Episode 22: Content marketing for SMEs with Stacey MacNaught

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In this episode you will hear a SearchNorwich recording of Stacey MacNaught's talk "Honey I shrunk the content marketing budget!" She goes over content marketing strategies and how SMEs do not necessarily need a huge budget to produce a successful piece of content. Stacey talks about the importance of the idea and use of a story, and gives some great tips and resources to produce high quality content.

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Media Kits: bitly/uk-media-kits


AK: Hello and welcome to Episode 22 of the Search with Candour podcast, recorded on the 8th of August 2019. I’m Ayush Kumar and we’re going to be learning a bit about Search.

In this episode we’re going to be hearing from Stacey MacNaught about some much loved content marketing, arguably the most in-demand talks for SearchNorwich. Stacey came in for SearchNorwich 6 and gave a great talk which I really enjoyed. She’s talked at BrightonSEO, Mozcon, and Learn Inbound so I knew it was gonna great.

She goes over the nature of content marketing, some top examples of it and why it is so beneficial. But the purpose was to show and give examples of how SMEs can produce top quality and low-risk content on a small budget and how it can still get you some much loved links and a high ROI. She shows some real life examples and shares some tactics for link acquisition as well. I took a lot from this talk, and I hope you do to! So here’s Stacey:

SM: I'm Stacey, SEO specialist I guess! I was with an agency in Manchester for ten years and I now run a very small consultancy just outside Manchester. There's just five of us, there's no traffic it's great, and not very many people around which is lovely. Then today I learned that Norfolk has no motorways, so I drove today and I had a motorway for like 30 miles from my house and then no more motorway but lots of tractors so today I've learned something new - there is somewhere in England with no motorways.

I love marketing by the way. I'm obsessed with marketing it's almost a hobby for me and it's not just the SEO side of it, wider marketing in general. I love being marketed at like people put stuff through my door and my husband says to put it in the bin, but I say, “let me look!” everything, I love re-targeting. I love it, I'm an absolute geek for this stuff and I'm obsessed with how people buy and why they buy and some of the absolutely insane things that businesses will do to try and get attention it's a bit mental, and I enjoy it.

This is probably my absolute favourite marketing stunt of all time for all the wrong reasons which I'll go through in a minute.

Felix Baumgartner for Red Bull

This is Felix Baumgartner, seven or eight years ago now about to parachute from the edge of space for Red Bull. The guy's crazy but this was amazing and it's just insane, so obviously Red Bull for them it's a big marketing stunt but obviously this is a win-win situation. I'm assuming there's no amount of money in the world that could make somebody who didn't want to dive out of the edge of a spaceship because Red Bull need a good social media campaign. I'm assuming that didn't happen, so what I like to assume happened is that this was a lifelong ambition for this crazy guy who needed a whole load of money to fund it and Red Bull were like “yeah we've got a marketing budget way more than we are ever going to need so yeah, sure jump out of a ship and we'll give you a suit with our logo on it.”

It was brilliant and I go back and re-watch this over and over and over again and it gets no less completely insane to me, and just a few stats from that he travelled that 843 miles an hour in freefall - that's completely insane! 3,000,000 tweets about the jump during the event itself, going back a few years now the Twitter user-base was less than half of what it is now. 8,000,000 simultaneous live viewers on YouTube while this crazy guy was falling to potentially his death (it all worked out okay) from space. 43 million views subsequently on a 90-second highlights reel and this is the Google Trends graph, but not for Felix Baumgartner - not for the guy whose life was in danger as he dived from a spaceship, but for Red Bull whose logo was on the space suit.

That's the search trend for their brand in that month and there's never been anything like it for their brand other than that, there is a slight jump for Felix Baumgartner, slight for Stratos jump but really, it's all about Red Bull, quite cleverly done!

I'm an SEO this is how many referring domains they have got pointing back at their website, essentially any news site that you could name off the top of your head. If you're on one of those dodgy TV shows where they make you name things dead fast, if you're on one of those I can pretty much guarantee that anything you'd come up with they've probably got a link from which is great. So, essentially if you want to do link building all you're going to need is a guy who's crazy enough to jump out of space, a website, some pretty high-tech video equipment, and 50 million euros.

