[00:01:04] Jonathan Greene: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome [to] episode 5 of the SEO Domination podcast. It is Friday the 13th. I’m totally excited. My guest [is] John Shieldsmith. Not only does he have a rad name, he’s got a rad shirt. Show it to us. There it is.
[00:01:20] John Shieldsmith: The Lake Counselor.
[00:01:20] JG: Fantastic. He’s our resident neighborhood axe murderer, as it were, proverbially, in terms of content marketing. So I’m very excited to have you. Thank you for playing my silly little games.
[00:01:38] JS: Absolutely. Happy to be here.
[00:01:40] JG: Yeah. We’re going to talk today about content marketing, specifically in the context of building links. Before I do that, it’s tradition now on the SEO Domination podcast to ask you why should I care what you have to say — in a non-condescending way. So tell me about your background and your experience. How’d you get into this?
[00:01:57] JS: I ask myself that every day. So, actually, it’s a funny story. I actually have an educational background in creative writing and English. I’ve just always liked writing, and then I had an awakening in elementary school. You know when everyone figures out they want to do? I saw “What Women Want”, saw Mel Gibson’s job and was like, “I want that job. I want to write copy for ads.” Then I forgot about it for 20 years and went to college, did creative writing, and then I just chanced into it. I started freelancing straight out of college, and started doing what was essentially really bad content marketing back then. Ever since, I’ve spent the last several years doing content marketing, e-mail marketing, and freelance blogging — some of which includes recently landing a client a backlink from the one and only Neil Patel.
[00:02:52] JG: Wow, Neil Patel. That’s like having Jesus visit you personally. It’s insane.
[00:03:02] JS: For sure. Yeah, that was a nice surprise. It was a great client of mine — not Neil Patel, but this mystery client. It was really, really great surprise, and definitely nice to get those little affirmations that what you’re doing actually works.
[00:03:16] JG: That’s one thing about marketing: we almost always have NDAs, so it’s very difficult for us to go explain our exploits to people. “Well, I had this one client that I can’t tell you about. I did these awesome things that I can’t mention.”.
[00:03:24] JS: Yes. “Show me what you’ve written. Okay, well, it doesn’t have your name on it.” Well, none of what I write has my name on it.
[00:03:37] JG: Well, label me a believer. You had me at Neil Patel. Explain content marketing to me in a nutshell, if I didn’t know what it [was].
[00:03:46] JS: That’s a great question. Content marketing is essentially any piece of content — it doesn’t have to be written; my specialty is written content — it can be any other type of content that is essentially helping get customers paired with your business, or with the right solution for their problem. Sometimes that’s leading them through the funnel, [or] sometimes that’s lead gen. Sometimes it’s just informing customers and brand awareness. It’s basically fun marketing instead of your basic advertising. It’s content with a purpose.
[00:04:18] JG: Oh, so you’re trying to be helpful, instead of just promotion.
[00:04:21] JS: Ideally, yes, if you’re doing it right.
[00:04:25] JG: Is there any any specific distinction between general content marketing and content marketing for backlinks, in particular? That’s where we’re trying to focus on today.
[00:04:36] JS: I think, to an extent, yes. Even if your goal is to get backlinks, I think that the best content marketing will still get [you that]. It’s natural. Whatever your goal is, if it’s making a movie or something, if it’s really good, people [will] watch it. I think with backlinks, you have to think a little outside the box. With your standard content marketing, you’re thinking more about pain points and brand awareness and that kind of thing, whereas with backlinks, you have to think, like, “How can I get other influencers or other brands or other voices involved with this? How can I create something that people want to link to?” Not something people want to just share on social media and say, “look how funny this blog post is,” but something that people say, “look how helpful and great this is.”
[00:05:20] JG: True. So you have to lead with empathy instead of this rogue desire to create from a brand perspective. “What are people going to be able to use and engage with? [What will] incentivize them through the content to go ahead and share it?”
[00:05:36] JS: Yeah definitely. You should never have to just blatantly ask in your post, you know, “hey, by the way, please link to this.” This isn’t YouTube where you’re like, “If you like it, give me a like, a comment, and subscribe.” With content marketing, if it’s well done, it sells itself and people will want to link to it.
