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Choose Your Content Types Wisely

What types of content are best for your digital marketing plan?

The landscape of online content has changed dramatically over the past few years. And yet, so many still think of the hub of their online content marketing as a “blog.” But it’s so much more than that.

In this episode of Expert Marketing Matters, Lauren McGaha and Holly Fong discuss how to choose the right types of content to support your digital marketing editorial plan.

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.

Episode Transcript

Lauren McGaha: Welcome to Expert Marketing Matters. I’m Lauren McGaha.

Holly Fong: I’m Holly Fong.

Lauren McGaha: Holly, today we’re going to talk about how to choose appropriate types of content to support your editorial plan. It’s interesting because the content portfolio landscape has really evolved in recent years. It’s really grown in complexity.

Holly Fong: It definitely has. When you used to think about online content, everyone just thought of one thing which is a blog.

Lauren McGaha: The blog.

Holly Fong: The blog. A lot of times, I mean, people were thinking about it for personal use as well. I think now that more businesses use it and it’s more of a B2B marketing technique, I think that’s one of the reasons that maybe it’s changed so much. But across the landscape there are so many different types of content pieces that you can publish and promote online that didn’t used to exist.

Lauren McGaha: Yes, and the blog certainly has its place and we want to talk about the best way to blog today actually and the choices because the landscape even inside of just the container of blogging has evolved and grown in complexity in recent years. However, there’s a lot more to choose from.

Lauren McGaha: The subject for today is how to choose, how to prioritize what types of content you should be investing in with your editorial plan. When you start to consider this question for your firm, to me it’s a question first of objectives. If we think about your website being the hub as far as digital marketing, and customer experience, and lead engagement, if we say that the website, getting people to the site is sort of the ultimate goal, the ways that you might decide to make decisions about what types of content are a part of your plan are kind of two fold.

Lauren McGaha: There’s, okay well, what kinds of content are going to attract more people to the site in the first place? Then there is the question, well, with the traffic that I do have, how am I best engaging these people? How do I get them to engage with my brand? What types of content are going to foster that engagement with the traffic I do have on the site?

Holly Fong: Yes. I think what’s important to identify here is where to start. The first place you want to start is are you getting traffic to your site, and are you getting enough traffic to your site to really warrant considering other content types.

Lauren McGaha: Outside of a blog you mean?

Holly Fong: Exactly, yes.

Lauren McGaha: When we think about that, what would you advise to firms listening saying, “Okay, well I’ve got X number of visitors or you know?” What’s the traffic threshold?

Holly Fong: I think 2,000 is a good threshold, 2,000 visitors per month. That’s about a hundred visitors on weekdays, that’s a decent threshold. That does not mean that you cannot create other assets other than blog posts if you have lower than that amount, but it comes down to an investment of time. So you should be investing more of your time creating blogs than any other type of content on your site if you have less than that number of visitors on your site per month.

Lauren McGaha: Because the reality is that we see the blog is still the most effective channel inside of content marketing to attract people organically to your site.

Holly Fong: Exactly, yes. I mean I threw out the number 2,000, but it’s also important to consider what the makeup of that traffic is. How many of those visitors are really coming from organic, versus email, versus maybe paid ads that you’re running? When we’re talking about these numbers, we’re generally talking about driving organic traffic to your site. A lot of content marketing, yes, you can market it via different channels like social media or Google AdWords or things like that, but for traffic that lasts that you don’t have to continue to pay for, we really want to help drive that organic traffic to your site and drive the traffic from your email list back to your site.

Lauren McGaha: When you’re thinking about getting in to other forms of content outside of the blog, the makeup of that 2,000, it’s less important though. Let’s say that you’re driving 80% of that traffic via email and paid ads, yes, you should still be blogging because as you’re mentioning, you do want to continue to foster and grow the traffic coming in through the organic channel. If you’ve got 2,000 eyeballs per month on your content, then you’re probably reaching a level of maturity where you can start to branch out into other forms of content and trying to engage these people once they’re already on the site.

Holly Fong: Yes, exactly. When you think about if you were not to invest enough in creating that free content, which a blog is considered usually free content and that it’s not behind a gate of any sort. If you don’t have enough people coming to the site, you’re probably not going to get them there by saying, “Hey, come to my site. Oh, now that you’re on my site, fill out this form.”

