Published on March 26th, 2018
If you could use only one inbound marketing tactic to generate increased visitor traffic, leads and customers, this inbound marketing pro says it should be original research.
In this week's episode of The Inbound Success Podcast, Orbit Media Co-Founder and CMO Andy Crestodina shares his takeaways from 3+ years of creating and publishing original research, along with actionable tips that other marketers - like you - can use to create research of your own.
Learn how his annual blogging survey has dramatically increased the number of backlinks to the Orbit Media site, generated incredible buzz on social media, and raised the company's visibility with its audience.
Listen to the podcast to learn more, or read the transcript below.
Kathleen Booth (host): Welcome back to The Inbound Success Podcast. My name is Kathleen Booth and I am your host. This week, my guest is Andy Crestodina who is the Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Orbit Media Studios. Welcome to the podcast, Andy.
Andy: I'm glad to be here. Thanks for having me, Kathleen.
Kathleen: Oh, I'm so excited to have you. This interview is really a funny story about how this podcast evolves. I first started thinking about having you on as a guest when I interviewed Oli Gardner, who was on a few episodes ago. If anybody is a regular listener, they know that I always ask the same questions at the end. One of those is, "Company or individual, who do you think is doing really well right now?" I like to have examples of people doing it best practice style and I know my listeners do, too. Oli, who is somebody that I greatly admire and consider to be incredibly wise in this space, came up with only one name. It was yours, so that is about the highest form of praise I can think of. As soon as he said that, I thought, "Alright, I have to get this guy on." So, I'm so excited to have you here.
Andy: I'm glad to be here and honored by that, I'm a huge Oli fan myself and I had the pleasure of getting to know him over the last few years and just follow everything he does. Oli is the greatest.
Kathleen: Yeah, he always imparts a lot of value when you hear him speak. Now, interestingly, speaking of imparting value, it was fascinating when you and I started talking and diving deeper into all the things you're involved with, from the Content Jam Conference to some of the original research that you've done through your agency. I realized that, years ago, when I had my own agency, which I had for 11 years, it was Quintain Marketing, that we were actually using your research and citing it when we were creating content or blogging. I didn't even know, at the time, that that was you. I just knew that it was this great research, and very helpful, and very interesting and we wanted to share it with our audience. So, it was just a funny way of realizing exactly the point you were trying to make when we spoke, which is that original research is such a fantastic way to get your brand out there and to get noticed.
Andy: Yeah, what a cool case study. I'm glad to hear that. We've been doing it for a while now, so I think we all mention other stuff or cite other valuable things without knowing, sometimes, just how close we might already be to the person who conducted the research, so that's funny. I didn't know that. We should look back and find those pieces and see what's changed since then.
Kathleen: Yeah. I had a full-time Content Manager and she was very interested in doing research around best practices -- how long should it take to produce a blog, and how much time are people spending on these things, and how long are these, all of these questions that she was doing a lot of research on? There wasn't a lot of information on it at the time and so, I think she was really delighted to find the work that you had been doing and to find that source. It was very helpful to her.
Taking a step back for a second, though, I'm getting ahead of myself, so tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, about your company, and what you do.
Andy: Sure, so I am the Co-Founder here. So, in the very beginning, 18 years ago, my partner and friend from high school and roommate from college, Barrett Lombardo was the programmer. I was the designer and I also wore a lot of other hats. I was the project manager, I was the sales guy or the marketer. As time went on and as Orbit grew -- it's just a web design company -- we gradually narrowed our focus and hired experts and found people who are better at those jobs than we were.
Today, I have six designers, and 12 programmers, and a CEO and so, my job has really just narrowed in its focus. I'm basically just the marketer now, the CMO, but our style of marketing is the same as yours. I'm a content marketer, so this is 18 years of SEO and analytics work and 10 years of blogging, content strategy, marketing, and social.
Andy: So, I speak at events. I have a podcast and have written a book and I'm just one of those active people out there who does his best to teach anybody anything that I can.
Kathleen: So, the company has been around for quite some time and you've been doing content marketing, it sounds like, for about 10 years, did you say? You mentioned a number of the different channels that you've leveraged in the course of your content marketing. I assume it took a little bit of time for you to get traction through content, and I would love it if you could talk to us a little bit about when you feel like it really started to get results and what it was that was getting results.
Andy: Well, we were already somewhat successful in search before there was really much of anything in the way of blogging. This is years 2003, and '04, and '05. We started to rank for the most important phrases -- the geo-specific, local relevant phrases for our business category.
