How CoSchedule Creates the Best Content on the Internet

Nathan Ellering, Head of Marketing Demand Generation at CoSchedule, joins the Content Pros Podcast to share how they maintain organic reach by actually having the best content on the internet.

In This Episode:

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Full Episode Details

The Best of the Best

It’s one thing to commit to being one of the best resources in your field.

It’s another thing entirely to commit to being THE best resource in your field.

At CoSchedule, Nathan has created a winning approach to content generation that boosts organic reach and has made their company the go-to for marketing planning and demand generation. Instead of looking to others, their standard of performance comes from the historical hits and misses of their own content.

By looking inwards, they are able to refine the qualities that work over time to appeal very specifically to their own audience.

It comes down to four things: keywords, topic, conversion optimization, and research. The result is a blog where every post could be their homepage, every piece of content can convert, and readers learn very quickly to trust their content and, by extension, their product.

Content that creates trust will lead to conversions.

In This Episode

  • Why cultivating organic reach means being committed to being the best of the best on the internet
  • How researching your own content leads to an increase of quality and leads over time
  • Why a winning content strategy means a thorough writing plan that schedules months into the future
  • How a workflow that includes a workback leads to better execution and less stress

Quotes From This Episode

“Part of demand generation is trying to find an audience, specifically an audience who doesn’t already know about CoSchedule.” —@njellering

“Since 2014, we have really looked at trying to publish the best content on any topic we take on on the internet.” —@njellering

We've defined what some of the core qualities of content are, and we reflect those qualities in every single piece. Click To Tweet

Our blogs are a representative of our product. If our blog is high quality, people should understand that our tool is just as high quality.” —@njellering

We have complete trust in the team to be able to do what we hired them to do and that helps me focus on what our next opportunities are.” —@njellering

The simplest approach is often the best place to start. Click To Tweet

Search engines reward updates, and it helps you freshen up your content for your audience, too.” —@njellering


Content Pros Lightning Round

You’re clearly very process driven, does that carry into your home life? Work-Nathan and weekend-Nathan are the same person because back in 2014 before I started at CoSchedule, I started a personal blog that basically talked about how I would manage a marketing team if I were given the opportunity.

What is your favorite movie of all time that is not Fargo? Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. That movie is just awesome. Anything from Cohen Brothers is great.

