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047: SEO as a Distribution Channel, and more with Mischa Vaughn (Webflow)

In this episode, Mischa discusses the role of SEO in distribution, how PR and content overlap, and why video content is king.

The word “content” is no longer sufficient for what it encapsulates. 

When people think of content, they think of blogs and social media channels. But in the modern world, content also includes branding, video, growth, and strategy too. 

Mischa Vaughn is the Director of Content at Webflow, and he thinks that we need a better word for what content has become. His unique view on content doesn’t stop there. In this episode, Mischa discusses the role of SEO in distribution, how PR and content overlap, and why video content is king.

Show Topics

  • View SEO as a distribution channel
  • Have clear goals for SEO content
  • Don’t get bogged down by terms
  • PR and content should collaborate
  • Double down on video
  • Create shareable headlines
  • Why we need a better word for content

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Key Takeaways

04:45 – View SEO as a distribution channel

Regardless of what type of content you’re writing, SEO should factor in as a way to get it in front of more readers. 

“We have agencies and stuff, but we also think of SEO really as just another distribution mechanism. So any piece you’re writing, whether it’s a thought leadership piece, there’s probably something that it can be SEO optimized around. Or there probably is something there. It’s not like we finish a piece and we change 50% of it to fit a keyword. It’s more just like when we’re conceiving of a piece, is there a keyword or something that makes sense to go after here? Let’s do some research on it. Let’s see are there some things we can do, some ways we can title things to make sure that it will actually rank for something. So SEO for sure impacts, and the blog has incredible domain authority. So it’s a good place given that Webflow is a place you can go and build websites. We also have a method for building landing pages really quickly, too.”

06:53 – Have clear goals for SEO content

Before you choose a keyword, think about the content you’re creating, who it’s going to serve, and what goals you have for that content. Then add in details to ensure it succeeds, like images and CTAs.

“Even before we really do what keyword we’re going to do, we take a step back and we think, okay: who’s the audience for this, and what goals do we have for them? Whether that is a very clear CTA for them afterwards, or there’s something for them to read or something for them to watch, an educational thing afterwards. And that’s how we think. And even around these keywords, we try to build these pillar pages. If we’re doing portfolio websites, there’s one page that they’re all linking back to, like the hub and spoke approach there. And sometimes the key thing that we send people to may not even be a blog page. It may be there’s a portfolio course, actually that our education team created in January of 2021. And that is such a good course. And that’s the clear bottom of the funnel CTA that we need to send people to. So that is a key part of our portfolio pillar. That helps really just make sure that we’re delivering the right thing to customers at the right time.”

10:19 – Don’t get bogged down by terms

Webflow is a platform that champions no code and low code website building, but they aren’t just creating content to boost the “no code” term. They’re thinking about the future of their audience.

“At Webflow, we’re trying to just get known for, if you want to build really powerful websites, we’re the best place to do it. Regardless of if you want to do it with no code or not, it’s just we’re a place where your designers can do it, your developers will be happier. And that’s what we’re trying to communicate. And sometimes if you get too overly focused on a term, obviously the search volume isn’t there right now, it may be there in the future. But you also need to hedge your bets a little bit. You need to play a little bit for the future and you need to do a little bit now. So I think that’s what’s the fun challenge of creating content is you’re not just creating content for right now, you’re trying to anticipate what is your audience going to be thinking about in six months, in a year? Because SEO, as we all know, it takes a few months for your pieces to even rank sometimes. We have the benefit of a very high domain authority where sometimes it can just take a few weeks, sometimes even a few days. But even then there are some big ambitious things that we want to tackle. And by and large part, those have pretty much nothing to do with no code.”

12:42 – PR and content should collaborate

People think PR and content are totally separate, but they should actually work in tandem. PR factors inform content, and content you create for your blog can be used in PR.

“PR does affect your content. Really right now too, I would say that’s one of the big things that I look for when I hire people is if you can’t essentially read the room, then you have bigger problems for creating your content. By reading the room I mean, do you understand your market? Do you understand all the macro factors that are going in, whether it’s economical factors, whether it’s cultural factors? And with no code, for example, you’re democratizing code and stuff. Do you also understand the history of visual development, where that comes from? Do you understand the interplay between designers and developers? Do you understand that also the problem with the term no-code is people, developers think, oh, it means you want to get rid of developers. And that’s not at all what it means. In fact all the no code stuff is built on code. And that’s I think where PR or just having a sense of that mentality is really helpful. And also a great content operation at a company helps inform the—it’s sort of like we call blog content owned content, and then PR is earned content. So the owned and earned, they can help inform each other.”

