author
Kirsty Hulse
Many Minds

About Kirsty Hulse

With a decade’s experience in digital marketing, Kirsty has a wide range of experience developing integrated search strategies that tap into consumer behaviour and drive conversion. As the founder of Manyminds, she helps brands access some of the best digital talent in the world.

In her Learn Inbound talk, Kirsty talks about how content marketing is a hugely important part of any digital strategy and how many brands are now successfully adopting content first approaches to their business. Does this mean that sometimes we’re not giving users the snappy, conversation focused content they’re actually looking for? Are we ignoring user intent and placing too much focus on information instead of providing what the user wants to achieve? And are we wrongly focusing our efforts on content over conversion?

Key Takeaways

  • Optimise your editorial content for conversion.Generally, this will be your old blog posts, so take a look to see which posts are driving traffic and whether there are any opportunities.
  • Don’t hide your Call to Actions! Make it clear what the customer should do next – contact you, buy here etc.
  • Signpost your product pages so that the customer can easily see where to go next should they wish to purchase.

Video Transcription

I am here today to talk about what our affair with content means we cheat on conversion. So, a little bit more about me, that's the time I came to work dressed as a Google update, which is one of the coolest moments of my life. I'm Kirsty Hulse. So, yes, as you just heard, I have more recently started a new venture called Many Minds, which is essentially a digital agency which is a collective of expert freelancers. If anybody's interested in getting involved and becoming part of that collective later, please do come and speak to me. I also work at Linkdex as head of SEO Best Practice, which is an enterprise SEO platform. Read More

So on to the good stuff. So, essentially, as an industry, we have completely fallen... I'm gonna put this down, otherwise I'll just drink it and I'll be lying on the floor. Yeah, so. As an industry, we have completely fallen in love with content marketing. This is a Google Trends graph for content marketing worldwide, and you can see...since 2013, really, is when it really started exploding, and you'll see this graph again later. And even though it's relatively new, at the moment over 85% of brands are doing it. This is from a Content Marketing Institute study, so over 85% of brands are currently investing in some form of content marketing. Currently we spend about a quarter of our budgets on it. That's from 2014. So certainly, as of 2016, I could guess that that would be significantly higher now.

70% of brands created more content...well, last year now, than they did in 2015. So more and more people are creating more stuff, they're spending more money on it, they're investing more resource. But at the same time, what's happening is, only 21% of those brands that are currently investing very heavily in content marketing really know if it has any value. And for those people who do strongly believe that their content marketing does have value, the 84% of them, that top goal is brand awareness.

Which for me, I feel people don't really...are struggling really to put conversion metrics against content. At the same time, you have fashion kind of leading the way on this, but it's happening across the broad. Retailers are becoming publishers and publishers are becoming retailers. Condé Nast is soon to be launching its...it's turning style.com into an e-commerce site, so huge publishers with all that editorial power are also becoming commerce sites, which is exciting, and also quite potentially risky for other e-commerce sites. Then you have the Porter brands, which have a kind of content-first approach, where their shop front is essentially their journal and editorial content, and then they have their kind of product pages almost sitting behind that.

And this is working incredibly well. So I've used Mr. Porter as an example, because Mr. Porter is kind of the... it's kind of held up as the, I don't know, the kind of angel child of content marketing. I mean, you've got the Guardian writing about content marketing because of Mr. Porter. And so the Porter proves clever content marketing is still in vogue. Content, the heart and soul of your online brand. So every...well, you know, we're all hugely getting behind it, and this is great, and it's working, you know. Mr. Porter have seen 27% brand growth, largely down to having this kind of content-first approach.

Before I did this analysis, which I did in Linkdex, by the way, before I did this analysis, I just thought that Mr. Porter was an editorial site. I didn't even realize that it was a shop.

So this is wonderful, and it's really, really good that we're doing this and it's an absolutely worthwhile investment. Excuse me. But I do feel as though that we're missing something, and that something is often that when you have high authority editorial content on your site, and you're pumping lots of resource, time, energy, integrating very powerful long-form editorial content, that's also earning your links, so therefore becomes the more authority pages, what tends to happen is that content starts to rank for transactional queries, and this is something I found when I was doing an analysis for something else on Mr. Porter, and this was kind of the prevailing thing that I took away from it.

