Have you ever wondered how some ecommerce stores become known as the go-to guys for a particular niche? They'll sell the same products at the same prices as their competition, but somehow they're always top of mind when it comes to their niche. It's not through SEO wizardry, or fancy campaigns, it's actually a misunderstand tactic called content marketing. You know that blog you haven't updated in six months? That's typically what people think of with content marketing. We don't blame you, creating content is tough work.
Fortunately, it doesn't have to be hard. We talked with Philip Morgan of My Content Sherpa and he laid it all out for us:
- Why you shouldn't call it a blog
- How to focus your blog
- The content you're probably wasting your time on
- Why it's okay to repurpose content
- And some easy strategies for creating great content (sometimes without even writing)
One of the best investments you can make in your long-term success is authority, which brings customers to you. Listen and learn how.
For more great advice, visit philipmorgan.consulting and sign up for his free email course.
PS: Be sure to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes and write a review. iTunes is all about reviews!
Voiceover: This is the unofficial Shopify Podcast with Kurt Elster and Paul Reda, your resource for growing your Shopify business, sponsored by Ethercycle.
Kurt Elster: Welcome back to the unofficial Shopify Podcast. I'm your host, Kurt Elster, and joining me is ...
Paul Reda: I'm Paul. Nice to meet you, Kurt.
Kurt Elster: Thank you, Paul.
Paul Reda: That sounded bad.
Kurt Elster: Do it again.
Paul Reda: Ah, fuck it, just keep going.
Kurt Elster: All right. Joining us today is Philip Morgan from My Content Sherpa.
Philip, where are you right now?
Philip Morgan: Sebastopol, California.
Kurt Elster: How's the weather there?
Philip Morgan: It's good. Actually, it's overcast, but it's fine.
Kurt Elster: It's overcast? I'm fine with that.
Whereabouts is that? Is that near the Bay Area?
Philip Morgan: Yes. Sebastopol is a 7,000 person hippie paradise about an hour north of San Francisco.
Kurt Elster: Oh, okay.
Paul Reda: It's spelled like the Russian city of Sevastopol?
Philip Morgan: If you try to dictate it into your iPhone, it is. In reality, it's spelled with a "B" instead of a "V."
Paul Reda: Americanized it.
Kurt Elster: I'm going to try to go to the Bay Area in December, so I will try and come out and see you.
Philip Morgan: Oh, you will be coming out to see me for your ...?
Kurt Elster: In my little rental car.
What do you do, Philip?
Philip Morgan: A number of things. I'm an authority builder primarily for technical firms.
Kurt Elster: An authority builder. What is an authority builder?
Paul Reda: He says it authoritatively.
Philip Morgan: Good, glad to hear it. It's the voice processing on my microphone.
I try to help technical companies get to the position where they're attracting clients rather than them chasing clients. I do that using educational content, so I help them develop educational content to help them learn how to use educational content to attract potential clients. In some cases I do it all for them. I have a service called My Content Sherpa that does that.
Kurt Elster: Ah. What's an example of educational content?
Philip Morgan: Educational content typically is the kind of stuff that people share with other people in order to look smart.
Paul Reda: Very good.
Kurt Elster: If I want to look smart, I need to be posting educational content versus what? Okay. A better question then; what's the inverse? What is content that makes me not look smart?
Philip Morgan: Any newsletter that talks about the last person you hired at your company, what you've been up to, "Oh, check out our new office.” Those are all great examples of content that is easy for a lot of people to produce but has zero value for their prospects because it does not ... let me be clear ... does not make them any better off than they were before they read it.
Paul Reda: It's the annual Christmas letter.
Philip Morgan: Exactly.
Paul Reda: That shouldn't be the focus of your blog. What you're saying here is that you provide, you essentially show people how to prove that they have authority in their business, that they're smart and they know what they're talking about, and the way for people to achieve that is to post shit online showing how smart they are.
Philip Morgan: In essence. Now, it helps if you have an empathetic perspective towards your customers. What are the problems my customers have? How can I help them solve those problems? The end result is it makes you look smart, but you're starting from a position of, how can I be empathetic with what is a real pain point or a real struggle for my customers.
