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In this week's episode, Jack Chambers-Ward is joined by Jeff Grill, founder of Brainchild, to talk about:
Jack: Welcome to episode 45 of season two of the Search With Candour podcast. I am your host, Jack Chambers-Ward, and this week I am joined by Jeff Grill. Jeff is the founder and partner over at Brainchild and Jeff is going to be joining me this week to discuss how to create scalable content solutions for some of the world's biggest brands and essentially turn those large companies into digital publishers. So we're going to get into a lot of content strategy discussion, a lot of content at scale discussion, which I think is something that a lot of people maybe don't have that much experience with, a big discussion about turning those large companies into digital publishers and how we can plan and schedule and essentially build that strategy for a big, big company and help them achieve their goals from a content marketing and SEO perspective.
Of course, before I get onto my conversation with Jeff Grill this week, Search With Candour is supported by SISTRIX, the SEO's toolbox. You can go to sistrix.com/swc if you want to check out some of their fantastic free tools, such as their SERP Snippet Generator, hreflang validator, the Google Update Radar, or of course, checking your site's visibility index. Huge credit to SISTRIX. Recently, there is a article on their blog discussing a recent study actually done by Giacomo Zecchini over at Merj, and SISTRIX actually passed all of the tests. Merj actually checked 15 different web crawlers, everything from I'm sure plenty of you've heard before and you've heard us mention on the podcast before such as Ahrefs and ContentKing and Lumar, who used to be called DeepCrawl, Sitebulb, Screaming Frog, Oncrawl, all this stuff, like all the big names essentially in the SEO. SISTRIX along with Oncrawl and Lumar and Botify were actually the only ones to pass all tests in this study by Merj with flying colors.
This is basically getting an understanding of how web crawling tools aim to replicate search engine crawling. There is essentially no defined standard for automated rendering processes. They went through and tested, like I said, 14 web crawling tools, understanding their session isolation capabilities across six different tests. Our pals over at SISTRIX were one of only four other crawlers actually passing every single test, all the way from cookie to index database to local storage and session storage, broadcast channels and shared work as well. So all six tests passed with flying colors by SISTRIX. If that's not enough of incentive to go and check out SISTRIX yourself, I highly recommend, like I said, go to sistrix.com/swc. You can check out some of their fantastic little free tools that going on there, as I always say at the start of each episode, and you can sign up for the toolbox itself, which has some fantastic features, including the SISTRIX on-page crawler that we are talking about here is one of my favorite on-page crawler tools and I promise I'm not just saying that because they're sponsoring the podcast.
SISTRIX is becoming more and more my go-to tool as I learn more about it and I get more familiar with its features. It has become a key part of my day-to-day SEO work when it comes to our clients here at Candour. So I highly, highly recommend you go and check out SISTRIX if you haven't already. Of course, we will have later on in the month the trend watch newsletter, index watch and sector watch all coming up soon. You can subscribe to those newsletters by going to sistrix.com/trends. Sistrix.com/blog if you want to go and read, like I said, about how the on-page crawler, isolates rendering sessions perfectly and how it passed the tests. I will put a link for that blog, as well as the full study by Giacomo over at Merj in the show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk.
Jack: Welcome to the show, Jeff Grill. How are you, sir?
Jeff: I'm doing great. Thanks for having me. This is the one show I go to every Monday morning here in New York when I wake up, so it starts my week. Incredibly excited to be here.
Jack: Awesome. Well, thank you very much for coming on. I know it is very early for you, not on a Monday morning, not quite, but it's still very early in the morning for you. I appreciate you taking the time out of your morning.
Jeff: Oh, my pleasure.
Jack: You've got your coffee. You've got your morning voice ready to go.
Jeff: I'm all good. It's deep in residence, so hopefully.
Jack: So for the listeners out there in SEO and PPC who might not know who you are, Jeff, why don't you give us a quick little intro about what you do and what Brainchild does as well?
Jeff: Oh, sure. So just a quick background, I actually started... I mean, my career being a little older, a little older than you, spans kind of like that pre-internet period. I was working in a traditional advertising agency starting actually, not to fully date myself, in the late '80s, worked in advertising, worked my way up in the '90s and then this thing called the internet came around. Of course, those of us that were in more traditional, particularly TV-based media, really didn't have an idea of what this was all about and how you needed to use it in marketing. I mean, you did know even then as a marketer, you always had to reinvent yourself and understand how technology was evolving.
I used to commute into New York City from Long Island about an hour each way and it was the only time I had because for anyone that's worked in advertising, you're working around the clock. You have a family and you don't know when you're going to squeeze this internet thing in. So I decided that I'm going to use this really poor internet connection I was able to cobble together on the railroad using my, I think, flip phone at the time and this new thing called the laptop and really understand starting in the early 2000s what the internet was all about. I figured the only way to actually do it was actually start building websites myself. So, basically, taught myself how to code, taught myself how to develop sites and then all of a sudden this odd thing happened. You started to get traffic, which was remarkable to me.
I was like, "Wow, I could do this thing on the train and it gets traffic." And then not only that, I discovered this other thing called the affiliate program and like, "Wait." And then I discovered that you could hire writers to do anything for you, which was at the time this alien topic, right? So I'm like, "Wait a second, I could come up with an idea. I could hire writers online. I could cobble this thing together into a website. I could add affiliate links to it and then you could actually make money doing it." I was hooked. And then what happened is I started to publish more and more and larger sites and then it actually came to the point where people would come to me and say, "Oh, Jeff is doing this web thing," and word spread among friends.
Jack: You became the web guy, basically.
