James Gill is the impossibly affable CEO of GoSquared, a Shoreditch-based SaaS company offering an analytics and customer intelligence platform.
It turns out that GoSquared is a powerhouse of content, which drives over half the company’s business, James says.
In this interview, we go deep into how it is possible to make a 1,000% ROI on Content Marketing, discuss some very specific promotion tactics, and get James’ take on what really annoys him. Enjoy!
My key learnings and takeaways from the interview:
- Try to have a content honey pot that will attract inbound traffic. GoSquared has the section “Global Metrics” which receives a lot of inbound traffic (e.g. people searching for different operating system adoption rates). Is there some interesting content hidden inside your organisation that people search for on Google?
- Paying for advertising is like renting a home. The money is gone after the fact. Content marketing is like buying a home. You’re building an asset.
- Content has not only driven engagement with prospective customers of GoSquared. It also helped start conversations with other companies who end up integrating GoSquared into their product offering. It wouldn’t have happened without the content.
- Mention other companies in your posts. It amplifies your audience and starts a conversation.
- When critiquing others’ work (eg page design, copy etc), phrase it as a user test would. Don’t say “this is bad” but rather “this doesn’t work for me as a user”. You don’t know how this piece is working for the company in question or what has led to them making this decision.
- When you’re considering gated content, don’t only think about white papers or eBooks. You can also do an email course that drip feeds people the basics of what you have to offer.
- If you have problems publishing content on a regular basis, write a weekly newsletter and commit to your audience. That will keep you on your toes.
- Key advice from James on content marketing superstardom:
- First think about what your audience would enjoy reading. It’s more important than what you would enjoy writing.
- Don’t treat promotion as an afterthought. When you hit publish on a piece of Content, you’re only halfway there.
- Resurface your content. It’s like your tweeting never happened. Keep republishing your old content.
Michal: Good to see you James. So we’re speaking a few days after your super-long blog post on Calls to Action went live – a real monster. It’s the longest blog post in the history of mankind. Did you write it yourself?
James: (laughs) I did. It wasn’t too long, maybe 2-3 days? As with the rest of our Content Marketing, we’re targeting growth teams and marketing people in general. Recently we’ve noticed that we take for granted some of the knowledge we’ve built up inside GoSquared. One day I was capturing our knowledge on Call-To-Action buttons, and thought that this could be great content for our audience. I added some examples, and then it became this huge thing.
But that’s the direction we want to go – provide in-depth resources for growth marketers to benefit from. We see there’s a lot of knowledge inside the team so we just have to make time to dig it up and get it out into the world.
Michal: Oh yea, a lot in Content Marketing is about the process of unearthing the knowledge that already exists inside the company. Also, there’s a mindset shift that needs to happen in people’s heads to think in Content Marketing terms. A product manager needs to think “oh, what I’m thinking right now would be a good piece of content to share with our customers.”
You need to get into the mindset of “I don’t know much, but that little is already helpful to someone.”
James: Another problem is that you often feel that you don’t know enough and should wait until you do. But what you’ve learned so far has got you to where you are now, and that helps those people who are starting. So you need to get into the mindset of “I don’t know much, but that little is already helpful to someone.”
Michal: You’d never write anything if you need to be a Nobel Prize winner first.
Michal: So let’s look at the big picture. What kind of structures does GoSquared now have in place for Content Marketing? Or is it simply you putting out a piece of content once a week and that’s it?
James: We have the blog, we have a page called Resources where there’s free downloads on various topics. And then there’s the page Global Metrics. Because our code sits on so many sites, we have a lot of good data on device or browser usage, our audience can access that. And that attracts a lot of inbound traffic and is often the first touchpoint where people find out about us.
But more generally, the way we try to think about content is: People rarely see a piece of content and then sign up. And that leads potential critics to say “oh it doesn’t lead to signups, so content is not worth it”. And yes, it IS notoriously hard to measure the impact of it. But what we know is that the content is one of the first touchpoints how people get to know about us. From there, they sign up for our newsletter or check out our homepage.
Michal: Do you retarget them?
James: We used to, in the past. We could be a bit smarter about that. But then, we don’t have a dedicated person on the team doing marketing. We’re a very small team. And any paid acquisition you do, you have to resource it well because you’re going to suck early on.
Michal: Yea but that applies to everything. Your time is money, too. And only because you don’t receive an invoice after a weekend spent writing content, it still cost you.
