The Art of Selling Content to Execs [Podcast Episode]

Amanda Milligan
By Amanda Milligan
February 25, 2020

Not everyone understands the value of content.

 

 

via GIPHY

To us, it’s straightforward, but to others it can look like an expense without fully understanding the impact it has on user experience and decision making.

Jacqueline Urick from Sears Home Services talks about how she’s been able to get buy-in from executives and help the content and SEO teams work well together.

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In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why content is integral to SEO
  • How to frame content initiative pitches to minimize pushback
  • How SEO teams and content teams can communicate more effectively
  • How reporting on your results can build stronger internal relationships

Related Sites/Links:

Transcription:

Amanda: I'm very pleased to welcome Jacque Urick to the show. She is the director of SEM and SEO and UX at Sears Home Services. She's previously worked at companies like Pampered Chef, and most recently she won a 2019 US Search Award for the best in-house SEO team, which is really exciting. Welcome to the show, Jacque.

Jacque: Thank you for having me.

Amanda: Of course. I'm so glad you're here. I think I saw Jacque talk at Advanced Search Summit and loved her presentation, and thought there was a lot of really great insight that you can bring to the show. So really glad to have you on.

Jacque: Yeah, thank you so much. I hope that I can spread some wisdom and it's useful for your audience.

Amanda: Absolutely. And I thought we could start more generally. Your career has been primarily an SEO, so can you talk about how you explain the relationship between SEO and content?

Jacque: So without content, there isn't SEO is the way I look at it. Content's a very critical component of SEO. If there's not words or pictures or sound for bots to analyze, there isn't anything on the page, so content is very critical. It's probably one of the most important things for SEO. You need to be able to have something for your audience to ingest in the most basic sense.

Amanda: So considering that it's a very crucial part as you've explained, and this is a huge question so you can talk generally about it, but how is content kind of factored into your SEO strategy in a broad sense?

Jacque: It depends what we're trying to do. Classic SEO response, but it depends on what we're trying to do. So if we are trying to reach somebody who is fairly far down the funnel, we want to make sure that we have the terms on the page that whatever it is that we're trying to get them to do, that subject is where they're landing. This is like the 5,000-foot view, the most basic way. So I think then that you have to understand what your customer - I don't know if you want to call them your customer, your member - whatever it is that you want them to do, whether it's download a PDF, buy a product, you need to have that experience there for them on that page, and most of that experience is some type of content. I don't know if that answers your question.

Amanda: Yeah. No, it does. I know that was a very top level question. So when you have, and you might point to specific instances, but what kind of push back have you received when you're trying to allocate more budget for content or include content in your strategy? What have you heard as kind of friction in getting that done?

Jacque: Well, I think the biggest misconception among leadership and just not necessarily even just leadership, but leadership, finance, anybody who doesn't do digital marketing or content is that content is easy and it should be cheap because the truth is a lot of people don't actually read the stuff on the page, but there are people who do. We tend to look at it - and we as in a person who's just evaluating something - we're not in the moment trying to buy the thing or learn about the information or whatever. We're just evaluating the page as kind of a separate entity that's divorced from us in some way. So we don't understand its value until we actually need it, and that's a very difficult thing to get across to leadership, because at that moment, they're just looking at it as, is this an expense? What do people actually need? But they're not the customer in that moment. So what I find works best to get around that is to not actually even talk about content, so we talk about what we're trying to do on the page.

Amanda: That's interesting.

Jacque: And if content is a part of that, which it always is, that just becomes part of the pitch. We're not pitching content per se. We're going to need content but what we are trying to do is increased conversion for this group of products or we're trying to drive more traffic to this type of product. That's what we're trying to do. We're not necessarily saying I need 500 pieces of content, because in the mind of an executive, that is an interchangeable product. But that's not really what it is because you have to be able to produce the right type of words, images, video, whatever it is for that customer to do the thing that you want them to do.

Amanda: Yeah. That's a subtle but really effective framework change. You can take the same presentation, but instead of calling it content marketing pitch, you literally, like you said, nested under the general objective. I really like that.

Jacque: Yeah. I found that that's the most effective way for me to get content. So while I may reach out to ... we have some copywriters and editors on staff and then we have third parties that we go out to, and amongst ourselves we're talking about the content strategy, the content marketing. When I talk to executives, I don't necessarily talk about it that way.

Amanda: Yeah, it's a very different communication style within your own team as when you report to somebody else who isn't doing that work day to day.

Jacque: Right. Because in their minds, it's so abstract.

Amanda: Have you seen even like within your team or people who work - not your teams specifically, but people you've worked with over the course of your career - who do SEO or other aspects of marketing not fully understand content and its role? Have you seen push back even if it's not from above, if it's from other departments?

