Episode #2. Content Strategy with Kathryn Aragon

11.07.2019

Guest of the day: 

Kathryn Aragon, Head of Content for SalesHacker. 

Having worked as the Managing Editor at Crazy Egg and the Chief Educator at Ahrefs, Kathryn uses her expertise to boost fast-growing IT start-ups.  With her ability to find the balance between bright and easily readable professional content and SEO, Kathryn specializes in the articles aimed at educating users and improving their professional skills. 

LinkedIn

Company:

Sales Hacker, The Leading Community For Modern Sales Professionals

Website

What will you learn?

  • Content distribution model from SalesHacker
  • How to optimize content for different generations
  • The balance between SEO and people language
  • How to analyze the content quality and its performance

Kathryn’s tools:

Transcript

Michael: Let's get started. Kathryn. So you are Head of Content for Sales Hacker, a leading sales community for sales and marketing professionals with over 200,000 visitors per month. Is that about right?

Kathryn: Let me double-check my numbers. I wrote them down to be sure I didn't forget. Yes, we have about 200,000 visitors a month, and our subscriber list is about ... it's going on 90,000 so we have quite an impact right now.

Michael: Amazing. Congrats. So we at Belkins invest heavily in content marketing and by being here with you on this call, I would use this opportunity to understand how the leading kind of content manufacturer and provider like yourself executes its content strategy. So to kick off, can you kind of give a few words about Sales Hacker and what the platform is about?

Kathryn: Of course, Sales Hacker is a leading blog in the B2B space. We serve B2B sales professionals. Really mostly our goal is to provide cutting edge kit packets that are by sales professionals for sales professionals. So we don't lean on writers to create that content. We ask people who are out working in the field coming up with the solutions that work today to share them with our community.

Michael: Interesting. And what's the typical Sales Hacker reader or audience?

Kathryn: Well, we're about 80% salespeople. Another 10% are marketers and then other people are just people who are supporting sales or related, but our readers come from all over the world and they're just a range of different roles and levels of sales.

Michael: Okay, and the traffic, what's the traffic allocation there? Is it like direct traffic, SEO, or how do you drive the readers?

Kathryn: That's a good question. The majority of our people come from direct traffic. We get a good portion from our newsletter and then a lot from social media and other sources.

Michael: What's the distribution there? Like 70/ 20/10 or ...?

Kathryn: Let me check. I think that is probably about right, but let me check my numbers so I can give you something accurate.

Michael: I am actually myself a subscriber for your daily email and I've been receiving daily emails for a long time and I was actually wondering what's the distribution strategy behind it and did you test different approaches and what kind of circulation rates do the emails give to you? Does it impact the readership?

Kathryn: It really does. Okay. I'm looking at my traffic numbers now. About half of our traffic is organic search traffic and then it goes down. Let's see, about 10% comes from the email that we send out every week and probably those daily ones as well. But we try to be very careful not to overdo the email and I'm hoping that in the future we can utilize other channels now that text messaging and all that kind of thing can make a difference, or it's just that technology is getting to where it is as useful as email. Right now email is our primary channel for reaching out to people. So it's just a matter of us thinking and working together as a team to make sure that we know the newsletters going out on Tuesday. We know we have some webinars going on and how can we coordinate all that so we don't get more than one email a day.

Michael: How many emails do you guys send per day? Is it 100,000, 50K?

Kathryn: Probably going on 90K

Michael: 90 000 emails, and what's the click-through rate? What's the CTA here?

Kathryn: Many times we get as high as 15% so we get a really good click-through rate.

Michael: 15 percent is a very good number for the industry. I know that it's usually about 4% so you're doing a great job there.

Kathryn: Thank you. My goal is to be as engaging as possible.

Michael: Have you been testing different calls to action bottoms and which one works better? So which one is the champion for you guys?

Kathryn: I don't know that we have a champion. My goal has really not been coming up with a better call to action. It's being more personal, more engaging and I get replies to my emails all the time from people saying, I'm sorry I have to unsubscribe, but yours is the only one that I open or you know, I can't believe I haven't been reading this email. This was exactly what I was looking for. We get a lot of positive response and the goal here is to train people to open and read the email. So hopefully by making it more personal, more engaging, more one-on-one, we can do that.