James: True. But another way to look at it is: When you’re paying for advertising, it’s like you’re renting. The money’s gone at the end of it, it’s never going to come back. But content marketing is like buying a house. You’re building an asset.
Michal: I like that analogy. But then also consider that there’s good ways and bad ways of spending money. I think spending money to promote your content is fine if you have all your infrastructure ready: You are optimising your popup triggers, you have forms to “upsell” visitors to eBooks and white papers, you’re sending them the right email sequences etc. So you buy traffic but turn a lot of the traffic into an asset itself.
James: Totally. But we’re not there yet. Currently, we see this sequence: View a post, view a few other posts, sign up to the newsletter, read that, sign up for a free trial. How our audience interacts with the newsletter – how much they open it, if they click through – that helps us with lead qualification.
“What has worked well for us is that our content attracts other companies to us who then become partners.”
Michal: What has worked most for you with Content Marketing?
James: What has worked well for us is that our content, shared on Twitter, has attracted other companies to us who then become partners. They integrate GoSquared with their offering, which drives business for us. And that wouldn’t have happened without the content and without Twitter.
Michal: Can you give an example?
James: So with our CTA post. We share it on Twitter, and other companies in our space like it and retweet it and so on. We thank them and ask if they would improve something. And often, this starts a conversation. The way the collaboration starts is that they see something on our blog and want to write a post for us. Or they offer us to write a post for them. For example, we’re collaborating with a SaaS company that tracks Net Promoter Score. They got in touch with us because we wrote a post about NPS and they wanted us to write something on their blog. And now we might do an integration with them.
Michal: And you don’t think this would be happening if you only shared other people’s content?
James: Yea, I don’t think it would. Now, we are the creators of it, so people who comment on it are more invested because they’re talking to the author.
Michal: Are you doing this in a targeted way, where you think “hm, this company X would be a great integration partner. Let’s write something that would get their attention.”
James: (laughs) it’s not as strategic as it could be. That CTA blog post we used as an opportunity to engage with people we wanted to. When you look at the post, there’s some 60 examples in there. The strategic side of the post was to a) not include direct competitors and b) add in those companies with similar audiences to ours. We also used it to restart some dormant conversations. For example, it’s been a while that we’ve spoken to the guys at Geckoboard. So we added an example from them in the post, tweeted at them, got some interaction out of it.
Michal: I think this is exactly the right recipe for Content Marketing. Come up with something genuinely useful for your audience, but then be tactical with your examples. The content serves your audience, the examples serve you.
James: Yes exactly. This was one of the first times we referenced so many other companies in a post and it has worked really well for us. We were hesitant about doing this in the past because I don’t like criticising someone else’s work. It’s one of the things that really bugs me when people comment negatively about other companies’ page design or CTAs without having insight how the business works and what has led them to make this decision. So one of the challenges with that post for me was giving an opinion on how we might do something, without implying that we know better than e.g. Geckoboard. The secret lies in phrasing it like it’s a user test – giving our opinion on how something works for us as users.
Michal: What else has worked for you in content?
James: We once did a post about our login screen, which is something that’s normally overlooked. I mean, it’s a friggin login screen. Email address, password. What the hell, doesn’t matter. But we’ve been thinking a lot on how to make it better. That’s the product philosophy at GoSquared, we keep trying to make things easier and nicer. And we do it because we care, not because someone is going to pay us more. So you can’t justify work the login screen from an ROI point of view. But we still did it because we’re geeks and whatnot.
So we made the login fast and slick and better on mobile. And we wrote about all those decisions we made in this context. That post went quite mental: Designers really liked it for the design aspects, engineers liked it for the technical details. It became very popular, got reposted, retweeted. What was also cool that it drove people to actually engage with the product. Sure, it got us a lot of junk signups, but some of those who signed up ended up engaging with the product.
“To say we have a strategy would be an overstatement”
Michal: Is there a strategy behind all this? Would you say you have a Content Strategy?
James: (laughs) To say we have a strategy would be an overstatement. But if I had to phrase it on the spot I’d say it’s: Creating the best possible content for people in charge of growth – that’s mainly marketing, but also sales and product. People that are at the top of the funnel. And get it seen by as many of them as possible. That means promoting it a lot on amplification platforms like Reddit and Quora. But also getting people to link to it so that we start appearing in Google searches.
