What should writers and content publishers know about using AI as part of their creative workflow?
Over the past year or two, I’ve tested various content marketing tools, software, and so on. One tool that I use extensively is MarketMuse.
About a year ago, the traffic on my main website, Become a Writer Today, dipped by 10 to 20 percent after a Google algorithm update. I was pretty stressed about the whole thing because I had just left my permanent job and relied on the site to pay the bills.
When I dug into the traffic dip, I found a few issues. One was that competitors were reverse-engineering some of my top-performing content. But I had also missed opportunities to publish supporting content that would help and engage readers.
It isn’t easy to figure out all of this yourself, and that’s where AI and content marketing tools like MarketMuse can help.
Using MarketMuse, I analyzed all the top-performing content on my site and figured out what content was outdated and needed an overhaul to ensure a consistent journey for readers.
I could have done some of this manually, but it would have taken me several months. An AI-powered tool like MarketMuse dramatically sped up the process. And as a result, traffic for the site corrected itself within a month or two and then grew.
Whether or not you’re running a content website, consider how you can use AI as part of your writing workflow. Learn how an AI tool can help you write better headlines, SEO meta descriptions, and supporting copy for social media.
And don’t worry, they’re not going to take the creativity out of writing because skills like understanding what readers want, storytelling, and driving engagement are something only writers can do.
In this episode, I meet Jeff Coyle, the co-founder, and chief product officer for MarketMuse.
MarketMuse primarily helps content marketers build topical authority by figuring out gaps in their content, but it’s also great for small content publishers and bloggers who want to take their site to the next level.
In this episode, we discuss:
Website: https://www.marketmuse.com/Support the show
Jeff: Your brain is your machine and the time you have on this earth to work dictates that output so you wanna be putting out the highest quality content you possibly can that you’re proud of using your expertise as your weapon and not manual keyword research or peppering in particular words that you don’t like. You know, you wanna be able to do both. You wanna be able to put out stuff you’re proud of. The best way you can get there is by automating the workflows and the processes that you hate doing.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: What should writers know about using AI as part of their creative workflow? Or if you’re a content publisher, should you start using AI to improve the quality of articles that you’ve published on your sites? Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins, welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. So, over the past year or two, I’ve tested various different types of content marketing tools, software, and so on. One tool that I used extensively is called MarketMuse. About a year ago, the traffic on my main website, Become a Writer Today, dipped by 10 to 20 percent after a Google algorithm update. I was pretty stressed about the whole thing because I had just left my permanent job and I was relying on the site to pay the bills. When I dug into the traffic dip a little bit more, there’s a few issues that will cause it. One of the issues was that competitors were reverse engineering some of my top performing content. And, to be honest, if you’re running a content website, that’s fair game, because people will look to see what ranks for a particular competitive term and then they will try and reverse engineer that content and create something better. But there’s also gaps in my content. There were particular articles that addressed topics quite well related to grammar and so on, but I had missed a lot of opportunities to publish supporting content that would have helped and engaged readers. It’s difficult to figure out all of this yourself, and that’s where AI and content marketing tools like MarketMuse can help.
Basically, using MarketMuse, I analyzed all the top-performing content on my site, I figured out what content was out of date and needed an overhaul, then I worked with a team of freelance writers to update the old content and the out-of-date content, I deleted some posts, merged some posts, and also wrote in new information and fixed issues with broken images, internal links, and so on. I also used MarketMuse to figure out what types of supporting content I should create next so that there will be a consistent flow or a consistent journey for readers who landed on the site, read an article, and then wanted to read something more.
Now, I could have done some of this manually but I guess it would have taken me several months, but with an AI-powered tool like MarketMuse, it dramatically sped up the process and I was able to get to work with a team of freelance writers much more easily. And as a result, traffic for the site corrected itself within the course of a month or two and then grew subsequently after that.
Now, whether or not you’re running a content website, I’d encourage you to consider how you can use AI as part of your writing workflow. If you’re a freelance writer, it could be something simple like learning how an AI tool can help you write better headlines, SEO meta descriptions, and supporting copy for social media and so on and then you could offer all of this as a value add-on for clients. If you’re a blogger, you can start using these tools to figure out what types of articles you should publish more of. Even learning how these tools work will be something that you can add to your skill set because they’re not going to go away. And don’t worry, they’re not gonna take the creativity out of writing online either, because skills like understanding what readers want, storytelling, and driving engagement are something that only writers can do. These tools are something that you can use to support your creative and your writing workflow, not to replace it.
