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Cracking the code on podcast advertising for customer acquisition

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Of the various channels available to growth marketers, podcast is among the most misunderstood.

Brands like Dollar Shave Club, Squarespace, and ZipRecruiter have deployed podcast advertising for user acquisition for years, but it’s still a channel that flies under the radar. We have managed tens of millions of dollars in podcast ad spend for challenger brands and market leaders alike, and are eager to share some tricks of the trade.

If you want to test in a channel where early adopters are being rewarded with both attractive CAC and scale, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Podcast advertising is used very successfully as a direct-response channel with CAC on par with other consideration-stage activities. It is not just for awareness.
  2. Podcast reach is very good, reaching 51% of US audiences aged 12+ monthly.
  3. Ads read by hosts outperform canned “programmatic” ads.
  4. Tracking is harder than most digital channels and the cost to test the channel is higher than most digital channels.

Dive deeper on podcast ads and other growth marketing tips with Extra Crunch’s ongoing coverage of growth marketing, where Right Side Up was recently featured as a Verified Expert Growth Marketer. 

Who listens, who advertises, and why bother?

Podcast listeners are a sought after group – the audience trends towards educated, early adopters with a high household income. You can find this profile elsewhere, but what makes podcasts unique is that they are choosing to consume that particular content time and time again. The host becomes a trusted voice to deliver them not only interesting stories and banter, but information on companies as well.

Often podcast advertisers are newcomers or start-ups, and the podcast ad might be the first time the listener has heard about that company. Having the first touch with consumers be from a thorough, personal, and often funny host-read interaction is incredibly valuable and helps brands jump over the credibility hurdle. Compare that to an impersonal banner ad, and I’d choose a podcast ad every time. image2 1

Even though the term ‘podcast’ was coined in 2004, advertising in the medium has exploded in the last ~5 years. The IAB has been tracking podcast ad revenue since 2015, when the entire medium generated #105.7 million in ad sales. It recently released its third study of podcast ad revenue, which estimated the US market at $479 million in 2018, with growth accelerating to a projected  $1 billion+ by 2021.

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Andreesen Horowitz did a great investor profile on the space earlier this year, with a helpful rundown of the holistic ecosystem, from hosting mechanisms and platforms to the pace of podcast monetization.

Historically, the medium has been dominated by a mix of comedians doing their own thing, radio entities simulcasting sports shows, and otherwise popular shows that had a devoted niche following relative to other mediums. Most advertisers bought podcast ads as an extension of their other audio acquisition campaigns.

Podcasts go mainstream

Then Serial came along, in 2014, exploding into popularity and pop culture. They ran a MailChimp ad that had someone mispronouncing the name of the company as “MailKimp”, which was a funny inside joke for those in the know. Nina Cwik and David Raphael, co-founders of Public Media Marketing, explain the initial conversation around this now iconic spot.

“While discussing a launch sponsorship with sponsors there wasn’t a huge amount of interest in taking a risk on a new show even with the amazing This American Life provenance. MailChimp was committed to supporting Serial. The talented production team at Serial and This American Life created MailKimp and the sponsor was rewarded for believing in the show.”

Not only were they rewarded by being a launch sponsor of one of the most successful podcasts in history, but once Serial and the medium itself expanded, a loving impersonation of Serial host Sarah Koenig and the MailKimp joke eventually made its way into a Saturday Night Live skit. Serial also appealed to a female audience, helping to bring new listeners into the channel, and podcasters and advertisers followed.

Over the past 5 years, the space has diversified. We now see so many different shows with all flavors of true crime, news and politics takes that you don’t hear in the broader media picture, women talking to other women about literally everything, comedy and pop culture pods as diverse as Bodega Boys, Who? Weekly, and RuPaul: What’s the Tee with Michelle Visage, and a podcast to go with every reality and television show you can think of. There are too many shows to talk about; there are over 750,000 shows indexed by iTunes.

How to engage for growth advertising

So how do companies start testing in podcasts? And how do they do so successfully?

Start with a strong (but doable budget) and take your time

We advise companies to start with a test spend that you consider meaningful in the context of your other customer acquisition efforts. Initial tests in the channel that are properly diversified typically vary from $50,000 to $150,000 in media cost. If the idea of a testing budget in the high five figures makes you gasp, don’t rush it. If you under-invest, you run the risk of a false negative, i.e. you didn’t spend enough to validate performance, or a false positive; when you buy tiny shows, one or two sales may pay back. If you make media decisions at scale based on that data, you may find yourself in deep water. If the risk of testing a new channel and having a dip in your CAC is too great, we recommend you exhaust other channels, like Facebook, before jumping into the podcast space.

Podcast offers advertisers a low barrier to entry. Creative production is limited to producing copy points for hosts to use as they record their ad reads. However, it is quite manual relative to digital channels, and can take weeks to put into place. Most purchasing is done through a show’s sales representation or network, via calls and emails, and set in advance (sometimes way in advance depending on inventory levels). It entails RFPing multiple network partners, doing research and outreach to independent shows, gathering rates and evaluating content, and finally making decisions based on budget and inventory availability. We often describe this as the media puzzle – making sure that the ideal shows, with favorable pricing are available when you want them to be. This can take time and some back and forth with your network rep to set in stone, so give yourself room to plan ahead.

