As marketers asking ‘why?’ should always be the first step in deciding what activity to take on but unfortunately is one that is often missed. Without knowing why we want to do something we have no way of knowing how to measure success or even how to implement the best strategy.
Many of our clients invest in a good blog, in fact for years now blogging has been a large part of marketing activities, more and more marketers rave about blogging; #contentisking right?
In this article I will outline some of the reasons why you would want to set up a blog and how a good blog can help you with your end goal. The various reasons I cover are from real life examples from our clients.
Before you launch into writing you need to first define your business objectives and identify who your target audience is. Your business objectives should have already been outlined when the business was set up but this is a great guide on how to translate those into activities that can be measured.
The best ways to know who your target audience is are to:
- Interview your customers
- through your customer services channel,
- via social media,
- face to face interviews,
- focus groups
- Research competitors
- Find short cuts…
You can use this service by searching direct competitors or a product similar to your own. While this is a very good start for identifying your target audience for your blog, you should invest in more thorough primary research for your business as a whole.
With your business objectives and target audiences identified, you can start thinking about what you want to achieve from setting up a blog.
The thing to bear in mind is that the examples below may not cover your own expectations so before you go head first into setting up a blog for your business you need to think real hard about why you want to do that. Simply because your competitors are or because everyone is talking about blogging is not a good enough reason to set one up yourself.
Ranking on the long tail
Adding a blog to your business’ site is a great way of targeting long tail keywords. If you’re limited on the content you can add on your main site chances are you’ll end up missing opportunities. Sites typically focus more on transactional/navigational content instead of informational which is an issue because there are vastly more informational searches as opposed to transactional or navigational.
This is where your blog can help. While your site is likely to focus more on transactional you can do so much with you blog that would be difficult to do on your site. It would be difficult to target informational searches on your site because this would take much more content which could end up distracting users from converting.
This kind of approach will involve a very methodical approach to content strategy that is heavily focused on keyword research.
Search queries can be broken down into three types:
- Navigational – user wants to find a particular site or page, these are usually brand searches eg. Facebook, Amazon.
- Informational – user is trying to find answers to her questions or more generally information on broad topics.
- Transactional – user wants to make a purchase or other transaction.
To rank your blog on the long tail you want to target informational searches. There are a number of benefits to targeting these search types but the main one is that an overwhelming number of searches are informational (a study from 2008 has found that more than 80% of searches are informational. Beyond this, these search types will typically be less competitive then transactional searches and ultimately it’s a great trust signal for your brand. Writing articles that answer users’ questions will let them know that you’re an expert in your field and they can turn to you for answer.
The good news is that Google has been pushing down the typical how-to content sites like wikihow, answers etc. (these sites although answering users questions are very light in content) so there are a lot of opportunities for ranking your content by answering users questions now that these mega sites aren’t dominating search anymore.
What’s more, when done right your informational article can appear on Google’s answer boxes (there’s a great in depth study on this).
Keyword research for informational searches
If you want your blog to start ranking on long tail key phrases you need to start by identifying what those key phrases are. By starting with keyword research you’re able to set out a clear direction for your blog and the articles that you chose to write about. You can identify your target group and the implicit questions they have and find out who else writes about these topics and any influencers in the field.
To start with we want to identify the brad keywords that relate to your business, in this example I’m looking at setting up a blog for an engagement ring retailer so I’ll start with ‘engagement ring’ as a broad search term.
By entering that into the keyword planner I can get additional ideas for keywords to use related to ‘engagement’ ring. At this stage I want to select all the relevant ad groups ignoring any transactional keywords (like ‘buy’ or ‘cheap’) and of course any navigational ones.
Once I’ve got them in a spreadsheet I want to apply my own tags to the keywords. These tags help me to identify what the keyword is about, the ad group is a good starting point for this but I find that I can get more specific than what AdWords provides.
These will broadly be categories for discussion. By grouping my set of keywords into these tags I’m able to add up all the monthly search volumes per tag group and easily see what categories are more widely searched for which gives me an indication of what’s popular.
Having this kind of information can also help you steer your social media campaigns – by knowing what’s typically more searched for you can steer discussions to topics that are ‘on trend’.
I will then enter the different tags into Ubersuggest to see what people are searching for around that particular topic.
