Conversations with BJ Enoch, VP of Enterprise Accounts at SocialSEO
"We've lost money on content creation every single quarter for the last four years." -BJ Enoch
Content creation is hard. It's arguably harder for agencies. Clients are diverse, deadlines are tight, margins are tighter. Despite this, and despite the above quote, SocialSEO believes content creation is critical to driving results for its clients and has never shied away. Even if it can be messy.
"To be doing SEO right, and do right by our clients, content creation was that ‘necessary evil’ [for the agency]. It was, and is, integral to the SEO process. But no other SEO shops wanted to do it."
So, while content was losing them money, SocialSEO is a pioneer among SEO agencies in their willingness to create content for clients, and used this as a competitive advantage.
Let’s step back for a moment.
SocialSEO is a 60+ person, full-service digital marketing agency based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with a presence in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Phoenix.. They’ve been around for over 15 years and have never stopped growing.
At that scale, and with that strong a belief in content to power SEO and digital marketing, SocialSEO’s content needs are massive—they regularly produce hundreds of pieces of content for clients each month. (And, with BlogMutt, they hope to dramatically increase how much content they’re producing for their clients, but more on that later.)
BJ Enoch is SocialSEO's VP of Enterprise Accounts—a title that means he is the agency's in-house SEO guru, travels routinely doing speaking engagements, and woos enterprise clients in a technical sales capacity. And if you talk to most SEO experts in region, they’ll have spent time with BJ. Above all, BJ loves getting into the trenches and doing real SEO work for SocialSEO's clients.
With that sort of reputation, I expected big things when meeting BJ, and for him to regale me with tales of the latest cutting-edge strategies he was implementing for his clients. And those stories did come out, eventually.
But on the first phone call we were on, BJ told me a different story:
"Last night at 10pm I was writing a blog post for one of our nutraceutical clients about the best skincare products for women in their forties."
Wait...what? (This story is even more quirky because when you meet BJ you realize he's a six-foot-six, cowboy-boots-wearing, pickup-truck-driving native of rural Colorado. Once he had to leave a Friday-night social engagement we both attended early because he was leaving at 5am the next morning to buy hay for his horses.)
What follows is a series of quotes, pulled from conversations BJ and I have had since that first phone call over the course of the past four months. During that time, we were selling BlogMutt services to SocialSEO, they were testing us out as a content creation partner, and then were scaling up their use of our platform to literally change the way they produce content for clients. All quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from BJ.
Why agencies should outsource content creation
SocialSEO has been outsourcing content creation since nearly the beginning of the agency's history. Their reason for this is simple:
"If, as an agency, you can't or don't want to learn about a subject, contract someone who does."
Why? Subject-matter expertise produces better content—content that's more authentic, more trustworthy. And with just a few in-house content writers, you can only have subject matter expertise in a very limited number of industries—your content writers simply can’t have deep subject-matter expertise beyond the few areas or industries they’ve personally worked in.
"An example of this is Section 105 of the IRS tax code as it applies to Health Reimbursement Arrangements. I don't want to learn about this—it sounds really boring. I don't want to pay one of my in-house writers to research this. They’re not going to be able to get the level of expertise needed on this quick enough."
Not only does subject-matter expertise produce more authentic content, it also produces content more cost effectively. If your in-house content writers are spending time researching, that's time they're not spending writing, and that research is costing you money.
SocialSEO also isn't shy about using outsourced content writers:
"We don't make this a secret. We tell our clients, 'Hey, we don't know this, we're going to find someone who does.'"
A brief history of content outsourcing at SocialSEO
Despite the belief that it's necessary, and the long history with it, SocialSEO has had a rocky relationship with content outsourcing:
"I still have a bit of PTSD from using other content writing services back in the day. We had some good experiences, but we had a lot of bad ones as well. A single author took a single subject at time, and regularly we’d go 2 or 3 turns with a writer and before we just called it quits with them, or went ahead and accepted it, then basically rewrote it with edits."
Not all freelance writers, or freelance writing services, are created equal. After that negative experience, SocialSEO has built a network of individual freelancers who create content:
"Law students, for example, make great freelance writers—they're incredibly knowledgeable, but they've just built a mountain of debt and are eager for work."
