Three Phases Geared to the Novice, Intermediate, & Kick-Ass Blogger
by April Federico and Melissa Macaulay Federico, The B2B Branding Company
You’re ready. You’re more than ready. In fact, you’ve probably already posted to your blog. So, how’d it go? How many readers? Who were your readers? How many shared your post? Anyone leave comments?
If you’re like 99.999% of b2b bloggers your readership probably consists largely of members of your own company and many of your comments are probably automated spam. I feel your frustration, but this is very fixable.
Let’s start from the beginning and get you on track to gain and keep readership among your target audience.
First Things First
I hate to be a buzz-kill. But there’s no shortcut for this initial step; so, here it is: You can’t build your audience until you know your audience. And I can tell by the pained look in your eyes that you already know where I’m going with this. Customer [or Buyer] Personas.
The good news is that you don’t have to create new Personas if you already have them for your product marketing, new service development, and marcom functions. If you’re confident in those personas, they will work equally well for your blog.
If you’ve managed somehow to avoid developing customer personas for each of your market segments let me tell you two things: (1) Stop carrying this information around in your head. Everyone in your organization needs to know and understand your customers to be better at their jobs; (2) It’s not as daunting as you might think. Most marketers just need a good place to start -- like a template. [NOTE: There are tons of templates out there, but if you’d like to try the one we’ve used and refined over many years and many clients, let us know by emailing email@example.com, and we’ll send it to you.]
Get yourself a customer persona template that “fits” your needs, sit down with your team and your customer data, and complete the template. It’s a valuable exercise and I guarantee you will discover a few things you didn’t know. Believe it or not, you might even enjoy the process. You’ll certainly benefit from the results.
Armed with information about your audience you can now begin working to attract them.
Phase I – If You Don’t Do Anything Else, Please Do These Four Things
If you’re confident in your customer personas but are new to business blogging, there are three fundamental things you need to do to begin building your audience.
1. Create audience-appropriate content for your blog. It’s important to keep your audience in mind when developing your content. So, think about your customer personas. What kind of readers does your blog target? What do they want to read? What do they want to get out of your blog posts?
Consider this: Your customers’ Sales VPs will have different priorities than your customers’ heads of HR. So, just by knowing what the demands of their jobs are you can determine how your posts can help solve their problems and help them do their jobs better.
In addition, every post must be about something they can relate to and, to top it all off, must be engagingly written, in a tone and style that is appropriate to their age, background, and the topic. Similar to your other marketing programs, your blog will not be successful if you produce lackluster content and your topics are not customer-centric.
2. When you have compelling content, publish it at regular intervals. Plain and simple: Write well, post often, and post regularly. In a perfect world, you would aim for at least 1-2 posts per week. With publishing content recurrently comes commitment. That means writing even during the holidays and vacation season. It will be important that you set the required time and resources aside on a weekly basis if that’s your commitment. And always keep in mind: quality over quantity.
3. Whenever you publish, promote your blog post on other social media platforms (with links) and other marketing channels.
This includes sharing your blog posts to your LinkedIn page, Twitter, etc. This also includes teasing the content in any email campaigns that you do. If you send out an e-newsletter, your blog posts should be included.
4. Building a subscriber list ensures your readers keep coming back for more. The simple blog hosting sites we discussed in #2 of this series (e.g., Wix, Blogger, WordPress, etc.) all have “gadgets” or “widgets” that you can include on your blog page that will enable visitors to subscribe to your blog. Every time you publish a new article on your company blog they automatically receive a notification of new content. In return for this service, you collect their email addresses – and not just any email addresses, but email addresses of people who need, want, and like your content; i.e., potential customers. It’s a beautiful thing.
Phase II – Beyond the Fundamentals
If you’ve already advanced beyond the fundamentals, there’s an entire world of opportunities out there for building a following. For all you folks who are not new to blogging and want to step up your game, here are a couple of ideas that you may want to pursue.
5. And speaking of visual content … include carefully chosen graphics in the body of your blog posting.
These can be illustrations, photos, and (our favorite) infographics. The reason this tip isn’t grouped with novice tips is the phrase, “carefully chosen.” Carefully chosen means professional, relevant to the content, are in keeping with your style guide, and visuals that help communicate your message more effectively. Everyone seems to think they “get” graphics. Sadly, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you don’t have access to design services, solicit a few opinions from colleagues whose knowledge of your brand, experience, good taste, and style are always reliable.
