Maximizing Business Impact with Strategic Content: Insights from WorkHuman's Stacy Thompson
Immerse yourself in an enlightening conversation with Stacy Thompson, Senior Director of Content Strategy and Activation at WorkHuman where she pulls back the curtain on the intricacies of content strategy, revealing how it propels immense business growth when executed meticulously. She draws a clear distinction between web content strategy and the broader content strategy, sharing insightful snippets from WorkHuman's ongoing CMS migration. As Stacy dives deeper, she touches upon the criticality of an organic-led content strategy and reveals how it can surge organic traffic by 350%. She also gives her take on the in-house vs outsourcing debate and offers beneficial tips for optimizing content.
Here are some excerpts.
1. Tell us about yourself.
My name is Stacey Thompson, and my role at my current organization, WorkHuman, is to lead what we call our content strategy and activation team. Really, I was brought into the organization to build and scale an organic-led content strategy—which is my bread and butter and what I've done for the past 15-plus years of my career. So, at my core, I am really a writer; that's what I did my undergraduate and graduate studies in. However, I have done content marketing for a number of years and specifically built content strategies that integrate with SEO strategies. That's what I was brought into WorkHuman to do, and that's what I've done for the past several organizations where I've worked.
2. How did you get into content marketing?
When I finished my graduate degree, which was a master of fine arts and creative writing, I originally thought I would write short stories for a living, but as it turns out, that wasn't a terribly lucrative career path. So, from there, I started working for an SEO agency in Boston, and that's where I really learned. I had previously worked in a marketing capacity for a variety of organizations, both big and small, but this was really where I learned how important SEO is to content marketing and how to build content that is specifically geared to rank in search engines for specific keyword targets as well as drive organic traffic to the site.
Over the past 15+ years of my career, it has really been about educating companies on what organic can do for them. Organic is, for a lot of organizations, an untapped resource. It's an amazing way to drive traffic to the website, and it's free, but you have to be extremely prescriptive about the way you write content so that search engines associate that content with a particular keyword target. Ultimately, people click on that content and are driven to your website.
From there, it is not just about driving people to the website; it's about what happens once you get them there. So it is also about what action do you want a person to take when they land on your website after consuming a piece of content. This has to be very strategic and goal-oriented in nature. So the first piece is building the right content to get people to the website, and then thinking about what action should we want people to take from there. Whether it's filling out a form, downloading a piece of content, or registering for an event, whatever that end goal is, you have to know what that end goal is prior to writing the content.
3. How do you build an effective SEO strategy for content marketing?
I like to think of organic led content strategy as an art and a science. You can be as creative as you want with a piece of content that you're building, but if no one reads it because search engines don't find it and thus people, is it really worth the effort?
We want to be creating content that is compelling, engaging, and aligned with our personas' pain points. What challenges are they trying to solve? What questions do they need to have answered? With the abundance of content available to anyone, there's a stat that's like people will spend less than seven seconds on a piece of content before they go back to search results and scan for something else they're looking for.
In terms of building an organic content strategy, it really starts with understanding what, search results are serving up for a particular keyword target.
We need to do keyword research aligned with core content themes, then look for keyword opportunities and build content around those specific targets. There are various tools to help us in this process. We use Phrasee to identify opportunities and Surfer SEO once a piece is drafted, so we can tell if it's aligned with what Google and search engines associate with this keyword target. We don't want to create something and then go back and say we wanted to rank for this keyword target - we consider this before the content is ever written.
Lastly, it isn't enough for people to get to our site; we need them to take specific action once they get there. So, an obvious and compelling call to action should be included at the end or middle of the piece, e.g. register for an event, download a piece of content, etc. Once this is done, we regularly measure performance to see if the content is performing as intended and if there are any opportunities to optimize it or do more/less of the same kind of content. This allows us to iterate on our content development and evolve the strategy as we go, as something that may have worked six months ago may not necessarily work as expected now.
4. What are the key characteristics of a good piece of content?
I believe it all comes down to the end goal of the content. Is it a keyword-driven piece of content? If that's the case, then conducting a thorough analysis of the type of content that appears in search results for that specific term becomes crucial. The aim is to develop content that aligns with the existing top-ranking results while infusing it with your unique perspective. Thus, the focus is on evaluating if the content aligns and identifying opportunities to provide additional value not currently covered in those top-ranking pieces.
Besides content alignment, other elements play a role, such as the level of engagement. Engaging imagery and interactive components can enhance the overall content experience, tying back to the ultimate goal. At WorkHuman, we explore various content formats, including written, video, and podcast content strategies. As people prefer efficient access to information, we apply the same methodology from our written content strategy to our video content strategy. We aim to rank higher in YouTube search results by building video content around core keyword targets.
To answer the question about content development, one needs a robust understanding of the current search results for the targeted keyword. It involves considering your unique perspective or your company's standpoint on the topic and identifying aspects that are not yet covered by existing content. While it may involve some trial and error, content performance measurement is essential to evaluate what works and what doesn't. By experimenting with different content formats and iterating as needed, you can effectively improve your content strategy over time.
5. How do you measure ROI for a piece of content that you're creating?
At WorkHuman, we engage in regular and ongoing performance measurement for our content marketing efforts. We assess the impact of our content on a quarterly and monthly basis. We analyze various metrics, such as the performance of our blog during a specific quarter, the number of terms we rank for in search engines year over year, and the amount of traffic generated from social media channels to our blog.
