ET43- Hyper Growth With Smart SEO and Content Marketing
How to Build an Endless Supply of Lead With a Holistic Content Marketing Strategy
In the old days SEO was easy and pay per click ads were cheap. I miss the old days. Now, things are different and if you want to have a great supply of interested and ready to buy leads you need a content marketing strategy to funnel people into your site.
Fortunately, there are experts like Eric Siu who can help make sense of all the options and come up with an overall strategy that will help your business without sucking up all your time. I came away a lot smarter from my conversation and with a much more focused to do list for my own content marketing efforts and I’m sure you will, too.
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Matt: Welcome to today’s episode of Entrepreneur Talk. I have the pleasure of speaking with Eric Siu from singlegrain.com. He is an SEO expert and he’s hopefully gonna educate me quite a bit on how SEO can play into a small business marketing tactics. Thanks for coming on Eric. I sincerely appreciate it. Why you kinda just start off by giving us a little bit of your background and how you got to where you’re at today.
Eric: Yeah, thanks for having me. So, yeah. The background is I’ve been doing marketing for about give or take, I wanna say 6 or 7 years now. But you know, I’ve hopped around from a lot of different online marketing jobs when I felt like my growth plateaued and then I ended up weaving growth for an online education sort of college tree house. And then my mentor actually pulled me into this company called SingleGrain. And he said, “Hey you should come and help this company out”. Long story – short, I ended up taking the company over about two years ago. Our bread and butter has been SEO but everything that we do is really framed around, even my own staff is framed around doing SEO and content marketing and just adding as much utility as we can to the audience. The hardest to do from my perspective is building an audience and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.
Matt: So, was the takeover of the company pretty violent or was that something that everybody was on board with? How did you come in and then take over? There must be sort of an interesting story in it.
Eric: Yeah, great question. So you know, when I joined the company, I joined as a number two. I joined as a chief operating officer. SEO was getting really difficult at that point so we had to make some changes at the company. The founder, he was getting tired of doing the agency world type of stuff. It was actually pretty amicable. We still keep him in contact today. There was nothing like a violent takeover or anything. But we got through it and a lot of agencies will say, a lot of SEO agencies, during that time Google started adding all these updates – Panda, Penguin. A lot of them just started going out of business and you see some of the same SEO founders, agency founders … they’re working for other agencies right now as employees. The transition has been actually pretty interesting.
Matt: Yeah, I googled. You know, there was this certain … Well, I guess in the real early days, things were really pretty easy and then as more and more people piled in, the competition got stiffer and people started figuring out ways to kinda gain the system and Google put an end to that, and I think along with it, really made life difficult for a lot of the SEO companies that were taking the shortcut process. I guess you could say. So the landscape changed, how did you guys … what did you do to cope with that and what changes did you have to make if any 13:23.0 [inaudible] kind of reorganized your business to deal with those changes?
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. So, the old days as you know Matt was pretty easy when it came to SEO. All you really needed to do was buy a bunch of links for private blog networks and then you can probably get top five ranking in the next few weeks. It’s just not that easy anymore. The good thing now, everyone talks about the “content is king, it’s all about content marketing”. You see a lot of people doing it now. But at the end of the day it’s about providing utility to the end user and a lot of companies still aren’t doing that today. So the one thing that makes us stand out when we do SEO is all about what can we do to 10x the utility that we provide. Can we add something that’s genuinely valuable? Something that’s in depth for people where they can actually have someone implement it immediately, whether it’s themselves or someone on their team. That’s exactly what we do. We try to stand out as much as we can with the content that we produce. And we try to go into other formats, too. We’re doing podcasts and things like that. We’re starting to do more and more videos, too. So, whatever we can get our hands on, when it comes to doing new stuff with content marketing, we do. That’s just the first part, right? The first part is creating that content. The second part that a lot of people tend to forget about is how do you promote the content whether it’s through content promotion or through manual distribution. And a lot of people tend to skimp out on that and half ass it. They also need to think about, at the end of the day, what is your content? What’s the objective? Is it to drive e-mail leads? What is it doing exactly? It’s not just to drive page views, right? Because who cares about page views at the end of the day? Because you’re trying to drive revenues. That’s kind of the overall approach.
Matt: And that makes sense. So, if I’m a busy small business owner.
Eric: I am.
Matt: Or if any of my clients. I have a couple hundred clients who are all busy small business owners who are saying, “Okay, I buy the content is important. I wanna add value on my website and get people to get something from me before they maybe wanna think about engaging my services but I don’t necessarily have time to do that”. So is that something that you guys provide? Do you come up with the content strategy, do content production and then do the marketing of the content so that it’s in turn generating leads and traffic and pulling engagement into the website? How much of that do you guys take over and how much should I be outsourcing? Maybe I shouldn’t totally outsource. Maybe I should have a hand in some of these. What’s your take on that?
