Content Marketing That Drives Results
By Ali Haeri & David U. Simon of SteelHouse
Thanks Brian! I hope everyone is enjoying the Analytics conference. My name is David Simon. I’m the Chief Marketing Officer here at SteelHouse. Im sitting with Ali Haeri who is the Director of Product Marketing here with me. And we wanted to walk you through a presentation a conversation about how we as a B2B Ad-tech business have really learned how to leverage a content marketing strategy to what we generally think is success over the course of this last year. I think the best way to start the discussion is to explain a little about who we are in the world and what we do.
SteelHouse is a company that just about 8-9 years old and we are based in Southern California in Culver City. We started as a retargeting company that enables mostly retailers and etailers, but all sorts of brands that have visitors to their website, to find those same visitors elsewhere , initially on the web, but then all across all other digital mediums and send them a secondary message. So the idea that you go shopping, you might click something into your shopping cart but you don’t purchase, or you do complete the purchase, but the brand wants to reach you again and you have all probably seen banners like this over the years where you see “Oh, what a coincidence! Now they are selling me a belt that matches the shoes i just bought.” Which of course is no coincidence. It can be done in pretty crude ways which feel pretty invasive. But I like to think that we don’t really do it that way. The business expanded and in fact we are now a full funnel marketing platform advertising suite company.
We offer our services as SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). We are meeting the needs of brands and agencies who have marketers who are trying to run advertising. The platform itself allows you to do all these different things. And, in fact, we work across now not just display advertising but all these different digital channels. Connected TV has now been added. So we are in fact Facebook partners who work across social, we do work across mobile and desktop. Native as well. And connected television which is a relatively new advent and a pretty exciting new digital way of looking at a very effective and more traditional medium.
So that’s sort of the basics of us and what we do. And all these different brands that I’m showing you here use us in a variety of ways. Sometimes they use us for retargeting, which is lower funnel. Some of them use us for prospecting which is upper funnel. Some of them are using us exclusively for television where they are purchasing their connected television through our platform and it runs on major shows on major networks but is also connected to all of their other digital channels that we run for them.
So I think that’s sort of the basics of who we are and what we do and I think I’m gonna ask Ali now to sort of talk a little bit about this past year which has really been an exciting year for us.
So let’s set the stage. So as we exited 2017 we were looking a year in which we had an awful lot of market growth and product growth that we wanted to accomplish in 2018. With connected television a place where it was gonna require a significant investment in our part both for engineering and sales, we sort of as an executive team looked at how we could maximize the dollars we had. We are a healthy and profitable business but we wanted that we could really accelerate our growth in this new area, in particular, but into several other uses of our technology. For the marketers out there, you generally know where this is going: “How do you feel about doing more with less?” And so I was fortunate in that I was able to sort of hold together a really terrific in-house marketing team. I’m fortunate in that I have a creative team that reports directly to me as well and allows me to execute an awful lot of creative executions on a very regular basis at a very very high quality.
So Ali and I looked at it together at the beginning of the year and talked about “well what can we do with what we got that will make the greatest impact?” And will also set us up for when the spicket gets turned back on. When we are able to again some dollars in a more appreciable way on advertising. And so that's where we sort of came to the idea of content strategies proven how are we gonna do it a little bit differently so that it fits us best. So I think thats the background, right?
Absolutely, and so the reality from a digital marketing standpoint was that the pretty robust advertising spend that we had relied upon in the previous year was going away. So we immediately felt that earlier this year in terms of website traffic. So year-over-year website traffic we saw a decrease of about 56%. And then just kind of as a digital marketer taking inventory of what we had to work with. The website that we had wasn't very deep in terms of content. It kind of fundamentally explained what we did, but in terms of being this really rich content experience, it wasnt really gonna serve us well in an environment where we are going heavy duty content marketing. We did have success on social media and with specific content marketing campaigns. There wasn’t a really solidified strategy on the social front, on the content marketing front, and also on the SEO front. So all of these things in my mind were petty necessary to putting us in a position where we could really succeed; kind of working in an organic world.
And just as another data point, we didn’t completely abolish the advertising budget. There's a couple one off instances where we were doing some campaigns. This just kind of gives us a snapshot of how we performed on a couple of platforms when we were doing some advertising which is a good reference point for hw er kind of modify our content marketing strategy and put us in the best position possible, as David mentioned, when the budget comes back that we could succeed.
