Inbound Now #53 - Content ideas to energize your blog with Marcus Sheridan

Marcus Sheridan, the sales lion, joins us for episode 53 of Inbound Now TV!

Marcus is living proof that inbound marketing works. In the interview, he tells the story of his company River Pools and Spa nearly went bust during the down economy and how inbound marketing and content creation turned everything around.

In the show, we discuss 7 different content creation techniques Marcus used to turn his failing business into the world’s most trafficked Pool website in the world.

My favorite thing about Marcus is that he tells it like it is. He clearly lays out actionable tips & insights for inbound marketing and leaves out all of the BS and fluff.


David: Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of Inbound Now. I’m your host, David Wells, and joining me today is a very special guest, Mr. Marcus Sheridan. Marcus runs River Pools and Spas and and is a fantastic real world example of how inbound marketing actually works. It does work. It’s not all hocus pocus and I wanted to get Marcus on the show today to basically dive into how inbound marketing helped his business and a presentation that he gave at Inbound 2012 that I thought was phenomenal. So welcome to the show Marcus.

Marcus: Dude! What’s up? Thanks for having me and I’m all jacked up and ready to talk and I’ve got as much time as you need, so you fire the questions away and I’ll fire some answers off.

David: Alright. Let’s do it, let’s do it. So, Marcus, you know, you start out most of your presentations telling kind of the incredible journey of how your business, River Pools and Spas, was kind of struggling and you weren’t really sure where to take it in a marketing sense. You know, can you tell us a little bit more of the background story of how inbound marketing helped River Pools and Spas and turned things around?

Marcus: Yeah, man. You know, I tell that story always to start for a couple of reasons because I want people to realize I’m just like them. I’m not just some “guru” which I can’t stand that word by the way, but I’m not some guy that speaks of theory all day long and hasn’t done anything in terms of practice. I don’t think we talk enough about real-life examples in this industry, and everything is, everything we talk about when it comes to social media, when it comes to inbound marketing, in my opinion, needs to be real, right? And so here’s the reality of my situation. When the housing market crashed, people didn’t have enough equity in their homes to buy swimming pools and that’s what I do. Well that’s, I have a company that does that. I don’t do that anymore. I talk about this stuff with people like you all day long now, but I used to just have this swimming pool company, right? And so with that, when we, there was a period of time we lost, when the housing market crashed, overnight we lost four deposits on inground pool customers, jobs, that we had in the bag. And then over the coming months, this was the end of 2008, beginning of 2009, we were tanking it, we were in huge trouble. March of 2009 I read an article about HubSpot, I just stumble into them, and everything immediately just makes sense, and in my mind, David, this is the way that I saw it. If I was willing to teach people and answer their questions about fiberglass swimming pools and anything that had to do with a fiberglass swimming pool, I would be successful. I didn’t, literally, I didn’t look at it beyond that, and so we signed up for HubSpot, I started a blog, on our website of course, and I took every question that I’ve ever been asked, essentially that was the title of a post, and I answered it, and at 11:30, 12 o’clock at night, I sat at my kitchen table and I typed stuff, and I wasn’t really good at it, but Google didn’t care dude, because somebody was finally answering questions that nobody else is willing to answer. And so within a year in a half we’ve blown up and three years later we’re the most trafficked swimming pool website in the world. It saved the business. We get tons of traffic leads and sales now, I mean, because of it. Its unbelievable. That’s the long story made really, really short, but it wouldn’t have happened had we not been incredibly transparent, had we not just come right out and, like, to give you an example, and I don’t want to steal your thunder on those seven tip things.

David: Right.

Marcus: But nobody ever answered the question of how much a fiberglass pool costs. Its like, that’s the first question everybody has when they want to buy one of these dang pools, but nobody had answered the question on their website. So we answered it and we ranked number one for every fiberglass pool cost-related phrase known to man, and because of that we started getting tons of traffic, some of those traffic turned into leads, and a whole bunch of it turned into sales, and boom, but that’s how we saw it. We didn’t sit there, there’s a golden rule to inbound ad content marketing, brother. This is the golden rule. They ask, you answer. That’s the rule. You are now allowed to interpret that rule other than just that. So if you’ve had a customer that has asked you a question, and if you don’t have it on your site, I’m of the opinion David, that you’re doing them an incredible disservice, and you’re essentially inviting them to leave your house and go to your competitor’s house and buy stuff there, which I ain’t down with, man. Why do we invite people to go to our competitor’s websites? Because when we ignore their questions like the ostrich with the head in the sand, you know ostriches, right, hand in the sand? They think, they’re so stupid, because they think when they pull their head back out of the sand the problem will no longer be there. That ain’t how it works, and a lot of business owners feel like, “Well, I can’t address this particular question right now because I’ve just gotta wait until I’m talking to them face to face”. All we’re doing is pretending the problem doesn’t exist and we end up inviting them to leave because we become so impatient online, you and me, everybody listening to this right now brother, if we don’t find an answer immediately, boom, we are gone. We’re off that website. We’re on somebody else’s, and that’s a big problem, and we’ve all gotta fix it. We’ve all gotta fix it. So, I know I just was kind of, I’m running on and I’ve gotta have you talk a little bit, but my apologies, but I’m passionate about this stuff, man. You know how it is.