[00:05:55] JG: Let’s just jump in from a brand perspective, then. Tell me what are some of the most common mistakes you see brands making in terms of content marketing.
[00:06:02] JS: There’s a lot. I think the biggest one — and it still blows my mind that I see this happening — but a lot of brands seem to misunderstand content marketing from an elementary standpoint. I think a lot of brands think content marketing is just a really long advertisement. When I first started freelancing, my very first client ever straight out of college had me doing bad content marketing, which, you know, I didn’t know any better. I was an English major. I think a lot of them treat it like this long format. [They think], “How can we write 500-1200 words on our product or on our service and then call that content marketing and share it?” [They think that] it’s not an advertisement because it’s on our blog. This makes it kitschy, fun, and different. You need to have that consumer/customer first approach. You can’t be thinking of your brand and how can we promote our brand; you need to be thinking about what this person needs or what does this audience need. Where are their pain points? I think so many brands just miss that completely.
[00:07:07] JG: I remember how it was in the early days because I was one of the first people in the content marketing train, back when WordPress was still a fledgling platform. It used to be like, “okay, I’m going to improve my Google rankings. I’m going to write an article: How to be the best SEO ever.” And the text would [say]: “If you want to be the best SEO agency, you need to learn how to write SEO articles for SEO people who like SEO.” You’re basically just stuffing all these keywords in there.
[00:07:34] JS: Yeah, I know, and then you’re like, “Time for an alt tag: ‘best SEO agency ever’ ten times over.”
[00:07:37] JG: I mean, it’s evolved beyond that, hasn’t it? Algorithmic science has come so far. I feel like people can almost discern your intent now. If your intent is not to help people and produce genuinely useful content, probably the bots are going to be able to sniff that out. They’re sophisticated enough to do that.
[00:07:59] JS: For sure, and even if the bots miss it, I think in general we’ve got customers that are savvier. I don’t even want to say “customers”; just consumers and readers and viewers in general. I think they’re savvier to all this than ever before. Even if Joe Schmoe who reads 500 blog articles a month and watches a thousand hours on Youtube doesn’t know what content marketing is, he’ll still know what good content marketing looks like, whether he knows it or not. If you plan on a page that’s blatant advertising, you’re going to be like, “This sucks,” and you’re going to bounce. If you land on some useful content and you just happen to walk away remembering that brand name, then that content marketing succeeded without that person even knowing it.
[00:08:37] JG: Yeah, I think that’s a pretty important perspective. Seek to be useful before you seek to be successful. I think success follows utility in this instance.
[00:08:46] JS: Absolutely.
[00:08:47] JG: All right. The question gets debated and kicked around a lot. I think people who are producing content or are curious want to know. Long form or short form? Which way should we go?
[00:09:00] JS: I’m probably going to regret its answer and it might make some people doubt my qualifications, but honestly, I think they’re equally important. I know right now, in the last year especially, there’s been this huge push. Everyone’s like, “We need bigger content.” It’s turned into an arms race with word counts and everyone wants to see how big of an article they can write, but I don’t think that’s always the best case. I think both long form and short form have their place, and I don’t think they’re interchangeable either. Long form can be huge nightmare to create and you’re going to pour a ton of time into it. Even the best writers are going to spend hours and hours on an evergreen post or even just a long form blog post. But it does accomplish different goals. That’s how you wind up with something that has staying power — you write a long form piece on it.
[00:09:55] JG: It’s long because there’s sufficient substance. We’re not trying to write inflated paragraphs for the sake of… You know, however long it needs to be to adequately convey the value that you’re trying to convey is probably the right size.
[00:10:10] JS: Exactly. This isn’t the dark ages of SEO like we were talking about where you want 50000 words because you want 40000 of those to be your target keyword. We’ve all passed that now. If it only takes you 500 quality words to say it, then you don’t need to do a 20000 word e-book on it. On the other hand, short form content is perfect for covering that topical type of stuff. If you’ve got a newsworthy thing to announce to your company, or some kind of fly-by-night keyword that isn’t going to be trending a month from now, there’s no reason to kill yourself writing this huge piece on it because no one’s going to be searching for it. That’s when you use that short form content to get those little small SEO wins. I think those are still really important in your SEO game. Also, unless you’re Wall Street Journal or The Atlantic or The New York Times, no one’s going to be coming back to your little tiny news post months or years from now.
