This week, Gabriel sits down with John Bonini, Director of Marketing at Databox, to discuss content strategies, content marketing, and how you can build up your blog and get your first 100,000 visitors.
Listen to the Podcast version of this episode:
- About John, Databox, and the Ground Up Podcast (0:33)
- How Content Has Changed Over the Years (2:13)
- Creating and Repurposing Content (5:35)
- Intention and Intent in Content Marketing (6:37)
- Understanding the Impact of Each Form of Content (7:42)
- What Content Strategies Work for Databox (9:42)
- What Are the Challenges In Creating a Content Strategy (15:32)
- What Does it Mean to Be Content Driven? (18:46)
- How to Get Your First Hundred Thousand Visitors (23:18)
- Internal Links and Topic Clusters in Content (29:41)
Gabriel: Hello, everybody and welcome back to Martech Masters we have here today John Bonini director of marketing at Databox. I'm very very excited to have John. How you doing, John?
John: I'm doing good man thanks for having me on the show here. I feel validated I'm finally on Martech Masters so, yeah.
Gabriel: There you go! You are a Martech Master and that's why you're here! So John runs a podcast ‘Ground Up’ he also goes through how companies prioritize their work, how marketing and sales teams run their operations. You want to tell us a little bit about how you work at Databox, what you do, and then also a little bit about the podcast?
About John Bonini, Databox, and the Ground Up Podcast (0:33)
John: Sure yeah I'll talk about the podcast. Yeah, so I'm John as Gabe already mentioned I lead marketing for a company called Databox for the last two and a half years I think which is crazy.
That's flown by and we make tools basically that make it easy for teams and individuals to track and improve their performance from all the different tools that you're Using right.
And the podcast that you alluded to yeah it's called Ground Up and basically what we do is we talk to marketing or sales leaders and we dig into the operational stuff how they set goals how they prioritize work for their teams how they scale their teams how they achieve you know ultimately their success.
So, yeah we've we've had people from from all over on there you know obviously folks from HubSpot you know Rand Fishkin the guys from base camp so yeah it's been a lot of fun running that podcast and it's honestly like the reason I started podcasting years ago was it was a hack for me to learn more and then I was like why don't I just put these out so the same thing with Ground Up like it's a good exercise for me to stay connected with other super smart people and learn from them And just so happen I publish it for other people to listen to too.
Gabriel: That's awesome and that's exactly the reason why we're doing this too. We learn more things, we share things with each other and then share with the world and that keeps growing right?
So, awesome, awesome. Thanks for for being here today it's it's gonna be fun we're gonna talk a lot about content and how you guys use content and also how you track content what metrics and all these different things But why don't you tell us a little bit before we get digging into it into this why don't you tell us a little bit about what what you think content how content has changed in the past years and some of the most important trends you've seen recently.
How Content Has Changed Over the Years (2:13)
John: Right I mean I think that this video series you have here is a prime example and the fact that you're also you also put it out as a podcast. obviously the channels have expanded but more importantly they've matured.
I think over the years as it's gotten easier for brands to produce audio to produce video you know we've seen marketers we've seen brands sort of go all in right on different channels whereas maybe five six years ago like blogging was the only game in town. Right? Blogging SEO video was there right and even audio but it was harder to produce even harder to measure right? So I think as those channels have matured they've gone more mainstream and so we see that with our users to.o So not only are people tracking website metrics but they're looking for tools they want to track their video performance they want to you know draw the ROI from video they're requesting integrations with the tools that they use for podcasting Soundcloud or whatever it is.
So people are creating content across more channels but I don't necessarily always think that it's aligned well I think in a cohesive strategy. I think you're a really good example that I'm going to use because I think the brands that are doing it well are the ones that create audio and video and then they use that content as sort of like a backbone or an outline for other content right a blog post social media campaign and email promotion. So Nextiny is a great example.