Lauren McGaha: Right. Exactly. We want to get into the gated content side of things, so content that is only accessible through a form submission, and we’re going to spend the bulk of our conversation today in that realm. Before we do, let’s break down this whole blogging reality as it is today because it really has changed, as Holly, you said when content marketing was more in its infancy, blogging was considered content marketing and that just meant throw some thoughts down on a page and it’s probably going to be 300 words or 500 words, it doesn’t really matter, just like get something out there, get a perspective out there.

Lauren McGaha: Now what we’ve really seen is that as Google has matured, it’s requiring marketers to mature in they’re blogging strategy as well. When you think about the types of blogs that there are, you can really break it down into longer form and shorter form blogs, and really think about what the objectives for each is.

Holly Fong: Yes. I’d love to put some numbers around, maybe the size of that blog word count wise.

Lauren McGaha: Yes, that’s where I was headed. Go for it.

Holly Fong: I just beat you there. When you think about posts that you’re creating that are 500 words or less, one thing that’s important to understand now, and I believe you would agree with me on this.

Lauren McGaha: We’ll see.

Holly Fong: Is that you’re probably not going to get a ton of organic traffic if any two posts that are that short in nature especially when you’re creating them now. If you created them 10 years ago, it might be a different story, but today-

Lauren McGaha: Or even five years ago,

Holly Fong: Three years ago. Today, with where content marketing is, anything that’s less than 500 words, you’re going to have a lot of trouble gaining any organic traffic to that page as a landing page.

Lauren McGaha: Totally agree. When we’re advising clients, we advise them to think that 500 words is really the minimum threshold. If you can’t come in at 500 words, you should start to question the topic at hand. Do you really have a perspective on this thing? Do you have a point-of-view? Why are you writing this i you can’t crank out at least 500 words on it.

Holly Fong: Send a tweet if you have less than 500 words.

Lauren McGaha: Exactly. There’s the minimum viable product, so to speak, for a blog which would be 500 words, but to your point, even 500 words is not going to be really enough to achieve the main objective of driving tons of organic traffic to the site. If you have fewer than 2,000 visitors to your site, you’re probably going to first be prioritizing a blogging strategy over a gated content strategy at the moment. If that’s the case, you’re going to want to focus on longer form blog posts which are much longer than 500 words. They’re going to be in the realm of, say, 1,500 words.

Holly Fong: I would disagree a little bit with those numbers, but not by much at all. I would think that there’s like a little bit of a middle ground where you have 500 to a thousand, and then like you’re saying, well over a thousand to more than that.

Lauren McGaha: Yes, and I think it depends on what the objective is. If you want to have the best success at driving organic traffic being discovered online, I think the longer form blog is going to be critical to that. Let’s say 500 to a thousand words, so if you’re averaging out at 750 words propose, that’s not going to do it. Most recent studies that I’ve read had shown that 1,500 words is kind of the sweet spot, like a thousand to 1,500 is going to be much more successful than 500 words to a thousand words.

Holly Fong: Yes, I think we’re on the same page there, just slightly different. One thing I was going to say too, which I think you kind of alluded to here, was just that if you’re looking at getting more organic traffic to your site, you’d probably be better served writing one blog post that’s 1,500 words than two blog posts that are 750 each.

Lauren McGaha: Right, yes. Fewer blogs that are more verbose, more thorough, than a higher volume of shorter quick hits. The reason for this is Google’s trying to be better at its job. Google is trying to connect users with the most in-depth, relevant content that matches their search queries. Obviously, there are tons of factors that go into Google’s algorithm when they’re prioritizing search results, but all else being equal if you are writing a 700-word post on a topic and your competitor is writing a 1,500-word posts on a topic, Google is going to prioritize the more thorough post on the subject.

Holly Fong: It’s definitely looking at length. One thing that you can do when you’re thinking about writing for a specific topic or about a specific topic is to actually look at the first page of Google. Go look at some of the first results that it’s showing, see how long those posts are. If you can make your posts longer, then there’s a good chance that Google might see you. I mean there’s a number of things that it’s taking into consideration, so this isn’t always like a hard and fast rule, but there’s a good chance it will see you as more authoritative on that topic if you have more content on that topic.