David: You know, answering those questions, and answering the hard questions, right? So, like, putting costs on a website, especially if you’re a B to B company, is a scary prospect to a lot of companies out there because they’re very high ticket items, just like a swimming pool, let’s say, you know, its a multi-thousand dollar deal, so, you know, how, like, you’re saying that they should just kind of put it all out there, otherwise their competitor is and they’re gonna pull in that traffic regardless or, you know, what would you speak to those people that are afraid?

Marcus: A couple things brother. If you go on, like, if you go on Google right now and you type in “fiberglass pool cost” or “How much does a fiberglass pool cost?” you’re gonna land, of course, on the article that I wrote. You’re gonna read it, and you still won’t know exactly how much a fiberglass pool costs, but you’re gonna have a feel for how much it costs because I addressed the question. See, what people don’t, this is where they screw up. It’s not about necessarily answering the question. You have to be willing to address the question. Google rewards the addressor, not necessarily the answerer. In other words, you can actually answer questions on your site, but people have never, they won’t find it because of the way its situated. The smart way to do it is you list all the questions people have, its a single page of your site, its a single blog post, however you want to do it, and that is the answer. But you don’t have to put your freaking price list on there. No. And, see, you mentioned something really important, David, and we’ve gotta clarify this. Another golden rule. And that is you never make a marketing decision based out of fear, OK? So, in other words, you don’t say things like “Well, if we do this our competitors might find out what our prices are?” or “Our competitors might see how we manufacture things” or “Our competitors might see the way that our operations work”, and that would be so bad because who are we afraid of, our competitors, or losing potential clients and customers, right? So, the person that is allowing fear to dictate their marketing says things like “Well, these bad things will happen”. The person that doesn’t give a rip about fear and is only concerned with being the greatest teacher in the world at what they do, they allow the golden rule to be their guiding light, which is they ask, therefore we answer.

David: Gotcha. Gotcha. Yeah, and I totally agree with you. I mean, a lot of people will gate away their, they think that their, whatever their business is, they want to hide that information until the client is actually paying them, let’s say, whereas, you know, the more that you give away, the more traffic you’re going to get into your site, the more you’re gonna be kind of viewed as that thought leader in your space, right? And, you know, business kind of comes out of that. Would you agree?

Marcus: Dude, you know, people ask me all the time, they’re like “How do you make any money on The Sales Lion? I don’t see how you make any money on there?” I have not discussed, so far, how much money I make on The Sales Lion, but The Sales Lion is easily a six-figure business. I mean, its a very, very big business and I give away an ebook that’s 250 pages and it took me two years to write and everybody can’t figure it out. Dude, I’m not looking to make $20 a pop. That’s not my business model. You know what I’m saying? And I don’t have any problem with ebooks, but, or selling ebooks, excuse me, but my goal, from a business standpoint, my goal is not to sell ebooks. My goal is to garner clients, to generate sales of my services. So there’s a, I’m not worried about $20, I just want everybody to read the dang thing.

David: Right.

Marcus: If you read 250 pages of my thoughts, words, experiences, by the end it’s almost like we’re married. We’re engaged at least, man. You are not gonna get a quote from another marketing guy that you might have been thinking about. Its kind of like this, you’ve gotta look at, let’s say, each client, when you get a client its like you’re getting married, right? And to get married to somebody, generally you’ve gotta have a certain number of dates. Every time somebody reads a page of your site that’s like one more date that you’ve gone on.

David: Right.

Marcus: And so, with me they’ve gone on whole lots of dates, man. They love what they see. So, you’ve got the guy that they’ve dated 10 times, they’ve dated me 250 times, who are they gonna marry? That might sound arrogant. There’s nothing arrogant about it. This is available to every business. Dude, let me tell you what, 3.5 years ago when I started producing content for River Pools our website was 20 pages long. Today its 850. Now take a guess, David, take a guess what our average page views per customer this year is, how many pages of the site they have viewed. If you were just Average Joe, because you might know this, because I might have told you already.

