volume, tons of tools out there you can use to figure out search volume, relatively low competition. Lots of tools that you can go out there to see, sort of, where you can just Google each one of them and seeing who’s ranking, but also critically high relevance to your business.

Justin Dunham:

With Ruby, for example, the things that are relevant to the business are topics around live chat, how that helps being able to talk to human, human connection, all that stuff, right, things that your brand is uniquely positioned to talk about and educate your customers on. We sort of started giving this answer because there’s a tsunami of stuff to think about, but our perspective is the technical stuff. It’s not necessarily simple, but there isn’t a lot of it. There’s just a few things you need to focus on and that’s around user experience. Once you get out of the way, our suggestion is always pick topics that you can talk about uniquely that educate prospects and do things that are valuable for them, that don’t have too much competition, but have some volume.

Justin Dunham:

Then you just want to write about that stuff and you want to write good content. A lot of agencies will come in and say, “Hey, we think you should produce 20 articles about such and such,” and they’re fluff. One of the things we do with clients is we actually deliver an outline every week to explain, “No, no, no. Here are the ways, the things you want to talk about, the things Google and your customers want to hear about,” and you create those longer form things. You can do one a week, is a great way to start, picking one topic and then doing one really solid article a week. That’s kind of it in a nutshell, but there’s a lot of extra stuff that people feel like they need to do. It’s really about focusing on those fundamentals, even for small and medium businesses.

Jill McKenna:

I love everything you just said. Now I have about nine follow-up questions. We spoke earlier a little bit, a couple of weeks back, and had kind of a warm up conversation to get to know each other. This is not one of the things we went over, but I’m really curious about your position or what your thinking is around letting a brand’s values that they’ve identified drive the content that they produce before they start getting into the weeds of, “What’s my competitor doing?” How do you coach or help companies to do that and to really think about how values play into their content?

Justin Dunham:

Yeah. Before I answer that, and I will answer that in a second, I think there’s a related thing, which is that SEO is important. It drives massive numbers of clicks and lots of discovery, especially for small and medium businesses, but when you produce content, don’t think about it as producing it for SEO. Think about it as producing it for your customers. SEO is going to be one channel, but not the only channel that you’re going to use to get your content out there. You’re also going to have your sales representatives know about your content. You’re going to share it on social. You’re going to reach out to folks who may have done business with you before, or you may want to have them do business with you in the future, for your customer success folks. You’re going to join Slack groups and LinkedIn groups that relate to what you’re talking about and share the content there. That’s the first thing I want to say is that people get really focused on SEO and there’s a lot more to the picture that is about, once you produce the content, getting it out there.

Justin Dunham:

With that said, the question about having your values shine through in your content is incredibly important because, if you think about why you’re running the company you’re running, why you created the technology that you created, something to do with how your company wants the world to be is involved with why that technology was created.

Justin Dunham:

Quite a few years ago I used to work at a database startup that did extremely well. One of their main values and the reason they created the product was because their database was a lot easier to work with and made it easier for people to build apps. That was really important. Content there ended up being about that. Because that’s what developers were also looking for, it ranked well on search. It was responded well and developer communities. We were able to send it out email and have people respond to it.

Justin Dunham:

This idea of when you produce content, the content that’s going to perform well, generally the content that’s going to perform well in SEO is going to embody some of the ideas that you have about how the world works. Not to get super philosophical about it, but it’s going to embody some of the ideas about how you want people to change their behavior. When they changed their behavior in the way that your product enables, then they start to use your product. I think having your brand, your identity, your voice super important, as long as the information is there to help them.

Jill McKenna:

What are you seeing that’s good and bad related to what companies are doing right now related to COVID content and what’s happening socially in the country? Which issues related to content are you seeing companies encounter right now during COVID-19?

Justin Dunham:

Yeah. I think there are a few different pieces here. One is that almost every client that we work with is extremely interested in producing stuff about working from home. That can be really good if it relates to what you’re actually doing. If you are a customer who produces robots for factory automation, probably creating an article about best practices for working from home isn’t going to be all that performant for you.

Justin Dunham:

Also, the thing about content in general, and SEO in particular, is that it’s a long play. It’s really strategic. It’s very hard to take advantage of sort of those types of changes if they’re not directly related to your business. However, clients that we’ve had where working from home is connected, their product enables it, or their product will enable it, or their product helps people do that better, can do very, very well having even general things like remote guides and things like that, but also specifically like, “Hey, here’s how you can use our product to solve this particular problem that you now have.”

Justin Dunham:

An obvious one for us at Ercule is a lot of our clients have had to cut way back on live events and other things like that. When we’re building content and sharing it with our clients, sending calls, obviously we’re talking a lot about, “How can we use organic channels and other ways of leveraging your content to make up that gap?” That’s kind of what we’ve seen that’s sort of successful or not successful around what’s currently going on. A lot of these things are going to require changes on an ongoing basis.

Justin Dunham:

One thing we also see is that clients who are thinking about, “Hey, digital is probably permanently going to be a much more important part of our marketing mix.” We’ve always seen them do better and we expect we’ll continue to see better if they’re able to take a strategic approach to this. Something that we’ve seen that’s also not great sometimes is clients who are kind of like, “Hey, we’re going to cut back on stuff that’s not working immediately.” That’s very understandable in sort of the cash issues that we’re and more companies are having, but we urge our clients not to shortchange that longer term importance of having the right content, keeping it updated, focusing on the value that they’re going to deliver to their customers and prospects.

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