We're web design, but what I learned was that people don't do web design that often and so, I wanted to keep in touch with people over this very long buying interval. So, for me, the original idea behind content was to just stay top of mind with people during this long sales cycle and very long buying interval. So, I thought I needed to send people a newsletter or an email. I have to have an article that's useful, that people would care about, so I started publishing articles on my website and emailing this small list of people who I knew would be interested.
So, it was 200 subscribers in the very beginning and an article every month or two and then, gradually, we got better at the strategy piece and the planning piece around that and learned that these articles could, themselves, rank for informational queries and grew the list, got better at the optimization of the email sign up form, which is an entire art in itself, which I love and love to teach, but it wasn't until probably 2010 that we hired the CEO. He built the Sales Team, so I no longer had to do all that sales work. I used to spend all my days on the phone and all my nights writing proposals. So, after Todd joined, I suddenly had an extra 20 hours a week and that's the time, that's the moment when I doubled my publishing frequency. I started the annual conference, I wrote a book, I created a monthly event, all of the things. I just basically got much, much more active and started to get much better results after I took off that sales hat and began to focus more just on the marketing piece.
Kathleen: Yeah, there is a lot of research out there on the direct correlation between the volume and frequency of publishing and the results you get. You can say it a lot, but, until you experience the boost that you get, it's hard to really appreciate the value of putting your time into it. I say that having worked with so many clients over the years and I can tell them, "If you blog three times a week, you're definitely going to get better results than if you blog one time a week." But, I find that, until they really see the product of that, it's hard for them to attribute any value to it because their time is so, so valuable, just like you experienced. You had so much on your plate and it can feel like taking two hours out of the day to write a blog is not the best use of that time, but it is amazing, the results it can produce.
Andy: It's very hard to explain to people. You almost have to feel what it's like. The people who are good at this, it's like they're standing in a river of leads. It's crazy how much demand you can generate, how many people are looking for stuff on the internet, the amount of demand there is for each topic and for each service. I sometimes just open an Analytics account and just pull up one of my clients' accounts and just show them the conversion report. "Look, leads everyday. See?" You know what surprises me is that people say, "I get my leads from referrals."
Andy: Which doesn't mean that you wouldn't get more leads if you were successful at marketing. Referrals are great. Nothing hurts that or this doesn't affect that at all. Yeah, I know what you mean. Just over the weekend, I made a chart trying to represent this, explaining how the amount of time that you spend on something increases linearly. It's a line going up and to the right, but results are not a line. They're a curve. Results are exponential. Time invested is linear. So, anything, as long as you're working smart, any work that you put in that moves you even a little bit farther over to the right on that hockey stick exponential curve, it makes an incredible difference, right? So, in my experience, it mostly is a great idea to put more time and effort into that thing, whether it's a social media post, or an article, or a newsletter, or a podcast, an interview, an outreach thing, a collaboration, and event because the difference between good and great is so big that it's very much worth the time and effort to make yourself even a little bit better and get over to the right side of that exponential curve.
Kathleen: Yeah, and it's the content. It's like the gift that keeps on giving. I look at people who say things like, "Referrals or word of mouth give me a lot of leads." I think, "But, take you out of the equation. What's your 'hit by a bus' strategy? If you're out for a few weeks, does that source start to dry up or slow down?" Whereas, you put something out on the internet and it doesn't matter if you get hit by a bus -- although let's all hope that never happens to any of us -- that piece of content is still out there. One of my colleagues here at IMPACT, Marcus Sheridan, who is known as "the sales lion" out in the world, has a fantastic slide I've seen him share, which is about this one blog he wrote on the cost of an in-ground fiberglass pool years ago.
Andy: Yup, yup.
Kathleen: Because he uses HubSpot, he was able to associate closed customers with that blog. They would first read the blog and then, they'd go through the sales process and then, they'd buy -- and because he's able to associate that, he can quantify the revenue that's come from it. So, he has this amazing slide he puts up, which is something along the lines of, "This one blog post has yielded millions of dollars in revenue." When he speaks to companies about why they should spend time blogging, the question he always asks is, "Is there anything else you could do with one hour of your time that is likely to yield you millions of dollars of revenue?"
Kathleen: Probably not. Maybe there's a sales meeting or something, but, usually, it takes more than one meeting to close a deal like that. So, I always like referring back to that because it really is one of the best illustrations I've seen.