What’s the media landscape look like and how do you pick shows? 

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Image via Getty Images / venimo

We buy with a lot of direct shows, sales representation firms, and ad networks. We’re starting to see the beginnings of programmatic and exchange-based inventory become available, but it’s largely impression-based media, which isn’t yet a proven tactic that direct response-oriented advertisers can consistently use for customer acquisition. There are some managed service-like buying partners in the space, that work to varying degrees of efficiency for customer acquisition.

When it comes to choosing what types of shows to partner with, beyond budget and availability, it’s important to remember the obvious choice may not be the best one.

One of the most consistent, and pleasant, surprises in podcast advertising is how well shows that are seemingly unrelated to a product work well for customer acquisition. We’ve worked on products that had a primary target demographic of suburban moms, but guess what? Gamers want to stay at home and order snacks and food delivery, too; they have disposable income and are harder to reach via traditional channels.

If you’re advertising a product targeted to parents, you shouldn’t just test into parenting shows, you should also consider testing into shows with hosts who are parents, but have content not at all or tangentially related to parenting, like Your Mom’s House, with Tom Segura and Christina Pazsitzky. Sure, it’s a comedy podcast, and it’s NSFW (and hilarious). They’re also human parents who they do amazing reads, and their fans are legion.

Ryan Iyengar, CMO of HealthIQ, notes that “hosts with wildly different backgrounds were able to find a through-line to connect ad reads with their audiences, regardless of product line.” Of course, contextual advertising is worth consideration, and there are sometimes unique opportunities, but most successful shows aren’t a bullseye for content.

We’ve also seen the inverse, on contextual fit; food products can either do amazing or not well at all on food-related podcasts. If you have a food product with mass appeal, but one that (for example) many home cooks may already be familiar with, you may be better off doing just about any other popular genre of shows besides food.

Plus, these hosts are pros; they’ve been doing ad reads for everything from mattresses to meal kits for years. They know how to talk about your product in an engaging way.

Doug Hoggatt, the VP of Marketing at Betabrand, agrees, mentioning he would also coach new advertisers to “take the time to test across genres and hosts, you’ll be surprised at the results.” Iyengar is also the former VP of Marketing at ZipRecruiter; if you’ve ever heard a podcast, you may have heard the company advertised once or twice. He also notes, “[regardless of] content of the show, audiences can be interested in all sorts of topics, and are still potential customers. Yes, even hiring managers listen to comedy podcasts!”

Many business-to-business (B2B) advertisers do well in the channel, in part due to higher allowable CAC and high lifetime value (LTV). And the same point about show selection holds true for those audiences, as well. Visnick noted, “[HoneyBook] originally focused on testing industry-specific podcasts as those seemed to be the most natural way to target our prospective customers. We discovered that by diversifying our podcast mix into non-industry content we could still reach our target audience while also growing our reach and overall program performance.”

If we hear something that we think can help us at work, we’re amenable to that message, especially when it comes from our favorite host. Having an open mind to testing has helped so many advertisers unlock additional shows, and possible customers. You can take those insights back to other channels, too, and begin to integrate your campaigns and establish cross-channel frequency.

Pricing in the channel is unstable, and demand-based because inventory is finite; effective CPMs for host read, embedded mid-roll advertisements — by far, the most consistently performing ad unit for customer acquisition in the space — vary from $10 to $100. Yes, really.

Worrying too much about CPMs could mean that you’re leaving behind some of the best inventory in the space. So while it could make sense to cut higher CPM placements from a media plan, you want to be cautious. You could inadvertently cut out potential volume drivers or otherwise highly effective placements.

Allow for the host’s personality to shine through

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Image via Getty Images / TwilightShow

The listener is there for the hosts. They relate to them, laugh with them, or laugh at them. They come to expect a performance from them, and often that performance bleeds into the ad reads. Whether it’s a semi-NSFW jingle about MeUndies from Bill Burr, or Joe Rogan recommending his mind-blowing NatureBox snack combination, or Levar Burton delivering an oh-so soothing Calm read.

Alan Abdine, Senior Vice President of Business Development for Rooster Teeth, a network with geeky, gamer shows with a hint of irreverence, said “the best ads are the ads that are organic, natural, and originate from the voice of the show talent. When brands allow our hosts to be themselves, there are more opportunities for entertaining side stories and commentary related to the brand.”

He continues to say his “belief is that if an advertiser is willing to spend money to reach out audience, then let us be the experts on that audience and let us use our own voice to share their message and talking points!  They will always get better results in that scenario.”

There is a certain special trust that goes into podcast ads. And to allow hosts to be themselves while also being a positive brand advocate often mean striking a balance between scripting and giving space. The most commonly purchased ad unit for customer acquisition advertisers is a host-read, embedded, mid-roll advertisement, typically :60 in length, but many hosts go over.

Overly scripting the copy can lead to an ad sounding inauthentic and infringe on their creativity. Kate Spencer, the co-host of Forever 35, notes that “often there are a lot of required talking points to hit in a short amount of time. We’re always happy to oblige, but I think it takes away from the organic and conversational nature of the ad, which is what makes podcast advertising especially unique. ”

On the flip side, not scripting enough could lead to a disjointed read where the host is trying to piece value props together on the fly. Nick Freeman, Chief Revenue Officer at Cadence13, explains that “some hosts do like the perfectly written out :60 script, while others like bullets they can riff off of.” Because podcast campaign test across multiple shows and personalities, it’s best to find a starting point in your copy where hosts can be guided, but not stifled. Freeman says “that doesn’t necessarily mean trying to make jokes for comedy hosts, for example, so much as it’s giving the hosts who do well with it the freedom to ad-lib.”