This video is going to be a podcast. I've also read the blog post that you have from Martech Masters that they're not just straight transcriptions you also like to summarize the main points. So I think the brands that are figuring that out like Nextiny and you know and others are you know they're they're figuring out ways to transpose content across channels so specifically like the high production channels like video and audio and they're figuring out how to transpose that content into other channels so they can appeal to everyone's learning style without having to basically like x your resources in order to do that like hire you know five people to do video and produce it hire all these audio engineers and on top of the people already writing content so I think how has it changed?
It's expanded more importantly it's matured so I think you're seeing marketers go all in but I also think a lot of marketers have gotten distracted and they're trying to create unique content across every channel be great at every channel which really big brands can do.
"But I think for the smaller brands, or even startups, the great ones are figuring out how to transpose content, reuse it across channels, so they're appealing to everyone, the person in the car commuting, the person working out, the person that just wants to scan and get the bullets."
Creating and Repurposing Content (5:35)
Gabriel: That's awesome and in that place exactly how we run our content campaigns like you mentioned we we do we have a video first mentality and then for our videographers running audio files it's super easy so it's not like they're like oh running a podcast that's easy that is just one layer of the layers that I usually have right?
So, that's something that if you think about it and you do it right you can start with video turn it into a podcast turn that into a blog and then if you create a process right and you have the right people doing the right thing then that becomes social posts campaigns email going email going out to the right people bringing them back to to read the blog to watch the video and and and I think one of the things you said is key- not everybody will condense your content the same way.
Right? And you have to be able to put the content in different places in different channels maybe you put it on YouTube because that's where you are going to be found with certain keywords and maybe you put your full episode but you don't put it on facebook because you want people from Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn to go to your website to watch it so you can actually track so that is very very interesting we we do it that way.
Intention and Intent in Content Marketing (6:37)
John: I think yeah I think there's like a match too finding out what channel where the intent is. Like there's intention and then there's intent.
I think video gets a lot of attention and marketers confuse that like oh my video got x amount of views so many hits on social or my live video the x amount of people tuned in but maybe content has higher intent or is a higher intent channel for your specific customer or your specific user and I think knowing that about your audience, being able to figure out engagement rates and completion rates, conversion rates across different media is important.
Like you said, it's important to create content and transpose it across channels even more important to understand where the intent is where users typically have more intent because it's easier to condense video.
But at the same time sometimes it's it's easier to to find the information you need from content and I think going into it with eyes wide open in in tracking and measuring all those channels so you can know how people are engaging with them is is critical so you're not just creating content and getting you know getting lost in the signal just because you're getting a lot of video views or a lot of podcast downloads.
Understanding the Impact of Each Form of Content (7:42)
Gabriel: Exactly and understanding what's the impact of each one of these different types of content because if you have a blog and you get someone from Google then the impact is you're creating new potential leads or new new visits but then also engagement is important for your brand so understanding what you're tracking and why you're doing these aspects like this different different activities is also important to track the right things.
If I'm doing a brand affinity campaign then we're tracking hours watched is how many minutes people are watching the videos right but if I'm creating a lead generation campaign then I want visits to the website from these blogs and from SEO and Google and and social so so yeah that that makes sense it's understanding the audience and the the in the impact of these activities on the audience too right?
John: Right yeah. d=Don't get lost in those eighty percent of it people the content consumed on the web is going to be… don't get lost in that stuff! I mean it's important but just remember a lot of those videos are memes too. Your social feeds like videos are awesome. I don't need to tell you that but I just think yeah understanding where it falls in the customer journey is the most important part.
Gabriel: And also a video that's three minutes long. People will probably watch it but a video like this one that's minutes more people are gonna listen to the podcast while they're running instead of being in front of the computer doing one one thing right? So that's keep in mind where the content is going to be used and how they're gonna engage with it.
That's awesome. So-tell us a little bit more about some of the biggest plays you've run and that paid off when you were running content strategies for Databox what's been working for you guys?