Andy: Yeah. They say advertising is temporary, but content is forever.
Andy: If you stop advertising, that thing just disappears from the world, but, when you publish something, especially if it's optimized and searched, I think that's one of the big differences. Yeah. No matter what the tactic, the benefits are durable, right? Subscribers don't all subscribe immediately, so email list growth is durable. Followers tend to stay following for some time, so social media growth is durable and links -- people don't just delete links and pages from the internet that often -- so, the SEO outcomes are durable. Search, social, and email, if you build up those channels, you can benefit from the results for months or years to come.
Kathleen: Yeah, it really is amazing and you and I are obviously big content marketing evangelists so we might be preaching to the choir with the listeners that we have here. The thing that I thought was interesting about you is that you really have embraced this approach in a number of ways, from creating the conference that you're doing to have a podcast, to blogging, to doing original research. It was actually very hard when we first got in touch to immediately identify the thing that we should focus in on for this interview because we could easily talk about all of it, but then, this interview would be about five hours long. I remember I asked you the question, "If somebody listening could only do one thing or implement one thing based on your lessons learned, what would be the one thing you would suggest they do that would most move the needle?" Your answer was?
Andy: Original research. When you asked that question, you just instantly sharpened my focus because this could've been about so many things, but, absolutely, I think, at the center of the most successful content strategies in the marketing space, for sure, there's a lot of original research. So, all of the CMI stuff was built on this and they attracted thousands of links and even this relationship that, although we didn't know it at the time, started with research.
All the HubSpot stuff, right? Look how much they've published in the way of original research, so it is, according to research, according to Steve Rayson's research at BuzzSumo, one of the two most powerful formats for content. I'm excited to talk more about it.
Kathleen: Well, I think the thing that is so compelling about what you've done is -- you just said it -- in the marketing space, we're both marketers marketing marketing, if you will. We are marketing our marketing services and there is virtually no more competitive space -- maybe other than insurance -- where trying to get found is so difficult because other marketers are good at marketing. So, to stand out in the pool of marketers, you really have to be doing something right. You've had this experience producing original research and it has enabled you to stand out amongst an incredibly crowded pool of very competitive, very ambitious marketers. So, tell us a little bit about the research you've been doing, when did you start doing it, and how'd you come up with the idea for it?
Andy: Well, the hypothesis is that, in every industry, there are missing statistics. I call it "find the missing stat," so the one that you mentioned and you started right at the top, there was a gap. There was a lack of information about how long it takes to create content. How long does it take you to write a blog post? No one had really answered the question and we could do this as an exercise. You and I can pick a random industry, that'd be fun, and just think through it and just look around and find that there's missing statistics everywhere, so that's the first hypothesis is that there's a missing statistic in your market and that the internet will knock down your door if you can just find out what it is and create the soundbite, create the stat, create the number that sells for X. So, in our case, it was how long does it take to write a blog post.
Now, to create a statistically significant answer to that, you have to ask a lot of people how long they've been writing blog posts. So, we needed to get a thousand bloggers to answer a question. In fact, we made a short survey. It was 12 questions and that was the first question is, "How much time do you spend per article?" We averaged their answers and concluded it was ... I have to look it up. The first year was 2014. It was two hours and 14 minutes or something, was the average amount of time it took to write a blog post and that obviously helped people make their case as they talked about their services, or they talked to their boss. The first slide in their presentation at a conference, the first page in their book, it's an important piece of information in our industry is like, "Yes. This takes time, but how much time?" That's the average time.
It gets exponentially more valuable as you continue to research and you track the longitudinal data, the trend. Now, I think it's three hours and 20 minutes. It's gone up 40%, so we keep asking and answering the question. By doing so, you have become the primary source and people will link to you all day long. You've advanced the industry, you've become relevant, you've contributed to the bigger conversation in a way that you wouldn't with just another medium quality blog post.
Kathleen: Now, I have to ask, to what do you attribute the increasing amount of time it's taking people to write blogs? I have a theory on this and I'm really curious to see if you're going to validate it or not.
Andy: Well, with this, I don't have data. I have theories as well and my theory is almost what you said a minute ago, which is just that it's so competitive. I see the trend and let's correlate. Bloggers who spend more time are more likely to say they get strong results, bloggers who write longer blog posts are more likely to say they get strong results. Bloggers who use editors, a formalized editing process, are more likely to report strong results. So, all of these things suggest that there's a professionalization of blogging that started probably a very long time ago where it's just posting little thing, like in a weblog.
