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Is an Unbranded Content Site Worth It? All Signs Point to Yes

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What’s the future for unbranded content sites? SAP runs an unbranded content site whose future’s so bright, that the team behind it had better wear shades (to paraphrase that old Timbuk 3 song).

The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience earned the tech brand a finalist nod for Best Content Strategy and Best Multi-Author Blog in the 2021 Content Marketing Awards (CMAs).

And it’s easy to see why. Total page views for the blog hit the high six figures (767,190 in 2020 and 1,177,123 in 2021). Top-performing content generates between 5,000 and 10,000 views a month.

And those aren’t even the most impressive stats.

Visitors spend an average of eight minutes on the site. Almost all (99%) of its archives get views every month. And its bounce rate has never been over 5%, as SAP explained in their CMA nomination.

Seventy percent of traffic comes from organic search. The other 30% arrives from direct or bookmarked links, with social shares and an email newsletter rounding out the traffic sources.

“We never spent any money on advertising, campaigns, or promoted content,” says Jenn VandeZande, the site’s editor-in-chief.

We never spent any money on advertising, campaigns, or promoted #content, says @jennvzande of @SAP_CX impressively successful #ContentMarketing hub via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

So how did the site become such a success? Jenn shared some principles and practices behind the content marketing strategy.

Downplay the brand to play up trust

The robust content hub operates under a non-branded URL. The (barely noticeable) SAP connection comes through employees, customers, partners, and industry experts they’ve onboarded as freelance writers.

SAP created the site based on two basic principles, and it’s never swayed from these:

  • To become an authoritative source and community for all things commerce and business related by focusing on great content that answers business challenges in an unbiased way
  • To use journalistic standards with an SEO-first, evergreen content strategy

Jenn says the site’s independence is “sacred” because return readers and subscribers expect it and because of the critical role of trust in business relationships: “You can lose a customer in an instant by breaking that trust.

“Nobody wants to be sold when they’re trying to research a problem – at least in the beginning stages. SAP is keeping their eyes on the future, focusing on the importance of unbranded content to lead into the next step of the journey.”

The site draws interest from searchers and a faithful readership of C-suite executives and other leaders with decision-making responsibilities. SAP has found readers come back to places they trust when it’s time to purchase.

@SAP_CX has found people return to the places they trust when it’s time to purchase, says @jennvzande via @AnnGynn and @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

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Use data to please readers and leaders

The initial buy-in was simple. SAP likes forward-thinking, Jenn says, and the site represented a new concept. As the site grew and content competition increased, data led to continued support from SAP leadership.

“It turns out that doing this day after day, year after year, earns loyalty, which then earns sales deals, which has also helped earn executive buy-in,” Jenn says. “It’s a long game with big dividends.”

Data drives content decisions, too. “Most of us on the team are data nerds, and we live by it,” Jenn says.

The hardest decisions she’s had to make involved ideas that sounded great in concept but didn’t resonate with readers. “While it bummed me out to pull the plug on these things, the data made the decision easy.”

To arrive at content decisions, the data nerds looked beyond the general (though impressive) metrics like visits, views, time on site, etc. They wanted a collection of data that would help them better understand their audience’s behavior, such as:

  • Which posts get the most clicks?
  • Where exactly on the site do most people click?
  • What content leads people to the next step on their SAP journey?
  • What parts of the site do they engage with and which ones do they not?

The content team’s developer Aaron Graham created a custom plugin to track those metrics.

Now, they can drill down and identify the typical paths visitors follow on the site and what works and what doesn’t. “It’s been a big game-changer for us and helps us to stay focused on what readers want,” Jenn says.

That doesn’t mean their data game is perfect. Attribution remains the unicorn the team continues to chase. Ultimately, they’d love to be able to show that a reader started on X post and then purchased a product at some point in their journey.

But Jenn prizes the anecdotal evidence from readers who forward that day’s newsletter to her with a comment about loving the subject, the content, etc. “I save those emails in a folder because they’re a great reminder of the purpose of what we do,” she says.

It’s also immediate feedback that can prompt a change. “We’re always tweaking copy, reoptimizing, testing, so when we get feedback that folks love what we’ve written, we use it,” Jenn says.

And the feedback isn’t always positive. One reader complained about the subject line “Not new, not normal” and explained why. Jenn thanked the engaged reader for sharing her opinion. The team assumed others might feel the same. “It can be easy to lose perspective when you’re on the inside looking out,” Jenn says.

