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John Doherty: Growth Marketing

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John Doherty discusses Growth Marketing during the State of Search 2015 in Dallas, TX on November 16, 2015

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John Doherty: Growth Marketing

  1. 1. How To Build A Content Machine From Scratch THE STORY OF HOW ONE STARTUP STARTED SMALL, BUILT A TEAM, AND EARNED LINKS FROM SOME OF THE BIGGEST SITES ONLINE @dohertyjf
  2. 2. Who am I Currently: Founder of HireGun.co Growth/inbound marketing consultant for hire Blogger: johnfdoherty.com Previous: • Senior Growth Marketing Manager at Trulia Rentals • Senior Marketing Manager at HotPads • Senior Consultant at Distilled NYC #stateofsearch
  3. 3. Who am I Currently: Founder of HireGun.co Growth/inbound marketing consultant for hire Blogger: johnfdoherty.com Previous: • Senior Growth Marketing Manager at Trulia Rentals • Senior Marketing Manager at HotPads • Senior Consultant at Distilled NYC Yes, I am wearing a very similar shirt today. #stateofsearch
  4. 4. The Challenge @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  5. 5. Take a company that has had no marketing or SEO for over two years, and reinvent it. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  6. 6. Our Goals Build a brand Build an engaged audience that shares content Earn links for SEO Build referral traffic Identify scaleable growth channels #stateofsearch
  7. 7. We had 2 KPIs Audience Links #stateofsearch
  8. 8. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  9. 9. How To Earn Audience IT’S HARDER THAN WE ALL MAKE IT SOUND @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  10. 10. The Rise of Content Marketing Content marketing, on the other hand, has exploded in popularity and surpassed link building. Check out that hockeystick! This is a graph any VC-backed startup would die to have against an incumbent. However, link building is emphatically not dead. I’ll show you some examples in this presentation. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  11. 11. True growth comes when you: a) Have a great product. b) You get that great product in front of relevant users through marketing (organic, paid, brand). c) You hit their pain points and guide them through their journey. d) You execute and test, execute and test, execute and test. Image via @epicgraphic#stateofsearch
  12. 12. This talk will cover #stateofsearch A case study of research and having the right resources in place The multiple iterations of content that HotPads went through and the importance of new ideas, testing, and measuring. How we eventually built a content machine that got us links from some of the biggest sites online.
  13. 13. Where To Start A Content Machine @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  14. 14. Who’s the content competition and what are they doing? We looked at our competitors. They all: 1. Had blogs, but not great content 2. Some were cranking out a lot of content, others not so much So we asked: 1. What are they doing well? Not doing well? 2. Where are the gaps? 3. What kind of content is available to us? 4. What’s our unique spin? 5. What will our users find interesting, supported by keyword research? @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  15. 15. Did an assets audit First, we figured out what assets we were working with. We had: • A blog on a subdomain • Consistent content on this blog (but minimal traffic) • The ability to publish longer form content • A budget for content • A designer eager to help • Pages onsite that had earned links in the past Unlike this house, we had a solid foundation @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  16. 16. We already received *some* natural coverage "Sift through rentals...or homes for sale... You can study photos, floor plans, price comparisons, and even information about local schools. " WIRED "HotPads data is up to date and fresh and the map search is snappy and well featured." LifeHacker …And yes, links too. #stateofsearch
  17. 17. So what did we need to do? @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  18. 18. Create a Priorities List We needed to balance the long term and the short term, but both needed to happen. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  19. 19. Bring The Brand Up To Date The blog had some challenges for publishing, design, promotion, SEO- friendliness, and marketing integrations. The blog: • Was on a legacy TypePad installation • Had the legacy site design • Had a consistent publishing schedule, but the content was not promoted or shared • Had no marketing email list @dohertyjf
  20. 20. Redo the Blog In order to get modern eyes on our content, things had to change. We: • Replatformed the blog to WordPress • Moved the blog to hotpads.com/blog/ (and saw a traffic increase) • Completely overhauled the design • Hired a content agency and freelancers to produce consistent content for our readers @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  21. 21. In Short Order, Hire A Content Manager A content manager is a key hire when investing in content marketing as they should: • Own your brand voice • Own editorial calendar • Learn how to do outreach and start building relationships with other blogs Of course, content isn’t all their responsibility. The rest of the team helps too. Image via HubSpot
  22. 22. Find a content agency We had budget, but we didn’t have headcount internally. I learned the hard way that you need both. #stateofsearch