What Content Strategies Work for Databox? (9:24)
John: Sure so I'll start sort of at the beginning of the Pete Caputa era, I'll call it he'll love and hate that, so you know when Pete came over and took over as CEO I think it was ...geez early.
So when he took over like one of the strategies he brought with him from something he was doing at HubSpot was the idea of a roundup post which I don't I don't like the name roundup post I think it cheapens the the format but something that we did early on was instead of which was a deliberate choice instead of having another single point of view blog and what I mean by that is John Bonini writes a blog post about how to improve xyz and it's all my experiences in all of my opinion which is most blogs out there. Most blogs are colons, that's what they are.
We wanted to approach it differently almost like a reporter would and so what does a reporter do? It interviews other experts, collates different opinions, different views, and different insights creates a narrative around that and you know gives a more cohesive story or a bigger picture to the readers.
So what we started doing early on was we would poll our customers at the time in the early days it was just the customers we would pull our customers about any number of things that our ideal customer would care about how do you you know track and improve you know your sales funnel in HubSpot how do you lower your cost per click from Facebook ads all kinds of things right? So we would send them a survey and they would answer the questions with multiple choice questions.
We would then collate those answers and put together a blog post. So that worked for a number of reasons one we were basically starting from scratch in early and starting a blog from scratch in the only thing harder than that is starting one from scratch in so it's not easy right and you kind of we we kind of hacked the instead of waiting for organic search to pick up what that roundup model does is people that contributed are going to share that post and not only that but the people we started sort of surveying after our customers was ideal prospects.
So we would find like okay marketing agencies were sort of our like beachhead market at the time let's go find other marketing agency pros like Gabe and ask him these same questions and Databox is gonna be in their sort of universe now because now they're in our content they're visiting our website oh let me check out Databox so it was a hack early on not just to gain traction on the blog and get subscribers and start picking up steam but also to generate leads in the early days.
And we still follow this model to this day we just think we've scaled it we've developed process behind it so it's it's it's super streamlined and we're able to produce a lot of it you know frequently a lot of high quality content at a high frequency which is which is hard to do so I think that was like the first big play that really paid off and allowed us to sort of scale quickly in content.
The second thing is vole of content just publishing a lot so it doesn't sound like a play but the argent do you need a lot of content do you need high quality content the answer is you need both and when you're that journey to your first a hundred thousand visitors let's say you need vole you just do.
Like you oh you know I'm gonna get into this later but about twenty percent of your content that you ever produce is probably gonna rank and drive significant content traffic to your site so you need to take more bites at the apple you need to produce more content so that was that was another play.
A big one once we started getting towards that session mark was updating old content. So we're publishing content at a high frequency for a year and a half we have a ton of content that ranked and then sort of dropped or a lot of content that was on like page two of search so we kind of prioritized that content made some big updates and that like we increased our traffic organic traffic by like % over six Months and now that's a permanent part of our process because we have enough content we're producing so much content that there's always content to go back to that was published six months ago that we can make better or you know give a boost to page one.
So that was a huge one and then one more recently is we used to publish case studies or use cases for our product separately from like top of funnel content and marketers typically think of their funnel as all right I need top funnel content I need middle of funnel content and I need bottom of funnel content.
So what we're doing right now is we're baking product use cases directly into the top of funnel content. Like who says one piece of content can't appeal to all stages? So basically what we're doing now is that same post that would be about how to track your sales funnel in HubSpot and get insights from people like you and you know others now there's a section in those posts that shows people how to do that in the native tool how to do it in HubSpot but then how they can actually track and visualize it and what the benefit of that is doing is in Databox.
Gabriel: And it's creating a whole funnel on a blog?
John: It's all in the same blog post and so now we're instead of publishing those use cases separately we're baking them right into those posts that are going to rank organically. It's hard to get product promotions to rank organically so what we're just trying to do now is bake it all in and our bet there is that you know the conversion rates on our blog posts are going to go up. So yeah so that's sort of our big play now that we've developed the process around and we're kind of you know full steam ahead on right now.
