Archie Abrams explains how free content generates leads and why search drives 80 percent of their traffic.

Even when your product is paid content, free content can go a long way. Udemy, a technology company that offers online courses in a variety of subjects, has recently seen an 800 percent increase in traffic growth since hunkering down on their content marketing efforts. They’ve found that offering free blog content is an invaluable lead generation tool for their paid content. We spoke with the Director of Growth, Archie Abrams, to learn more about how free content fits into their overall content equation.

Scripted: How do you measure blog content’s return on investment versus gated (paid) content?

Archie: Our blog content is, in essence, lead generation for our paid online courses. We capture email addresses on the blog and provide opportunities for users to click over to relevant paid courses.

We look for a three month pay back on our blog content. Basically, three months after we publish the blog posts we want the leads we capture from our blog posts to cover the cost of creating the blog posts.

Scripted: How long did it take to see results from the blog content?

Archie: Over the last eight months we’ve seen 800 percent traffic growth. It was just a matter of actually creating high quality content and putting it out there. We were ranking very high for some very big key words like “excel formulas,” and “learn java.” We were able to get very easy keywords and rank very well for those very early. Once we started doing and investing more, we were able to scale it up very quickly and see results extreme fast.

Scripted: How has your content strategy changed from when you started to where Udemy is as now?

Archie: As we grew and were looking for new channels, we realized there was this opportunity to provide a lighter weight form of content that wasn’t gated, that was easy for anybody to access. That’s when we started to scale up our own content creation via the blog. I think, in the end, for any type of content creation, you’re not going to see the same quick results that you’d see with paid channels or with deals and distribution partners.

It’s obviously much slower burn, but it’s much more sustainable and in many ways more scalable than those other strategies.

Scripted:Do you consider pay channels in content promotion?

Archie: We’ve done some testing with StumbleUpon but the ROI hasn’t been there. We rely on organic search and social to drive traffic to the content.

Scripted: How have you leveraged content to drive more sales?

Archie: Any content marketing we’re doing drives sales and drives users. We’re taking a very ROI approach to how we think about our content development.

For instance, we might write a piece of content about Excel formulas. I want to give it to people who are searching for “How to use Excel better,” but at the same time, we’re also able to promote our content, our long form courses for pay. Some people come to the blog, they’re reading a little bit about Excel formulas and they see a bunch of the courses that we have on Excel to take their knowledge to the next level [on the site]. We drive them to create an account and drive them to make the purchase.

Scripted: How is your content marketing team structured?

Archie: The content marketing team sits on our Growth team (user acquisition and monetization). There’s one full-time person who manages our team of freelance writers. At Udemy, we have a team called the content team but those guys are responsible for getting more online courses — different from the content marketing team — which is responsible for lead gen for students to take online courses.

Scripted: Where have you had the most success for distributing and promoting your content?

Archie: Search drives about 80 percent of the traffic that our content marketing receives. We’re looking at the greatest sustainable and repeatable channel there for us.

What did you think about this interview? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.