From search to sales, 3 reasons you should make your own website a critical piece of your content strategy.
A year or so ago when I read, The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business, I was struck by a very interesting sequence in the evolution of the company’s thought leadership marketing efforts. I can’t remember the historical era. Nor, will I be able to directly quote the excerpt from the narrative. But, I’ll always remember the sentiment of what was written. Essentially, at one point in time, the firm claimed that its self-publishing efforts had become so successful that they were inclined to give first pass on new content to the McKinsey Quarterly and second pass to Harvard Business Review. Now, I find it hard to believe that this actually happened in practice — most firms consider an article published in HBR as a very important and prestigious outcome from their efforts. But, I believe the sentiment was probably true because it was a direct reflection of the firm’s perceived quality of its self-publishing channels at the time.
Needless to say, I was excited when were able to land people from both HBR and McKinsey to speak at this year’s Profiting From Thought Leadership event — early bird registration is now open. One of the points of emphasis at this year’s event will be the importance of publishing your firm’s thinking in top tier business and industry journals and what it takes to do so. Publishing in a well respected publication with exceptional standards in a sense can provide a stamp of approval of a firm’s thinking. That said, while a credible third party publication has the ability to add credence to your firm’s point-of-view and extend your voice to readers you might not otherwise be able to reach, I don’t want firms to think that this makes self publishing irrelevant. In fact, we tend to believe self-publishing has never been more important than it is today. At Rattleback, 99% of our thinking is published right here on this blog and I can tell you first-hand the impact that has had on our business. Regardless, there are three reasons we see self-publishing as a critical part of your thought leadership marketing mix. We’ll take a look at each in more detail below:
- Search Engine Visibility
- Audience Development
- Connecting Thought Leadership to Sales
#1 – Search Engine Visibility
In this day and age I can’t understate the value of position in search engine results. Just as placing an article in a prominent industry journal lends credence to a firm’s expertise on a topic, finding that same article at the top of a search query does the same thing for both the thinking and the firm. In this context, I like to say that Google is an “automated editor-in-chief.” It’s performing the same function that the talented senior editors do at HBR or Forbes except it’s an algorithm. Increasingly, potential clients are reshaping their perceptions of the validity of a firm’s expertise based on where the firm shows up in search. “I searched ‘organizational design principles for software companies’ and your consulting firm came up, hence I assume you have deep expertise on the topic.” You may find yourself laughing while you read this, but I can literally attest that potential clients say this to us over and over when they inquire about working with our agency. Often, I also like to say that high quality content simply isn’t high quality content unless Google says it is. In our experience, the best way to achieve meaningful success with Google is to consistently self-publish high quality content on the topics you’d like to own.
Simultaneously, Google is likely delivering the largest potential audience of clients to your firm on a daily and weekly basis. While a highly respected third party industry journal may provide a higher value audience, our experience has been that the majority of traffic to most professional service firm’s websites is via search engines. In fact, across our client base the total traffic from Google tends to be in the range of 50%-70% (By contrast that number in most consumer sectors is much lower; around 30-40%). So, organic search traffic is sort of like your firm’s Super Bowl advertising. It’s mass media. Google has the ability to connect you with more potential clients than any other medium in existence. And, it has the ability to connect you at the precise moment a client is physically thinking about a problem your firm knows how to solve. I’m not aware of any other medium that’s capable of doing that.
#2 – Audience Development
Most professional services firms sell large, complex solutions to large, complex problems. These services often bring with them multi-million dollar price tags and multi-year sales and delivery cycles. The chances of a potential client reading a single article in an external journal and picking up the phone to call you is relatively low. It just doesn’t work that way. Of course, this is equally true of self-publishing an article on your own website. But, there’s one main difference. While external publications may have wide readership your own channels don’t offer, those subscribers are reading a range of things offered by the publication — not just your firm’s point-of-view. By contrast, self-publishing provides you with the opportunity to build your own audience of people that are receptive to your firm’s unique marketing message. Essentially, it enables you to build your own following and market to them over time. This is critical when it comes to selling professional services firms. Clients simply aren’t going to hire you after hearing you speak once or visiting your website one time. The magic of self-publishing tends to be the opportunity it gives you for follow-on marketing. In short, it enables you to earn permission into your potential client’s inbox, and use that permission to build a relationship over a longer period of time.
#3 – Connecting Thought Leadership to Sales
Finally, self-publishing on your firm’s own website lets you do one thing you simply cannot do anywhere else. While much has been said about the need for corporate marketers to act more like publishers, the fact of the matter is you’re not a publishing company. You don’t make a living by selling content subscriptions or serving ads. You probably make a living by solving big, complex problems or enabling clients to pursue opportunities they might not otherwise be able to reach on their own. You need not only for clients to read your firm’s unique perspective on the challenges they face, but you also need them to learn more about the services you provide to solve them. You need to demonstrate your expertise via case stories and past work. And, you need to connect clients with the people that can initiate the sales process. Other than an in-person event, the only place all these things can happen is directly on your firm’s website. Ultimately, your website offers you a luxury you don’t have anywhere else. It enables you to connect your firm’s thought leadership with other forms of marketing content and eventually connect potential clients with senior partners or other sales people directly when the time is right.
But, Don’t Neglect Third Party Channels
The goal of this article wasn’t to get you to re-think your external publishing strategies. Having your firm published in HBR, Forbes, or other discerning industry journals probably plays a pivotal role in the success of your firm’s thought leadership marketing efforts. That said, I’ve encountered more than a few marketers that place little to no importance on self-published channels. They’ll tell me, “The only time we publish on our blog is when we can literally find no where else to publish.” I tend to think this is a very short-sighted and dangerous way to think about your publishing strategy. In the end, for most firms it should not be an either/or proposition. It really needs to be a yes/and one.