Eric: Great question. As an agency owner, I’m gonna say something that’s counterintuitive. Always [inaudible] cause I’ve worked in house before too. It’s always best to take the stuff in house but if you just don’t have the resources for it yet, maybe it makes to work with an agency to see if you can get some traction with it first. But I always like to say, especially with startups, it makes sense to graduate into taking in house. Now, with the big companies that we work with, the Fortune Five Hundreds, absolutely, they need to work with agencies all the time. But I think if you go to start-ups, your series, maybe you have the series A stage and you have a lot of more resources, you have to take that stuff in house. But we do cover things from top to bottom. What we do when we generally start with clients is we don’t try to lock them into an engagement to start with. We wanna take a look at the entire funnel. We wanna see what’s going on. We wanna look at it from our lense, how we would run this business if we were the owners. And then we will put together what we call a marketing game plan which is maybe a 2-3 page audit. That’s action items. It’s not gonna be a hundred pages of fluff. But that way, we can start to get some type of working relationship going first before we dive into something that’s more of an engagement. We do cover the content production, the strategy, what should be done in terms of funnels and we’re also gonna look at other growth opportunities as well. We don’t want to file up things into one area, all of these all placed into one big marketing strategy at the end of the day.
Matt: I guess, to me, Sir, that’s the challenge. It’s making sure the whole picture is there and you’re filling in all the pieces because there’s lots of individual tactics that you can use. But I guess if the whole picture isn’t filled in or you don’t have … you can generate lots of traffic but if you don’t have a sales funnel or if sales funnel’s all built and you got an e-mail autoresponder series up but you have no traffic. There’s all the different pieces that have to all be in place which can seem like a little bit of overwhelming task. Where do you tell people to kinda start?
Eric: Great question, I think when it comes to starting with content marketing, here’s a good way to go about it. You can look at your competitors. There are free tools out there, right? SCM Rush is one of them you can see. Kind of the content that they’re raking for, the keywords they’re raking for and the pages that they’re doing well on. And then you take a look at your competitors and then also talk to your customers, too. I think that’s free to do, right? You can say “What are you struggling with? What type of issues are you experiencing right now?” And you could try to solve those issues. I always do an annual survey to my e-mail list asking what type of content they like to see more of, what topics, what are they interested in exactly. The conversations are always free. The analysis using these free tools is free as well. Once you have that, you can also look at what’s going on in your analytics in google search console, what are people searching for exactly and what are you getting impressions for as well. You can start looking at the data first and then also the chatter, too. If you don’t have any data to begin with, you talk with people and then you start to craft a strategy. Maybe a month or two out, maybe content for the first two months and then you see how it goes. You see what resonates and you kinda just continue to double down on it. Obviously, you’re trying to produce something that’s … If you’re genuinely … you’re trying to produce something better. But if it’s genuinely better, you’re gonna have no problem promoting it to people that have promoted something similar at all. But if you produce something that is like a 200-500 word article, that’s probably not gonna make you too proud. It’s not something that you wanna go out there and say “Hey, come share my stuff” or “We think you might find this interesting”. It’s just not that impressive and it actually reflects poorly on your brand.
Matt: That’s an interesting side point there. So, if I’m writing articles or producing content for my website that I’m hoping ultimately is gonna attract visitors who are gonna be a good target, am I better off doing one fifteen hundred word article once a month or four five hundred word articles or don’t even bother with short articles? I mean what’s an end … how much? Or should I be doing one two thousand word article a day? Would that be 5x better than one a week? How do I kinda like figure out?
Eric: Right. I think it totally depends on where you are as a business and what you’re doing as a business owner. Now, with that being said, general rule of thumb, you want to be publishing at least once a week and fifteen hundred words plus I think you’re gonna be in a good spot. That thing is it’s like, if you’re a business owner and you’re actually doing this yourself, if you’re taking the time to write something that’s in depth, you’re gonna learn more as you write. I find myself … When I’m able to articulate something or if I’m able to put something into words, I’m able to explain it better in the future then. I feel like I’m reinforcing my learning. Fifteen hundred words a week for one person is probably good and you could start to amp it up maybe to two to three articles a week and then start to see the traffic rolling. But again, if you’re just starting from scratch you’re gonna need to be good at spending time on promotion. I had a guy on my podcast [Inaudible; 00:21:05.3 Eric Calpine?]. He has over three hundred thousand e-mail subscribers and has had traffic sites or sites with traffic up to forty million a year, I think. He said 20% of the time he spent it on the content but the other 80% he spent it on promotion. And maybe you are a business owner starting out in the beginning. But yeah, roll up your sleeves and do it that way. When you’re hiring people to do it, you can call bias if you feel like they’re giving you the run around.
