A product-led approach to updating content

May 18, 2022
📓 Article

Are you creating product-led content yet?

That is: are you integrating your brand’s product into all of the content you create?

Product can be ‘woven’ into content a million different ways. It can be central to the story told in a blog post, or an understated subhead at the bottom of a post.

Let’s look at how to start updating your existing content library with a product-led approach.

(If you’re looking for the basics of product-led content principles, folks like Fio Dossetto have written great primers, plus check out Amanda Natividad’s podcast episode on this topic. Links at the bottom.)

🪡 How product is integrated into existing content

You don’t need anything to get started with product-led content.

But you can incorporate assets that are already lying around: templates, demo videos, screenshots of your interface, data that you have about how something is done (or should be done) that can help illustrate the correct ways to do things.

  • In a ‘How to’ post, show how to do it – in your product. Or add a template that can be used within your product (Airtable does a great job of this.)
  • If it’s a ‘What is…’ post, use your product to show how your company thinks about the topic. If your product is thoughtfully-designed, and can quickly help a beginner get up to speed, reflect that design in your content.
  • For anything you write, think about how the product itself might support the ideas behind the article.

But what about posts where it’s not clear what the connection to your product is?

You might have an app that is hard to relate to this blog post. But maybe you also have a whitepaper or newsletter that can help readers, and that’s easy to include?

  • “Thinking about replacing Slack? Our guide shows you all the things to consider.”
  • “If you’re just learning double-entry bookkeeping, our newsletter has helpful tips every week.”
  • “Our app automates all of these steps so you can move on to more important things. It’s free to try.”

🏄🏼 What you can do

Rather than adding product-led material to every single blog in your library, figure out which ones show the most potential. This will be determined by traffic and engagement metrics.

✅ Revisit your pages with the high engagement stats (stars and wallflowers).

Since these pages are already performing well, you’ll want to make small edits. They’ll improve conversion rates without gambling with the page’s overall performance.

✅ Revisit posts that have low-engagement but high traffic (sloths).

Consider a more thorough revision, which allows you to integrate a product-led approach. In other words: figure out a new story for this topic.

Since these pages are not yet really engaging readers, this is an opportunity to improve them all-around.

If you’re struggling to build new stories in this way, it might be time to pay a visit to your product team. They can get you more comfortable with the ins and outs, use cases, and strengths of a product, which will really help you tell better stories.

Moving forward, make it a policy of devoting at least one subhead in every post to a (relevant, useful) discussion of your product.

And, as always, make sure your internal links, calls to action, and distribution plans are optimized for conversion too!

📚 Further reading

Survey Results: How Content Marketers Spend Their Time

May 15, 2022
📓 Article

Content marketing continues to evolve and expand at a blistering pace. It seems like the duties of a content marketer keep expanding with it.

We wanted to better understand how content marketers spend their work hours. To find out what feels important to them, what feels difficult, and what feels irrelevant.

So, in June 2022, we created a survey to find out.

We invited anyone who considered themselves a content marketer. Participants included writers, content marketing managers, content directors, and a few other roles.

We received 75 responses. About half (35) of the respondents were in-house marketers, a third (22) were freelancers, and the rest were employed by an agency.

The survey

We asked participants 3 questions:

  1. Which are the most important jobs you do in your professional role?
  2. Which are the least important jobs you do in your professional role?
  3. Which are the most annoying or difficult jobs you do in your professional role?

For each question, we encouraged respondents to choose 4 answers from a list. (Let’s call these “votes”.) It offered the following choices:

  • Build and execute an editorial calendar
  • Build outlines for new content
  • Conduct keyword research
  • Edit or proofread new content
  • Field ad-hoc questions about content performance
  • Generate leads
  • Generate traffic
  • Improve blog or article conversion rates
  • Monitor and report on content analytics
  • Optimize existing content
  • Publish content
  • Set goals for content performance
  • Write new content
  • Other

Summary of content marketing jobs to be done

Most content marketers are focused on being content writers rather than content strategists. (In-house, freelance, and agency marketers were generally in agreement on this opinion.)

The most important JTBD for content marketers

Furthermore, the strategic and analytic tasks were considered not only unimportant, but also annoying. These results surprised us – partly because we know those tasks to be high-impact levers.

The least important content marketing jobs

Unsurprisingly, the least important jobs to be done are generally the inverse of the most important jobs to be done. But the list makes it more clear which particular jobs are explicitly considered less important.