But, law students and other freelancers come and go, and maintaining a network of freelance writers has challenges—managing supply and demand, handling the paperwork, sorting the good from the bad.
So when they met us, SocialSEO's content writing was done with a blend of two in-house, full-time content writers and an ever-changing network of individual freelance writers. And it was this structure that led BJ to make the statement that kicked off this article:
"We've lost money on content creation every single quarter for the last four years."
But, again, BJ’s belief that content creation was a critical driver of results for clients kept SocialSEO creating content, even as a loss-leading investment in their clients.
We met SocialSEO by chance, and while BJ was skeptical based on his past experiences with some of our competitors, he was intrigued. The prospect of having more than one author tackle a subject and then only choosing the one he liked, he's recently told us, was the biggest draw by far. A few days later, BJ let me know he'd signed up one of their smaller clients as a test.
We talked on the phone the next day and BJ let me know he'd gotten back a submission from one of our writers on the first topic he'd requested in the BlogMutt platform. And the piece was really good. But the writer hadn't quite followed directions and so it wasn't the content BJ needed. I asked him to just hold on for a few days, and he'd likely get another submission from a different writer.
The next day, I got this email:
We obviously love comments like this, but the important takeaway here is that, as a BlogMutt client, you shouldn't expect every submission you get from one of our writers to be perfect. That first submission BJ received wasn't what he needed. But, through the process of only accepting posts you like, declining those you don't, and leaving feedback, both positive and constructive, our writers will learn what you, and your clients, are looking for. The crowd of writers will get "smarter" over time, producing more and more content that's on point.
Another key benefit of BlogMutt for SocialSEO is speed. Like most agencies, their clients want things fast, and deadlines aren't always reasonable. A few weeks later BJ told me this:
"I'm in love with your service. I added another topic the other day and got a post back in less than 10 hours that felt like the writer read my mind."
Oh, and it's not just BJ who was into this whole BlogMutt thing:
Again, it's important to set expectations—you aren't always going to get outstanding content (but you'll also see our writers blow away your expectations). I let Jill know to keep leaving feedback, keep using the "decline" and "request edits" buttons when necessary, and to "prefer" writers who were producing this outstanding content so they'd write more for her clients.
Scaling BlogMutt as a content creation source
Fast-forward to today. SocialSEO is in scaling mode with BlogMutt. We're now creating content for over 25 of their clients, and SocialSEO's spend with BlogMutt is in the thousands of dollars per month range.
Overall, SocialSEO feels the process has gone remarkably smoothly, but there are things to work through. We’re still in the process of building the full list of features designed to support enterprise-level agencies like SocialSEO, including a more flexible crediting system and one monthly bill across all of their subscriptions.
SocialSEO is now also using to BlogMutt to create additional content types, from product descriptions, to website content, to press releases.
"When we're fully ramped up, I expect to use BlogMutt to create between 60 and 70 percent of all of our content."
As the largest SEO agency in Colorado, and a huge believer in including content creation in all of their clients' packages, SocialSEO's content needs are vast. And they don't expect BlogMutt to create all of it. When all is said and done, BJ expects their content creation engine to look like this:
- An in-house, full-time generalist content writer with strong research skills will continue to work on some "big content" pieces, content that needs to be turned around within hours, or to go where they're most needed.
- BlogMutt's network of specialist writers will create the majority of SocialSEO's content. SocialSEO will continue to build teams of 'go-to' writers for each client, and, crucially, SocialSEO's account managers will manage their clients' accounts within BlogMutt. These account managers will act as the "editor" for their clients, as they know their clients' businesses the best.
- SocialSEO will continue to work with a collection of individual freelance writers, particularly legal/medical specialists when needed for compliance/special requirements.
The operations of content creation can be challenging, particularly at large agencies with diverse client bases. Through the above framework, SocialSEO is achieving two goals simultaneously:
- increasing content quality while
- changing their content operations from a loss-leader to a profit center.
And BJ will do less of this:
"I've written over 250 pieces of content about proctology."
“This week I’m finishing up a 2,500-word article on the major types of tea. And I don’t even like tea.”
And more of his first love: digging deep with his suite of SEO tools and leading technical SEO projects for SocialSEO's enterprise clients.
Ready to talk about integrating BlogMutt into your content creation operation?