Laura Dolan (00:00):
Hello everyone, and welcome to Content Intel, the first episode of 2022. I am your host, Laura Dolan, and I am pumped to be starting off the new year with our special guest. He's the founder of The Content Studio, Tommy Walker. Happy New Year, Tommy. Welcome to the show.
Tommy Walker (00:16):
Happy New Year. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Laura Dolan (00:19):
Of course. I don't know about you, but I'm sure happy 2021's over. I know it was supposed to be better than 2020, but in many ways seemed a little more stressful for me.
Tommy Walker (00:27):
It was just weird.
Laura Dolan (00:27):
Yeah. Yeah. It was a little weird. It was probably because I moved across the country to a different state that may have had something to do with it, but I don't know, how did 2021 treat you?
Tommy Walker (00:35):
It was just weird. We're still in that like weird in between phase where we're out of 2020 and thank goodness for that.
Laura Dolan (00:42):
Tommy Walker (00:42):
But 2021 was still just like, I started my own business back in 2020, so 2021 was all still kind of hassle.
Laura Dolan (00:50):
Tommy Walker (00:51):
So yeah, a lot of it was just work related so it's weird. It feels like the same day every day still.
Laura Dolan (00:56):
Yeah. I mean, my husband and I moved across the country and having to deal with supply chain issues and delays and all that stuff. But anyway, I digress. Let's talk about some content, shall we?
Laura Dolan (01:09):
Specifically, how to optimize your workflow with content automation, which is something you specialize in. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about your background and content creation and how The Content Studio got started?
Tommy Walker (01:20):
Sure, sure. So way back when I had started my first business, I had been fired over pants from a retail job. That's a whole completely different story and-
Laura Dolan (01:30):
We'll have to pull it that thread later. No pun intended.
Tommy Walker (01:32):
Yeah, yeah. And I freelanced for a long time, I did a lot of freelance strategy, freelance consulting and whatnot. But I ended up having to pivot later on down the road to creating contents, freelancing and writing blog posts for a bunch of different websites. So ConversionXL, Unbounce, Crazy Eggs, number of different sites within the B2B SaaS space.
Laura Dolan (01:58):
Tommy Walker (01:59):
And that eventually led me to become the lead editor over at ConversionXL, which then got me recruited into Shopify. I then moved over to Shopify Plus, I was the first marketing hire over there. Helped see that to the first 1500 customers then moved over to QuickBooks, which is obviously a much bigger beast.
Laura Dolan (02:21):
Tommy Walker (02:21):
And then scaled global content marketing from one market to 16, with 40+ contributors across all of those markets. And along the way there going from freelancer, managing my own workload with all of my clients, to running global content marketing. Much the operational side of things became a lot more complex over time. And I never really thought about it until I started went off on my own again and then realized that operations is a hugely underserved market so that's kind of where we are today.
Image Source: The Content Studio
Laura Dolan (02:55):
Tommy Walker (03:05):
Yeah. It's typically B2B SaaS. So we work with, I'll give you the quotable here. We work with high growth B2B SaaS companies, startups, and then enterprises, generally fortune 1000 companies. We have the stuff that's fun and then we have the stuff that really flexes on those skills on the operation side.
Tommy Walker (03:24):
And we focus primarily on building out the content marketing program as a whole. So that includes everything from operations to content quality, hiring, budgeting, anything that you need to build a content marketing function within an organization. That's where we spend a lot of our focus, not just strategy, the entire thing.
Laura Dolan (03:43):
Have you worked with Optimizely before?
Tommy Walker (03:45):
Back in the day, we did a lot of content stuff together, primarily on the webinar side. I have from an experimentation standpoint and have been aware from an experimentation standpoint, but my hands-on experience was minimal. I could barely run a test.
Laura Dolan (04:05):
We'll have to work on that.
Tommy Walker (04:07):
Laura Dolan (04:07):
Image Source: The Content Studio
Tommy Walker (04:16):
Sure. So from our perspective, one of the things that I like to do, I try to think about things in closed loop systems. So a very simple one to keep things moving smoothly for us is, I have as part of my operation, anytime I create a record in Airtable. For example, a document will automatically generate itself with all of the information that I would normally have templated.
Laura Dolan (04:41):
Tommy Walker (04:41):
So I'm no longer having the copy and paste everything, I have that templated. Moving on to that next step, if I'm working with somebody who does word count, I can press a button in Airtable. It automatically draws down the word count.
