This week on MarTech Masters, Gabriel sits down with Steve Pockross, CEO of Verblio and Paul Zalewski, Verblio's VP of Marketing to discuss what Verblio recommends businesses can do to alter their content creation and strategies for success during these times.
Listen to the Podcast version of this episode:
- Introducing Steve Pockross and Paul Zalewski (0:36)
- What is Verblio? (1:51)
- How Can Verblio Save You Money (3:30)
- How Has the Crisis Affected Your Customers? (4:41)
- Rethinking and Reviewing Current Content (10:54)
- More Than Just Creating Blogs )17:44)
- Final Thoughts from Steve and Paul (25:32)
Gabriel: Hello everybody and welcome back to MarTech Masters. Today I have here with me Steve and Paul from Verblio. Do you guys want to say hi, you want to say who you are, where are you... it looks like Steve is in a bunker. He has his own bunker for for the COVID situation. Hey guys and thank you for joining us today!
Introducing Steve Pockross and Paul Zalewski (0:36)
Steve: It's great to be here Gabriel! Thanks so much for having us. Good to be talking to you again. I'm Steve Pockross. I'm the CEO of Verblio. We are based in Colorado. We are a content creation marketplace platform so we deliver 70,000 pieces of unique content in multiple verticals per year. We are a mix of a SAS company and a services company together and the the background was enforced by my team who told me I needed to up my home-professionalism game.
Paul: And I'm Paul Zalewski, I'm the VP of Marketing here at Verblio. I'm in front of the only kind of blank wall I could find in my entire apartment and I've been a career marketer. I spent the last 10 years in digital with a focus on SEO so Verblio is my dream job because not only do I get to do our own SEO and digital marketing but I get to help other marketers figure out how to do that as well.
Gabriel: That's awesome. So I guess not everybody has a hundred typewriters they can put in the back.
Steve: Or one!
Gabriel: Or one, perfect. I'll send you one Steve don't worry about it. It's very very useful when the second wave comes in...I'm just kidding.
Steve: That'd be great. Can I get one of the IBM ones that has the...
Gabriel: Oh yeah! An IBM Selectric! Don't get me started man.
What is Verblio? (1:51)
Gabriel: So again thank you for joining us today and the idea with this series is not only to talk about martech and marketing technology and also in this case specifically about content but also a little bit of what's going on right now but before we get into that do you want to talk a little bit more about Verblio and how Verblio can help companies creating content or agencies that need content for their customers?
Steve: Sure. Paul and I are just gonna take turns figuring out who's got the best answer. Paul, do you want to take this round?
Paul: Yeah absolutely. So Verblio is a combination of a marketplace business and SAS. So we have a network of about 3,000 freelance writers and then the software that connects them to businesses and agencies who need content. This is actually my third marketplace startup and what I think is so cool about marketplace applied to content is that when you get together 3,000 people and what they have in common is that they love to write, what they don't have in common is their background, and we have this amazing diversity of writers on our platform. We have something like 10 licensed architects, we have software engineers, but the thing that brings them all together is this love for writing. Gabriel, as I know you know, when you get someone who understands subject matter expertise at a very deep level you produce better content. It's more authentic, it resonates with the audience, it uses the right terminology for that vertical and so that's one of the things that I think is so cool about our business.
How Can Verblio Save You Money? (3:30)
Gabriel: Yeah and it definitely saves time and money at the end of the day that is critical for every company, especially during these times. Verblio can save you money and save you time when you're creating content which is something that we all need to do if you want to keep growing online, if you want to keep your website updated, if you want to grow your SEO and create leads on your website and all those things. Content is gonna be critical either website content, pillar pages, blog content, email content, all those things you still need someone to write all of that and Verblio can save you time and money, right guys?
Paul: And we think a ton about how we can add flexibility to the business model of digital agencies or digital marketers, especially now when headcount is getting cut, when budgets are getting tight, but as you said this is not the time to stop doing content.
“This is the time to reload your cannon, to take a look at your backlog, figure out what you should be doing to prepare for the future.”
So we think a lot about the fact that our model is flexible. You can scale up, you can scale down our service at anytime and that allows marketers to keep creating content for their business, for their clients, while budgets are getting cut.
