We caught up to discuss how Bitly is helping content and social media marketers today, along with how Blaise approached auditing and relaunching Bitly’s own content marketing strategy.
Our conversation is also below. It has been edited for length and clarity.
BMV SeedStories: I know you played a role in relaunching Bitly’s content strategy. How did you look to provide the best engagement to folks when they hit your website? What was the first step in establishing a buyer persona? How did you think about the type of customers and the type of content that you wanted to put in front of them?
Blaise: It was scary at first, to be honest. I mean, we’ve been around since 2008. There’s still about 300 million links being created every month through Bitly, possibly more. We serve a massive number. I think about 4 billion different browsers, or cookies, are traveling through Bitly links somehow each month.
But at the same time, there are so many different use cases. So when I started, I kind of panicked a little bit ’cause we have these deep linking products, we have Bitly Enterprise, and we have this analytics solution, and everything was kind of fragmented at the time, actually. We didn’t even have some of the products we offer now.
Bitly OneView is probably my favorite at this point, or Bitly Brand Manager. But those came later, so when I started, we were still really trying to find our identity of, not just the personas we were selling to, but even things like price point, and what the product actually looked like. Since then, we’ve redeveloped the UI completely. You might have seen it if you’ve used Bitly recently.
But what I did was I kind of took a step back, and I went through the entire website, so I looked at what content had been created. Having joined in 2015, the company was already quite a few years old, so there was a legacy of a lot of stuff that I was trying to figure out: if someone downloads this old webinar from three years ago, where do they end up? So that’s part of the funnel.
I just created a list of all the content, and then I slowly started building out a content calendar. Ultimately, the first jump was the social media marketer persona, because Bitly was still really, really prevalent on it, still is, right? Twitter, Facebook, and the social ecosystem. So that was the first step.
Got you. And too, ’cause from your website, if I go on to Bitly, I’m typically using the product without even seeing the enterprise content, so when I first talked to you, I was like, “What type of content do you guys create?” ‘Cause I’d never see it.
Was there A/B testing, or do you also think about, “Hey, there’s these free users out there? Should we find ways, once in awhile, to put content in front of them to test it?” How did you figure out where you start to just see it in content as part of the experience of using Bitly?
That still drives me crazy, that people are just cookied, so if you’re the most high-valued type of user, and you use Bitly a lot, you’re just immediately taken to the platform. But it also creates a good experience, so we’re not gonna change that. But at the same time, you’re right, it makes it harder to get in front of prospects, and it makes it harder to just communicate with your users.
One of the best tools we’ve started using is Intercom, which has allowed us to message users within the platform. That might be the little popup that you see sometimes of someone’s face, as you’re using Bitly. And we’ll often link to new product launches, upcoming webinars, or sometimes even e-books.
The other thing that we did was start a huge e-mailing list through Marketo, just so we could figure out which free users get engaged here. We pulled all that stuff in from our other database, and there’s this huge database thing, but I’d still say e-mail marketing is probably our number one way to communicate with, whether free users or prospects, and that’s really how we’ve been driving content awareness as well.
The blog came a little later, which was really a battle, ’cause when I came on, we were on Tumblr. I’ve never even heard of another tech company at this point being on Tumblr for content marketing efforts.
Right. It’s funny, ’cause everyone was there at one point, and then the slow procession away from it happened.
We would say, “Oh, well, I guess, how many hearts did we get on this thing?” I don’t really know what kind of metrics Tumblr is providing us here. So it took almost a year to just revamp it into what you see today if you go to blog.bitly.com. And that’s on WordPress.
Now we’re finally getting some traction in terms of SEO, and trying to get evergreen content up to the top of search engines. And that’s the other way that we’re just building awareness.
So when you took the first look at creating the blog, moving it from Tumblr to your website, what was the first step in figuring out what type of content you were gonna be running? Is there some sort of formula where you say, “Hey, we have one top of the funnel piece. We have one bottom of the funnel piece.”