Jeff: I became the web guy and I became the guy that understood search by then anyone else. I had the benefit of actually be able to grow up basically in the search community as a technology and Google and the way people searched and from desktop to that mobile, that pesky mobile transition evolved. It gives me an interesting perspective into the industry because from a background standpoint, here I was managing fairly large Madison Avenue clients that were very brand-centric, very consumer research-centric type exercises because at the time, the person that actually managed the advertising Cadillac... For example, I worked on AT&T, you actually did conducted or directed a lot of the brand research so you really understand what made a brand come together and then combining that with the SEO knowledge to understand, okay, how do you make content work in an online setting that's brand-centric and that's friendly to these larger clients to make it work for them is how it all came together.
And that was the genesis for Brainchild, which is then how we saw about 10 years ago with a partner, we've said, "Okay. How do we actually do that at scale?" And then about 10 years since there so many firms, how do we actually do that for the kind of client that we tend to work with, which tend to be either larger clients or clients in highly regulated industries or clients with many, many people having a point of view within client organization as to what that content should be, right? So if you think about that, it's not just like... When I was doing it for myself on the train, it was simply, "Okay. What will satisfy the needs hopefully of the reader and Google?" I'll get that up. I can handle basically any topic. I put it up. I try it, it works. If it doesn't work, then you move on. It's a much different situation when you're working with a corporate client, and that's why we started Brainchild to figure out how to do that, but do it at scale and do what possibly clients probably don't do particularly well.
Jack: It's interesting because enterprise SEO and huge large scale stuff is not something I have very much experience with myself. I tend to work with a lot of... My background, working with a lot of local clients in my previous agency and then coming in more national and more international stuff here at Candour, but I've never done that really huge large scale stuff. So I think I'm just going to spend the next 40 minutes or so just coming up with questions and picking your brain for this big scale content ideas and strategy and all that kind of stuff. So I guess, a really interesting episode. So if you are out there, listeners, you are looking to do content creation at scale, we've got the right person for the job.
Jeff: Yeah. It's really a strategic imperative for companies. What was the aha moment or one of the many aha moments and also for clients is if you think about the way the internet evolved, what happened was the digital publishers organized very quickly, like the NerdWallets of the world, which I assume you have in the UK as well. They really figured out a business model where they could develop content and dominate specific niches. In the case of NerdWallet, it would be, let's say, they probably start with the credit card industry. So if you are a credit card issuer or if you are a bank, banking institution and you're issuing credit cards, all of a sudden all those leads that would naturally come to you via internet searches, all of a sudden you have this entity disaggregating that search funnel. All of a sudden they're saying, "No, come to NerdWallet first because they're much better at publishing content. They're better at publishing content at scale, and they're better at publishing content with great frequency and better at understanding how that content is performing." All of a sudden you have NerdWallet and other companies, digital publishers like them. All of a sudden all those leads that were coming to you at a very reasonable cost because they're coming from organic search all of a sudden disappear. And then those digital publishers come along and they try to resell those leads to these companies. So all of a sudden their costs go. So now their only choices are, "Do I buy the leads at a large cost from these aggregators?" There's several large corporations that are aggregating those leads, right? "Or do I buy? I try to get them myself so I go into the paid media markets." But the problem is they go into the paid media markets and what do they encounter? They encounter NerdWallet buying all of the media inventory, right? They encounter the digital publishers taking all of the organic traffic, right? And they encounter other companies like digitally native companies that are in the same business as them who are started up out of Silicon Alley or wherever, right?
They're also much more nimble at buying digital media and converting them into customers and they do it at an extremely low cost. So all of a sudden, they say, "Okay. Wait, I can't compete there where the business is going, which is everyone going directly online. I can't compete if I'm going to buy the leads because my infrastructure is too expensive. So what do I do?" And that's when we step in and say, "Okay. Well, we're going to do is we're going to help transform the company and we're going to help you turn yourself, your marketing organization into a digital publisher." And you have to do it because what happens is, as a marketing organization, and particularly in many of these large companies and particularly the ones that tend to be lead based is the marketing organization is sitting there generating leads that are too expensive for the company to convert at a reasonable cost. So then they go, "Okay. We don't want this marketing team. Let's get another marketing team in there." And then they're faced with the same exact thing. However, if they're able to unlock what they naturally have, if you think about... I once worked in online banking, marketing, and we did a study that we said, "What's better? Do people, would they prefer to go into a banking branch or would they prefer to go online?" Most people would actually, if you're, call it ‘of a certain age’, would prefer to go online. The reason they would rather go online is because people believe that the entire expertise of the bank is more accessible to them online because they could search, they could find what they're looking for versus going into the branch, finding some random person, assuming that random person has all the knowledge of the bank stored up in their mind, right?
Jack: They might just work for one department and not know how the rest of the industry works, right? Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: Right. Right. So the company has all this knowledge. Most of the clients that we work with are filled with subject matter experts, right? It's not like we have to go looking for it in the enterprise. The question is how do you unlock all that expertise? You know from where Google's going and EAT and where Google one's expertise, authority, and trust, which we hear over and over again, these companies are screaming that. So the real question then becomes how do we create a workflow that allows the company to what we say content at scale, produce that content at scale at a pace that equals the digital publishers, but to take advantage of our competitive advantage, which is these companies don't have a bunch of writers on staff. Let's say a more native digital publisher, which is more of a journalism model with an affiliate overlay, you have a company that actually creates something.
They actually are the bank. They actually are the insurance company, right? They have the person that actually creates the insurance policy that people want to buy. They have all that knowledge that someone actually wants to know. And then the question is how do you take all that and package in it away so that you can actually perform well in search? And then absolutely amazing things happen, because what happens is people start coming in via the organic search channel. Those people happen to be at the right... As you have talked about on the show, you could actually target the right part of the funnel, those leads. If you look, it's not like organic media costs less. It costs nothing, I should say, and paid media costs something. I find usually in an enterprise, you'll find the organic search program probably costs about a fifth of what the paid media program does.