Now, it's more like a business. It's a job title, it's a profession. So, as blogging becomes more like journalism and blog posts become more like articles, I'm not sure we should even call them blog posts anymore, they're mostly just articles, then you can see how that would justify a greater expense in an investment of time. When you see the correlation with results, you can see why people continue to do it is because they're finding firsthand that quality correlates with outcome.
Kathleen: Yeah, that's very similar to what I was surmising because I know that when we first got into the content marketing game at my old agency back in 2008, you really didn't honestly have to put that much effort in to get results because so few people were doing it and blogs were short. You saw blogs that were 400 words and under. Now, that just really doesn't cut it any more if you're not delivering value. It isn't as simple as "blog and see results," it has to be "write good blogs that are really helpful and see results." So, I've observed the same thing. The posts are getting longer and more detailed. People are putting more work into them, at least, the people that are really good at this.
Andy: Well, Oli's an example, right?
Andy: Just pick your favorite marketer and there's exceptions, right? People often cite Seth Godin as an exception.
Andy: He writes frequent little shorties and that works for him. Yeah, and what better example than original research as an example of quality. You're literally making something original. Just look at a blog of any website and just count through the tips, or the ideas, or the opinions in the blog and ask how many of those are truly original. This is where research can give you just a huge and immediate edge.
Kathleen: So, you came up with this idea and the first study or the results were published in 2014. When you first realized you wanted to do this, you mentioned you wanted at least 1,000 respondents. So, how did you go about building that list and making sure you got that number of responses?
Andy: This is not a very practical answer because it's not a repeatable, scalable approach. What I did, it's almost like, as a joke, there's a software methodology they call the death march, which is when you just pull all-nighters until your product is done. It's crazy. Coffee.
Basically, I was and am fortunate enough to have friends who are generous and have audiences before we even called it influence or marketing, I guess. So, I just did tons and tons of personal outreach emails. I didn't use a tool. One at a time, I sent hundreds of LinkedIn messages and emails to people who I knew. The close friends who were open to it were kind enough to share with their audiences, so Ian Cleary was one. There's just a lot of people.
I also had to plan it from the beginning to include some bigger names in the piece itself, so there's 12 questions. For every question, there's a quote from Joe Pulizzi, or Ann Handley, or one of the big time names in the business. So, knowing that they'd be included, some of them promoted it. I'm like, "Yeah. As soon as I get done with this information gathering, I'm gonna include this quote from you, but I'm not quite done yet. If you feel like helping, you can just send this to your ... "
So, anyway, I sent 350 personal emails. My hands hurt. It was many, it was weeks and time's just a variable. So, you don't want to spend ... you can't spend half a year gathering data.
Andy: I think I spent about five weeks at night and on weekends, but, since then, I've gotten a little better at it. I have a list now of past respondents and I add to that list when I meet people who are content creators. There are tools now that didn't exist before that I knew of to do outreach, like OutreachPlus, or Mailshake, or these different tools that make sending semi-personalized emails to large groups of people much easier. Yeah. It was brute force, you could call it, slow.
Kathleen: Now, did you find that you needed to offer any kind of incentive to people for responding? I don't just mean simple monetary incentives. Some people do that, but I've seen other cases where people will say you'll get the results before the general public or you'll get the full version. Everybody else will only get a summary. Was there anything like that or was it just purely people responding out of the goodness of their hearts?
Andy: Well, I made it very simple and I reminded people in the outreach just how simple it was. It's less than two minutes to take, to answer 12 multiple choice questions and people often responded saying, "Wow, that was super easy." I honestly think that, for many of these, I spent more time on the email asking them to take the survey than they spent answering it. No, I never incentivized. It might skew the results, right? Because then, you're attracting people who are interested in getting incentives. Nope, I never offered anything. I still don't. It's just people. I know a lot of people have heard of it, so they want to contribute to an industry piece. No, Kathleen. I didn't, but I probably should've. It would've been easier.
Kathleen: Well, I don't know. It sounds like what I'm hearing is that as long as you are able to streamline and simplify the questionnaire and keep it short and, therefore, keep the barrier to responding pretty low, that you really don't need to go that route. So, there's a lesson in there for people thinking about doing their first piece of original research to not overthink it and over-complicate it.