[00:11:08] JG: Right. Have You ever heard of the concept of peak content? Have you heard him when discussing this?
[00:11:13] JS: I don’t think so.
[00:11:14] JG: It’s this ethereal construct where there’s so much content being produced now that it’s almost irrelevant, that you almost have to start content production with the idea of differentiation from the offset because [there’s] just such a huge volume. I don’t know the exact fact reference, but it said that more content gets produced every day now than in the entire history of the world up to the 1800s or something like that, which probably is true. In the midst of all that, it seems like a perfect storm of everybody producing, quite frankly, pretty half-assed content, if we’re being honest.
[00:11:56] JS: Yeah definitely.
[00:11:56] JG: Why do you think it is that so many brands and people fail to get backlinks?
[00:12:00] JS: Again, there’s a lot of reasons, for sure. First off, I think it comes down to a lack of focus. Like you’ve mentioned before on our podcast, CanIRank has “first, better, different”, and if your content isn’t checking one line or multiple boxes there, you’re already off to a bad start. Like you said, there’s so much content, and if you don’t think about you can be first, or how you can be better enough or different enough, nobody is going to notice your content in the sea of garbage that’s out there. People are exposed to so much content every day and so much branding every day as well. They say that people see up to 4000 advertisements every day [from] different brands. So what’s one more brand in that pile? If you’re not doing something different or better enough to make them notice, [that’s a huge mistake you can make when trying to get backlinks.] They’re thinking, “How can I get backlinks?” and then they see Joe Schmo’s Kleenex shop creating content, They think, “He’s creating content. I have a Kleenex. I should create change.” I mean, everyone should definitely think about content, but if you don’t have a plan in place, you’re just to end up wasting a ton of time. Whether you’re an agency or freelancer or in-house, wasting time on content that lands flat is just money you’re throwing out the window.
[00:13:27] JG: Absolutely. You brushed over the “first, better, different” thing. Can you dive into that? I think that might be really helpful for people. As far as I know, that’s a proprietary thing that CanIRank owns and does exclusively, but I think everybody can use it. Can you tell me how it works?
[00:13:41] JS: Yeah, definitely. When you’re thinking about your content, whatever you’re going to make, or whatever kind of content you want to do, you need to look at your customer pain points or questions, whatever you feel needs to be addressed, and then you need to think about how can you address that. Is this a problem for a blog or a piece of evergreen content that keeps solving this problem for months and years to come? And then you need to think, “Is this the first time this problem has been solved?” That’s the number one thing. It’s first, then you’re golden. It doesn’t have to be better or different because no one else has done it. You’ve already got a head start and that’s awesome. That’s looking for those types of problems that no one else has seen, and honestly, I think there’s always a problem that hasn’t been solved yet. But if you can’t find that, if you’re trying to write on something everyone else is covering, you need to think about [how we] can do this better. Have we looked at the competition’s guides on content marketing 101 or content marketing in five minutes or less? Are all these guides garbage? Do we have a unique angle? Can we improve on this? Do we have stats they don’t have?
[00:14:51] JG: And then let the answers to those questions actually inform the approach. If your article doesn’t do one of those things, maybe you don’t do it.
[00:14:59] JS: Yeah, exactly.
[00:15:00] JG: How is it going to differentiate? How’s it going to be helpful in the marketing space? How’s it going to impact people or move them if it doesn’t fit into one of those clean channels?
[00:15:11] JS: Exactly, and if people aren’t interested in it, then it’s never going to rank anyways, and you just threw away five or 40 or 50 hours making this massive piece of content that’s just more noise. And then there’s the different angle to it. You have to think like, “Have they solved this problem and we found a different way to solve it? Or a different way to phrase this that’s maybe more effective?”
[00:15:35] JG: Sure. So time and place utility of the answer, and how it’s packaged and what all does it take to do it [is important]. A lot of times, you can solve the same problem, but in a more simplistic way, or with better data or granularity or clarity. You know all these things matter. All right, so, check it out: I’m a small company. I’ve got five employees. How I rank organically is very important to me because I can’t afford a great deal of paid advertising at this stage in my business. It seems like for almost everything, now I’m competing against Amazon, Walmart, Target, and all these people who have basically unlimited budgets. So how can newcomers or smaller brands really earn backlinks in this competitive landscape, in this modern SEO economy?