Lauren McGaha: Yes, that’s a really good tip. Can you think of a situation where it would be more advantageous for a firm to be investing in shorter form blog posts?

Holly Fong: It’s hard to think of one. I think there is a place for shorter form content. I don’t know if I would ever say that there’s a place where that’s the only type of content they create, a short blog post. One thing they do say about shorter form content, a shorter blog post is they tend to get more engagement. If you have people commenting on them and you kind of are starting more of a discussion around that, I could see that working. Are there scenarios that you can think of?

Lauren McGaha: Yes. I think it has to do again with, is the objective to prioritize Google or to prioritize the reader, and sometimes you got to make a judgment call there. If you are already getting a decent amount of traffic to your site, you’ve got some equity in your main domain, then publishing blog posts that might be 500 words or 600 or 700 words and then structuring them for engagement. We’re going to get into the gate side of this.

Lauren McGaha: If you had an associated asset that was behind a form, we’re going to talk a lot about that in a moment, that would probably be better suited on a shorter form blog posts depending on how that page is structured because we know that human readers are more likely to scan and they want things in digestible chunks. So if they’re being constantly met with just 2,000 words of plain text and you’re not breaking it up and making it easy for them to digest and engage with that content, it’s going to be harder for them to take an action like submitting a form to learn more.

Holly Fong: Yes, I would agree with that.

Speaker 3: You’re listening to Expert Marketing Matters, a podcast about generating ideal new business opportunities by creating and nurturing digital marketing systems and habits that have a measurable impact on your bottom line. This podcast is brought to you by Newfangled, a digital marketing consultancy focused on empowering experts to do better digital marketing. You can learn more about Newfangled’s digital marketing method at

Lauren McGaha: Let’s get into the gated side of things because that is really where we’ve seen the most diversity lately. Perhaps where we can start is just starting to talk about what are some of the most common gated types of content that we’re seeing and what are the pros and cons of each.

Holly Fong: Let’s talk about maybe the ones that have been around the longest, white papers and webinars are two that come to mind to me as gated assets that have been around for a long time that we’ve experimented with a ton at Newfangled that our clients have and that we have a lot of experience with.

Lauren McGaha: I mean white papers and webinars, there is a lot that can be said for these types of assets. Just to put some defining language around these terms. When we refer to a white paper, we’re referring to a primarily text-based piece of content. It does tend to be more verbose. It does tend to be longer than your average blog post, especially if your average blog post to-date had been, say, a few hundred words.

Lauren McGaha: For a white paper, you’re selecting a topic that’s going to be relevant to a broad swath of people who might be coming to your site because this will be an asset that would be promoted across the site. You’d be including the form to download the white paper and things like your sidebar CTAs, or maybe as a premiere feature section on your homepage, things like that.

Lauren McGaha: It’s a topic that you are going to go on the record about that feels like it’d be relevant to pretty much anybody who’s going to come to the site. Those topics tend to be more expansive, they tend to have more space for going further in-depth on a subject. They’re less a specific, they’re often less tactical than a typical blog post.

Holly Fong: I’m curious to hear how you’re going to define a webinar, because to me, it seems like there are obvious differences between a white paper and webinar. One of which is a webinar is something that people can sign up to attend, so there’s a little bit more of engagement, realtime engagement factor with that. The others, obviously, it’s going to be more visual in nature because you’re going to be showing something on a screen as you talk through it. I think there’s a lot of differences there.

Holly Fong: You had mentioned about white papers being relevant to anyone that comes to your site, or someone who comes to your site probably being interested in what those topics are. Do you feel that’s the same for a webinar, or do you think that that differs slightly?

Lauren McGaha: Well, for the same reasons that I think you want to be careful about the nature of the topic for your white paper because it is going to be promoted to every single person in theory who comes to the site, they can stumble upon it. I think that’s true for webinars as well. It’s going to be universally promoted across the site.

Lauren McGaha: Now, there are some obvious differences. A webinar is presentation, and so the subject needs to lend itself to a preventative style of communication. I guess the reason I’m teeing this up this way is because we’re going to talk about some other forms of gated content that are really specific and tactical to the context in which they’re being viewed on the page and on the site, and so not every user is going to see them.

Lauren McGaha: With the white paper and with the webinar, the subjects themselves tend to be a little bit more expansive and a little bit more broad in scope than some of the other options that are on the table when it comes to gated content.