Andy: That's for sure, that's key. I get surveys and I am on page 11 of a SurveyMonkey thing and I'm wondering like, "How are they even going to use this answer?" It's greedy basically, right? They're making the respondents pay more in their time and attention, but it isn't the only kind. The survey is not the only type of research. The survey was necessary to answer a question like, "How much time does it take to write a blog post?" Because there's no other source of that information, but I have since found other ways to create original research that don't require that kind of outreach, that can be created much faster.
Kathleen: What would be some examples of that?
Andy: Well, I tried to answer the question, "What features are standard on websites?" Because, I wanted to make an article about web design standards and I simply went to Alexa and downloaded a giant list of websites. Alexa.com has lists of the top sites and in every category and I had a virtual assistant go look and fill out the spreadsheet that I'd started that said logo in the top left, contact in the top right, value proposition above the fold, blah, blah, blah ... it's just observation. You just choose a data set and a hypothesis or a set of criteria and then, observe it.
So there's lots of research in marketing around the world that is not based on outreach and respondents. It's just simply based on observing data and creating an analysis from it. So that survey was actually extremely useful to me because it answers questions for my clients, like, "Is it standard to have a search tool on your website?" It's not. Today, you can still find it. It ranks toward the phrase "web design standards" and probably a hundred people read it every day.
Kathleen: Well, I'll make sure to include a link to that in the show notes because I think that would be interesting for people to see what that looks like as a finished product. Speaking of taking research and turning it into a finished product, walk us through what that process looked like for you with the blogging research. I imagine the first time you did the blogging research, it was really just an individual project that you were working on by yourself. Was it just you that turned that into a publishable piece? How long did that take and what did the process look like?
Andy: Well, I had the help of Amanda, who is our Marketing Director, and Amanda Gant does a lot of the editing, and polishing, and some outreach, and coordination internally. So, I never do anything that's more than a draft, so there is workflow here, some workflow. I'm also lucky enough to have a team of designers, so I might do really rough graphics and diagrams in Excel or Google Sheets and give them to the designers.
They create those, so there's a lot of pieces that are coming together at the same time. From the very beginning, I do outreach with the influencers, so there's one per question. So, for the question like, "Do you work with a professional editor?" Or, "What's your process for editing?" With folks like Sonia Simone from Copyblogger, champion, brilliant, genius editor, it was just like, "Could you please give your insights into editing in general?"
Now, I wait until I have some analysis and I send them the data and I say, "Sonia, would you like to contribute by giving your two cents on the trend?" Then, I'd get input from the influencer on the actual data itself. As the reports come in and the research comes in, I will take an early look at the data to see if I can spot any trends or major shifts. Like, this last year, there's a huge spike in people doing paid content promotion. So then, I get the wheels turning on that as a topic and start to think about that. But, basically, I'm soliciting input, and there's content coming in from different sources.
There's my outreach partner who's getting the data. The data comes into SurveyMonkey or whichever we're using. Content from influencers comes in from this side. The data gets created as draft images, which are given to the designers, which come back to me. Amanda is contributing to the overall shape of the piece, but the fun part -- the light bulb moment -- is when you first get the initial quantifiable numbers in. You start to see the early results and you're like, "Wow, yeah. Are people spending more time or did that max out? Are articles really getting longer? Is it still true that publishing more frequently gets better results?"
There's a moment when you realize, "I'm looking at a spreadsheet here and I have insights into this industry that no one else knows about. It's 1:15 AM and I'm the only person who know that, in 2018, it takes this many minutes to write a blog post." It's fun.
Kathleen: That's neat. So, start to finish, you're doing this yearly. How long is this process over elapsed time?
Andy: If the average blog post takes three hours and 20 minutes, take a wild guess at how much time we spend on each one of these blogger surveys.
Kathleen: Three months?
Andy: Well, total hours. I track hours. But, that's true. It takes about three months end-to-end, for sure.
Kathleen: Oh, gosh. I wouldn't know where to start, I would guess, at least, 40?
Andy: Yeah, it's 150 hours.
Kathleen: Wow. How does that divide out percentage-wise?
Andy: Well, when I was doing it, it was 60 hours of outreach. Jason Quay has helped me more recently and he spends about 40 hours doing outreach that is simplified and faster partly because there's tools now. You could use OutreachPlus and it just helps. Tools like this make it much, much easier to send emails to lots of people and they're still genuine.