David: Yeah.

Marcus: But if you were an Average Joe.

David: 30 or so? I don’t know.

Marcus: Yeah. Well that’s the magic number where they typically tip and start totally getting into it, but the actual total average page views is about 110 this year. And you know what else brother? Its gonna grow, and its gonna be higher than that next year. Its gonna be higher than that for two reasons. Number one, I’ll have more content on the site. Number two, each year, every day, we become more engrossed in this information age. Its the education economy, man. We like to be so dang informed by the time we buy stuff, and even on cheap stuff we like to be dang informed. Like, if you’re gonna buy a $100 set of headphones you’ll go and you’ll read stinking 20 pages on five review sites just to make sure you’ve bought the best set of headphones. Is Bose worth it? Bose versus whatever.

David: Right.

Marcus: Do you know what I’m saying? We do that stuff and its $100. It’s $100. My product average for the pool site’s $50,000. For my marketing company, you know, it ranges. It could be in the thousands to a whole lot more than that. I mean, my point is, people, if you do give it, this is what I know, all or nothing dude, if they come to your site and they don’t find it they’re more impatient than ever. But if they come to your site and they do find it, they’ll stay there, they’ll love you, and they’ll stay for a long, long time.

David: Right.

Marcus: So even though they’re more impatient, they’re more patient and willing to invest time when they feel like they’ve hit the information jackpot.

David: Gotcha. And it gives them a reason to come back, right, at a later date. It kind of, continue that dating cycle, right, into becoming a client.

Marcus: Well, yeah. Yeah. I mean, its like, I mean, its more dates man. Just more dates.

David: Yeah. So cool, so the presentation that you gave at Inbound 2012 was awesome. I don’t know, were those recorded? I hope so, because you were pretty hilarious. You have a pretty unique speaking style where you just kind of go crazy and its just funny. If you haven’t seen Marcus speak any and he’s going to a conference, I highly recommend checking him out to all those watching. But what you did, what I really liked, was you broke down, like, blogging for different companies there into really digestible and actionable chunks, and it wasn’t a lot of fluff, like, pie in the sky, like, “Do a lot of keyword research” and do this and do that. And one of the things you mentioned-

Marcus: I don’t particularly believe people are concerned-

David: And one of the things you mentioned and you talked about this a little bit earlier was, you know, we, when we’re doing that customer, or we’re doing that research for “What’s the best headphones?” we’re searching for Bose versus, you know, Dr. Dre Beats, or whatever the headphones are these days, but-

Marcus: Yeah.

David: Can you speak a little bit more to that? So, like, versus posts, and how you’ve leveraged those.

Marcus: Dude, I’ve killed it on versus posts. I’ve killed it on best posts. Let me tell you, every industry has certain key word elements that are followed by everyone, OK? I don’t care if you’re B to B, B to C, if you’re a product, if you’re a service, if you’re big or small, national, local, no excuses here. It applies to all your listeners. The thing about it is this, everybody wants to know how much stuff costs. If you haven’t written articles about how much does stuff cost, then you’ve screwed up. For every product or separate service that you sell, you should have an article about how much it costs, right?

So, let me give you an example. For a product, fiberglass pools, I’m number one for that because I actually addressed it. Let me give you another example of a service. HubSpot, well, kind of a software, kind of a hybrid, but do you realize, as many HubSpot partners as there are almost none of them have singular pages on their site dedicated to “How much does HubSpot cost?’ Do you realize that David? You’re probably one of those ding dongs that don’t have it too. And so, if you go and type in “How much does HubSpot cost?” online right now, HubSpot’s number one, but guess who’s number two?

David: You.

Marcus: Me. And I should be number one. But I actually answered the stinking question. OK. So let me give you another example. Problems. When people start to become close to buying something they want to know if its got any problems, especially as competition talks bad about it. So they’ll always type in such and such problems, right?

David: Right.

Marcus: Again, same two examples. If you meet with concrete pool guy, you meet with fiberglass pool guy, he’s gonna talk about your fiberglass pools, about all the problems with them, so you’re gonna be freaked out, you’re gonna go to your search engine, you’re gonna type in “Fiberglass pool problems”. Well, we wrote an article about fiberglass pool problems. In other words, we confronted the problem of problems before the competition even got a chance to do it and of course, its number one on Google. Its gets thousands, at least 10,000 views a year. For that, its my number one lead generating keyword phrase on River Pools other than River Pools. “Fiberglass pool problems” is my number one keyword lead-generating phrase.

David: Right. And that’s, you’re addressing the problem, pulling people into your site and you’re controlling the message and obviously you are answering their questions, right?

Marcus: Yes.

