Learn from the Best: an Interview with Content Marketing Rock Star Andy Crestodina

by Sean Work

Last updated on September 14th, 2017

I first had the pleasure of working with Andy on a Kissmetrics blog post five years ago. A few months after his post was published, I looked at our traffic in Google Analytics and said:

Whatever Andy touches turns to gold. The electric sparks that shoot from his fingertips as he types become thousands of social shares, tens of thousands of pageviews, and more important, unbelievable wisdom for readers to consume.

Let’s get inside his head for a moment and learn a few new things!

1. In the current state of inbound marketing, are people getting suffocated by content? Is content still king?

There is so much content. It’s intense. These things remain constant:

  • The need for good information is always strong
  • The amount of information on a given topic is always rising
  • Our patience for filtering through information is always falling
  • Digital giants (Facebook, Google) are getting better at keeping and monetizing their visitors
  • Big players in each niche are getting better at creating and promoting content

So it’s not getting easier. But it’s also not going away. Content is still king, but the kings of content are getting harder to dethrone. It’s more difficult than ever to compete with the players that are really good at this game. They have built large followings, big email lists, and high domain authorities that give them a durable competitive advantage.

The rich are getting richer.

2. In the same vein as question #1, how is the content landscape changing? What are some things we can do to harness and leverage this change?

It’s changing big time. Let’s look at Google.

The ideal outcome of any search for Google themselves is a click on an ad or a click on a Google product (YouTube, maps, images, etc.). Every day they get a bit better at keeping visitors on Google and off our websites, unless we’re advertising.

They do this by filling the page with features. Each feature reduces the click-through rate on organic rankings. Here’s an example of a search result that has changed over time. Even though my content is more visible, this query drives less traffic than it used to:

how to rank in Google fast

So marketers have rushed to add schema tags to try to win rich snippets or use semantics to win the featured snippet. But I’m not sure they realize what’s happening here. The main point of SERP features is to keep people on Google and off our websites.

Changes in Facebook are basically the same: throttle back organic and push marketers into paid.

So what can we do to adapt?

  • Make famous friends – Probably not the advice you’d expect to hear, but there are big names with big audiences in every niche. Making friends with them and collaborating with them makes these trends much less relevant.
  • Become a master of headlines – Being good at click-through rates makes you better at search, social, and email. It’s the one skill that unites all channels and endures all changes in marketing and technology. It’s universal and eternal.
  • Buy traffic – Or at least consider it. If your email subscriber conversion rates are high and you’re good at monetizing subscribers, it may be worth it.
  • Buy stock in Facebook and Google – Wait, a stock tip in a marketing article? I’m only half kidding. These companies will see huge profits from these changes.
  • Trigger word-of-mouth – Virtually impossible to measure, but it’s the ultimate in marketing, and it makes channel changes irrelevant. Ask your fans to pass the word along if they like something. Or get your readers together at a live event.
  • Improve the design of your blog pages – Crazy Egg does this beautifully. Don’t show dates. Show faces. Make calls to action and share buttons sticky. Each of these can increase engagement on content.

As winning traffic gets harder, we need to make sure we’re getting maximum value (high conversions, high sharing, low bounce) from every visitor.

3. If you had to choose 3 marketing tools (web apps), what would they be? (excluding Crazy Egg, of course)

Setting aside the magic of heat maps filtered for each traffic source (thanks, Crazy Egg!) here are a few that I can’t live without:

  • Analytics…on your phone – Google Analytics is the obvious recommendation, but do you have it installed on your phone yet? The “Assistant” feature is pretty great and getting better.
  • MOZ, SEMrush, or Ahrefs – You’re just not serious about search unless you’re a power user of one of these. You need to see the keyword universe, and you need to track your rankings. I use them all. Maybe some other time I can break down the differences.
  • BuzzSumo – I use this one all the time. Planning content? See what topics are getting traction. Looking for a collaborator? See who’s relevant for anything. This tool sits right in the middle of search and social, and the insights are so clear.

Here’s a fun BuzzSumo trick. I call it “crossing the streams.” It involves thanking people in different social networks:

  1. Post an article on your site. Wait a few days
  2. Put the URL into BuzzSumo and click on “View Sharers.” This will give you a list of people who shared it on Twitter.
  3. Go to LinkedIn and share the article again, this time thanking (and mentioning) the people who shared it on Twitter. You’ll find that they’re very likely to share it there on LinkedIn…because they already read it, “Liked” it, and shared it once!

how to post a blog promote on social media

Image Source: How to Start a Blog, Orbit Media

The tools themselves don’t improve our results. Only actions affect outcomes!

4. Do you see untapped potential in a specific kind of content? Something that most businesses overlook (even “cool” web 2.0 businesses)? What is it?

Original research! I’m a huge fan of this format. It is by far the most powerful format for content.

Research makes you the primary source. Research contributes to your industry. Research makes not linking to you unethical. And it’s not necessarily that hard to create.