Paul Reda: That's something, empathy for the customer, something that I've always struggled with, many times, as you can see from by blog posts on the Ethercycle blog.
Kurt Elster: I think what's going on here, the difference is, the examples you gave of not smart is everything was about the company, was about the author versus, it sounds like the authority building stuff is where you make it about the reader.
Philip Morgan: You know, paradoxically, that's how it works, absolutely.
Kurt Elster: Good advice.
The problem I run into, and everybody says to me, almost every website, be it ecommerce or otherwise, has a blog on it. With Shopify everybody gets a blog. Everybody says, "I need a blog and I'm going to update it," and then they never do. There's literally one ... I've got several, I'm sure I could pull several clients like this, where there is just a single unfinished blog post from 6 months to 18 months ago.
Philip Morgan: Yeah, in Word Press terms, it's the "Hello, World" blog post; right; that's still there six months later. Because, guess what? It was a list a mile long of things that outranked creating content for your blog in terms of priority to keep the business running; right?
Kurt Elster: Right. It's easy to ... You never see immediate results from writing a blog post. It's a very passive thing. The results are indirect. You don't necessarily see them immediately, so on the list of things to do, you're going to answer the phone first, ship your products first, do your taxes first, and blog is always going to end up on the bottom of that "To Do" list every single day.
Philip Morgan: Right.
Kurt Elster: On top of that, when people do sit down to write, either they don't produce good content or they're not a good writer. I mean, there's no shame in that. Most people flat out are not good writers.
Philip Morgan: That's the reality of not only a Shopify store owner but pretty much small- to medium-sized business owner, where they can't just talk to HR and say, "We need to solve this problem. Go hire somebody or put together a team," or whatever; right? That's the position everybody is in.
Kurt Elster: Okay.
Philip Morgan: I think part of the problem, and I'm just going to put this out there and I'd love to hear your reactions to it, because you guys work every day with people in the ecommerce space. I think part of the problem is, the word that we use is "blog," and we need to use a different word, which is ... I'm just going to pull this out of the air ... "educational resource."
Instead of, "This is a blog. This is a section on my site where I have to go periodically and think of stuff to write that my audience is going to like or enjoy," what if you were creating a course for them?
I think that does two things. I think it maybe makes it more intimidating for some people, but it reduces the scope of the problem.
Paul Reda: I feel like that almost makes it less intimidating, because ...
Kurt Elster: Yeah, it makes it easier.
Paul Reda: Because the term, "blog" implies this is a thing that's going to updated on a regular basis, at the very least, weekly, if not more.
Philip Morgan: Right.
Paul Reda: You kind of face that wall of like, "Oh, well, shit, as soon as I start writing posts in this thing, I've got to come up with the next one and I’ve got to come up with the next one, and I’ve got to come up with the next one." It's just an endless cycle, where if it's, "I need to create a single piece of content that educates my customer, helps my customer or gives something to people, that is a much smaller task, because you're just creating one thing. That thing needs to be great, but it's only one thing.
Philip Morgan: Right, and it may be one thing that's in multiple parts, but still it has an end point, whereas a blog, you're almost adding another job title, not like you need one. You're already busy enough as it is. You're adding the job title of blogger, and what are the expectations people have of a blogger? Always publishing stuff.
What if you literally went in and changed the letters "B-L-O-G" to ... Quick, guys, give me an example of a Shopify site that is just killing it in terms of what kind of product are they selling?
Kurt Elster: Well, one of my favorites is Everest Bands, and they sell two products, a rubber or a leather replacement strap for Rolex.
Philip Morgan: Okay. So “The High End Watchband Education Center.” That's clunky. That's off the top of my head.
What if it was that instead of a blog? How would that change things for the average, for the owner of that shop? If they're killing it, they're probably doing a great job with content too, but if they had a competitor who was trying to enter the same space, what could you educate your customers who are looking for watchbands ...?
Kurt Elster: That's a good question. This was a Kickstarter success story, and before I got involved with their store, he was telling me all about the incredible journey of manufacturing these things and how he's had to become an expert on rubbers and plastics and how most rubber watchstraps are these really awful silicone things that don't look finished, they don't feel good, and he's got this incredibly technical expensive-to-produce rubber called FKM Rubber.
