This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, my guest is none other than Bob Ruffolo, the Founder and CEO of IMPACT. The funny thing about this episode is that it was recorded before I joined IMPACT and before any of us knew that this would be an IMPACT podcast.
For those who are finding the podcast for the first time, IMPACT is a Connecticut-based inbound marketing agency and top-tier HubSpot diamond-level partner. As an agency, we’re very heavily focused on the marketing leader of the organization and our services are design to help them overcome the common pain points that all marketing leaders go through, like “Is my strategy right?” “What are my peers doing that's working?” “How do I start implementing video?”
Here at IMPACT, we use ourselves as a laboratory and test new strategies and tactics on our own marketing first. Having a full-time agency marketing team has been key to our ability to do this and Ramona, our Content Marketing Manager, has done a great job of making sure we can follow through on our commitment to content creation. Today, our blog forms the core of the company’s marketing and lead generation strategy.
In this episode, Bob talks about how IMPACT used conversion rate optimization principles to redesign the layout of our blog and dramatically grow blog subscribers, visitor traffic, and blog-driven lead conversions.
One of IMPACT’s core values is helpfulness and our purpose as a company is to help people and their organizations to succeed. Bob and the team use that as a litmus test for everything that IMPACT does and to this end, he really felt that the company's blog content is a key part of how we help our audience.
For this reason, the company has always taken an aggressive approach to content creation, publishing at least two blogs a day. This strategy has paid off and a year and a half ago, prior to updating the blog layout, IMPACT was already getting about 80,000 unique visitors to the site per month and had a good base of about 10,000 to 15,000 subscribers.
These sites draw much larger audiences, and they're very niche in what they're focused on. That's the direction Bob is going with the IMPACT brand, with a focus on serving the needs of marketing leadership.
Optimizing the IMPACT Blog
When IMPACT adjusted its audience focus and future vision, the first thing they did was develop a strategy for scaling website traffic and conversions. They used a process developed by Conversion XL that maps out six types of research you can do on your website.
The IMPACT team went through all six steps of the Conversion XL research model, including looking at Google Analytics, data in the company’s HubSpot portal, data from Hotjar (including click maps and scroll maps and individual session recordings) and User Testing. This was all done in an effort to identify areas for improvement for IMPACT’s website.
With the initial research complete, IMPACT carried out a series of experiments - five or six per month - on the blog. For each of these, they created a hypothesis and set up some type of test. Sometimes the team would use Optimizely for the test and sometimes they would just make a change and see if it worked. If it didn’t, they would simply revert it back or change some messaging.
Some of the specific changes that IMPACT made to their blog included:
Pop-ups: The team tested different types of pop-ups (exit intent, mobile, slide-in) as well as variations in pop-up messaging and timing. The blog currently has an exit-intent pop-up and at one time, there was a mobile pop up as well. But this is a great illustration of how the conversion rate optimization process needs to be dynamic. After putting the mobile pop up in place, Google made a change to its algorithm that penalized certain types of mobile pop-ups, so they wound up removing that.
Calls-to-action: Like many inbound marketing teams, IMPACT used to put calls to action at the bottom of the blog. In order to improve the company’s search engine rankings, they were writing longer blogs. This strategy worked well and while it increased organic traffic to the blog, it had an unintended consequence when it came to conversion rates. Data from HotJar showed that not everyone was getting to the bottom of the blog posts and conversion rates were dropping. In response to that, IMPACT now places CTAs higher up in the post and is testing different CTA formats, including image CTAs as well as formats that combine buttons with copy highlighting the CTA value proposition. These are generally located after the second paragraph and this change has resulted in big improvements in blog conversions.
Blog format: For some of those longer blog posts, IMPACT has tested out adding a table of contents as a way of encouraging visitors to read and explore the most relevant pieces of the company's longer form content. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of this approach.
