Our founder and CEO Jason Hennessey often says “content strategy is SEO strategy,” and this is true in more ways than one.
Good content is critical to the success of a website. Targeted, well-optimized content can earn a page a coveted top spot in the SERPs (search engine results pages). Engaging, authoritative content convinces users to click and convert.
But content is king, and not just because of its impact on rankings. In my time at Hennessey Digital, I’ve had the unique privilege to serve as both Director of Client Services and Director of Content. I’ve seen how content also impacts the success of our client relationships—and our agency as a whole.
The Curious Case of Content Production
In late 2020, we began scaling our agency’s content production at a rapid pace. After our team attended a series of legal industry events where we met with lawyers and legal digital marketers from around the country, we had an unprecedented number of new clients.
As the Director of Client Services at that time, I was in charge of onboarding each client, welcoming them to Hennessey Digital, getting the many wheels of our SEO department turning, and ensuring our internal team and clients were well-aligned.
During that time, a pattern emerged: for every seamless onboarding experience, there was an inevitable false start, and more often than not, content was at the heart of it.
The reason for this? Like many other SEO agencies, we were using the tried-and-true system of spreadsheets to manage our content plans. And don’t get me wrong: ask anyone at Hennessey Digital, I love a good spreadsheet. (Editor’s note: She absolutely does.)
Our team utilized several innovative, custom scripts on these spreadsheets that pulled in SERP data, strategically generated title tags and URLs, and even automatically checked for errors.
These scripts were constantly updated and tweaked to improve our content plans. Once they were complete, the plan was sent to our amazing content production team who were powering through hundreds of unique SEO-rich content pages each month.
So why were clients still unhappy with content?
With Content, Transparency Is Key
Any client, regardless of their SEO savvy, understands content as a deliverable. They might not understand the intricacies of our technical audits or the hours it takes for a website rebuild or to compile a disavow file, any of which can greatly influence the performance of their website.
Projects like this happen behind the scenes and don’t always result in visible changes to a website, which means it can be hard to showcase our work without bogging down the client with details that they might not, or frankly shouldn’t have to, care about. They have a business to run, after all; they hired us to take care of nitty-gritty nerdy details.
But when you pay for a piece of content and receive a new page published on your website, that is a clear transaction. There is ROI that any client can pinpoint, regardless of how the site is performing.
As such, when a client is new and eager to see results, content turnaround is often the first clear sign of “success,” as it should be.
With our spreadsheets growing more complicated and our content production scaling at a rapid pace, we had neglected to make it easy for our clients to follow along with these important milestones: where their content was in our pipeline, when it was published, and when it needed to be improved.
At this point, the Client Services team and I collaborated with the Content team to clean up our client-facing documents. We built new scripts that incorporated content production status into our spreadsheets. This helped a bit, but the process was still fragmented.
Content production happened mostly in our internal project management system, Asana, or with our production partners, We Do Web Content. Transparency for the entire content pipeline was still lacking—until a new avenue for transparency became available.
The HD Platform: Investing in Visibility
As part of our Vivid Vision, our leadership team began discussing a new project: the HD Platform. The HD Platform standardized our client reporting in a singular hub where clients could log in to view their organic traffic, rankings, and leads in real time.
In addition, the HD Platform took the concept of a performance dashboard to the next level, going so far as to show clients a direct correlation between their incoming leads and investment with Hennessey Digital. In effect, this puts an exact number on clients’ ROI with our agency.
I loved the concept—but actually fought hard to change our initial priorities. The HD Platform is at the heart of Hennessey’s commitment to radical transparency, and there was no better opportunity to overhaul our content pipeline and incorporate it into a clean, client-friendly portal.
While providing better reporting would benefit both us and our clients in the long run, incorporating content into the HD Platform V1 would solve an immediate issue that was plaguing our agency. SERP results aren’t always within our control, but content production is.
For months, the Web Development team collaborated with Client Services, Content, and Analytics, and in July 2021, we launched our proprietary HD Platform that gave full transparency into clients’ digital marketing ROI.
Since then, all Hennessey Digital clients can log into the HD Platform and instantly see the state of their content pipeline. The HD Platform shows each stage of the production process and allows clients to review their content plans and even review and approve pages before they are published.
The HD Platform launch was a huge milestone for us. We identified an internal blocker, and we built a solution. Problem solved, right?
With Great Transparency Comes Great Responsibility
Rolling out the HD Platform was no small undertaking. We had to test with our developers, train our Content and Client Services teams on a new tool and processes, and train our clients. We had to translate our overstuffed and over-scripted spreadsheets into uploadable files which could be imported into our sleek new Platform.