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Act big, even if you’re small

SAP is a global company with over 100,000 employees, but The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience site doesn’t involve a big team. Executive Editor Marcia Savage manages the calendar, day-to-day content scheduling, and editing and contributes some writing. She’s the other full-time employee besides Jenn and Aaron (the team developer). Contractors help with site images, and the team relies on TAG Communication Services for freelancers.

Ideas come from anywhere – the content team, the contractors, customers, employees, and even competitors. Freelancers craft the content, then Marcia and Jenn edit it for SEO, tone, etc. They also reoptimize and update content every day.

Jenn also keeps an eye out for potential writers on social media. If she reads something interesting, she reaches out to invite the author to contribute. “We’ve gotten some fantastic bylines this way,” she says.

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Grow the platform

A couple of years ago, The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience added more specific sections at the top of the navigation bar based on the topics most critical to their audience:

  • Commerce
  • Customer experience
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Service
  • Purpose

“Those sections have turned out really well and been useful for our readers … They’ve proven to be a simple way for the user to find what they’re looking for and to discover content they didn’t know they were looking for,” Jenn says. “We also discuss the topics that are important to our audience, focusing on purpose and the whole self. In doing so, our authentic tone has won over our subscribers and advocates.

But that isn’t the only growth for the original content hub. The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience team launched a podcast that features guests discussing the site’s most engaging content.

Given a prompt from contributor Jesús Hoyos, who wondered about content in languages other than English, the team is now working on updating its content into regions.

Without a big budget for translation, Jenn uses Google Translate for the content on the site, then sends it to a peer in a region with that language to review before she publishes it.

Inclusion is really important to us, so getting it right has taken time and is constantly evolving, but it’s made a difference for our readers,” Jenn says.

And that’s just one more reason why The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience shines so bright.

All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.

Learn more from Jenn VandeZande at Content Marketing World this fall, where she’s presenting the session CTR, ROI, KPI, Cry: Breaking Through Jargon to Deliver Kick-Ass Results. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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SEO Recap: ChatGPT – Moz

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SEO Recap: ChatGPT - Moz

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.

We’re back with another SEO recap with Tom Capper! As you’ve probably noticed, ChatGPT has taken the search world by storm. But does GPT-3 mean the end of SEO as we know it, or are there ways to incorporate the AI model into our daily work?

Tom tries to tackle this question by demonstrating how he plans to use ChatGPT, along with other natural language processing systems, in his own work.

Be sure to check out the commentary on ChatGPT from our other Moz subject matter experts, Dr. Pete Meyers and Miriam Ellis:

Video Transcription

Hello, I’m Tom Capper from Moz, and today I want to talk about how I’m going to use ChatGPT and NLP, natural language processing apps in general in my day-to-day SEO tasks. This has been a big topic recently. I’ve seen a lot of people tweeting about this. Some people saying SEO is dead. This is the beginning of the end. As always, I think that’s maybe a bit too dramatic, but there are some big ways that this can be useful and that this will affect SEOs in their industry I think.

The first question I want to ask is, “Can we use this instead of Google? Are people going to start using NLP-powered assistants instead of search engines in a big way?”

So just being meta here, I asked ChatGPT to write a song about Google’s search results being ruined by an influx of AI content. This is obviously something that Google themselves is really concerned about, right? They talked about it with the helpful content update. Now I think the fact that we can be concerned about AI content ruining search results suggests there might be some problem with an AI-powered search engine, right?

No, AI powered is maybe the wrong term because, obviously, Google themselves are at some degree AI powered, but I mean pure, AI-written results. So for example, I stole this from a tweet and I’ve credited the account below, but if you ask it, “What is the fastest marine mammal,” the fastest marine mammal is the peregrine falcon. That is not a mammal.

Then it mentions the sailfish, which is not a mammal, and marlin, which is not a mammal. This is a particularly bad result. Whereas if I google this, great, that is an example of a fast mammal. We’re at least on the right track. Similarly, if I’m looking for a specific article on a specific web page, I’ve searched Atlantic article about the declining quality of search results, and even though clearly, if you look at the other information that it surfaces, clearly this has consumed some kind of selection of web pages, it’s refusing to acknowledge that here.

Whereas obviously, if I google that, very easy. I can find what I’m looking for straightaway. So yeah, maybe I’m not going to just replace Google with ChatGPT just yet. What about writing copy though? What about I’m fed up of having to manually write blog posts about content that I want to rank for or that I think my audience want to hear about?