And for those that want to get a little more creative, the space is primed for custom integrations. Recently DoorDash partnered with Rooster Teeth for an ad on a livestream in celebration of a new game their studios were releasing. Since there was a visual element, DoorDash and Rooster Teeth partnered on a creative spin to the ad.

Instead of the typical copy, food would be delivered to the group of hosts while recording. Grant Durando, Senior Marketing Consultant at Right Side Up, works with DoorDash on their podcast campaign and stewarded this unique partnership. “[Rooster Teeth] approached us with the opportunity to engage with the live stream in a deeper way than just a regular podcast ad. It was definitely an unorthodox integration, but exciting to be in front of the right audience for DoorDash, at scale, and in a meaningful, memorable way. Many conversations about chicken nuggets later (which I never thought would be part of my job), Rooster Teeth and Vicious Circle delivered a superb ad experience, [integrating] multiple brand mentions and actually making DoorDash a part of the content itself.”

Zack Boone, Senior Director of Sales at Rooster Teeth, added there is, “nothing better than having clients that understand how impactful utterly stupid things like this can be for a brand.” DoorDash “[offers] industry-leading selection to our customers,” said Micah Moreau, VP of Growth Marketing at DoorDash. “It was incredibly effective to bring the DoorDash experience to life with Rooster Teeth in a highly differentiated, yet relevant way.”

How do you measure response?

Ads almost always end in some sort of call to action, like use the show’s promo code to save money, or visit a URL to get a free trial of a product for listeners of the show. It’s a way for shows to get credit for their listeners taking some sort of action, usually a purchase, related to hearing the ad.

And it’s how advertisers can figure out if their ad investments are paying back, too. Along those lines, Hoggatt was happy to see “how direct response the channel could be. I was surprised at the lift in site visits and follow-on orders that correlate so closely to when our podcasts drop.” Consumers have been conditioned to listen for that call to action at the end of an advertisement so we can measure a direct response in the channel.

That isn’t to say podcast advertising should displace a highly effective channel like paid social or paid search in your paid marketing testing priorities. We often ask advertisers information about their overall CAC or CPA  from other paid marketing efforts like Facebook or Google advertising, and use that data to benchmark target CAC for podcast.

As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t make Facebook or Google work for customer acquisition at meaningful scale, think twice before you engage in testing podcasts at a scale meaningful to your business. But if you’re looking for demand generating channels, podcast is an excellent contender.

“The success we’ve seen from podcast advertising has proven that we can drive sales through paid media outside of “traditional” direct digital response campaigns,” said Visnick. “We’ve significantly grown our podcast budget every quarter since we started testing the channel and it’s now a core part of our overall acquisition strategy and an important part of our media mix.

Don’t under-account for breakage or indirect activity

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Image via Getty Images / Olivier Le Moal

Another challenge for advertisers that aren’t used to offline channels is managing indirect activity, also sometimes called breakage. It’s imperative to look at indirect activity to help triangulate response, as another way to get a false negative is to only look at direct response, i.e. direct redemptions of a promo code or sales from only users who visited the vanity URL.

A decent analog is like view-through conversions, but without the technology enablement. You can tell, via tracking, what actions site visitors have taken after exposure to ads on Facebook and Google, etc.

However, there isn’t a way for a consumer to tap or click on your podcast ad, so you don’t have a direct action correlated to ad download or exposure, nor can you track indirect activity (view-through) via pixels or other technology enablement. The aforementioned promo code/vanity URL combo is what generates that direct response.

To get around this breakage and triangulate a full response, advertisers commonly use a post-conversion attribution survey, colloquially referred to as a How Did You Hear About Us? or HDYHAU survey. This allows for a crude, but effective, translation of the impact that podcasts had on that user’s activity.

It helps you determine how much of the activity you’re capturing in paid search, for example, may have actually been driven by podcasts, streaming audio, or television. It’s self-reported data from users, sure, and it can feel a little shaky when you’re used to more precise digital measurement, but it’s how virtually every scaled advertiser in the channel has discovered a path to scale.

It also helps you determine benchmarks before you get into other channels, and can provide a solid look at multi-touch attribution if the survey is designed with best practices, and served to enough of the population to achieve stability.

Why can’t we use measurement techniques from other mediums?

We already talked about why, even though podcasts are digital audio, we can’t track conversions digitally (we know, it’s a little crazy). Unlike television, where you can use spot-based attribution, or radio, where you can achieve consistent ad exposure and but according to average quarter-hour (AQH) ratings, there’s a delay in both download of an episode and media consumption.

For advertisers, that means performance comes in over time, and it takes a minute to build reach and frequency (R/F). You may see very little activity for the first week or two of a campaign, and then as R/F builds and crescendos, you’ll see conversion activity catch up. That’s when you can start to get a solid picture of return on ad spend (ROAS); you should have structured your tests so you have a good sense of performance by the third or fourth drop with a show.