What Are the Challenges In Creating a Content Strategy? (15:32)
Gabriel: So, yeah you're mentioning you know all these you know putting together a strategy working with people and bringing them all into one piece of content.
What are some of the challenges that you've seen managing that kind of process? Even though you're super organized, then you're working with people that might not send you the content and how do you make it look like it's the same voice and make it all cohesive in one place? Tell me more about those challenges.
John: Having good writers solve a lot of that right he was figuring out what the format looked like and what the output of the actual post looked like. At the beginning it was just like straight listicle style didn't love that so we went with a more narrative style at the sort of suggestion of one of our writers so it's more like a newspaper article the quotes are sort of weaved into the narrative so that was probably the first challenge is just figuring out what does the format look like how what is the output what does the actual post look like otherwise it's a listicle of quotes there's not a ton of value right I mean there's value in the insights but in terms of what we're bringing to the table and presenting it I think it's just that could get tiring.
So that was the first challenge everything else like having everything weaved in and having it sound like the same voice and sort of like that that's all by really having great writers and honestly like we've you know we've you know I'm proud of the stable of freelance writers that we've been able to to put together over the years some have gone on to get full-time jobs at places like Help Scout and you know based partly on some of the work that they've done you know with us so I'm proud of the the process that we've been able to put in place and then the the type of writers that we've been able to attract in here.
And having freelance writers that have unique experience they're working with other companies they're seeing what works at other companies they're working with other good marketing leaders and learning stuff from them and so bringing like you know a handful of freelance writers in at a time and you're getting all these different views and everybody's just working to improve it I just I couldn't I couldn't be a bigger proponent of bringing on freelance writers.
And so like that kind of solved a lot of the challenges you you mentioned which was having good writers that know how to tell a story and I screen people I'm super picky when it comes to writers and like I look for the people that have a more journalistic style that are really good at telling a story around maybe the facts they learned or quotes from other people and so when you bring in people like that and they're able to sort of just go to work and you kind of have a great tight process they can follow and then get out of their way I think that that has solved a lot of like any other issues.
And all of our writers have unique , unique tones and unique voices and I think that that's necessary and I want that on our blog. Part of the reason why we didn't want to go single point of view is we want unique viewpoints, we want different tones, we want a more diverse you know representation on the blog in all areas. So yeah I mean have a really tight process and hire great writers. Like I don't want to oversimplify it but that's really what it's all about that's that's what it's been for us.
What Does it Mean to Be Content Driven? (18:46)
Gabriel: That's it, that's it. So tell me a little bit of what it means to be content driven as an organization right because you're pretty much putting your whole marketing strategy behind content but also what are some of the metrics that you need to focus on and where do you find opportunities from those metrics when you're running the content strategy.
John: Yeah I mean content driven is really just another way of saying like you're you're not really investing in short-term solutions—paid ads things like that. You know for us being a smaller company for the past few years that was more out of necessity, it's probably something we're going to experiment with specifically retargeting because we have a free product we have a ton of people that are signing up for Databox right so retargeting is is something that I think is worth investing in.
But you know content driven is is more of a long-term approach but you know like I said earlier finding ways to sort of hack traction somebody should should write a book called "haction" or something that's a terrible nickname for it but to sort of like hack traction in the early days right. But yeah really being content driven is focused in terms of the metrics like you're focused on sort of those outcome metrics that you know about traffic things like signups conversion Rates but I think we also focus a great deal on what we call output metrics.
It's part of a training that we put out called predictable performance training And how to allow businesses to do a better job of predicting what they're going to be able to do performance wise next week next month next quarter which is super hard right for any of us to do but for us it's it's meant focusing on outcome metrics but then most people don't pay a lot of attention to the output metrics or even understand which outputs result in outcomes so we focus a great deal on output metrics especially because we're a small team it's sort of a superpower.