I said to him, I said, "Why is this nowhere on your website?" That was all really interesting and made me believe in the product. "It's nowhere on your website."
Philip Morgan: You know, that's interesting, because it does not fit exactly into the little thing we're talking about here of educational content, but it's a great example of something that still would position him as an authority, because who knows that much about rubber, and who can talk about it in a way that's interesting and informative?
It reflects positively on the product, so that's a great example of something that could go right there in the education center, because at first blush, it's like, "Well, how does that help me solve my problem as a customer?" When I think about it for another minute, I realize it does, because I need to know about materials so that I can be a smarter shopper.
Kurt Elster: Exactly. Yeah. As soon as you get into watchstraps you have to choose a material and then within materials you have to choose a design. It turns out, because I've gotten loads of watchstraps from this guy, and then he'll lecture me on the differences between them.
None of that is included on the website still. We're working on it. But, man, I could pick up various rubber and leather pieces, just even like a wallet. I could pick up a leather wallet and tell you, "Okay, here's why they manufactured it this way,” and, “Here's why I like this." "This might be kind of shitty," or, "Here's where it might fail."
Philip Morgan: As a shopper, as a consumer, you feel empowered as a result of having that information.
Kurt Elster: Yes, exactly.
Paul Reda: Well, and it also just helps sell the product, because it's like, "We use this rubber. Here's why this rubber is so awesome. Here's why you've got to pay us so much for this watchstrap because I've explained to you why this rubber is so awesome."
Philip Morgan: Think about from a sales perspective what that does. It deals with pricing objections.
Kurt Elster: Oh, absolutely.
Philip Morgan: It positions the product as unique because now a potential customer for this watchband can say, "Well, maybe I want to shop around;" right? "Who else has got the good stuff, the stuff that I just learned about from reading this site's educational resource on watchbands," and then they find, "Wow, nobody else does." They have a unique market position.
It does a lot of things from a sales perspective purely by starting from the point that was the question, "How can we educate our customers on the intricacies of watchbands?" There's a lot more there than you might think at first blush that you can, content that you can develop ... It's already in his head.
Kurt Elster: Yeah.
Philip Morgan: I think we need to talk about that. How can he get it out of his head into a part of his site without feeling like he has to be moonlighting as a writer?
Kurt Elster: Yeah.
Okay, yeah. Over the phone, if someone is enthusiastic about their business or their product, it's easy for them to talk at you for 20, 30 minutes about it, but how do they turn ... Then as soon as you ask them to put pen to paper, they can't do it. So how do they do it?
Philip Morgan: I think that's another problem with the word, "blog," because it sort of boxes in our thinking about what needs to go there. What needs to go on a blog? Written content, maybe with a picture or two to spice it up; right?
Kurt Elster: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Philip Morgan: That creates a problem because people are ignoring ways that they could get their message across that could be way more effective. If they are not a very good writer, then they're kind of shooting themselves in the foot by limiting themselves to written content. They could be thinking about things like a podcast or ...
Kurt Elster: Right.
Philip Morgan: That's the thing that you do. It takes work. It takes planning, and it takes post-production work, but ...
Kurt Elster: Yeah. It takes about ...
Paul, how long does it take to edit a 30-minute podcast?
Paul Reda: Well, if it's a 30-minute podcast, it probably takes me 45 minutes to an hour to edit it. Whatever the time of the podcast was plus another 50% because you're going back and forth and poking at it.
Kurt Elster: Yeah.
Philip Morgan: Yeah.
Paul Reda: You have to listen to all of it.
Philip Morgan: What's they all-up time investment to produce one episode?
Paul Reda: We record for maybe 45 minutes and then I spend an hour maybe editing it down and then Kurt spends 15 minutes throwing it up. Call it two hours maybe. Putting it up online, not actually vomiting.
Kurt Elster: Two to three hours.
Paul Reda: Yeah; a week.
Kurt Elster: I've noticed it has way more impact on people than blog articles. We've been writing blog articles for years.
