Andy Crestodina on Why Data-Driven Content Beats Gut Instinct

By Juliet Stott  |  October 29, 2015

Andy Crestodina on Data Driven Content Image

Web strategist and content marketer Andy Crestodina of Chicago’s Orbit Media says marketers can only make good content decisions if they’re paying attention to the data.

Here he tells us why he no longer listens to his own opinions and why content marketing is ultimately a contest about who can be the best teacher and who can give the most information.

Orbit Media has been using content marketing techniques for more than eight years, how has it worked for you?

Web design is something people buy every three to five years, and it takes several months for companies to choose a Web designer. I knew that I needed to keep in touch with prospects in the pipeline and with clients in that long buying interval.

Back then we didn’t call it content marketing, but we published a blog and a newsletter, which invited people back to the blog. It was a really practical way to be efficient about communicating with a large group, who otherwise would have been almost impossible to connect with.

As a result, we’ve generated thousands of leads. We have five to 10 form submissions per day and between one and three qualified leads per day.

You’re a content marketing mentor for start-ups in a local incubator, what advice do you give those new to marketing?

I always get them to start with writing a mission statement. I get them to fill in these three blanks: You are where audience _____ gets information _____ for benefit _____. I then advise them to stop talking about themselves so much.

The basis of a good content strategy is to gradually build relevance on your website, give people a reason to subscribe to a newsletter, and a reason to follow you/your company in a social stream.

You advocate that businesses turn their websites into lead-generation tools, how can they do this?

Make sure every marketing claim is supported by evidence. That means putting years in business, statistics or case studies throughout the site. Testimonials are also a powerful form of evidence, but don’t put them on a testimonials page because visitors don’t go to testimonial pages.

Make every page a testimonials page. Support your marketing claims with evidence right next to the claim. Don’t put social media icons in your header—you really don’t want people to leave your website and go to social media networks. Also, press releases should be left off websites. Your audience is not the press.

Every visit to every website has a selfish purpose behind it. Customers go there to solve a problem or answer a question—not to find out about you.

Businesses should only talk about themselves in the “About” page. You really don’t need to go into who you are as much as you need to answer the top questions people have. They need those questions answered before they become a lead.

Each piece of content has a purpose—to pull audiences towards you, build trust or compel visitors to take action. Can you give an example of content that works in each situation?

Top-of-funnel content should contain answers to popular questions. You can find out what people want to know by doing keyword research and looking at sites like to see the questions that people are asking and the topics people are talking about. This will rank highly in search engines and pull your audience toward you.

The type of content that builds trust and gets people to take action will depend on whether you’re selling a high- or low-consideration product/service.

A high-consideration purchase, which has more than one decision-maker, has a long sales cycle. It’s a very consultative, trust-based sale. In those cases the most powerful content format is video. Tell your story. Why do you do what you do? Why did you start your company? Why is it different from the rest? What are the risks of your customer doing it some other way, or them doing it themselves?

For low-consideration products, customers need a faster visit. You need fewer pages. You need content to answer all the top questions like pricing, shipping time, reviews, etc. Your content needs to reduce objections and answer questions, and you need to remove anything that distracts the customer from purchasing.

Time is one of the biggest obstacles to creating content. How important is it to blog, is it still worth investing in?

We’ve done a survey of a thousand bloggers, and we found that the average blog post takes two and a half hours to write. It’s a huge time investment. It’s enormous. But if you don’t do it, someone else is going to. Someone else is going to win. Someone else is going to get that click, that subscriber, that follower and that lead tomorrow.

The person who wins is likely to be the person who is the most helpful in making a buying decision. It’s a contest to see who can be the best teacher, who can give the most information, so that sets your priorities. How do you find time? I’ve got a trick—go to bed early, get up early and write.

What should be in the blog and who should be writing it?

You need to share your best advice. Your content needs to be relevant to your audience. Whatever you call it—the article, the piece of content—is what ranks; it is what gets subscribed to and what gets shared through email and social.

You can outsource blogging for low-consideration-type industries. But if you’re in a high-consideration industry, where trust is important and you’d benefit from being more of a thought leader, you can’t outsource thought leadership. You can’t outsource your voice. You can outsource tasks, but you can’t outsource your brain.

If you have important information that’s relevant to your audience, and you can answer their top questions, then you should be doing that with content. A lot of businesses should really be taking a position—coming out for or against something. What do they believe in? What are they against? Can you really outsource to someone to write a really strong op-ed piece for you? That’s never going to happen.

How important is it for marketers to understand data in making content-led decisions?

Marketers need to understand data in the same way that drivers need to understand the dashboard of their car. You really can’t make good decisions unless you are paying attention to the data.

Decisions are only really based on two things: data and opinion. If you aren’t using data, then you are making decisions based on your gut or how you feel about something personally. I don’t listen to my own opinions at all anymore.

Every decision I make is data-driven. The trick to marketing is data-driven empathy. Empathy is the greatest marketing skill. You must know the hearts and minds, fears and hopes, and dreams of your audience. You know that through data.

You organize the annual Chicago-based content marketing event, Content Jam, which is coming up on Nov. 5. What have you learned since its inception—what theme are you tackling this year?

Live events are a really important format. There’s a lot of demand for in-person events. Anything digital can be copied a million times, and the world is not waiting for another blog post. But live events are a scarcity. They also make great content. The trend we’ll be focusing on this year is semantic search.

Google has rebuilt itself to pay more attention to topics and meanings, rather than specific combinations of words and letters. So the question has become not “can I rank for this phrase?” but “how can I become the best answer for this topic?”

Google knows which answers are the best based on user interaction signals. If a person searches for something, clicks on a link and stays there for two seconds and clicks on another one and stays there for two minutes, it tracks this behavior. It will rank the latter link higher than the former for that key phrase.

It’s actually pretty easy for Google to tell the best page on the Internet for a particular topic based on visitor actions. Now the challenge for businesses is how they can become the mini version of Wikipedia for their industry—as Google loves Wikipedia.

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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