Overall, content analytics seemed to be considered relatively unimportant. This was a surprising finding, since how content performs would seem to be a critical part of understanding how a strategy is working (or isn’t working).

By far the most consistent response for a less important marketing job was “fielding ad-hoc questions about content performance.”

Anecdotally, we know this to be a very common task for marketers. And it’s one that can become a major distraction for marketers – especially when they’re fielding these questions from a CEO. And it doesn’t always lead to improvements in underlying strategy or the performance of a particular piece.

The most annoying content marketing jobs

The tasks deemed most annoying or difficult were primarily strategic tasks.

Specifically, the tasks deemed most annoying or difficult were: content analytics, performance questions, setting goals, keyword research.

The most annoying or difficult tasks show a lot of overlap with the tasks that are viewed as least important (but this overlap isn’t total).

When we overlap this data with the data from other questions in the survey, we start to get a fuller sense for how our respondents feel about certain tasks. For example…

  • “Setting goals for content performance” is a task considered both annoying and important
  • “Monitoring and reporting on content analytics” is considered both annoying and not important
  • And the task that’s considered most annoying and unimportant is “fielding ad-hoc questions about content performance”.

Next steps

As noted, we were surprised to find the strategic and analytic tasks undervalued by respondents to the survey. These tasks have high leverage within an existing content library, and content marketers could distinguish themselves by participating more in these tasks.

Based on the findings of this survey, we’re wondering:

  • Are strategic and analytic tasks simply the purview of senior staff?
  • How can we convey that value of analytics and strategy to content marketers?
  • What factors discourage marketers from owning analytics and strategy?
  • What can we do to make these tasks more accessible to content marketers?
  • Is ‘content marketer’ simply synonymous with ‘content writer’? Or is there a more expansive way to define the position?

Nofollow tags and a smarter backlink strategy

April 25, 2022
📓 Article

Google uses backlinks as a way to gauge a page’s authority and value. In fact, that’s why Google’s original name was “Backrub”.

It’s true! Just imagine, you could be using:

  • Backrub Search
  • Backrub Ads
  • BMail

So backlinks are important for your search performance. Which is why a cottage industry evolved out of pasting links en masse to juice up your backlink stats (or “backlink equity,” as we call it).

But that doesn’t really work like it used to.

One big reason: Those sites which you expect to be useful for a backlink? Most of them are preventing you from generating backlink equity.

How can you know? What should you do? Let’s take a look.

🐵 Relationship (‘rel’) tags and the ‘nofollow’

We’ve all seen one of these: Screen Shot 2022-04-25 at 3.12.47 PM.png

It’s an “A tag”. It’s HTML code which tells your browser to include a given link.

An A tag has a bunch of attributes. One of them is “href”, which you can see above. The href says, basically, “Where does this link lead to?”

It’s possible for A tags to have many different attributes. Another important one is “rel” (short for “relationship”).

The rel tag is a way of saying: “Hey, web browser, here’s some information about what kind of link this is.”

Sites use them to discourage backlink hacks. (They don’t want to look like they’re carelessly giving backlink equity to anyone who wants it.)

Common rel values that prevent your link from earning any backlink credit:

  • rel=”ugc”
    This tells Google: “This is user-generated content. We didn’t put this link here ourselves. Our users did. We can’t vouch for it.”
  • rel=”sponsored”
    This tells Google: “We didn’t put this here because we think it’s great. We put it here because someone paid us to.”

And the most important one:

  • rel=”nofollow”
    This tells Google (basically): “We don’t endorse this link, and the reason is not really important. Just ignore this one, Google.”

If you’re getting a free backlink somewhere, it’s safe to assume that the link has been nofollowed.

The comment sections of Quora and YouTube, for example, add nofollows. Guest blogs on any site may be nofollowed by their host.

All of these rel attributes are fine! They don’t hurt you. But if backlinking is the name of your game, these attributes will waste your time.

🏄🏼 What you can do

Visit the sites where you’re pursuing backlinks. Inspect them for rel tags and nofollows. Here’s how…

Right-click on your link, then choose “Inspect”. This will open up the code inspector. See if there are any rel tags on your link.


And ask yourself: what’s the real value of posting on these sites? If it’s not backlinks, then it’s probably inbound traffic. (Though a site’s inbound value is also worth verifying for yourself, via traffic data.)

Sites like Quora are communities. You’ll probably generate more value by sincerely engaging with them as a community member. Recalibrate your strategies for that.