And then what happens is the marketing teams can start looking at this as a portfolio and they could say, "Okay. My average cost per lead into the company or my average cost of a visitor into our website who's doing an informational search, is that significantly less because now I'm blending paid media and what that does particularly well in terms of targeting things maybe in the short term that organic search can't do?" All of a sudden you have a marketing program that's cooking with gas. And then what happens is as you know over time, you have this amazing waterfall effect, which is that you brought in X number of people this year of the organic search.
Well, look at that. It actually doubled next year by doing the exact same level of expert of that same level of activity because you did X number of articles this year, let's say you're doing a reasonable pace, I would call one article a week, let's say for a month, which is actually one to two a week is actually a pretty good pace for an enterprise if you think about it. We'll talk about all the things that have to be done to get that article for conception, completion of the number of shit up, just imagine the number of lawyers that have to refute, right? It's just amazing, this effect. And even more amazing to many marketers... I don't know. Sorry, I'm keep on talking here, but-
Jack: That was what I've got you here to do, mate. That's absolutely-
Jeff: Keep on rolling, right? But yeah, the idea is that just amazing things start to happen because the system keeps on running. You keep on optimizing this workflow. You understand better and better the types of content you need to produce to actually generate the results that you need. And then more and more people actually come into the company and achieve your goal.
Jack: Yeah. I think targeting different parts of the funnel is such an interesting way to look at it, right? Because like you said, there are so many different ways you can approach content creation. Whether that's small scale or large scale, there are a lot of different ways you can go about it. I know something we've touched on before and something Mark has spoken about, obviously our tool, AlsoAsked, helps with this as well is targeting that zero volume stuff. Thinking about that engaged user, for want a better phrase, that potential customer that is asking a very specific question about a very specific thing, they want an answer and that is a totally different experience to somebody who is searching for a very general term that is very top funnel and just starting to dip their toes into that topic, right? How much does that factor into large scale content stuff? I guess should we start with where do you start with building that kind of strategy, where all the different moving pieces, and as you said, all the lawyers and senior executives and all that kind of stuff, what is the first stage of building a content plan to that scale?
Jeff: Yeah. So basically what happens with enterprise customers, even though my team has expertise, let's say, in a particular area, we're never going to have the expertise in understanding that client experts have. I mean, when you're dealing on an enterprise level, it's not like... These are the experts. These are the people that actually wrote the insurance policy or figure out how the bank works. So your expertise pales in comparison to that, but what your job is to figure out how to extract that expertise in a way that meets the needs of the consumer, I'm going to say meets the needs of Google's interpretation of what the consumer wants to see, right? We could debate what that means, but I always give Google the benefit of the doubt because when you google something or you google a particular term, you go, "Okay. This is what Google believes," and probably what the consumer wants because they are measuring how they're doing action-reaction type testing all the time to see what is the consumer reading and clicking on, right?
And then you also have to meet the needs of the organization in terms of the many lawyers. There are brand people. There are all sorts of constituencies within a client organization that you also have to satisfy, but it all starts with understanding their business and how people are searching their particular topic. And then you also have to understand how that intent funnel, which you've spoken about on the show before, works meaning, okay, how are people researching the topic? How are they getting introduced to this product? What are those first searches that they're actually doing? What questions are they asking that you see in Mark's tool, in the AlsoAsked tool, right? How is this industry structured? How do you even think about it thematically? For example, I don't know if you've used SparkToro. So if you're targeting small business, it's one of the few tools where you could actually say, "Okay. What is the small business conversation?" for example, right? What you can't really do if you go to a search engine, you go, "Okay. I want to learn about what's on the mind of small business people." You go, "I don't know where to start." It's not like maybe you could eek it out of Google Trends. So what we do is we actually will go to an Ahrefs or any other keyword tool, it's fine. We'll actually create a mind map. The mind map is to teach our team, "Okay. Here's how that intent funnel, how people are using language to navigate that intent funnel and how keywords cluster together." We use that as a visual tool. For example, we're on Mac, so we use MindMeister, which is a cloud-based tool. It allows us to share those maps across the organization. What we'll start to do is we'll cluster those keywords.
So for example, if you have a life insurance product, the first thing people say is, "Do I need this and what is it?" Right? Searches tend to... What you find in every category is they tend to pattern around a similar cadence. So in insurance it's always, for example, "Do I need this? What is it?" Next, they'll say, "Okay. I think I kind of need it. What are the types? Do they come in different flavors? What are the features?" So they try to understand the lay of the land. Once they understand the lay of the land, the next thing they're going to do is they're going to drill into a particular type. Let's say they want term life insurance. And then once they do that, they're going to say, "Okay. What are the features of a term life insurance policy that I should be thinking about?" Right? Then they'll learn about different writers and then they'll go, "Okay. What is the best company?" Actually think about it from, "What should I pay for? What does it cost? How do I find an affordable policy?" Right?
And then once they get down to that company research level, then they'll say, "Okay. Which company should I buy it from?" And then they're all the way through the funnel. What you want to do is map all that out and that has a practical purpose for you, but also has a practical purpose for your client, because all of a sudden you can go into the client and you can say, "Okay. Here is the way the world is searching for your product. Here's how it clusters and here's how we need to create content." Why that is great is because what you find in an enterprise is an agency is not creating all of their content. They're actually creating content. There's many, many, many people creating content and not all of it is search-driven, right?
