AMA with Lane Scott Jones, Director of Content at Zapier

Jimmy Daly
October 9, 2023

Welcome to our AMA with Lane Scott Jones, Director of Content at Zapier

Her podcast episode is our most downloaded ever (episode and transcript here). As a refresher, she proved 454% ROI on content spend, grew her team from 4 to 20 people and created an editing bot to speed up production.

You can connect with Lane:

Your boss comes to you and says "Good news! We've approved one additional headcount for your team." How do you use that headcount and why?

Well, I’d love to know what roles already exist on this hypothetical team, but I can tell you some of my most influential hires have been:

  • Content Ops manager: Owns reporting, analytics, and optimization. Uncovers opportunities to increase content’s impact and then puts together testing, validation, and scaling plans. This person can own freelance and vendor relationships to compensate for fewer in-house resources too!
  • Super strong editors: These are the people who run our blog. They oversee the editorial strategy and manage freelancers to let us magnify our impact.
  • Head of video growth: A recent new hire for us! Assuming you have the text-based content skills in-house, this feels like the next big area of opportunity for a growing content program.

I'm eager to hear about your philosophy on content distribution today, when distribution is unbelievably harder than it once was a few years ago.

We’re battening the hatches against big bites that AI and platforms like TikTok are taking out of our SEO traffic.

For us, that means creating more content that is platform-first (whether that’s YouTube, TikTok) to meet folks where they are. I think the macro trend will be moving toward a personality-driven, media approach to content production and distribution — especially media platforms that we can own ourselves, like newsletters, podcasts, and video.

I'm curious how much content teams are supporting other parts of marketing. this seems to be different at every company. e.g. does the product marketing team write its own stuff, or does content do it for them? same with sales enablement, email, ads, etc?

The content team at Zapier has historically supported all areas of the org, from PMM to customer success to community to sales.

Since I started, we’ve pivoted to focus content support on the areas that will have the biggest impact on the business. That sometimes means saying a kind “no” to internal-only projects so we can spend our resources on the initiatives with the highest ROI, like the blog. It’s important to remind leaders that we have limited resources: time spent on pet projects or important-but-not-critical ones means time away from our key programs. Lower blog production = lower traffic, signups, down-funnel metrics.

Tactically, this means setting up a lot more self-serve options for teams that we support. We’ve done this recently with PMM, by providing templates and (of course) AI editor bots so they can write their own copy, or deliver us drafts that need a much lighter editorial touch.

Your podcast episode got me to subscribe! I'm very curious about the editor bot and Lane bot. Can you tell us more about how you built them?

Yes! I built them on Zapier’s Interfaces, and it took about 2 minutes.

Here are more instructions.

I'm curious how you've thought about scaling yourself up as a marketer/leader over the past few years. Like, how did you think about going from IC -> leader, or how do you think about what you delegate/outsource/automate vs. what you keep for yourself?

This process has been part strategy, part luck, and part right-place-right-time!

I was an English major so I started out writing blog posts as an IC, which was a natural fit, and stumbled into the tech industry through my first agency job.

My move from IC > leader was an intentional career goal. I wanted a seat at the table, because I saw the opportunities for growth through content and I knew I needed scope & a team to bring them to life.

I love being a leader and a people manager, but I definitely had a bit of an identity crisis when I realized I was going to be giving up my IC work — the thing that had gotten me here in the first place! It ended up being a great decision that let me have far more impact and reach than I did previously.

If you’re curious to hear more, I talk more about my career path on this podcast episode.

Also as an automation nerd - super curious what's your favourite Zaps are for marketing?

Our entire content marketing program is run on Zaps! We use them to connect AirTable (our editorial management platform) to Slack to let writers and editors know when tasks are ready for them. We use them for coordinating with our freelancers and SEO managers too. On a personal productivity level, I really like using emoji reactions to trigger actions — ex. if I react “TO DO” emoji, it gets added to my ToDoist list.

Like Jimmy said, my favorite Zaps have got to be the ones related to the chatbots though. Our editor bots (which anyone at Zapier can use to edit for clarity, humor, voice) have been a gamechanger. Other great examples are our Comms bots, which my colleague Carly created. A great one is the press release generator which allows you to input the details and outputs a fully-written press release in Google docs.

In the podcast episode, you mentioned experimenting with a prioritization score for content topics that sounded really cool. I'm curious if the team is still working on that and if so, how it's working and if it's automated or manual?

This is in the works! But still at the beginning stages.

We’re working with our SEO team to tag content topics based on how likely they are to convert based on existing data. Once we get those benchmarks set up, the idea would be to automate it using AI.

I’ll keep this group updated when/if we crack the code on that!

Can you tell us a bit about how you juggle “traveling the world full-time” while also directing Zapier’s content strategy?! Also where are you now and where are some of your favorite places you have lived?

Love this question! One of the best things about working at Zapier is the lifestyle flexibility it gives me.

I was in Europe this spring and spent all summer on a roadtrip from Nashville to the Pacific Northwest, which was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.

I was a little worried about how all the travel would impact my productivity, but I think it has actually made me more effective? I thrive on novelty, and changing my work setup really helps get me re-inspired and re-engaged.

My non-negotiables: fast internet, a good working space, and not moving locations during the workweek.

