August 5, 2019
Content Matters Podcast: Ken Mafli Discusses SEO, Content Strategy and Pillar Content
Ken Mafli Interview Content Matters Podcast

Ken Mafli is the Senior Digital Marketing Manager at Townsend Security, responsible for brand awareness and lead generation. Mafli is helping the company move forward with account-based marketing initiatives. He’s been working as a marketer for the last ten years and has learned a thing or two about SEO and content strategy. Here are some of his insights – you can read these or listen to the podcast for the full interview.

Consulting vs. In-House

Mafli works for a company that provides products and services for data encryption and management. But he also worked for a time as a consultant, so he’s seen the work from both sides.

He told us that as a consultant, you need to wear two hats: teacher and practitioner. When a company hires you, it’s typically because they have a deficiency in skillset or time (or both). As a consultant, you must come with the heart of a teacher to get executive buy-in and continually follow up to explain why you are doing what you are doing. When you work in-house, you build up an internal reputation so that over time, that teacher mindset becomes shorthand and executives trust in what you are doing. “It’s more agile in-house.”

Content Strategy is Changing

There have been dramatic changes over the last ten years with content, Mafli said. It started with the growth of text-based content – like blogs on the website, and while there were social media, it was more of quick text-based promotion of the content on the website.

Now, it’s omnichannel – you have to customize every piece of content for the channel you are using. It’s also much more than text-based content; it’s images, videos, podcasts, infographics, and more. Mafli said things have changed for the better, and it’s an ongoing process to keep up with new changes to how you can deliver content and the marketing strategies that work best.

Mafli is fortunate to work with a company that gives him the latitude to explore new things. For example, his CEO recently allowed them to make him an animated character to explain some difficult concepts. The ability to experiment and explicitly allow for failure enables you to keep on top of the latest trends.

Finding and Serving Your Audience

Knowing your audience is critical. Mafli said they were disciplined in building out buyer personas. They not only interviewed current customers but also, where possible, closed/lost opportunities – who they were, why they came, and why they went elsewhere or chose to do nothing. The feedback helped build five key personas which they interrogated to help define keywords, questions, and content consumed at each stage, among other things. Mafli said you must constantly review and evolve personas.

The Evolution of SEO

Mafli said that ten to twelve years ago, Google made sweeping changes to algorithms to fight black hat SEO and suggested that companies focus on building content people wat in order to improve their SERP rankings. People said it wouldn’t work, but Google’s RankBrain has proved that content quality and user engagement on web pages is important. This has allowed marketers to focus on user experience.

There are still technical things you can do to your content for Google to understand what you are talking about, but then it’s about fully exploring a topic in a way that makes customers want to go deeper.

Creating Topic Clusters and Pillar Pages

Townsend Security was doing well with inbound marketing. They got into the inbound strategy early and saw four-five years YOY growth with organic search. Then in 2016 that growth evaporated even though they weren’t doing anything different. What they realized was that they were a David in a room full of Goliaths – their keyword/product competitors spend more in one month than his company might spend all year. The competitive landscape was changing, and they realized they needed to augment their strategy to compete.

At that time, HubSpot was coming out with a new marketing methodology called Topic Clusters, and the prime component was the Pillar Page (what was similar to a skyscraper page in SEO). Mafli said that a Pillar Page is ten times better than the content of keyword competitors, goes in-depth on a topic and includes subtopics and graphics, infographics, videos, and other content. It also provides navigation and has a great user experience.

Mafli knew this is the way they needed to go, seeing that Pillar pages utilize all of the white hat SEO tactics in a single methodology. His boss agreed, and they spent three months creating their first pillar page. They spent the next three months tweaking it to let Google know they were improving it and the following six months promoting it. Mafli said the results were phenomenal. From its launch in January 2017 to September 2017, the pillar page was ranked number one for the top handful of keywords they wanted to rank for.

Since then, Mafli’s company has created four more pillar pages and surrounded them all with topic cluster blog posts and more related content.

Another point that Mafli made was that nowhere in that first pillar page did they ever point to their products. They decided that since it was created for the awareness phase, they weren’t going to include decision-stage offerings. There are around eight CTAs on the pillar page, the main one being to download a PDF version of the pillar page. It was a leap of faith for them that resulted in high form fills and often provided 10% of the overall leads in a given month.

Integrating an ABM Strategy

Townsend Security is a “died-in-the-wool" inbound shop, Mafli said. Everything they do comes from an inbound philosophy. They are, however, implementing account-based marketing strategies that tie into their inbound strategy. They do push ads out to certain audiences to get them to engage with their content, and through that content exploration, targets would raise their hand. As they engage, they are added to the inbound machine.

Mafli said that the inbound process also starts to recognize new targets for their ABM campaigns.

Giving Back to the Community

The inbound strategy they employ brings in people who might not be potential customers. Mafli said that they see a lot of university students looking for information for term papers. They appreciate this and believe it’s important to invest back into the community because someday those students may be IT workers they want to target.

What’s Next

We wrapped up the podcast with Mafli’s views on what he’s looking at now. He said he’s continually looking at how to better serve content to prospects in a digestible way. He’s also an Adobe Creative Suite addict and is constantly looking for other ways to improve the user experience through things like video, interactive infographics and more. The key he said is always to be tinkering.

Posted by Barb Mosher Zinck
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