Some of it is search-driven, but some of it doesn't make sense to be search driven because people aren't particularly looking for it, but they may want to use it to create interest in an email, for example, 10 tips to do blah blah, blah, blah, blah blah. That kind of thing is not necessarily a search-driven piece of content, but there's many people, enterprises, creating that. But all of a sudden if everybody has these mind maps, they understand what they're writing into. If you layer in all of your AlsoAsked questions or you understand what questions people are asking, I also layer in sometimes questions from Google Question Hub because what you want to do is begin to introduce more uniqueness into your article. How do you evolve it and bring it to that next level? We'll also look at the SparkToro just to see, okay, thematically how are people within, let's say, small business or the consumer looking for insurance, what's that conversation and making sure that we reflect that as well.
Once we have all that laid out, we develop our content plan because we'll also layer it into that mind map. We put right into the mind map the average monthly search volume for each of those themes and that we understand that those call it. I know keyword research is out of fashion versus entities, so whatever it happens to be, but we make clear that these are thematic. When you're talking about the types of a particular product, there are probably another a hundred keywords that ride along. You're not trying to map every single keyword. What you're just trying to do is create an accurate representation of how the world and probably the more important piece of the language are organized so that you could then understand, "Okay. Based on the objectives of the company, here's what we want to do."
It's obviously going to work a little different for someone that wants to generate leads versus another company which is saying, "I'm the thought leader in my particular industry." For example, we work with a private equity fund that's a thought leader and they say, "How come every time researches anything to do with what we want to be a thought leadership in, a leader in other companies are there and we're nowhere to be found?" Right? So that's equally common. You'll equally have a mind map to understand their industry as well and it's kind of the same thing. The next thing we do... So first you do the mind maps, you'll understand the language, you develop your content plan based on what you want to achieve. The most important thing we do after that is we write a blueprint and that comes out of my early agency background where, for example, if you're doing anything creative, you tend to write a brief, just like if you're doing a website and you go through persona development and try to understand the user stories, it's the same exact concept.
The brief is critically important because when you're dealing with subject matter experts, you could go and write that article, but it will be shredded because there's no way through your secondary research, you're going to match the expertise of the experts that live within the enterprise. So what we try to do is we create a brief which meets the needs of those three constituencies, meaning the consumer or the reader, Google's interpretation of what the consumer wants, and then actually the needs of the organization, understanding those legal requirements, understanding that the subject matter expert needs to react to something because what we find is these expert aren't particularly good at writing the articles. Not that they can't write the articles themselves, but are they really going to do it? If you think about people who live within an enterprise, their day is filled with email inboxes that are full, right?
Jack: Yeah, absolutely.
Jeff: They're in meetings all day. You deal with clients. So they're doing what they need to do, which is run their business, basically.
Jack: They don't have time to be writing articles every week.
Jeff: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. But it's an imperative for the organization. So what we do is we create a blueprint which says, "Okay. Here's exactly the way we're going to approach this." What's really important here and I think more important than basically anything else is our strategist will go in and understand the competitive dynamics of the content marketplace for that particular topic. So they'll not just look at, "Okay. Here's the top 10, the page one ranking competitors," they'll actually read what those competitors wrote and that gives you an understanding, "Hmm. Oh, I see. Google likes to rank articles where there's a quote tool on the top of the page. They like it when there's a table of contents. They like that articles are actually articles," versus if you're selling a product or service, sometimes what you'll see are just, "Here are the features of the particular..." So you need that human sense versus if you just rely on a tool that just says, "Well, here's the language people are using. Go and plug that into your article."
Jack: There's that nuance to search intent, where I think a lot of people, we get funneled into a couple of different buckets of like, "Oh, there's transactional. There's informational. There's navigational," that kind of stuff. But actually as you're, you're totally actually right, going in and drilling down into, "Well what does that article actually say? What are the features of it? Are there any consistencies or inconsistencies there?" is such a key part of that research stage. I think that's a really interesting point to highlight because I think so many people focus on like, "Oh, we'll chuck it through a few tools." We've mentioned Ahrefs, AlsoAsked, Keywordinsights, all this kind of stuff we talk about in the show all the time. Just relying on that data is one thing, but something I've touched on with Olga Zarzeczna a few weeks ago is that don't rely on just the tools too much.
Actually going in and reading the articles, reading the content, understanding the page, manually reviewing something can be such a key part of it and that's where you are the expert, right? You come in as a professional digital marketer, you understand structures. You come in as a writer, you understand article structure and stuff. There's that combination of your expertise and understanding how these articles work and what's ranking, what's not ranking. I love the idea of, oh, eight of the top 10 articles all have, like you said, interactive contents, like anchor links basically on the page that allow you to jump around. Huh, interesting. That's not directly a ranking factor. You would never get that from some tool. You would never say, "Oh, these are informational. These are transactional intent." But actually drilling down into the on-page content itself is such a key next step. I think you're totally right there.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. And that has to happen very early in the creative process. It's too late when something goes to the writer. For example, we did this, we were working with a bank and they loan. They create auto loans. You think about auto loan is kind of like a generic thing. And then you look at like, "Well, there's flavors, a lot of loans." There's an auto loan that people go for that are classic car collectors. They want a 40-year-old Chevrolet or whatever it happens to be. And then when you actually read the content, you start to understand that the content that really works is the content that focuses on banks that actually has an expert in that type of automobile, whereas we went into it thinking, "Oh, it's just another way to loan money to someone. It's just another loan."