6. Spend time titling both your blog and your posts. A drop-dead title will simply [and logically] attract more attention. In addition, it sets the tone for your blog content, giving readers a sense of what they can expect. A ho-hum title signals a ho-hum article. By the same token, a “too precious” title won’t pique the interest of b2b readers either. If your topic is trending and timely – i.e., something people are clamoring to learn about -- a straightforward, easy-to-search title will serve you well.
7. Optimize for mobile. Simply by putting yourself in the shoes of your prospects, you can see the benefit of having a blog that is easily readable on a smartphone. But, even more to the point, Google has been ranking mobile-friendly sites higher than mobile-unfriendly sites in mobile search results since the middle of 2015. Phase III – Gettin’ Serious
Ready to take the next step? Great! We have a few proven tactics for you.
8. Guest blogging and guest bloggers. In marketing, we’re accustomed to forming alliances and collaborating on joint marketing campaigns. Yet, many companies are hesitant to do the same with their blog. Don’t be one of them. Identify guest bloggers who can add valuable content, and offer to guest-blog for them in return. It’s a win/win. That way you’re helping each other while gaining additional promotion you could not have achieved on your own. This includes contributing to the top blogs in your area of expertise, so don’t be bashful.
9. Get creative about sharing your content on social media. Instead of using the standard clickable icons for readers to share your posts to social media, create a click-to-tweet box using tools like Social Warfare, TweetShare, and clicktotweet.com. You can generate a nice big color block, complete with a pre-composed 140-character post that auto links to the reader’s Twitter feed. All your readers need to do is click the box, view the tweet, and click to share.
Making posts easy to share increases the likelihood that they will be shared. Also, people love the visual color block, so take advantage of this opportunity to not only capture your readers’ eyes but to give your share rate a boost. The more shares you have, the more people will learn about your blog. 10. Link like you mean it. By linking your blog content to outside sources, you are telling search engines more about your content and helping to improve your rankings. It is also a way to build relationships with other bloggers and resources. These are called Outbound Links.
Using Inbound Links is also a best practice. When you link to your own past blog posts and pages on your website, you are reinforcing the point you’re trying to make. At the same time, you are using keywords that will improve your search rankings and drive new traffic to posts and pages that provide valuable information.
11. More is not less. More is not the new black. More is more. And more is better.The two-paragraph, 250-word blog post is not cool, it’s not pithy, and it’s not informative. Me? I find them annoying and often pretentious. But don’t take my word for it.
The research shows there has been a steady upward climb in the correlation between word count and share-ability over the past three years. In 2017, our friends at HubSpot announced their findings on blog length. They found an overwhelmingly positive correlation between organic search performance and blog pages with word counts of over 2,250.
12. Keywords. Keywords. Keywords. In real estate, location is paramount. The equivalent, when it comes to online initiatives, is keyword strategy. This success factor tracks right back to your original goals for your blog. We all blog to drive traffic. Traffic is dependent on search rankings. Search rankings are dependent on well-used keywords.
BLOGGERS BEWARE: This is not the same as keyword stuffing and writing content around high performing keywords. Determine your Keyword Strategy, stick with it, and you’ll be fine.
This is such an important tactical element in gaining a following for anything online that we will devote an entire article to keywords later this summer. But let me leave you with these two important guidelines:
Make sure you use keywords that are 100% relevant to your topic and audience.
The best keywords are long-tail keywords, which are actually phrases of three or more words.
And, on that note, here we are, at the conclusion of another installment in the “Building Better Blogs” series. The fourth article in this series will talk about best practices in content development. So, stay tuned for #4 - Creating Compelling Blog Content: A Recipe for Secret Blog Sauce.
What Are Your Thoughts?
We truly hope you’re finding value in these articles. But we realize we’ve hardly covered every detail and contingency in this single post. So, we welcome and encourage your questions.
