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Keywords 301: Campaigns, Roadmaps, and Funnels

Alright, once more unto the breach, dear non-scumbags.  I’m continuing this series, and with slightly better cadence than once every 9 months.  We’ll get ‘er dun yet.

Here’s a recap of the three most recent posts:

  1. I introduced the idea of “keywords” as searcher questions.
  2. Then I introduced the granular mechanics of evaluating individual keywords.
  3. And, finally, I talked about how keywords relate to one another.

All of that is valuable groundwork, but it leaves an important, dangling question:

How do you turn all of that into an actual, editorial plan for content?

That’s what I plan to talk about today.  And to nudge the conversation along, I want to start by defining three concepts: campaigns, roadmaps, and funnels.

(As a slight caveat emptor here, I am defining and using these terms in the way that Hit Subscribe defines and uses them, in applied client situations.  Digital marketing textbooks, assuming that’s a thing, might use them differently).

What is a (Marketing) Funnel?

If you Google marketing funnel, you’ll likely see a SERP filled with some SEO heavy hitters.  Go ahead and make it an image search.  Assuming your head doesn’t explode immediately, you’ll see something like this.

That’s right.  The marketing world broadly agrees that “the marketing funnel” has anywhere from 3 to 9 layers, which may have any number of names, shapes, sizes, inputs, and outputs.  If that seems… insane… rest assured that everyone agrees that the funnel is, in fact, shaped like a funnel.  (Except that weird one in the top right that I think is just a triangle.)

But that’s all they agree on.

To be brutally honest, trying to understand any one of these images (or, God forbid, all of them) will just waste your time and give you a headache.  You need only understand two things about any or all of these funnels:

  1. The journey from top to bottom represents the path from “I’ve never heard of your brand” to “here’s some money.”
  2. You will lose people at each stop along that journey, narrowing the pool, and thus giving rise to the eponymous and cleverly-named “funnel.”

How Are You Getting and Holding People’s Attention?

The reason that all of these sites and image creators over-complicate this so much is that they’re trying to create the most generalized framework to cover all possible businesses.  And, in so doing, they manufacture complexity and create an utterly useless framework.  The buyer journey to a battery is different than the one to a boat or 7 figures of app dev, and trying to pretend otherwise is the leading cause of ridiculous content about marketing funnels.

So for you, dear reader, we need only think about how you will get people’s attention, and then keep it until they buy.

Oh, and it gets even easier.  If you’re reading this series, you’re getting their attention via SEO (answering their questions).

What is a Campaign?

In defining a campaign for SEO purposes, we’re now squarely into the realm of Hit Subscribe shop talk.  The simplest way that I can define it is to call it a thematically cohesive batch of content.

Since that’s probably too generic for you to easily grok, let me get right to examples (all of which are SEO/organic traffic plays, incidentally):

Crucially, you can describe these large batches of content with an elevator pitch.  But there’s more to it than thematic consistency.  In fact, here’s a screenshot of our generic client strategy base in Airtable.

Campaign Elements

The name field would loosely correspond to the elevator pitch (shorthand, in our world).  Here are the rest of the components leading to cohesiveness:

  • Readership source is the primary way that we acquire readers.  For SEO campaigns, it’s always going to be search engines, but you might have follower campaigns, promoted campaigns, advertising campaigns, etc.
  • Persona is the intended reader and consumer of this campaign.  The more specific, the more likely the campaign to resonate.  We definitely encourage you not to make this something like “anyone that wants to read it” and make it something like “rails engineers” instead.
  • Content Mission/Goal is what we’re hoping to accomplish with this campaign.  In funnel terms, how are we moving prospects along in the buyer journey?
  • KPI is just how we measure success against the goal.

When you think about what we’ve done here, it’s fairly significant.  We’ve broadly defined a content category and answered the questions, “who do we want to talk to, how will we get their attention, and what do we hope will happen next with them?”

Whenever you see companies executing content marketing well, you’ll have little trouble answering these questions when you look at their site.

What is a Roadmap?

Last up, the roadmap.  The roadmap is more comprehensive and less granular than a campaign.  It applies to the entire site and content approach, and it has a 1:n relationship with the campaigns.

In skeleton form, the roadmap should define the campaigns and allocate a percentage of content and spend for each.  In this sense, think of the roadmap as a sort of content portfolio, akin to your 401K (private retirement savings, for those of you not in the US).

Continuing that metaphor, the roadmap should evaluate campaigns from a risk perspective and feature an allocation that aligns the business’s risk tolerance with its goals.  If the business needs 40K new visitors to the site in the next week or it folds, go all in on rant posts and pray for Hacker News virality.  If the business is risk averse and playing the long game, go all in on organic traffic and SEO.