And then when you understand, "No, you really need to have people." Someone wants to borrow money from a bank that has an expert that understands how to value collectable cars and understands how the car auction process works so that they can actually go into an auction before they even know what car they want in order to buy a very specific car that the bank hasn't seen, right? That's a very different customer than perhaps someone that's just going in and buying a new car. So when they're buying a new car, they want to know what's the rate. "Give me the rate and the term. Will you actually loan me money? Is my credit good enough?" It's a very different conversation and you wouldn't know that just by looking at a tool. So the things that we use, we'll use Ahrefs or STAT will understand that competitive set. You could use any of the keyword tools. Well, we actually like Surfer SEO as a tool because for two different things. One, it gives you the NLP language because I think what the natural language processing feedback that you get from that Google API does is it keeps you focused. We're not as concerned per se with, let's say, keyword density or the density of any language. It's helpful for at least your writers to understand, "Okay. Here's the way that the language that is being used in the conversation." So it's more of a reminder to use these types of phrases, or they're like language cues to us. What we also like is since we have many writers that we now need to take this brief, so we developed this brief. This brief has now been reviewed by all the subject matter experts. We ask the subject matter experts, and this is really important in the brief, to add their point of view, their organization's unique point of view to the brief, because what happens is, I think you guys have talked about this on the show before, everything's been written at this point.
Jack: Pretty much. Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: Right. There are trillions of articles. As Google says and I think are absolutely correct, what value are you bringing to the conversation and why should I keep-
Jack: Yeah, value is such a key word there, right? No pun intended on keyword, but it's a key word.
Jeff: It's a key word. I also take it very seriously. I know we joke about Google's helpfulness algorithm update, but as I thought about it, it actually is really interesting because if you think about, "Okay. How am I going to write something that's going to be very helpful to the consumer?" I actually think it's a noble cause. And then it's really about, "Okay. How do I drive helpfulness, right? What tools can I put on the page? Can I put more calculators on the page? Can I make the page easier to read? Can I restructure the conversation in a way that's more helpful than the way everyone else structured their conversation, right?" And then when you start doing that, you could actually say, "Hmm, those articles put out by universities or those government pages aren't so insurmountable," because those tend to be a little more dense, right? They tend to require multiple clicks to get to the ultimate answers to the questions that people want.
We figure all of this out in that briefing stage. The brief also does other things. It has all your metadata. It has your internal linking strategy. I know when to Olga, when you were talking about technical audits, you were talking about anchor text, strategies. All of that is put into the brief and rides along with the article. So when our writers get it, they know, "Okay. This is exactly how I need to write in order to satisfy the needs of the brand voice. Here's how I need to write in order to satisfy the needs of all those subject matter experts with the company. This is what I need to think about from a language standpoint because we set up, within surfer, we use content editors so they can actually write the article directly into the editor and they can see how they're using language in real time."
We also put in all the Google question hubs. We put in the AlsoAsked, we put in the People Also Ask, everything they need to know and they understand the strategy. We'll often pick out of the top of the page one, let's say, Google result, "Here are the where we think the weaker articles are and here's where we think the competition is doing a great job." So we'll actually say, "Okay. Look at the way the product features are represented among competitor two and result in result three." So we'll be very specific with the writers so they don't have to go poking around and searching. We'll actually lead them right to water and then they'll do what they do really well, which is structure the conversation in a way which is compelling. So what you're seeing, even by my explanation, it takes a tremendous amount of work that this is a tough sport when you're writing and you're in highly competitive industries.
Jack: Yeah, definitely.
Jeff: And you're fighting for leads or you're fighting for attention among other thought leadership. You're competing with some of the largest companies in the world. These are Fortune 200, 300 companies, all that, right? So you really do have to put in the time. Coincidentally, the quality standards of these companies are so high that you have to do it anyway. So if you weren't writing for search, they still have to be amazing articles. And then you have to do that at scale. So in order to do that at scale, you really need this repeatable process, where you have to say, "Okay. What is the content?" Because often when you're dealing with enterprise, content plans are written a year in advance.
Jack: Yeah, absolutely.
Jeff: And then what you're doing is just saying, "Okay. We're going to write these 100 articles for the year," then you'll calendarise that 100 and then what you're doing is you strat. You can only do so much research when you write that content plan, right? It's imperfect and things change. Often, by the time we get to midyear, many of the terms that we're ranking for or topics, all of a sudden we're ranking if things start to work, because what happens is you're building this foundation early on, you're starting to signal to Google, "Wow, we're really good at insurance," and these guys are publishing about insurance all the time. So now I have clients where we go from... Google's not even crawling their websites that often, right? We actually just had a client where we published and they never published and all of a sudden they're putting up thought leadership and then they go, "Okay. How are we doing?" We go back to look and we go, "Oh, you're not even indexed yet." They were like, okay, "Is it in your site map?" "It is," right?
Jack: I know that feeling on some of my clients' SMEs.
Jeff: Yeah. And then you go, "Wow, we have to ping with the site map to let them know we've woken up. We now are actually publishing." And then when that ball starts rolling, they know to come to your site more often. They start to recognize your expertise. Your people start to link to your content because once your subject matter experts start featuring your article... So what we'll actually do is every time we write an article, we'll write the accompanying social quotes, which, one, you should do anyway, but two, it also has a practical effect because everything has to go through extent. In highly regulated industries, everything has to go through legal review, which is actually great, right? It's interesting. In the old world, it used to be a negative. In the new world, it's actually a positive because what you could actually do is say in your article, "This article has gone through extensive review. Look at all the people that have reviewed it. Here's the bios of those people. Here are the links to those bios," right? So to the reader, it's actually a great thing.
Jack: Yeah, that's perfect EAT stuff, right? I know we've touched on Healthline that do that so much. They have the reviewed by medical doctor on 16th of October, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then re-reviewed by another medical doctor on the 18th of October and it goes through and has this whole full almost change log of data. So yeah, having that right there, like you said, getting more people involved can actually be beneficial, especially like you said, if they are the subject experts, you have the people coming in that really know what they're talking about that are reviewing it and peer reviewing it, that's an advantage. It sounds like it shouldn't be, but it can be. You can work it to an advantage.