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Episode Transcript

Randy:Welcome to another episode of Content Pros podcast. I am Randy Frisch from Uberflip. As always, I've got Tyler Lessard joining me here from Vidyard. Today, we're going to talk about an area that I think, sometimes, we skip over. Sometimes we get so obsessed with the great content we create, but not how did we create it? What was the process for handling? This could be a challenge whether you're working in a small company or a large company where you're creating content at scale. In fact, I think everyone's creating content at scale these days. It's becoming a problem, so we need the right process. Nathan from CoSchedule is going to walk us through some of that and as well as some of the winds from his team. Tyler, why don’t you bring Nathan into the show and tell us what you're excited about to hear?
Tyler:Yeah. I'm really excited to have Nathan Ellering here on the show, the Director of Demand Generation at CoSchedule. I think Nathan brings a couple of interesting perspectives to this topic of how do we create great content and how do we manage that content and then ultimately get the most of it, both in his role at CoSchedule, but as well working with his customers and what they do to help them manage their content plan. Without further ado, Nathan, do you want to introduce yourself and give the audience a bit of background on where you're coming from?
Nathan:Absolutely. Thanks so much Randy and Tyler for having me on the show. I'm Nathan Ellering, I'm the Head of Demand Generation at CoSchedule, and basically what that means is that I try to attract the right audience into CoSchedule who might have problems organizing their project management process, so what I want to do is help people literally solve those problems with how-to educational content. My team really works with content marketing a lot of times, like those more traditional content types, we'll publish how-to blog posts that walk people through how to solve a problem, we do educational courses where we help people come up with their marketing strategy and actually how to execute it. A lot of times it's just "here's the why", but a lot of other marketers maybe forget the how-to behind that so we try to dive deep into that. We do a lot of things with free tools, we have headline analyzers, social message optimizer and we have about three more tools planned to help people execute their marketing better. Then, one other side of what I do is paid advertising. Part of demand generation is trying to find that audience, and specifically an audience who doesn't already know about CoSchedule, so I work a lot of times with trying to expand our reach, and paid ads are a really great way to do that.
Tyler:Before we got together on this call, Nathan, I took a look at CoSchedule and what you guys are doing, I took a look at your blog, some of your content, and I think one of the things that got me really excited was, A, the blog is terrific from a content quality perspective, a diversity of topics, I think you've got great contributors and I felt like it was something from a company that ... I assumed you guys were 10 years old, 500 employees, or bigger, a large, well-established organization, only to find out you guys are relatively new, relatively small, and, I think, are really punching above your weight class. First of all, kudos to your team, but more importantly, can you talk about how you guys in only the last couple of years have really built-up such a presence as a content marketing organization in what you're doing?
Randy:Before you jump in, Nathan, you had me fooled, too. Kudos on that.
Nathan:No, no, thank you so much. That means a lot to me and the team. I'll give a shout out to Ben Saylor and Brianna Bergstrom who are leading up the block, too. Specifically talking about that, when I joined CoSchedule back in 2014, we were a relatively new company, we were about a year old then, and one of the things that we wanted to do was to attract an audience to CoSchedule and one of the best ways that we knew how to do that was to do it organically. By that, we mean not pushing our marketing at people, but creating content so good, so useful, so entertaining, so helpful that people would seek it out on their own, and that's what we decided to do back then. Since 2014, we have really looked at trying to publish the best content on any topic we take on on the internet, so if we write a blog post about targeting a keyword marketing calendar, it's going to be the best blog post that you read on that topic-
Tyler:No, no, wait a minute, Nathan, it's about quantity not quality on a blog, right? Come on!
Nathan:Right, right. That's an interesting part of it too because we'll put a lot of time into every single piece that we take on, but we publish fewer pieces, we just do it consistently. Just to bring it back to in 2014, we didn't really have that many blog posts, we didn't really have a lot of traffic coming in, but we knew if we published that content and set a foundation of an expectation, every single piece that you see on this blog is going to be amazing, we knew that that would build the audience. To your point, quality, obviously way better than quantity, but if you can have both just build up over time, but focus on that quality first.
Tyler:Yeah, it's such an important point. I think all of us get wrapped up in the, "I got to do three or four posts a week," and we're trying to create all these inbound links, and there is certainly a threshold where quantity isn't helping, but I think so many people miss that quality piece, and having people who can create the content that is truly valuable and isn't just repurposing other information out there online or whatnot ... I'm curious, as you guys look at that mission and saying, "Every blog post we publish has to be as a high quality and the best piece on this topic on the Internet," how do you guys go about doing that? What have you done internally in terms of the people you have writing? Are you using third-party contributors? How are you focusing and delivering on creating great content?