  23. 23. What we knew USE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  24. 24. No one had really cracked the content code with renters. We knew what didn’t work, but also didn’t know from our competitors what did. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  25. 25. But we knew from our parent company the kind of content that worked there. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  26. 26. What did we have again? Challenges and assets: 1. No data scientist support yet 2. We had a good looking blog and a big, if a bit stale, email list 3. Lots of access to data thanks to our parent company 4. Support from the parent company around strategy, introductions to editors of other sites, and budget. 5. A designer keen to update the brand @dohertyjf Money PeopleTime #stateofsearch
  27. 27. What did we have again? Challenges and assets: 1. No data scientist support yet 2. We had a good looking blog and a big, if a bit stale, email list 3. Lots of access to data thanks to our parent company 4. Support from the parent company around strategy, introductions to editors of other sites, and budget. 5. A designer keen to update the brand @dohertyjf Money PeopleTime I had some of this one. #stateofsearch
  28. 28. What did we have again? Challenges and assets: 1. No data scientist support yet 2. We had a good looking blog and a big, if a bit stale, email list 3. Lots of access to data thanks to our parent company 4. Support from the parent company around strategy, introductions to editors of other sites, and budget. 5. A designer keen to update the brand @dohertyjf Money PeopleTime I had some of this one. This one came on 4 months in. #stateofsearch
  29. 29. We could work with that #stateofsearch
  30. 30. Where do we start? START SMALL AND SHIP IT @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  31. 31. At the beginning you are learning At the beginning of any content marketing engine, you are learning what works. Therefore one must prioritize shipping over perfection. Once you discover your channels then you double down and perfect your craft. #stateofsearch
  32. 32. We decided on a dual approach Consistent quality content that would be useful for our target audience around topics of: 1. Renting 2. Living in cities 3. Moving 4. Life changes Higher quality focused content including but not limited to: 1. Data 2. Maps 3. Graphics 4. Photos @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  33. 33. We decided on a dual approach Consistent quality content that would be useful for our target audience around topics of: 1. Renting 2. Living in cities 3. Moving 4. Life changes Higher quality focused content including but not limited to: 1. Data 2. Maps 3. Graphics 4. Photos @dohertyjf Which do you think earned more links, got more coverage, and ultimately drove more qualified traffic? #stateofsearch
  34. 34. Idea 1 What if we created content for our major metros to see what traction it got? We could hire local experts, email segmented email lists, and promote it to local sites. #stateofsearch
  35. 35. What if we created content for a few specific cities? We were focused on the 23-35 urban renter audience so we first focused on content for a few specific cities to see if it was: 1. Easy to scale by city 2. Easy to hire writers in those areas who were experts We could: 1. Email locals because we had location information on tens of thousands of renters in these cities with their permission to email them. 2. Try to use this content to make connections with publications in those cities that would then be open to further content partnerships. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  36. 36. Our Process To get the first three cities off the ground, we had to: 1. Hire 2-4 writers in each city 2. Come up with 4-6 ideas minimum per city just to get started ◦ We asked the writers to pitch, which did make it easier though they were not taking SEO and share- ability into account. 3. Set up custom email lists for every city @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  37. 37. For every piece of content Each piece required that we: 1. Find a writer to write the post 2. Edit the piece inhouse 3. Schedule the post to go live 4. Manually set up the email to go out the email list ◦ Eventually this was automated with custom RSS feeds by WordPress tag, but then we emailed those lists too often. 5. Find outreach targets 6. Do outreach once the post went live. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  38. 38. What happened? Ultimately, city-specific content was: 1. Hard to scale quality content because of writers 2. Hard to scale the number of cities because of budget 3. Hard to scale quality outreach because of lack of team resources There were 3 of us. This strategy wasn’t working. I still think it could with enough staff, but a small startup needs to think more scaleable with content. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  39. 39. Back to the drawing board TIME TO RE-EVALUATE OUR APPROACH @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  40. 40. We weren’t happy with the content We weren’t happy with our content because it: 1. Lacked a cohesive focus and voice 2. Was very expensive and not scalable 3. The writers didn’t have a passion for the subject. They were simply paid to write. -Attempts at incentivizing them to do their own outreach failed -Since we were not creating it inhouse, we didn’t have much investment in promotion and were not starting with the end in mind. 4. Point blank, it wasn’t getting us the returns we needed. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  41. 41. HotPads was the first map-based housing search engine online. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  42. 42. We could work with that