Or early on, is it just we want to do this evergreen content so we can slowly start to rise up search engines, and then we can kind of get into the weeds after that? What was the strategy in launching the blog?
It was interesting because, with Tumblr, I just didn’t even want people essentially going there. So when I first started, and when you start a content marketing program, the blog should technically be the cornerstone, because search traffic is just what you start with, if you’re a startup.
We could count on our e-mail list, but traditionally, and this was delayed by a year as we waited for the development of the blog, I would have gone straight into the blog, but at Bitly I actually pushed way harder on webinars, because they were the easiest thing for us to create without going through design and things like that as well.
And then we had the e-mail list that started helping us with registrations, and then I went with partners, so essentially for Bitly it was partnerships and webinars.
Then a year later, as we finally started the blog, I thought, “Okay, finally we can get into sequencing.” And in terms of sequencing content, I think my favorite tactic is to write four blog posts that are themed along a certain keyword.
We targeted social media marketers at this point, so one of the pieces that get a lot of inbound traffic is about Instagram paid ads, which levels up into an entire guide about paid ad strategy for all these social channels. And just by targeting different keywords there, we started increasing traffic from hopefully qualified people that are looking for an Instagram paid social strategy.
That goes back to our initial persona of social media marketer, even though we’ve started thinking about targeting other people, now we’re going to develop more diversified content.
In terms of creating that content on your end, do you work with a team, or are you cranking out the content on your own? Just curious, in terms of how you’ve set up the actual content creation for the blog.
The way it’s divided right now is that the content marketing manager is writing a lot of blog posts that are targeted toward those keywords, and then she’ll build that content up into an e-book, then package it. Then we’ll start using that e-book, and then repurposing some other stuff from it. Then we really try and just push hard on certain keywords and phrases.
At the same time, I’m usually hosting webinars or something like that, about those specific keywords or topics. And a lot of what I do now, day to day, is the product marketing side of things.
On the webinar side, for B2B startups: Any certain tips, or best practices you’ve stumbled upon in rolling out different webinars?
You need to find partners. At this point, it’s so noisy, and the landscape is so saturated, that the best way to access a whole new list of leads is to partner with an industry peer.
We have had really successful webinars with companies like AdRoll, Simply Measured, Spredfast, one with HubSpot. And if you can build up an ongoing partnership with another company, then you’re just doubling your potential list of leads, especially if you’re smaller.
That’s a good piece of advice. In terms of anything else that you’ve done, you had mentioned tying into broader topics like the paid stuff. Have you guys pushed e-books or, even via e-mail, what has been the tactic there? Just before you weren’t focusing on Tumblr, so were you just using any content that you created early on and just pushing that via e-mail?
E-mail was definitely, and it still remains our biggest promotional tool. Only really recently are we starting to see some gains from the blog, and I actually favor e-books over webinars.
I think webinars are- A certain type of lead registers for webinars, and they are so time-consuming, and honestly, stressful, because sometimes you don’t know if the platform will crash, or some connection issue will happen.
But in terms of the way our design team is structured, a lot of the design team’s efforts are on the product design, I had to think about a way to just do stuff that didn’t need as much design oversight, and e-books are generally a bit more design heavy.
But now we’re finally ramping up e-book efforts. E-books are just a better static piece of content because you can put them on the blog, you can use them as calls to action at the bottom of every blog post. So you’re always generating some leads from that, especially if you’ve targeted an important search word.
Shifting a little bit into actually using the product, you mentioned that you work with a lot of social media marketers. When you talk to them, obviously they’re using Bitly to see it on different platforms and check out how certain campaigns are performing with different influencers.
What do you hear on their thoughts on distribution as they figure out who they’re targeting across all those channels? Just curious, do you sense there’s a trend towards moving towards smaller social media influencers versus going after one large one? I know something that we hear a lot with our clients is, “Hey, rather than pay that one person at 10X what we’d pay these other folks, it makes more sense to go with these 10 individuals at a lower cost and kind of seed out that content in different channels.”
