In this episode of How I Work, Josh talks with Ben Sailer, Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule – a family of agile marketing tools that help marketing teams stay focused and deliver projects on time. Tune in to hear Ben’s ideas on creating and sustaining a finely tuned seo and content program.
Check out Ben’s LinkedIn Profile.
Josh Becerra: Hi, everybody. This is Josh Becerra from Augurian. This is episode 13 of How I Work with Ben Sailer, Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule, a work management software platform designed for marketers. Thanks for being here, Ben.
Ben Sailer: Yes, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Josh: I know your path started in journalism, but you somehow found your way to marketing. Let’s talk a little bit about the journey and how you ended up at CoSchedule.
Ben: Yes, absolutely. You are correct that my path started in the journalism world. I went to college for Journalism and PR. Initially, I really wanted to be a music journalist, which I knew was a long shot. There’s not a ton of full-time gigs in that field. It’s still something that I do on the side, just like on a freelance basis.
Josh: What kind of music? What’s your jam?
Ben: Mostly rock music. Mostly underground punk and indie rock bands. It’s a very fulfilling passion project, if not a particularly financially lucrative one. I knew from the beginning when I was in school, that I would probably need to find some other field to get into. That was why I added a PR emphasis to my degree because I saw the writing on the wall for the journalism industry. I knew that journalism, in general, was going to be a difficult field to break into and to be able to build a sustainable living in that area, but I knew that the skillset was relevant elsewhere, like in PR and other areas in marketing.
By the time I graduated, I had steered my skillset more in that direction and had gotten some relevant internships and things like that and made sure I had a good resume and a good portfolio when it was time to actually start actively job hunting. To make matters more difficult, I also graduated in the middle of a recession. There wasn’t really a lot of hiring going on in general. It took me about 15 months after graduating to get my first career job, which was just as a content writer at an e-commerce company. I spent a couple of years there, and then I went to an agency called Sundog Interactive, which was recently acquired by Proficient, just a very large agency with locations all over the country.
I spent a little over a year and a half there working with manufacturing and healthcare and financial services companies, primarily. Then while I was there, Garrett Moon, the CEO and Co-Founder here at CoSchedule just sent me a message out of the blue on LinkedIn, just said, “Hey, we’re a new startup here in North Dakota, where we’re based. Would love to just talk to you about what you’ve got going on and what we’ve got going on and maybe see if there’s a fit.” I actually ignored it, initially, just because I wasn’t looking to move on from where I was at at the time. We all get all kinds of spam and stuff in our LinkedIn. It’s easy to tune it out sometimes, but I’ve learned not to do that so easily.
Josh: That’s how we got connected.
Ben: Exactly. Exactly. I’ve gotten so many cool opportunities through that platform, I think, for as much as people like to dunk on it.
Josh: [unintelligible 00:04:43] was compelling, and you showed up at CoSchedule. What were you? Employee number what?
Ben: I was employee number 26 with the company overall, but I think I was maybe employee, probably, seven or eight working on CoSchedule. Garrett and our other co-founder, Justin Walsh, they ran an agency called Todaymade. It was like a technology agency and they actually developed CoSchedule as a WordPress plugin. It was a side project, this other product that they were selling on the side.
When they saw that CoSchedule was just picking up so much steam and it really looked like it was something that had the opportunity to flourish as its own company, they sold off the agency, the branding, the IP, I guess, you would call it, but kept all the talent and just rolled all their people into CoSchedule. That happened a week after I had started with the company, thinking that CoSchedule was going to be like the small thing, and then they rolled 80% of their headcount into this one thing. I was like, “Oh, this has got to be something pretty serious that I’ve gotten myself into here.”
Josh: Yes, it’s awesome. It’s great when a side project does not go boom, and all of a sudden it becomes the core business. A background as a writer, thought about journalism, love writing. You’re a big believer in SEO and content. I know that CoSchedule has amazing content and that program that you’re running is quite successful. Why don’t you tell us the top three things you try to accomplish with every piece that you’re publishing?
Ben: Yes, absolutely. Upholding what we call our standards of performance for content with everything we publish is extremely important. It’s really what I tie a lot of our success back to. Three things that we want to accomplish with every piece we publish, first and foremost, it needs to be actionable. I feel like that’s a vague concept to a lot of people.
Josh: Talk about that.
