Design and development consultancy thoughtbot launched Purpose-built as a newsletter for non-technical founders, which curated relevant and digestible content from their technical blog. Tori Shaffrey has been their Digital Marketing Manager for almost 2 years. She joined the team just after the newsletter launched, when they realized they needed a permanent resource center where founders could find the articles, videos, and podcasts. She’s been curating and editing Purpose-built, the resource center and the newsletter, ever since. She corresponded with Wonder Shuttle on the user research and design thinking behind Purpose-built, as well as her role in editing the content so it makes sense to their non-technical audience.
Do you focus on specific metrics to measure the success of Purpose-built’s content and communicate it to the company?
Yes! We track several metrics, and there are different ones for the resource center and the monthly newsletter. The resource center lives on the thoughtbot domain, so we track traffic from our header navigation, referral traffic, bounce rate, and how many new opportunities engage with the content. For the newsletter, we monitor open rates and click-through-rates. Most of our audience subscribed organically, so we have a very low unsubscribe rate.
Another great indicator of success happened about six months after Purpose-built launched. We sent out a survey and almost 10% of our audience took it, which is pretty unheard of in our industry. To put that number into perspective: usually, email click-through rates are less than 3% in tech. They voted on potential topics, told us their favorite way to digest content, even commented on the design of the newsletter. This helped with the content roadmap of Purpose-built and showed our team that the audience was getting value from the newsletter.
Are you considering SEO in the content planning and headline writing? How do you balance writing for your audience with writing for the algorithm?
Let me start by explaining what thoughtbot does and how it ties into Purpose-built. thoughtbot is a design and development consultancy that has built and launched hundreds of products over 16 years. This means our leadership team, developers, and designers all have this extensive knowledge that we wanted to share with entrepreneurs who would like to build or improve their product, especially when they’re in the early stages.
Our team creates this content by asking questions like “How can we give more context around this problem?”, “How can we explain the developer’s or designer’s side better?”, or “We dealt with x when trying to solve y, here is how to avoid it.” The Purpose-built team prioritizes topics the audience has asked for, what our potential subscribers are searching for, and what outstanding questions are out in the world for product teams. Then together we develop honest, kick-ass, actionable content.
What’s really cool about thoughtbot is we’ve been making great content for years without thinking of the algorithm and we’ve slowly built up a very powerful domain. This means we can be flexible with our content and SEO strategy.
So the answer is: yes, the algorithm plays a factor in the content, but it’s more of a guide than a rule book.
As the editor, what are the more subjective qualities you look for?
Actionable content is high on the list. I’m also a big fan of examples, exercises, and helpful anecdotes. These elements can make a prescriptive article very relatable. When you’re a non-technical founder who has less experience in the product world, it’s difficult to know what your next step is, and sometimes even what the problem is. These techniques help our audience identify the problem, and then we offer them potential solutions.
Have you ever felt tension between how you edit and the business interests of the company?
Honestly, no. We write because it will help other people, products, and teams be more successful. The content we put out there is honest, actionable, and based on our own experiences. And it’s a really powerful thing that content can do if you’re out there being honest.
We’re particular about what clients we take on. We want partnerships with entrepreneurs and teams that want to make great products that people love using, and we want to do it the right way. This isn’t for everyone, and we’re OK with sharing what we know and not working with every person that reads it.
Are the developers and designers at thoughtbot all in the same office as you? Do you do any remote collaboration, and if so, what challenges come along with that?
No, we have thoughtbot studios in Austin, Boston, London, New York, Raleigh-Durham, and San Francisco.
thoughtbot used to be all developers, so we use Github for a lot on the business side, including our blog editing and hosting. The team commits articles to the blog like they commit code for new features, which includes the review cycle. This is good for remote collaboration.
Because we’re a consultancy, the main challenge we have is time. A lot of our content is written when someone isn’t booked on a project or has an investment day. This can sometimes be difficult considering we have to match experiences with certain topics. For example, this can happen when we have a prioritized topic specific to healthcare, but only have thoughtbotters that have worked on financial services or e-commerce projects available.
Do you try to give feedback in a way that will help the developers and designers improve as writers and get to know the audience?
Part of the survey I mentioned earlier included questions that helped clearly define the Purpose-built audience. From this, customer research, and interviews, we built personas that now live in our Github handbook and are accessible to everyone at thoughtbot. This explains who we’re hoping to talk to in these articles and walks through some pain points they regularly experience. It’s a helpful resource for people that have not written for this audience before.
I’ll meet with a designer or developer at the beginning stages of articles that are geared towards our Purpose-built audience and talk about how someone from a non-technical background might view the topic of the article. Once we agree on a good direction, I’ll bow out and leave our designers and developers to write, draw, and create, then we’ll circle back when the article is ready for review to make sure we’ve hit the right points.
How much of your time does actual editing take up?
In the past, editing took up a smaller portion of my time. Our designers and developers would pick up a topic the Purpose-built team prioritized, ask for context, then I would edit along with developers, designers, and our CMO, Lindsey Christensen.
More recently, we have a more defined content strategy with clearer goals, which means our team has dedicated more time to make sure the content we create is answering the right questions for our audience. This takes up more of my time because it’s finding the questions in product that haven’t been answered, digging into buyer’s journeys, syncing up with sales about new pain points, etc.
How did you start editing? Do you hope to continue editing in your career?
I’ve spent the last year and a half learning about Product Design Sprints, how to validate product ideas, what makes a great product partnership, clients’ stories, and pain points when building a greenfield MVP. I dove in head first, started reviewing more content, then ended up content editing our first online workshop on the Jobs-to-be-Done theory last year. Just like any new skill, I learned over time, listened to our very talented developers, designers, sales team, audience, and our CMO.
I’m really enjoying editing and helping to create meaningful content. I hope this is a big part of my future.
Any personal favorite publications that you keep up with and/or admire?
One of my favorite publications is the OpenView blog. OpenView is a VC that has scaled up its blog and newsletter in the past few years. I’d say it’s more a resource center for startups and high-growth companies, but they have content from leaders in almost every department. I’d highly recommend it to founders, entrepreneurs, and aspiring tech leaders.
Any final thoughts on editing and content marketing?
Being a digital marketer first, editing initially felt like intimidating territory. Over the course of my time with Purpose-built, I’ve learned that knowing your audience is one of the most essential parts of editing and provides a ton of value to any content you create.