This shows me more specific associations to that keyword (in this case ‘rose gold engagement rings’). Already from this I can get an idea of what my
target audience is interested in when it comes to rose gold engagement rings and it’s already a good starting point for what I will write about.
But I want to dig deeper… I want to find real users asking real questions that turn into real discussions. So I’m going to look for subject specific forums.
This is an example of some of the search terms I used to find out where my users hang out:
- engagement inurl:forum
- proposing inurl:forum
- engagement ring inurl:forum
- relationships inurl:forum
I get lists and lists of relevant and active forums:
I also want to look at Quora, Reddit, Yahoo Answers and any other site with user generated content that my audience is likely to hang out in.
I use Google to find specific threads on any of the forums and social media sites I found (although these sites will have their own search engine I find that it’s usually easier and better to use Google as a search).
This is an example of the search terms I’ll use:
- rose gold engagement rings site:http://www.youandyourwedding.co.uk/forum/
- rose gold engagement ring with blush diamond site:http://www.youandyourwedding.co.uk/forum/
Through this I get some highly relevant discussions:
While doing this kind of research I like to go straight in an answer questions if the questions were asked recently. It’s important when doing this to always be transparent, don’t try to flog your wares or link to your site, you’re just there to help. However, do make sure that your handle and/or bio does say you represent your brand so users in the community know who you are. This is an important step because it spreads brand awareness and trust.
Just from going through these sites I already have a list of great headline ideas:
But I’m going to dig deeper still…
I want to find out if anyone else has answered the questions I’ve identified whether they are my direct competitors or not.
To do this I start with Buzzsumo. I search for the specific questions I found then gradually go broader in my search if I don’t find enough information.
From this I can find articles that have already been written about my target subject and anyone that’s shared these articles. By finding out who’s shared and linked to these articles I’ve got a list of sites, fans, and influencers that I can later hit up when I want to promote my own articles.
If I find that there’s not much covered on a specific topic then that’s a really strong incentive to write about it (people are asking, no one’s answering, you’ve got yourself a unique opportunity).
The articles that I do find I will actually read so I know what they’re talking about and whether they’ve done a good job covering all the angles. If I have an opinion of what they’ve written I’ll also leave a comment on the article (this is one of the first steps in establishing a relationship with the writer/site owner if you want to reach out to them later down the line).
If there are already really in depth guides out there I wouldn’t really bother writing the same thing (the internet is already pretty polluted, don’t add to it just to meet any internal quotas you might have) I would just share them myself if they genuinely are useful. However, I find that sometimes they’ve missed out on something, or the information is out of date, and more often than not they’re representing just one opinion, and I have my own opinion that I want to share.
And that’s how I come up with article ideas that are informative to my target users, a unique opinion, and able to rank on long tail key phrases.
Now that you’re bringing in traffic through your blog you want to make sure that that traffic converts. This is the biggest problem that I see with client’s blogs. Oftentimes the problem isn’t simply that they haven’t optimised their blog well enough for converting their readers but that they haven’t even considered this important step and instead just focus on page views and shares thinking that’s the end result.
The way you approach this will depend on your type of business, whether you’re a lead generator, online story, service provider etc.
The key is to make sure you have strong calls to action that are relevant to the article and give users what they want. Including them where users will actually see them, within the article or at the bottom of the article before the comment section instead of in the sidebar where users are used to seeing ads will increase the number of conversions you get through your blog.
The ASOS blog is a great example of this:
They’ll write about fashion and at the bottom of their articles they’ll add links to the item pages so that you can shop the post. Moreover, the items included there are on sale, and even stronger incentive to check them out!
As a lead generator you’ll want to incentivise users to sign up by giving them extras so they feel special for giving up their email address. What you don’t want to do is just ask them to signup to your newsletter where you share exactly the same stories you do on your blog.
Not only is this example giving away something for free but it highlights what you’ll get out of it and creates a sense of urgency. Of course if your offer does expire make sure you update your CTAs on old posts because you don’t want to turn off potential new subscribers with promises that you won’t then fulfil.
Making the signup process easy is another great way to attract more people:
Avoid using long forms within your blog because people are in a different mind-set when reading articles so the key is to make the process as quick and efficient for them so they can continue reading.