We’d love to hear from you and invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below. In addition, nothing is more instructive that personal experience. Have some tips and tricks to share?
by Melissa Macaulay Federico, The B2B Branding Company --
So, you’re taking the plunge. You’ve committed to creating – or upgrading – a blog for your company or organization. One small step for the business. One giant step for Marketing. Because … congratulations! You’re now in the Content business!
To be fair, you were warned. I believe our exact words were, “… it’s not 'free,' it’s not easy, and it’s not typically something you want to hand off to a high school intern.”
What it is is a tactical program in a broader strategy called Content Marketing. Emphasis on Content. While it's possible to post relevant and valuable content created by other companies and from other sources, it is also essential that you start generating ideas for original content right away -- you'll need them.
And, like every tactical program, it requires predetermined goals, a plan, execution, and evaluation.
Set Your Goals
Getting your proverbial ducks in a row starts with setting your goals for the blog. This is simply a matter of answering this multiple-choice question: What do you want to gain from your blog?
A. More leads
B. Increased website traffic
C. Stronger connections with your customers/clients/patients/community
D. Educate your marketplace
E. Establish your organization’s expertise
F. All of the above
If you answered “F. All of the above,” you are ready to get started. Because that is exactly what smart blogging can and should accomplish for businesses. Even better, each of these goals is quantifiable. It is possible to monitor the results and use them to continuously improve the performance of your blog.
4 Steps to Setting Up the Blog Itself
1. Choose Your URL Wisely
In other words, make sure you have control of the domain name for your blog. Good formats you can use are yourdomainname.com/blog, or blog.yourdomainname.com, or yourdomainnameblog.com. This practice (or protocol) will help you in several ways.
First, there’s always a good chance that you may want to switch blog software services down the road. As long as you own the URL for your blog, you won’t have to change your blog address when that happens, and your followers will have no problem finding and visiting your blog.
In addition, when you host the blog as a subdirectory of your company domain name, such as yourdomainname.com/blog, you gain a distinct advantage in search engine optimization. Whenever other blogs choose to link to your blog (this is a common practice), your entire website gains greater credibility among search engines by association, just because they share the same domain name.
2. Brand your blog. Use the elements of your business’ corporate identity (logo, tagline, color palette, and other elements delineated in your style guide). This is not the time to give a new graphic designer free rein to create something “Totally new!” "Fun!" and “Exciting!” Make sure your blog page reflects the look and feel of the rest of your website and other collateral. You should never intentionally create any kind of cognitive dissonance among your readers, or leave them wondering if they’re in the right place.
Many businesses also like to name their blog, giving it a separate-but-related identity. If you decide to go that route, take the time to test your blog name with customers, partners, and folks who are not familiar with your business. This last group is important because these are the folks who most closely reflect the perceptions of future customers – i.e., the people you have yet to reach with your marketing. Your blog name should be easy to understand, easy to remember, and easy to associate with your overall brand.
3. Make sure your blog page is searchable As you develop a following of readers, it is very likely that they will want to read past posts about other topics of interest. Do everything you can to encourage this. Every time this happens, it means you are being perceived as a credible resource -- perhaps even a thought leader!
4. There are tools to help None of this has to be a big, costly project. You can design, brand and publish a professional blog with its own URL using your business website's existing Content Management System (CMS) or you can use one of the flexible and intuitive products created precisely for this purpose. Blogger, Wix, WordPress, and Squarespace take a lot of pain and expense out of creating blogs for businesses and institutions of all sizes and types.
Create a Content Plan (or Calendar)
Some bloggers can get up in the morning, sit down at their desk (or wherever), and just riff on anything that happens to be on their minds. That's fine if your blog is intended to be an online diary, but if you have genuine business objectives for this program you need a plan for becoming relevant to and trusted by your market.
What we're going to talk about in this post is an execution plan. (Don't get me started on Strategic Plans -- that would be a very long post). So, you could create it in a spreadsheet or the project management application of your choice.
Here are the things you need to include:
How often you want to post (daily, weekly, monthly?)
Events during the year that are important to your customers' businesses (back to school? tax season? holidays? vacation time?)
Incorporate events that are milestones for your business, (product launches, major trade shows, or user groups)
Build in the flexibility to weigh in on news that affects your market in real time. Relevance is a big deal in blogging.
Take it a step further -- use your calendar to also build in how you will support your blog posts on other social media platforms.