So linkedin, our business does pretty well on linkedin. We have an above average click-through rate with a benchmark click-through rate of .3%. We come in a bit higher than that. We perform really well with Sponsored Content posts. Linkedin Text Ads, pretty much for everybody, has a really low click-through rate. We did quite well with sponsored content. And also with those sponsored content posts, we realized the best success was when we were doing targeting based off of marketing job functions. And then beyond just the advertising front we also do exceptionally well with the linkedin as an organic channel.
On Twitter as an Ad platform, we also realized pretty good success when we did a couple of campaigns with twitter. Which wasn’t always the case for me in my career before coming to SteelHouse. As an advertiser, I never really saw this level of success with Twitter as and ad platform. But we did quite well with it in a couple of tests over here. We had a click-through rate of above 12%. A lot of the success we had were campaigns where we were doing targeting based off of twitter handles. In one snapshot, for example, we spent $2,000 where we got 46,00 link clicks. In just generally speaking, you’ll notice in our efforts on Twitter is that it’s a way to get really cheap impressions at volume. Whenever we find ourselves in a scenario where we just want make a message seen as much as possible and were not as concerned with a click-through rate or getting people over to a site, we just want propagate a message as much as possible, as far as possible, Twitter really seems to be a cost effective way doing that.
So then kind of looking at the Present in terms of putting ourselves in the best position possible to gear ourselves us. To be in a environment where we aren’t going to be relying on an advertising budget to drive all of our traffic. And to drive all of our awareness. And to also put us in the best position where when reintroduce and advertising budget, we've built a content marketing machine, let’s just say a marketing machine generally. So we can really maximize that budget in a way that we haven't done before. With that kind of called was a checklist of sorts. I want to make sure that we address all of these points before we went through with an advertising budget and really turning on the machine, so to speak.
I’m gonna go through each one of these:
First is “Fix data collection.” Marketing analytics is so tremendously. One thing that I can preach to the team is that there’s credit to be had that marketing should be taking in terms of driving revenue. We really haven’t gone through the work of setting up a data collection process and platform to be able to claim that credit. So the first thing we needed to do was fix our data collection. We had google analytics running but all of our goal tracking was either incomplete or not collecting data. Broken in some sort of way.
We also needed to collect data beyond just web analytics. Other sorts of things related to lead generation and advertising. If we really wanted to be serious about being a content marketing organization we needed to “create rich and diverse site content”. That involved really creating a lot of pages on the website. I’ll get to that in just one moment.
Next is “tracking everything.” Attribution is tremendously important to marketers. We really set us to kind of track everything in our marketing automation solution. Here we used Pardot. One thing that we did was with our content marketers we ensured that every single asset whether its a file to be downloaded, a social media post, a landing page, email, whatever it is it’s going to be tracked in a campaign in Pardot so that we could see the whole life cycle. And see how many leads are generated. How many leads turn into opportunities. And, ultimately, how much revenue is generated. In which our campaigns played some sort of part.
“Maximizing our marketing automation utilization” like a lot of organization out there, we were using bits and pieces of our marketing automation solution but largely we were using it as a sophisticated email marketing platform. But like I was just mentioning, campaign attribution is a huge part of marketing automation tools. We got really serious about tracking everything.
Another thing is for marketing groups that really value design and ours we kind of fell into this trap of getting stuck into these long design cycles. And while everything looked really great, it took a long time to spin up things like white papers, one-sheets, landing pages. And so from a technical standpoint knowing we were going to be doing a content marketing strategy and we wanted to do a lot of advertising in the future, a priority for me was being able to spin up landing pages as quickly and as easily as possible. So that involved working with our designers and our front-end developer on creating a landing page generator effectively. Something that is on brand, looks really sharp, but could be created by marketing. That allows us to move really quickly as campaigns kind of come up.
And finally, just kind of researching our competitors lead gen strategies. How are people in our cohort and also in sort of spiritually similar businesses? How are they approaching lead generation? What can we learn from that?
That kind of put us in a position where I was able to lay out what our digital marketing machine would look like. And really, everything fell into 4 big buckets: web, social, advertising, and automation. If you look at the left side where it’s “Marketing Activity,” you’ll notice that all of these things as they’re executed kind of pushes into the right screen is “Marketing Analytics.” So all of the activity that happens on the left is measured on the right. And the learnings that we get from the right side gets pushed into our marketing activities. So that’s our cycle. It’s kind of quickly touching upon some of the more important aspects of this on the web front.