  43. 43. Let’s create more content inhouse For every piece of content created inhouse, I challenged the team to: 1. Find the unique hook 2. Come up with at least 5 websites that they knew would be interested in it before we even created it 3. Create content using at least one media type other than text (images, maps, graphics, etc) 4. Once the content was created, spend as much time promoting it as you did creating it. 5. Always get a link. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  44. 44. Idea 2: Think Pieces Maybe we could establish HotPads as an authority putting out thinkpieces about urban issues. We tried content like: 1. Traffic light changes 2. Rental laws 3. Areas in cities for types of peopleEveryone loves a good longform thinkpiece right? @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  45. 45. How’d they do? @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  46. 46. Think pieces took a lot of time and effort, and unless we invested in journalists to create content inhouse, we weren’t going to be able to scale it or do it better than others. So we cut this strategy. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  47. 47. Best Neighborhoods in (City) It might not be the sexiest content, but we had access to a lot of data around neighborhoods, like demographics. We also had a lot of opinions . If a good way to get people involved is to create controversy… Team size: 2-4 @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  48. 48. Rinse and repeat Like taking candy from a baby. Traffic++ @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  49. 49. Rinse and repeat We also checked out other types of keywords like “most expensive neighborhoods in (city)” and found very little competition. So we created content there and voila. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  50. 50. Reasons to move to (city) We created content around reasons to move to specific cities, which rank very well still. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  51. 51. So we found our first scaleable content type – blog posts. They still drive consistent traffic because they rank well. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  52. 52. But this wasn’t going to build a brand. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  53. 53. Idea 3: Use available data to create interesting maps We had data that was hard to access and would take a lot of time, but we also had access to other data sources that weren’t public. If we were allowed to legally, why not make that data public, give credit, and put it on our own site? Team size: 2-5 @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  54. 54. The Future of Construction Series We had access to ALN data through a partnership. We took that data and displayed it in a new way, bringing transparency to an opaque industry in a new way. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  55. 55. The Future of SF Construction @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  56. 56. The Future of SF Construction This one didn’t get much play, but I got positive responses from the journalists I reached out to so I decided to do a few more before declaring failure. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  57. 57. Future of LA Building Construction @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  58. 58. Future of LA Building Construction @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  59. 59. Future of LA Building Construction BINGO @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  60. 60. Future of Boston Construction @dohertyjf BINGO #stateofsearch
  61. 61. Future of Manhattan Construction @dohertyjf BINGO #stateofsearch
  62. 62. Future of Seattle Construction @dohertyjf BINGO #stateofsearch
  63. 63. Future of Brooklyn Construction @dohertyjf BINGO #stateofsearch
  64. 64. Find A Success, Double Down These maps worked for a few reasons: 1. It was a content form no one else in our industry was using. 2. We were taking data that was previously locked up and making it publicly available. 3. It was timely, in that a lot of people were talking about the increase in rents and need to build 4. We were consistent, putting out a new piece each week. The journalists knew when to expect it. 5. We did outreach consistently and ahead of time. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  65. 65. New idea: Graph Data I wondered if data visualized in graph format would be interesting. I find it interesting, so maybe our audience would as well if it was interesting enough and made them think. #stateofsearch
  66. 66. New idea : Graph Data I wondered if data visualized in graph format would be interesting. I find it interesting, so maybe our audience would as well if it was interesting enough and made them think. #stateofsearch
  67. 67. New idea : Graph Data I wondered if data visualized in graph format would be interesting. I find it interesting, so maybe our audience would as well if it was interesting enough and made them think. #stateofsearch
  68. 68. New idea : Graph Data I wondered if data visualized in graph format would be interesting. I find it interesting, so maybe our audience would as well if it was interesting enough and made them think. #stateofsearch Thanks @mattmcgee 
  69. 69. Graphs weren’t working and data was hard to come up with consistently, so we scrapped them. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  70. 70. Back to maps! We went back to maps and were able to get more links, coverage, and social shares because they were: 1. Unique 2. Timely 3. Visual Remember scaleable? These were easy to produce. One person could do a post like this in a morning by the end. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  71. 71. We hired an inhouse writer Money PeopleTime :-D @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  72. 72. Visualizing Strava Cycling Data @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  73. 73. Visualizing Strava Cycling Data @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  74. 74. Meth and Died In Houses @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  75. 75. Meth and Died In Houses @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  76. 76. Idea 4: PR Stunts If you can’t have fun with your content and your vertical, what’s the point? Here are some fun PR stunts that we did that earned us coverage. Team size: 3-6 @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  77. 