Nathan:Yeah, I think that's an awesome question. We have what we call a standard of performance based on the success of our previous pieces, so something that we think a lot about is that content is not the result, content is never the result, content produces results. What we'll do with each and every piece is we will take a look and see how many marketing qualified leads each piece has generated, and from there we will dissect what qualities those pieces that generated the most qualified leads represented, and what we'll do from there is we'll just repeat what we know works in new content. We've defined what some of those core qualities are and we try to reflect those qualities in every single piece. We choose a really great topic is one of the things, we need to make sure that our audience will really care about it. Right up there in tandem is that it's keyword optimized, something that we think about is that every blog post is the homepage of CoSchedule. More often than any other resource, people will find us through our blog posts, so our blogs are a representative of what our product is. If our blog is high quality, people should understand that our tool is just as high quality. Anyway, we choose keywords, it's a great topic, we make sure that the blog post is also optimized to convert, so every single blog post that we publish has some sort of data content in it. If we, for example, talk about marketing calendars, we'll make sure that that blog post has a marketing calendar template in it so that we can get that email address and be able to market to them later on. That's actually a really great way to build an email list. We have an email list of 200,000 plus marketers now, so that's pretty exciting to see. We also make sure that our pieces are well researched, that if we try to take on any sort of topic that we aren't just providing anecdotal information but it's factually based. Let's see, what was the last part? I think that's it. I think those are our qualities.
Randy:I think you hit on enough one-liners that we can already write the blog post that's going to follow-up this podcast. I think my favorite in there was that every blog post is the homepage, and just that idea of where we're going in the future that people will find us through our content and then navigate to learn what our product is. I think you guys have it in the bag on terms of where things are today, or at least where they're headed. I want to take a step back, though, because you talked a lot there about the process of creating this content with your team, but within that you also talked about how much content to create, and Tyler kidded with you about quantity over quality, give our listeners just an understanding of how much content you're pushing out on a weekly basis or monthly basis or how you think about that.
Nathan:Yeah. I think that that is a really interesting question because every blog post is the homepage of CoSchedule, but if we only had one blog post we wouldn't be getting very much traffic, so it comes down to making sure that what you're shipping is really high-quality but that you're shipping enough. I do believe that it is important for marketers to publish multiple pieces every single week consistently because that helps you rank for more keywords, which helps you get more traffic, which gives you those opportunities to convert more people, so we focus on publishing at least two content marketing style blog posts every single week. That would be, for example, the blog post targeting the keyword of marketing calendar or maybe the second one would be marketing project management, those would be great topics for us to cover in those. We also, pretty much every other week, have an educational course going on to help people with marketing strategy or social media strategy, two key components of CoSchedule, and we also ship a podcast episode every single Tuesday, and probably about two product-specific post, so one might be a demo video just showing people how to solve the problem in CoSchedule and the other could be something like, "Hey, here's this new feature. Definitely, check it out." We are, every single week, publishing anywhere from 5 to 10 pieces, and I think that that's really helpful not just for attracting a new audience to CoSchedule, but for also, once we have that audience, to teach them what CoSchedule is.
Randy:That's great. I counted at least seven there, and that's pretty amazing given, I think, you told me that your team is a team of five who are executing on a lot of this, not to mention all the rest of your marketing efforts, but maybe you can also just help us understand ... I mean, a lot of us, I think, live in the moment or in the last moment, like me, and say, "Okay, shit, we need new blog post for this week," or something like that, how far advanced do you have your content calendar scheduled? How often are you ahead with assets sitting there just ready to roll versus posts that are being created in the moment?
Nathan:Yeah. I am smiling over here because that is an awesome question. For normal blog stuff, we know that we're going to be publishing two posts every single week for content marketing style stuff, so we're going to be publishing one on one day, one on Wednesday, and we literally have those mapped out through December right now so we know exactly what we're going to be publishing. We think really strategically about those topics that we take on, which helps us not look at that blinking cursor thinking, "What are we going to write?" But we really strategically choose those ideas, find those keywords and plan it out that far in advance. We do the same thing with courses, we know every other month we're going to be shipping something there. We plan really far in advance, I would say, which helps us just ... I don't know, it makes you feel more organized and it gives you an opportunity too that if something comes up you can pivot a little bit, but it gives you that roadmap that you can just execute. When you're done with one piece, you know exactly what to do next, and I think that helps all of us just stay focused.
