Digital Marketing for Engineers Blog

What Engineering Marketers Can Learn from an Organic Traffic Superstar

Posted by John Hayes

Aug 31, 2017 10:02:46 AM

Last week I was at Conex2017 and saw an excellent presentation by Amanda Todorovich, the 2016 Content Marketer of the year, according to the Content Marketing Institute.

Amanda outlined the formula that helped the Cleveland Clinic’s corporate blog grow to 5 million visitors per month, up from zero a few years ago. The approach she used really resonated with me, because many of the tactics she outlined were similar to what ENGINEERING.com has relied upon since we launched our Advanced Manufacturing vertical in 2014.  We’re not at 5 million monthly manufacturing visitors yet, but as the chart below shows, traffic has been growing at a very respectable pace. 

20170831 Advanced Manufacturing Traffic.jpg

We built this audience by researching and writing evergreen content that our target audience searches for. And now, month after month, those stories rank in our top 10 most viewed, even though some of them are quite old.

In this blog post, I will review the three most important takeaways from Amanda’s presentation, adapt them to the growth of a technical audience –the target audience for linear actuators is a little smaller than people wanting advice on how to deal with signs of ageing – and finally provide behind-the-curtains evidence from our own experience of growing targeted traffic to our Advanced Manufacturing vertical

But, first a warning. It’s a lot of work.

The most important takeaways from Amanda’s talk were:

  1. Start with the right audience
  2. Research their interests and back it up with data
  3. Write the best content on the Internet about those topics

Like me, you have probably heard this mantra so many times that you’ve tuned it out. What made Amanda’s talk valuable to me was the concrete examples she included. So I’m going to do that from an engineering marketer’s perspective. I hope you get value from it.

If you get nothing else from this blog post, I hope you will act on this – Your site needs evergreen content that will attract your target audience through search. You can add in topical stories, product announcements, application stories, etc. But creating excellent evergreen content has to be your starting point.

 

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At ENGINEERING.com we are so committed to this point that we call these stories, “Anchor Content”, in that these pieces are what anchor the entire content stream for a topic area. Once in place and published, we link to those stories to give readers (and search engines) access to deeper information when they need it. We also attach conversion pieces to those stories so that we can retain that audience.

Amanda’s 3 takeaways are a high level how-to for making great anchor content.

  1. Start with the right audience

Before we started the Advanced Manufacturing content stream on ENGINEERING.com, most of our content was directed towards design engineers rather than manufacturing engineers and factory operators. This new stream of content had to reach a related, but different audience.

We had to make sure our content was going to be a fit for the engineers working in the manufacturing world.  We needed to know who they were, what they cared about, and how they thought.  Finding those answers is difficult and often requires a ton of research.  We got lucky/made a great decision by bringing Jim Anderton on board.  Jim was a 25+ year veteran of the manufacturing world who is a living breathing Wikipedia of manufacturing.  His vast interest in the subject matter and his extensive network meant he could tell us just what concerned automotive plant managers and when he wasn’t sure exactly what the pain points were for an industry he knew 5 people who he/we could ask and interview. 

Finding a Jim is hard – seriously, if you know of any more Jims please direct them to my email inbox – but there are other sources of information that will allow you to build out personas on your target audience.  Your sales reps are excellent sources of info.  They can tell you the questions they get asked on a regular basis or what is acting as a barrier to getting a client on board. And of course, your top source of persona research should be to speak with your customers and prospects directly. 

 

Our research led us to target a core persona for Advanced Manufacturing with the following characteristics:

  • They are highly technical engineers who are deeply interested in shaving small increments of time and money from automated manufacturing processes.
  • They want to make shorter product runs more efficient in terms of setup and materials usage.
  • When their environment changes, they often need new fundamental knowledge so that they can achieve the two above goals.

Research your prospects’ information needs, and back it up with data

When we start by reviewing what our audience searches for, we can write stories that answer the questions they have. For marketers, this means writing from the perspective of what your prospects are having trouble with, rather than what you want to tell them. 

 

Our team uses Google Analytics, the Google keyword tool, and SEM Rush to gather the data we need to identify frequently searched topics in the broad area of Advanced Manufacturing. When we conducted our topic research for our Advanced Manufacturing section, we were looking for keywords that were frequently searched, but also not so competitive that we would never get to the first page of organic search. These tools help us identify the trade-offs of writing for broad search terms versus narrow by telling us how many searches per month there are of the various keywords we research.

 

We decided to write a series of “how to” guides about various aspects of manufacturing, from an engineer’s perspective. Our team brainstormed several story ideas and came up with story ideas like:

  • An Engineer’s Guide to Waterjet Cutting
  • The What, Why and How of 5-Axis CNC Machining
  • Electroplating – What every Engineer Needs to Know
  • EDM 101 – Electrical Discharge Machining Basics

 

We had a lot of success with stories like this one, the “What, Why and How of 5-Axis CNC Machining”.

20170831 5-Axis Traffic-1.jpg

Write the best content on the Internet about those topics

Writing the best content on the Internet for any particular topic is a tall order. For many marketers who want to reach engineers, however, the field is not terribly crowded. While you may not be able to win on a very broad search term, there is still lots of room in the less competitive, longer tail terms. 

This can be a very good tactic for reaching engineers, as they tend to write fairly long search descriptions. Also, research has shown that they will also go deeper than the first page in search of information.

What does it mean to write the best post on the Internet? It means you have to:

  • Start by researching all of the other top content that surfaces when you search on that keyword string
  • Conduct original research on the topic by interviewing experts, including your own internal engineers
  • Cover the topic thoroughly. Prepare yourself to write a post of 2,000 words. Maybe more.
  • Illustrate your post with excellent graphics

We also use Buzz Sumo to find influencers to interview.  This helps the story build credibility by including expert opinion. Beyond that, our experience shows that interviewing people who have a strong social media presence tends to lead to them sharing the story with their followers. This is a tried and true practice that earns high-value traffic and backlinks.

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This strategy has paid off for ENGINEERING.com.  You can see that the story shown above now ranks second in Google for the search term “5 axis CNC machining”. It is one of our top stories every month. Even though it was written over a year ago, it is still pulling in lots of traffic.

20170831 5-Axis Organic Search Results.jpg

One last point – once you have pressed “publish”, you are not done. I’m not talking about distribution Although distribution is very important, it is covered well elsewhere. I’m talking about revisiting your content a year or so later to bring it up to date.

Anchor content is alive, and needs to be nourished with continual updates if you want to keep it at the top of the search rankings.

So there you have it. It’s a complex formula with a lot of steps, but it is a reliable path to building the audience you need and converting them into followers of your brand.

Until next time, 

John

 

Topics: Case studies, Marketing to engineers, content strategy, Content Promotion

    
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