How Has the Crisis Affected Your Customers? (4:41)
Gabriel: Definitely. So again we're going through some trying times and you know we're at home, everybody's trying to run their business, we're all trying to find opportunities while keeping businesses running, keeping people employed so there's many challenges and content is just one of those challenges. So what have you seen companies doing? Are people pausing their content creation efforts? Are they repurposing old content? Are they creating new content that's specific about how they're gonna manage their business or engage with their customers? Tell us more about what you're seeing as trends on the content side of things regarding this specific crisis.
Steve: Sure, so I'll start out trying to tell the big buckets of change and then Paul can get into more specifics about what some individual companies are doing. I think there's really a few different buckets. So one you've got your companies if your existentially struggling with your existence of your company you know focus on that, keep your company around. If you think your company is going to be around and survive through this there's really two ways to go about this. We have one bucket that is that is pausing knowing that they want to keep it on, that they want to keep this alive, and it's an important thing to do they'll get back to it. We have another bucket which is this is a great opportunity to really set ourselves apart. We're going to use content as a competitive advantage, it's one of the few marketing channels that we have out there and I'd say that you know all of our biggest clients and all of our top marketing companies that are all in on the power of SEO are focusing on expanding content right now but you know if it's an existential crisis for your company you need to be looking at that first.
Gabriel: Of course and you know we're seeing kind of like what you said it's the companies that are really being impacted and they're gonna have to they're gonna have to pause absolutely everything then the companies that are being impacted in a way but they can pivot and find opportunities. Like a great example is healthcare. Everybody's going into telemedicine and that's something that they've been not doing for a while, they've been thinking about it but they haven't done it because they didn't have time so now telemedicine is something that they have to do in order to survive and also thrive in the future and now they have to create content around telemedicine and how they do it and why it's better and how it's gonna save time for people and all those things that they didn't have before. And then of course we have industries that are growing not surprisingly because certain things are going to be growing through a crisis depending on what kind of crisis it is. Those people are probably gonna have to create even more content because everybody's creating more and doing more in those industries right?
Steve: It is becoming more and so some industries are gonna have that. You know especially the large enterprises one of the big movements in our space is like the the laggards, the big companies who haven't really caught the SEO wave are starting to see that and so there's actually a first mover advantage in SEO for really large companies which is a very... for those of us who live and breathe SEO that's a very bizarre concept but if you're a large company out there and you're trying to figure out how to reapply your marketing funds right now and your competitors don't do it, if you build up that moat you're gonna be the one who ranks when people are looking for companies in your space for years and years to come. So I think that's really important. Gabriel you said something really interesting when you were on my videocast series a couple weeks ago which was the first thing you should do is look at all of your marketing automation messaging, rethink it with tone. You don't want anything coming out for your company and if it's even vaguely on the edge work through all of it now. I think that's great. The other thing that I've been thinking about and then I'll pass the mic to Paul is that there's you know everyone knew that they had to come out with a message to all of your clients so you've all received a million emails about we're here for you and so that's step one. Two, be real about it like be sincere, talk about where you're really helping. In our message out to our clients we said we realized we can't help with everything. Where we can help is in content creation so please let us know anything in content creation. Here are some things that we've thought of and so be part of the solution that you can be and don't you know don't over overreach where where you really play and I think that the people who look at moving beyond that quickly into your funnel and every level of your marketing communications and changing that and upgrading it are gonna have a distinct advantage.
Paul: Yeah I think two things there that Steve said are really important. One is be authentic. You definitely need to adjust your tone and Gabriel you were actually the first person that I heard that from when you were on our our series last month. You've been in very good company with thought leaders coming out and saying that over and over again. Two things I think are important there one is when you're doing that audit of your content for tone you can at the same time audit for revamping and republishing opportunities. I know that's something you guys are very big on at Nextiny but I think it's one of the most underutilized tactics in content marketing and it's something that we hadn't started doing again our latest round until last month, but it's amazing the SEO benefit you can get from taking an old piece of content, figuring out how it can be better and more useful for today, and then relaunching it. So I think that's really big and I think an interesting example of being authentic our monthly newsletter is pretty light-hearted typically. The hero banner has a stick-figure version of our logo flying around on a paper airplane and we thought huh this isn't gonna work this month. So we just made a subtle change we put the little stick figure in a house. And it was almost Easter Eggy. Someone who was new to the newsletter wouldn't have even noticed it but it was a way that we could stay authentic to our brand, which is a little bit more playful, while recognizing and being in solidarity with our audience.