Matt: Yeah, Eric Calpine definitely had a lot of success with his social trigger stuff and I can see where a lot of people would wanna share that. I guess that’s one of the other challenges, too. A lot of the vast majority, I would say, of the clients that we have are in what you would call regular small businesses. There’s not that much, you know, that’s exciting about it. And for us, at our small business bookkeeping service, we have a lot of interesting conversations with our clients. But in terms of putting out content around our subject matter, frankly it’s not the kind of stuff that’s gonna top out on Reddit or something for being real interesting. It’s just not that kinda subject matter. So we have a little bit of a challenge in trying to figure out what kinda content we can produce that’s relevant but still likely to be interesting in Shared. Just because of the industry we’re in, it’s just not that sexy for lack of a better word.
Eric: I think there’s definitely a few spins about it and we actually did one of these “marketing game plans/ prospect” yesterday. We took a look at the competitors and the different blogs that they had. This is around video interviewing, right? The content was all pretty ho-hum. One company in general, one competitor, they did a really good job of targeting the persona exactly. So, they’re targeting specifically recruiters and staffers. That way, because they’re focusing on the ideal client profile, it seems like the message was a lot more focused. So, whoever your ideal client profile is, you wanna go after those people. If you’re targeting start-ups, maybe you write about ten finance pit falls that start-up should avoid. And then you drive some Facebook traffic to it, targeting some cold traffic and see how that performance in terms of generating e-mail outings. You could try to back out the numbers in terms of how many of those e-mails become leads and see where that ends up in terms of revenues later.
Matt: I think that’s the key, to find an angle that’s not so specific that it would be very narrow interest but somehow it still ties in with the overall business aims. But again, it’s just a lot of time. You could literally spend almost all your time working on content marketing and strategies around this. And in the meantime, the rest of the business goes down the drain.
Eric: Business owners are impatient. We wanna see things happen in the next day and content marketing just isn’t that. It is in fact the marathon. But if you wanna see results, maybe you can try some paid traffic to it and see what happens. But totally right. As I mentioned, it all comes down to where are your businesses at right now in terms of priorities. If you’re struggling with cash flow, forget content marketing right now. We gotta bring in some sales. We gotta ring the cash register.
Matt: Yeah, that definitely needs to prioritize it. You mentioned being impatient, that’s for sure. I know some of the old school and maybe they’re still around today. SEO companies would tell you “You sign up with us it’s a monthly contract. It’s x thousand dollars a month or whatever but don’t expect to see any results from 9-12 months”. That always seemed to me like a pretty hard sales pitch. I’m gonna pay you for 9-12 months before I know whether this stuff is even gonna work or not.” Has that sales pitch improved any today? Or are there quicker wins that you can get? Or is SEO still really a long term play.
Eric: The good thing now about it, especially for us when we tie in SEO, it’s not just link acquisition 0:20:02.8 [inaudible]. There’s actual deliverables. You’re actually getting content and when you look at it it’s like “Wow, I feel good about this in terms of building my brand” versus in the past when you look at other SEO agencies it’s just “Oh you know, we’re gonna give you a link report each month. It’s gonna have fifteen to twenty links and then that’s it. Talk to you next month”. Every month you’re writing them a check for five to ten grand. You might be losing your shirt and you might not even know it.
Matt: Right. So that’s not really the way it plays out anymore. There’s a lot more to it, hopefully at least with the agencies that know what they are doing.
Matt: Okay. SEO is kind of what’s on your front page but you also do a lot of stuff with Google ads, Facebook, social marketing, social media, optimizing for conversion. Would you say that’s should really be of everybody package? Or for some people, do they just do SEO with you or some people just do one, or an ala carte kind of selection of services?
Eric: Yeah. I would say it depends on the size of the business. If you’re starting out, you probably want to do something more holistic because you don’t want to work with a bunch of agencies. But if you are a big company, you do want to do ala carte, right? One department will, let’s say, “Oh! Let’s go do video with this company. Let’s go do SEO with this company. And then, let’s go do paid advertising with another company.” So, I think it depends on the size of the business.
Matt: Okay. That makes sense. If I have to pick one strategy, let’s say I got a limited budget or a limited time or probably in most cases, both, right. Is there one in particular that’s gonna give me the best ROI? Or is it again hard to say? It depends on what you want to do.