26:00 – Double down on video

Webflow is starting their own streaming platform to connect with a broader audience, and Mischa said that video is the most impactful medium for any brand right now.

“I think video’s the most impactful place for almost any brand. Granted text obviously results in better search and stuff, and you get probably a better bang for your buck with search. But I think the reason why I say video is the most impactful is I just think video is the most impactful medium, regardless. You get visuals and you get sound. So you’re affecting two senses in the human body. And you can really affect people. And if you just think of the media that actually creates an emotional response in people, what are they? Yes, a photo can do it. And yes, great writing can do it. But a great movie, even a great commercial, that’ll make me cry if it’s done well, if it hits the points. And just like the power that video has over other mediums is immense. And also as most social media platforms are trending more towards being more video-centric now. I would say Instagram is a video platform now. I wouldn’t even call it a photo platform anymore, especially with Stories, especially with Reels. TikTok, obviously. And then even LinkedIn is. They’re all so video-centric now, and videos are given a premium in their algorithm.”

42:09 – Explore the value of websites

Mischa said websites should be looked at critically in the same way we observe film and art. They have value beyond the economic output they can provide.

“No one really talks about websites the way they talk about films or TV shows and stuff. And when you think of it just as a medium, websites are a medium that we probably use more, see more on a day-to-day basis. And when we talk about websites or web experience, we talk about it more from an economic perspective, or oh, here’s what it can do for us. It’s maybe more practical. When you evaluate a website, you have to look at the form and the function. And also there is art and there is craft in a website. And I think that is really interesting and there’s a lot of value they can deliver, but there’s a lot that they have to say about the moment in the same way that if you looked at paintings in the 16th or 17th century. Those say a lot about the culture. I think websites can actually say a lot about now. And I think that’s an under-explored area in general of cultural criticism.”

50:04 – Create shareable headlines

UpWorthy is famous for having writers write 25 headlines to come up with the best one. Mischa said crafting a good headline is a mechanism for distribution. 

“It’s not just about headlines. But really you can write the most incredible blog post out there and most incredible article out there. And if you don’t focus on distribution, it’s not going to get read. It’s more so not just about the headline, but about distribution overall. The headline’s a key portal for that and window for that. It definitely helped sharpen my headline ability and I don’t write 25 anymore, but I will write, if I don’t have a good one, I will in a Google comment or something, or whatever in the doc, we’ll write four or five other ones. And it just helps see things and I’ll be like, oh, okay, does this pattern work better here? And I’m not thinking necessarily about sharing. It’s more about, does this help explain things better?”

54:11 – Balance volume and quality

Producing good content is about hitting the right level of volume and quality, not one or the other. 

“I don’t think it’s about volume, which a lot of people do think it’s about. And it’s like the Ira Glass quote or something of like, you do have to write more to figure out what quality is. But I don’t think it’s pure quality either. Especially with people coming from journalism into company-produced media, they’ll sometimes be quality snobs. And there are sometimes people who are like, no, it’s all volume, all growth. And the truth is you need both. I don’t think that’s necessarily contrarian, but it really is just you need both. I’m not an extremist really. I try to have opinions, but have them weakly held and stuff. Because things change, especially with these platforms and stuff. So you have to be ready for that.”

55:08 – We need a better word for content

Content now encompasses so much, from social to branding to growth and strategy, that the word no longer fits the job.

“The term content, to me, it doesn’t describe what content is. Especially now, if your content is just a blog, A) you’re completely behind the times, but you’re content, it’s not just a blog. It’s social. It’s the message. It’s tied into brand stuff. It can be video and stuff too. It really is becoming more encompassing, and we don’t just have a great word for that. That’s why there’s a lot of companies where you’ll see it’s brand content and social, or brand comms and social will be grouped together, and content maybe super growth-focused. You’ll see different companies do different things, and it’s all interesting. And I think that’s just because people realize it plays into your company in a different way. Obviously if you’re self-serve, it’s one way. And if you’re enterprise, it’s another way. At Webflow, we have a little bit of both. So it’s a little different here. And I just think it doesn’t encompass the strategy. Even just the word content you think of oh, content. It’s such a blob word for something that involves strategy and persona-based work.”

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Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.