The Secrets Behind Buffer and ReferralCandy Content Marketing Strategy

b2b marketing guest interviews Aug 27, 2021

In Conversation with Alfred Lua, Marketing Lead at ReferralCandy

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Content marketing is nothing new. It has been here since companies produced their first flyers for their audience to promote about their products. 

But obviously over the years, content marketing has changed tremendously and became really competitive because nowadays, anyone can basically build their own website and publish content on different channels.

So how do you stand out and win? This time we got Alfred Lua, who spent close to 6 years at Buffer and now he is the Marketing Lead at ReferralCandy. He will be sharing with us his secret content marketing approach to in such a content crowded market with a small team and compete against other giants like HubSpot and more. 

Let’s see what I have learnt from our conversation. 


You studied Accounting and Finance back at university. How did you get into marketing? 

I always wanted to like start my business eventually so when I reached a point in thinking about what degree to do, I thought a degree like accounting and finance would be useful in the future. 

When I graduated, I didn't really have the intention to be going into banking or finance. I just found that topic to be very interesting but I wasn't really attracted to the industry. And I am always attracted to advertising and TV commercials. I'm one of those kind of people who would spend hours watching YouTube ads or TV commercials. 

And that kind of got me into marketing and advertising. I am really interested in storytelling. How do you communicate that emotion and message to sell products? With the tech industries also becoming more and more popular with platforms like Facebook and Twitter, I kind of got myself into tech marketing working at a startup which was Buffer. 


Since you are so into TV commercials or YouTube ads, why didn’t you head into B2C instead? Why B2B marketing? 

I felt like maybe one interesting trend that's happening over the last few years is how B2C and B2B has sort of merge quite a little bit. Back when I was with Buffer, you see it as a B2B company now but it started out as a B2C company selling to entrepreneurs, bloggers and individuals instead of brands and businesses. 

And that was the time I joined the company as I was interested in learning more about how to build a community and market to individuals. Then with the 6 years I spent there, the company shifted to selling to brands and businesses and I guess that’s how I got into B2B marketing. 

I feel like the distinction between them is not always very clear cut. 


So I know you didn’t have a big marketing team back at Buffer and you are in the social media space, so how did you compete against content giants like HubSpot? 

So when I was with Buffer, I started out as a Community Manager organising events and doing customer support before moving to content marketing and working on long form content and building SEO for 2 years. One of my favourite achievements was that we managed to grow our blog traffic from 1 million to 1.5 million a month. 

And I think there are two things that really help in our success: being unique and personal. 

First thing about being unique is that I feel like content is becoming more and more bland. Everyone's just trying to write for SEO. Do some simple research, look at the top few articles and pretty much just write the same thing that is ranking . The way they write it can be very boring and robot-like. 

So what we're trying to do is write with our unique style and tone of voice. So like at Buffer and ReferralCandy, we try to be very actionable, very personal and be very transparent in sharing our own information and data. 

At Buffer, one thing we did really well was sharing what’s working for us on social media, what is not working. We share all the stats that we have from our social media accounts and Google Analytics which others wouldn’t be able to do so. And that creates the unique angle for us. 

Also as companies become bigger and bigger, they naturally become less personal. Like HubSpot probably has like a hundred writers. When you read an article, you might not even think about who the writer is. 

Instead, if you have a smaller team, I think you can build this very personal relationship with your readers. And that was what I experienced at Buffer. People was sharing our articles on social media and tagging us. Asking us questions and commenting on our blog posts. 


So how did you balance between writing for SEO vs Audience? Some topics might be useful for your audience but got low volume or are difficult to rank? 

We kind of do a mix of that in terms of understanding our customers and doing some SEO research. If you understand your customers well enough, you sort of understand what kind of problems and questions they have and what they would be searching for on Google. That’s where we start from and SEO tools are more for us to make sure we include the specific keywords or terms the audience are using in our articles. 

The more you write, the more you understand about your audience because you will want to keep up with their conversations. Let’s say I knew that Facebook was pushing out a new update. I know this would be an interesting topic or bring new problems to the audience. So understanding your audience is definitely more important. 