Jacque: Yeah, I mean I'm not going to say that there isn't friction between our content team and our SEOs. There is, on occasion. Usually the content writer will be like, why do I need to try to force these words onto this page? And I'm not saying we keyword stuff, but you want to make sure you have a phrase that's commonly searched for somewhere on the page. Even though if you read the content it would be very clear what the page is about, kind of trying to fit in these phrases because as sophisticated as Google is, it's not all the way there yet. It gets better every year, but it's still not all the way there and until it's all the way there and it can infer the intent, especially when you have... I find that it's most tricky when you have things that can mean multiple things, or they can have different intents.

For example, we have a DIY do-it-yourself repair help kind of section, but we also do appliance repair. We have a whole other business within Home Services that does appliance repair, for example. So we sell repair and replacement parts for appliances, and we have some guides around that, but there's two different intents - whether somebody wants to try to do it themselves or if they want someone to do it for them. And so there's nuances around how you want to write that content to appeal to whichever audience, because at the end of the day, they're looking for some type of repair and that term is shared among those two pieces of content. So it's generally the push back we get from the writers is like, why do I have to have these phrases? Why do I have to have this? I feel like you are keyword stuffing this. We don't want people to have a bad experience either, but we need to make sure that search engines are able to understand the difference between your DIY repair content and over here this appliance repair content.

Amanda: And it's the usual balance problem of even if it's written super well, but the search engine isn't ranking for anything, no one's ever going to read it anyway. So there really is the balance between appealing to both.

Jacque: That's the other thing too. That's a good point. Not to be snarky, but do you want people to actually read this or not? We need to get it in front of some people. I know a lot more of the quick answer type of stuff, the more enhanced search results started showing up. Trying to convince the writers to put things in lists was actually really difficult at first until then they started to see their answers show up in that box, and then they're like, yes, I am on board. I am so on board for this.

Amanda: It is so satisfying to see this instant gratification. Oh wow, that works.

Jacque: Some of it is just like, look, you did this. You created this, and now it's here and thousands, tens of thousands of people see it every year, and that's pretty cool.

Amanda: Absolutely. I was going toask how have you worked with that kind of push back? Is that the most effective way to show how the end result turns out when you use these different best practices?

Jacque: Yeah, one of the challenges is the SEO owns the channel essentially, so we have to be cognizant as we report to the business that it's a group effort, whether it's the content team or the dev team, and then sharing those results back with the people that helped you get there is a really important part of the team building. So yeah. You have to share the glory cause honestly, unless you're in a really small organization and you're literally doing all of the things, most SEOs in an enterprise situation are getting most of their work done through other people. At the end of the day, that's what's happening.

Amanda: Yeah. I really love that framework thing you explained about how to pitch to stakeholders. Do you have any other advice when you're going into those types of pitch meetings with the project? You say what your objective is, and you're explaining all the components of it, but if somebody else is getting ready to have a similar meeting in their own company, do you have any other advice about what has been successful for you in terms of persuading people to get on board with the your vision?

Jacque: It's all about the business and where the business wants to go. So you frame your project in how it helps the overall business goals. So here we use OKRs, these quarterly goals and what I would always recommend is looking at the OKRs of ... I mean this is all strategic here, but looking at that, looking at the OKRs of the people that you're pitching to. Understand what their goals are for that quarter and understand what their overall goals are for the year, and then figure out how your pitch fits into their goals, because the other thing you have to really consider is a lot of us, I think get trapped in the best practices camp where we have to do the best practices. If we're not doing the best practices, we're not doing the right things. And I think there's a balance between what the best practices are, and what your business goals are, both short term and long term. So you need to fit your project into both - here's the best practices that will help in the short term, and here's the best practices that will help in the long term and then create your project to fit that.

Amanda: That makes sense.

Jacque: Yeah. Sometimes it requires a little bit of compromise on the best practices, but we all know Google's not perfect. There's no perfect website out there, and I'm not saying make a garbage website, make garbage content just to get it out the door, but what I'm saying is you're never going to be able to do all of the things, so you have to prioritize the things that you can do in a way that fits the business goals. So if you're talking about your project in the way that the people you're pitching it to are thinking about the business, you're going to be a lot more successful.

Amanda: Yeah, that's great advice. Sometimes it feels like we're doing that, but it's so easy to fall into a vacuum of your own work and your own perspective, and you forget that other people are coming to this with a completely different viewpoint and completely different goals.

Jacque: No, no. I'm in agreement with you cause there's things that just seem really obvious to you. This is a no-brainer. Why wouldn't you want this? Why wouldn't you want people to have a great experience? But then what does a great experience mean to an executive?