Looking at results sooner is possible but largely inadvisable. “Give it time,” says Dan Visnick, CMO at HoneyBook, “It can take a few weeks to see the impact from a single podcast, and months to build a strong portfolio.”

One of the biggest mistakes new advertisers in the channel make is getting a false positive, by testing into tiny shows that back out because 2 people bought their product, and then quickly scaling in the same genre only to find out that the content doesn’t scale.

False negatives are also common, when advertisers get cold feet in the first few weeks of an integration, and cancel shows after one ad insertion in a single episode. The channel requires diligence in testing, and if you have other business challenges to navigate, using digital growth channels can help iron out your messaging, landing pages, etc. before you launch offline channels.

Although you may have honed your messaging in other channels, you should expect to be flexible when it comes to podcast creative.

Opportunities to expand to other audio acquisition opportunities

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Image via Getty Images / Anastasiia_New

Positive signals in podcast campaigns can also indicate that other audio channels may be ripe for testing, which can help diversify your marketing mix and minimize the pressure on individuals channels. Hoggatt says his “success in podcast advertising proved that it is possible to invest in offline channels and find measurable success.”

SiriusXM and streaming platforms, whether pureplay like Pandora or Spotify, or aggregators like Westwood One and ESPN, are great next steps for advertisers who see the right signals in podcast. For SiriusXM, it’s a high household income audience that are used to paying for a subscription (any subscription model companies out there?), and streaming audiences are choosing to listen to their content, similarly to how podcast listeners choose their content. The podcast landscape is the perfect arena to play in to learn more about how your brand works in offline media and allows there to be a stepping stone into other mediums.

Be good stewards

We know that podcast advertising can have a powerful impact on the marketing mix for companies of all sizes. As more and more players get involved in the space, it benefits all involved, from advertisers, to networks, to marketers.

It’s rare to have an opportunity to participate in a nascent medium, and be good stewards of one of the last remaining mediums on earth with finite inventory and listeners who actually respond to ads. And along the way, we hope to change the way people think about traditional offline media channels, like how they can be held to high growth performance standards, and where they intersect with popular digital growth tactics like paid social.

You’ll have to get creative, but with some trust and patience, and adherence to best practices, advertisers can reap significant benefits and customer acquisition, at scale, from podcast advertising campaigns.

9 things growth marketers should do when getting started:

  • Create the team (and time!) needed to execute a campaign, whether in-house or via partnership with a subject matter expert like a consultancy or agency
  • Learn the language of podcast advertising, terms like download carry a lot of baggage and understanding them can impact your campaign’s performance
  • Budget your initial test(s) appropriately to avoid a false negative or positive result
  • Have an open mind on show selection; make sure you test across multiple genres and formats
  • Measure direct and indirect activity, to triangulate performance and business impact, and make optimizations and decisions on renewals
  • Support, don’t stifle, the personality of the show hosts
  • Get comfortable getting creative, and take time to onboard hosts
  • Keep an eye out for additional opportunities, not only in podcast, but in other audio channels as well
  • Be a good partner to shows, networks, and others in the space. It’s ours to nurture

MARKETING

Looking for a Content Marketing Job? Follow This Advice To Get Noticed

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Looking for a Content Marketing Job? Follow This Advice To Get Noticed

Does anyone enjoy job hunting regardless of the circumstances?

But if you’ve recently lost your content marketing job or fear the ax might fall soon, you feel pressure to do it – and like you have no time to waste.

The good news is that excellent content marketing jobs are available for the taking (or the making if you’re entrepreneurially minded.)

To rise in the challenge you didn’t want, you must condense years of knowledge, skills, and experience into compelling materials to attract a new employer. Then you must get your carefully crafted profiles in front of recruiters. The key to success for both steps involves standing out from all the other candidates competing for the role you want.

In a recent Ask the #CMWorld Community livestream, Work It Daily’s J.T. O’Donnell and TogetHER Digital’s Amy Vaughan shared what today’s recruiters want and the disruptive ways to get on their radar.

Take a disruptive approach to find your next #ContentMarketing job, says @JTODonnell and @CafeScribbler via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

You can watch the conversation or scroll down to read the highlights of their productive chat.

Take time to grieve, but don’t wallow

The Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale puts job loss among the top 10 stressful life events. When headlines fill the news about massive tech and media company layoffs, corporate hiring freezes, AI replacing creators’ jobs, and a slowing economy, a job loss can feel downright paralyzing.

Ignoring those feelings won’t make them go away and might make it more challenging to focus on finding your next job.

That’s why J.T. recommends taking some time to grieve before you begin a job search. “It’s an unexpected loss. You need to feel it and go through the emotions,” she says.

But don’t get so lost in your misery that you miss a new role that might pop up. “In my experience, people often end up in a new position and say, ‘This turned out better than I expected. I would’ve never come across this opportunity if this change wasn’t forced upon me,’” J.T. says. “Know that a lot of other people have ended up on the better side of it and get ready to move forward.”

Update your job search tools – and how you use them

First, revisit your resume and LinkedIn profiles. You need to ensure they’re updated, consistent, and precisely targeted to the roles you’re considering.

If it’s been a while since you last looked for work, you may need to relearn the rules of a productive job search.