[00:16:23] JS: Well, I’m glad you mentioned [that] it is incredibly competitive. I mean, everyone and their mom is making content — literally their mom in some cases. I mean, who doesn’t have a blog? Who isn’t trying to push their Etsy page? Everyone’s got an agenda. Everyone’s got content out there.
[00:16:40] JG: I literally saw these two moms the other day on YouTube. Their show is called I Mom So Hard. I swear. Listen. As an aside, you guys all need to go watch it. It’s hilarious. But anyway, carry on, sorry.
[00:16:53] JS: I see that having a different connotation if you use “dad” instead. Maybe not the best branding there. But you know, we’re just saturated with content. The internet is saturated. People are just tired of reading tons of stuff. I know it sounds really doom and gloom, but it’s not. There’s a ton of things brands can do. For starters, if you’re doing your job right as a business owner or a marketing strategist, you should know your brand or your audience better than anyone else. Even if you’ve been collecting minimal data and just interacting with your customer, [you’ll realize] you know them better than anyone else. That sets you up perfectly to do a case study. Do some basic keyword research. Figure out what kind of problems these people are having. If that’s not an option, if you can’t afford keyword tools, then ask them on your blog or social media. Send out an email — you should have an email list this at this point. It’s 2018. Ask them what kind of problems they’re having, and then look at your data and put together a case study. People love case studies, especially if it’s saying something first or something that no one else has said yet. Just like the CanIRank case study that came out recently [that] showed Google’s big bias towards those larger brands, favoring Amazon and Wal-Mart and those big names. There is always something to be said that someone else hasn’t said and you’ve got the ability to do that with your customer data.
[00:18:30] JG: Can you tell me anything else about that study? That was interesting to me.
[00:18:33] JS: Yeah. CanIRank’s got all these kickass tools to analyze things, and using a ton of engineering wizardry that goes way over my head, they combed through a ton of data and basically came to the conclusion that, yes, domain authority is important so Amazon and Walmart have a high domain authority that we can never dream of having. We know, as SEO people, that that is a big weight, as far as metrics go. But basically the study concluded that even when a site was delivering more relevant, more helpful, more useful content, what was more relevant to the search, even amidst using less intrusive ads, Google was still giving the humongous edge to the big guys, which sucks. It illustrates what an uphill battle really is, which I think most new digital businesses know. SEO is an uphill battle at this point, a byproduct of everyone knowing marketing a little better than they used to. [The study] shined a new, realistic light on what a battle it is.
[00:19:43] JG: From a strategy perspective, that’s fascinating because if you’re going to start a new physical goods business, like if you’re selling physical products, you know that’s going to be on Amazon, so you almost have to start with differentiation. Even before you try to establish the brand, you almost have to begin with proving that [you’re] different or better.
[00:20:05] JS: Yeah.
[00:20:05] JG: The age old value proposition question, right? Why should I buy your product rather than buying it from Amazon or not buying it at all? It’s become paramount in terms of the content you’re producing.
[00:20:18] JS: Exactly. That’s the same exact thing that gets applied to content. Why should I read your content instead of this other guy’s? Why should I read your blog on content marketing when I’ve got HubSpot or Moz or someone who’s been writing on it for years?
[00:20:31] JG: I think a lot of our smaller e-commerce people who follow us and who are perhaps in the market for SEO agencies and services can learn a lot from that, because you have to answer that question of why should I buy from you rather than Amazon. That has to be a really compelling articulation in order to get the most out of it. It might be because all of our stuff is American made. It might be because all of our stuff is handmade. [No matter what it is], you’ve got to be able to articulate some kind of differentiation. And when you do, I think that levels the playing somewhat in terms of content production and syndication.
[00:21:11] JS: Yeah for sure, and a case study also is a great way to show that you’re not just another brand. You know your stuff. Not any old person is going to put together a great case study. If you put together kickass case study that really does say something new, people are going to respect your brand so much more. Thought leadership is so big and such a coveted title in this digital marketing age, and doing a case study is an awesome way to definitely start to establish that.