Michael: You've mentioned that you are trying to utilize other social platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter. So what are you doing there? Especially on LinkedIn, because on LinkedIn right now people are just bombarded with content, private messages as well as xxx. So how do you guys want to stand out of the competition with what you're doing there?

Kathryn: We're not leveraging social media as much as I would like to. We've recently added a media person to our team and hopefully, that will improve. What we're doing right now is the gal we hired is creating some memes and little snippets of our content that aren't necessarily promoted to drive a click through. They're just promoted to show people, hey, this is the content we thought. Hey, isn't this valuable right here where you are? So it's more about creating readership in another channel than about driving click through.

Michael: Yeah. You've mentioned memes, right? And so do we want to address millennials with the memes and more entertaining content, and how do you leverage the new generation of salespeople with the more traditional salespeople that also can be interested in trending and wanting to get some kind of news or what's going on right now in sales?

Kathryn: It's interesting that you brought it up. My son is also a writer and sometimes I tap into him to work with me on different projects and I've looked into his method because he is that younger generation that's coming into the workforce and they're not looking for the same things that people have up to now been looking for. And so making sure that the things that I write will match the expectations of the younger people who I just happened to know that I talk to every day. That's a big part of it. So I think what you have to do as you're creating content is make sure there are so many different goals you're trying to hit. You're trying to optimize for a keyword, which means you're thinking about what the bot wants. Then you're trying to optimize for the older professionals. So you know, maybe answering their questions, making sure there are definitions and the traditional straight-laced kind of content stuff. But then also the younger people, like you say, they want you to be authentic and they want to know that you are speaking from experience and not just feeding them ideas that haven't been validated in the field. So for them, I watched the tone of the content. I watch, can we give evidence and we need that for all the generations. But I think they especially want that. Finding the right goals and making sure you are hitting all of them.

Michael: It's interesting that you brought it up, the SEO language for the content because my actual question was how do you guys balance between the SEO-driven and context language-driven writing style? Do we have a kind of a person in the team that always checks through the keywords and give you the description like, hey guys, we need to do this and do you argue in the writing room like no, we cannot choose these words because it's an awkward language or something like that?

Kathryn: We have had arguments here and there. A lot of it is because there are so many ways to approach SEO and everybody has their own ideas. The way I like to do it is I do keyword research upfront, and it's more of a proxy to know what topics people are interested in and when I'm done writing I will then go back to the keyword and optimize the page for that keyword. But during the writing, I don't want to think about Google. I don't want to think about their bots. I only want to try to engage with my reader and I feel like the best way to hit that balance.

Michael: And then after you've produced the content and released it, what kind of metrics do you guys track? What's the engagement level for you? What's the success level for the article in the writing room?

Kathryn: I look for the visitors, the number of visitors on the page, how long they stay on the page and the bounce rate because that tells me if they're on a page and they're bouncing immediately off, they aren't engaged at all. If they are going to other pages, meaning my bounce rate is lower, that means I've done the job of raising questions and making them want to explore more. It tells me that I've got them hooked. They care about what we're talking about.

Michael: And did you measure what the typical size of the page or the number of forwards that you need to have for the article to make it more engaging so that it decreases the bounce rate for the article?

Kathryn: That has not been a problem. I have some posts that are maybe as long as 3,000 words. I believe we've done one or two that are even longer, but the majority of them are in the 1,000 to 2,000, 1,000 to 1,500-word range. I only ask writers please hit a minimum of 1,000 words, and that's only to make sure that we give people the depth that they're looking for. We're not necessarily trying to game the system here by hitting a specific keyword. It's more about what does this topic demand, what needs to be said, and if we've said everything it needs to be said, we can stop. But if we haven't, let's keep going.

Michael: What are the trending topics right now? What do people love to read about these days?

Kathryn: There are so many things. My audience really, they're looking for tactical things that they can, as soon as they get off the articles they can go put it to work. So I'm primarily looking at things like how to optimize your email, how to do a better cold call. One of the first articles I edited for Sales Hacker was about ghosting and that one hit it off. People loved that. I've got another one coming up for Halloween. It's how to deal with problems they're dealing within the field.

Michael: And do you guys receive any kind of feedback from the audience, or can you share the funniest email that you guys received to the writing rooms from the reader, or if you remember anything like that?