So a lot of their organic visibility is their long-form editorial content ranking, which you kind of guess, because they're the most powerful pages on the site. I mean, we know that Google likes content, we know that Google likes links and shares, and it's these kind of pages, as opposed to the more traditional product pages that typically get shared. So a huge transactional query, like "dinner jackets," they have this article ranking, which is words, and a bit of video, likewise "Tom Ford," "chinos," there's tons of examples where they have people probably looking to buy something, and they're being served content.

There's another example here. I started doing some research and trying to find examples of other brands invested heavily in content marketing and were kind of seen as being great at it, and this is another one, I don't know how to say it..."Rai"? "Ray"? "R-E-I"? For the rest of it, I'm going to call it "Ray." If anybody actually knows the right way to say it, that would be lovely. And they are camping equipment, and they, again, that big thing that they do is they create these wonderful, beautiful help and advice guides that have all this wonderful content that they've clearly thrown tons of money at, and it's beautiful and amazing, and it's ranking for their commercial terms. So, things like "underwear" and "backpacks" typically tend to be these articles that are ranking.

Now, I should say this is...this isn't a bad thing, because even the fact that a relatively small brand, and I don't know anything about... actually, I said relatively small brands, because I've not heard of it. That doesn't mean anything. I don't know anything about what they invest in SEO, but the fact that they're even ranking for these really competitive kinds of terms, and related ones as well, is a good thing.

But my belief is that long-form editorial content is really, really good for capturing informational queries and driving "top of the funnel" awareness.
That's a thing that we say a lot. And kind of driving that brand awareness, which also very valuable, influencing purchase decision, and again, earning links. It's all super, super valuable, from that kind of stuff.

But what long-form editorial blog post content really isn't that great at is this, when people are in that mindset where they want to convert and they want to shop. When people want to shop, they're expecting to be served something really quite different. Thinking about dinner jackets again, you know, if I was to search, I don't know, "dinner jacket" with a size, I quite clearly...and a color… I quite clearly want to buy a dinner jacket that is in a certain size and a certain color. And I would expect to be served this kind of content. But all of the dinner jacket and the related queries for Mr. Porter, for example, get sent to this page. For me, that doesn't seem like a good user experience, and this isn't actually really even about conversion and money now. This is simply about serving the right content to users when they're actually looking for it. That's what we all want to do.

But again, this was my assumption, and I thought I could have been completely wrong in this assumption. So I ran a little survey, and I just did one question and I made a hypothetical situation, and I said, "You're looking to buy a new dinner suit. Which page do you think best suits your needs?" And 84% of people agreed if they were looking to purchase a new dinner suit, they would want to be served a page that looked a little bit like that. There was a clearly high 16% that want to be served long-form editorial content when they're looking to purchase.

So that kind of confirmed my assumption, and it was only an assumption, that when people shop, there's a certain format that they're looking for, and actually, that format's probably been created by us, you know. We're so used to seeing that, and we're so used to kind of consuming in that way, that anything else we just find a bit confusing, and we probably bounce. And certainly, we might land on that content and go, "Oh, I enjoyed reading that," and then maybe come and convert later down the line, of course. I appreciate that content marketing is a bit more of a long-term game to
conversion, but again, to reiterate, if somebody searches for something and they're looking to purchase, it's not a good user experience if they get sent to something that's not especially relevant to them in that mindset.

Here's an arbitrary, very arbitrary, Venn diagram. Now, this is what I'm going to spend kind of the rest of the time I have talking about. So you have content, and then you have kind of CRO, and somewhere in the middle, where we try and kind of marry the two, is where all of the money is, I believe.