Gating longer blogs: Using HubSpot's smart technology, IMPACT experimented with gating some of its longer-form blog posts. If you're already a subscriber in the IMPACT database, you don't see the gate (conversion form) there at all and you can look at all the different chapters and read through the entire post as if it was just a really really long blog post. However, if they don't have your information in their database and you're not cookied, then you can only read the first chapter or two before you’re required to complete a conversion form. This experiment wasn’t as successful as they had hoped, but that's the beautiful thing about conversion rate optimization - it's a process that embraces continuous learning.
Subscriber offer: Instead of just saying “Subscribe to our blog” and then having a resource center full of offers like ebooks that visitors must fill out a form to get, IMPACT ties all of this together by offering visitors the opportunity to get a piece of content in exchange for subscribing to the blog. That's how most of IMPACT’s content offers are positioned on their site.
Matching offers to blogs: Bob believes there should be one clear call to action for every page on the IMPACT website, so within the blog, he wanted to make sure the offer that was promoted on an individual blog article also matched the pop-up. They did this by building out custom modules inside HubSpot, so that Ramona, the company’s content manager, can easily pick from a drop down of offers and create a pop-up that is relevant to the content that a visitor is reading.
Layout of the blog digest page: The overall layout of IMPACT’s blog digest page changed quite a bit through this process, and it's about to change again. Instead of being an agency that has a blog, IMPACT is aiming to be a media source that also has an agency component to it. The company’s website homepage is actually going to be changing drastically and it's going to be much more like a Social Media Examiner - almost like a blog layout first. The objective is for visitors to bookmark Impactbnd.com and then just have the best new fresh content right there for marketing leaders.
One reason that IMPACT has been so successful in this process is that the agency operates using agile methodologies.
In July of 2016, Bob decided to implement Agile marketing (or Scrum.) The idea behind agile is that we all have a ton of things we need to get done, but only so much time in a week to do it. So basically what you do in Scrum is develop a backlog of all the work that needs to get done and prioritize the items in the backlog. Then, you have your scrum team that executes the work. IMPACT has five scrum teams - three are client service oriented, one is focused on the agency’s own sales and marketing, and the last one is the agency’s operations team.
The individual members of a scrum team have a certain amount of capacity they can get done in a given week, and that capacity is measured in terms of points. If an individual on the team has 36 points they can complete in a given week, the team will take a look at the backlog and everyone will pull in, in a given time period, say it's a week or a sprint, they'll pull in as much as they can take into their capacity. If things aren't due for a while, they get ahead. If there's too much to get done in a given week they have to prioritize and work on the most important things this week and save the rest for next week.
The benefits of agile are that there's a team that has a very consistent workload, week after week after week. They're working as a team because it's the team's responsibility to complete their entire commitment. It's very collaborative and at the end of each sprint, the team does a retrospective and talks about what went well, celebrates the wins, examines what could have been done better, how happy is everyone in the team, and what needs to get done in the next week.
This is a quick overview of Agile, but agencies interested in learning more should check out Mark Long, a consultant who has helped a number of agencies (including IMPACT) to implement agile.
One of the main reasons that IMPACT’s was so successful with its blog optimization exercise is that the company took a data-driven approach. Tools like HubSpot, HotJar, Optimizely and Google Analytics provide the team with the data and analytics they need to make informed decisions and continuously improve results. And the results the team got from blog optimization were impressive:
Over a six-month period of time, the IMPACT team was able to double the number of conversions they were getting from their website, from a 1.1% conversion rate to 1.7%. In addition, traffic to the site grew from 80,000 visitors per month to about a quarter million.
When they began updating the blog layout, IMPACT was getting about eight or nine hundred new blog subscribers per month and now, as a result of the blog optimization process, they are generating about 3,000 new subscribers per month.
What’s next for IMPACT? Having seen this growth, they’ve set a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) to get to a million unique visitors per month and 100,000 blog subscribers. Hopefully, we’ll be able to interview Bob again in a few months or a year to get an update on the results!
Thanks for joining me this week!
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