So in this week’s interview, I caught up with Jeff Coyle. He’s the co-founder and chief product officer for MarketMuse. Now, MarketMuse primarily helps content marketers build topical authority by figuring out gaps in their content, but it’s also great for small content publishers and for bloggers who have a site that has some traffic and they want to take it to the next level. Whatever stage you’re at, I’d encourage you to listen to Jeff’s advice about how AI can help content writers, bloggers, and so on increase their traffic and add more value to clients and also land paid work.
If you enjoy this interview with Jeff, please consider leaving a short review on iTunes or you can share the show with another writer or a friend at Overcast, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you’re listening. And, finally, if you have feedback, reach out to me on Twitter, @bryanjcollins.
Now let’s go with this week’s interview with Jeff Coyle and he starts by explaining his background and what prompted him to set up a company like MarketMuse in the first place.
Bryan: Jeff, welcome to the show. Could you give a little bit of background about what MarketMuse is and why you set it up?
Jeff: Yeah, sure. So, MarketMuse is a content intelligence platform that really sets the standard for content quality so we can give you insights about what it means to be an expert on any individual page, what it will take, how much content needs to be built, how hard is it gonna be for us to perform and grow or maintain an existing organic rankings or existing presence or authority on any particular topic. So that allows us to give site level auditing, inventorying solutions, but also content operations solutions, so content briefing, building single sources of truth for your writers, whether they’re in-house or outsourced, and really common workflows that writers, editors, and search engine optimization professionals focus on, whether it’s researching a topic to understand what needs to be there in order to exhibit expertise, what a competitive landscape looks like, answering specific questions that appeal to today’s intent, or even internal and external linking recommendations. My background, I’ve been doing this, for better or for worse, for about 24 years. I went to Georgia Tech for computer science, worked in usability and also early search engine information retrieval when I was there, worked at a company called Knowledge Storm where we were selling leads to software companies but through the promotion of and syndication of content. We were convincing B2B technology companies to have content and to use it to generate leads, as amazing as that sounds, but that was something that still had to be sold. We were sold to a publisher in 2007 where I stayed on as their in-house lead for their traffic search and engagement efforts so I got to see every aspect of a 240-site network all related to generating leads, generating traffic —
Bryan: 240 sites?
Jeff: Yeah, about that. Isn’t that wild? Yeah, it was 240 sites of all shapes and sizes, so major ones you may be familiar with will be Computer Weekly, which I was part of the team that made that acquisition and revitalized that brand.
Bryan: And how many writers were working across all of these sites?
Jeff: Oh, hundreds of them. So, we had hundreds of writers, both in-house as well as, you know, a thousand content contributors. Tech Target is that publisher. They’re one of the biggest names in B2B technology, search, intent data, really best in class from an editorial perspective as well as product management perspective. You know, really getting to see all those manual processes though was extremely important to me, how subjective things were about what we should write. It was coming from brainstorming, no data or very little data, but expertise —
Bryan: No keyword research tools at that point?
Jeff: Yeah, exactly right. You know, no — but expertise goes a long way, and so I really got inspired to focus on content workflows but also bringing data effectively to editorial and content strategy teams to say if we had to make the biggest impact on our business, what are the articles we should write? Where do we have gaps in expertise? Where do we have gaps in the funnel? Information, early stage awareness, consideration purchase, certainly, but also like post purchase support, implementation, the forgotten parts about the funnel, you know? Because when you combine all those on one topic, it really exhibits expertise so I was always thinking about that and I was actually looking for a solution that would automatically tag content into a taxonomy and I was researching software products that would do that and I found this weird site called MarketMuse and my co-founder originally put out like a site and I was like, “Wow, does this do that?” and he said, “No, it doesn’t do that.” He goes, “But it does this,” and what this was was a 30-hour manual process for me to build an effective topic model that breaks down in concepts and says, “If I were an expert on this topic, what are the things that I would naturally include if I were covering it well?” And it worked. So I actually implemented it as a user and then when I left Tech Target to go work at a private equity firm, Aki, my co-founder, reached out and he said, “Hey, Jeff, you’re the only one who really understands all these workflows, will you join as a late co-founder and really take this thing to market?” At the time, they had a handful of early evangelist customers but it really wasn’t —
Bryan: When was this? To just get a sense of the timeline —