Randy:I love that. I think a lot of people listening right now are either taking notes because they're the leader of their team and they're going to have their team listen to this, or they're on the team and they want their leader to listen to this because that's really great advice that I think a lot of us are playing catch-up too often, but it sounds like you've got a well-oiled machine. What we're going to do is let people finish taking those notes while they listen to a few of our sponsor reads here. They'll jump right in and we'll jump right back right after.
Tyler:Welcome back Content Pros, and we're here with Nathan Ellering from CoSchedule. Nathan, we were talking about planning out your content schedule, and many of us are sitting here in admiration as you said you've got things planned out until effectively the next five to six months. How do you go about doing that? Who's involved in that process? You're the Demand Gen leader and you seem to know everything that's happening in your content team, so I'm curious who owns that schedule and how do you work cross functionally to make sure the right topics are being chosen, you're sourcing the right writers and executing on that plan?
Nathan:Yeah, I think that's a great question. With CoSchedule, we have a blog manager, Ben, and so what we do is I let him have complete ownership of the blog schedule and he works with our content writer, Brianna, to help understand where they need to fit there. Ben really works with me and we talk through keywords that we want to target topic, that we want target, and we just basically come up with a list first and really, really hone in on what we think will work and what we think won't work. Once we figure out what those 10X ideas are, or those things that are going to give us 10 times the amount of results compared to normal piece, those are things that go on the calendar. We have a big brainstorming session basically and go from there, and then I let them own that. That helps me because blogging is just one thing that we do. We're always after, what is the next project? I don't know, I guess to answer you question, we have complete trust in the team to be able to do what we hired them to do and that helps me focus on what our next opportunities are. "We have the blog 10X project, we have ads 10X project, what is the next 10X growth project for CoSchedule? How can the demand gen team attract 10 times more marketing qualified leads to our business beyond what we're doing today?" We're never satisfied with status quo, and I think absolutely trusting your team to do what they are doing is essential for you to focus on that next growth item.
Tyler:Yeah. One of the things I think is an unsung hero of a strong content marketing strategy, and you touched on this, is the importance of taking an SEO first approach to your topics and to your content. You mentioned 10X and 10X in your performance on things, which blows a lot of our minds of those of us who still think in 10% increments as opposed to 10X increments. But I found that's one thing even on our own blog when going back about a year, we put a real focus on making sure we had a disciplined approach to SEO keywords, and using that to feed our blog schedule, as opposed to really just talking about, "Hey, these are the topics we want to talk about," and that had a huge impact for us. I don't think we quite 10X, but I love that as a target. I think we 2Xed in the last year our overall engagement, which was a great surge, but I think it's just something that so many people miss is the importance of using that data behind the scenes from an SEO perspective to guide what it is you want to talk about and how you manage that schedule.
Nathan:Yeah, definitely. I mean, something that we think about ... Just to give you an example of how we look at what we've done in the past, or why keywords are important, so ... Here's the example, I guess. We wrote this blog post on the best times to post on social media, and that was our core keyword. What we did was there was a section for each of the networks that is latent semantic indexing, or LSI, basically they're related search terms so we would use an H2 to say, "Hey this is the best time to post on Facebook. The best time to Tweet," these are all keywords too, and so we basically wrote this huge blog post, I think it's like 10,000 words long, helps people understand the best times to post on social media. We get all of the search results for that core term, we get all of the searches for all these LSI terms, and basically found that this has been so successful that we've repeated that process with other content that we've created. For example, after we saw this best times to post on social media be so successful, we wrote another post like the best time to send email, also hugely successful. Then, we wrote how often to post on social media, hugely successful, so that's where we figured out that these research posts are basically looking at questions that people are asking and answering them worked really well. Anyway, yes, search engine first, or SEO first, makes a lot of sense for a company like CoSchedule.
Tyler:Once you guys are actually in the heat of these production environments and you're creating this content at scale, what do you guys do to, and this may be a bit of a softball, but you see yourselves, and maybe talk about your client base as well of what are some of the best practices you're seeing for helping to manage and execute on that content schedule? It's, of course, one thing to have a plan six months down, but to make sure that key timelines are being hit, that critical paths are being met, that writers are being recruited at the right time, so what are some of the best practices you're seeing to making sure that you stay a well-oiled machine and you optimize the performance of your team when building that amount of content?
Randy:I feel like he's going to say Google Docs.
