Winning the Content Marketing Race: An Interview with Andy Crestodina

Content Marketing


Andy Crestodina is a globally recognized content marketing expert, author, entrepreneur, and adjunct professor. He is the co-founder and Strategic Director of Orbit Media, an award winning 38-person web design company in Chicago.

Over the past 16 years, Andy has provided web strategy and advice to more than a thousand businesses. As a top-rated speaker at national conferences and as a writer for many of the biggest blogs, Andy has dedicated himself to the teaching of marketing. In 2015, Andy was named one of Forbes Top 10 Online Marketing Experts to Watch and in 2016 Entrepreneur Magazine named him one of 2016’s Top 50 Marketing Influencers.

Andy has written hundreds of articles on content strategy, search engine optimization, social media and Analytics. He is also the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing.

Together with the Orbit team, Andy organizes Content Jam, Chicago’s largest content marketing conference.

He’s also a member of the local B Corp community. Part of that commitment to the local community can be found in Chicago Cause, the non-profit donation program than Andy help create. Currently in its seventh year, total donations of digital marketing services exceed $100,000.

Andy keeps open office hours and meets with anyone who signs up with anything they need, from strategy to analytics, career advice to introductions.

The fifth edition of his book ‘Content Chemistry’ will be released this Spring. You can catch Andy at the Intelligent Content Conference in Las Vegas later this month where he’ll be delivering a keynote.

We were lucky enough to interview Andy and hear some of his thoughts on the latest trends to influence content marketing, his backstory, and his company Orbit Media Studios. Let us know in the comments who you’d like us to interview next!


Meet and Greet

What inspired you to pursue marketing as a career?

The original idea was to create something, anything in digital. It was 1999 and I was an IT recruiter by day. At night I was making interactive, web-based comic books. Silly, I know.

But the drive to combine art and science, creativity and technology, was really strong. Even though I was the top recruiter at my firm, I quit. In January 2000, I started building websites with my best friend, Barrett Lombardo. I was the designer, he was the programmer. We were starving and happy.

Within a few months, I realized that I needed to figure out SEO (this was back before Google was the dominant search engine) and I need to figure out analytics (this was back before there was Google Analytics). So I went to work teaching myself everything I could about search and measurement.

Fast forward a few years and the company began to grow. I gradually took off hats and narrowed my role. Here’s a little chart that shows how things evolved. My role is in blue.

You can see that in the beginning, I was the designer and Barrett was the programmer. I also did a lot of other things. But basically, he was the hacker and I was hustler.

Today, I’m mostly in just a marketing role. I still support the sales team and work on some projects, but my title is CMO and I’m mostly focused on driving demand!

Can you tell us a little more about what Orbit Media Studios does?

We do web design. Pretty simple!

And also, for certain select clients, we do digital strategy work. It’s a combination of Analytics, SEO and conversion optimization. It’s work that I’m personally involved with so we’re careful about how we manage it and who we offer it to. But I really enjoy it. It’s fun to see the results of the work in Analytics!

What helps you stay motivated on the day to day?

I like to pretend that I’m being chased by a wild animal. It’s right behind me and if I don’t move fast, I’ll get bit.

But seriously, I act with a lot of urgency. This era we live in is a race. The benefits of smart content marketing are durable (links, followers, subscribers) so the people and brands that build up an advantage early have a growing advantage over time.

That means we should all be trying to build relevance within our niches now. If someone else builds in those advantages before us, it will get harder to win. So run fast! …or you’ll get eaten.

[add picture of ferocious animal!!]

When you’re not delivering keynotes, writing articles, or helping businesses with their web strategy, what are you doing?

I make breakfast for my little boy everyday. And unless I’m travelling or have an evening event, I’m home by 5:30 and playing with blocks or trains. His name is Eli. He’s the best.

What is one thing you hope really sticks with readers long after they finish your book, ‘Content Chemistry?’

“Data-Driven Empathy.” That’s the idea I want people to understand. Marketing has always been about empathy, but digital marketing is about using data to make better decisions that align with our audience’s needs.

Opinions are great, but they’re not enough. I love inspiration, but I don’t necessarily trust it. We need to test our ideas and see what works. Then take what works and double down. Or take what doesn’t work and improve it …or abandon it.

Welcome to the post-subjective world. It’s a great place to be.

You’ve been listed on Content Marketing World’s Hall of Fame and many consider you to be a highly influential voice in the world of content marketing. Who has influenced you over the years?

There are many hundreds of people whom I’ve learned from. We can all say that. But there are two biggies for me…

  • Ann Handley
  • Sonia Simone

In the early days, I found then, I read them and I realized something that changed me and my work. Something deep and clear and simple. It’s all about the fundamentals.