Ben: Yes, it means different things to different people, but what it means to us is that every piece, if it’s going to tell the reader to do something, it should also show them how to do it.
Josh: Got it.
Ben: A lot of content out there will just cram as many ideas as it can into a post, but it will leave the reader with really no idea how to actually go implement anything, because it’s just jumping from one thing to the next very rapidly, or it’ll just tell you, “Hey, these are things that you should do,” and then you’re just on your own to figure it out.
Josh: Okay, so make it actionable. That’s one.
Ben: Yes. Two, we want to make sure it’s comprehensive. That’s really not as groundbreaking of a concept now as it was five years ago, because I think the industry has generally caught up to understanding the value of comprehensiveness. I think a lot of people take that to mean your content should be really long. What we take it to mean and what we think marketers should take that to mean is that you don’t leave out anything that’s important in that content. Google’s goal is to get people the information they need in as few clicks as possible. When you create something that can answer the whole query in one click, you’re serving the user’s goals, you’re serving Google’s goals, you’re serving your own goals. That’s really important.
Ben: The last thing, and this gets to be subjective anytime you’re talking about quality, but we want to feel like everything that we publish is the best thing on the internet for that topic. If it’s not objectively the best, at the very least, we want to make sure that it is introducing something to the internet that does not exist already. There needs to be either a unique angle or just something in there that is missing.
Josh: I love that. We talk about you try to be the best answer, right?
Ben: Right, yes.
Josh: That is really what you’re going for. Yes, sometimes there’s other great answers, but if you can have a unique point of view on something, that’s where Google will start paying attention to you, you might end up showing up in some of those snippets at the top and all kinds of good stuff. With this finely tuned SEO content program that you have going, are there any new inbound initiatives or ideas that you’re thinking about, that you’re excited about for the next 12 to 18 months?
Ben: Yes, absolutely, there are several. At this point, our blog has a lot of content on it. We have over 600 blog posts that are just focused on providing value to an audience and are just meant to be really strong educational pieces on just how to do marketing, in general. I can see us in the next 12 to 18 months really pivoting away from maybe not publishing so much stuff that’s new, but rather just building upon what we already have, and really making sure that our most important content or our top performing content remains our top performing content. Just making sure that we’re refreshing things, keeping things up to date, and not letting that content rot.
Something else that we’ve seen success with, rather than just creating blog posts is creating more robust, I think the term that people use is topic clusters or content clusters, but multi-page guides, just more in-depth resources. That’s something we’ve seen some success with, and we’ll likely do more of that. Again, it gets back to being the best answer. If you have a broad topic that warrants something that robust, that’s definitely something that we want to do more of. Then also we’re starting to pay more attention to CRO, making sure that our content is not only providing a good experience for readers and for potential customers and current customers, but making sure that that content is converting the way that we want.
Really, I would say we’re really going to be focused on making the most out of what we have. I think sometimes as marketers, particularly in content marketing, it’s easy to get caught up in this rat race of thinking that you’ve always got to be doing something new, and then just shipping something and then immediately moving on to the next thing. I think that’s something we’ve probably fallen prey to a bit over the years. It’s a pivot that we’re making, just as our company, and as our content marketing operation that’s the direction I see us moving in.
Josh: I love that. With 600 blog posts, I’m sure you got lots of stuff to refresh, and you probably have some really high performing things. We’ve definitely seen the positive outcomes of doing blog refreshes, of doing CRO. Definitely think you’re on the right track there. That sounds awesome. When prepping for today, you mentioned, I wrote down a quote, you said, “The way you get things right is by getting things wrong sometimes and learning.” Tell us a little bit about what you mean by that?
Ben: I think that it’s really easy to look at what companies you admire are doing or what your competitors are doing and to think, “These people really have it figured out and we are so far behind.” The reality is that what you don’t see and what’s not always public is you don’t see the litany of mistakes that people make on the way to getting to that point where the output is very polished and at least has the appearance of being successful.
As a result, I think what that drives marketers to do is they won’t ship anything that’s not perfect. They won’t ship anything that they don’t think is on par with what these other companies are doing. It’s really unfortunate because the way that you find success with SEO and content marketing is you have to do lots of small things very quickly and learn as much as you can from those things.