Nathan:Yes, we do use Google Docs. No, no, that's an awesome question. Something that I do ... Okay, so it's one thing to say we are going to publish a blog post a month from today to know that a month from now, on Monday, a blog post will ship. Something that we do is we map out what the timeline is to make sure that we execute that project so that we can start it on time so that no one feels rushed at the end or no one feels rushed through a specific part of the process. For example, we know that working on a blog post, we start it basically a month ahead of schedule. We give the writer a week to do it, the following week we have someone design it, the third week we have someone edit it, and then it's good to go for a week and then it publishes the following week. That's how we keep it very simple. That is something like our CEO and cofounder Garrett talks about a lot is like the simplest approach is often the best place to start. What I would suggest to anyone who is thinking about creating content is to basically map out what that workflow would be for creating that piece and then starting on time. If you haven't ever written a blog post before, don't think that you're going to write one today and ship it tomorrow, but to realistically figure out who needs to be involved in that process, how much time they might need in it and start well in advance and give yourself that time. It doesn't mean that you're only working out one piece at a time. I think at CoSchedule we're probably working on 20 different pieces at any given time, probably even more, but it helps us understand realistically speaking where those resources are going to go.
Tyler:One other thing that I'm curious about and it's something we're trying to do more ourselves is how much do you depend on third-party contributors, both industry professionals and potentially as well as freelancers, to help fuel that development of content and to fulfilling that schedule versus how much do you do in-house from your own staff and contributors?
Nathan:Yeah, that's a really interesting question. For a while, we thought guest posting was going to be really good thing for us, so if we would accept guest blog posts to CoSchedule ... Which I guess we still have this page that says write for us, but our standards of performance are so high that we've actually stopped, essentially, accepting guest posts and write nearly everything internally. We do that because ... I mean, I guess we've been talking about this this whole podcast, but we want to publish the best content on the internet and it's really hard to train a guest writer to do that for us. We are very strict with what we do. We have published some guest posts like Neil Patel has written for us and some of those other people who are just really, really good, we'll just accept right away, but for the most part we don't publish guest posts at all and we'll write it ourselves. Maybe there's this sentiment that how can you actually publish that much content ... If you're listening to me and you're like, "Ah, man, I should publish two pieces a week," or, "Let's just publish one piece a week and try to get some new search engine traffic." Something that we do at CoSchedule is we will look back at pieces we've maybe published a year back and we will re-optimize them, think about new LSI terms and then publish them again. That is good because search engines reward updates and it helps you freshen up your content for your audience, too. That's a good way to get that mix.
Randy:Really interesting, Nathan. Firs of all, I really commend the approach you have, and I think, as I said at the beginning of this podcast, whether you're a small company or a large company, we can often learn a lot from the need to be nimble and the need to be efficient, and you guys clearly have that down. As we wrap up here, one of things we also like to do is get to know you. One of the things that I'm generally always curious about people is the work-Nathan the same as the nonwork-Nathan? You're clearly very process driven, does that carry on to your home life? If so, give us a story that either as a family member or something about that need to be organized mentality.
Nathan:Yeah. Again, I'm just smiling over here. I've got a little story on this, so work-Nathan and weekend-Nathan are the same person because back in 2014 before I started at CoSchedule, I just started a personal blog that basically talked about how I would manage a marketing team if I were given the opportunity. I was doing this on Saturdays just with a cup of coffee, listening to some vinyl records, it was just fun to me, so it's been ... Anyway, I had probably one reader, and it happened to be our cofounder and CEO Garrett, and he and I start talking and he basically gave me this opportunity, this awesome, amazing opportunity, to turn my hobby into my day job. I absolutely love this stuff. I was always organized before working at CoSchedule. Now I think I'm even more organized than ever before, but, yeah, I'm definitely a planner. I've got a trip planned to go into the boundary waters here in a little bit and I've got everything laid out, so definitely the same person.
Randy:I love that. I love that story and I love how work relationships can start through people's passions. I think that's really motivating to a lot of people listening to this, too. All right, I'll leave you with this one to really just get to know you outside of work and whatnot, first of all, we're going to create this myth that all the best content creators are based in Fargo, North Dakota, which who'd of thunk it, and since we've dropped Fargo everyone automatically goes to the movies, so I'm not going to let that be your favorite movie, what is your favorite movie of all time though that is not Fargo?
Nathan:Yes. It has to be Oh Brother Where Art Thou? That movie is just awesome. Anything from Cohen Brothers is great.
Randy:I was about to say, you're definitely into the genre of that. All right, fantastic. Well, Nathan, thanks so much of. I feel like both Tyler and I have learned the time that we're going to probably take to our teams, let alone everyone listening onto this podcast. If you've enjoyed listening to Nathan, please do check out CoSchedule and check out their blog. It's really well-organized with content easy to find based on what you're looking for. If you've enjoyed this podcast in general, check us out a Content Pros is part of Convince & Convert where there's a whole bunch of other great podcast, webinars, content on a day-to-day basis coming from Jay Barron and his team. Really encourage you to check in on that as well. Until next time, on behalf of Tyler Lessard at Vidyard, I'm Randy Frisch at Uberflip, and this has been the Content Pros podcast. Thanks for tuning in.
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