Additionally, the roadmap should have ROI hypotheses for its campaigns.  This means defining what success looks like and how you’ll measure it, but also establishing minimum investment, success, and failure criteria.  You can’t declare an organic campaign a failure and pull the rip cord after just 1 post, but you also don’t want to commission 1,000 with no ROI in sight, either.

And finally, the roadmap will account for factors mentioned in previous posts, like avoiding cannibalization, redundant topics and waste.  It weaves the content together into both an editorial plan and a content “architecture.”

All of this occurs in the planning stages.  A fully realized roadmap will involve a campaign portfolio with the campaigns briefed out into individual pieces of content.  And it will remain adaptable so that you can bet more on successful campaigns and kill off the losers.

Why Do All This, Erik, You Maniac?  (The Case for Campaigns)

As I scan back through what I’ve written so far, I imagine this might seem very waterfall-y to some of you reading.  And it certainly seems to suck the fun out of everything.  Why not just embrace the weblog (‘blog) concept of sitting down and blogging about whatever you want each week?

Well, let me make the case for campaigns and roadmaps here.

1. Eliminates Decision Fatigue

If I use the aforementioned makemeaprogrammer to extrapolate, we would have needed to seed it with 185 posts to produce 100K visitors per month to the site.  (This is probably quite conservative traffic-wise, but traffic modeling is more like a 401 or 501 post, and I haven’t planned that in the outline).

That’s a LOT of content.

Can you imagine deciding what to write about 185 times?  Having 185 meetings or doing individual brainstorming exercises 185 times?  And then making sure the product of that brainstorming was a keyword with good volume, difficulty, and segmentation?

Producing significant funnel metrics requires efficient content creation, and efficient content creation means ruthlessly minimizing decisions and eliminating decision fatigue.  If you don’t roadmap, you will waste an ungodly amount of time and money and probably burn out any creative impulse you still have.

Producing 185 pieces of content one at a time is like building an apartment building a finished room at a time.

2. Prevent Cannibalization

Another downside to planning 185 posts one at a time (or in tiny batches) is that you will struggle mightily to remember what you’ve written about before.  Even if you’re tracking this in a spreadsheet or a system like Airtable, you’ll miss something or forget.

You WILL cover the same topic twice this way, which in organic-traffic-land means completely wasting a piece of content.  And that’s because it’s not just about de-duping keywords, but about paying attention for synonyms or adjacent keywords that present cannibalization risks.

This problem does not occur when you plan campaigns and roadmaps.

3. Parallel Fulfillment

I’ve likely beaten the retirement savings metaphor to death, but there’s really no helping it because the parallels are uncanny.  With SEO/organic campaigns, as with retirement savings, the two most important advantages you bring to bear are “early” and “often.”

If you create 185 blog posts in 185 weeks, you will lose millions of visitors to your site compared to someone who threw all 185 posts up on day 1.  So you need to get as close to the latter scenario as possible, which means batch planning and massively parallel fulfillment, if at all possible.

4. Creating Secondary Acquisition Channels

When you create thematic content, rather than ad hoc or meandering episodic content, you create an asset that is more than the sum of its parts.  Take Atlassian’s “agile university,” for instance.

Naturally it brings a lot of search engine traffic, and that is almost certainly its primary readership source.  But they are also getting direct navigation traffic, as many agile coaches probably go straight to their site, treating it like some kind of knowledge base and glossary.

Direct traffic of this nature is a huge win.

  1. It hedges against the vagaries of Google’s algorithm.
  2. It continues the conversation with the readers via repeat visits, moving them down the “funnel.”
  3. And it even feeds back into their SEO efforts, since Google interprets direct navigation as a sign that the site is authoritative.

5. Creates a Saleable Asset

For many of you reading, there’s a consideration that brands typically don’t have, but that may interest you greatly.  Roadmap- and campaign-driven content create you an asset that you can sell or monetize in various ways.

If, rather than Atlassian building it, you had built the agile coach knowledge base, there’s a decent chance Atlassian might have come knocking and asked you “how much to buy out your website?”  If you don’t believe me, think of the aforementioned Digital Ocean and scotch.io.

And selling the whole site isn’t your only option when you produce an asset like this.  You can monetize in various ways, sell off or redirect parts of the site or individual campaigns, and generally get creative.

How to Reason about and Define Campaigns

My hope is that my screenshot with template, generic campaigns can at least get you rolling in terms of ideas.  But I’ll spend a little time here talking about how to conceptualize and define SEO campaigns.