Philip Morgan: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: And I don't get nearly as much feedback about those as I do the podcasts.
Philip Morgan: Yeah. Let's roll with that for a minute. I'll just give you a benchmark. I'm a professional writer. I can at peak performance crank out a good solid 2,000-word article in two to three hours, not including any time that I need to prepare and gather information. Okay? That's like a pro on a good day.
We're back to our podcast example. You record a 30-, 40-minute podcast. You have it produced, and you have a piece of content that if you have a more easy, natural time talking to people than you do writing, was, I'm going to say, ten times easier for you to create.
Kurt Elster: Absolutely.
Philip Morgan: And it has value as an educational piece of content. It goes in your education center part of your site, and it can be re-purposed in really interesting ways. It would cost you about 50, 60 bucks to have that transcribed, and I can tell you that an hour of conversation transcribed is going to produce about 8,000 words of content.
Now, it's going to be a transcript. It's not going to be typed from a writing perspective.
Kurt Elster: No, but I still get the organic SCO value out of it.
Philip Morgan: You do, and think about the possibilities that you have to read through that transcript and say, "Wow, well, there's a little interesting section there.” I'm going to pull that out and either myself or with hired help turn that into a high-quality piece of written content.
Kurt Elster: See, I personally haven't even thought of that. That's great actionable advice just for me.
Paul Reda: To go back to producing written content, even if it makes the business owner more comfortable, a lot of the stuff that I write for the Ethercycle blog, I dictate it into my MAC. Mavericks has really good voice recognition built into it. I'm sure for somebody it's even better, and I just sit there with TextMate open and almost monologue about the topic I want to talk about.
Then when I feel like I'm done, I stop talking, and then I look at everything it spit out, and then I just go and chop it down and clean it up a little bit, and then I've got a blog post out of it, and I'm not sitting there worrying over a keyboard trying to find the next word. I'm just speaking extemporaneously, which I think really adds to the voice of the piece I'm writing.
Kurt Elster: Yeah.
Philip Morgan: I agree. You know, you're doing this clean-up work that you could pay somebody else to do. There are excellent, excellent copy editors all over the internet for between 30 and 60 bucks an hour. It would take them an hour to do what the average non-writer would probably need five or six hours to do.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. No, I had a 2,500- or 3,000-word blog post that I sent to the Shopify Partners blog, and I paid a copy editor to do it, and it cost less than 50 bucks.
Philip Morgan: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: It was well worth it.
Philip Morgan: Yeah. Again, I think all of these insights about what you can do come from getting away from the idea of having a blog. To me, that's the real big idea here is, let's get away from this whole idea of a blog, and let's start building education centers for customers.
Paul Reda: We need a new word, because "blog" is a very specific thing. It's a very specific thing, and it's also something that most business owners should probably stay away from, because they just don't have the time for it.
Kurt Elster: I think from a technical standpoint, the sole difference between a blog and anything else is that the posted date. If you've got that posted-on date, that ends up becoming an expiration date.
Philip Morgan: Yep.
Paul Reda: Yeah, because it's like, “They last posted something in November of 2013, and then after that I guess they just went out of business because they stopped talking to me.”
Kurt Elster: It's like I know from being on the inside I know it's because they're busy, but to a customer who hasn't done this before, it really does look like you've abandoned your business.
Philip Morgan: Absolutely. It just makes you look like a ghost town if the one part of your site that is, according to the label, supposed to be updated every week, isn't, it raises some eyebrows.
The other thing that people should think about as they're thinking about how can they become educators of their customers is their list. All this content can have a second life, a third life even, on their list as part of a drip email course or just as a part of regular content that goes out.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. We both do that. I'm a big fan of that.
Philip Morgan: You do that very well, Kurt.
Kurt Elster: Thank you.
Paul Reda: That's why you're a guest.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. I will reuse content. I think a lot of people think content is used once, and it's absolutely not true. You can take stuff that I've been a guest on other people's blogs or podcasts. That ends up in my newsletter. I end up linking to it on my blog.
Essentially, I create a library of every single piece of content that is created by me, around me, with me, and then I'm going to try and re-purpose that.