Eric: I think for most business owners that want quick results, I think it has to be Google AdWords or Facebook ads. It really depends. If there is a demand already for a product, then, Google search is there to fulfill that demand. But if people don’t know about your product, you’re essentially trying to do demand generation; you’re doing that with Facebook. You’re trying to make people aware of the product offering that you have and then go in from there. A lot of people nowadays, it’s not just driving people to a product page on Facebook, but you’re driving them to a piece of content. So, you might write like an advertorial which is halfway between an ad and an editorial piece. For example, it might say “The bed bug count in New York City has increased by 10,000%.” Or something like that. It’s just like a shocker, right? At the bottom, you might refer your solution at the end of the article. That’s like an extreme example. Obviously, you don’t want to fool the audience but you can go to that extent. For us, we just try Facebook traffic directly to our content and that we were building a relationship with them. Later down the road, because there are pixels by us in terms of retargeting, we can retarget them on Facebook. We can retarget them on Google. We know the because they engaged with us, they are a little more likelier to warm up to us in terms of becoming a lead or maybe buying something from us.
Matt: That makes sense. So, in terms of your own marketing, in terms of marketing single grain and filling your own sales funnel and converting content readers to buyers, what are you doing for yourself to be able to generate those leads? Is it content marketing for yourself primarily? Or do you have other strategies as well?
Eric: Yeah. The big part is the content marketing is really the foundation for us. We’re continuing to pump up stuff about the latest going on in marketing. Our pieces are all in depth – 1,500 to 2,000 + words. Then also, there’s my podcast that generates leads too. I also write myself on my other blog and that’s marketing too. It’s kind of a flywheel that continues to grow. Because we’re producing all these contents, sometimes, it’s a homerun in terms of the search engine, looking at it and sometimes, we’re gonna start to rank well for stuff. If you even Google PeriScope marketing, I think we’re on top 3 result. If you Google Marketing Funnels, I think we’re like the number 4 or 5th result. So, some of that stuff just happens normally. We don’t link build to those posts or anything but we start to see them rise. It’s kinda just the gift that keeps on giving.
Matt: Yeah. Definitely. It always nice to find out you’re ranking well for something you didn’t even necessarily planned for. So, from a higher level perspective, with a growth that you’ve had, what are some of your personal management challenges as a founder of a growing business? What have you run into that has been a bottleneck of a challenge for you that you have to work on or still working on?
Eric: I think the biggest bottleneck is the team, when I took it, when I joined the company, we were fully all in office. I came from a distributed environment. I just like that model – 37 signals, does it that way, lot of different buffer works that are fully remote too. So, I switched to that model. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a struggle especially when we still have people that were used to working in an office, making that transition so quickly is something that I should’ve ease into. I would say learning from that, it’s making big decisions, taking a little more time on them and thinking about it on a deeper level because that did hurt the culture a little bit and I was a little too hasty because I just like to do things quickly. But I mean, the remote environment, that’s something that has been a struggle. It’s gotten way better now. I think we have a well-oiled machine. Other struggle areas I think are just the matter of finding great writers. I can’t write all the time but we have a great stable of writers. They are all personally-vetted and that’s been something that we wanted for a while and we finally have it. So, it’s getting better but we could always be better than that.
Matt: Yeah. There’s always room for improvement. To your point about a distributed work environment, let me ask you about that because that’s something we’ve considered on and off but the ability to have kinda that 9am meeting for 10 mins where we get everybody on the same page, pop-up any problems that might be affecting more than 1 person but we don’t know about and just kinda keeping everybody focused on the same priorities. How do you keep that culture intact and keep everybody on the same page when they are not all necessarily coming to the same environment to work?
Eric: Great question. So, what we do is we have our weekly 101. I have them with everybody on the team. And then, [inaudible 0:26:42.8] people that report to them, it kinda just goes back and forth but all of the details in terms of what needs to be done in terms of tasks, that’s all stored inside Trolo. Beyond that, we have tools such as 15/5 that will kinda send people a set of questions each week just to see how they are feeling, struggles they are going through, and what other things we should make notice. That’s kind of automated. We also use [inaudible 0:27:09.3 Laxatives?]. The communication is actually really good. We have a lot of integration with Flock as well that will show us what’s kinda going on in our world.
Matt: So, kind of a technology approach to staying connected and keeping people on the same page. That makes sense. It’s just one of those things, having worked in a traditional environment where everybody’s in the same place. I can definitely see the benefits of having a distributive workforce. I just can’t make in the leap to it. It’s a little more challenging than I thought it would be. But I can definitely see the advantages and it maybe something that we do in the near future. It’s good to hear you had a positive experience with it overall. If you were starting again, is there anything you would do differently? Or put in another way, is there advice that you would give to entrepreneurs or startups that you found really helpful or you wish you had been given when you were in the earlier days in the process?