So those are things like how many new contributors to to surveys this this week this month how many blog posts have been published how many how many links have we generated so by focusing on those things and having sort of an intense you know focus on the outputs you know we're able to sort of have faith that the outcomes are you know we're doing the right things and we're investing in the right activities that the outcomes are going to follow suit right?
Gabriel: It's like a salesperson focusing on calls, emails, and meetings booked, right?
John: Same thing it's sort of like yeah it's a funnel for content I think if you're going to be content driven you have to take that sort of approach you have to be invested in the activities and you have to make things repeatable and and have clear processes for everything.
You know I've worked at you know a few companies that have been prolific in content and some companies are just like they get by because they're just you know they on a whim like oh I have these ideas this week let's let's publish them or we're going to collaborate with these companies you know this quarter but there's no real cohesive strategy or people aren't focused on doing the outputs with any regularity we've had to do that.
"I mean being content driven for us, especially being a smaller team, is to focus on first understanding what outputs actually result in outcomes and then we have to make sure that we set goals around those outputs."
And you know we've we've really kind of distilled it all down to a really tight process I think over the years and that's allowed us to we we know exactly what what levers to pull in terms of content like okay if we up our if we up our frequency here we know that this is probably what we're going to see come out the other end in order to do that we're going to need x more contributors we're going to need x more blog post published we know exactly who owns each area what they have to do in order to do that and so it's really just about knowing really understanding what outputs lead to the outcomes and having processes and roles defined that help everybody you know achieve the outputs in addition to the outcomes.
Gabriel: That's awesome, that's awesome. So you've been building this for for a couple of years and you've gotten to achieve amazing results not only on visits but you your whole organization is being now content driven and you're not spending a lot of money on other activities how did you get to that first hundred thousand visitors and and after that-which is amazing- how you keep them coming right? How do you get another hundred thousand right? Tell us more about that.
How to Get Your First Hundred Thousand Visitors (23:18)
John: First visitors so yeah I mean that was like I kind of mentioned before I would say the first thing that was important there is publishing frequency. It matters like I said I think probably % of the content that you publish is ever going to drive meaningful organic traffic.
"You need to publish high quality content at a high frequency."
And so I think the first thing was that publishing frequency. Now the second part of that high quality content at a high frequency second point you need to establish processes that ensure that that ensure high quality and that they ensure efficiency so you're able to publish at a high vole. So everything from conceptualizing ideas, assigning posts to who writes them, proofreading editing images, everything every step of the process needs to be documented it needs to be repeatable.
Quality can be repeatable and I don't think a lot of marketers believe that they think there's a false choice: it has to be one or the other and I would say read any great newspaper, read the Washington Post, read the New York Times they have to do both. They do it everyday.
I'm not comparing us to the New York Times or the Washington Post I'm just saying that you can at a smaller scale you know those organizations are publishing hundreds of pieces of content a day right we're publishing one.
So establishing processes to ensure high quality and high frequency is essential you need to docent every step of the process there needs to be someone that owns you know everyone has to know who owns which area of the process because if it's not repeatable you're never going to be able to produce high quality at a high vole.
High quality will end up just being something that is sort of serendipitous and if you try to go high without a repeatable process you get a lot of shit content because you just at that point you just hit people are just trying to hit a number. Right?
It's like if you tell a sales guy you need to know there's no there's no ing when it comes to re gonna have a lot of crappy content so really good one early on for us that was having contributors to our content.
That was having people share it with their audiences, put it in their newsletters and link it on their website that helped us gain traction early and then two three four five six months in our early post started gaining traction in search and then that kind of gave us a boost.
So you need to find a distribution channel to sort of bridge that gap between their early days and when organic starts to pick up maybe it's influencer maybe it's video but you need to find one and then links you know as early as possible find a way to build links quality links in a way that's not you're not just emailing people and asking hey do you want to link to this.
We've made it a part of our process we offer our writers % more money if they write a second smaller post words that we then give away to a publishing partner and they publish it on their website they get a free piece of content that's well written well researched in terms of SEO and then they link back to us.