Andy: It's a human connection still. It's not mass mail, actually. The analysis is probably another 25 hours, the outreach, the editing, the image prep, it would be another 40 hours. You put in the promotion of the piece once it's done, of course, is gonna be even much higher. There, again, is that idea that time is incremental and on a straight line. It takes me 15 times as long as the average article because most of my articles take six hours to write or something, but the results are probably 100 times. So, would you spend 15 X on something? No. Most people would not do that, but what if you had some certainty that the outcome would be 100 X? That's huge. You should do it. We should all be spending 10 times what we used to spend on a specific content piece twice a year because you know that the results are ... you'll have contributed to the industry. You'll have helped all of your colleagues and made something completely original and new, so I think it's worth it. It's insane amounts of effort, but I think it's worth it.
Kathleen: You've produced this report each year. How have you promoted it? What format is it published in and what channels do you use to get the word out?
Andy: Well, I'm the guy who never uses a lead magnet, so I'm weird that way. You can get the whole thing just by reading the whole thing and anyone can get it, but there's a lot of great promotion tricks involved. One of them is each one of the data points in the piece actually can contribute to the value proposition of somebody out there somewhere. So, people who use a formal editing process are more likely to report strong results. Who would use that? Any company that offers editing services. So there's a lot of targeted outreach you can do to people who will instantly be thrilled to have found this bit of data. Year over year, you can go back and use a tool like Open Site Explorer to see who's linked to something. Anyone who linked to it before, covered it before might be interested in the update.
You can use tools like BuzzSumo to see who shared something.
Whoever shared it before, would likely be interested in it again. In fact, you stack the deck by including all the influencers in the piece, means it's automatically gonna get visibility because they're gonna talk about it all over the place probably. Every year, Pulizzi and Rose would cover it. You don't have to make sure that the big names know about it. They were included in it.
Andy: It's like, "I don't have to let Ann Handley know that the new survey is out. Her face is at the top." So, the collaborative content means that the influencer marketing is built-in. Of course, it's big hit in the newsletter. As soon as it's live, you can reach out to publications and say, "Do you want to cover it from this angle or that angle?" You can offer certain media outlets exclusive versions of it by correlating, by finding different correlations and making something original for them. A lot of people said they wanted to cover it, and I would just give them the full raw data if they wanted to find something new in it. I've just done a full-court press on email and social.
Original research gets much more easy to promote after you've done it several years in a row because anyone who is involved with, shared, commented on, or linked to previous versions of it are people who you should let them know that the new one's live.
Plus, the 13th question in every survey is, "Would you like to be notified when it goes live?" Those are not people I put on my email list. I'm very careful not to send email to people that don't want it, but those people ask to get just the survey results. So, there's 1,300 people right there who asked to be notified when it's live.
Kathleen: That's great. Now, I imagine there are an infinite number of ways that this content could be repurposed. You can have your one summary report, but are there other ways that you take this and turn it into ... I imagine you can make things like infographics, or slide shares, or what-have-you. How are you using it throughout the year?
Andy: Well, the infographic is an immediate home run because my friend, Barry Feldman, who's my podcast co-host and good friend, he makes an infographic out of it. He pitches that different places. Everyone immediately picks it up. So, every year, I think it's been HubSpot who runs one of the early versions of the infographic on their site. There, again, you can use Open Site Explorer to see who linked to that version of it over there or you can use BuzzSumo to see who shared that version over there. Anyone who you like and has a certain level of fame, you could reach out to them and offer to collaborate with them on something. Yeah, repurposing it. It gets mentioned on the podcast, it gets written about in lots of places, in lots of ways. I used to do a bunch of ... I had to save energy while doing this research piece because, as soon as it went live, I tried to go on a little mini guest blogging tour.
I've got a little kid at home now and I'm too busy, but I help people who want to cover it and so, lots of other websites will pick it up and start to write about it. When they do, I'm fast to get them other insights they need. Emarketer.com is very rigorous and they want to know all about how I gathered the list, so you have to just be able to provide that to them. It's really PR basically.
Andy: You made news. As soon as you make news, you have to be ready to continue to get the echo chamber going and respond to requests, to people who want to talk about that news.
Kathleen: Yeah, and this has obviously worked really well for you because you're continuing to do it. Can you talk a little bit about the opportunities that doing original research has opened up for you?