We never really got as serious about SEO as many of you know is incredibly tedious. But we utilized tools like Moz to kind of focus our SEO strategy on a couple of core keywords. One of the things that probably we’ve had a lot of SEO success as of late. I think a big part of that success is that we churned our content marketer who’s just an incredible writer into an SEO expert. He now has this SEO sensibility to all of the content marketing that he’s doing. He’s become pretty self-sufficient on that standpoint. He’s created, he now has developed an instinct for SEO and so that therefore all of our content that's coming out is just kind of SEO minded. And so rather than one person being the SEO expert and constantly advising the content marketer what to do, we make sure that our content marketers became SEO minded and self sufficient in that sense.
Another really really big thing that’s been very successful for us is creating product pages. About a year ago, we kind of had a single page approach. A really slick page with pretty much everything that we do on that one page. It was a little problematic from a behavior standpoint. We used tools like Crazy Egg that monitored on page performance and we noticed that most people weren’t scrolling to the bottom of the page. The other thing was it was kind of hard to gauge what specific aspects or solutions in our offering were most interesting to all of the people visiting that one page that explained everything. And so what we did there was we created several product pages.
So we have 2 very core products and within those products there’s several key features to them. Some creative features. Some technical features. And so what we created was, was we went from one product page to about 7-8 product pages. And these product pages get really technical. They get really in the weeds with the creative aspect of things. And this sort of helps us from a digital marketing standpoint to allow our website traffic to self identify what they’re most interested in. If they convert on pages that are related to our technology, then we can tailor our content marketing efforts towards people who are more tech-savvy. If they’re converting on the pages that are more high level about high level business benefit, then we know again what sort of things they’re more so interested in. So this allows our content marketing strategy to be more inherently more targeted.
So this bigger product based strategy fed into our SEO efforts. Now we have a wide variety of pages that are indexing for a wide variety of keywords. Rather than putting the onus on one single product landing page to try and index everything. So that’s been really successful for us.
Moving over to social, pretty simple on that front. Looking at all of our analytics, with both regards to our social acquisition. Linkedin by far performs very well for us in this space that we are in. And so one thing that we did was, we made our social strategy our linkedin strategy. We've been putting all of our effort into this. We've been reating video campaigns specific for linkedin. We've been ramping up our linkedin posting. We've been participating in conversations in linkedin. We've been incentivising all of the employees inside of our company to re-post, to share everything that we post on linkedin. And all of this has absolutely paid off for us. As you’ll see in just a moment, our metrics have really shown that linkedin is continuing to grow and drive more organic traffic to our website.
I touched on in the advertising front, in terms of just making the marketing team a little bit more self sufficient from the design team in terms of spinning out landing pages. One learning from in terms of studying our competitors and terms of how they approach lead generation in our space is that it’s all asset oriented. We all have platforms that really would like people to self sign up and start using our products but form our own experience and from studying our competitors and their advertising strategy, no one really drives a lot of sign ups from their advertising. Everything seems to be asset oriented in terms of printing some sort of guide, ebook, marketers are just looking to get better at what they do. They're really receptive to any sort of content that we create that helps make them better at what they do. Not necessarily perform better on our own platform, but just as marketers generally. So, we’ve oriented our advertising strategy around them.
And finally, we have, we rolled out a very sophisticated drip campaign that is comprised of many different emails that are triggered based off of a lot of different behaviors that we see inside of our CRM. So, whether you’ve demoed the product or not demoed the product or you’re in the opportunity stage, you’re now getting a lot more tailored emails. We’re taking it a step further for customers who have converted. We’re sending out emails that are sort of reactive based on what they do in our product.
Finally, looking at the right side, we’ve cleaned up how we track things in Google Analytics. We’ve taken campaign attribution in our marketing automation solution very seriously, and we’re creating a high-level dashboard for audiences outside of marketing to monitor the key metrics from our team.
I just want to chime in here again in that, I feel like as Ali lays out this architecture and this plan, and many many obvious sophisticated mechanisms that we’ve employed over this year, we’re fortunate in that we have both sides of the marketers head available to us. On one hand, as he’s showing you here, we really have a complete and thoughtful data driven marketing plan. We’re executing as best as we can against that. The “What” of what we market, of what we say, we’re also fortunate in that I have, as I mentioned earlier, a creative team and, I want to call out specifically, a very accomplished video producer on staff.
So, the stuff that we’re pushing into these channels and the way that we’re packaging the information has certainly had an impact on our results as well. We made a decision which was, we couldn’t go out and buy lots and lots of stuff. I wasn’t in a position to have a third party significant study done every quarter that I could then trump the results of. Instead what we’ve done, is we’ve taken what we know and exactly as Ali described it, tried to create useful nuggets that are super easy and fun to digest. A lot of the time that does take video, we’ve found video to work very very well on LinkedIn, and it works very very well on our site and helps us to both attract and then actually retain traffic.