Jeff: Oh, yeah, this was late 2014, early 2015, and I joined full time September 2015 after being an advisor for the summer then while I was doing some other projects. Got full time, and then that Q4, we signed two or three major customers, got our first $60,000 or higher customer that month, realized that this thing was a really important area that businesses needed to know what content to create, what content to update, but then also how to execute on it. So many tools in the space are very keyword crazy, keyword focused, or they’re focused on you copying your competitors and we wanted to bring expertise into it and authority because we were the only platform that can calculate authority on a topic and also score content for comprehensiveness so we wanted to bring an objective measure for quality while also bringing to the table the premise that all of what people do to make decisions has bias and subjectivity, let’s make sure we’re personalizing these recommendations and saying, “How hard is it gonna be for us to win on this topic?” Because the answer might not be, “Go write the best article on this topic.” We might not be able to invest in the other 50 articles we need to write. And so just writing that one page, like spitting in the land, we have no chance, you know? We have to do a lot more, so we wanna make sure that people are setting expectations appropriately and understand the work ahead prior to even making the decision to write. And that’s how big teams win with us, is to say how much work needs to be done, but then also do the best practices for operations, which would be building a brief, making sure the editor or the strategist gets aligned with the writer, right? “Here’s what is expected.” But also there’s room for an editor or a writer to still do developmental edits. There’s room for the writer to be creative and focus on narrative and engagement —
Bryan: You touched there, Jeff, on an issue, I was on a content marketing team for a few years and AI was coming to the fore when I left the company. Some writers were pushing back saying it’s gonna suck all the creativity out of the job.
Jeff: Yeah. I mean, it’s a real situation. If people don’t know how content operations work and how editorial works and they don’t know the value of expertise and of narrative development or production value, they sometimes can suck the good stuff out of the writing. And the reality of implementing AI effectively is how can it fast track, both from an efficiency perspective, but also improve my hit rate from a performance perspective. So, what, MarketMuse, we focus on is all three points of the triangle. It’s quality, it’s speed but it’s also performance. So what AI can bring is the ability to actually influence all of those things. So it’s not uncommon that we’ll work with a team that can now get out twice as much content, each item is performing better and their hit rate per goes up. So, the joke I always say to writers and editors, it’s like, “How much do you think content costs?” Couple hundred dollars. “Okay, what percentage of your content is actually successful? 10 percent? Okay, now, how much does it actually cost for you to get an effective successful page out the door?” and then their head explodes because they’re like, their 500 just turned into 5,000 and then the 5,000 doesn’t even include typically the human resources.
Bryan: If I’m using MarketMuse — well, I’ll step back for a second, I used MarketMuse to overhaul the a hundred-plus articles on that content website I have about 12 months ago and it identified chunks that was missing in each of the articles and I worked with freelance writers to put that missing content in and the traffic increased over the course of a few months. So thank you for that. What I was wondering is, is MarketMuse for optimizing like a few key power pages or money pages or can you use it for content at scale for working on lots of pages?
Jeff: Yeah, so I mean, you gave our most kind of the original, one of our most original page level use cases of improving existing content. So what MarketMuse is advising on is really different than, you know, what some solutions do, where they’re just looking at the top 10 ranking pages and saying, “Hey, go copy these, the ones we like,” right? What we do is we go out and we will read everything we have accessible. We have a database of language, we’re able to go out and look at tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of pages on a topic to really distill it and understand what it means to be an expert on that topic. We then overlay that against competition. So the cool thing that is, nobody may be doing this well, right? They may be forgetting concepts that really differentiate your content. So that workflow of improving existing content from a lens of expertise but also from a competitive landscape is what truly differentiates us. So I can put myself head to head against a competitor, against the model, or I can go against the entire landscape and understand, oh, MarketMuse says this is a tremendously relevant concept and no one’s really talking about it, that’s gonna make my page both more comprehensive, more semantically relevant, but also differentiated. And that’s a bonus. So also adding in questions and intent analysis, internal linking and recommendations to that competitive and the quality perspective, that’s how you can really like deep dive and update and improve a page. You can also have an even higher level of fidelity and build out a content brief for the writer that gets into another level of structural recommendations, does kind of multidimensional topic models so you can dive in and look at, you know, five topic models smashed together which can really level up that process and be more editorially appealing. So that can really work with any type of page, any type of competitive landscape. The key though on MarketMuse’s premium offering is that we have an on-demand content inventory solution so you can look at your entire site and all the topics you care about and say where you have strengths and weaknesses, where have you covered this well, with enough breadth and depth or maybe where you have a gap, and that’s what really differentiates us. It’s about what we should create, how much we should invest, but then it’s also about executing and doing what you did, right? Going into all of your pages and updating them, making them as good as they can be, weaving them together appropriately, understanding, now, why would anyone wanna publish content that isn’t equal to or better than their competitors every time from a lens of expertise, right? And setting the standards for content quality is really what we’re focused, you know? We joke around the goal of MarketMuse is to objectively measure the quality and comprehensiveness of content or set the standard for content quality, but the other joke, and I’m sure that your audience will appreciate it, is we wanna rid the world of bad content and there’s a lot of it these days.