Jeff: It's funny, and I used to see it as a disadvantage. I'm like, "Boy, oh, no, no, we have to go through another legal review just to change the word?"
Jack: To jump for another hoop.
Jeff: Yeah, right. Exactly. Now, I'm just like, "Wow. Please, do you have a more experienced lawyer to review this?" I mean, EAT is great for enterprise SEO. Authorship is great for enterprise SEO. The challenge is more often companies don't want to reveal their experts because all of a sudden your people leave companies, right?
Jack: You're painting a target for head-hunting and stuff, I guess, right?
Jeff: Right. Right. Exactly. There are many reasons why they might not want to reveal their leaders, but the reality is in today's world, people want to know the experts. Now, the expert doesn't have to be a person. It could be committee, right? So there are ways around that, which is actually even better. "We have a committee of five people that are the world-renowned people in this particular space and they reviewed this article. Not only that, they did it last week," is kind of the sweet spot for that. Yeah. I think EAT is great for what we do and we've seen our content perform better and better over time because of that.
Jack: Yeah. I think something that I always fall into, again, a lot of the smaller sites I've worked on throughout the years, you get a client coming to you and saying, "Oh, how is this article performing? How many leads do we get from this specific article?" I can only imagine how that works at scale. I guess you must be looking at it as a much bigger picture and then driving this month's worth of articles or this quarter's worth of articles. What's the approach there for reporting to the executives and the marketing managers or whoever you are reporting to as the client? What's the plan there for demonstrating the value of those pages over time?
Jeff: I mean, well, the temptation is to look at a specific article. When you're producing at scale, most of the time it really isn't necessary. It's way too in the weeds. It's what the digital publishing team is doing because we constantly want to understand what's working and not working, what's producing. But when we're reporting to management or an executive committee, which you need to constantly do, and even though subject matter experts, because you have to constantly demonstrate that this program is worth your time and that it's helping them meet their objectives, you would think it would be, but-
Jack: Can I have an hour-long meeting with you to discuss this thing? Trust me, it works. We will make money for a bit, I promise.
Jeff: Yeah, exactly. What's interesting is sometimes enterprise teams need to decouple organic search from maybe what, let's say, the product teams are doing, right? Because the product team, if you think about every team, has different marketing calendars, they have different objectives that they want to hit. Let's say in a particular month, they want to do this paid media program and they're going to target this person and they're going to get X number of leads. Organic search isn't that neat and particularly when you have large lead times. As you hear me describe this process, it could take weeks and weeks to get go from article conception through actually executing the article. Weeks and weeks would be generous, right? Months and months. Everyone's listening, they go, "How does he do it in weeks and weeks?"
Some of these large companies, it could take months by the time you get a specific article out the door. So to actually track a specific article at a macro level doesn't make sense. But what you do want to do is demonstrate, okay, you want to align, "Okay. What are the objectives of the company for the year? How many leads did they want to generate? How many visitors did they want to bring into their website? How do those visitors align with their funnel? Did we meet those goals? From a social media standpoint, does it work similarly? How many followers did we get? How much traffic did we generate from our social media program that was influenced by organic search into the website and how did those people behave?" And then what you could show in aggregate over time is if you're in a, let's say, consumer context, how many of those leads actually converted? Conversion can be defined many different ways. Conversion may be filling out a form, right? It doesn't necessarily have to be all the way through to the purchase. Sometimes an enterprise client can't track purchase per se. But if you're sending someone to a store, you don't know if they actually went to the shelf, but you know you sent them to the store, right? So what we know is, for example, if it's financial services, did we send someone to an advisor? Do we know if those advisors are being more productive? So if you're in a B2B context, often, did organic search make the sale? No, they probably contributed to it particularly for a more complex product. How did they contribute? Well, we know that people that viewed a webinar, for example, are more likely to convert. So you'll track things like, "Okay. How many people that came in through the organic channel actually signed up for a webinar?" You could actually track webinar signups on organic articles.
How many people interacted with a quote tool on our website that came through organic search and then went from the quote tool and actually decided to sign up for the service? How many people took out, or at least filled out a credit card application when they came in through the organic search channel? So you could look at these measures in aggregate. What happens is, as I mentioned earlier, you're bringing in... Let's say you brought in a million people in year one via organic search. That would be generous when you're starting a program, right? But I have programs where you're actually up to three million people a year, multiple millions of people. What happens is you don't just bring in that three million next year, you're bringing in six million because that three million will come in because your articles are still out there, right? They're evergreen. Now, all of a sudden you have six million and you know how those six million people tend to behave. Not only that, you actually got better in year two because you have people looking at it and going, "Okay. How do I optimize that funnel even better?"
So you get better at writing those articles. You get better at understanding how to bring people in. You get better at understanding which keywords and types of themes are the types of people that will actually convert for you. And then you get better at actually moving those people through the funnel once they come into your site and move from being this anonymous, informational searching person into someone that is actually known and that you could actually figure out, "Okay. Now I could use other tactics, CRM type tactics to actually figure out how to move them through the funnel and convert," right? You just measure that in the aggregate. If you can get the organization to commit to a minimum, call it, six months to a year, they'll start to see those great things happening. And then you just have to continually publish and publicize those metrics so that everyone understands why this is a corporate imperative.
Hopefully, it safely resides in that enterprise or corporate marketing team, which is probably a better place for search to live because this is something that the company has to do. It may not be fully appreciated by someone that needs X number of leads that's sitting and managing one particular product. They're going to have different... Yes, they're going to benefit from search. They may not even understand that, "Oh, look, this article they just published did well." It only did well because we were able to push the domain rating so high because everybody's linking to this content we've been building for the last three years, right? So this new generation of managers may not understand that that's why they're being so successful, but the corporate marketing people tend to understand that they need to do the same.