Laura Dolan (04:54):
Tommy Walker (04:54):
And it shows me how much a person's getting paid. When my editors, when a piece is ready for review and editor will be notified over Slack or email, whichever they prefer.
Tommy Walker (05:04):
And if we have things that need review, I can press a button and it will go automatically to the person that needs review either on an ad hoc basis or in a digest format. So really trying to think about when it comes to those operational side of things, how can we move things along as quick as possible and minimize the amount of human error that could happen.
Tommy Walker (05:24):
Another one that we do, if we're doing case studies, we're going to send out the same basic case study, your case study's ready for review, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That's all templated. And we can send that out with the push of a button as well. So those are a lot of the operational side of things with the automation that we try to bring into play. So we can minimize the amount of things getting pushed down in email or lost in Slack.
Image Source: The Content Studio
Laura Dolan (05:49):
I love that, sounds like it mitigates the amount of steps that you need each time.
Tommy Walker (05:54):
Laura Dolan (05:54):
You have to create a template for each type of work, right? So you'll have one for a case study, you'll have one for a blog. What are the different types of content that you worked with specifically? Do you also do email or videos?
Tommy Walker (06:08):
Yep. Yeah, we can. So we can do a number of different things, anything. The whole idea when I do an audit of a system in op, an entire system, the first question is always, what are the things that you're doing on a regular basis? So are you uploading the same descriptions for your YouTube videos, right? Or something very similar.
Laura Dolan (06:30):
Tommy Walker (06:31):
Are you sending out that same email over and over again? Yeah. There are a number of things that's always context dependent. But that's ultimately one of the first things that I'm trying to look at or what are those things that are repetitive that can also take just small bits of time or large bits of time. So like client onboarding is another big one.
Laura Dolan (06:49):
Tommy Walker (06:49):
Right. How can we send out all the onboarding emails ahead of time or get the documents out there to them where you need to sign. And it's just the same stuff over and over again. Link building is another big one.
Laura Dolan (07:01):
Okay. How would that work?
Tommy Walker (07:04):
So we've got an automation in place where if I can find the person's email address, then we can load it up and we can do some customizations inside there, where we'll find the link that we want to get the place from. And we can basically, it's the same as normal outreach because we can just automate. We automate how it's sent, but we're customizing the message as we go along. But what's important about that is that with that automation, we have all of our correspondence in one easy to find place.
Laura Dolan (07:35):
Tommy Walker (07:36):
And we can also make it so whatever shows up in the inbox brings it back over to the system of records. So we have all of the information right there and we don't have to do it with a specialized tool. We can do it really with Airtable.
Laura Dolan (07:53):
That's awesome. Sounds really streamlined, really efficient, the path of least resistance. That's what it's all about, right? You're just trying to make a frictionless experience for your customers.
Tommy Walker (08:03):
Laura Dolan (08:03):
Tommy Walker (08:04):
And saving all the time. And a lot of people will look at this and go like, how can I save all this time and do all that. For me, it's not just that, right? I've been able to build the blogs that I've been able to work with. Fortunately, on the back of high-quality content, right?
Tommy Walker (08:20):
Content always comes first. These operations are always in service of creating better content.
Laura Dolan (08:27):
Tommy Walker (08:27):
Because I want to spend less time working on getting the work. I want to spend more time working on the work than managing the work. And that's really what a lot of this stuff is about.
Laura Dolan (08:38):
Right. You want to work smarter, not harder.
Tommy Walker (08:40):
Laura Dolan (08:41):
And it helps when you have an omnichannel platform.
Tommy Walker (08:45):
Laura Dolan (08:45):
So, you're able to kind of put all these operations in place that kind of cater to each of the different channels.
Tommy Walker (08:51):
Laura Dolan (08:51):
That also helps. For those in our audience who aren't familiar with, how a content audit works, what does it entail? Because I know that is one of the things that your company does specialize in.
Tommy Walker (09:00):
Sure. So when it comes to the content audit, right? We'll take the operation side of things out of the picture for a second. When we look at doing a content audit, we're doing a number of different things. The first one is, I work with two other people, and we look at the data science perspective, the content quality perspective, and then the SEO audit. And on the SEO audit, we're doing things not only the keyword research element of that and what keywords are we targeting, but a lot deeper than that. So, like the user experience, the page speed metrics and all of those user experience metrics.
Image Source: The Content Studio
Tommy Walker (09:36):
On my end, I'll end up reading probably 200 blog posts from your own, and then competitors to see where those little gaps are, to find where we can jab. If I'm looking at competitive audits, I'm trying to find those places where we can jab and what are those blind spots. So, we can hit them where they can't move.