Bryan: There is. There’s huge amounts. The internet thrives on poor content, it seems. How often should I complete an exercise like I did last autumn? Is it something I need to do every few weeks? Every few months? Every few years?
Jeff: I love that question. I’m gonna not say the old, “It depends.” I coined SEO diapers long ago, I think that’s about 15 years ago, it depends, but you have to understand whether updates and refreshes are enough as well. So, there’s reasons why updates and refreshes aren’t gonna be enough on any particular content site where you have to create to supplement or to alleviate risks. So, the things you’re looking for, if you can surgically create and update content regularly, you’re gonna wanna look at competitive cohorts and understand how frequently are the people that you’re combating updating or creating and at what pace, that’s step one. By the way, this is gonna be a really effective workflow. You asked, I’m just answering.
Bryan: Go for it.
Jeff: This is the stuff I don’t normally get into on a first date, you know?
Bryan: I love content workflows.
Jeff: So cohort level, there’s a concept called competitive cohort profiling, where I wanna know, basically I wanna do their work for them. I wanna actually analyze what their strategy should be, how much content they’re producing, what types of content, what changes have occurred, did an editor leave, do they not write about this topic anymore? I need to know all of that for these people that I’m in the mix with, that I have a lot of overlap. I also wanna understand their link profile, their link velocity, how are they doing partnerships, just to protect myself against any major changes. Why do I bring that up? It’s because if I see signals that that’s gonna create headwinds for me, I may need to update more frequently. I may need to create more frequently to predict against these risks. What we don’t wanna do is rest on our laurels and have pages out there existing and thriving in isolation and not being touched for a long time because they’re very, very susceptible to competitive risks. A page that gets too much of my traffic, more than, you know, double digits of my organic, let’s say, that’s really risky for any business or any site. I need to remediate that risk. So, things I’m looking for. Tough competitive changes, major flux, pages that get too much traffic, a lot of fluctuation in search engine results, page features on the stuff that I’m ranking for, those four things go into the mix of just external factors —
Bryan: Pages that get too much traffic? That’s never something I saw as a problem before. Can you elaborate on that one?
Jeff: It’s such a problem. Oh, my God. So three examples, all right? Homepage gets too much traffic. Oftentimes, you’re ranking for stuff with your homepage that your homepage doesn’t satisfy. You’re not satisfying the intent that the user is looking for with the content on that page. So, very instructive about content, you should create and link in, link to your homepage. Because if someone searches for something and then they land on your homepage and it’s not what they want, that’s not good, all right? So you can service them more appropriately. You also have situations where pages, maybe they get 15, 20 percent of your organic traffic. That’s a competitor’s best friend. They just go attack it and they try to chop down that tree. You don’t want that. It also leaves you open to risk if that page isn’t perfect. And in larger organizations, what happens is those are pages that people are afraid to touch too, they’re like, “Oh, don’t touch it, it might make stuff drop,” and so those all go into business risks. And so that’s one that I love to fix. We’ll take a page like that and support it with infrastructure, make it more resistant to competitive influences, make sure it’s super high quality, or put it in a situation where it’s less risky to update. A lot of people won’t update their highest trafficked pages. I worked with a publisher, I can’t say who they are, but their number one revenue generating page is super high quality — super low quality, rather. It’s terrible. It’s not good. And they won’t update it because they’re afraid. But they know it’s not good. They know it’s low quality. And we don’t want those types of situations. And so getting around, hey, so what we did in that situation was, hey, let’s build out content throughout that entire journey. It’s a product review roundup page, across the buyer journey, across the info journey, customers of these products, what would they do, we’d build out this huge infrastructure, it makes it a lot less likely that tweaking that page is gonna have a negative impact. So those are the types of processes that we work with teams on.