Quite honestly, it's a very reasonable cost to do an organic marketing program at scale. As I mentioned, it's often one-fifth the cost of a paid program. It gets cheaper and cheaper more, I should say more cost-effective over time because these evergreen articles continue to bring in people. Basically, it's zero cost in year two. You're just spending about the same amount on your organic program that you did in year one and year two, yet you're bringing in twice as many people. So the cost of the entire program for the number of people that you brought in just was cut in half. So from a marketing perspective, it's this gift that keeps on giving, I like to call.
Jack: You're going into full sales mode there, Jeff. I appreciate that.
Jeff: Right. That's right. That's right. Well, I think that it's easy to rely on paid media, right? I spend the dollar, I get a click. I understand how that works.
Jack: Yeah, definitely.
Jeff: Organic search takes a little more patience and it takes a, which we didn't talk about, significant organizational commitment and it takes a tremendous amount of education. What I like to encourage the enterprise team to do is basically, and I think it's an older phrase, which is to create a real center of excellence around search and to do outreach and training for the organization so search becomes part of the culture. So the first thing that someone does, because these companies have thousands of employees, and what you want someone who's going to write a piece of content to do is at first think about, "Okay. What's that search? Should I think about search when I'm writing this article? Even if I'm not relying on, let's say, the agency to write the article, how can I get that search in what I need and to create those structures?"
But if you think about it, what does a client organization need to do in order to manage a search program at scale? One, they need to have a team that's dedicated to it. Two, they need to have subject matter experts that are available, that have time allocated in their work plan to actually review these pieces, and you need lawyers that have a piece of their day. It's not like they're sitting around waiting for you, right? So you have to have time allocated. So all of this has to be planned in advance and you have to figure out how much of that resource you need month after month. And then you have to have a team that meets weekly basically to review those schedules, understand what articles are coming, to understand what briefs are going to be acted upon and need to be reviewed.
And then how that work actually moves through the organization. So you need organizational tools. It could be as simple as a Smartsheet or an Excel type object. It could be a Basecamp, but you're going to need certain tools to understand how these articles move through each step, which is a significant commitment on the part of the organization.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. I think, again, it's demonstrating that value that loops this kind of background, like understanding and getting people to build those good habits and get into that kind of cadence and rhythm of bringing search into their thought process and into their writing process and into the company as a whole, right? That's key to helping them understand why in 2022, you kind of have to. As you were saying at the very, very beginning, it's not 1988 anymore. You can't get away with not having a website and not doing this stuff. If you are a massive company that wants to compete with other massive companies, you want to enterprise this stuff, you kind of have to go down that route.
Jeff: Or you can allow others to control your destiny, right? It's somewhat what happens. If you want those, as we talked about, the digital publishers to come in, aggregate all the leads or all the interest that's in your particular niche, and if you want to buy that interest from them via some sort of affiliate type partner program, that's fine, and you could build your model around that, or you could do an organic search program and that and control more of your destiny and lower your costs.
Jack: Yeah, absolutely. I think having that is such a key idea. I think being able to pick those battles when you know who to speak to at the right time, and like I said, getting people to understand even from the ground up, from the subject experts through to the writers, through to everyone in that process, understanding how important this stuff is and how integral it can be to build the authority and the generate leads and all that kind of stuff.
Jeff: Right. Yeah, it's very different. If you think about B2B, that everyone's focused on account-based marketing that, right? You go, "Okay. Well, does organic search fit into that model?" Well, kind of, sort of. I know there's many articles about it. Yes, when someone searches for your topic, you want to make sure it's there, but it's not exactly targeting people in that particular enterprise at that particular job title. But if you step back and you say, "Okay. If people are searching for the particular topic, do I need to be there to make that account-based marketing program more successful?" Absolutely. Does that make search an imperative? Well, maybe, maybe not, right? Because I can't claim that, "Okay. My ad was seen by that particular person and that particular company."
But intuitively, do you need this to make sure that from a search perspective, when people are searching, doing their very early searches for a particular service that you are there, you have to be there? So that's why I call it this foundational investment in marketing that you can measure all those affects, but it needs to be there, and that's why I've an advocate for it really needs to live within the enterprise or that brand marketing group and basically supporting all the product groups with their marketing clients.
Jack: Awesome. I guess my final question, we're coming up on an hour. I know as I've become the habit of running long since I've been hosting, sorry, Mark, for running so long every single time. But we're having an interesting conversation. You've got a lot to talk about, Jeff. Something I want to touch on and something I've been very passionate about with my clients, but like I said, a much smaller scale for me is understanding that clustering side of things and understanding building topical expertise and all that kind of stuff. What is your approach to, I guess, balancing that with the client's needs and understanding, "Okay. We've got three different key clusters here of topics and subtopics we talk about as our company," where do you want to start, essentially? Do you go with scattershot and cover a bit of each of those? Say, they've got three key topics. Each of those topics, do you hone in on one at first? It is going to be the focus for the next three months, six months, or what's the kind of approach there? Does that vary very much from case-to-case basis?
Jeff: No, it's actually fairly consistent in that hopefully a client has a very clear set of KPI. Those KPIs could be somewhat general, they could be specific, but they always have KPIs. There's a pendulum that usually swings between brand, KPIs and we need more leads. That's something, somewhere in there, right? Let's say it's a lead-based KPI, just to keep it simple. And then what you do is you say, "Okay. I now understand how all these keywords, clusters or topics," and you look for, and I think you spoke about this with other people that have been on the show, "Okay. Where's that low-hanging fruit? Where could we demonstrate success against that particular objective quickly?" Because that critical first six months of the program, call it six months to a year, really needs to demonstrate that you're actually able to help the corporation meet their goals or else why are they spending all this time?
