Brenna_Lemieux_HeadshotBrenna Lemieux leads the content marketing team at Insureon, the leading online small business insurance agent. Below is a transcript of her November 11, 2016 presentation at the first Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where she told startups her expert tips on building a thriving content marketing program to power startup SEO programs (watch the video here):

Hi everybody. My name is Brenna Lemieux. Quick background on Insureon: We are a small business insurance agency and we are based entirely online. We sell to freelancers, contractors, and up to 20-employee businesses, just so you guys have an idea of who we are.

Okay. I joined back in December of 2012, and the situation there was that we had three websites with completely duplicated content across all three websites, no organic search presence, very little paid search presence, and we had the best product in the industry. In fact, kind of the only product at that time.

Commercial insurance is very hard to make profitable for small businesses, because you’re selling premiums of $500 to a one-person business. And other commercial insurance is like a premium of a million dollars for a bigger company. So, nobody really wants to do the same amount of work for $500 that they would do for a million.

Now that we have the technology we have, it’s possible to do it profitably by scaling it online.

We were like, “Okay, now, where we are in the internet we can make this work, but we don’t have a ton of money. And really the only way we can make it profitable is by very, very cheaply getting people to our site and signing them up.”So, what are the two cheapest ways to get people to a website?

SEO and SEM.

So, we’re like, “Alright, we’re all in.”

1. Do Triage

They brought me on board as content director and I was one of the three-person marketing team at that time. So, the first thing obviously was triage. We had three sites of all duplicate content, which is a huge problem for Google. My first few weeks at the company were just rewriting content for two of those sites. And I have a background as a writer, I studied creative writing in grad school. And so, this was kind of my bread and butter, I was like, “Finally, they’re paying me to do this,” and it was really great.

2. Focus on the Long Tail

But, eventually, once we had solved the problem of just not being a penalty waiting to happen on Google we said, “Okay. Now, we actually have to get people to come to this website.” We looked at our search terms and that things that we wanted to sell to people, and we realized we had no chance of competing with the big boys out there, and girls. So, we went after the long tail.

We went after terms like “small business insurance for maids.” “General liability insurance for handymen.” Because those were things that people are actually looking for in some capacity but that no one is really caring about because the big guys can win for the bigger terms, which like 10,000 people are searching for.

We did a long-tail strategy and we just tackled it. We said, alright, we’ll make 26 different versions of this content and each one of those is for a specific industry and we’ll just write and write and write and write and create, so that if you’re searching for a very specific kind of insurance, you find it. That’s the same thing you can do with any kind of very detailed or very specific product you’re selling.

3. Find Fresh Angles to Write 

The next thing is that obviously, if you’re writing all this content just to earn some presence on search, you have to have things to write about. Luckily, with my background as a creative writer, I had ideas, but a lot of them were not about insurance. So, I relied on some really great free tools.

Google Alerts just to see what’s going on in the world. All of our top keywords every day, I’m finding out, “Hey, workers compensation insurance.” There’s always something to write about. I also just read a ton of industry newsletters. There’s usually some kind of a spin you can do or take any news story that’s not about insurance and figure out how it is about insurance. That’s probably my favorite trick. There’s usually a risk management angle or a small business angle that you can write about. And along with that, first ideas mostly found themselves on our blog because my first two and a half years at the company, we didn’t have a content management system. A lot of this was, in order to put new content on the site, I had to go through the backend development team.

4. Remember Quality Counts

So, it was a lot of just working around obstacles but we figured out a way to do it. I could do the blog so we did the blog. Quality was a hugely important focus. And I had to say throughout all this, I was working very closely with an SEO, a contractor. I don’t have an SEO background. I’ve learned a lot of it but this guy was very technical and guided us and was like, “Here are the things you can’t do and here are the things you ought to do.” And one of them was quality.

We had been paying some content mills to create stuff for us, and it was real garbage. I was like, “We’re not doing this anymore. Look ahead. Google is not going to like this in a couple years.”

5. Find Talent in MFA Programs

So, once we dropped the content mills, I said, “Guess what? I need more writers.” And this is probably the biggest tip I can give you. If you’re looking for good writers who can come up with good ideas, hit up MFA programs. That’s where I graduated from, and the prospects for people with MFA in writing are essentially adjunct professor, which is miserable, and “question mark.” Coffee barista, which is not great, not a great way to make money.

These writers that I found were really excited to be paid to write. They are very creative. They have wonderful ideas and they wanted flexibility. I got that. They wanted time to write poems and fiction and I said, “Great. Tell me about what schedule you’d like. We’ll work it out.” And they’re still with me. Two of them are full-time now. I understood that they were the best writers out there. They didn’t have backgrounds in marketing or insurance, but that’s a lot easier to teach than writing. But you do have to be willing to teach them the marketing side of things, which they can learn.

6. Get a Content Management System

As I said, we didn’t have a content management system but I really fought for one and we do now. Google and other search engines, the algorithms keep changing, but having that SEO person on board and having someone you can trust, who really understands the nitty gritty is so important because we’ve changed how we’ve created content and it keeps changing and you just have to be ready to adapt.

7. Understand the Care and Feeding of Writers

I mentioned that I grabbed MFA people, and I trained them to do marketing and insurance, and my belief has always been you work for a person, you don’t work for a company. So I treat them like people and we have fun and we are all doing, we’re all working toward the same goal but we’re doing it as humans who understand that you need to take a day off sometimes and you need to work from home once a week because it’s hard to come in all five days and sometimes you’re just going to have to go do a reading in Pittsburgh because your book came out last year and that’s cool.

The biggest takeaway I can say is find good writers or good creative people if you are doing video or whatever and teach them marketing in your industry. Because the way content is right now, is that it’s only getting better. We’re competing with better and better people and it’s not who can… It’s just whoever’s the best is going to win, and there are amazingly creative people out there who would love to have a good job with benefits.