Rethinking and Reviewing Current Content (10:54)
Gabriel: Yeah I believe that there's there's opportunities to do that, to personalize today more than ever. I like the idea of going back to old content and one thing that we did and we're doing with all of our customers is going through their website. Just reviewing their website because the messaging on the website might be wrong today, right? You might have something that says "everybody wants to go outside and be happy" and if that is a sentence on your website today probably it's not going to resonate with your audience so going page by page on your website, creating specific pages for this crisis, reviewing the messaging on the site, on your landing pages, on your emails, on your automation, on your ads. Like if you have ads, pause them all today, review everything, and then put play again if you're gonna keep them running because things are not the same. You can't use certain words, you get use viral everywhere on your video stuff because it's not a good word to use anymore, at least for a while, so there are again opportunities to optimize current content that most people are not even taking and then going back to a blog that had a lot of success for example and then started to slow down. We have a blog explaining how to identify these opportunities - I feel like that right now is critical because that's instant ranking with something that doesn't require a lot of work and the optic could just be by the way during this crisis this is how we're doing this right? And you still have all the content from the old blog, you do a little update at the top, you republish that blog, you push it on social media, people understand okay oh so you do video and you do video shoots, but now you can't do the video shoot because this is what's happening so you're sending video boxes to your customers oh I understand how I can interact with you nowadays and then that could be reupdated when things change again. So Google loves that right?
“Google loves you when you are helping and when you are updating your content.”
You have thousands of blogs, most people have thousands of blogs in their blog feed. Go back, find the opportunities of things that have been losing some attention and find those blogs that are having incredible amount of visits but not converting a lot, optimizing for conversion have all the ones that are converting and not coming up on Google optimize them for SEO so there are a lot of things that you can do without even spending any money or time on creating new content to repurpose, uh, but I agree with you guys creating new content is also a huge opportunity nowadays especially because a lot of people are pausing their marketing efforts. We know I've been talking a lot about this with other companies you know if you if you analyze World War II, Great Depression, all these different crises throughout history the brands that continue to advertise, the brands that continue to put their name out there and do things in a, you know again, in the right way keeping the tone and the messaging correct, are the brands that we know today right? They're the ones that survive and thrive after it so I believe that there's a huge opportunity on creating new content. So have you have you heard of any of those opportunities? Have you had any examples of companies doing this right now? Tell me more about what you see on the on the market.
Steve: So I think we're still super fresh, we're just about to enter month two of the crisis so I think companies are just figuring this out. I think month one was all about hey everything changed how do we change all of our marketing messages all the time? So I think there are some places to be a lot more topical. How do you get in front of something if somebody's searching for you know you are a restaurant and you're doing now you're doing delivery services that's a pretty obvious thing where you can message around. Now if you're an accounting based software SAS platform your message is gonna be really evergreen so ours is much more about long term SEO strategy, build the evergreen content that's going to build your moat for years and years to come.
“Usually SEO has an advantage in that it's more powerful, it's a more effective way to reach an audience, but it does have this disadvantage of taking longer to build up. You have to believe in it, you have to commit to it.”
This is a great time for something like that from having their audience find you when they're looking for you as opposed to you choosing when you want to reach out to them so I think that we are about to see the creative marketers, and that's one of the best things about having a thousand great marketers on our platform. They tell us what the great ideas are and the better ways to use us versus us telling them sometimes. We'll get back to you with what those ideas are within the next month. Paul anything else you're seeing?
Paul: To further a point Steve made I think that this crisis can be very intimidating from a marketing perspective. Marketers feel like the only thing they can write about is COVID and what's going on in the world, but we did a survey of our audience by asking people what topics we could create for them and the majority of people did not want and did not need topics that are all about this current crisis so it's okay to be forward thinking, not let this intimidate you into creating no content.
