I started my job as Brand Manager at Paid Memberships Pro just over a year ago. Between Kim and myself we did just about all of the marketing for the whole company. I wrote blog posts and newsletters, sent out tweets, reviewed Google Analytics, and analyzed our sales numbers.
As we worked, we slowly built our team. In October we hired a marketing specialist to help us with data entry, social media, and graphics. Then we hired a content manager in January. She's taken over the blog which has opened up my time so I can finally focus on strategy.
Best Practices Before Strategy
When Kim and I did the marketing ourselves we followed best practices. We utilized a content marketing strategy but kept the actual “strategy” to a minimum. If we thought of a blog post, newsletter, or tweet that could help someone we wrote it up. It was a very fast and easy decision making process.
But it was a bit like blindly eating chocolates out of a box. Chocolate is good, but some candies are just fine (coconut), while others are incredible (peanut butter 😋).
To put it in more market-y terms, we have one blog post that brings in thousands of visits a month. Did we do SEO keyword research? Nope. Did we write it up just because we thought it would help our audience. Yup. We lucked out and got our tasty peanut butter chocolate truffle. But we spent a lot of time writing coconuts.
Truthfully, you don't need a grand strategy when you're just getting started on content creation. But, if you have the time to craft a plan, it's more like using the key on the lid of your chocolate box. You can choose the chocolate “content” that everyone loves and optimize around. So you'll spend more time identifying winners and less time writing losers.
Where's the Friction?
With my marketing team in place, I started noticing the inefficiency of our strategy. There were important questions to answer, like:
- What else should we do?
- What should we stop doing?
- What are we willing to sacrifice to improve?
Companies often say, “We're going to do this new marketing thing,” but they don't consider what they can give up to make sure it works. Resources like time, money, and labor will be stretched thin if you only add new projects — successful businesses also learn to subtract. If you want to try something new, then it's better to clear out space for it to function optimally.
Four Ways to Grow an Online Biz
There are four primary ways to grow an online business:
- Increase traffic – Some percentage of your website's visitors make it to check out. So by increasing traffic each month you should see a sales increase.
- Increase conversion rate – If you can increase your conversion rate from 1% to 2%, then you'll double your sales numbers. It's very hard to increase the conversion rate, but it makes each visitor so much more valuable
- Increase average order value (AOV) – If you can get soon-to-be customers to upgrade or add more products to their cart, then you'll make more money from each transaction.
- Increase repeat purchases – If you can get more users to renew their order every year, then you'll increase sales without having to get new customers.
So for Paid Memberships Pro any marketing strategy has to work in one of these four ways. And if it's a great strategy it will fit into two or more of these marketing levers.
My First Marketing Direction
Paid Memberships Pro has done a beautiful job of consistently publishing blog posts throughout their last 10 years in business.
We have over 900 posts! That's a lot of content. 🤯
What we don't have is organization or a lot of internal links. This makes it hard for users to find existing content on our site. And if they can't find the content they're looking for, they probably won't become customers.
That's why after a lot of research and and internal discussion we're moving forward with cornerstone content as our first content strategy pillar.
The goal of cornerstone content is to have a central place your audience can go to learn about the most important topics. For instance, a large portion of Paid Membership Pro users really want to know about online courses. So we created an absolutely massive “Online Course” cornerstone article of 5,500+ words! It includes everything someone might want to know about the topic and links to other relevant content on our site.
This cornerstone content will help visitors to better understand the landscape of online courses, how to get started, and how our software can help. Ultimately, the information should lead more people to buy our product — This is how cornerstone content can increase our conversion rate.
Cornerstone content is also great for search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines like Google can follow the internal links and understand that it's a primary page on your site. Primary pages rank better in search results.
Additionally, when people land on a page that has a lot of good information about the topic they intended to learn about, they will stay there longer (so lower bounce rates). And, if you have lots of useful links, visitors will stay on your website longer overall — This is how cornerstone content should increase our total traffic to the PMPro site.
So we're using two of the four main marketing levers to increase revenue on a website. Awesome! But what do we give up to get there?
Luckily, we don't have to give up much. Instead of writing a 1,000 word blog post every week, our teams spends a few weeks developing one 4,000-5,000 word cornerstone post. And we outsource additional content needs to freelance writers or content creation agencies.
We've already published the first two cornerstone articles on our site. The online courses cornerstone went live a few months back and we added our second just before I headed out on paternity leave.
SEO is a very slow marketing channel. If you write something incredible it will still take months for Google to properly rank it. So I don't expect to see much of an increase in traffic for a few months.
But eventually I'd like to see a few things in relation to our Online Course cornerstone content:
- Increased traffic from search engines.
- It should be similar to our top performing posts about online courses today.
- Increased time on our site
- Increased pages per session
- Increased conversion rate
If we see these metrics improve we know this strategy is working and can confidently double down. We can increase two cornerstones into four, or even eight in a few years time.
We also want to consider what happens in the buyer's journey after. The cornerstone articles group content but aren't a hard sell. We need additional content that sells PMPro. But that's a question for another blog post. I can't give away all of my secrets before I've implemented them myself. 🙃
There's still a lot to do with cornerstone content. It's the first step. And I don't expect we've stepped perfectly. But I do think we'll improve our numbers.
Before cornerstone content we were just publishing. Now we have purpose behind what we create, and it will help search engines and (most importantly) our users.