Try to find just the little sparks that indicate that certain things might work well for you, if you were to put more resources into them. I think what a lot of marketers do is they get it backwards and they want to throw lots of resources into a perfect thing, only to then find out that something was off with their strategy, or that thing wasn’t really what people wanted. They burn a lot of time and money taking guesses rather than testing things to find what’s going to work first. That’s what that means.
Josh: I think, for us, from our perspective, especially in SEO is you can read a lot of blogs about, “Hey, this is a best practice, or this is what’s working now, or here’s a new strategy or tactic that somebody has vetted. Everybody should start adopting this.” While all of those things are great, from Augurian’s perspective, we like to test against those things like, “You’re telling us that we need to do these things.”
We say, “Is that actually true?” We’ll do some testing, not just following best practices. Then the flip side of that is, if all you do is follow those best practices, then you’re always on the end of that adoption curve. Where you really can see success with SEO is if you challenge yourself to be at the innovative side of that adoption curve, where you’re an early adopter, where you’re trying to test things yourself, or you’re paying attention to some of the very early adopters and testing what they’re trying to test.
Because that’s where of that bell curve, you’re on the side where it’s just starting to go up and innovate and where you’re adopting best practices that now have been blogged about by 10 people, Search Engine Land, or whatever, tail end of that adoption curve. You might get some benefits, but it’s not the same as if you’re an early adopter. I totally get what you’re saying about trying to do new things, and you might end up failing, but that’s okay because the things that you do get right will have a compounding lasting effect.
Ben: Yes, absolutely. You’re not going to get it right all the time. That’s also not the point. I think you really nailed it just in the way you articulated that, failure is part of the process. It’s a lot better to fail at something small, and move on to a different idea, or to refine that idea than it is to go all in on something that you were told was going to work or that you were told is a best practice, or whatever the case may be. To have that fail, that’s a lot more costly, and a lot more stressful, and just anxiety inducing, than shipping something quick, the thing that you ship might not look the best, it might not be perfect, but that’s okay.
If you can get comfortable with just skinning your knees a few times before you get it right, then that’s how all those companies that people think are so genius, that’s how they get there. You don’t have to be a wildly innovative creative mind, necessarily, to get the results that those companies do. You just have to have a culture of testing and a healthy tolerance for failure. Like you said, that’s what keeps you ahead of the curve. If you’re just following what other people are doing, you’re already behind, and you’re never going to get off that hamster wheel of just constantly feeling like you’re never quite getting it right and that someone else is always two steps ahead of you.
I think if you can not worry about that so much and just focus on trying to find what’s going to work for you, at least, what I found is sometimes that will lead you to doing things that cut against the grain of public opinion a little bit, because you can see they work in your specific circumstance. It might also mean doing things that really aren’t that groundbreaking at all just because they work. Sometimes best practices are best practices for a reason. You want to validate that against your own experience like you were saying. Somewhere in the middle there that’s where you really find success.
Josh: Cool. Last question. CoSchedule, you guys are doing a lot of awesome things. One thing I like to ask guests is who are you paying attention to? You said you look around and you see other companies that are doing cool things and you think they have it right. There are those kinds of companies. Tell us, who do you think is doing an amazing job at marketing online or who’s killing it right now?
Ben: Absolutely. There’s a lot of names and a lot of companies I can throw out there, but I’ll maybe just focus on a few. One of my favorites right now is Ahrefs or Ahrefs. I actually don’t know how they pronounce it. I always feel like I’m getting it wrong.
Josh: I’m not going to try.
Ben: We know who we’re talking about. That’s the SEO software we use. I think they make a really great product and I think they have a very smart product strategy. The features that they add and the enhancements that they make always strike me as being very smart and focused on the right things. Also, their content, they don’t really do anything wildly groundbreaking by any means, but everything they do is extremely good and very smart and very insightful data backs. If I see a blog post from their blog, I know that that’s going to be a good post that I’m probably going to learn something from. I really think that they’re really setting a really good example, I think, of how to do things the right way.
They would be one for sure. Someone else that I like on LinkedIn John Bonini from Data Box. It’s a pretty low cost. I think it’s $10 a month. He has a side hustle called Some Good Content. Everything that he posts on LinkedIn is just consistently some of the best content marketing education I think that anyone out there is really putting out right now. Again, I feel like he’s consistently focused on sharing the right things that people actually need to be thinking about and actually goes to the next step into actually showing people how to do those things. I think that he’s definitely somebody worth looking up and the Data Box blog in general, I think, does a really great job.