So I’m just going to outsource it to a robot. Well, here’s an example. “Write a blog post about the future of NLP in SEO.” Now, at first glance, this looks okay. But actually, when you look a little bit closer, it’s a bluff. It’s vapid. It doesn’t really use any concrete examples.

It doesn’t really read the room. It doesn’t talk about sort of how our industry might be affected more broadly. It just uses some quick tactical examples. It’s not the worst article you could find. I’m sure if you pulled a teenager off the street who knew nothing about this and asked them to write about it, they would probably produce something worse than this.

But on the other hand, if you saw an article on the Moz blog or on another industry credible source, you’d expect something better than this. So yeah, I don’t think that we’re going to be using ChatGPT as our copywriter right away, but there may be some nuance, which I’ll get to in just a bit. What about writing descriptions though?

I thought this was pretty good. “Write a meta description for my Moz blog post about SEO predictions in 2023.” Now I could do a lot better with the query here. I could tell it what my post is going to be about for starters so that it could write a more specific description. But this is already quite good. It’s the right length for a meta description. It covers the bases.

It’s inviting people to click. It makes it sound exciting. This is pretty good. Now you’d obviously want a human to review these for the factual issues we talked about before. But I think a human plus the AI is going to be more effective here than just the human or at least more time efficient. So that’s a potential use case.

What about ideating copy? So I said that the pure ChatGPT written blog post wasn’t great. But one thing I could do is get it to give me a list of subtopics or subheadings that I might want to include in my own post. So here, although it is not the best blog post in the world, it has covered some topics that I might not have thought about.

So I might want to include those in my own post. So instead of asking it “write a blog post about the future of NLP in SEO,” I could say, “Write a bullet point list of ways NLP might affect SEO.” Then I could steal some of those, if I hadn’t thought of them myself, as potential topics that my own ideation had missed. Similarly you could use that as a copywriter’s brief or something like that, again in addition to human participation.

My favorite use case so far though is coding. So personally, I’m not a developer by trade, but often, like many SEOs, I have to interact with SQL, with JavaScript, with Excel, and these kinds of things. That often results in a lot of googling from first principles for someone less experienced in those areas.

Even experienced coders often find themselves falling back to Stack Overflow and this kind of thing. So here’s an example. “Write an SQL query that extracts all the rows from table2 where column A also exists as a row in table1.” So that’s quite complex. I’ve not really made an effort to make that query very easy to understand, but the result is actually pretty good.

It’s a working piece of SQL with an explanation below. This is much quicker than me figuring this out from first principles, and I can take that myself and work it into something good. So again, this is AI plus human rather than just AI or just human being the most effective. I could get a lot of value out of this, and I definitely will. I think in the future, rather than starting by going to Stack Overflow or googling something where I hope to see a Stack Overflow result, I think I would start just by asking here and then work from there.

That’s all. So that’s how I think I’m going to be using ChatGPT in my day-to-day SEO tasks. I’d love to hear what you’ve got planned. Let me know. Thanks.

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What Is a White Paper? [FAQs]

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What Is a White Paper? [FAQs]

The definition of a whitepaper varies heavily from industry to industry, which can be a little confusing for marketers looking to create one for their business.

The old-school definition comes from politics, where it means a legislative document explaining and supporting a particular political solution.

(more…)

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HubSpot to cut around 7% of workforce by end of Q1

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HubSpot to cut around 7% of workforce by end of Q1

This afternoon, HubSpot announced it would be making cuts in its workforce during Q1 2023. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing it put the scale of the cuts at 7%. This would mean losing around 500 employees from its workforce of over 7,000.

The reasons cited were a downward trend in business and a “faster deceleration” than expected following positive growth during the pandemic.

Layoffs follow swift growth. Indeed, the layoffs need to be seen against the background of very rapid growth at the company. The size of the workforce at HubSpot grew over 40% between the end of 2020 and today.

In 2022 it announced a major expansion of its international presence with new operations in Spain and the Netherlands and a plan to expand its Canadian presence in 2023.

Why we care. The current cool down in the martech space, and in tech generally, does need to be seen in the context of startling leaps forward made under pandemic conditions. As the importance of digital marketing and the digital environment in general grew at an unprecedented rate, vendors saw opportunities for growth.

The world is re-adjusting. We may not be seeing a bubble burst, but we are seeing a bubble undergoing some slight but predictable deflation.


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About the author

Kim Davis

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space.

He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020.

Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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