The Surround Sound Series: How We Created a New Content Marketing Program and Improved SERP Visibility Beyond SEO (Part 2 of 3)

This post is part of Made @ HubSpot, an in-house line of thought leaders, where we draw lessons from experiments conducted by our own HubSpotters.

The way people shop has changed radically.

Shopping used to mean going to a few stores – maybe some with brands you knew you liked. Now customers have a multitude of options online around the clock. You can compare features and prices, read the latest reviews, or even get suggestions from influencers and magazines. You can go back and forth between your best options until you find what works best for you.

In this new context, if you want your product or service to be considered when customers weigh their options, you need to be visible where they look for options. You need to be everywhere that matters – recommended lists, comparison articles, review sites, and so on – to keep your brand in view. This is what we call creating one Surround sound content strategy for your brand.

In this article, I’m going to show you how HubSpot uses surround sound to track and improve the visibility and awareness of its products.

What is the surround sound strategy?

At HubSpot, “Surround Sound” is the name Alex Birkett gave to a program that aims to make HubSpot products visible every time someone searches for a product-related keyword (e.g., “Best Help Desk Software” or “Best Live -Chat software “).

The goal is for potential users to see HubSpot on all or most of the pages that rank in Google’s top results for those keywords. This is the “surround sound” effect!

How to start a surround sound content program

If you’re looking to start a surround sound program for your business, the next few steps will show you exactly how to do it.

It is important to note that this guide is based on HubSpot’s last 18 months of experimenting with this program. While we learned a lot on this trip, this is still a work in progress and offers plenty of opportunities to explore.

Depending on your industry, your program may need to be customized. We hope these steps provide an initial guide and help you start your own surround sound content program.

1. Define your keywords for product exploration.

As Alex Birkett pointed out in the previous post in this series, the goal of a surround sound content program should be to “be anywhere a customer goes looking for products like yours”.

That means you first need to compile a list of keywords that potential customers typically use to determine their options for a particular purchase. We call these keywords for product exploration (or surround sound keywords).

Product exploration keywords are search queries that potential customers use to discover:

  • What options are available to you in the market (e.g. “language learning apps”)?
  • The most recommended solutions (e.g. “best language learning apps”)
  • Alternatives to something they are already using but might want to change (e.g. “best Duolingo alternatives”)

Start building your list by following these three patterns. Certain keyword research tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush or MozPro can suggest related terms with a high search volume. This way you can build your list much faster and get additional information like search volume or difficulty level to prioritize terms.

If you’re using Ahrefs, do some keyword ideas by search volume to grow your list:

Surround Sound Strategy Hubspot Content Marketing Ahrefs Keywords for Product Exploration

Product exploration keywords are usually high-intent and highest-conversion. However, you can also expand your selection to include “product-driven content”. This is content that revolves around your product but usually teaches something non-product related.

For example, a product exploration keyword for ProProfs could be “best NPS survey software”, but they could also consider creating an NPS survey as a product-driven content keyword, for example.

2. Determine your current performance for product exploration keywords.

Once you’ve created your list of product exploration keywords, you can see how many of the top 20 search results your product or service currently represents.

You can do this manually by searching for brand names on each of the top 20 pages:

Surround Sound Strategy Hubspot Content Marketing Top 20 Brand Names

In the end, you should find a list of keywords, mentions, and visibility ratings like this one:

keyword Monthly search volume Mentions in the top 20 Visibility assessment
CRM provider 170 7th 35%
Sales management tools 110 11


Corporate CRM 210 5


We calculate the Visibility Score as the% of mentions in the top 20. So if HubSpot is mentioned on 7 out of 20 pages that apply to “CRM Vendors”, the Visibility Score for that keyword is:

Visibility rating% = (7 ➗ 20) x 100 = 35%

At HubSpot, we monitor around 600 keywords for product exploration. So manually searching for mentions meant checking around 10,000 URLs (considering that some pages will show up for more than one keyword).

This is where Alex stepped in and built a “SERP tracker” – a tool that calculates the percentage of search results for a particular query that mentions a brand, product, or service.

The SERP tracker marked a milestone for the HubSpot surround sound content marketing program as monthly reports and tracking changes took hours instead of days.

Note: If you’re looking for more information on surround sound coverage, stick with this series and follow it as it is exactly what the next post is about. In the meantime, you can check out this generic SERP tracker R script that Alex wrote about on his blog.

3. Understand the current visibility of your brand on the SERPs.

To understand your brand’s visibility when people search for products or services like yours, you need to measure your visibility at 1) a keyword level, 2) a topic level, and 3) a product level. This allows you to understand your overall performance and track it against competitors.

At HubSpot, we track around 600 surround sound-specific keywords for product exploration, grouped by functions, products and hubs:

This way we can either track our progress on a detailed level or just look at the overall performance of the hub.

Here is an example of a HubSpot Marketing dashboard that I created using a mix of spreadsheets, the SERP tracker created by Alex, and Google Data Studio.

Surround Sound Strategy Hubspot Visibility Top 20 Serps Content Marketing

Once you have calculated your visibility you will have your baseline from which to start improving.

Expect your visibility score to fluctuate over time. This is because new content is constantly being published that applies to the keywords you are monitoring. Depending on whether or not the content mentions your brand, it will also affect your visibility rating. There will also be fluctuations that are not related to a decrease or an increase in visibility, but just a result of adding more keywords to your score.