Philip Morgan: That's a great way to do it. It points out that content is both about the content of the content, and it's about the context.
Kurt Elster: Right.
Philip Morgan: Where does it show up? People are afraid, I think by nature, of re-using content because ... I don't know ... because they see it all and they're like, "Well, that makes me look cheap," or … I don't know exactly what the fears are.
Kurt Elster: I don't know. I had the same fears. Years ago I had the same fears. I only started re-using stuff when I was developing my drip email campaign, and I discovered that nothing bad happened. Lo and behold. It turns out people aren't ... Every single person is not consuming 100% of everything I put out on the internet, and that's the assumption you have to get away from.
Philip Morgan: Exactly. They're not getting that email and going, "I wonder if this was an old blog post. Let me go check."
Kurt Elster: Yeah. Even if it was, no one would care.
Philip Morgan: Right, because it has a different context and it may be more relevant in that different context.
Paul Reda: “Welcome to the Shopify Podcast, where we will be discussing [symbiotics 00:20:21] today.”
Philip Morgan: Yeah, exactly.
Those are just important points to keep in mind to try to get yourself out of that box that the blog puts you in.
Kurt Elster: Okay. I'm thrilled with this. There's loads of actionable advice here, and I think the biggest thing you've done is really re-frame and change my perspective on what a blog is and how content creation works.
What would it cost to hire you for my own store?
Philip Morgan: You know, it depends. I can work custom, meaning I can fit my services to whatever the problem are. I have a subscription service, though, which is a productized consulting service called, "My Content Sherpa."
Kurt Elster: Which I'm a big fan of.
Philip Morgan: Thank you.
That costs $1,500 a month ongoing. It's ongoing because I'm solving that pain we talked about at the beginning where people are like, "Okay, I'm a business owner and now I'm a blogger. Now I have to get it up every month to write great content." I take that pain out of the picture with My Content Sherpa. I do it on a monthly subscription basis. It happens for you. It takes two to four hours of your time as a business owner, and you get great ongoing content that speaks to your audience and uses the power of time, because none of this stuff happens overnight; right?
Even if you get jacked up on espresso and Red Bull, there's only so much you can do in a short period of time, so why not look at this as a medium-term project and use the fact that you're being consistent about it because you're paying somebody else.
It's my job, number one; it's your job, number ten. You pay me. You get consistent content, and over time what you can do with that is really impressive.
Kurt Elster: Let's say I do hire you. What are the specific deliverables that would come out of it?
Philip Morgan: Again, it depends a little bit, even within a productized consulting framework, there's room to customize for each customer.
What I find that most customers need is a way to hit the ground running with content marketing. So if you do not have a mailing list, I'm going to set you up with mailing list software that's configured appropriately for your situation. We're going to create a lead magnet, which is some sort of very short, digestible educational resource that you can put on your site to start to build your list.
I'm going to build that lead magnet for you. We may have to put together a quick landing page to make that happen. From there we really focus on building your list with high-quality educational content, because we've been talking about content and education this whole time. The real purpose of My Content Sherpa is to get you a list that makes money for your business, and so all the content really drives people towards joining your list.
Kurt Elster: You're right. Yeah, we didn't touch on it, but having that list is hugely important, because we've got several clients with lists that have anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 people on it, but in every case, every time one of those clients hits "Send" on an email campaign, they immediately become top of mind to all of their customers again, and they generate thousands every time. It's literally, "Click," "Send," and then they've guaranteed thousands of dollars that day.
Philip Morgan: It's amazing. I really focus primarily on the ecommerce space. I'm so jealous because little things like optimizing a list or coming up with a few pieces of relevant content can produce such immense returns on the investment. It's really impressive.
Kurt Elster: No one can see the value of email marketing like ecommerce clients can.
Philip Morgan: Yeah.
Paul Reda: Yeah. I think that's one of the reasons we love it is because for ecommerce clients, it's like there's very hard numbers right there to see whether or not things are working, and we could just be like, "Oh, look, sales went up. We did a good job."
Kurt Elster: Yeah.
Paul Reda: As opposed to an offline business, it's kind of like, "Well, you know, there’s other reasons."