David: But its like they’re in your home base rather than, you know, on multiple other sites or competitors even.

Marcus: That’s, what you just said is the key to everything I’m, have explained and will explain in this interview. My only goal, David, is to get them in my house. That’s the only goal, my house, my website. That’s the only goal. Because when they’re in my house, I control the party. When they’re in somebody else’s house I have no luck. I have no rights. I’ve lost hope. OK? And so that’s all I care about now. So, for like, problems, I come right out and say “Fiberglass pools might not be for you. It might not be for you” and people immediately say “Well, daggone, this guy’s actually not selling me a load of bull. He’s being for real. That’s pretty sweet”. At the same time, there’s another group that are saying “OK. It might not be for me, well, who’s it for because I kind of want to be in the group that its for”. You go online right now and you type in “Problems with HubSpot’ or “HubSpot problems”. How many bars have written about HubSpot problems? You’ve got 500 bars that are talking about HubSpot and trying to sell it. How many have talked about specifically problems with HubSpot?

David: Yeah, probably not that many. I know you wrote a post, WordPress, for HubSpot. I thought that was interesting.

Marcus: Of course. Well that’s, whoa, that’s, wait, wait. Can’t get to that one yet. I wrote a post about problems with HubSpot too because people want to know. Let’s do versus now. OK? Versus is huge. You should compare your product or your service with every single competing product or service in the world. So, for example, if you sell Ford you should compare Ford with every other manufacturer in separate articles. Then, you should compare every Ford model with every competing model of other manufacturers. And you don’t have to necessarily integrate your opinion. You can just state the facts. Just like if you are comparing a concrete pool with a fiberglass pool, you are going to go online and type in “Concrete versus fiberglass pools” or “Compare fiberglass pools with concrete pools” or “Which is better? Concrete or fiberglass pools?”

David: Right.

Marcus: Of course I’m gonna be the guy that shows up every time, because I’ve actually addressed the question with a post. If you, I used to always get the question, just like you just mentioned “What’s the difference between WordPress and HubSpot? Which is better?” Well, they’re really not the same thing.

David: Yeah.

Marcus: A lot of people think that you should even, like, “Why would you write that?” Well, I wrote it because people asked me the question all the time. And if you go online and you type in “HubSpot versus WordPress” I’m gonna be one or two on Google. It’s no secret behind any of this. Its a willingness to listen, well, let’s do best. I love best by the way. I used to have people tell me all the time, this is a good one for local SEO too man, OK, local SEO tip coming up, right now. So, I used to have people say to me when I was just a pool guy “Marcus, we like you a lot, but who are some of the best pool builders in this area? Like, who are some of the best pool builders in Richmond, Virginia?” They’d ask me that, right? Well, most companies, because they’re so silly, they act like the competitor doesn’t exist. That’s the ostrich with his head in the sand. Do you know what I mean? So, instead of being the ostrich, you ought to come right out and say, and so I wrote an article, remember, they ask, I answer, so the article was ‘Who are the best swimming pool builders in Richmond, Virgina?” and I listed five. And now when you type in “Reviews” and you list that competitor, “Richmond, Virginia” I’m showing up for their keyword phrases. I’m also showing up number one for their keyword phrases. I’m also showing up number one for the phrase “Who are the best pool builders, Richmond, Virginia?” and furthermore, after I knocked that one out of the park and it was number one for all those keywords I said “Who are the best pool builders in Virginia Beach?”, “Who are the best swimming pool builders in Fredericksburg?” “Who are the best swimming pool builders in northern Virginia?”, “Who are the best swimming pool builders in southern Maryland?” and on and on, just like a consumer would ask.

David: So in these posts are you giving a pretty fair assessment or is it your opinion on “Alright, these guys are good” or is it like “Oh, we’re the best, but these are also good”? Like, how did you phrase that because I think a lot of people can get that wrong?

Marcus: So this goes back to addressing versus answering the question. I have not, specifically, in any of those said, well, these are the best. What I have said is “These are some of the builders that we compete with on a consistent basis that have a long history” and then when I list the company name I take the information page from their about page, word for word, and put it in there. That’s what I do. So I’ll say “Such and such company is is Fredericksburg, Virginia. They specialize in concrete pools and they also do a lot of automatic pool covers”. It came off of, so I never said they were good or bad. I just said what they do. No different than if you’re comparing a Ford and a Chevy. You ain’t gotta say “Ford sucks”, “Chevy sucks”. You just say “Ford has this size engine in their Mustang”, “The Chevy Camero has this size engine, this much horsepower”. Its very easy to compare products. Its easy to compare services. Its easy to compare software, things like that.

David: Right.