77. House of Cards @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  78. 78. House of Cards @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  79. 79. House of Cards @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  80. 80. House of Cards @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  81. 81. House of Cards @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  82. 82. House of Cards @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  83. 83. April Fools Alcatraz @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  84. 84. April Fools Alcatraz @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  85. 85. April Fools Alcatraz @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  86. 86. Timely Content @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  87. 87. Timely Content Shared by an LA Times journalist and established a good media contact @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  88. 88. Idea 5: Data Driven Content + PR By October 2014 we had a PR professional and a full time data scientist on board sitting in San Francisco. It was time to create some interesting content. Team size: 8 @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  89. 89. We hired a data scientist Content was working and we were ready to double down on it. So we hired an economist/data scientist to put together data stories that we could pitch to the press. Money People++Time #stateofsearch
  90. 90. Our Process 1. Ideate many ideas, scrub for feasibility ◦ Keep in mind the timing (holidays, etc) 2. Do pre-outreach once the content is close to ready 3. Once content is published, use all your channels (email, social, etc) 4. Reach out to high value journalists under embargo with something of value (embeds, etc) 5. Email everyone you reached out to before with the live link ◦ If you have the resources, offer to write the post for them 6. Measure 7. Repeat #stateofsearch
  91. 91. Pet Friendly Metros @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  92. 92. What worked and didn’t Bad 1. We were late on delivering the content, so some journalists had to move on 2. We didn’t plan outreach far enough out Good 1. They loved the maps and wanted them easily embeddable, so we created a way for them to do that. 2. We established some connections with journalists about the next piece. #stateofsearch
  93. 93. How Much Commutes Cost @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  94. 94. What worked and didn’t Bad 1. The data was messy, so we had to bring in our data scientist to help explain it. 2. We weren’t able to break it down by type of commute, which is what journalists wanted. Good 1. Pitching city by city with dedicated maps allowed us to get wider coverage. 2. We pitched way ahead of time, which allowed journalists to get their stories ready to go when we published. Even if we missed our deadline, the story was ready to go whenever. #stateofsearch
  95. 95. Most Expensive Hoods for Singles @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  96. 96. What worked and didn’t Bad 1. We were unclear about the story (what about 2brs? What about moving in more cities?) 2. It wasn’t timely, so it didn’t get much play. #stateofsearch
  97. 97. Best Cities for Graduates @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  98. 98. Best Cities for Graduates @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  99. 99. What worked and didn’t Good 1. We enlisted our other outreach employees into securing guest posts on smaller sites to build more links. 2. We offered to write content, which 75% of the people who published coverage wanted us to do. 3. We offered our economist/data scientist as a source. He hopped on the phone with journalists (with our PR manager there) and explained the data succinctly. We practiced ahead of time. #stateofsearch
  100. 100. Lessons Learned @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  101. 101. Big content >>>> small content When we wrote a static piece that can live on forever, as opposed to just a blog post, it earned more links and was arguably more valuable than a blog post. *Big content is also pushed out less frequently, so promotion makes or breaks its success. However, blog posts got more social shares. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  102. 102. Give Embeddable Assets Every post or article that did well for us had an embeddable piece of content, such as images, graphics, or embeddable maps. If you offer something of value to a journalist, they are much more likely to write about you. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  103. 103. Content Lives and Dies by Outreach When we executed well on outreach, both to small and large sites, we got great links and great coverage. When we didn’t execute well (or simply didn’t do it), we didn’t. Great content will get links with outreach, but rarely without. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  104. 104. Your Success Depends on Your Team’s Execution of Ideas A small team of the right people can do mighty things when given the right processes, but they also must work at the same pace to get things done. Before hiring someone, ask yourself how well they will fit into a culture you are trying to cultivate. If they’re a strategist and you need a doer, don’t hire them. And vice versa. @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  105. 105. Keep Trying New Ideas and Measure We went through many iterations of HotPads content: 1. City-specific 2. “Best neighborhoods” and “reasons to live in” 3. Data graphs 4. PR stunts 5. Maps of data owned by others 6. Maps of our own content @dohertyjf#stateofsearch
  106. 106. Thank you! Email: john@hiregun.co Twitter: @dohertyjf Site: hiregun.co Twitter: @hiregun #stateofsearch

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