However, we don't solely focus on vanity metrics like page views, bounce rate, or Google rankings. Instead, we take a more comprehensive approach by examining how specific blogs or content pieces lead to actions further down the sales funnel. We delve into questions like: Did a particular blog lead to content downloads, and did those downloads eventually convert into leads or meetings? Did the content play a role in influencing the pipeline of opportunities?
It's essential to link content performance to its impact on the overall business objectives. This connection helps us educate and raise awareness about the true potential of content marketing. By demonstrating how our content strategy aligns with and contributes to our business goals, we can have meaningful conversations with leadership to showcase the effectiveness of our approach and its positive impact on the organization.
6. I'm guessing that's how you exactly get your leadership buy-in, right?
That's spot on. Especially when it comes to engaging with leadership, it's an ongoing effort involving education, visibility, and awareness. We present the content strategy, outlining why it's structured the way it is, and we highlight the direct impact on the content itself—such as website traffic and user engagement.
However, when demonstrating content's significance to leadership, it's crucial to go beyond just its standalone performance. The focus shifts towards illustrating how it contributes to broader business objectives. This requires a deeper dive, where we examine elements like content downloads integrated into our lead scoring model. For instance, the frequency of blog views and the extent of video viewership are both integrated into our lead-scoring approach.
Yet, the real essence of showcasing content's impact lies in revealing its influence on overall business outcomes. This necessitates a more detailed analysis, delving into the specifics to illuminate how content is truly shaping our business success.
7. How can you differentiate between a regular web content strategy and a border content strategy?
At WorkHuman, our current focus within the website content strategy involves a CMS migration. This migration holds a significant role in enhancing the discoverability of our content. During this transition, we're not only transferring content from the current CMS to the new one, but we're also adopting a data-driven approach. This approach guides us in determining the content to be showcased on the website and prompts strategic adjustments to existing landing pages based on data insights. These insights encompass factors like user testing pathways, the origins of visitors arriving at a specific page, and their subsequent navigation.
Our objective is to align this process with the desired user actions when they land on a particular page. We assess how the content we provide facilitates these actions effectively. This essence forms the foundation of our web content strategy. While the scope of a broader content marketing strategy extends beyond just website content—encompassing sales enablement, customer marketing, and event marketing—my focus remains centered on web content strategy.
Content, as a term, carries a multifaceted role in my position. Although web content strategy is my primary area of concentration, I acknowledge that content significantly fuels various facets of our business. Thus, even when we create content specifically for the website, we aim to maximize its utility. Content published on the website, often gated content, not only serves its purpose there but also extends into sales enablement, prospect interactions, events, and email campaigns.
A web content strategy is part of a broader content marketing strategy.
8. How would you build a content marketing strategy for a company from scratch?
Absolutely, I've encountered this scenario multiple times in my career. In fact, this recurring situation has driven my last three roles where I was brought in to establish an organic-driven content strategy. My approach always commences with a comprehensive grasp of the current performance landscape. This involves delving into the types of content being generated and the keyword focus.
An essential question arises: Are we retroactively optimizing content for keywords after it's been produced, which is the common practice? Or are we proactively structuring content around specific keyword targets? Invariably, my starting point centers around keyword research. Ideally, having predefined content themes is advantageous, although this isn't always the case. If present, these themes help form the basis for comprehensive keyword research, thereby enabling the development of a scalable content strategy.
Constructing an editorial calendar becomes the next phase, populated with diverse content formats aligned with what dominates search results for targeted terms. The distinctive trait of an organic-led content strategy lies in its gradual nature. Swift outcomes are rare; it often takes months or even years to manifest tangible results.
However, since implementing our organic-led content strategy at WorkHuman a year ago, we've experienced a remarkable 350% year-over-year enhancement in organic website traffic. This clear progression underscores the effectiveness of our approach in building purposeful, keyword-focused content. Observing this growth is truly gratifying and reinforces the efficacy of our strategy.
9. There has been a debate raging since building between picking an in-house team versus outsourcing the content. What's your opinion on this?
Indeed, I tend to lean towards having an in-house content team whenever possible. The rationale behind this preference lies in the fact that when you have an internal content team, these writers are deeply ingrained in the broader business goals of the organization, the brand voice, messaging, and content themes. This synergy greatly facilitates the creation of content that seamlessly aligns with the overarching messaging.
However, I acknowledge that this ideal scenario isn't always feasible. Factors such as bandwidth constraints and budget limitations can come into play. At WorkHuman, for instance, where we publish daily blogs, sustaining such a frequent cadence with an in-house team isn't always viable. Thus, there are instances when we need to look beyond our internal resources and engage external writers for content development.
When considering external writers, certain criteria take precedence. Primarily, it's essential to ascertain if the writer possesses the skill set to construct keyword-driven content. Equally important is their familiarity with our specific industry. Do they grasp industry trends and the significant developments therein? Alternatively, have they gained agency experience, allowing them to seamlessly transition between writing for diverse industries?
Finding the right balance is pivotal, ensuring the selected writers can effectively complement our content strategy. While the ultimate preference is to maintain an in-house team of writers, pragmatism sometimes necessitates a blend of internal and external contributors.
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