Kurt Elster: “How many people walked in the door today?”
Philip Morgan: Yeah, or branding, which is of course important but ...
Kurt Elster: It's very subjective.
Philip Morgan: [Crosstalk 00:24:49] a long-term investment and so subjective. That's why the whole blog thing is such a tragedy, because not only if you ...
Paul Reda: “The tragedy of blogs.”
Philip Morgan: It’s the tragedy if you're setting yourself up for failure twice, because you're killing your ability to create good content that can be re-purposed for your list.
Kurt Elster: Okay. Well, this is all really great information. The one thing I want to leave people with, though, is some examples of content they could go out today and try to create for their website.
Philip Morgan: Interviews with customers who are killing it.
Let's do three examples. Example number one, interviews with customers who are killing it. Wouldn't your other customers really like to know what they're doing, and that message gets brought to those other customers by you.
Super easy to produce. It's so easy to get people to talk about what they're doing that's successful, because everyone wants to look good in that way, so interviews with customers that are killing it.
Kurt Elster: Okay.
Philip Morgan: Record the interviews over Skype. Get them transcribed. Pull out a couple blog posts. It's a huge easy win. Everybody loves talking about things that are going well, so it's just really easy to set it up and get people to agree to it.
Second example, you could talk to your sales or customer service people if you're at the size where you have those and those people are not yourself, in which case it's even easier. What are the top X number of questions that people have? Answer those questions.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, that's a good one. Yeah. I always ask that of the people with brick and mortar stores. I say, "When people call you, what questions are they asking?" and if they say, "Don't know," I’m like, "Get a pen and paper. Next time somebody calls, start writing this stuff down."
Philip Morgan: Exactly. Find out what that is. Turn it into content in a way that is not painful for you. If that means talking into your iPhone and having it transcribed and edited, if that means sitting in front of a webcam and recording it. It doesn't matter if the information is high quality and there's not some fatal flaw with the production or the media.
That's my second one, is find those customer common questions, answer them in some way, and get that content on your site.
Kurt Elster: Okay. My new bench in my office is not going to solve people's problems, but answering a question that I consistently get asked by customers will solve people's problems.
Philip Morgan: Yeah, that's one of the secrets of good content is it basically comes from your customers. It may not be in their voice and it may not be recordings of them, but the good content comes from them, because it reflects their pains, their needs, their desires, their dreams.
Kurt Elster: Well, I think we're going to wrap it up there, Philip, but that has been hugely powerful if people implement that stuff.
Philip Morgan: Glad to hear it.
Kurt Elster: That's the problem, a small percentage of people are actually going to go do anything with this advice, so I urge you to try any of it, and if you see value in it, go ahead and go hire Philip.
Otherwise, where could people get more information? I'm willing to bet that you've got a great list going.
Philip Morgan: They can join my list. There's just one "L" in "Philip." Remember that. They can go to PhilipMorgan.Consulting. It's one of these new-fangled domain names. PhilipMorgan.Consulting. That's a website. One "L" in "Philip."
Kurt Elster: All right. We’ll link to that in the description.
Philip Morgan: Right on.
Kurt Elster: Cool.
Philip Morgan: Kurt, this was fun.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, it was fun. Thank you for joining us today.
Philip Morgan: You're welcome.
Paul Reda: Thank you, Philip.
Kurt Elster: We're all using our NPR voices.
Paul Reda: This is like Ethercycle After Dark.
Kurt Elster: What's your favorite website? At Night. Mine's just Google. I just Google stuff all day.
Paul Reda: You just Googled "Girl boobs," and you're like, "Yes."
Kurt Elster: Well, I search for animated gifs. I know Philip has an impressive folder of animated gifs.
Philip Morgan: It's a growing ...
Kurt Elster: None of them are boob related, though.
Paul Reda: Well, damn it.
Philip Morgan: Yeah, I don't think so. Yeah.
Kurt Elster: Well, work on it, buddy.
Philip Morgan: I know. That's a big hole in my collection.
Kurt Elster: All right. I will leave you to your animated gif research, Philip.
Philip Morgan: This was fun, guys. Thank you.
Kurt Elster: Thank you for joining us.