Andy: Well, one thing that I didn't do as well, but I think I would do if I was in a different industry would be to create statistics that support our value proposition, which is an obvious one, right? That's why most people do research and marketing is not to get direction in content marketing, but to support their value prop. So, companies that do X are more likely to get this result, so it becomes part of your homepage and all of your materials. Another way to do research to get results that I don't do but could, would be to do it like a smaller data set but higher touch. So, you guys would be great at this. On behalf of one of your clients, you interview 50 CMOs. Tell them what their top pain points are or something. So, when you call someone and say, "I'd like to interview you. It takes five minutes. I just need some data." They say yes not because it's a cold call because it's not, but it's still a pretext to build a relationship.
Andy: You're on the phone with someone that you'd like to, one day, connect with more, or sell to, or collaborate with. So, I think that high touch, smaller dataset outreach, like phone interviews, would give you a much better networking benefit that I've gotten. So, there's definitely ways, different angles on this that would give you better benefits than what I've experienced myself, but the upside to us has been very high in terms of just list growth, and followers, and mentions, and search, all those good things that happen when you ... through normal content marketing, just an extreme version of it.
Kathleen: You've had opportunities to speak as well at conferences, I'm sure.
Andy: I was doing a ton of speaking even before this and I don't talk about it that much. Occasionally, I put in a slide where, just like any other slide, it supports something else I'm saying, but what I would say is it helps other people. I get mentioned in a lot of other presentations because of it.
Kathleen: That's great. Now, you're a guy that I know that appreciates some solid data. Do you have any data you can share with us about what impact this has had on the company, whether that's website visits, or backlinks to your site, or customer acquisition, any of that?
Andy: Sure, so I'm gonna go right now to Google Search Console and we'll see which of my pages have been linked to the most, according to Google itself. We will see just how these were the articles that've attracted the most authority and links from other sites if I pull it up. You can see how the spike in traffic from email -- it's always one of the top emails -- I could put my own domain into BuzzSumo and you could see how these are always some of the top shared articles. So, I said at the beginning, many, many years of search, there's a gazillion links to our website, but I'm looking now at the Search Console> Search Traffic>Links to Your Site report. I'm gonna sort by source domains and number one is our homepage, that's normal. Numbers two, three, and four are all blogger surveys.
Andy: So, there's been four and then, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Number nine is another blogger survey, so there's four URLs on my site that are these surveys.
Kathleen: Four in the top 10.
Andy: Yeah, it's four. All four are in the top 10 and three of them are the top three if you just include the homepage. So, it would be unethical to not link to research, right? It's called a citation, it's like the bibliography. So, it becomes very obvious after you think about it, even for a few minutes, why original research attracts links and gives you a durable SEO authority benefit. It's because people have to link to it to support the way that they used it, so a high domain authority website links to this survey probably once a week, just organically. I don't have to do outreach. It's like you're just link attraction.
Kathleen: For anyone listening to this thinking, "I need to get on the ball and do some research" what advice would you give them, for a person starting now, based on your experience?
Andy: Well, look at the industry that you're in and try to find gaps. I would define that idea of the missing stat -- the missing statistic -- and something in your industry that is frequently asserted but rarely supported. So, whatever it is in your industry that's frequently asserted but rarely supported, you can go out and your goal is to then fill in that gap.
There's a blank spot. You're gonna fill in that blank spot with an important supported piece. But then, again, you shouldn't go in with an outcome in mind. It's research, so you should be prepared to find unexpected things. If you don't have the network to do a huge, giant survey thing, either partner with the media, partner with someone else, right? If you ever want to partner on a research piece, we're gonna do something amazing, Kathleen.
Kathleen: I'm calling you right after this.
Andy: Yeah. When we hang up, we're gonna create a small piece.
Kathleen: We're gonna figure out what the missing statistic is.
Andy: Yeah. It's gonna be good, or just use that observation trick, or, better yet, here's an even easier one, you can aggregate data from other surveys. So, every year, I do this how much money do marketers make survey or not a survey but a research piece. Now, I have no data about how much money marketers make, but I just go to Glassdoor and payscale.com and find the median of all of their marketing job titles compensations. I immediately have 60,000 data points and almost a more authoritative answer than either of them because I have the combined.
Andy: I can say like, "The average marketing coordinator makes $43,000" or, whatever the numbers are. So, you can also just aggregate data from other sources. Popularizing existing research, there's nothing unethical about it. It's called being like Malcolm Gladwell, that's all. There's lots of people who mostly do marketing of other people's research. That's not weird. But I would start by looking at your industry. Try to find a missing statistic, that thing that's frequently asserted but rarely supported.