Gabriel: I love the idea of asking people. We actually sent a survey out and and I believe that the name of the email was "It's time for marketers to stop assuming, including us" right, then we said that on the subject line, and I believe what's also important is let's not assume that everybody wants to know everything about COVID or let's not assume that everybody needs to know how to do video from home right? Like you said Steve like we know we can help people set up their video studio or do video remotely or record a video series from home and yes we're creating content about that but let's also ask our audience what do you need right now? It's not gonna be the answer is not gonna be a hundred percent I want to set up Zoom to be able to do... that was week one. Everybody did it and the answer is different today, the challenges are different today. So asking I believe that asking even though this is an evergreen strategy asking is always good, during a crisis is even more important to ask what's going on, what do you need, how can we help, what what kind of content you want to see
Steve: Yeah I completely agree and just going back to our previous point of just staying within your lanes, just be really authentic about where you can really help and not have the big broad what could we possibly do for you that nobody can ever answer.
More Than Just Creating Blogs (17:44)
Gabriel: Exactly. So any other things that you want to share about Verblio because we're talking about blog content, and I know we expanded on that, but it's not just blogs. You guys can help with pillar pages, you guys can help with some videos so tell me more about the expansion of the services that goes beyond you know you helping people create blogs.
Steve: Paul you want to take this one?
Paul: Yeah absolutely. So we rebranded the company about a year and a half ago now and a big part of that rebrand was when we started eight years ago all you needed to do as an small business was write one 300 word blog post per week and if you were in a local enough market, if you were niche enough, that was all you needed to do great on Google. That's not true anymore. Pillar pages, video, local landing pages, all of this stuff plays a really important part in the story of inbound marketing and the story of content marketing so we've put a lot of focus into how do we take our core model, which started with blogs, and apply that to all areas of content marketing. So we're able to use that same writer base, we adapt the model a little bit for long-form, there's more interaction, there's more you know how do we make sure that we're dialed in at the beginning? Same with website projects. We don't start with having our writer write all twenty pages. They pick one or two, they make sure that they get the tone right and then we expand upon that from there. So there's so much that the average small business needs to think about when they're doing digital marketing today. Video is another that I know Gabriel you guys think a lot about and talk a lot about. Last year we acquired a video company called Automagical and the goal there was how do we make video more accessible to the average SMB. It's something that again can be incredibly Intimidating and so overwhelming that businesses don't get started, so our video platform takes a piece of written content - we use a combination of software and humans to take that written content and turn it into a short 45 to 60 second video that marketers can embed in their written content to increase engagement, that they can post on social media to drive more eyeballs to their written content, so it's really how do we think about the intersection of written content and video.
Gabriel: Yeah and what Verblio can do is actually create the videos from the content, I think that's unique and I believe that during this crisis this could be a unique way for people to create videos when they can't, even though yes there are ways to create videos like this video series we're doing it from home and with Zoom and with QuickTime and I have a DSLR camera and I have a whole studio set up at home and yes you could do these things or you can use Soapbox by Wistia and create simple videos from your computer, but those efforts could also be combined with Verblio videos that come from a blog and that blog could turn into a more engaging blog that people spend more time because you've just treated a simple video that people can engage with, so I believe that that's a huge opportunity for people to create simple videos with Verblio to enhance the content they already have, right?
Steve: Yeah I think that's the big that's the big change in our thinking which is a lot of what we do is we're following a lot of marketing trends so all marketing trends start off as kind of simple, these people are trying the early adopters are trying to figure them out, and then they get more complicated and everyone thinks that the earlier phase was really easy but every phase gets more advanced and harder to figure out. So a few of those trends that are applying to us, which I think would just kind of give the the broader perspective here, is so video everyone looks at the new disruptive technology as why is it completely different? How do I have to completely rethink everything?
“And so to us video is just another way of storytelling. Content marketing is all about telling your story to people who are listening to it, to the areas that they're interested in, so it to us it should be paired with your written content and it should be the same strategy and all come together.”
This is just another medium, another channel for reaching out to the same customers. If you have the same potential audience who's interested in watching it versus reading it then you should have the same message to them. So we look for how do you pair a video together versus do it separately. Another one of our big trends following kind of our rebrand a year and a half ago is that we are focusing primarily on... content marketers on digital marketers and about two-thirds of our business now is focused on digital agencies who really understand how to use this and supplying them with another strategic advantage to reach out to their customers. So every marketing trend starts with the early adopters. There's no agencies because nobody knows how to do this, and then you get people who spread out and start doing this for multiple companies and they take that marketing trend and they consolidate it into a consulting group which are now called marking agencies. They're called consultants in every other part of the world but in our world its agencies and so they become sophisticated and they can help the larger clients deliver this and this is kind of who we're trying to serve. One last trend that to follow up on Paul's I think is an interesting data point is long-form about how the transition from 300 words to what we're currently doing now. When we started this business less than 5% of our business was less than a thousand words, so consider this kind of like a medium-size blog post for people who don't speak in word length. It's currently 2/3 of our business and part of that was driven by lead marketers, like agencies, who are driving us in that direction and part of us was leading our audience back towards it as this is the most effective, you're going to have to keep adopting and we're gonna keep adopting with you.