And the good thing about Buffer is that we usually rank pretty high regardless of the keyword difficulties. If we identify a topic that you're interested in, then we'll write about it. 

There are people who would try to write very SEO, robotic language stuff but they may not be truly understanding why there's such intent, why the audience is looking this up or typing this keyword into Google. So my approach to that is to really understand what they are trying to find out by searching this term and try to give them answers, then eventually it will rank well.


Can you share with us a little bit about your content mix? 

My impression generally is that we try to mix things up a bit. You don’t want to always just write about one single type of content, that would be pretty boring. 

So instead, we want to be like a magazine and have varieties. Now at ReferralCandy, we split our content strategy into 4 main categories. 

First of all we got like how to guides or technical guides on how to do stuff. Second one is case studies and examples as in e-commerce. People are always looking for how other brands are doing things. Third category is like trends. What’s happening in the e-commerce space. And the last one is product updates such as features we are building or announcements. 

So every month we try to mix and match between the different categories so that we're all pushing out different and interesting content to our audience. 

Some of them could be very SEO driven. Some could be like no search volume but we know customers would really be interested in it. One recent example was that I updated a blog on referral fraud. It is such a niche topic and the search volume is almost none.

But from our research in talking to customers, that's one of their problems as they are afraid of losing money instead of making through our referral program. We are ranking number one now for referral fraud but the search volume is tiny. But then it’s something that is important to our customers and the intent is strong as well. 


How has the content creation approach changed over the years? 

At the start, when the blog was very empty, we wanted to publish a lot of content to cover like all the different areas. But then, like 5-6 years later, we realised that we had covered a lot of topics already so we went back and updated the old blogs to make sure they are still relevant and actionable. 

In fact, this actually worked really well for us because with a small team, Google search is very important to actually bring traffic and our audience to the platform. If the articles are not updated or no longer relevant, it can hurt our traffic or people stop clicking on it. 

So one thing we did was find out what are articles that are not relevant anymore. Updated them and republished again and some got like double or three times the traffic it used to bring. We then just took this approach and repeated the process across different articles which all compounded up to a sizeable traffic increase to the site. 


How do you prioritise which blog to update first with such a small team? 

There are multiple ways to try to do this. Whenever we come up with new topics, the first thing we check is our blog. Have we written about this before? If we have not, we will write a new one but if we have, we will think about updating it. 

And when it comes to updating, there are certain conditions on how we find which articles to update as well. 

First thing, we would look at traffic over the last few months or over the past year and see if there is any drop in terms of traffic for some of the articles. 

The other way we would approach this is looking at what are the blog posts that have been down ranking on the second page of Google. Doing an update of these articles can easily push them back to the first page. 

Last but not least, we also rely on our gut feeling and understanding of the customers, which blog posts would be more important to them.

So that’s sort of how we prioritise what to update first. 


In content marketing, often times it is difficult to justify what you are doing is actually bringing business or revenue back to the company. How do you know it is helping to drive revenue back to the company ? 

Just because we can measure something doesn't mean it's like important. 

One thing is that we kind of look at is the correlation between our blog traffic and the number of sign ups. In fact, we see a very close correlation and when our blog traffic goes up, our number of sign ups go up as well. The correlation is even stronger when we narrowed down to the traffic that was brought in just from our referral marketing articles. That’s the general way we look at how content is contributing to revenue. 

Another thing that we are trying to do at ReferralCandy is that we are trying to dig a bit more into understanding what are the articles that people have read or the number of articles people have read before they convert. Then we would want that last touch article to always be updated. 

This keeps us disciplined about what we write because some people think about content marketing is just trying to get as much traffic as possible but the content is not that related to your business. You might get a ton of traffic but it doesn’t help to grow your sign up number. 

Something we would also look at is the day 1, 7 and 28 performance of the articles. Look at the number of pageviews and get a sense of the quality of it for the first 4 weeks. Because it kind of forces us to think about distribution as well. We don’t want to just publish and forget about it.

Within 28 days, is there any extra distribution that we need to do? Emails, social media outreach and stuff. And the open rate, click rate, subscription rate or even engagement rate of these activities can tell us if we are writing something interesting and good content. 



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