Tommy Walker (09:57):
And then from the data science perspective, we're always looking at what's working really well, where are you wasting money and how can we start to pull the throttle on things that don't work and push it down on the things that are. So, it's a pretty intense process. It usually takes us about a month and a half, to two months.
Laura Dolan (10:21):
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:10:21] My next question, what is the timeline on something like that?
Tommy Walker (10:21):
Yeah. It usually takes us about one to two months, depending on the size of the site.
Laura Dolan (10:25):
Tommy Walker (10:25):
And it's to really get a thorough understanding of where that site is on its own and then where it is in the market.
Laura Dolan (10:31):
How many would you say you've done since you started?
Tommy Walker (10:35):
About one a month.
Laura Dolan (10:35):
Tommy Walker (10:37):
Yeah. We try to average about one a month and that's really with the capabilities that we have as far as we have our process, but not like a super templated approach because every site is unique. So, it's not like, let's go through all of this stuff. Like for me, for example my part of the situation, I'll take handwritten notes on almost every single thing I read.
Laura Dolan (10:58):
Tommy Walker (10:59):
And I'm looking at things like structure, I'm looking at things like how do people lead with their blog posts, what types of questions are they asking, what's that level of engagement, what's the subtext, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I could go on and on. And what we're looking at in those, is what makes this particular website completely unique to the rest of the market and how do we make it unique.
Tommy Walker (11:23):
And that can take quite a bit of time, especially when we're starting to look at things like performance metrics and the technical SEO side of things. And then also, how does this interact with the data layer and how does that all work together.
Laura Dolan (11:38):
I want to circle back really quickly to templates. Do you cater the templates to the particular company or website you're working on?
Tommy Walker (11:47):
The people I work with, I work with two really amazing professionals. All of us have worked together in the enterprise capacity. So, we have processes that we follow and at the same time, because every site is unique and a little bit different, we will kind of adapt the things that we've learned to those different sites and companies.
Tommy Walker (12:09):
That way we can make it really tailored to that situation. And not just to the situation that they're currently in. I don't believe in building out idyllic scenarios. So, we try to also look at, here are the things that you can do now, and then over the next 12 to 18 months, based on the resources that you have available. And now here's what you can do step by stepwise to get buy in based on your situations and all of that. Because I feel like, and I've done audits before, I've had audits done for me and it's always like, here's this idyllic picture.
Laura Dolan (12:41):
Tommy Walker (12:42):
And then I'm going, well, I don't have the budget to do that. I don't-
Laura Dolan (12:46):
Or the resources, right?
Tommy Walker (12:48):
[crosstalk 00:12:48] Or the resources.
Laura Dolan (12:49):
Tommy Walker (12:49):
So, yeah. That's one of the things that we try to look at when we do an audit are finding those actionable things based on the resources and the timing available for the different people and really lay it out as a roadmap. Right. Because if there are certain things, because we've played this game, before we've done the audits before we know that some things will take buy in. So, here's where you can find your minor wins. Here's how you leverage those into bigger wins, so forth and so on.
Laura Dolan (13:16):
What are some new trends in content you foresee in 2022?
Tommy Walker (13:20):
A lot of it's just reiteration on some of the old stuff. A lot of the old stuff keeps coming back. Newsletters are obviously becoming huge again. We've got the atomization of content that we're seeing more people taking advantage of. So, you're going to take this podcast and chop it up into all the little tiny sound bits that we can put out there.
Laura Dolan (13:39):
Tommy Walker (13:40):
Really a lot of people, more focusing on distribution. But also, the thing that I'm looking at and I think I'm trying to evangelize a little bit more are going into those places you can't measure and really starting to think about those places that you can't measure. So, if I create a piece of content, what Slack channels is it going to be shared in? Right?
Laura Dolan (14:02):
Tommy Walker (14:03):
How and then, what are the internal networks within those Slack channels?
Laura Dolan (14:07):
Tommy Walker (14:07):
So, if I'm writing a piece of content that's for marketers. Cool, but what if I'm writing a piece of content that's both for marketers and salespeople. And how can I try to facilitate those connections between the two teams if they don't currently exist? Right?
Laura Dolan (14:21):
Tommy Walker (14:22):
So that's one of the things that I'm looking at and I'm starting to see in some of the conversations that I'm having with more advanced content marketers in the B2B space, is that, right? How do I start thinking about those like, if somebody discovers my one thing on LinkedIn and they don't share it with LinkedIn, that's fine because them sharing it on LinkedIn has nothing to do with whether or not I'm going to make a sale. But if I can get it shared through internal Slack channels and internal newsletters, I'll never be able to measure that.