For example, while application tracking systems (ATS) have been around since the 1990s, their time-saving features have made recruiters more reliant on digital tools in recent years. In fact, a 2018 study found nearly 99% of Fortune 500 companies use them. Advanced functionality has improved the software’s ability to create more accurate candidate profiles and match them to applicants’ work history details.

Optimizing your resume with keywords in the job description is essential to getting your resume discovered by potential employers.

Optimize your resume with keywords in the job description to get your resume discovered through digital application systems (and employers), says @joderama via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

You also need to know formatting and information trends to make it past the digital gatekeepers. Your resume should be easily skimmable, results-focused, and tailored to the role in the application.

In a related discussion on CMI’s Slack channel, Headstart Copywriting’s Susan Varty shared a resume template that follows modern digital processes and trends.

The template structure, as shown in the image below, separates information into clear sections. She also details what to write in each section:

  • About: Here, you’ll introduce yourself, mention the role you’re interested in, and describe your qualifications in a relevant way.
  • Career highlights: These should be active statements that summarize the accomplishments you’re most proud of, so recruiters can skim the copy and understand who you are and what you can offer.
  • Work experience: Rather than list the roles you’ve played, use this section to describe how your work has helped previous employers achieve their business goals.

Click to download

J.T. also recommends updating your LinkedIn profile to ensure it aligns with what appears on your resume. “Recruiters pay attention to the resume and LinkedIn work history section. The information that appears there should be identical. Otherwise, they may be confused about which version is accurate,” she explains.

The information that appears on your resume should be identical to your work history section on @LinkedIn, says @JTODonnell via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Stand out with a disruptive job search approach

Amy says recruiters will read resumes – and cover letters – that make it to their desks, but they spend only a few seconds on each.

You can’t expect to compete based on skills alone. But demonstrating your personal motivation to do the job for that employer can give you an advantage, J.T. says.

Finding the best opportunities where you can convey that motivation requires a disruptive job search. The technique helps you discover a relevant connection between your passions and career intentions and communicate it to employers who stand to benefit.

The more intentional and storified approach should work well for content marketers because you’re well-equipped to follow it. It also circumvents the gatekeeping systems by giving you a more relatable connection to prospective employers.

Take a more intentional and storified approach in your #ContentMarketing job search, says @joderama via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

J.T. summarizes the disruptive job search process:

  • Pinpoint the work you’re most passionate about: Think carefully about the kinds of work you want to do, not just where you might want to do it. What lights you up? What do people come to you specifically for? This will be the centering principle for your candidate story.
  • Create a bucket list of company targets: Don’t just apply for any and every role that matches your skills and interests. Research companies to find 10 to 20 that would genuinely benefit from your unique perspectives and specialized focus.
  • Get clear on why you want to work for each company: Hearing that they’re a great place to work and offer great benefits isn’t enough to prove you understand the business and its goals. What is it about them that you’ve come to learn is different and special?
  • Make a personal connection: Think about what you can bring to the role at the company. Be specific about your knowledge of what they do, who their customers are, and how you can contribute to the business outcomes you know they want to achieve.
  • Craft the details into a cover letter: Once you’ve outlined your relevant connection points, you can put those details into a cover letter that speaks to your unique understanding of the business and the distinct value you can contribute. “When you can get that story into someone’s hands at an organization, you’ll be amazed at what can happen,” J.T. says.

(Net)work your story into a job

“People need to meet you and see continuity in what you say and do. That can’t always happen unless they get that chance to meet you in person,” Amy says.

Networking can feel one-sided and awkward when you’re under pressure to find a new role. But you can make it more productive with these tips from J.T. and Amy:

1. Turn on LinkedIn creator mode

J.T. points out that LinkedIn has pivoted itself into a creator tool. Use it to prove the points you would discuss in a cover letter and attract the right attention.

Activating creator mode on your profile tells LinkedIn’s algorithm to note (and share with others) the content you share. It also gives access to additional tools that can extend your reach.

Here’s how to turn creator mode on:

  • Click the Me icon in the nav bar at the top of your LinkedIn homepage.
  • Click View Profile.
  • Scroll down to the Resources section of your profile. If it shows “Creator mode: Off,” switch it to on.

Click Next on the Creator mode preview pop-up window.

  • Add up to 5 topics (hashtags) to indicate what you post about the most.
  • Click Done.

2. Create and share relevant content on your feed

Think about your specialization areas and speak about them regularly in your LinkedIn feed. Creating new content (or reposting your content on other platforms) on those subjects helps prove your expertise.

You can also curate and add commentary to third-party news, articles, videos, and other relevant stories. It shows you’re in touch with what’s happening in that space and have something of value to add to the conversation.

Be sure to post consistently – J.T. recommends at least once a day – to build an audience of followers.

3. Use hashtags responsibly

Using the right hashtags on your LinkedIn content can introduce your content to people who aren’t in your network. But, Amy points out, it can also help you tap into a hidden job market – roles that don’t get posted but have recruiters looking to fill them.

She explains recruiters may take this approach when they have a great opportunity that would attract a lot of candidate interest and don’t want to get bombarded with applicants.

4. Incorporate personal passions into your work persona

Attracting an audience with your thought leadership content can help you rank higher on LinkedIn searches and gain the attention of more recruiters. But since just about any job applicant can position themselves as an expert, Amy suggests taking an extra step to stand out from the pack: Cultivate a personality brand.