Holly Fong: Yes, I can definitely see what you’re talking about. I think what you’re touching on or referring to there is what we’re about to get into which is content upgrades.

Lauren McGaha: Yes. Actually, before we get into that, I think one point of note for white papers and webinars that’s just important to keep in mind is they are inherently asking for a bit of time on the part of the person who’s accessing them. A white paper is going to be more dense, typically, it’s not going to be a five-minute read. A webinar, as you mentioned, it’s something that somebody signs up, it’s an event that somebody signs up to attend, or at the very least they know they’re going to get the recording and they’re going to sit down for an hour and watch this thing.

Lauren McGaha: You are asking for some investments, a higher level of investment on behalf of the person accessing that asset, then perhaps something like a content upgrade. To get into what a content upgrade is. This, we can contrast this with white papers and webinars because this is an asset that would be accessible on a specific blog detail page, and it’s an asset that’s specific to the topic of that blog.

Lauren McGaha: It’s not necessarily something that gets promoted across the entire site. Instead, it is something that you know, the user is on has discovered this blog because either they typed in a search query and Google told them to go to it or you promote it via email, whatever it is, and they found themselves interested in this very specific blog topic. There’s a related checklist, or a top 10 list, or some sort of asset that’s tactical to the subject at hand which is much different than how you would approach a white paper or a webinar.

Holly Fong: Yes. Content upgrades typically perform fairly well because of what they are in nature. Meaning that if that person isn’t on that page, they may not be interested in that topic, but if they are on that page, they’re likely to want whatever that additional asset is that, as you mentioned, might be a little more tactical in nature.

Lauren McGaha: Exactly. That’s why we see conversion rates are much higher on these particular assets, generally speaking. If you’re starting to get into gated content and you’re still focusing on bringing more traffic to the site but you don’t want to completely abandon the initiative of engaging that traffic once it arrives, I think content upgrades are a great place to start because typically they take less time to produce.

Lauren McGaha: I mean just from a practical standpoint, it’s a lot faster to put together a checklist, or a Venn diagram, or some sort of visual representation of what you’ve outlined in the blog post at hand. Typically, they don’t take nearly as long as something like putting together a presentation deck for a webinar. Practically, it’s a lower barrier to entry to get into it, it’s also not asking that much of the person who’s accessing it. If you haven’t built that fan base yet, then it would make sense to maybe start with something that’s lower hanging fruit.

Holly Fong: That’s exactly what I was about to say, which is that if you don’t necessarily have a following yet, you’re probably more likely to be able to get a conversion on something like a content upgrade. Then you would be on a gated asset like a webinar or white paper that, like you said, is the larger time investment from that visitor who is choosing whether they want to convert on that asset or not.

Holly Fong: The other thing that comes to mind is you can build a little bit of why that person might be interested in downloading that content upgrade through that blog post, whereas you don’t necessarily have as much of an opportunity to do that especially because of the nature of what’s behind that gate with something like a white paper or a webinar.

Lauren McGaha: Would you say that there’s a particular performance threshold of the site that a firm should be looking at before they make the call, “Okay, we’re ready to graduate from content upgrades to something like a white paper or a Webinar”?

Holly Fong: I think it probably has more to do with engagement of your email list than of your site. I would also think it has to do with engagement and size of your email list, because if you’re going to spend the time to create an asset that like we’re saying isn’t asking a lot of the individual who happens to be on that page and is deciding whether to download it or not, you want to make sure you have enough people who are really interested in the content that you’re creating.

Holly Fong: A good measure of that is probably your email list. How many people are regularly engaging with your emails? If you have a list of people who’ve subscribed, that’s a great way of being able to see that size. A lot of firms have email list that are made up of various different sources and that’s fine. When you have a list that’s made up of various different sources, what I would look at is your open rate. Let’s say you have a list of 3,000, what you’re going to want to know is, okay, do we have above a 20% open rate on a consistent basis for that list that we’re sending to?

Lauren McGaha: Because that threshold, it’s a list indicating that people are interested in hearing from you. You’re looking for factors that are indicators of a fan base, indicators that people are interested in hearing what you have to say. If you’re just getting started with content marketing, or digital marketing, or if you’re launching a new brand or things like that, you’ve got a lot of work to put in before you’re at the stage where you can reasonably ask and expect people to respond to spending more of their time to digest these deeper level thoughts from you.