I think it would be remiss to not call out what it is, I think, the form and the function. It is the content and the way that you communicate and organize it.
Yeah, absolutely, so kind of looking at the results of implementing this, just several months ago. We’re talking about same year here. Looking at qualitative metrics, web metrics really, we’ve realized that 19% increase in new users on the website, and 7% increase in pages per session. 23% increase in average session duration. 4% lower bounce rate. What this, in total, is telling me that the people who come to the website now, as opposed to the days where we were doing heavy duty advertising to drive traffic to the website, they’re staying longer. They’re consuming more pages on the website. This is where creating multiple product pages paid off. They’re not reading multiple pages on the website, poking around.
There’s also a part that I didn’t mention which was just reexamining the user experience of the website and creating a lot of internal linking suggesting more and more product pages as your navigating the website, and that really increased our pages per session metric as well. And again, our bounce rate is lowering, meaning that people are overall more engaged when they’re on the website.
Then just looking at the content marketing aspect of things. Seven new product pages. 16 drip campaign emails with probably another 16 in the pipeline. 11% increase in traffic via organic search. I mentioned LinkedIn is our social media strategy, and we now have 45% increase in traffic coming from LinkedIn. You know, just one more point related to the new product page strategy that we implemented, when you take a snapshot of our website traffic. That 20% of that traffic activity we see on our website, is on all of these new product pages. That’s a pretty impressive metric to look at. All this work that we just put in in the past couple of months paid off. At least a fifth of our traffic is going onto all of these new pages.
So, looking towards the future.
One of the things that we did here was we wanted to put ourselves in the best possible position for when our advertising budget gets reintroduced here. We now have this really lean, high converting, content marketing machine that we can utilize really efficiently when it comes to advertising. Some of the things that we want to do in terms of evergreen and ad campaigns, which I think are valuable in our space, is on the LinkedIn front, just test different audience segmentation types. I mentioned, we do really well with job function, targeting, but trying to do different types of targeting based off of vertical. In our world, targeting agencies versus brands, necessitates different messaging. And also using LinkedIn’s own audience functionality. Something like a lookalike audience functionality and even LinkedIn’s own native retargeting functionality.
And testing different ad units. I mentioned sponsored content works really well. We’re probably not going to touch text ads, they’re cheap but they don’t really do anything for you. But video ads in LinkedIn seem really interesting. Just recently I noticed that LinkedIn has an equivalent to Facebook’s product carousel ads. There may be a use case for us to utilize that type of ad unit as well.
On the Twitter front, I mentioned, we seem to do pretty well with Twitter. I think our target audience just generally lives on Twitter and for their free time. So continuing to promote our connected television offering on Twitter. Again, with doing targeting based off of Twitter handles, off of thought leaders in the ad tech space seems to do pretty well for us.
And then Google Ads. Definitely Google Ads works for us as we’ve seen in the past. And just getting a little bit smarter about how we segment our Q words in the Google Ads platform. Really segmenting out research search terms because there’s a lot of marketers who are constantly searching for best practices. We can really seize on that. We have a lot of really great content on our blog that speaks to marketing best practices.
Then retargeting search terms. SteelHouse legacy is known in the space of retargeting. Really capitalizing on the big search volume out there related to targeting can be really strong for us. There’s good volume there. We have inherent credibility.
So, David do you have any closing thoughts on this?
I think that we’ve tried to walk through all of the different layers of this. I think as I listened to it, and probably as many of you listened to it, you’re like, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of this thing, or I’ve heard of that thing, or this is the thing we ought to really do.” I think for us, the distance we had to come was, we have to do all of it. We have to do all of it all of the time. We have to feed these animals. We have to feed them with stuff. We have a newsletter that we’re putting out every single week which is not just a, “Hey, let me tell you what we did today at Steelhouse.” It’s very specific. It’s always rich in data. It’s deeply researched. Our subscriber base is growing, we use that to our advantage.
The blog is original. Every single week we’re writing about a new topic, we’re working really hard to be relevant and valuable to the marketers who would consume from us. I think we’re putting out a video every single week which is actually put into the hands of our sales team to tribute. And oftentimes, it’s capturing one of our sales people talking about a topic that’s relevant to them and to our customers.
So, it is this, you don’t get to choose. You have to do it all. We’re trying to do it in a super coordinated way. We knew that if we were going to make a difference and kind of do it with a, without the support of ad dollars in many cases, that our technique had to be tight. That’s what we’ve really done this year. Is really deliberate and disciplined about the way that we have executed and not left rocks unturned.
Totally agree. And so with that, I’m going to pass it back to Brian.