If you’re a regular CMI reader, you’re probably familiar with the reasons to build a personal brand (and if not, I’d highly recommend reading Ann Gynn’s definitive post on the topic). But, Amy says, a personality brand is a bit different.

As she explains, job searchers often struggle to associate their passions outside of work with the work they want to be known for. But creating stories that tie together those interests can make a person more memorable to recruiters and others who can help advance the job search.

Amy explains what this might look like: “[In my content], I talk a lot about groundedness, nature, and empathetic leadership. To me, those things are all tied together because I like to be very grounded in how I lead and very calm in how I approach difficult work situations. Or maybe you are an endurance athlete, and you can build a connection on how your love of endurance sports goes hand in hand with your strong work ethic.”

The content related to your personality brand can make your networking feel more organic. “If you’re reaching out to people in your network just to get a job, they’re going to sniff that out,” Amy says. But if they know you because you’ve shared a relatable story or something of value, they may be more willing to connect with you and help with your search.

Use your content marketing strengths to prove your value to employers

Losing a job never feels good. But with a more precise job search approach, stories that demonstrate your unique expertise, and ways to create a personal connection, your unemployment status won’t last long.

Want more help with your job search journey? Register to attend TogetHER Digital’s free virtual career fair for women in digital on Feb. 23, 2023. And for more-detailed job search help (including action plans, templates, and examples), J.T. O’Donnell is offering our readers an exclusive $20 discount on Work It Daily’s job search packages. Use code CM20 when you sign up.
Need more guidance to hone your content marketing skills? Enroll in CMI University and get 12-month on-demand access to an extensive curriculum designed to help you do your job more effectively.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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MARKETING

Pillar Pages: Why and How You Should Add Them to Your Content Strategy

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Pillar Pages: Why and How You Should Add Them to Your Content Strategy

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

In a recent study, we found that our pillar pages are magnets for links, organic traffic, and newsletter subscribers — especially compared to regular blog posts. Here are the results that both types of SEO content generated over the course of a year:

Do these results mean you should ditch your blog strategy in favor of pillar pages? Not exactly.

Here’s the catch: You really can’t have one without the other, and it all comes down to content mapping. I’ll explain exactly what I mean in this article.

What is a pillar page?

A pillar page is a piece of content that comprehensively covers a broad topic. Pillar page — also sometimes referred to as hub and spoke — content weaves together a wide range of relevant subtopics (spokes), organizes them all in one place (hub), and effectively showcases your subject matter expertise for the broad topic.

Pillar page content should be easy to navigate for readers looking to learn — at a high level — about a particular topic, but should also offer relevant resources for them to dive deeper. 

Example of related resources found on a pillar page.

It’s kind of like the choose-your-own-adventure of content marketing.

Topical authority: why it’s important

When it comes to content creation for SEO and digital marketing, you don’t want to create content around any old topic. Instead, you want to reinforce your brand’s topical authority with every new piece of content you create (be it a blog, a pillar page, an eBook, etc.).

Let’s put it this way: If you’re in the business of selling mechanical keyboards, it doesn’t make sense to publish a blog article about the best recipes for a summer BBQ. Unless you’re recommending that your customers grill and eat their mechanical keyboards, which is (highly) unlikely.

Instead, it’s more helpful to your brand — and your audience — if you cover topics related to mechanical keyboards, like:

  • What is a mechanical keyboard?

  • Mechanical keyboards vs. regular keyboards.

  • Custom mechanical keyboards.

  • How to transition to a mechanical keyboard.

  • Pros and cons of a mechanical keyboard.

By covering as many topics related to mechanical keyboards as possible, you’re building a foundation of informational content that tells search engines: “Hey, I know a lot about mechanical keyboards!”

And the more content you have that starts to rank for important search terms related to mechanical keyboards, the more likely searchers will see you as an authority on the subject. Ideally, they will start coming back to your content when they need to learn more about this specific topic.

Pillar pages + blogs = a match made in content marketing heaven

A well-executed and organized pillar page is one of the best ways to showcase to your audience (and search engines) that you have topical authority in a specific area. Blog posts help you achieve topical authority by allowing you to cover a wide range of relevant subtopics in great detail, and pillar pages organize all of that content into a nice, user-friendly package.

Let’s take a look at this tactic in action.

We built our content marketing guide as a pillar page, which allowed us to cover a slew of subtopics related to the broader topic of content marketing, all in one piece of collateral. 

All of these subtopics are organized into sections on the page, with a hyperlinked table of contents at the top to allow readers to pick and choose exactly what they’d like to learn about:

Then, throughout the page, we offer readers the opportunity to go deeper and learn more about each subtopic by linking to relevant blog content:

What is content mapping?

A pillar page is a great tactic if you’ve got a lot of existing blog content all focused on a particular parent topic. It’s one of our favorite ways at Brafton to repurpose and repromote our blogs.

But you can also create a pillar page with all brand-new content — it’ll just take more research, planning, and production time to complete.

Enter: content mapping.

Content mapping is the process of assessing your target audience, understanding what they are trying to achieve, and helping them along that journey with branded educational and commercial content. Its scope can span the entirety of your content marketing strategy or a single piece of pillar page content.