So that's how much this was rumoured to cost - €50 million and granted it probably wasn't coming out of a link building budget, it was probably coming out of a pot of miscellaneous “here's all the budget that we just have to spend on all this crazy stuff that people like on YouTube” but none of my clients have ever agreed to sign off €50 million euros or a guy who's crazy enough to jump out of a spaceship. So, that's not going to really work, was it worth it for them?

So, I spent a bit of time digging through this and I put a decade of marketing experience and 20 years’ worth of marketing geekery into analysing whether it was worth it and came to the conclusion that I've got no idea. Literally none, like I don't know, I don't know if they sold more Red Bull I don't know whether they care about links back to their site, I don't know really what the lasting impact of brand recall is seven or eight years from now. I can only assume that Red Bull really placed 50 million euros worth of value in going down in history which of course has its place, but none of my clients will give me €50 million to go down in history which is a little unfortunate for me.

But on a more real-world scale and talking specifically about content marketing, I think if you're in a fortunate position to have a pretty healthy budget to spend on content marketing and you're looking to do big creative interactive's that's great and you probably won't find much stuff better over last year than some of the stuff that VerveSearch are doing. VerveSearch did this for their client Lens Store and they rigged out a ridiculously high building in London with some of the most recent and most up-to-date high-tech camera equipment. Took thousands upon thousands of 360-degree images over a 24-hour period they'd stitched it all together to make an absolutely incredible gigapixel image that you can time-lapse. You can look at through any time of day, zoom into any landmark, it's beautiful, the whole thing is absolutely incredible and has built links on some really amazing websites.

The one thing that you'll always find with the work that Verve do in particular as well is, they build links to their content and rankings increase, so they are actually hitting end goals with content like this and it's great. I think having gone from 10 years ago where I think I was part of the SEO environment that was responsible for contributing some of the worst content to the internet that has ever existed and we broke the infographic, I mean not just me we all did it, we all broke the infographic and we wrote articles about the benefits of waste management and the history of accountancy and we did that because we were terrible people who wanted better rankings.

Now fast-forward 10 years and we're in this situation where actually I think SEO teams and content marketing teams driven by SEO are creating some of the best stuff on the internet, genuinely, but if you haven't done it before that's a little bit intimidating to go and play ball with some of these people. Particularly if you're not necessarily thinking about investing five or six figure budgets in content marketing.

There are reasons not to, clients have been like “I need content marketing, I need a big interactive, I need this infographic, I need this quiz…” there are often reasons not to invest in content and I have these conversations with quite a lot of businesses who inquire, why they're like I need this thing, like I don't think you do, some businesses don't need to do it. If your objectives are SEO objectives and your competitor is not particularly doing a great job on SEO, their link profile is not particularly advanced then unless you just have a load of extra budget that you just desperately want to spend you may not need to spend £10/20/30,000 on content marketing projects to get links on massive websites.

Another reason not to is you simply don't have the budget to spend on those kind of things and that isn't necessarily because the budget doesn't exist, sometimes there's things like “well yeah it exists but it's kind of tied up in this, or here is a big ROI figure we're going to stick on top of that.” So, if you're going to spend that budget on this, obviously we're expecting seven times the revenue back or something along those lines. For other people, I come across quite a lot of businesses who will say to their teams “you can spend that but only if you spend this little pot first and it works” and I think whenever you try anything new in marketing there's a degree of trial and error and you don't necessarily want to go all-in on the first hand. We all start somewhere.

My two-year-old, who's become obsessed with these little 1kg dumbbells, and so I envisioned that one day he's going to be a bodybuilder, but it's all started with that and everyone starts somewhere. So, what I'm going to talk about now very quickly is some pretty solid examples of marketing being done by all kinds of companies in the industry, certainly not all mine. There are some great PR agencies in particular doing some great stuff, projects that look like they're on a smaller budget and then some tools and techniques that you can employ to least experiment with content marketing more without going all-in.