Most importantly, your own partnering efforts are affecting your visibility. The more successful you are in getting bloggers or review sites to mention your brand (in new or existing content), the more likely your visibility will be.

Increasing visibility can lead to more referral traffic, direct signups, and leads generated, but more importantly (and far more difficult to relate to the bottom line), it can hurt your brand awareness.

More people will know and recognize your product or service simply because they come across them every time they search for “best X recommendations”.

4. Identify ways to improve your SERP visibility.

Identifying opportunities can be challenging when monitoring mentions for 10+ keywords.

At HubSpot, we monitor over 500 keywords for our surround sound program. So we’ve created a formula that takes into account both our visibility for each specific keyword and the average monthly number of searches for that keyword.

Opportunity = (100% Visibility Rating) x Average Monthly Searches

For example, let’s say that for the keyword “CRM software” (54,000 average monthly searches) our visibility in the top 10 search results from Google is 80%. This means that HubSpot is mentioned on 8 out of 10 pages that ranked in Google’s top 10 for that keyword.

Surround Sound Strategy Hubspot Content Marketing Crm Software

Opportunity for “CRM software” = (100% – 80%) x 54,000 = 10,800

To set a priority order, calculate the opportunity level for each keyword and sort your list from highest to lowest opportunity value.

5. Define a clear goal for your visibility assessment.

Once you’ve checked your priorities, it’s time to go a little deeper and look at any URLs that don’t mention your brand yet. The question you need to ask yourself now is, which of these would possibly mention my brand if I reached out to them?

Some websites, such as B. Large media publications will never reply or update their content. So you are better off removing these first.

You will get a list of potential destinations (urls and websites). To set your surround sound goals, calculate your visibility scores for the same list of keywords. This time, however, consider the potential goals.

And there you have it: your baseline and your visibility goal.

Now is the time to figure out how to convince your target companies to mention your brand.

Types of Surround Sound Partnership Agreements

Depending on your industry and the ranking companies have for your surround sound keywords, you will be targeting many types of companies that you may want to work with.

Some of the most common rankings for our target keywords here on HubSpot are:

  • Check websites like G2, Capterra and
  • Other SaaS companies and competitors like Mailchimp and Zoho
  • Other marketing blogs like Neil Patel and Content Marketing Institute
  • Big publishers such as Forbes, Inc. and ReadWrite

Each of these companies has its own goals. The “secret” to making your surround sound content strategy successful is to understand these goals and how you can help and add value to these companies and publications. In return, you can also extract values.

In other words, don’t expect other publishers to list you just because you contact them. You need to view this as a partnership that you will build over the long term.

Here are a few ways you can help your potential partners:

  • Promote their products or content.
  • Provide digital PR on their behalf.
  • Add affiliate marketing links on their products or services.

Once you have a battle plan on how to reach out to each partner so that everyone benefits from the collaboration, you can run your surround sound content program.

6. Start public relations for long-term partnerships.

This is the part that can create or pause your surround sound content program.

A good contact plan includes a relevant, personalized, timely (think of the tough social and economic times we are in) and a targeted email sequence that is convincing enough to get your prospects to be positive to react.

Remember, this is not a one-time collaboration, but rather a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership. Your goal should be to start a conversation with your potential partner. To work together, you must first learn about their goals and the best way to meet the needs of both parties.

Note: If you’re new to public relations, check out this post on how to write the perfect cold outreach email, this in-depth public relations guide, and this list of tools to try. Email contact is an art and a science, and getting this part right is crucial.

After starting a real partnership, make sure you keep an eye on all communications so sales and marketing can see them when needed. The best way to do this is by using your CRM software.

At HubSpot, we’re fortunate to have our own CRM that manages everything from email sequences to project tracking and partner communications to reporting on our outreach progress.

In addition to using the Google Data Studio dashboard to track our visibility progress, we use HubSpot CRM to track every single partnership and mentions that have contributed to our growth.

Surround Sound Strategy Hubspot Content Marketing Partnerships Hubspot Crm

Summary: Running a Surround Sound Content Marketing Program Successfully

The way people shop has changed, so marketing needs to evolve and adapt too. Because of this, the surround sound strategy is a tactic to consider for 2021 and beyond. It’s a simple concept, but it can be challenging to execute.

That’s why we’ve put together this step-by-step guide to hopefully help you structure your upcoming program. Here’s a round-up of what it’s all about:

  • Start with a list of keywords that are relevant to your products and services.
  • Measure your visibility and opportunity for each keyword.
  • Prioritize potential partnerships based on opportunities.
  • Find out how to get in touch and write a message with each partner.
  • Schedule a kick-off meeting and get to know your partner’s priorities and goals.
  • Keep an eye on your partnerships (CRM).
  • Measure your program results.
  • Communicate regularly with partners and stakeholders.

Curious to learn more about the SERP tracker and what results we saw at HubSpot with surround sound? Follow this series as we will be posting more in-depth posts over the next few weeks. In the meantime, don’t miss the first part: a behind-the-scenes introduction to surround sound content strategy.

This article went through the execution of the surround sound strategy. You can look forward to part 3, which deals with our results as well as the technical details of building internal tools with which we can provide these services.

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