Why content mapping matters in content marketing

The planning (or content mapping) of a pillar page is just as important as the research done to choose the correct keyword to target for your business.

Pillar pages are kind of like the books of the marketing world. If you were an expert birder, for example, you wouldn’t set out to write a book about bird-watching without doing any research. Especially if you’ve spent a lot of time writing and publishing articles about bird-watching on your blog. You’d want to understand a few things before starting that book, like:

  1. Which of my blog posts generated the most interest from new and returning readers? (i.e. pages with the most new and returning visitors, as seen in your web analytics tool).

  2. Which blogs kept readers coming back for more? (i.e. pages with the most newsletter subscriptions, or the best newsletter subscription rates).

  3. Which blogs did my industry peers find most useful? (i.e. pages with the greatest number of high-quality referring domains and backlinks).

These questions can be answered by looking through your web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Moz Pro.

Example of content analysis by top linking domains.

You’d also want to understand what the competition looks like before you spend dozens of hours writing thousands of words to fill a book.

You’d want to answer questions, like:

  1. What do my competitors’ books on bird-watching look like? (i.e. the types of bird-watching subtopics the page 1 results cover).

  2. What does Google think searchers want to see when they search for bird-watching? (i.e. the types of content that are found on page 1 for your target keyword — and surprise! it might not be books).

  3. How long and detailed are my competitors’ books? (i.e. the level of complexity and comprehensiveness of the content ranking on page 1).

These questions can be answered by manually reviewing relevant SERPs and utilizing TF-IDF tools like Clearscope or MarketMuse to understand the breadth of subtopics and types of content ranking on the first page.

Example of manual SERP inspection.
Example of TF-IDF content analysis.

Once you understand which of your content performs best and which content Google and other search engines prefer to rank highly for your target keyword, you can start piecing together a plan for your pillar page.

A note about internal linking

Before we dive into the how-to portion of this piece, we should also acknowledge the importance of internal linking to this whole process.

And I’m not just talking about throwing in a link to a related product/service at the end of the page and calling it a day. The internal linking structure of your pillar page is literally the glue that holds the whole thing together. It helps readers easily navigate to related resources to continue learning from your brand. And it helps search engines understand the relationship between your pillar page content and the additional content you’re highlighting on the page.

But when it comes to internal linking, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Including too many internal links throughout your content can cause a frustrating user experience or look spammy, so use caution and make sure the only internal linking you do on the page is extremely relevant to the parent topic.

If you’re unsure whether or not you’ve got too many internal links on the page, you can run it through Moz’s On-Page Grader tool, which automatically counts the number of links on your page and flags if you’ve got too many.

Tip: Keep in mind that this tool will count ALL links found on the page, including those in your main navigation and footer, so the “Too Many Links” warning could be a false positive.

As Moz explains: Google recommends you don’t go over 100 internal links per page, because it can dilute the SEO value sent from the pillar page to the linked pages, and it can also make it more challenging for users and crawlers to navigate all of the content.

Two data-led ways to map out content for a pillar page

There are a couple of different ways to approach the construction of this type of content, but they each rely on organic search data to lead the way.

1. Planning a pillar page and related resources (all from scratch)

Let’s pretend you don’t have any prior content created about a particular topic. You’re basically starting from scratch. Let’s also assume the topic you’ve selected is both core and commercially valuable to your business, and that your domain realistically has a chance of ranking on page 1 for that keyword.

Let’s say you’re a pet food company and one of your main products is cat dental treats. Once you’ve determined that this is the exact keyword you want to target (“cat dental treats”), it’s time to start your research.

Step 1: Manually inspect SERP to understand searcher intent

First, we’ll start by manually inspecting the first SERP for this keyword, and answering the following questions:

  1. What types of content are on the first page of results?

  2. Why are people searching for “cat dental treats”?

By answering these two questions in our SERP analysis, we’ll make sure that our plan for creating a pillar page to rank actually makes sense and it’s what searchers want to see on the SERP. We’ll also better understand all the reasons behind why someone might search this keyword (and we can then address those reasons in the content we create).

So let’s answer these questions:

Question 1: What types of content are on the first page of results?

Answer 1: The first SERP includes a variety of product ads, a People Also Ask section, and a selection of organic blogs and product pages.

Types of content found on the SERP for “cat dental treats.”

Question 2: Why are people searching for “cat dental treats”?

Answer 2: From a quick analysis of the SERP, we can deduce that people want to know why and how cat dental treats are important to a cat’s health, and they also want to know which cat dental treats work best. Perhaps most importantly, it’s highly likely that they plan to purchase cat dental treats for their furry companion(s) in the near future.

Step 2: Select related keyword ideas for blog content

Since you don’t just want to create a pillar page for just the primary keyword, you also want to pinpoint a selection of related subtopics to be written as blog content.

For this part of the process, head over to your keyword research tool, plug in your target keyword and (with an eye for topics that you’re well-suited to cover), jot down a list of keywords and phrases.

Here’s our list of potential blog topics:

  • Best cat dental treats.

  • How do cat dental treats work?

  • What to look for in cat dental treats.

  • Do cat dental treats work?

  • Can cat dental treats replace brushing?

  • Vet recommended cat dental treats.

  • Grain-free cat dental treats.