Start with a question that your industry hasn’t answered. There are millions of them. They are the “missing statistics.” Here’s an example from our own content:

Which website features are standard?

There wasn’t really a great answer to this question, so we decided to create one. I hired a VA to look at the top marketing websites (based on a list from Alexa) and check each for ten different features. She created a spreadsheet, and we turned it into an article about web design standards.

The article has a chart that shows which features are “standard” (they appear on 75% of websites) and which are “conventions” (they appear on 50% of websites):

web design standards placement of features top 50 websites

This piece has been linked to from 90+ websites. It outranks several .gov websites. And it’s been read almost 60,000 times. Here’s the data:

post that out ranks government websites

5. In your career, you’ve seen the web change quite a bit. In all this change, what (in our daily lives) has improved? What has gotten worse?

This is what the web looked like in 2000, the year I started building websites:

the Internet in the year 2000

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? The web is more beautiful than it used to be. Less visually noisy. Cleaner.

Things are better now. And they keep improving. Flash got old and died. Responsive was born and grew up. Voice search is here. All these trends are useful for users and good for all of us.

What’s worse? The biggest problem with the internet is the lack of a sustainable business model for the news media. The companies that create the content that make democracy possible don’t have a solid way to get paid for it. Serious investigative journalism is supported by native advertising. That’s a problem.

6. Define “ethical digital marketing.” How is it different from digital marketing in general?

If you clicked with one expectation but got something else, you were lied to. Marketing that deceives the visitor isn’t ethical. Undisclosed sponsorships, fake social accounts, clickbots, lack of attribution, certain types of spam, and plagiarism are all unethical.

There are other tactics that I don’t respect, but they aren’t unethical. There are writers who rewrite my articles a week after I publish, then post them on their site without any attribution or mention of my original piece.

They are idea thieves.

It’s annoying, but as long as it’s not actual plagiarism, it’s not unethical.

7. A lot of brands (Costco and Rolls-Royce come to mind) do very little paid advertising and instead rely on reputation and other forms of marketing to promote their brands. What are some things we can learn from this? How can we apply this to online brands?

Branding is a super powerful force. But these examples are companies that have been around a long time and have invested a lot in advertising. So it’s hard to emulate.

If there is a lesson here, it’s endurance. This is a very long game. And it takes more than patience, it takes faith.

Imagine the Analytics accounts for these brands. Where does the traffic from this brand awareness show up? In the “Direct” bucket. That’s the junk drawer of traffic sources:

google analytics direct traffic

So yes, build a brand. But don’t expect to measure how well you progress toward that goal.

8. Very few people would say that they would like to receive “more email.” How can we harmonize this sentiment with email marketing? What are some tasteful email marketing tactics to employ while also respecting a user’s inbox?

I hate my inbox. I love email marketing.

It’s a conflict, right? Or at least tension. My answer will sound familiar – quality. If you build a reputation in the subscriber’s mind, they’ll filter you in, not out.

Earlier today, I cleaned out a low priority inbox. I deleted maybe 200 messages, and I clicked on one. I was happy to find it. I’m excited to read it. That guy always writes practical, scannable, relevant stuff. So consistent quality still wins.

Beyond that, here are tactics worth testing:

  • Set up that welcome series of emails – Beginnings are beautiful. The first few messages are often the ones that get the highest engagement, so send these automatically. Include the content that gets the best results.
  • Add personality – Unless you’re sending from a big brand, make sure the sender name is a person. Put a face in the email and use words like “me” and “my” in the subject. It’s easy to delete email from a company, but harder to delete email from a person.
  • Send more email! – It’s loud in here, so you’ll have to speak up. Push your own comfort levels on email frequency. And just look at the data. This graphic on Kissmetrics shows that click-through rates don’t really decline when you send more email:

effect of email sending frequency

9. If someone asked you to distill all your digital marketing wisdom into a single sentence, what would it be?

I can do it in one word: answer.

The job of our marketing is to help people make decisions. To decide, they need their questions answered. Marcus Sheridan is right. FAQ content rules.

Answering questions is the key to traffic (especially for search) and the key to conversions. Every unanswered question is a missed opportunity, a lost conversion, and a visitor sent to a competitor.

10. If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be? Why?

A fruit tree that gives fruit to animals, with flowers and pollen for bees. A city tree that shades a street, cooling the neighborhood, and adding value to homes. I’d like to be this tree:

I see this tree every day on my walk to work. It’s a pear tree, I think. The lady who lives there picks the pears, and in my imagination, she bakes them into pies.

Dang! – Image Source

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Sean Work

Between rocket science and space shuttle design at Boeing and NASA to building the Kissmetrics blog to 1 million monthly readers, I’ve also helped dozens of online businesses with PPC, SEO, and Conversion Rate Optimization. If you have any questions about generating success online, write me a question now at writesean.com.


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