In this series, I am interviewing some of the most amazing bloggers and content creators, and digging into their preferences and processes so that we can all learn from their example.
Today’s interview is with the amazing Andy Crestodina. Andy is a co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Orbit Media, an award-winning 40-person digital agency in Chicago. Over the past 19 years, Andy has provided digital marketing advice to 1000+ businesses. He speaks at national marketing conferences, writes for big marketing blogs and hosts a little marketing podcast. He is also the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing.
Let’s get down to it, shall we?
What’s your poison? Blog or Video or Podcast? Why?
We generate about half of our leads through search, so it’s important for us to rank for some of those high-competition, commercial intent phrases.
To do this, we need to have an authoritative domain, which means attracting links from other websites.
So videos and podcasts won’t cut it. We need URLs (blog posts) that get mentioned and cited by other sites!
What has been your most successful piece of content, and why?
I’ve written a lot of high-ranking how-to articles, some of which attract hundreds of visitors per day. Some of these have attracted links. And some (not all) are related to the services we offer.
Here’s one that hits every note
- It ranks well for a popular phrase “website navigation”
- It’s attracted quite a few links over time
- It’s relevant to the topic of web design
It’s filled with examples and diagrams, useful to anyone with a website.
How do you streamline your content creation process for efficiency and excellence?
They key for me? Always have 25+ articles in progress.
I have an online spreadsheet with a tab for article ideas. It’s how I manage my process.
- When I have an idea for a new article, I add it as a new row
- When I have an idea or example that goes with one of those article ideas, I add it in a column to the right
- When I get three or four ideas or examples for a specific article, I open my article template, save it as a draft and move in the ideas and examples
- When that draft have five or six ideas/examples, it’s time to knuckle down and spend 4-6 hours writing and prepping images. It’s ready to ship to Amanda for editing and Jantzen for final images.
So I always have a few dozen ideas in the back of my mind. I’m always collecting materials. I’m always in a passive research mode.
When I publish something, I’ve been building it up slowly for months or even years. By the time I start writing, it’s already a strong outline. All the pieces are in front of me. It’s ready for assembly.
Where do you get your ideas for content?
Almost all of my content is how-to, so I resist the temptation to publish news and opinions. Where do I find these practical topics? Here’s a list of classic sources and whether or not I use them.
|Source of topics and ideas||Do I use it?|
|Common / important how-to-do-the-job questions||Often|
|Sales questions from prospects||Sometimes|
|Mining social media, Quora, forums||Almost never|
|Check my competitors / industry blogs||Never|
|Start with keyphrase research||Almost never|
About that last one: I research keyphrases for every article to see if there’s an opportunity. About two thirds of the articles are seriously focused on a primary keyphrase. About one third of my articles ranks well for something.
But that doesn’t mean that I do keyphrase research to decide what to write. I think the keyphrase-first approach to finding topics is a little weird. It’s backwards.
I prefer inspiration.
Also, I’m always looking for research gaps. If I can produce a statistic that supports something people often say, it’s very likely to win likes, links and mentions. I love conducting and publishing original research.
How do you, how do we put it… make money off this stuff?
We do around $5.5M in revenue selling services to other businesses. 80% of that is websites. We sell, plan, design and develop around 50 websites per year.
But to generate those leads we need two things:
- Rank high for “chicago web design” and the related phrases
- Stay top of mind with thousands of marketers who may one day need our services.
Blogging does both. Without the blog, our website would be just an online brochure, and it wouldn’t rank for anything. And without the blog, we would have nothing to send to our audience. We’d have no subscribers and no way to stay top-of-mind.
What would you say has been a defining moment in your career as a content creator?
Years ago, I figured out the difference between the two kinds of pages (sales pages and content marketing) and the two kinds of keyphrases (commercial intent and information intent).
That’s when everything came together in my mind.
In that moment, I realized how to write better calls to action, how to create more effective internal links, how to structure pages to meet specific business goals. I’ve been making better sales content and better content marketing ever since.
When it comes to content creation over the next year, what are your plans and intentions?
I’m going to keep up my levels of articles, continue to do a bit of guest postings, and (if possible) double the number of high-value videos I produce.
This chart shows my output since I began creating content in 2007. You my slow slow start. You can see my marathon of guest posting (2012-2014). And you can see the gradual increase in how-to videos.
Together, everything I’ve ever published is my LBOW, my “lifetime body of work.” It’s currently 410 articles, and of course, the book Content Chemistry, currently in its fifth edition.
Presentations are not shown on this chart. I give around 100 per year if you include classes and webinars.
Who is your favorite content creator and why?
He does sales and marketing for Animalz, a content marketing company for SaaS brands. And he’s a pro.
Earlier I listed my sources of ideas. Jimmy has a more focused approach: he ONLY writes articles that answer prospects questions.
His content is pure sales enablement. 100% of his articles are written specifically for real prospects. That’s focus. And he’s crushing it.
What’s the one takeaway you want to impart on someone who, let’s say, is a blogging n00b. 🙂
You are playing a long game. It takes more work, more focus and more time than people think.
Content is a flywheel. It’s difficult to build an audience. It takes a lot work to grow an email list, a social following, an authoritative domain. But those email, social and search benefits are durable and cumulative.
One excellent way to stand out is to go deeper into topics and write super long, almost exhaustive posts. But this takes time.
“You are playing a long game.” ~Andy Crestodina
I recentently recorded myself writing a search optimized article. I wanted to show all the necessary steps to write something that ranks #1. It was a four-hour recording that I edited, sped up and narrated.
It explains everything. You can see it here:
The total time to write the high-ranking piece, including editing and images, was 7+ hours. Here’s the breakdown.
The comments show how surprised people were at the level of effort required. It’s a lot of work!
One final note and tip for beginners (and everyone): read the Calvin Coolidge quote about persistence. Better yet, print it and hang it on your wall. I did.
#CoolContentCreators Interview Series
- How Andy Crestodina Excels At Content Creation
- How Chris Brogan Never Runs Out Of Content Ideas
- How Jenn Herman Built Her Authority and Reputation With Content
- How Guy Kawasaki Fuels A Successful Podcast With Content
- How Jay Baer Spins Ideas Into Blog Posts, Speeches and Books
- How Ann Handley Consistently Writes With Confidence
- How Melanie Deziel Builds Successful Content Systems
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