The way that they handle expert roundups, in particular, I think is really good. We’ve all seen plenty of pieces that are 50 random tips from a bunch of people in the industry. It’s just a disjointed mess of random advice. Sometimes it’s useful and I’m sure it drives results because you have so many people that are included who are then going to want to promote it and so it gets amplified that way. They’ll round up all their quotes and tips and things from industry thought leaders and whatever, but they’re really good at taking all of that and stitching it into an actual coherent narrative. It’s not just a copy-paste list of a bunch of stuff people said. There’s actually a narrative structure to it.
Josh: I like that.
Ben: It’s such a simple thing, but no one else really does it that I can see. Then, lastly, I would say just an example of a company doing really good content marketing, the Zapier blog is top-notch. I have hired freelancers, not solely because they had Zapier in their portfolio, but that was a really strong indicator that those writers know what they’re doing because I think that blog has set such a high standard for themselves. They don’t miss when they publish. It’s always really good stuff.
I think that they’re another really good example of a company to look at. I guess the one last example I’ll throw your way because all of those examples are very focused on SAS. For a company that’s outside that space, my favorite brand doing marketing on the internet that I will talk about any time I get the chance to do so–
Josh: Like today?
Ben: Like today. Like this conversation we’re having right now.
Josh: Let’s hear it.
Ben: This company called Sweetwater, they’re a musical instrument e-commerce company. I think if you were to go on their site, there wouldn’t really be anything about it that immediately would jump out as being exceptional in any way. If you actually try shopping around on their site and you actually buy something from them, everything that they do from their paid ads strategy, their SEO strategy, their inbound content marketing strategy. Their content is usually pretty good. Their YouTube channel is great.
All the things that they do to build an audience, to bring people into their site and then the whole checkout process, the UI and the UX the way that everything is laid out is the way that it should be. Then the post-purchase experience, like when you buy something from them, the way that they do things is really incredible. You get a level of personalization with them and it makes you feel almost as though you are actually standing in a store talking to an actual person.
Josh: That’s very helpful.
Ben: There’s got to be some fairly complex backend technology and CRM and automation and all this stuff, but every time you buy something from them, you will talk to the same person every time. You’re assigned to an account manager who will follow up by email. You’ll get a phone call and be like, “Hey, how’s that thing you bought? How is that working out?” Which is really important for musical instruments because that stuff is often very expensive. It’s very personal. Oftentimes it’s stuff that you’re going to want to hold onto and use for the next 10, 20, 30 years. They really go the extra mile to make sure that you’re getting the support you need and that you’re happy with what you bought.
What’s really incredible about them is that they have grown in a highly competitive space. They’ve gone from being practically nobodies on the internet to being who I really see as the front runner in that space. They’ve knocked off competitors that are massive, that would have been unthinkable to think that these companies were ever not going to be the top dog. They’ve been in business, I think, since the ’70s and they have a brick and mortar store somewhere in Indiana. It’s like some mom and pop operation that went on the internet and then just absolutely clobbered giant venture-backed, enormous, soulless-
Ben: Yes. It’s just really amazing. I think that if anybody who is curious about UX, about SEO, about sales, customer support-
Josh: Content personalization, all of those things.
Ben: -all of it, end to end the entire experience. If you just want to see a textbook example of how to do things in a way that is not necessarily flashy, but is highly effective where they’re not missing any part of the process, just go on there and buy something small. Buy something for $5 and just go through the whole experience, even if you don’t play music and just see how they handle things. I’ll order something as small from them as a set of strings. The most basic replaceable thing you need to buy all the time and it might cost $4.00. I’ll get a phone call it’s like, “Hey, how are those strings working out for you?” from the same guy. This is a billion dollar company at this point. Yes, I feel like that’s a lot of talking, but–
Josh: I love how you brought it all the way back to music, which is, I know, a passion for you.
Ben: Yes, absolutely.
Josh: We could probably talk about music and that kind of stuff for a long, long time, but-
Ben: Yes, absolutely.
Josh: -I really appreciate your time talking about marketing. I know that CoSchedule is a platform designed for marketers so check that out, but for now we’re going to say goodbye for episode 13 of How I Work. Thanks, Ben, really appreciate it.
Ben: Yes, thank you for having me on the show.
Josh: Yes, bye.