Marcus: That’s the type of stuff consumers care about David, and its applicable to every industry in the world, brother, and I’ve had, I’ll give you an example, one of the people you used to work with at HubSpot, Yale Appliance

David: Yep.

Marcus: Love my boy Steve at Yale. Steve is, his blog wasn’t growing like he wanted it to, and I looked at it, and I asked him one simple question. I said “Steve, what is your keyword goal for all these articles?” and I listed the last 20 articles that he had written. And, you know, he couldn’t answer the question. And I said “Well, that’s why you’re flunking out of blog school. And if you want to be really successful you have to have a keyword goal for all your articles if you’re gonna be really aggressive as a business. If you’ve got a bunch of subscribers and you’re really trying to target this for SEO and stuff like that. Think like a consumer, long tail, keywords, all that junk”. And so, the main place we started is he sells, literally, like a couple thousand products. He focuses on kitchen appliances. So, you think, he sells 10 different styles of grills. Well, he compares every one in an article. For example, refrigerators, Viking refrigerators versus GenAir, which is better? You cannot go online now, David, and type in a versus phrase for kitchen appliances without running into my boy Steve, and he has literally, on his last 100 and some articles, he has been on the first page of Google for the keyword he was targeting. Since we talked, I think something like 95% of the time. That’s some ridiculous number man.

David: Yeah, yeah.

Marcus: His sales are better than ever. He’s just crushing it in a time when economies are slower, and he’s gonna be ahead of his industry and what’s gonna happen, one of these days stinking Frigidaire and Viking and GE, all these multi-billion dollar companies, are gonna wake up and they’re gonna realize that some dude in Boston owns their industry in terms of consumer influence because he was answering the questions that people really wanted to know.

David: Yeah, yeah.

Marcus: You feel me man?

David: They’ve definitely been killing it in terms of organic traffic and I wanted to talk to you about that in this interview. So you went to go visit Steve and his team and to basically talk about blogging. After you left, basically now they’re like, the entire sales team is blogging and contributing to the company’s site and its helping tremendously. Like, how, what did you do to fire up, like, his sales team and the other people that work at Yale Appliance? What did you say to them because it seems like it was magic?

Marcus: Alright. Here’s the mistake that everybody makes David. They have somebody in the marketing department or in management that gets the grand idea to start producing content and blogging and they send out an email to the staff that says “Hey y’all. Let’s start blogging” and nobody understand why. It makes no sense to them. It doesn’t matter if you say “Its gonna really help us generate traffic, leads and sales”. It doesn’t help. So, what I do is I go and I help establish cultures of inbound and content marketing because I teach the depth core reasons of the “What (?) marketing? How do you do it effectively?” Just like we’ve been talking about, how? We think exactly like a consumer. And then “Why do we do it? How does it effect me as the employee? How will it help me to make more money as an employee? How will it help me to support my team members within the company, within the organization? How will it help the company as a whole?” If somebody can clearly see that vision then all of a sudden it makes sense and they’re like “Man, I want to be a part of this because its special” and everybody wants to be a part of a winner. Everybody wants to be a part of a winner. That’s why people go to HubSpot and take a lot less money to work there because they like being a part of a movement, of something that’s special.

David: Right.

Marcus: Same thing when it comes to producing content. And I guess that’s probably why you left HubSpot, huh man? They weren’t paying you enough bills. Sorry, I’m just kidding man, I’m just kidding.

David: Yeah, yeah. But, I mean, it was time, and we’re still friends. We’re still friends at HubSpot. I still use HubSpot, so, it’s a great tool.

Marcus: I’m just picking on you man. I’m just picking man. I’m just picking brother. I know you’re a HubSpot guy, as am I.

David: Awesome, awesome. So, let’s see, so I guess, I mean, this is probably the longest interview we’ve done on Inbound Now. So congratulations, you won the world record. But I definitely want to get you back on the show on a later date, but Marcus, where can people find you online?

Marcus: Yeah, just type in thesaleslion, L-I-O-N, so Got a free ebook there that rocks your socks. Its right there. You’ll see it as soon as you get to the homepage man, free, its awesome. So come there, check it out, read it and then read the blog, because a lot of other people read it and its good stuff, bro.

David: Yeah, totally. So what I’m gonna do after this, I’m gonna write a blog post, The Sales Lion versus Inbound Now and I’m gonna own that space, so-

Marcus: Own it. Take that keyword as yours my man.

David: Yeah. Well, thanks for your time Marcus. I really appreciate it. I think you are a dynamic speaker and I wish you all the best and I want to get you back on the show at a later date. Stay tuned, and yeah.

Marcus: My pleasure.