Eric: I think it would probably to be more empathetic. In the beginning, coming from a startup world where my entire team, people that were on my team, when you’re working with 54 other people and they’re top of class in what they do and you come to a younger company where people need more training and things like that, I’m just expecting things to get done and there’s you know kind of stand behind the scenes and just do your work right. But there’s actually more to it than that. You actually have to be building that relationship, building that culture. Because when I came in, people saw me as “Wow, this guy is auditing our company, blah blah blah. He seems like this great edge guy.” I didn’t spend the time to actually build relationships with people that have worked with the company for a while. I was just “We gotta make all these changes quickly. Let’s go go go!” But the thing is this. You start to make all these changes and you don’t even ask for their opinion and you’re not really getting buy in and things like that. You have to establish some type of rapport or else you kinda lock yourself in a block whole wherein eventually you’re not gonna get the feedback that you need and the relationships that you need to push things forward. That’s a valuable lesson that I learned in the beginning.
Matt: Well, that’s interesting. Management to me is one of the most difficult skills that any business owner has to deal with. Honestly, a lot of them never get it. They just never understand where they could improve and how it would improve things overall. They just sort of “This is me, deal with me”. I think it’s not something you can learn. You can’t learn it in a class. You can read all the books you want, but until the rubber hits the road, you don’t really know how it’s gonna turn out and it’s a very challenging skill. It’s good to hear from people who have hit those road blocks and are introspective enough and self-aware enough to go “Yeah, this is where I could’ve done better. I learned something from it and in the future I’ll know that”. But it’s a very challenging thing to internalize until you you’ve really done it and seen the results and seen the outcome of it. It’s not something that’s natural in most people.
Matt: Where do you guys go from here? What’s next for you? How big do you get? Where do you expand to? What are your plans for the future?
Eric: The big thing is we continue to generate a good set of leads. The leads that we get are fantastic. We’re happy that that machine, it’s that flywheel that keeps growing. But I look at growth everywhere that kind of feeds into singlegrain. There’s a lot of stuff because I as a marketer, I’m trying always to get better. I’m learning form the team as well but I’m always executing on my own just to make sure I don’t really lose my edge. Beyond writing content, we do have like a library of courses around marketing, sales from some of the best people we have in trainings and hiring and things like that. There’s an online education component too. Businesses that are not quite ready to work with an agency yet but they can implement things on their own, that’s one part of it. We are building other software right now just to fulfill needs of other people. We’re always talking to different people. The great thing about operating in this capacity where we’re growing our brand as the people that understand marketing, we’re always able to solve things quickly and we have the audience there already that needs this stuff. Once we get it out there, things just kinda start to move on there on which is great.
Matt: That definitely makes a lot of sense. The one direction I’ve seen a lot of people with your skill set or your company’s skill set do too is they’ll start to bring on their own products right after they’ve had success for 10 or 12 clients helping them grow an e-commerce business or helping them grow some other kind of unrelated services brand or software as a kind of business, they’ll bring some of those projects in house and use their sales and marketing skills to grow something under their own roof. It’s a separate brand, separate name obviously. But they’ll start basically playing for the home team which is always another interesting way to spin your skill set without having to have the “Man, we could do such a better job for this client if only they do x, y and z”. Now, we’re the client so what’s our excuse? Now we should really be able to hit home runs every time.
Eric: Totally. And then it’s like we’re not really hitting home runs all time. It’s actually harder than we’ve thought. This is worth a squeeze.
Matt: Yeah, you know. You’re probably gonna run into different kinds of problems and whatever. But it can still be fun and a good way to keep those muscles flexing on the scales and expand yourself at the same time, kind of diversify out from just a consulting agency model. Alright, awesome. Well, I appreciate it so much that you’re taking the time to share your knowledge and your story with us. For people who are interested in finding out more and getting some of this great content that you’re putting out there, where can they go to find it?
Eric: You can go to singlegrain.com or follow me on twitter @ericosiu. I always respond to people. You can also e-mail me as well.
Matt: Awesome. Is there something behind the singlegrain name? I’ve been just thinking about that.
Eric: I didn’t come up with the name but I do know the story. The original founder, he had to come up with a name. The deadline was that day and he was eating a box of cereal that says single grain on it. So, that’s the name.
Matt: That’s as good a story as any. Awesome. Well, thank you. I appreciate your time.
Eric: Yeah, thanks for having me.