Building a community
Having a dedicated blog is a great way of building a community. And having a dedicated community will give you a strong brand, create brand ambassadors, and bring in repeat/loyal customers.
Building a community isn’t so easy and takes time and dedication (much like blogging does!) but there are ways to optimise your blog for sharing and building a dedicated following.
Where you place your social sharing buttons affects how often your content is shared. If you give users easy access to share a post whenever (not just at the top or bottom) you’ll target users that only read some of the article.
Fixed to the top: http://mashable.com/
Fixed to the side: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
Going beyond just sharing the whole article you should look at making the text itself shareable. Allowing users to highlight text will make sharing a particular quote that sticks out to them a lot easier. Selection Sharer is a great WordPress plugin that lets users highlight any text on your article and share it.
You can do the same thing with stylised that stand out more or use click to tweet plugins like that one from CoSchedule to make snippets stand out and be shareable.
Or if you want to summarise the key points in your article use MyTweetLinks
All this gives users more options for sharing your article if they want to share more than just the title by giving them full control with sharing a particular sentence within the text, stand out quotes, or key facts.
And of course you can do exactly the same with images, if a picture speaks 1000 words let your users share it:
Encouraging readers to have a conversation within the comment section on your blog is great but, let’s face it, it’s difficult to get people to post comments, and just having a great article isn’t all it takes. But having users discuss your articles with one another within your site is a great way to build a community.
The issue is that people are more likely to share your articles with their circle of friends so they can have a discussion with them vie Facebook and Twitter.
The way to get more people participating within your site is to use commenting applications like LiveFyre that bring discussions into your site by synching what’s happening on social. This will then encourage other to get involved with discussions.
Beyond making your articles easy to share the actual presentation of or articles matters. You can have the same content but if it’s in a block of text people will be less likely to read and share it.
Telling a story with visuals is just as important as telling a story with text, it helps break up the content and makes it more appealing to user.
I’m not a huge fan of infographics, I think they’ve been done to death, but I do believe illustration and graphic design help to make your articles stand out more than your standard stock photo.
Moz’s beginners guide to SEO is a great example of a really informative article resented in a visually appealing way where the graphics add to the content.
Videos are a great thing to add to your blog as well but you can go a step beyond that as well and create an article that seamlessly switches through video, sound, text through the use of parallax design. You can easily embed a YouTube video but this is way cooler.
And of course including interactive elements like quizzes and surveys lets your readers get involved and feel more a part of your community.
Alternatively, your blog is a great way to position yourself or your business as a thought leader in your field. This is a good reason to blog if your business is a service provider. By showing that you know what you’re talking about potential clients are more likely to trust you and work with you.
To do this you need to give it all away; share you knowledge, insights, and secrets, show integrity, and highlight your authors.
This is the place to go really in depth, whether it’s through an article, whitepaper, video, slideshare, this is the time to show how much you know about your niche.
More creative ways of doing this is to use your resources to create unique content. Do you have access to data others might not? What about releasing that data to the wider audience like Moz to with their industry surveys:
Another way to position yourself as a thought leader is by showing you have integrity and giving your readers a reason to trust you. A great way of doing this is to correct mistakes. It’s ok if you got something wrong, everyone makes mistakes, use this opportunity to hold your hand up and correct yourself.
Or, what’s even more difficult, has it turned out that something you wrote is simply wrong? Maybe you got the wrong conclusion from your experiments, or got mixed up with causation and correlation. Yes, you might feel a little embarrassed when others point it out but don’t defend your ground till the bitter end in the comments, learn from your mistakes and update your article so that others don’t fall in the same trap. Use this opportunity to update your article with the correct information.
Ultimately your blog is nothing without its writers. To effectively position your business as a thought leader you need to put a face behind it and show whose opinions are expressed on your blog.
It’s not enough to just have an authors’ page, you need to actually show why they’re there writing on your blog. Having a bio goes without saying but for a technical industry including any relevant stats is a great way to lend trust to your authors like the one above from Matchbook.
Blogging, like any other marketing activity should be well thought out and planned before executing. Always ask yourself why you want to start a particular strategy, especially if it’s starting a blog, because you could end up investing a lot of time and money into something that might not get you meaningful results.
By properly defining your business objectives and deciding what kind of goals you want to achieve with your blog you’re in a much better position to get something quantifiable out of it.