That said, I am back in Nashville for a bit, and very happy to be reunited with my standing desk and walking pad.

I'm also really loving the idea of Zapier Interface and I'm wondering, besides bots like the editing bot, if your team is using them in any cool ways for content stuff.

My personal workflow has mostly been experimenting with chatbots, but our team also uses Interfaces for lead capture forms, websites, and even some no-code app-building.

Here’s an example about building a lead form using Interfaces. As an Easter egg, you can also see an example of how we use Deb’s dog’s imaginary business for all of our blog use case examples.

On a more strategy-related note, can you talk a bit about how you manage content for a company like Zapier that just has SO MUCH content? I work with a lot of companies that have tons of content history / debt and would love to hear some of your best tips / tactics for keeping things managed / updated / interlinking / ranking when there’s so much of it.

Short answer: an amazing team, great processes, and a focus on impact vs. effort.

It’s the classic 80/20 rule when it comes to content results — we keep a close eye on that top 20% of results-driving content and focus on creating and updating those posts in order to maintain rankings. Some pieces just don’t perform, and that’s okay.

We don’t try to keep it ALL updated but we do try to experiment, iterate quickly, see what works, and then press the gas on those highly performing areas. Looker is our best friend in figuring out what to focus on and what we can safely ignore.

Zapier works with lots of freelancers, but your content is very product-led. Any advice for equipping them with product knowledge?

Such a good question, and one we’re always trying to answer for ourselves! Two things:

  1. We keep a lot of the highly technical, product-focused content production in-house. It’s much easier to outsource TOFU content than the mid- and bottom-funnel content for this reason.
  2. We source and screen freelancers who already have a deep knowledge of Zapier and how to use the product. It’s rare that we would invest in teaching a freelancer how to use the product; instead, we’d find an existing super-user who is also a great writer!

On the podcast, you talked a bit about content prioritization / scoring. I was wondering if you could expand more upon that, specifically how you decide which content pieces to develop first? We have a mix of SEO, sales enablement, product-led, etc. content ideas that feed our engine. And we prioritize them based on our quarterly themes, MQL potential, where they sit in the funnel, etc. But I’m wondering if there’s a framework or something more steadfast your team has used to help you more easily organize + execute ideas that you could share?

No steadfast framework — yet! It varies based on team and content type.

For the blog, prioritization starts with SEO search volume, then goes to the somewhat subjective question of how likely that topic is to drive qualified users. This is a mix of intuition and historical data. We have an idea of what content topics bring people who are likely to succeed with our product, and which ones are likely to drive a lot of traffic but never convert.

For our campaigns and sales-focused initiatives, it’s a close collaboration with PMM to figure out which content pieces can move the needle on our shared goals.

I’d love to hear from others how they approach this too!

Zapier also has a lot of built-in partnership/cross-promo possibilities. Are you doing any organic/paid content partnerships? Any hard-won lessons? I'm a noob in that space.

We have a Partnerships & Partner Marketing team that handles this!

I noticed Zapier's newsletter takes the "share recent blogs" strategy that lots of folks hate on. I assume Zapier's product lends itself to a more tactical tips newsletter like this, but I'd love to know how you think about that.

Our newsletter goes out to a HUGE audience so we’ve prioritized sending a diversity of topics so people can engage with the one that’s most helpful to them. Our blog editor is the one who sends this newsletter each week, so we try to keep the process streamlined, but we’ve identified a lot of areas for  more segmentation. This is something we’ll be experimenting with a lot more in 2024!

I'd love to know more about what's in your content ops stack — did many of the components pre-date your arrival at Zapier? What did you add to it? — and how you helped one of your former editors transition into your first content ops role.

We use Contentful as our blog platform, Looker for analytics, and AirTable for our editorial calendar! This was all in place before I got to Zapier, but we’ve done quite a lot of work with our engineering team to customize these platforms for our needs (ex. we just launched the ability to A/B test on Contentful)

As part of troubleshooting and augmenting our content ops stack (ex. finding features we needed and working with the engineering team to build them), our blog editors were spending a LOT of their time on non-editing tasks. Luckily, one of the editors at the time, Janine, had a deep interest and aptitude for the reporting, analytics, and operational work. She transitioned to work on that part-time, while still doing part-time editor, and then we eventually made the case to have her step into a full-time Content Ops role and backfill the editor position. Best decision ever! I can’t emphasize enough what a gamechanger she’s been.

I think she’s doing a podcast interview on this soon, so I’ll make sure to link it here when it’s live.

How do you think about measuring and optimizing conversion from content and CTAs? Zapier writes about a whole bunch of topics because of the nature of an integrations product. I imagine the train from unaware to I should try Zapier can be a long one without the right nurturing journey.

Nurturing is the name of the game! For measuring conversions from content, definitely check out the podcast ep I did with Jimmy. I get into all the details there.

But you’re right, it can be a long journey from awareness to becoming a successful user of the product. We drive a lot of TOFU traffic (our main success metric) but we use guardrail metrics around activation and upgrade rates to make sure we’re moving people down the funnel.

To do that, we’re really intentional about pairing all of TOFU blog posts with a corresponding mid- and bottom-funnel post that will help them move from awareness (I *could* do this) to actually being able to integrate it into their workflow (I know how to do this with Zapier).

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