How to build an internal link strategy

April 14, 2022
📓 Article

Internal linking helps readers and search engines better understand your content.

So what’s your strategy for internal linking?

It’s normal to not really have one. But still, you should have one. Otherwise you’re missing out on a lot of engagement opportunities. (Google’s John Mueller recently reëmphasized this point.)

Strategic internal linking:

  • Helps interested readers find more relevant articles
  • Gives site visitors more potential click-throughs
  • Reinforces your expertise in a given subject

Also: when Google crawls your site, it counts the number of internal links that each page receives. The pages with the most links will be deemed the most emblematic of your site. This affects your organic search performance.

So let’s look at how to decide on a strategy, act on it, and bake it into your production process.

🧲 This was originally from an issue of the Ercule newsletter. Sign up to receive the next one like this.

You can locate this data pretty quickly in Google Search Console.

Click on the “Link” tab in the left navigation panel.

(That report has some other cool stats, too, like which external sites are linking to you.)

If the “Top Linked Pages” in that report are not the pages that are most important to your brand and market strategies, it’s time to make some changes.

🏄🏼 What you can do

Build your own internal link strategy.

First, decide which pages deserve the most internal links:

  • Which page is the most central to our brand identity?
  • Which 2-3 pages are the most important to our marketing strategy?

Next, it’s time to build those links!

  • Create a list of all pages that are related to your chosen page. (If you don’t have a site index handy, you can use Google search to find relevant pages on your site.)
  • On those related pages, add links to your target page wherever it’s relevant.
  • When you link, make sure to use descriptive text for the link text. The link text should describe the content of the page you’re linking to – not just “Click here!”

Address structural issues that affect internal linking:

  • Change your standardized calls to action. (Make sure they link to your target pages.)
  • Add your target pages to the navigation bar (Pages in your nav get an inlink on every single page of your site.)

Those two elements are probably having an outsized effect on your current internal link numbers. By adjusting them, you can decrease the link count for less important pages while increasing the count for your target pages.

Moving forward, think about internal linking whenever you write a new piece of content. Consider adding them to your content briefs.

Internal links are an important distribution channel!

Why you should document your content strategy

March 30, 2022
📓 Article

You may have seen us talking about a new Content Strategy Quickstart course that we produced with the brilliant Bump Inbound agency.

CSQ gets content marketers from zero to a complete, data-driven, actionable content strategy in about a day.

This involves documenting fundamentals which you may already know (like audience personas, buyer’s journey, and KPIs).

But we’ve found that even experienced marketers skip a lot of those steps. Partly because content strategy is a huge, fuzzy thing! It’s hard to know which steps are most essential, and how to approach them.

Sometimes you’ve got to externalize the to-do list, even when the tasks feel basic.

✏️ The hidden advantages of writing things down

Simplicity is your friend. Simplicity is surprisingly tough to capture. When you write out the foundations of a content strategy, simplicity is within reach.

A single source of truth
Once a content strategy document is approved across your team, everyone is speaking the same language. It becomes the reference point for future discussions (or disagreements).

It also eliminates that feeling of, ‘What do we create next?’ Or, even worse: ‘Why are we writing this piece?’ When you have a documented strategy based on data and shared priorities, these questions are already answered.

Delegation support (especially for tiny marketing teams)
When you’re able to plan out content far in advance, you’re able to assign tasks efficiently to different people. If you’re a one-person marketing department, this provides you more time and space to work with freelancers.

Building something grand
All too often, the pieces we create feel unmoored in the internet’s massive sea of content. With a well engineered strategy, all of your little bits of daily work can build into something greater.

The greater project may simply be a blog catalog that proves your expertise. Or a series of posts that will become chapters for an e-book.

🏄🏼 What you can do

Get the rest of your team on board (or at least the executives who approve this stuff).

Here are steps you can take to advocate for a documented content strategy.

Pull some performance data
Get a quantifiable sense of how well your site is currently performing for metrics like search and conversion.

If you’ve never pulled organic search data, here’s a guide to help you get started.

Look for existing documentation
Which audience persona is your team currently targeting? What’s the topic strategy? When were these things last updated?

“Look” is the operable word here. You might not be able to find any such documents… because your company never created any.

Review the current Key Performance Indicators
How does your team measure success? Clarifying this will sharpen your strategic focus. It’s also a useful reference point when discussing employee performance.

As your company matures, its KPIs should evolve as well.

And, of course, if this all a bit overwhelming, you can learn at your own pace with the Content Strategy Quickstart.