Kathryn: So one of the ones was... I briefly mentioned this one earlier. It was a woman who wanted to unsubscribe, but before she left she wanted to make sure I knew it wasn't personal. And so she wrote back to tell us that she looks for our newsletter every week, and it is the only one she opens and reads when she gets it, and I'm so sorry for unsubscribing because I'm changing roles and I won't need it.

Michael: Oh my God.

Kathryn: Yeah. So I do get a lot of things like that and it's largely because in the newsletter itself I'm trying to be personal and supportive, but also because I try to group things in the newsletter. I mean, we share everything that we publish in the newsletter, but I try to put it together on a weekly basis to where they're getting either a theme or they're getting a splattering of articles. So there's always value when they get that newsletter.

Michael: So you guys obviously execute the whole content strategy. What's the difference between having a content strategy in place and just posting articles on a blog, because a lot of companies are just posting articles on blogs expecting that there will be a boom of audience and readership and they can attack the readership. So what's the difference? What is your take on that?

Kathryn: My take is this, that it is fine. Everybody can write content, everybody can push publish, but that's not a strategy. That's just a task. That's an activity that you're doing and if you really want to leverage it, you need to be strategic, which means you need the full-blown marketing strategy. Creating content is one part of it. Publishing and how it looks on the page is another strategy, but the magic happens after all of that is done. If you aren't doing distribution, if you aren't promoting your content and getting eyeballs on it, you've missed the point. You're creating content for content's sake and there's no reason to do that.

Michael: Can you give us some of your tricks? Like what hours do guys post the content, how you need to look strategically at some kind of content to make it more for the readership? What's the distribution way for you? When do you do the distribution? Top three tricks that keep in mind, so okay. This is the most important to keep in mind. This is the second, this is the third.

Kathryn: I think the readability of your content is the number one thing. It needs to be something people care about, but assuming you already figured that out, it needs to be readable to a human. So visualize the person, one person who's going be reading it, your ideal reader and write it to that one person. So I find so many people try to be academic or they put on this false voice. They try to sound important when they write. Just talk, write conversationally. Let it be readable. Short paragraphs and I think this is number two. How it looks on the page makes it look readable or look like this great wall of text. You need to group the content and your different ideas. Use subheads to break it up. Use shorter paragraphs, shorter sentences. Again, the words you would use every day, not the words you would use in school and that's all going to get people more engaged with the page and then distribution. Yeah. I think the last point is just do it. It doesn't matter where you share it. Just share it, get it out, recycle it. Invite people to read it in every channel that your readers are.

Michael: What is the best time to address business to business individuals like salespeople? In the morning, during their lunch, in the evening when they scroll the news feed? What's the best time for you to just hit the button and post the content out there?

Kathryn: I know there's a lot of research about that, but these days the world is so small and ours is not the only blog that's publishing and being read all around the world. Well, that means time zones really aren't that big of an issue. So I think what we've started doing very recently is we just publish it at 1:00 AM which reaches people in Europe can begin reading before we wake up. People on the other side of the world will read it when it hits them and then we just make sure that, let's see, when did we send out the newsletter? It's two o'clock Eastern time is when we send out the newsletter and we get a lot of reads right after we send it, but of course, we're getting it for the rest of the week also, because we want people to read it when it's easy for them. So we don't worry too much about when we publish. We just want to make it accessible to everyone.

Michael: Here's an interesting thing. I know I'm kind of a salesperson by profession and you know what? Usually, we salespeople have targets like months, like quarterly targets that you need to hit, and usually, before the end of the month, we're hustling hard. We are on the phone, on the emails and the last week of the month, like the week it is right now when you're recording this session, it's like the time that you are spending is just for the clients. So did you observe that engagement level and the readership is going down when the month ends and is going up with the month starts because people are super busy with calls to clients and making money?

Kathryn: I had not even thought about that, but you're right. I'm going to start watching for that. What I have noticed is that the timing of some of our topics is important. So if I'm going to publish something about how to hit your quota, I put that near the end of the quarter and the beginning of that month. So they have time to act on it. So I tried to time the different topics, but I hadn't noticed or even thought about noticing whether the traffic goes up and down based on how busy people are.

Michael: Like tips for salespeople who didn't hit the quarter. How to look for another job? Interesting. Okay. So I have two more questions for you Kathryn. So the first question is do you guys monetize the content? How do you monetize the content? What is this transfer revenue for your business?