What we haven’t done enough of is to do gated content – requesting people’s email addresses. But not only as downloadable content, also for example doing an email drip with some marketing basics, like a 10-step course.
Michal: What amplification platforms work for you? And do you put original content on there or do you just copy and paste?
James: We do bespoke content for the platforms, like a summary of the post, with a link at the end. We are still only exploring at the moment. Quora, Reddit, Designer News have all been a good channel for us. Hacker News as well, but not always best for end-to-end conversion to signup.
[Michal’s note on this point. Apparently, Google does NOT punish for duplicate content, after all. There is a persistent myth in this regard, manifest in 119k search results for the phrase “duplicate content penalty”]
Michal: Do you feel you’re reaching your potential customers on Twitter? It often seems like it’s the service providers and influencers following each other.
James: I hear you. The experts are very vocal on Twitter, but the customers are there too, but they are not as loud. A lot of our existing customers are on Twitter and are following us. But I do think that the customers are more on Google, searching for answers. Which is why it’s so important you show up in searches.
Michal: Well one of Google’s check boxes you are ticking for sure, and that is sheer consistency. I was digging into your blog and it was so impressive, over the last 10 years you’ve been putting out content almost every week – it blew me away.
James: Yea, consistency is very important. This is one of the reasons we have a newsletter, so that we are forced to get something out every week.
Michal: Based on all the lessons learned, what would be your advice for other content marketers?
- Think about the audience first. Think about what they would want to know. Instead of just producing content and then asking who will read it and how they’ll find it, think hard about what your existing audience would like. This is how our CTA blog post came to be.
- Don’t treat content promotion as an afterthought. We used to write a post, put a lot of work into it, and then hit publish and be done with it. The promotion used to be an afterthought, like “ah yea we should probably tweet it”. It’s very different now, we always think about all the channels at our disposal. And it’s also important to know that the communities like Quora or Reddit don’t like it if you just swoop in and deposit your content and leave. You have to be there and engage with the community – leave comments, upvote a few things, and so on.
- Think about resurfacing the content. If you are producing evergreen content – only because you shared it once doesn’t mean it got read. Not everyone lives on Twitter every day and remembers every little thing you put out. That’s why also in our newsletter we have the section “in case you missed it”.
“Think about that. With 0.4 FTE, you are driving more than 50% of your business”
Michal: How many of your existing business would you attribute to your content work? I know it’s impossible to say precisely, but what would be your best educated guess?
James: We really only do content and word of mouth. But the word of mouth would have never happened without the content to kick it off. So my best guess is that at least half of our business must be from the content we’ve put out. Content is the seed of what got people to know about us.
Michal: And how many FTE work on content? Is it just you?
James: Yes. And I would say that I spend two days a week on content, so that’s 0.4 FTE.
Michal: That’s amazing, though – think about that. With 0.4 FTE, you are driving more than 50% of your business.
James: Yep. I ran the numbers and I calculated that we must have something in the range of 1,000% ROI on Content Marketing
Michal: This is stunning.
James: Yea but it did take a long time to build up, of course. It didn’t come out of nowhere. Still, it’s great ROI. I remember reading a post from Hubspot where they were asking what would you do with a $1bn marketing budget. Their response was that they’d hire an army of people to write more content. But then, I mean, they would say that. (laughs)
Michal: Let’s move to conversion. How do you track people’s content consumption and check if they are ripe for becoming a customer?
James: Yes, our own product helps us quite a bit with that. We have these things called smart groups for our users, they are almost like smart playlists. Once you have their email address, you build a group for what we would consider qualified trial leads. Have they had this many visits, how many posts did they look at etc. And then we contact those who look most promising.
Michal: Any other tools you recommend?
James: The Yoast SEO plugin is very good, helps you make the most of your content’s SEO value. And then I really like Dropbox Paper – you can share documents within your team, have people comment on it.
Michal: Wouldn’t Google Docs do the trick?
James: Hm… I guess it would. I like that Dropbox Paper has fewer options, fewer font types and sizes – it’s just: Write. I like that minimalism.
Michal: James, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. It was enormously insightful.
James: I love talking about this, it was a real pleasure!
Michal: How can people hear more regularly from you?
James: Well that’s an easy one – sign up to our newsletter if you’re interested in content about how to grow your business. Follow us on Twitter or drop by our offices in Runway East Shoreditch.
Image credits: The Noun Project, Adobe Stock