I don't know if anyone saw this last week, I believe the PR agency behind this is Cherish PR and this is Spa Seekers and they put a blog post, essentially nothing complex in the production, advertising a dream summer job where basically you sit in spas for a whole summer and get paid and actually I think about a hundred pieces of coverage we're looking at now. I had a quick nosey about this and there's nothing to what they've produced, essentially, it's just it's a dream job but actually you dig into it it's not even a dream job. What they're actually offering is that when you apply, and you apply by putting an Instagram photo up with some hashtags and so there's some social benefit.

The successful applicant will get a handful of spa days over the course of summer and £500 at the end of the summer. I couldn't live off £500 all summer, my children would eat £500 worth of Haribo over summer, so I've got no chance. It's obviously not a job really, it's a competition with quite a nice prize but what the PR agency have done is they've spun it as if there's a dream job because another competition doesn't get links everywhere. It doesn't get picked up; the news doesn't care if you're offering a free spa day in a competition but if you're offering a summer job that's going to pay you to lounge around in Jacuzzis people will talk about it. It's just a clever spinning of a very simple competition, even if they were paying for the spa days and we can assume that there isn't a significant cost in delivering that.

Puzzles are things that first came to me when me and a friend were both working together in an agency in Manchester.

One of the things I've learned about myself over the last few years is that I am rarely the target audience for my own content, rarely. Little visual puzzles - quick to consume, can be turned around in half a day, don't cost a great deal to do, never going to get as many links as they did a few years ago but the likes of the Daily Mail, Business Insider, Heart Radio, there's a handful of publications in the UK and loads and more in the US will still publish and link to these if you can tie them in with relevance with your business.

It's because people still share them on social and a number of journalists are measured on social engagement, they're measured on comments and if you read these on the Daily Mail the comments are actually just a barrage of abuse. But still it's a comment and it would appear that people are measured on that, and I don't read the Daily Mail comments.

Simple surveys with a blog post attached. This is about a year old, another one I worked on with Hannah: clients sell biomarker tracking kits, little home blood test kits with the finger prick and one of their biggest sellers is cortisol stress marker. So, we were talking about stress and what causes stress and continually and rightly so mental health's got quite a place on the news agenda. We looked at what was out there already, a lot of academic papers about stress, a lot of academic papers about cortisol, not many real-world data pieces about real people's experience so we did something that was not remotely complex at all. Nothing that hasn't been done before, a survey, just speaking to people about their experiences of stress. We found that 85% of the UK would consider themselves regularly stressed which was just an absolutely insane figure and around about a third of them you're talking multiple times per week. Well this is going to resonate because of 85% of the UK's feeling stressed then you can absolutely believe that 85% of them are going to care about this problem.

So, to promote it. Hannah worked with a number of journalists, got this covered in handful of really good publications and before we launched, I was like there's actually some real demand for people looking for statistics like this quite a lot and at certain times of the year there's stress awareness months/days, all sorts of things. So, we optimised for stats queries and as a result (with relatively small investment and literally no work done on this piece since last May/June) there's now 116 referring domains here. There's nothing being done so I can take zero credit for the last year, I've done nothing to step back and watch a link graph grow and it's because it ranks for Statistics queries around stress so journalists, like The Independent, will go off, find it, cite it in a piece about relaxation. But then sites that we couldn't even pitch like AXA and Forest holidays and the RSPB who are doing pieces about how birdwatching or forest holidays will be relaxing and of course the context and the background is this immense amount of stress that we're under.

So, I think that with reduced budgets actually you don't always have the flexibility to spend six months on outreach. You see loads of people saying “outreach is never over; you outreach until everybody dies” like you just carry on outreaching and if no one's come back to you yet you keep outreaching until the world is over. But in reality budgets don't always allow to have a full team to just crack on and crack on and crack on, and if link building is going to be scalable then you have to have assets that can build links without you being involved to some degree.

That's one way in which you can do it is with these resources, with simple keyword research and a story behind them that say “yes there's enough of a story that the press will want to talk about it now” but there's also enough search volume in stats queries or in the questions are in the informational queries around it that we know people are going to want it long term, even if we're not doing the outreach.

Another really simple one. This was half a day of submitting Freedom of Information requests and half a day putting the content together and about half a day again talking to journalists about the proportion of primary school applications that were submitted late. I'll talk about Freedom of Information shortly, and again the regional campaign picked up links in all the regional press that has the most problems with late applications.