Kathryn: What we do is we sell partnerships and so we partner with other companies who are trying to address the same people we are, and typically they host a webinar with our company, and it's purely informational. Our goal is not to partner with people so they can pitch things. It's so they can share their expertise and create interest in who they are and basically get their ideas in front of our audience. And so that has worked very well for us. And that's exactly what we do.

Michael: I do have a subscription-based model. I know that you're responsible for premium content, right? So did you think about having a paywall and then just charging the users for the very premium content? A super delicious one.

Kathryn: Whether we've had that conversation or not, I don't know. But right now where we're learning is we want to be the people who are providing that level of content, but we provide it for free because nobody else does do that. The idea is to support the sales community, to give them the tools and resources they need to succeed, but not make it inaccessible. So for us, we want our premium content to be free and then we work with partners to pay for it.

Michael: And how do you become a partner? Who should I talk to or who are the guys to talk to become a Sales Hacker partner and be hosted with your webinars, and where can we get the pricing?

Kathryn: You would talk to Scott Barker. He is the person in charge of our partnerships.

Michael: Okay. So my last question for you Kathryn, what is your toolset? What kind of tools do you guys use for tools and services to write, to post, to republish them, to distribute them? What's your toolset? Which are the top five favorite tools for you guys?

Kathryn: Actually we keep it pretty simple. I know it sounds like I'm an old school to say I use a Google sheet. That's not about old school. I haven't found an app that gives me the big picture of the way that a spreadsheet does. I have a spreadsheet where I do all my planning and tracking and so I can see the big picture of the blog on that one page. But then we like Asana to track the actual execution of it. Canva is where we make our original infographics and other things. And what else do we use? I personally as an editor, I like Grammarly and One Look. Those are two resources that just helped me make sure that we're catching all the mistakes. But other than that, we just rely on our, on our community to supply some really great content and then we just try to make it shine.

Michael: Thank you. So we actually at Belkins we use Hoot Suite to distribute the content. Do you use something like that to posting everything on social everywhere, or do you do it manually?

Kathryn: Right now we're doing it manually. I actually have a tool that I recently got but it's mine, and so I just kind of mix in Sales Hacker stuff with my own stuff. It's called Social Beads.

Michael: Social Beads. We actually have a challenge right now, so we don't want to pay for content to post it, to publish them, but we still want to kind of be out there and to partner with some other companies. So we are trying to utilize some free resources like Growth Hacker, Medium, Quora. We also are on some Facebook pages. Do you know or can you recommend some kind of free sources for platforms where people can just load their content and be closer to their audience, and do you guys use some of those?

Kathryn: Right now we have several people on the team. Max and Scott, in particular, do a lot of longer posts on LinkedIn. They don't use Pulse where they publish articles. They want to do it as an engagement tactic. But there are a lot of people who use LinkedIn Pulse as their blogging medium. And then, of course, there's Medium and we use that periodically. Right now we just haven't had time to keep it going by. It's something we'll probably dip in and out of as we need to. I think it largely depends on where your audience is, and so if your audience is checking out forums and things like that, then you need to find the forums where they are and post your ideas. Like if it's Quora, go and answer questions so people can see you there. If it's Facebook, leverage your Facebook page and use Messenger so that you can actually engage with people. If you know where your audience is, then you'll know which vehicles are the best to use. But right now social media is where everyone is. That's a good place to start.

Michael: Yes, it is. All right Kathryn, well I appreciate your time. I think we can wrap it up and just the last question before you go. Are there any insights or is there anything that you want to share with myself or with the people that listen to this session in terms of working with the content, writing the content, obviously besides what we already discussed with you previously?

Kathryn: I think the takeaway for me is to be yourself. Don't try to be something you're not. Don't try to create this fancy persona. Just be yourself and leverage whatever the thing that makes you unique and personable in real life, be that online. And if you're doing that, your content is going to resonate and it's going to attract the people who would be attracted to you as a salesperson.

Michael: Amazing. I appreciate your time. Thanks for a really insightful and fruitful conversation cause I definitely going to utilize some of the insights that you've shared with me because we have a long way to go in Belkins to create the content that people would love to read and enjoy. So I appreciate your time.

Kathryn: Well thank you for having me.

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