So what we need to try and do, is we need to try and optimize editorial content for conversion, because if we have tons of blog pages ranking for transactional queries, which I'm sure many of you do, you wouldn't want to go and do anything bad like redirect into product pages rather than have it be inset. But we have to think about what we can do to make sure we are giving users what they actually want. And again, this isn't really our fault, this is Google, because it prioritizes content and links and shares above and beyond the typical format that a user might want to see. So it's... more or less it's Google.

So, here are a few things I would suggest you could go and do. Audit your old blog content. I always forget, generally, about content that's a couple of years older. I'll invest lots of time in writing something, I'll be very proud of it, I'll put it live and then I'll completely forget a year later, and it will just be sitting there. But certainly, it will probably still be ranking. It's not significantly better than it was before, because authority builds over time. So we need to try and identify, "What are those posts that are driving traffic? Are there any opportunities? Do we need to make any changes, and where are we missing out?"

I've just completely lifted this from Moz, and again, it's just a reminder that blog content and editorial content continues to perform long after launch date. And actually, it grows over time. So certainly going back, reviewing, auditing all your old blog content and seeing how that's doing, is a really good start. And you'll probably find you're kind of accidentally ranking for some more longer-tail queries through kind of blog and editorial content you might be able to just get some quick wins from.

Don't hide your CTAs. I am guilty of this, massively. In my career I've always thought calls to action...kind of sells over calls to action and content were very separate things, and the two shall never meet. I thought that if you had invested money in creating some lovely content, and then at the bottom of it you stick a, I don't know, "Subscribe here to find out more about our product," or "Here's where all the things you can buy," I always felt it lost its integrity a bit, and it kind of ruined it, and I, being very empirical, went to Twitter and did a little poll. Eleven votes...not sure if that's statistically significant, but there you go. So in e-commerce, should blog and editorial content generally have CTAs? Yes, because it can increase revenue potential. A no-brainer. But then an 18% did think along the lines I historically had always thought, that it can be a little bit distracting, and it kind of ruins that integrity of the content.

I think one of the reasons people invest so heavily in content marketing is because it's the first time that, as advertisers and marketers, we've been able to genuinely try and earn our consumers' trust by not necessarily interrupting them in the content that they're trying to consume. Now, before advertising was typically...a user would be reading something, consuming some media, and then advertising would be an interruption in the middle of that. Whereas content marketing, suddenly, it is the thing that they're consuming is the advertising. Wow. So I always thought the two should never meet, but I was wrong.

Ah, yes. So here, what I did, I have a little video of what I think is an example of where this huge potential...anyway, yes, well, I won't have any spoilers for it, it's just a little video. If you could play it please… Right, so. I wanted to find an example of where I thought that potential money was being thrown down the drain through content being prioritized over conversion.

So I started looking at car insurance, and I wanted to find a relatively long-tail query, because typically they target, they're more convertible. So here, I Googled "compare car insurance for females under 25," and landed on my first ranking, Money Supermarket...and you have this massive page, and I'm kind of scrolling down, and it's all this wonderful, lovely content, because they have decided, quite rightly, that what they want to do is educate their potential consumer. They want to educate their potential consumer, because in insurance, it's...you have to know a lot about it.
There's a lot of lead time, that's not something you just go and buy. Using fashion as an example is probably a little bit naughty, because fashion, it is purely visual, you don't necessarily need to learn about something in advance of a purchase.

So I found this, and then I couldn't see the call to action. I couldn't see the call to action, and then, for a while, I was like, "Well, this seems like a bit of waste of space." And then at that moment I noticed that there was a little "get a new quote" thing there, but then they have all of this dead space at the side. For me, I feel... I don't know what you guys think, but I think that they're probably missing out on something here. And the fact that clearly content has won over in this instance, I believe they're probably missing out on conversion from that.

Next slide, please. But again, it's very crucial, but what I was saying at the moment is purely just hyperbole, so it is very crucial to test this. Again, not much of a no-brainer, but who in this room kind of actively tests their websites and their pages? Okay, good. Lovely. So at least some of you've got a single take away from me this evening. It's so easy and affordable. In fact, this is even free, to test different layouts, different call-to-actions, and... So this is... I think the actual URL for this, it's in the notes of the slide, I wanted to share it, but it's like… I think its abtest.net? And it's made by Act-On, and yes, it is completely free to go, a way to test multiple variations of a landing page. So we should all just be doing that as standard, but it's something that really doesn't get done all that often, and I'm kind of standing here talking wildly about CTAs, when actually, it varies.