Stories are more important than bells and whistles regardless of how much budget you've got. It's just that sometimes you can get away with a mediocre story if you give it a costume that nobody's done before. You really can unfortunately, if you dress it up well enough sometimes a story that's okay becomes great when you haven't necessarily got the design, the development resources to dress it up really well the story becomes even more important and we should always be adopting a format last approach.

The number of conversations that I have had to start with, “I think I need an infographic”, “nope you don't” or “I think I need a video” or “I think I need a quiz” say “no you don't, you need a story and then we'll talk about how we're going to present it” and it's all about ideas which are not expensive but they're not that easy to generate either. So, a whole other talk but I did do a post on ideas generation, some of the techniques that I've tried, working with different teams to get better ideas/to get more of them. I'll tweet that link as well and it will be on the resources section on as well. But I think two of the quickest things you can do is to learn from publishers in your area.

So, if you're in healthcare go to the likes of all the healthcare publications, if you're in home interiors or furniture then go and take a look at House Beautiful's backlink profile or their social content profile. Look at the pages that are performing best for them and if you look at House Beautiful you think “okay these guys have a lot of content, they probably got budget, they're not doing interactive's they're sharing 40 photographs of patios and that's what's working best for them.” It’s 40 photographs of patios so actually there's no need to spend on big interactive's if what's getting the most link equity from the people who'd know best publishers whose businesses content is is literally a very simple gallery of pictures of patios and kitchens.

So, in any sector that you're in I would go off and I'd find the publications that are doing the best in your particular area and find out what's working for them, they've decided it's working for a reason and generally speaking the ideas and the seasonality of their content, the format they're choosing to present it in can give you quite a lot of information about how you should be presenting yours too.

Learn from media kits, every decent publication in the world will produce a media kit. Most of them are geared at selling advertising, they've all got a ton of really valuable information so they'll include things like editorial calendars and this is exactly what we're writing about and when so you know what kind of content to pitch them, they'll tell you dates for deadlines for the ads which would also then tell you loosely if a deadline closes, them the editorial deadline is probably a little bit before, so you can get an idea as to when if you're going to pitch them some content and this theme when you should be doing it.

Condé Nast’s, I love it gives you a ton of information about demographics. So, if you're going to pitch a certain section of the press you really need to know who they think they're writing for. So, for us writing about the stress we were going to say women's magazines, it wasn't writing about stress it was writing about what causes women stress. It was about tailoring that story to the exact set of people that we're writing for. I did start on a list of media kits, I sometimes run into the old ones and update these I can't promise it very regularly but there is a list of media kits that exist there as a starting point: bitly/uk-media-kits so do feel free if you're going to have a look. A few of those are a good starting point.

Media kits are free so before you even start looking at content ideas/formats go and just check out exactly who you're writing for and you may also find that something you're about to write about in March is actually already listed as editorial content from your target publications in June. So, you can pitch a little bit better.

So, some actual tools and things that you can go and use when you're producing content productions where it can get really expensive. Yes, so you've got big teams of people doing ideation and concept development - that's pricey but production is where money can just fall into a black hole with content. You don't have to have a load of budget to do interactive's, yes, it's great if you haven't it's ideal if you can make it bespoke but just a few tools that will make content interactive for you:

Juxtapose is free from a group called Knight lab and that's where you can lay two photos over each other, drag it over, it's like before-and-after shots and things like that.

Totally free interactive maps with the StoryMap, totally free and very easily embeddable on your website map.

Mapme has a small fee associated with it, tends to look prettier than the other one though I think but again dead easy drag-and-drop. No technical knowledge needed, no designer needed, no developer needed.

Infogram for interactive graphs and things like that which actually tend to go down really well with stats-based pieces: Quizzes, interactive polls, stuff like that. One of my favourites at the moment I just started using over the last few weeks is Flourish. So, you may have seen on Twitter all these bar chart races that people are sharing where you get over the course of a year, every year the bar chart changes. It's such a smart way to show a change in an industry, I think one of the best ones I've seen is the search engine one, another one: games console sales over the last 20 years and stuff. These guys have a bar chart race option now but tons of other like data visualisation things where you literally just set it up. The free version - the only catch with the free version frankly is that it has their advertising on if you're embedding on your own site and putting enough value around it, you can still be pursuing the link to your own website.