Yeah, I would totally agree with that. One of our biggest requests now is to build- well, so in Bitly OneView essentially, you can create a campaign and send a destination page, whether it’s a product page or a landing page, you shorten that, and just select a number of channels, right? You can select up to 10 channels. And then it creates a link for each of those 10 channels that is tracked under that channel name. And those channels don’t just have to be something like Twitter, Facebook. We’ve seen them for SMS campaigns, and we’ve seen them especially for influencers now.
So if you’re working with a number of influencers, you want to be able to track them, and a lot of our bigger- especially consumer-brand clients are using Bitly for that reason. To just see in real time, essentially, how influencers are performing when it comes to driving traffic back to that specific page.
So I would definitely say that I’m really bullish on influencer marketing. I think it’s still untapped, largely … Especially on the content side.
Even at Bitly, we’ve started an influencer marketing program by just interviewing free Bitly users, interviewing people we think our audience want to hear from, and then you see those gains as they share the content, we share the content, and you really feel it. It definitely makes a difference.
Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask you, you beat me to the punch. I was going to ask if you guys are using influencer marketing at all on your own end. And it seems like, between B2B and B2C marketing, they’re slowly molding into one, where everyone on the Internet is essentially a buyer.
We have startups that target other startups, so they’ll do ad buys across Facebook and slowly drip out content to people working at certain startups just to push content in front of them and maybe they might see it. An enterprise buyer could really be anywhere on the Internet. It’s almost limitless potential to get in front of them, right?
I actually think there are so many things that people haven’t tried in that regard, when it comes to really targeting down to the content. We see clients using us for Reddit, too, because Reddit is really hard to track, but someone like a video game company can get huge returns by going on the right Reddit forum, and just started getting involved. Right now, I think it’s still very happenstance.
So you think about influencer marketing specifically, it’s like you have to start getting involved in the conversation before you ask for a favor. And I think right now, companies are still doing a pay to play model there.
But I agree. I think everyone is a human on the Internet, and we’re all looking at content that interests us as human beings. And the engineer is probably looking at cat photos too, essentially.
We had talked about creating different types of content. I was wondering if you might be able to give us a basic idea of what top of funnel content might look like versus bottom of funnel content.
We’re really interested in that too, especially now that content and product marketing is a whole other thing that I think is kind of blending together.
Content marketing is at top of funnel. That could be something like a listicle that’s focused on your industry. So you could do a newsjacking piece, or you could do an evergreen search term piece, right?
And those blog posts are just offering immediate, helpful takeaways. You’re building trust among the audience that’s reading them, and really showing your authority in that realm.
Middle of the funnel content can sometimes mention your product a little bit, as an example to that pain point that you’re talking to. But it’s still much less sales-y, it’s just, “Well, here’s a number of solutions to this problem,” so it would be a strategy piece. And Bitly happens to be one of them, but take it or leave it. In our case, we may even just say, “You can use free Bitly for this stuff.” It’s just getting that product mention into the content. So I’d say middle of the funnel is more strategic, and probably meatier pieces than the top of the funnel content.
And what do you say when you look at the distribution of that content? Does that change, versus the content? I’m just curious, for the top one, if it’s a listicle maybe there’s more push on social, versus the bottom of the funnel of content, maybe e-mail. It seems like you could create certain distribution tactics for some of that different content, right?
That’s how we’ve segmented too. We have free e-mail lists, so that’s gonna get top of the funnel content, almost never bottom of the funnel.
We have leads, so they’ll get middle and bottom of the funnel, sometimes top of the funnel.
And then, of course, people who are pretty much either customers, or trying to upsell, or people who are about ready to buy with the bottom of the funnel e-mail.
But I would also say that, when it comes to something like a case study, or a product sheet that just shows some features of the product, that’s when you really have to promote it internally, so sales starts using it, and the SDRs start using it, because content often forgets to promote within, but I think that’s a huge missed opportunity when it comes to bottom of the funnel content in particular.
Bottom of the funnel is always going to be case studies, product demos, one-sheets, or product videos, something that’s clearly targeted toward a person who’s really researching the product and ready to buy.