Step 3: Choose subtopics to cover in your pillar page content

Next, you’ll want to review the subtopics mentioned in the top ranking results. While this process can be done manually (by clicking into each result on the SERP and jotting down the topics mentioned), a TF-IDF tool like MarketMuse makes this part of the process much quicker:

These TF-IDF tools analyze the top 10-20 results for your target keyword and automatically present the common subtopics mentioned in each piece. This gives you a very good understanding of what you’ll also need to cover in your piece to compete for a top-ranking spot.

Here’s the list of subtopics we’ll want to cover in this pillar page, based on our MarketMuse data:

Step 4: Create your outline and plan content

Now it’s time to connect the dots from your research. The best way to do this is to start by structuring your pillar page outline, and then going back in and filling in the areas where you want to create supporting blog content.

Here’s an example of what the end result might look like:

H1: The Complete Guide to Cat Dental Treats: For a Fresh-Breath Feline Friend

H2: What are cat dental treats and how do they work?

  • Topics to cover: Cat dental treats
  • Blog post to support section:
    Title: How Cat Dental Treats Work (& Why Your Kitty Needs Them)
    Keyword: how do cat dental treats work

H2: What are the benefits of cat dental treats?

  • Topics to cover: Clean teeth, fresh breath
  • Blog post to support section:
    Title: Do Cat Dental Treats Really Work? (Here’s What The Experts Say)
    Keyword: do cat dental treats work

H2: Are cat dental treats an acceptable alternative to brushing?

  • Topics to cover: Cats dental health
  • Blog post to support section:
    Title: Cat Dental Treats Vs Brushing: Everything You Need To Know
    Keyword: can cat dental treats replace brushing

H2: Do vets recommend using cat dental treats?

  • Topics to cover: Veterinary oral health council
  • Blog post to support section:
    Title: Vets Recommend Using Cat Dental Treats — Here’s Why
    Keyword: vet recommended cat dental treats

H2: The best cat dental treats to try

  • Topics to cover: Purina dentalife, Feline greenies, natural ingredients, artificial flavors.
  • Blog post to support section:
    Title: 5 Of The Best Cat Dental Treats & Why We Love Them
    Keyword: best cat dental treats
  • Blog post #2 to support section:
    Title: What To Look For In Cat Dental Treats
    Keyword: what to look for in cat dental treats

Creating an outline for a pillar page isn’t easy, but once laid out, it helps us understand the content that needs to be produced to bring the whole thing to life.

Here is our list of content to create (based on our outline):

  1. Pillar page: The Complete Guide to Cat Dental Treats: For a Fresh-Breath Feline Friend

  2. Blog #1: How Cat Dental Treats Work (& Why Your Kitty Needs Them)

  3. Blog #2: Do Cat Dental Treats Really Work? (Here’s What The Experts Say)

  4. Blog #3: Cat Dental Treats Vs Brushing: Everything You Need To Know

  5. Blog #4: Vets Recommend Using Cat Dental Treats — Here’s Why

  6. Blog #5: 5 Of The Best Cat Dental Treats & Why We Love Them

  7. Blog #6: What To Look For In Cat Dental Treats

The best way to tackle this list of content is to create and publish the six blog posts first, then once they are live, you can write the pillar page content, placing hyperlinks to the supporting blog posts directly in the copy.

2. Planning a pillar page from top performing content

For this next method, let’s say you already have a ton of published content about a particular topic, and you’d like to reuse and repromote that content within a pillar page dedicated to that topic.

All of the steps in the previous process apply, but for Step 2 (Select Related Keyword Ideas for Blog Content), do the following:

First, you’ll want to understand which of your existing pieces generates the most interest from your audience. Let’s use our web analytics data for this. In this example, we’ll look at Google Search Console data because it shows the actual search performance of our website content.

Let’s use the topic of “content creation” as our desired pillar page keyword. Search for the query in Google Search Console (choose the “Queries containing” option): 

Pull all of the pages currently generating impressions and clicks from terms containing your topic, placing those with the highest clicks and impressions at the top of your list. Here’s what this might look like: 

As you can see, most of the content we’ve created that also ranks for keywords containing “content creation” is blog content. These will be highly useful as related resources on our pillar page.

Now, go back to your TF-IDF tool and select the subtopics related to “content creation” that you want to cover in your pillar page. Example:

  • Social media content

  • Content creation tool

  • Content creators

  • Content strategy

  • Content creation process

Finally, map your existing blog content to those “content creation” subtopics. The initial mapping may look something like this:

You may not be able to map each blog perfectly to the subtopic you’re covering in your pillar page, but that’s  OK. What’s important is that you’re providing readers with relevant content (where applicable) and that content, as you’ve seen in your Search Console data, is already proven to perform well with your organic search audience.

Pillar page planning templates and resources

Pillar pages take an incredible amount of time and planning to execute, but they are worth every penny.

Here’s an example of the success we saw after producing one of our more recent pillar pages, “How to Rank on Google:”

Growth of referring domains and links to the page since its launch in April 2022.

Here’s a template of the outline used to bring the page to life (and you can use it for your own pillar page). Just make a copy and off you go. Good luck!

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11 Free Email Hacks to Step Up Your Productivity

If you’re anything like me, a solid portion of your day is sifting through your inbox, sending emails to junk, and responding to time-sensitive emails.

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