So when I did my little Twitter poll, generally what people kind of fed back to me was that it varies. There's no way you can say whether you should have them or you shouldn't. Some people said we should only have like a soft CTA, so you wouldn't necessarily directly promote a product in blog or editorial content, but you might direct people to other similar content. Or you might have the recommended products within the text, rather than the images, because it's less obvious and people are more likely to click, and all of these various different things. So essentially what I'm saying is nobody knows, all you can do is you can go away and test it.

I'd like to point out the irony that this slide is me talking about the importance of image quality, and then I have that on there. I didn't realize that the screen was going to be so massive. But it is a Chinese proverb, guys, because I am very deep and profound. So that says, Chinese proverb: "One picture is worth ten thousand words." Yeah, I've kind of alluded to this before, but when...if you have blog content ranking for things that people want to buy, particularly...this is less relevant unless it's a kind of service. This isn't particularly relevant if it's a service, but if it's a thing, if it's a consumer good, any kind of product that people can see and want to buy, fashion, travel, huge, then you need to have really...you need to keep that image quality that you would have in your blog content that you would have by standard on your site, and the quantity of it as well.

Again, fashion kind of leads the way in this. This is a brand called Farfetch, and this is their blog content, and again it is...a lot of this blog content is ranking for these products within...for this design.

So, yes, it's very important that they're trying to kind of convert. Because, I mean, that's like four grand for a coat. You really don't want that interested consumer bouncing. And yes, so that is their blog content and they have the same kind of integrity in their imagery that they have throughout the rest of their site, and sometimes, normally because of pretty dodgy CMS systems, the importance of imagery kind of falls by the wayside when we get to blogs, but I think it's super, super important to make sure that you keep that quality and develop some kind of standards across a business for the kind of imagery that you're sharing within your editorial content.

The images that Mr. Porter share on the content that is currently ranking for super transactional queries just really isn't that great. Small, it's blurry, it's not compelling, and it seems like something quite simple to do.

Don't hide product recommendations. This is an example I found, again. So these guys, like, hipster Bike Company based in London, and they rank for Cooper bikes. I don't cycle. Does anybody cycle? Do you know what a Cooper bike is? No. Okay. It's probably just… I don't know. But yeah, so they...this article, again, is ranking really high for Cooper bikes, and it's this lovely, beautiful article about the history of the bike, and it gives you lots of information about the guys that formed it, and why it's good. And thankfully, next to it, they have this really actually… I'll move back...it's kind of really actually quite obnoxious, related products thing at the side that I really like, because I think it is a bit in-your-face. But I think it's important when...because certainly a lot of people that will be landing organically on that page or looking to buy a bike, so being able to see the bikes that they can buy is probably quite helpful.

There's also an option to signpost product pages. Do you know when you get those really annoying, like, pop-ups on a website? Where it says, "Did you really mean that?" in like a really small condescending way? Maybe it might be valuable to test, again, something like that on some content that you know people will probably kind of be landing on organically, but that you don't really know their intent, so maybe it's probably good to kind of suggest it, to point people in the right direction.

So if they want to read the interview with Tom Ford or Mr. Porter, and they absolutely can, but if they want to go through to the Tom Ford product pages, then they can do that too. Again, it's worth testing.

Un-optimize editorial content for transactional product keywords. "Un-optimize" is something I thought I'd never say. Feels a bit naughty saying it. Yes and essentially that is trying to make it as clear as possible to search engines which pages you want to rank through its keywords. And I have an example from the people I can't say, and because I really like to be on the cutting edge of SEO, I'm standing in a conference in 2016, showing you title tags. There we go. I think it's actually quite salient.