All of this wasn’t happening in a vacuum, either. “Content strategy is SEO strategy” after all, and our SEOs were reviewing the outcomes of a recent Google core update and identifying new opportunities for the third quarter, many of which involved content.
The SEO team then introduced several new processes that would:
- Improve how we update old SEO content
- Change our emphasis on localized content
- Integrate principles for writing compelling content into new and updated pages
- Introduce supplemental content to support other SEO initiatives
These processes were to be rolled out with Q3 2021 and would greatly benefit our clients—and have, in fact—had a significant impact on our client performance since their introduction.
For the Client Services team, though, this introduced a new challenge. Not only were we educating clients on a new content review system, but we were also educating them on what types of content they would be reviewing.
In some cases, this caused frustration. The HD Platform onboarding process caused delays in content plan approvals, which in turn delayed production and publication of new content. We’d created transparency but disrupted our timetables—and our clients could see that more clearly than ever.
In many cases, however, it also fostered great conversation. When clients are better able to see and understand our content strategy for their law firm, they are also more engaged. We know the legal industry inside and out, but a successful campaign is a collaborative effort.
When clients provide detailed feedback on a content plan it often gives us greater insights into their priorities or other unique aspects of their business, which in turn, help us refine our content plans.
A Shift In Perspective on Content
These insights and issues were at the top of my mind when I began my transition to Director of Content. I was elated to return to my content marketing roots and felt I had a good understanding of the pain points the Content team was facing, having heard so much feedback directly from our clients.
But now I was no longer an outsider making suggestions or advocating for change. I was marching into the trenches and untangling an ever-evolving department. Our timelines were still suffering from our growth and onboarding.
By the time I stepped into the Content Director role full-time, we were on the verge of losing a few clients: not because of rankings or leads, but because we could not deliver content on time. Content was impeding our success as an agency.
It was time to take everything we’d learned from 2021—our quick growth, our greater transparency, our strategic shifts—and make some big changes.
For the last year, we have focused on three key areas:
The same transparency we applied to our clients needed to be applied to our team. Working in a remote company is not easy. We are growing not just in size but in geographical distance and time zones, with team members in 15 countries and counting.
My first goal was to get the entire Content department—strategists, writers, editors, publishers, as well as external stakeholders, like our SEO leads—all moving in the same direction. We needed to standardize our processes and have more internal touchpoints to communicate blockers.
Meanwhile, our VP of SEO Steve Guberman, Senior Director of SEO Michael Cipielweski, and I have been updating our SOPs to make sure the whole company is aligned and my former Client Services team, led by Director of Client Services Kristine Hyman, has more insights into what’s going on behind the scenes.
We writers love a good rule of three, so here it is one last time: “Content strategy is SEO strategy.” A mistake in a content plan doesn’t just affect production or timelines, it can disrupt site structure, cause cannibalization, and introduce other errors that will negatively impact site performance. If a content plan is perfectly outlined, all that follows—from the execution to the results—will have a much higher ROI for us and our clients.
To improve our strategies and collaboration with clients, we took the proactive step to build out a whole new team within the Content department: Content Strategists, who would bridge the gap between SEO and Content. With a select set of clients, they could be more hands-on while creating smarter content plans, providing more feedback to the production teams, and monitoring content performance.
Perfecting the Pipeline
SEO content production is a deceptively complicated process. Beyond just writing, editing, and publishing, there are often multiple levels of QA and feedback—back and forth between writers and editors, writers and SEOs, editors and clients, clients and SEOs, publishers and strategists, so on and so forth. It varies for each client and each campaign.
Capturing every step of the process into a single pipeline for the Platform was—and continues to be—a challenge, but a good one. Mistakes impact our team’s efficiency, but they highlight gaps in our processes that we can adapt to and will benefit our clients in the long run. One of our core values is “Stay nimble; never stop learning,” and this is embodied by our Content team every single day.
The Future of Our Content Process
Keeping up with content creation is a challenge for any agency, but we’re not a content mill churning out pages for the sake of content. Our strategies are often ambitious, designed to build a strong, connected network of content that lifts the performance of an entire website, and every new page strengthens that network.
Our Content Strategists build out and monitor the network. Our Content Writers and Editors capture the voice of our clients, their industry, and SEO best practices to produce the best content possible. Our Publishers translate it all into a conversion-worthy user experience. Most importantly, the entire Content team knows the value that we can provide to our clients and takes advantage of every opportunity to improve.
The tools and processes we use to execute our strategies may change; they may (and probably will) break in some unexpected way, but we take those breaks—the lessons learned, the feedback received—and leverage them to set us up for future success.
And if you’re curious if the Content Marketing team and I can help your law firm succeed, please fill out the form below to contact me.