So finding a good way to build quality links scalable early on is important too from to to get to k. Now when you hit that mark sometimes you'll hit that sort of plateau around you know might be might be but at that point it's like scaling the output through processes so that might mean more writers might mean even more content being published but can you know now that you have a process scaling it.
Second thing is editing and updating old content that's huge. There there's there's actually sometimes I would say when you hit that k market a little after you might even see more value editing old content than even publishing new content but again if you're looking to continue scaling and you have eyes on being a million million dollar company or for if you're service based you know it might be million whatever it is like you want to get past to right so you're going to keep publishing at a high vole but there's more there's probably more value once you hit in updating old content.
So having a process for prioritizing which content should be updated which ones have decayed which ones are hanging out on page two editing and updating those is gonna give you a huge boost.
Third one finding distribution partners. You know we've done that with partners like you Gabe you know collaborating on content whether it's video or or or content blog post or whatever it is like finding distribution partners that will either publish content for you like what I was just saying like building links and creating content for other people but finding distribution partners is also important and then link building same thing like that's always going to be important.
I would say those are some of the things that come to mind I'm sure I'll think more later but those are some of like the big plays in terms of getting to k and then scaling once you hit it because you hit it and it feels great and then you're like okay now what and you even plateau.
"You always hit these traffic plateaus and I feel like the answer to fixing that, especially when you get more traffic and you have more content published, is to go after a lot of the low hanging fruit and going back to your existing content. Ask yourself: What am I missing? What did we do? What keywords are we missing?"
On some of these posts, what if I add video can we increase the dwell time of some of these posts which will help.
So there's all kinds of things or yeah do we create supplemental content like video they have rank in YouTube because we know that the content written format worked really well. So yeah I mean there's all kinds of optimization opportunities I think after and after you've published a good amount of content that come into play.
Internal Links and Topic Clusters in Content (29:41)
Gabriel: And also we've seen linking internally to other content that you know your y should include pillar pages and landing page and topic clusters and making sure that there's internal linking but that also happens sometimes you're posting so much content that that even though the strategy is there you don't see some of the opportunities to link the content to each other and we've seen that going back and saying hold on we have all this content if we just link it to these things and and and repost it and update it then all of a sudden you have a new cluster that can grow together.
John: Yeah, that's a good point. The ship with the content that that's actually something now that we're we're investing more in I think is more important at the stage that we're at too is is like you just said identifying where those clusters can be informing them a lot of that content is already written so it's really just about organizing it and yeah early on you don't have enough content for that to make sense right and then all of a sudden you're a couple years in and and you're like oh man we have all this content all over the place and it you know maybe you're combining posts.
That's it you can combine some posts and create a pillar piece of content and then that becomes...and then linking to other subtopics and like yeah defining that sort of content tree I think is also a huge play after after that 100,000 mark.
Gabriel: John this has been amazing you've shared pretty much the whole strategy inside Databox.
John: Not the whole thing, man.
Gabriel: Of course but there's a lot a lot that you have shared and we really appreciate you being here of course we really appreciate Databox partnership and your partnership. Pete has been an amazing partner and Databox has been an amazing partner for us. We've been growing together and that's been great. Anything else you want to share with us or the world?
John: No, I would just say likewise man. Thanks for having me on, first of all, and yeah working with partners like Nextiny is great because it makes us look good.
I mean I think that goes for any software product. HubSpot I mean I you know back in the day when I was in the partner program like the best partners make the product look good and make the company look good so it's yeah companies like Nextiny you guys are are are I feel like leaders on the video and video measurement video marketing and and the way you use Databox it's like you teach us things.
So, yeah, it's I would just say likewise it's great to work closely with you and the team over there and thanks for having me on Martech Masters.
Gabriel: That's great. Thank you and make sure you check out Ground Up John's podcast too so so thanks again John for being here thanks again for the partnership and stay safe okay take it easy.