Shorthand, used by a lot of big publishers. So, you'll see the BBC sometimes has these pieces of content that almost look like micro sites, these beautiful features they have. A lot of things like that are built in shorthand and again no real designer needed. They've got quite a lot of the templates already there. Big fan of data at the centre of a story for me and data in itself: boring I hate numbers, but data tends to reveal quite a lot of really interesting stories but can be expensive - it doesn't have to be. I mean I'm a big fan of one pole three gem census wide for buying data in for surveys, if you're going to be going sort of with a very credible research piece, something a little smaller, light-hearted because the latter ones will cost you sort of £1,500-2,500 for a survey of 10 questions to 2,000 people. This stuff for a single question you can ask a thousand people from like 70 quid or something. So, I did one a few years ago where I asked 1,000 Americans to name a British city other than London, just for fun really, and Paris and Wales came out in the top ten and because that was just a bit more light-hearted we weren't looking for like you know anything that was going to get cited in a medical journal, just bit light-hearted, Google surveys was great for that sort of thing. There were there were some very interesting findings in that top ten.

Freedom of Information I love, I think the thing is if you're going to do any sort of Freedom of Information requests though, this is publicly funded - they can charge you actually if you make a Freedom of Information request to someone and they say it's actually going to take above and beyond the reasonable time there’s a fee that can be written from £30-150 I've experienced often still worth it. But the core thing here is making sure there's a public interest element to your story and the primary school one was a personal thing for me. I went through primary school applications this year with my eldest and I am a little bit obsessive so I knew how to do it for long before he was even born because (please don't tell my husband that!) and I'd already worked it all out. But when going through it I'm like well we actually didn't get a letter from the council or anything, That's quite unusual I thought you'd hear something and I was saying I could imagine how parents would very easily not even realise their child's supposed to start that year because they start at 5.

I just thought was quite unusual and I wonder what impact that might have across the country, I spoke to my friends in different areas, they were like “wow we had no information either!” So, I did Freedom of Information requests to councils about the number of applications that were late nationally - 7.5% in my area, 17% percent in some areas in the country. 1/5 were late the year before ours and when you went to speak to the press about this, they were all then getting in touch with their councils about this communication method and it was a big deal and there were a few councils who had comments on the press pieces they published. So, yeah that to me had a genuine reason to exist. You can also request Freedom of Information data from EU institutions (until they kick us out) and the tonnes of existing data sources as well.

So, NHS releases data about the number of prescriptions, the number of appointments, there's all kinds of data, census data. There's loads of data from American institutions about crime, data around random movies and music sets and most of this data goes vastly unused and just exists in spreadsheets because it's somebody's job to compile it and someone comes along over now and then it makes a great tool out of it really easily. That someone could be you with relatively restrictive budgets.

grepsr which is for anyone who is not techy, the idea of scraping website data is horrific, grepsr does this with no technology required whatsoever.

I use this to scrape data from eBay, run queries like empty gin bottle, empty perfume bottle, scrape all the results for successful auctions and got an average price for selling your household rubbish, took two hours to pull the data, a day to put the content together. The Mirror, The Sun, The Express news all picked it up with very little effort to be honest.

Yes, content marketing doesn't actually have to mean big interactive's but not having a budget doesn't mean that you can't get started.

I would say is invest more in the ideas, a bit more time in the ideas, think about what kind of content is going to resonate, the production values and things like that. If you can't invest right now obviously it's great to be able to later then just start finding creative tools and ways around it.

Thank you!

AK: That was Stacey! I hope you enjoyed the talk, this was from a past SearchNorwich event; we have another SearchNorwich coming up on the 29th of August and I highly recommend you come to this one, we have some great speakers lined up! You can get your free ticket from, over 50% of tickets have gone so be sure to get yours quick!

As usual, links to the talk, slides, and relevant material will be in the shownotes at Thank you so much for joining us, I’m Ayush Kumar and I hope you all have a fab week!

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