Amanda: Yeah, that's a great point. It seems obvious to us, but it's vague to others. They need it really spelled out. So these are great points, especially we're talking more generally. I'd love to hear about some of your personal experiences. I love this about your presentation. You kind of dive into things like, I'm going to tell you the good and the bad and be real and explain what happens. So many people are kind of afraid to go there, I think. They're afraid to talk about anything has ever gone wrong and that's just never the case.

Jacque: I know, I know. I feel like there's definitely two extremes in a lot of the conferences where it's here are the horror stories that are just out of this world horrible, and then here's all the awesome stuff. But then there's just the day- to-day muddling through your life, which is not particularly glamorous.

Amanda: But so relatable. It's what everybody goes through.

Jacque: Sometimes you get a good win. Sometimes you're winning enough. It's just not triple digit growth. I'm sorry ... what was the question again?

Amanda: I just had to note that though, because I really appreciated that. It's reflection of people's actual day-to-day jobs. I'm sure anybody listening that's their situation where it's not going to be gigantic wins every day. Sometimes it sounds like other people are achieving even though it's not, so I just really appreciated that. I guess I'll keep the question general because I want you to talk about whatever comes to mind, which is like, do you have a specific experience and maybe it's going back to Sears and what was put on your plate upon that? Some kind of struggle you encountered in your career, and then the lesson that you learned from that.

Jacque: Sure. So actually I'm going to take it back to when I had a game development start-up around 2010, and this is relevant to content in this way. We were talking about putting together this episodic game. So each episode would be about an hour or so of game play and we had thought it through the business model and all of this other stuff. When we were talking to potential investors and our mentors and stuff like that, one of the things that kept coming up was how are you going to maintain all of this content? That was top of mind for everybody was like how are you going to deal with all of this content? And that's actually what made me realize they don't understand what the content actually is, and that lesson has carried through to today and it's really helped me because what we needed to not do was talk about the episodic content per se. It was here's the business model and here's how we want it to be paid for. So to kind of get back to what I was saying in the beginning, it's how you talk to the executive. So that was a really important lesson for me, but I didn't learn it right away.

So when I first came to Sears after my start up didn't work out, I was helping the content team pitch this DIY repair help, and again we kept running into this problem where it was like how are you going to maintain all this content over time? Do you really need all of these resources in order to do this amount of content? And I didn't learn until after we had kind of forced it through; my boss at the time was kind of like, just continue doing the project. We didn't really have true authorization to do it, and it actually wasn't the best thing to do because then the content ended up... this whole section of the site is kind of divorced from everything else on the site. It just kind of lives on its own in this little bubble, which is a problem that's persisted to this day. It hasn't really integrated into the rest of the site as it was really intended to because we did it on the sly.

So what I learned from that though is we did put the content out there and these guides. They were videos and repair help guides and area code tables and all kinds of resources that you need if you're trying to figure out what's wrong with your appliance, or you want to repair it yourself or lawn mowers, that kind of stuff. I mean, they're very popular. Even when we got penalized for some of the other issues going on at our site, and I don't want to say we got a Google penalty, because that was our own fault. We got penalized for not keeping up with our ... I don't want to make it sound like Google punished us specifically. We did it to ourselves.

But when that part of the site wasn't doing as well, actually the year over year growth of this repair help content was just through the moon. Right. So it's been clear in hindsight, hey this was a really good investment. If only we'd done it better, it would have been like 20X of what we got, because we would have had it more integrated with the rest of the site. So now what we do is we can use that case to make cases for improving this or even adding content to other places, other websites within our portfolio, because we know what the performance was for that and we know in retrospect what we should have done better. So that was kind of a hard lesson but also a good lesson going forward.

And then the other piece to that is when we talk about adding new content, like I said in the beginning, I don't talk about the content, I'm talking about how it's monetizing the site. So whether it's increasing conversion, increasing top of funnel traffic, whatever it is, that's what I talk about now. So it took me 10 years to get this lesson, but today here it is. Here it is for you.

Amanda: Here you have it, listeners. Decades worth of experience in 30 minutes.

Jacque: It's always been the same thing. The hill I'm going to die on is that you have to talk about whatever it is your project is in terms of the KPI it's going to move and not the minutia of what it is, cause at the end of the day, they don't care about that. They care about the investment, how much it's going to cost them, what's the ROI, but they don't care how you're going to do it.

Amanda: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I think that's definitely one of the bigger takeaways from this that I'm sure a lot of people can improve upon.

Jacque: But it's hard. To your point earlier, it's like when you're in that day to day, that's your whole world. So why wouldn't everyone see your world that way?