Bryan: So some of these —
Jeff: I love this stuff, as you can —
Bryan: I can talk to you all day about it, but we’re short on time. So, some of the use cases are customers that you’ve mentioned tend to be larger companies, but I understand MarketMuse has also an offering for smaller content publishers as well or is working on one. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Jeff: Yeah, certainly. So we have a free offering. So anyone can go in and they can research topics, they can do optimization of a page, get a feel for that type of an experience, whether they’re gonna need more usage than might be satisfied with the free offering so go check that out. Quick topic analysis, competitive analysis, page level optimization. The end-user solution or the self-service solution will probably be back into market by the time this is airing and what that’s gonna be is for one person or a small team or maybe you work with an organization where it’s difficult to get enterprise software approved but you need this tool for yourself, you need this solution for yourself, make it accessible for them and that would be focused on more of that operations work, the page level touching of content, effectively. The premium solution really focuses on decision making and the entire content lifecycle, improving each stage of research, planning, prioritization, briefing, but also getting editors and writers higher level of fidelity of data so that they can make themselves competitively differentiated. Very different than just kind of updating a page but kind of I want everyone to use MarketMuse to update content, to make it as great as it can be, but then the next tough part is making great decisions about what content to create and touch in the first place, like you mentioned. “How do I know what pages need to be updated more frequently? How do I know how much new content needs to be created?” Those are the questions that a lot of people go on gut and leads to tremendous amounts of waste. We typically will bring a team that 10 percent of the content they create is successful, we’ll bring that number up to 20, 30, 40 percent and it just changes the way that they work. It’s really an awesome situation.
Bryan: I would agree. I would agree. If you can increase 10 to 20 percent of your site, that can do huge things. One last question, kind of a high level question. If I’m a writer who gets paid by clients to produce content, marketing assets for them, blog posts, articles, books, and so on, I’m listening to you and I’m thinking, “Oh, I don’t know, Jeff, all this AI stuff is pretty crazy. I wouldn’t know where to get started, much less learn a tool like MarketMuse,” well, what would you say to me?
Jeff: I would say to you that this is a great thing for you. MarketMuse, if you’re a great writer and you’re building great narratives and you understand your speed, your execution speed, improving all the stages of your workflow, looking at all your manual process, will make it so that you can spend more time writing and building narratives, focusing on production value, improving the marketability of the products that you sell. If you sell low-quality content, well, the market for low-quality content is going away. It’s almost automated. And so trying to get out of that zone anyway, level up, you’re gonna be able to get more dollars per unit and potentially more units out. Sell the value of your expertise and your storytelling and your narrative development. That’s where the real money is made anyway, is exhibiting expertise, sourcing properly, giving good references, and building stuff that’s gonna be highly engaging and is gonna be appropriate for every level a type of publication or company, they’re gonna want to publish that type of content. They’re not just publishing your content to check boxes. Will that change over time as natural language processing and generation? Sure, but it’s always gonna be inspirational. A writer who is relying only on manual labor for their efforts, you have inefficiencies and you’ve gotta figure out what those inefficiencies are and that’s your job, that’s your tool. Your brain is your machine and the time you have on this earth to work dictates that output so you wanna be putting out the highest quality content you possibly can that you’re proud of using your expertise as your weapon and not manual keyword research or peppering in particular words that you don’t like. You know, you wanna be able to do both. You wanna be able to put out stuff you’re proud of. The best way you can get there is by automating the workflows and the processes that you hate doing.
Bryan: That’s a good answer. Jeff, where should people go to learn more about you?
Jeff: Awesome. Yeah. Jeff@marketmuse.com, @Jeffrey_Coyle on Twitter, marketmuse.com, go grab the free offering, shoot me a note, any questions, I answer everything, email, or book a demo if you work for a team of the premium offering or some of your clients that you work with, if you’re an outsourced writer, you think that they would be successful with this, feel free to do that and ask me any questions over there. We also have a — I have a webinar series for content strategy. If you look at the top navigation of the MarketMuse site, I’ve got probably a hundred recordings from the best content strategists in the world talking about content, even ones recently by — one example that your audience would probably love is from Jennifer Rotner about the truth behind all things editorial operations —
Bryan: That’s fantastic.
Jeff: Go check that one out, it’s really good. She’s the founder of Elite Editing, who someone I feel kinda sets the standard for high quality content development. So, yeah, go check those out and shoot me a note, give me some feedback.
Bryan: Thanks, Jeff.
Jeff: All right. Cheers.
Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books and discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.