[00:21:39] JG: Right on. So I wrote a book four or five years ago — please don’t go read it. It is called: Facebook is a Pub Crawl. But when I wrote that book, I predicted the hummingbird algorithm. What I said specifically was I think in a few years the number of likes that you have will be more important than the keyword density of what’s on your page, like the amount of social syndication. That wasn’t an exact prediction, but it was a theoretical prediction of where content is going and how it matters. I based all that on a graph. Remember when they first launched the Facebook graph? I was like, “Whether or not your friends enjoy eating at a particular Mexican restaurant is going to be more important than how keyword dense the Mexican restaurant’s content is, etc.” The reviews and the pictures are going to matter more. I got lucky.
[00:22:32] JS: You should be rich right now.
[00:22:35] JG: Yeah, I should be very rich. That begs the question: What do you think is the future of content marketing? Where’s it going to go?
[00:22:43] JS: That’s real crap shoot. That’s it. No, I mean, honestly I think like you said, Google is doing a great job at squelching keyword stuffing and these garbage tactics that we all used to use back in our freelancing days. We’ve transcended that and shifted from this “brand first” mentality to a “consumer first” mentality. That CanIRank study shows that domain authority is bigger than we thought, and big brands get more and get treated better by Google than we thought. I feel like the future for content marketing is especially going to change for the little guy, which would be most content out there. I think people are gonna have to niche down even more. I think, more than ever, they’re going to have to know what their unique selling point is. Like, what makes us different from the thousand other people out there that make organic hemp sweatshirts or something? I mean, you’re going to have to really think about what makes your product different and your service different, and I think we might even see that influence [a business’] actual offerings. If you launch a business and realize, “wow, I am not a different from anyone at all other than my brand name,” [then that’s no good]. I think content marketing is forcing people’s hands to redefine their brands and offer something more unique and more awesome than before. Brands are really going to have to know who they are, and if who they are is boring or generic, then I think they’re going to have to go back to the drawing board. In the end, consumers are going to win big time.
[00:24:19] JG: I see a business for us in the near future at CanIRank just helping people dial in their offers and figuring out if they’re approaching the market in the right way, because it’s going to be so crucial. I think you hit a homerun on that. So, all right, let’s ask some questions. Maybe the audience has some questions for us. I’d love to not waste your talent. So you guys want to ask a question, now’s the time. Sometimes it’s about a minute behind. There’s a little bit of a delay, so I’m going to go ahead and give you a minute to just say whatever you want to say about content marketing, or life — you can talk about the World Cup. It doesn’t matter to me. You earned it, so go for it.
[00:24:55] JS: Okay. So, first of all, I’m just super busy. I’ve got a toddler running around the house. Not sure if you can see my war wounds. He’s incredibly active. I’ve got my hands full there and I’m running a few websites as well. I’m just going to do a shameless plug for one of my sites I’m currently building up. It’s CubicleConfessional.com. It’s a community-based site. You can go make an anonymous username and confess to horrible stuff you’ve done or seen at work. Vote on other user submissions. Just have fun, basically. And then an observation I made last night while I was sitting here — actually, I’ve got two full cups at my desk, both full of pens, and I realized none of them work. So that’s where my life’s at.
[00:25:41] JG: I like it. Okay, Alison has a question. I’m going to check out that site, by the way, because that sounds awesome. Alison wants to know: “What is it like writing for multiple clients? Do you have any tips for switching between brand voices?”.
[00:25:54] JS: Did I lose you, Jonathan?
[00:25:55] JG: Can You hear me? Looks like we’re having internet difficulties here. Alright. Well, I guess that’s all that you guys are going to get from my friend Mr. Shieldsmith today. Sorry, so sorry about the comments. If you guys will go ahead and drop your comments into the links, or into the comments below, we’ll go ahead and try our best to answer them. I apologize for the internet difficulties. It’s Florida, so it’s going to monsoon in about 15 seconds. You know how it is. To any extent, I hope you guys are having a great day. Happy Friday. And we will follow up on questions, so I’m super happy that you guys joined us and we’re looking forward to hearing your questions and comments. So thanks a lot. Everybody have a great day. Take care.