Amanda: Yup. It's very easy to get sucked into your own world for sure.

Jacque: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, SEOs have that same problem. They get those SEO blinders on and then it's like best practice, best practice, best practice and then all of a sudden, you're not thinking about what the business needs right now. You're just going through your best practice list and that's not helpful either.

Amanda: Yeah, I mean this whole experience you were talking about is like its own justification for even caring about the buy in from everybody else. It's like this is what happens when I do it on my own and it doesn't succeed in the way that it could have.

Jacque: Yeah, I mean to my old boss' credit, he knew that this would help and it did, but we ended up executing it in a way that could've been better.

Amanda: Yeah. I ask the same question at the end of every episode. I think you may have answered it already, which is what do you think is the biggest mistake people make when they are trying to get buy in for content? And it sounds like it might be this wrong perspective of how you're presenting the information. If you have any other thoughts on that, we'd love to include that too, but totally fine if that's the answer because it definitely sounds like this is the main point.

Jacque: I think the other piece I would also recommend in terms of know who you're pitching to, would be also explain it in the perspective of the persona or the customer or whoever it is that you're trying to reach, and constantly reminding them that this video is not for you, this article is not for you. This is for this type of person and this type of person likes this type of content because what happens a lot with just content design and this is also a lesson learnt from managing the UX team, as we're presenting new layout or new designs for web pages and stuff, just being very clear. You can personally like the aesthetic of this or not, but it doesn't matter because we're not selling this to you.

So if our core audience is a 40-year-old woman and you're not a 40-year-old woman, this is not for you. Obviously you say it in a more diplomatic way, so it's like giving the people the context to understand why the decision is made the way it is, and they don't really care that much about the deep details. I mean, I'm sure there's a few executives out there who are kind of micromanaging, but most of them just don't have the time to read through everything to really take it all in. And again, they're probably not the audience for whatever it is you're doing.

Amanda: Yeah. I love that you brought that persona part up because I didn't even think about that, but I've definitely encountered that. You're getting feedback from somebody and it's a subjective piece of feedback. It's what they like, and being able to say well, I appreciate that, but based on our research, this is what this person likes and this is the person we're trying to reach. That's a great point.

Jacque: Yes. So that would be my two things. Would be always frame your project under the KPIs that the business cares about at that point in time, and then make sure that you're reminding them that this is who this content is for.

Amanda: Yeah. That's excellent. Well, the last thing I ask everybody is based on the objectives of this show, do you have any recommendations on who else should be guests on future episodes?

Jacque: You know what would be fun would be to get some local SEO people on the show, because I think there's a lot of opportunity for really specific kind of content in that space that I don't think people really understand, like how to localize things for an audience. I would say find a local SEO, plus I would want to listen to that one.

Amanda: That's a great way of suggesting that. That's exactly what you want to know, somebody you want to listen to.

Jacque: So here's my two things. Someone in the local SEO space would be great, and then I could talk to - I don't know if you know this gentleman, Waylon Myers? But they do more of like a macro to technical SEO and they've got - I don't want to call it, it's not a content spinner - but it's like a macro content CMS product that's really fascinating, so it's kind of looking at it from a totally different lens. Like how do you get a bunch of content out quickly, but if you have to really scale something, how do you do it right. He might be interesting.

Amanda: No, that's great. I appreciate those recommendations especially because I've never worked directly in, especially the technical SEO side. So local is not something that I have a lot of knowledge in. So I would also be interested personally in the local SEO side.

Jacque: I mean, I don't know if Andrew Shotland would be a good person, or Dan Leibsohn. Those two guys are hilarious. So I think that's personally why I would recommend that. I lot of respect for those guys.

Amanda: Awesome. That's great.

Jacque: Yeah. But it would be interesting to hear from... who's that other guy? I want to say his name is something like Matt McDonald. He's done some real macro content stuff in the past like Waylon Myers would probably be great too for that.

Amanda: Awesome.

Jacque: And I mean I can ask around too if you want some other names.

Amanda: Yeah, I'd love that. I mean, I love having people on the show who are offering all these amazing insights. I'd love to hear from people that they find interesting and think they have other things to contribute. Yeah. So any recommendations you have, I'd love.

Jacque: Sure. Awesome.

Amanda: Well. Jacque, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Jacque: Well, thank you, Amanda. I really appreciate it. I really enjoyed my time. I hope I said something worthwhile to somebody out there.

Amanda: You absolutely did, I promise.

Amanda: For more insights and exclusive resources on how to justify content marketing, join our email newsletter by going to F-R-A-C.T-L, clicking on our work and then podcast. See you next week.

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