Writing can be personal. Writers can have a voice. Readers can feel a connection. But only if we are authentic. Ann and Sonia taught me, through their writing, that my words could just be simple and true. And maybe that simple truth is the best way to connect.

Content Marketing Trends

There’s millions of pages of content out there and it can be hard to get noticed. What’s the first thing you’d suggest to a brand who is struggling to find an audience?

Niche down.

Here’s a true story. I’m meeting with a company that delivers coffee to offices. They want a bit of marketing advice and I’m there as a favor to a friend. We are sitting in a basement conference room of a hip co-working space on fluffy red couches. Here’s how the conversation goes…

Me: “Who is the target audience for your marketing?”

Them: “Anyone who works in an office.”

Me: “Wow. That’s a big audience. But not everyone who works in offices buys the coffee. Who makes the buying decisions for the coffee supplies?”

Them: “Well, the office managers really make the decisions about coffee. But the employees are influencers over the office managers, so we want to target them too. We want to be known by anyone who works in an office.”

Me: “…I see. Any ideas for connecting with all these people?”

Them: “That’s why we need your help!”

See the problem? They’ll never be effective because they’re too broad. On the other hand, if they niche down and just target people who have a specific job title, people who are within their service area, it will be easy to connect.

The smaller the niche, the faster you’ll grow!

More and more marketers are using video to share branded content. Do you think brands should start prioritizing video content in 2018? How much should they invest in it?

Invest very little, but make a lot of video! The social networks (Facebook and LinkedIn especially) are pushing those native little videos to the top of social streams. They really really want us all to make videos. So here’s my video marketing tip for 2018…

When you publish a piece of content, post it in LinkedIn and Facebook and make a tiny video of yourself introducing it to the world. Say what it is, who it’s for, why you made it. Make a tiny commercial for each article, using the cheap, fast, native video feature of the social network!

The real investment is just a little time. Probably, we should all make a video for everything else we make. This is the future of social content promotion.

Google is constantly shaking up the SEO world with algorithm updates and it can be hard to stay on top of the changes. What advice would you give to brands who are struggling to adjust their website SEO strategies.

Focus on fights you can win. If you’re not a famous brand, don’t target those blockbuster phrases. Fight and win lots of little battles. It’s a certain path to SEO success.

Here’s a little cheat sheet for keyphrase targeting. Even if you’re not an expert at SEO competitive analysis, this little guide will get you started.

1. Look up your domain authority for your website in Open
Site Explorer

2. Check the number of monthly search for the phrase in Google
Keyword Explorer

3. Refer to this little chart to see if you have a chance of ranking for that phrase!

Content Marketing
Content Marketing

source: How to Research Keywords: A Step-by-Step Guide

What game-changing trends do you think marketers will be latching onto this year?

Updating older content.

We’re at the point where a lot of us have hundreds of articles. Some of them rank, but not that high and some of them convert really well. While others were performing well, but are on the decline.

Do you know which is which?

Once you do, you’ll know exactly how to get more juice from your next squeeze. There’s often way more value in updating an older post than creating a new one!

Here’s a set of guidelines for content marketing audits. Figure out which of your pages fit into which categories, then following the actions in the right-side column.

Content Marketing
Content Marketing

Marketing Tips and Tricks

What data measurement or analytic tools do you recommend?

I’m old school. Google Analytics is really all you need. I actually recommend against fancy reporting tools unless you’re already maxing out the value you can get for free from GA.

I also recommend against using marketing automation unless you are a way up the marketing maturity scale. A lot of people who pay big money for fancy automation tools get very little value from them. A lot of people overbuy marketing technology.

Here’s my list of criteria for marketing automation systems. If you can’t say yes to every one of these questions, don’t buy marketing automation!

  • You have a marketing process in place (they publish and promote consistently)
  • Have a lot of leads already (probably, daily form submissions and leads that range from low to high quality)
  • You have content beyond just web pages (downloadable content)
  • Have a large email list of diverse subscribers (and need segmentation)
  • You do more than just email marketing (social, webinars, etc.)
  • Have a “high consideration” product or service (long sales process, multiple decision makers)
  • You have a marketing team (probably 2+ people at least)
  • Have a sales team (probably 2+ people at least)

Even if a company fits each of these criteria, marketing automation is still not necessary. Our little company has more than a million website visitors and 1000+ business leads every year …and we use no marketing automation or fancy analytics systems.

Last but not least, any upcoming projects you’d like to plug?

The book! Get ready, the fifth edition of Content Chemistry will be out this spring! It’s almost completely rewritten and more relevant than ever. It’s everything I know about marketing between two covers. 🙂

Andy Crestodina

Orbit Media

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