Holly Fong: It’s also about the investment of time, so the investment you’re willing to make and in creating an asset that you’re not sure how hungry may be your audience base is for that asset. We talk about engagement rate of that list, but like I said, size also kind of matters here. If you were, say, to have a list of 500 people, and on average you got a 2.5 click through rate of your entire list, and that’s a decent click through rate for that. What that means is that you’re getting about 12 to 13 visitors to your site.

Holly Fong: Now, if you take that 12 to 13 visitors and let’s say you sent those people to that landing page, and they got to that landing page and you say, “Okay, of those 12 to 13 people, you know, 20% converted”, which is a high conversion rate for landing page, that’s two to three downloads. You have to decide, is it worth spending the time to put this asset together knowing that initially, now it could always lead to more downloads down the road, and that’s what you hope for, and that’s what you want.

Holly Fong: You should build automated programs around it so that you can continue to reuse this assets, but you have to think about is it worth the time and investment to get those few downloads.

Lauren McGaha: That’s a judgment call. Generally speaking, yes, you hear those numbers and you’re like, “Man, no, the answer is no. It’s not worth the hours and hours of time I’m going to put in to produce this content to get to people to download it.” There could, in theory, be exceptions to that if you have this crazy targeted lists that are just full of the absolute right people. Wow, if those two people are just like spot on perfect, then maybe you do feel like it’s worth that investment.

Lauren McGaha: I think the important thing is by and large probably not, and it’s really worth analyzing the makeup of your prospect database before you start making decisions about where to invest your content marketing time.

Holly Fong: It’s also important to point out, this is one of the main reasons that we do advocate for finding ways to grow that list. If you’re going to have a content creation plan, yes, these people will come eventually, but one way to kind of speed that up is to try to get more people to the site sooner and earlier, get them to convert sooner and earlier so that you can continue to grow those people coming back to your site, and then hopefully get more people over time as well.

Lauren McGaha: I think something we can’t forget about as well it’s just the quality of the prospects who are taking these different behaviors. As we’ve observed and as we’ve seen, and as a lot of research out there will tell you, the conversion rate on more tactical quick hit assets like content upgrades is going to be higher than something like a white paper or a webinar. What we’ve also seen is that the quality of that conversion might not be as high because just the nature of the asset is different.

Lauren McGaha: It could be that this is somebody who just needs a tool to handle a problem and then they’re not really as later stage in the game, or they’re not thinking critically about a business challenge. Whereas somebody who’s willing to invest the time that it takes to process something like a white paper or a webinar, it’s probably going to indicate that they’re a little bit either further along in their buy cycle or maybe just a more relevant, deeper, higher value prospect for you.

Holly Fong: We do see that the content upgrades, while they might lead to more conversions, when you look at the page itself, it might not be more conversions that are actual decision makers. Whereas we see with a piece of content that is like a white paper or a webinar especially depending on the topic, we’re aiming to get those decision makers to convert and they tend to have more decision makers convert than individuals that don’t have that purchasing power maybe or like decision-making power.

Lauren McGaha: Exactly. Big picture, this is a journey. Content marketing is a really diverse landscape now. When you are getting into this, it’s a question of prioritization. It’s a question about understanding where you are in your digital marketing maturity, and where you should be investing your time first because you’ve always got time to grow in your content marketing plan.

Lauren McGaha: If you are new to this game, then the first place to start is developing longer form blog posts that are intended to drive people to the site so that they can discover you. If you’re starting to dabble with gated content, we would say think about producing a few pieces of smaller, more tactical assets that would fall into the content upgrade bucket, and take your time getting into some of these deeper level assets like white papers and webinars. Don’t produce them as frequently as the content upgrades, and then just watch and see how people are responding to each and evolve your plan from there.

Holly Fong: Like you said, it is a journey. There’s a chance that a year from now, we’ll be having the same podcasts and there’s going to be new podcasts, new content types that we’re introducing and talking about, and figuring out how to use.

Lauren McGaha: Yes, I’m looking forward to the part two of this conversation in 2020. Thanks Holly.

Holly Fong: Thanks.