An interview with Calum McClelland: Director of Business Development @ Leverege and Managing Editor @ IoT For All
Welcome to another episode of DataWithBill Live. This week we have with us Calum McClelland, the director of business development at Leverege and the managing editor of IoT for All: one of the most popular IoT publications on Medium with over 126,000 pageviews per month.
One thing that is extremely impressive about IoT for All is that the publication only started 9 months ago, making it nearly an overnight success. We believe his experience and insight can help all of us improve our digital presence on Medium as well as other platforms.
As usual, check out the video recording of our conversation with Calum below. Patrick subbed in for me this week because I was in China working on a consulting project but I am with you in spirit.
The video is a bit long (around 30 min), so for those busy people out there we have provided a summary and transcript of the interview for skimming after the video.
- Be a Farmer: Creating a content marketing presence is like planting a forest one seed at a time. Writing each blog post is like sowing a seed, and it takes lots of consistent work over time to reap the rewards. Content is a long-term strategy.
- Medium vs Your Own Branded Blog: Medium is good for organic discoverability, shareability, built-in analytics, and developing an audience of followers. Having your own branded blog is good for having more control over your blog. You can get the best of both worlds by posting on your own blog and then importing the post to Medium (for SEO purposes).
- Add Value First, Don’t be Salesy: Focus on adding value to your audience instead of branding or selling anything. Your goal is to get their attention, and establish your brand’s authority and credibility.
Actions You Can Take Today
- Just start: Start by sharing your subject matter expertise on industry topics. If you don’t have a full-time content marketer, rotate between your team members to lighten the load.
- Start with SEO/keywords first: Identify “blockbuster keywords” that (1) a lot of people are searching for (2) not a lot of people are writing about and (3) have low competition.
- Content partnerships and guest blogs: Submit blog ideas to content sites that curate content that is similar to what you write about, especially if you’re just starting out and are not a well-known brand. If you are able to get your content in front of their network, and if the content is good, your partner will benefit as well. If they like it, this could turn into a long-term partnership where established sites consistently share your content.
What made you decide to start the publication for Leverege?
I wanted to provide value first. When we first started it my boss wanted us to create content. We passed writing responsibility around the company to keep it a light load. I took on the role because it needed a system and organization that I could provide.
How is the blog currently doing?
A bit over a 100,000 views per month including the blog and medium, 15 writers, a post a day, some get tens of thousands of views.
How long did it take to get to that level of traction?
It started about 9 months ago. If you use your own site it’s tough to get people to find you, you would need someone really popular to share your post or something. For this reason, we began solely with Medium because it made it easy for people to follow us.
Medium has a built in network that provides for “likes” which promotes your post and leads to more reads even if you don’t have a big following. Later, we created our own publication. Medium has two options for publishing: individually or through a publication.
One advantage of using a publication is that readers can follow a writer or a publication. If people follow your publication it’s more likely people will see your pieces earlier. There is no real advantage to posting individually.
Consider whether you put it on your own or someone else’s publication. An advantage of using someone else’s: they may have a lot of followers. An advantage of using your own: you can build your own following
Content Strategy: Medium vs Branded Blog
Would you recommend branding the publication with your company name?
Good question, it depends on the company and what you’re selling. We believe that the old standard of sell, sell, sell, buy, buy, buy is dying. There are so many things vying for our attention that attention is the valuable resource that everyone wants to get.
The ads from the 50’s or 60’s suck. Now, they have to be entertaining. Consumers have to feel like they get something for their attention. I ignore everything that is sponsored.
Increasingly, people tune out advertisements because there is so much. We decided to opt for an orthogonal approach where we provide value which people will see and then go look at the company.
However, in some instances it might be better to target more directly.
If you were to do this all over again, would you choose Medium or something else?
It would help to talk about our journey.
We started with Medium and were happy with how quickly we got follows. Reasons for that: luck and consistency.
Whatever you do, be consistent. This is a long term strategy. You won’t see a ton of payback from content marketing quickly. It’s like planting a forest. We started with Medium and had a lot of success. After that we decided to create our own site because we wanted more control.
A disadvantage of Medium is that you can gain a lot of followers but have zero info about them. If Medium went under you would lose all of your followers. Another disadvantage is that it is purely a blogging platform that doesn’t allow for videos or other material. That’s why we moved off.
Additionally, Medium has been making some recent changes that I’ve been unhappy with. They got a lot of money from investors and are trying to figure out how to monetize, but I’m not really sure what they’re trying to do. Right now it’s in flux.
It’s probably harder to have success on Medium now than it was in the past. Also, the future for Medium is murky so you should start your own blog.
However, you can still use Medium. We now publish on the website first and then on Medium. By importing through our site we provide a “canonical link”. This tells search engines that the original is on our site. This means that our site comes up as a higher result than Medium on search engine results.
Start your own blog. Use Medium to publish but Medium should not be the central focus.