So, here, this is when they have...so the top one is the page that ranks for their backpack-related queries, so not just backpacks, but all the kind of ways, like "camping backpacks," "best camping backpacks," all those kind of words, and it is that page that ranked, but this page is the "money page," I guess we can call it. The page where people are probably a little bit more likely to convert. In an ideal world, you'd want both, but at the moment, that's number three or something, and that's nowhere. It's in the ether. Excuse me. And of course it is, because you have the top page as the one that is probably the most optimized for that. It has all the content, and again, that's something relatively quick and simple that's completely in our control and completely in our power to do, just to make sure that we're not missing out on anything. I guess it's another consideration that we have to think about when creating blog content. You know; if you're creating blog content that's related to your product, but you probably want your pages which demonstrated the highest conversion to rank, so maybe don't use those specific things within the semantic and the metadata, maybe.

But yeah, standing here in 2016 talking about title tags really doesn't feel very sophisticated. Next slide, please? Thank you. So I thought I'd try and think about...oh! Here he is to save the day! Thank you very much. So I thought I would think of some other ways, and then I thought, "Oh, content personalization, that's a thing." And essentially that is the ability to dynamically serve different content to people according to what it is that they like, do, want, those kinds of things.

A couple of years ago, this would have been much more compelling, because a few years ago, it was possible to serve content to people according to what they searched, but because Google's an asshole you can't do that anymore. Write that down. "Google's an asshole."

But...what we can do is we can group keywords according to ranking page, and if we have a very good idea of what keywords are ranking for what page, we can make a kind of reasonable assumption around the kind of intent people have when they land on a certain page.

And according to the source, then you can edit the content that people are seeing to try and better align with their needs. I, historically, have always strongly avoided content personalization, and I actually really don't know much about it at all, so the fact that I'm standing here talking about it is frankly ludicrous, but...is anybody here doing any kind of content dynamic survey? Amazing!

Right, so the reason I never… I never invested in it because for me, it always felt like it would be really expensive to do, and really complicated, and require lots of resource and lots of tech, scary things that I just completely avoided, and then also, I'm in SEO, I will run a mile from any kind of dynamic URLs. I will hiss at them from distance. Don't want that. So I always avoided it, but actually, I think we kind of reluctantly have to agree that this is absolutely where the internet is going. Content personalization will become more and more all-prevalent. It's happening to us all now, like all of the big sites do it, like Amazon, Netflix, most of the supermarkets will order you’re shopping according to what they think you would like, and what you've done in the past.

But actually, you know, it doesn't actually have to be that expensive. I just...and again, I can't stand up here and say that I've ever tested this and used it, because I haven't, because this is all quite new to me too. But there are tons of things that are super, super affordable. Personyze is a small site; I think it's at 50K visits a month. It's completely free, and that's really good just to go away to test some stuff, like some really small stuff. Just think of something like altering where you put your CTA according to whether they come from an organic source. And then you have one that's $49 a month, and £95 a month, it certainly won't go away, just trying and seeing. And on all of their websites, there are tons and tons of different case studies that people have done, and it will kind of give you ideas of where to start on your own content personalization journey.

That's just my own thoughts. Feeling a bit sick, sailor? Yeah, so, of course there are SEO considerations with any kind of dynamic content. Google used to have a lot of trouble indexing, but less so now, much, much less so now. There are still problems, but you can kind of get a way around it, and if you test small, it's probably worth trying anyway, because of the potential increased revenue benefits that you can get from it.

So, yeah, so kind of relatively simple things you can do to try and kind of mitigate that. So hard-coded links behind the dynamic content, just to make sure that Google can quite easily index your site, accurate sitemaps, still keeping those dynamic URLs short. A while ago...this is probably different now, but Google kind of said, "We're all right, we're best if it's less than two." Making AJAX crawlable, and then create static URLs that link to the same content as each dynamic URL.

And there's a lovely resource here, on eConsultancy, where if you are going to try and start tests and playing about with any kind of content personalization, just where your CTA sits on that page, then read that first. And that is me. Maybe we can make 2016 the year that we really do start fully applying conversion metrics to our content marketing, and attributing revenue to all of the excellent, wonderful work that we do. Thank you very much.

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