Kathleen: Well, it sounds like what I'm hearing is something that actually makes me excited, which is that you don't have to be a statistician. You don't have to be trained in the art of asking questions a certain way. It really does sound like you have to scratch your own itch. You have to think about "what's that piece of data that I want?" and maybe put together just a short list of questions around that. You could start with that, or, I loved your example of the observable survey of the websites. Are there things out there or trends that you could observe? Like you did, get a virtual assistant to do some of the work for you. All of this, I'm thinking, at least from what you said, it doesn't have to be a massive undertaking. You can make it a massive undertaking if you want to, but you don't have to. There're a lot of ways to simplify it, which is really reassuring.
Andy: Yeah, yeah. There's tools that have all kinds of data where you can just grab the dataset from there and, sometimes, combine different datasets. Seriously, in a mini workshop, if you and I spent 20 minutes, had a glass of wine and just brainstormed, we'd come up with some great topics. You could just imagine what the outcome would be, what the insight would be, who would care about it, how you'd promote it, where you'd publish it, what formats might it work well in, who might be an ideal contributor to it, what influencers would want to know. There's so much missing information in the world, right? These are great days to be a marketer and think bigger than the other marketers around you.
Kathleen: Yeah, and so many great tools for collecting and analyzing data, too, that weren't there just a few years ago. Well, so much good stuff here. This is so interesting and I am 100% gonna take you up on that. Let's have a glass of wine and brainstorm topics.
In the meantime, I'm going to ask you the same few questions I ask everyone. So, starting with the one that bubbled your name to the top of my list, company or individual, who do you think is doing inbound marketing really well right now?
Andy: Well, I've gushed about her already. I'm gonna give the name Sonia Simone because I owe so much to her writing and teaching in the very beginning. Copyblogger is an amazing resource to this date. Rainmaker Digital is the other name for the brand, but Sonia Simone, I got to see her two weeks ago. It was awesome, it was beer not wine, but I saw her at Social Media Marketing World, which was fun. Yeah. If you ever talk to her or have her on your show, she has this just soft voice, but knows every answer. She knows everything, she's a killer SEO, she's just an incredible, incredible marketer. Her targeting is accurate, her quality is huge. She's so unassuming about it all, but that woman could blow up any brand. She's amazing.
Kathleen: Well, now I'm going to have to have her on. So, Sonia Simone, if you're listening, I'm coming out for you. I'm looking for you to be my next guest.
Building on that, marketing is changing so quickly. The technology that underpins how we market is changing so quickly. How do you stay up-to-date? What are your favorite sources for educating yourself?
Andy: So, I like this format. I like that we're on a show and I think that it's a great opportunity and our listeners will appreciate a podcast recommendation, I hope, because podcasts are just a fantastic way to learn while your eyes and hands are busy. Experts On The Wire with Dan Shure is an SEO podcast that a lot of people still don't know about. I'm listening right now to his 90th episode, but he has so many great guests that you've never heard of who know so much. Some of it's partly news, a lot of it is very tactical, but, for anyone interested in search, Experts On The Wire by Dan Shure is an excellent podcast.
Kathleen: That sounds like a great recommendation. I, too, love podcasts, which is probably why I wound up starting one, so I'll have to check that out.
Lastly, you've shared so much great information and so many wonderful insights into how to conduct original research. If somebody out there is thinking about doing this and wanted to get in touch with you and ask some questions, what's the best way for them to reach out to you?
Andy: LinkedIn might be my best social network, although I'm very active on Twitter. Yeah, orbitmedia.com, or social media, or email@example.com is my email. My phone number is (773)353-8301, leave me a voicemail.
Kathleen: He wins the prize as the first guy to give out his phone number in a podcast.
Andy: Everyone has everyone's phone number, anyway. Who cares, right?
Kathleen: That's true.
Andy: People don't call each other unless they're serious about really something urgent.
Kathleen: I love it. Well, that was one thing that Oli did say about you when he mentioned your name was that you're a great inbound marketer not because you're trying to actively sell something but, rather, because you're trying actively to be helpful. I think this is the perfect example of that, so thank you so much for sharing all of this.
This has been really fun for me. If you are listening and you enjoyed the podcast, I would love it if you could give us a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever platform you choose to use when you listen. If you know somebody who's doing really kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me at @WorkMommyWork because I would love to interview them. Thanks, Andy.
Andy: Thank you.
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