Gabriel: Definitely, and one last thing about long-form is you don't even have to sometimes creating a pillar page seems like a daunting task and you need again 10 pages of content and videos and all these things one of the many easy ways that we found to do it, and Verblio can help, is to grab successful blogs about the same topic. You can you can go back and probably you wrote 10 blogs about the same topic already so you can submit those 10 blogs and say hey convert this into a pillar page and Verblio can write your pillar page for you without you even thinking about how you're gonna convey all these messages and go from the more you know more generic to the more complex and specific like they can do all of that for you by just taking some of your blog's and then you have a topic cluster because that's your pillar page and you already have the blog's written now you just connect them together and that's your SEO strategy right there. So you can reuse a lot of what you already have and Verblio can help you save the time and the money to put it all together, right guys?
Paul: That's so spot-on Gabriel and this is something that again marketers get so intimidated by, but go back and think about the content you already have. You I'm sure as a business have such great content that you've already done, how can you repurpose it kind of circling back to our revamping and republishing discussion another area where you can repurpose content: if you've got a video you can turn that into a written piece of content. You can go the other way. So think about the assets you already have think about how you could use those to produce more great long-form stuff without the intimidation level of starting long-form from scratch.
Final Thoughts from Steve and Paul (25:32)
Gabriel: Of course. All right guys, again thank you very much for joining us today but this is your time to share anything else you want to share. You want to sell something, explain a new service, tell us whatever you need, this is your time guys go ahead. Steve, you want to start?
Steve: Sure so one of the questions we get asked most often is writing is one of the oldest traditions in the world and what are we doing differently here and what is the main problem that we're trying to solve. So I thought it would be useful to talk about what we're trying to solve so the main challenge with scaling content is how do you create scale and also quality at the exact same time? So the two existing service options on the market really focus you on one or the other. So you either have incredible quality with one writer who might not be available, who's very expensive and might not be there when you need them, or you have you know a thousand mediocre writers who don't get you and so we try to solve this with three really different approaches. One is some of it is on the writer side, some of it is on our business model, and a lot of it is on our technology and we're a very technology driven company. So on the writer side we believe motivated writers are the best writers for you. If they're excited to write for you it's going to come through and so we try to be the best platform for writers to write for, we pay more than other platforms so you know we we put that into the equation. We also have the forum where they can get active. We have a business model where that we think that the entire concept of an algorithm that finds the right writer for you doesn't make as much sense as the writer is choosing themselves, so we ask for the clients to put in what are you looking for, what's the tone, what's your style, what's your subject matter expertise, give us examples of pieces you like. The writers are incentived to they only get paid if the client accepts the piece and we think that's a critical piece there of them matching themselves to you. They're putting a lot on their line and then you are reviewing their work and not their profile picture. And the last is the technology is that content creation is just a very friction filled process. There's a lot that goes into it no matter how easy we make it it's going to be a lot to get through and we try to make the best user experience possible and we try to capture all of the feedback that you give as part of that so that any new writer would see it and that we minimize the amount of effort that you put in to get the content quality at scale that you're looking for.
Gabriel: That's great. Anything else to share Paul?
Paul: I think I'd use my final moments to hammer home how important revamping and republishing is. It is the most underutilized tactic in content marketing. It doesn't have to be hard, go check out the Nextiny blog post on how to identify what blogs that you should be doing this to, and then the DIY version is read your own blog post, Go Google it and see what people also ask. See what you're missing to create comprehensive content. That simple step will get you better rankings, will get you more traffic quickly.
Gabriel: Awesome. Thank you guys again for joining us today and thank you again for an amazing partnership. Verblio has been critical for our growth and for us to create value for our customers in the past years and we want to thank you for that too.
Steve: Thanks so much for having us!
Gabriel: Awesome guys, have a good one, bye!