At the core of it, you need to ask yourself who you want to reach (segmentation), and what you want them to do (campaign goal and KPI).

The “what you want them to do” bit is the trickiest, in my experience.

Many technical founders tend to get overly thirsty here and go right for the jugular: give me money!  This results in “troll under the bridge” marketing. You can succeed with this approach under very specific conditions, but it isn’t common for a reader who has never heard of you to become a customer in the span of a blog post.

Instead, have more modest goals for someone who is just, for the first time, seeing your brand.  For instance:

  1. Maybe brand awareness is enough, and you’re just trying to get more people aware of who you are.  You just want the searchers to see your brand.
  2. You could drop a pixel so that you can remarket to them through social media.
  3. Email lists, webinars, YouTube channels, and podcasts can all make a great way to continue your conversation with them after first contact.
  4. Even getting them to poke around on other pages on your site is a win.

With these possible goals in mind, you need to brainstorm, broadly, what sorts of posts segment the audience well (and have traffic/volume) and serve as a reasonable bridge to the next step.

I’ll help make this less abstract with some examples.

Planting the Seed

We’ve been working lately with a company called OwnID, who allows passwordless authentication with mobile apps and facilitates use of Apple’s new Passkeys technology.  So we need to think of who they’d want to talk to, and what to say to them.

One segmentation seems fairly obvious.  They’d want to talk to mobile developers.

But what do we want the mobile developers to do next?

Well, there are a few potential approaches and I won’t, obviously, share their strategy specifics.  But brand awareness, pixeling, and free additional value are all reasonable here.  So let’s use brand awareness (seeing their brand and hitting the site) for the example.

What kind of campaign would reach mobile developers, and make OwnID memorable in some way to them?  Well, I can think of a couple:

  1. Create general tutorials for mobile developers.  Signal to noise is great, segmentation-wise, and you have a rich set of keywords to choose from.  Fewer of them might remember OwnID, though.
  2. Create authentication-related tutorials for mobile developers.  Signal to noise is perfect, and searchers will remember a mention of OwnID, since it’s super-relevant and conversationally natural.  But smaller volume and set of keywords.

This perfectly illustrates tradeoffs and the reason you view campaigns as experiments in a portfolio.  Maybe try both, see which performs better, than shift your allocation.

Hedging Your Bets on Down-Funnel Moves

I was poking around bootcamp sites and came across this post in my idle googling for examples.  CodingDojo is headed into the thresher (insane difficulty, even with their domain authority) of trying to rank for “how to learn Javascript.

Let’s roll that up into a straightforward campaign concept.  I generally call this style of campaign “let us do that for you.”

Generally, you try to get in front of people whose search indicates they’re about to DIY the thing that you offer, and then, you say, “hey, let us do that for you!”  I think of this affectionately as a yellow pages (or unicorn) keyword.

Often this is about planting a seed.  But sometimes, this is the rare case where you can sell your offering to a brand new visitor.

CodingDojo hedges by kind of trying to do both.

At the end of this post about learning Javascript, CodingDojo just straight up calls for the sale.  But, if that doesn’t work, you also have the option to give an email address for additional DIY-style content.

To make this into a campaign, CodingDojo would just extrapolate this into a bunch of blog tutorials about anything and everything they teach in more depth (which, I’m assuming they’ve done).  And, since there are two conceptual KPIs here, I’d probably run with both and tune the focus based on how well they did.

Always Be Tinkering

At about 2,500 words and a number of potentially brain-bending concepts in the rearview, I’m going to idle on into a close here.  I realize that I could probably create a few addenda or maybe a “401” post if people are interested.  But I think next time I’ll stick with my initial plan of talking about the phases of an organic campaign.

I will, however, leave with one key piece of concluding advice.

Your roadmap needs to exist as a living “document” (or whatever).  You absolutely need to measure, learn, and feed what happens back into the roadmap and campaigns.

At its core, content marketing is a series of hypotheses, bets, and experiments.  If you fail to learn from experiments, you’re betting blindly and will probably lose.

So lay out your campaigns, bet on them with labor or fulfillment cost, measure them carefully, and adjust them as you go.  Your readers and their behavior will absolutely let you know what works and is valuable, and what doesn’t and isn’t.

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Col
Col
26 days ago

Your troll under the bridge metaphor reminds me of the buy my book display from The Critic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZg8E72xXFA

Nick Hodges
22 days ago

Fantastic and very useful series. I learned an amazing amount this afternoon. Thanks.

Erik Dietrich
Erik Dietrich
18 days ago
Reply to  Nick Hodges

Glad to hear it, Nick! Thanks for the kind words.