Content Strategy: Finding your Audience, Adding Value to Them, and Workflow
What do you think made IoT-for-all so successful in such a short period of time in the first place?
Some of it is luck and industry.
The industry itself is very technical. What helped us is that we wrote about a technical topic in an easily understandable way. If people get bored of something they’ll stop reading. Make it clear and make sure the value of your post is clear.
Medium tracks reads as opposed to views which is cool and important. Don’t only pay attention to how many people look at your post (likely based on the title and picture) but also look at how many people took value out of it and read it.
Write in human language. Tell the point early. Things are increasingly visual. Video is on the up and up. At the very least have good headings.
Pictures are good. Huge blocks of text are fine in books but not great for easily digestible info on the internet. Keep that in mind. Medium does that really well. Clean and not distracting. Good formatting. Clear and concise. Nice and digestible. Be consistent. Follow your interest. Initially, we didn’t have a content strategy.
One employee started a newsletter about what he was researching and we started to make his research public. He was interested in it and the thought was that other people would be as well. We were right. He makes the best posts.
Odds are someone out there is interested in what you’re interested in. Share value. It starts with value. Formatting, SEO, and other things can help but good content is what really matters.
Ask, why would someone want to read this? If you’re only thinking “so people find about us” that doesn’t work at all. If you’re only talking about your company or product no one will want to read about it. For example, you could share resources. That’s an easy way to start.
What was your experience like finding your target audience and what was it?
That can be tricky. It’s hard for us. IoT stands for connected devices, and because it’s so broad our readership could be almost anyone. But that’s not useful. Everyone who breathes could smoke but that doesn’t help.
One thing that’s important is to think about yourself. What do I want to learn? What’s something that’s technical that I want to know about? It forces me to learn it and if I don’t know and want to other people are probably in the same spot. What are your curiosities, what do you want to learn, what have you learned? Thats a good place to start.
You can then look back at your posts and see what’s popular.
For example, I recently found out people like articles like “6 Things You Didn’t Know About Bluetooth” and “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Wifi”. Use yourself as a barometer.
What about your process? What is your process of producing blog posts like?
I write and edit. Everyone does it differently. No right way to do it.
I do it in three separate blocks. 1. Research. 2. Draft. 3. Final Edits. Your first post won’t be good. Every post improves your skills and builds a backlog of content. Early content gets you to where you are going. Just write.
Organic search can be a big driver to get views. Write something that people are searching for. One tool we use is the keywords tool in Google Adwords. You can see how many people are searching a term per month and what the competition is. High competition means a lot of other people are paying for Google Ads on a keyword which means you probably won’t rank high.
So, find something with a middle ground in both respects. A lot of searches and not a lot of competition. Google it yourself using quotes so you can get the exact keyword. If you have a ton of results with an exact keyword it’s probably useful. Find something that people are searching, people haven’t written on, and that there’s not a lot of competition for.
Recommendations for Beginners
For someone’s that’s just starting out or hasn’t had a lot of success what do you suggest?
First of all, just write something. Don’t worry about where it’ll get posted or shared. Write 3, 4, 5 posts so you’ll be able to put things out on a consistent basis. It’ll also allow you to throw out a bad post. Once it’s done, get it out through Medium or your own blog. Put it on a calendar, get other people involved, and put it on a rotating schedule.
Do you guys do any analytics on your blog posts?
We’re getting better about it now. We currently use Medium’s built in analytics. Our own site also now allows us to see how many views we have. We want to nail down reads and shares as well. That’s a future goal.
What about for someone in our situation. We Publish a lot of blog posts and have about 30 followers and get 200 views per week but we’re finding it hard to get to the next level. What do you recommend?
Often we’ve written posts and then optimized them for search but it would be a good idea to do it the other way around.
First, figure out what keywords people are searching for that have a lot of views but which people aren’t writing about. Also, ones that don’t have a lot of competition. It can definitely pay off if you hit on a blockbuster keyword that a lot of people are searching for but about which there isn’t a lot of content. That could boost you.
Also, partnerships and cross posting. Submit to sites that are similar to what you write about. Say “I like your site and your content, we’d like to share our material” You can bridge the followings of other sites and latch on. This might turn into a bigger relationship where bigger sites may consistently share your content if they like it.
Ultimately, all sites want to get more views. That enables us to bring up more writers and share more content. We want to share this stuff. Reach out.
What’s next for IoT for all?
The next step is to ramp up production. Right now we do one post per day. We want more contributing writers. We also want to aggregate content. The goal is to be the go to place for IoT content.
Original content is great but we can’t write everything. We want to be the destination even if we didn’t write it. We want to allow people to link to another site on our website for related content. We also want to expand into podcast and video because those are the future.
Thanks for having me. If you’re interested in tech and AI and VR or IoT check out our blog at https://iot-for-all.com/. Also reach out if you have questions about the site or your content strategy. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.