If you're lucky, there'll be a whole bunch of topics that are around that, call it, page two to five on the search results, where you're looking at, let's say, result 11 to 40, let's say. So Google's already associating that particular topic or keyword cluster with the business. What you could do is either you could rewrite an existing piece of content to make it work harder because maybe their language choices weren't right. Maybe there, as we've said, the conversation order wasn't as good. Maybe it wasn't quite as helpful as it could be. But with a little bit of love, you can make that piece of content work a little bit harder for you. You start there. And then what happens is the marketing team can start to demonstrate how the program is starting to deliver against the strategic imperatives of the company.
Once you do that, that provides you permission to then maybe go a little broader, deeper. And then as you do that, I think you mentioned zero search keywords, you could start bringing those into the mix, because what you really need to do is ultimately understand that you have more EAT in this category for this product than anyone else and you're able to serve the needs of the consumer and be more helpful, better than anyone else. So stop obsessing over Google and everything else would be my advice ever, right? It's important. Use the tools to let you know, "Okay. Here's roughly what Google's looking for." But look at this as a competitive sport, which is what I love about it, right?
This is looking at those 10 competitors that are on page one and saying that, "My writers can do better than this. We can do better than this for the consumer. We can create better tools or graphics that can be a little bit more interactive. We can get people to the answer faster. We can answer questions that haven't been answered before. We can look at those AlsoAsked questions". The truth is your writers can do better than what everyone else does. You have this amazing, what I call, second mover advantage, right? They've already written everything. Google is telling you, "Here's what we like to write," right? Your tool is telling you, "Here's roughly how they expect you to talk about it," right? All you need to then do is put that into a brief that your subject matter experts can react to so that you can add to the conversation and be that second mover. Just do a little bit better than everyone else so that you answer more of the questions.
Over time, and this is critically important, if you do it at scale, right? It's like if you open, I used to work... I know we're at the hour, but if you work with companies that do food franchises, they always tell you to open four restaurants, right? Why? Because you don't know which one's going to perform really well. When you open four restaurants, one does great, two do okay and one doesn't do well at all because it's in the wrong neighborhood, you just didn't know it, right? It's the same as picking stock. No one knows exactly which article is going to perform, but you know if you do the right things, your portfolio of articles will perform well over time. What we find is over time, a greater percentage of those articles tend to perform if you do the right thing as your domain authority increases, as your strategists start to understand, "Oh, these are the articles that tend to perform well when we structure them like this. That's interesting. Let's do more of that," right? So you get this intuitive feel for how things need to be structured in order to do well in your particular vertical. And then over time, you'll go from, "Okay. Let's say 20% of our articles are performing well, then all of a sudden 30%, then all of a sudden 40% and then all of a sudden 50%." You probably won't go above, maybe if you're better than we are, but...we always remain humble, right? But you start to see this snowball effect, where not only you're bringing in more and more people via the organic channel, you actually get better at it because you have this workflow that you're optimizing that has these 10 steps that you use and you go, "Oh, we could take step five because there's now a better tool," or a drift came out with a new feature, that's a little more insightful, right?
So you can build that into the system that you have for generating content, and as I mentioned, just amazingly great things start to happen. You start to, while you're always stressed in the agency when you're supporting clients, a little of that melts away as you do kind of better and better. And then you sit back with one client. I have a meeting this afternoon and I put the presentation together. I'm like, "This is amazing, how well this is done." As a marketer, you expect so many things to fail because you're constantly testing, right? You're constantly trying things, and nine things are going to fail and one thing is going to do well, and I think search is one of those things that will go well if you do it at scale.
Jack: Awesome. Well, that is the perfect wrap up for us there, Jeff. Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you for-
Jeff: Oh, my pleasure. It was fun.
Jack: ... eschewing me with all this knowledge about enterprise SEO and building scale, building content at a huge scale, because like I said, it's not something I have very much experience with myself. So it's very interesting to get your perspective on it and from your team at Brainchild, understanding how this works for these massive, massive companies around the world. We've named a couple of names. I'm sure out there, listeners, you've probably thought of a couple of companies like, "Oh yeah, they are doing that. Oh yeah, I recognize that, that technique, that strategy."
Jeff: No, absolutely. My pleasure.
Jack: So how can people find you across the internet, Jeff, and how can people find Brainchild as well?
Jeff: They can go to teambrainchild.com and learn a little bit about our company. They could also find me on LinkedIn, just look for Jeff Grill on Twitter, or they can reach out to me on LinkedIn if they have any questions and I'll be happy to answer their questions.
Jack: Perfect. As always, links for those will be in the show notes at search.witcandour.co.uk, listeners, so you can find the links for all the things we've talked about on this episode right there for you in one handy little place.
Jeff: Great. Thank you.
Jack: Good work.
That's all the time we have for this week. Thank you very much, Jeff Grill, for joining me and educating me about turning huge brands and big, big websites into digital publishers. I thought that was a really, really interesting conversation and I learned a lot just chatting to Jeff for about an hour we had a conversation there. Hopefully you enjoyed it too. Of course, you can reach out to me on social media. I am JLWChambers on Twitter and LinkedIn. If you do want to contact me about coming on the show and being a guest, you have something interesting to talk about in the world of SEO or PPC, please do let me know. Please do message me. I'm always looking to interview new and interesting people. Even if you've never been on a podcast before, I'm always interested in talking to new people in the SEO and PPC industry.
Mark and I will be back next week with more SEO news. That's right, Mark will be back on the show after what feels like quite a few months away. Mark and I will get back into the swing of things of doing a more regular news episode, and of course, we will have some more of our LinkedIn Q&A live streams coming up very soon as well. But until then, thank you all for listening and I hope you have a lovely week.