That’s a good point. I think especially, too, with startups I think early on sometimes there’s not as holistic between the integration of sales and marketing.
That’s something that I’ve really, really worked hard on since I’ve gotten here. And the biggest thing that I did that helped, was I built this thing called the Content Treasury. And it’s really just a Google Sheet.
But the idea is to just help sales get to the content they need during the process, right? And that also shows them your value, because like it or not, most of the sales reps are not reading the blog, they’re not attending the webinars. And so if you’re just giving them lead numbers, it doesn’t mean the same thing as if you give them a case study of your product MO, that they can immediately use in an upcoming call.
And we use Slack to communicate new content. That works sometimes, depending on if they pay attention, but the Content Treasury is now this live Google Sheet that’s shared with the whole company, so people can just go in there and see all the content divided very similarly to top of funnel, middle of the funnel, bottom of the funnel. We’ve divided it by industry, we’ve divided it by product within Bitly Enterprise. And then we just have lists and URLs that they can send.
Very cool. I’m guessing you’re talking with a lot of social media marketers, probably cross over with content marketers. Any interesting campaigns that you’ve seen your own customers use? Obviously, Bitly might be a piece of that, but just on the content or social end, that you think were well done?
One cool thing is this app that’s pretty popular, is using us to just target geographically. So again, with a Bitly link, if you create links for a specific demographic, or geography, then you can track all those results, and what they’re doing is combining a Facebook ad that’s already targeted to males age 18 to 24, and then another Facebook ad that’s targeted to males 36 to 45. Then they create two different Bitlinks within one campaign, and they can see who’s responding better to that ad.
The other thing that’s interesting is by region, so they know that these ads are being served in different regions, they use different Bitlinks, they can immediately compare which regions are responding better. So that’s a nice analytics thing, I think, in terms of softer content plays. I was really impressed by this thing …
I’m always impressed by Harry’s, the razor company, because they made their own magazine, right? And they’ve created this kind of community-based on the persona that they’ve developed, and just to have a magazine about- not a razor necessarily, it’s about men’s fashion, it’s about parenting. And that’s corresponding to the thing that we talked about before, is that all these people are humans. Here’s the content your persona’s probably already looking for and reading when they’re not thinking about buying razors. And I think that’s a really cool play to do, because you want to build that connection and content helps you build it.
In terms of tracking success, what have you been using on your end? I guess you could use your own product in terms of tracking engagement, but what’s the typical backend for you guys in tracking the success of using content?
Marketo is probably the big- and I hate to bring it up in a Boston-based … But Marketo for us- it was already there when I started. Marketo has definitely been huge for us, and we’re still trying to figure out how to optimize it in the best way.
You know, for startups I also wonder if the cost of those platforms is worth it in a lot of cases, ’cause you need a big volume in order to really gain the data you want. But then Marketo’s integrated with Salesforce, so we can actually track people all the way to close if they came from a webinar, right? That’s really valuable data for us.
Yeah. We lost all our HubSpot listeners now, but I think it’s interesting, ’cause some of the startups that we work with really can’t afford either early on, but as they grow, and as you said, they have the scale, a number of users where it makes sense, or potential leads, and contact information where it makes sense to use those.
But sometimes, yeah, I think the Google Analytics and some- You can go free base for a while to start to scale, and then as you start to move over to some of these other paid options, in terms of HubSpot. I’m not as familiar with Marketo on the paid versions, but I do think, in terms of the pricing on some of the different tiers, like for a HubSpot, it only makes sense to go with some of the more premium tiers. Early on, you almost get as much out of Google Analytics as you do at HubSpot, at least for some of the lower-tier versions.
Yeah even on our end there’s a breakdown that happens because we have it set up so when Marketo basically grades the leads with this tool we use called Infer, it goes by demographic information, job title, company name. It gets distributed into a queue, right, for the SDRs to contact them. But the SDRs do not distinguish whether they signed up to learn more about the product, or whether they signed up for a webinar about Snapchat marketing, right?