Tommy Walker (14:54):
But I can try to target it as best as possible and more account-based marketing stuff. I mean, you can start to kind of tweak it a little bit, but how do you start to like really think about those things that you can't measure?
Laura Dolan (15:08):
Right. It's an interesting perspective. When you think about sharing with your internal comms and how that could also help you. That's a really interesting perspective. And then yeah, I know one huge trend that's coming out this year is just repurposing your content. Like you said, I'll probably be taking this podcast and repurposing it into a YouTube video or embedding it in some other blog or some other piece of content, a case study, if you will, the possibilities are endless when you have an omnichannel platform. So that's what I love the most about content creation.
Image Source: The Content Studio
Tommy Walker (15:41):
Yep. And I'd be lying if AI doesn't get thrown into that conversation a little bit.
Laura Dolan (15:48):
Tommy Walker (15:49):
I started using some AI tools a little bit ago and I hate to admit that I know that they're not taking our jobs anytime soon. But an article that would've taken me probably 15 hours to write, ended up bringing it down to like, I don't know, three to eight, depending on the piece.
Laura Dolan (16:08):
Tommy Walker (16:08):
And it's because it was able to analyze my voice and the stuff that I've put out there, but also pull a lot of the research for me, right? Which was really interesting and absolutely terrifying.
Laura Dolan (16:22):
I will always side with efficiency, no matter what it takes, no matter how it's going to streamline your processes and help you be prolific, but also do the most quality that you can in the piece that you're working on.
Tommy Walker (16:35):
Yeah. I mean, they're not taking our jobs over anytime soon.
Laura Dolan (16:38):
No. I'm an advocate for AI. I'm not scared by it.
Tommy Walker (16:43):
Yeah. But I mean finding out headline ideas, like looking at the headline ideas or opening paragraphs and stuff like that, it's like, that's way more helpful than I thought it would be.
Laura Dolan (16:52):
Tommy Walker (16:53):
Or like even coming up with social media, post ideas. Surprising.
Laura Dolan (16:59):
You'd be surprised how much time it saves. It's incredible. Anything else that we didn't get to Tommy, that you'd like to talk about before we wrap up?
Tommy Walker (17:07):
Just that, I do hope that with the efficiency that's happening now, I want to see more people focus on quality.
Laura Dolan (17:17):
Tommy Walker (17:19):
And quality, that's always such a subjective term. But I think what I mean by that is creating experiences that go just a little bit deeper than what's happening on the surface. A lot of what we see is just stuff that comes off at the top of people's heads.
Laura Dolan (17:33):
Tommy Walker (17:33):
And there's all sorts of research that talks about how long it takes for somebody to create a post and how much more deep thinking that goes into that. An original thought that goes into this, that goes out there and point of view, right? Perspective. I think this is one of those things talk about what's going to happen more in 2022. I hope that we see more people competing on perspective.
Laura Dolan (17:58):
Tommy Walker (17:59):
And voice rather than who has the best, who regurgitates other people's information the best.
Laura Dolan (18:06):
Tommy Walker (18:06):
Right. Ryan Law, over at Animalz has this great post. And I can't remember the name of it, and I wish I could I'll send it to you afterwards.
Laura Dolan (18:14):
Tommy Walker (18:15):
Where he talks about looking at Google as like looking into the night sky, right? And in the night sky, you see starlight that's come from thousands of years ago, right? And that's kind of what Google's like now, because it's stuff that worked five, 10 years ago and now it's really hard to break most of that.
Laura Dolan (18:34):
Tommy Walker (18:34):
So how do we use our voice and the content quality that we put out there and almost Google be damned to get people kind of talking about our stuff and interacting with our stuff. That's what I'm hoping I see more of in 2022.
Laura Dolan (18:49):
100%. I couldn't agree more just breaking away from old habits and see where we could go with content creation. That doesn't seem so old hat.
Tommy Walker (18:58):
Laura Dolan (19:00):
Awesome. Well, thank you so much Tommy, for coming on and being our first guest for 2022. I think it's going to be a great year overall and also for content. And it'll be interesting to see where The Content Studio goes from here.
Tommy Walker (19:15):
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Laura Dolan (19:17):
Absolutely. And thank you all so much for tuning into this episode of Content Intel. I am Laura Dolan and I will see you next time.