And so those are two very different lead journeys, that that’s something we’re really looking at now, because I think marketing automation almost removes the step where the marketer goes to sales and says, “Okay, don’t talk to these people like this, because they signed up for this, and here’s what we covered.” And that goes back to over-communicating with sales, everything that’s happening in marketing.
And I think that’s a big missed opportunity for a lot of companies that have automated it, but sales aren’t looking at the content, still. They don’t know what happened in the webinar, and how to talk to the leads, so that’s up to marketing to clarify.
Right. Makes sense. Any kind of final tips, if there was kind of a Seed, Series A stage company that’s saying, “Hey, we really want to scale with content,” tips for just getting started?
I think the number one thing you should do is start building connections. And that’s influencers, and that’s partners. And the best way to do that is Help a Reporter Out, which is this service, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s meant for reporters to send queries to whoever is looking for information.
But what we’ve started doing is asking for digital marketing strategies related to stuff we want to write about. And dozens of people will respond to you. And so that can be consultants, PR agencies, other B2B companies. But that’s a great way to start building the relationships.
Another good way is to just go on Twitter, look at people who are tweeting about things that you’re interested in and try to connect from there.
LinkedIn is also important, in that regard. I think they’re gonna make a big comeback if they keep pushing content and get their UI down.
When it comes to content, think about the first big piece of content you want, and then break it down from there. So create a quarterly content calendar. Say, “Here’s our theme, here’s what we’re trying to message to people, and here’s the big piece of content that’s going to get us leads and awareness.” I think the best piece of content is actually a survey, but they’re expensive. But if you can go to market with a survey that’s related to a pain point that your target audience is feeling, you can even get coverage- whether it’s a blog or an actual publication.
Yeah, those are all good points. I might actually have to spend a couple of seconds on them too. On the survey thing, have you guys used Google Consumer Surveys much? We found some luck with them, in terms of being a pretty low price point and guaranteeing results. They have certain subgroups that you can actually target, whether it’s students, or certain demographics as well. So we use that pretty successfully. And then the LinkedIn part was interesting too.
I’ve read a couple pieces about how some people don’t think reposting content on LinkedIn hurts SEO, or search engine ranks. Have you guys played around with that at all? Have you put a post out on the blog, are you guys also posting to LinkedIn or Medium?
S we used to do that. Now what we’re doing is if it’s a really forward-thinking thought leadership piece from an exec, we’ll put it onto Medium, and then they’ll cross post onto LinkedIn.
And I think LinkedIn does have a power in that you’re never gonna find a better audience for B2B, right? All of your connections are there. They’re going to see it, they’re going to read it, they’re going to like it and comment on it. They’re a very engaged group. Same with Medium.
But at the same time, you’re diluting your brand, and you’re possibly diluting search. I don’t actually know for sure if that hurts, or helps, or it doesn’t matter.
Only Google really does. We can only speculate, right?
I really want to investigate LinkedIn a bit more, because our chief product officer says that’s where he sees the biggest amount of engagement and clicks because he’s using Bitly links within the article to see if people are clicking, and what part of the article they’re clicking. So then he knows that LinkedIn is driving this insane amount of engagement on all those pieces.
Well, that’s a great point to end on, Blaise. Blaise Lucey is the Director of Product and Content Marketing at Bitly. Blaise, where can we find you online, and what’s the best link to find Bitly For Enterprise online?
If you want to follow me on Twitter, that’s probably the best place to go is @BlaiseLucey00. There were no other Blaise Lucey’s, I just forgot my password when Twitter had started, so now I’m doomed with double-0.
For more information on Bitly Enterprise, I would say, we have some demo videos set up that are just- you just watch them. You can take a look at the product in action. It’s just bitly.is\basics, and if you’re looking to really see what Enterprise is about, just go to bitly.com, make sure you’re logged out, and click Enterprise.
Great. Blaise, thanks again for joining us on SeedStories. Hopefully, we can catch up again soon.