And, last-but-not-least, who's writing what?
Recruiting Your Blog Team
It is very important that you assemble a team of people to at least help write blog posts. This step will ensure that you are able to post regularly and often. Frequent posts are obviously a checkbox item in the execution of your content strategy; but, even more important, your ability to attract visitors and generate awareness are dependent on your ability to consistently develop and share new content.
Take steps at the outset to safeguard your blog from the two circumstances that most often doom new blogs:
When one person must bear sole responsibility for a blog's success or failure, the blog is doomed.
Similarly, when one person must spend the bulk of his/her time chasing down promised posts from other writers, the blog may limp along for a while, but it is ultimately doomed as well.
It's true that "Many hands make light work ... " It's also true that unless those many hands are committed and enthusiastic about the blog, about writing, and about the subject matter, you'll end up in situation #2 -- spending most of your time trying to scrape together posts from anyone anywhere.
The takeaway from these dire warnings is this: Recruit and manage your blog team with care and consideration. There are two ways to go.
Recruit writers in-house - It's not the simplest method, but it can be the most satisfying. Again, the trick is in finding, then managing, colleagues who are serious about the project. These folks will know the company, have an affinity for the subject matter, and will be easy to connect with spontaneously.
Some folks have had good luck using a short application for interested co-workers, but most find that the fewer hurdles they place in front of volunteer bloggers the more volunteers they're able to recruit. The main thing to bear in mind is that a team of bloggers is like any other team. They require good communication, a few basic resources, a clear understanding of their responsibilities, and consistent motivation.
The downside of recruiting in-house is that every member of your team has a "day job" that will inevitably conflict with and override their commitment to the blog. Be prepared. Try to build in a Plan B for these inevitabilities.
Fill gaps with contract professionals - There are four "cons" to taking this route: (1) you have to pay professionals; (2) the less experience a professional writer has the less you have to pay them, BUT the longer it will take them to get up to speed; (3) many writers work remotely which can be "uncomfortable" for some managers; (4) most managers have no idea where to find good freelance writers, making the recruitment process stressful.
If you have the budget, the "pros" for hiring professional writers to supplement your content team can make the investment worthwhile.
Professional writers will submit portfolios of their work and have references, which will give you the best idea of their skill level.
Experienced writers know and respect deadlines -- you will not have to chase or plead with them.
Writers who work remotely know how to stay connected with their clients, even if their clients are not as well-versed in the process. (Many can even help you put processes in place to facilitate workflow and communications).
Finally, remember where you're reading this article: LinkedIn is a great place to find contractors, freelance writers, and blogging experts! You can find out nearly everything you would want to know about your candidates in their LinkedIn profiles.
Set your goals? Created a blog plan? Got your team? Excellent! Now, what about building your audience?
The third article in this series talks about how you can reach your targets, grow your readership, and retain your audience. Stay tuned for Part #3, which talks about practical tactics for growing your blog audience.
Share Your Experience/Ask Your Questions
Nothing is more instructive than personal experience. Have some tips and tricks to share? We also realize we’ve hardly covered every detail and contingency on this topic. So, we welcome your questions too. We’d love to hear from you and invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below.
by Melissa Macaulay Federico, The B2B Branding Company --
Once upon a time, businesses had an onerous decision to make. Should they take a risk, climb out on a limb, and invest in creating a website for their company? Or should they stick with the tried and true tools and tactics they’d always used? This was a tough one. I mean, who knew if this online stuff would really catch on?
Fast forward to 2017 and many businesses are still on the fence about blogging. The only difference, however, between then and now is that blogs are already widely accepted forms of content marketing, that customers expect most businesses to publish a blog, and that a myriad of tools and techniques have emerged to help marketers derive the very best return on their blogging investment.
So, why all the angst?
It boils down to the same old thing: Decision makers want to see that there is a viable business case for investing in a blog. Because, all misconceptions aside, it’s not “free,” it’s not easy, and it’s not typically something you want to hand off to a high school intern. (No offense to the growing number of industrious, blog-savvy high schoolers out there).
Making the Case
Boost Your Business’ SEO - Search engines respond to fresh, new content. Every new post gives Google and other search engines something to sink their teeth into. According to a well-known HubSpot study, websites with blogs have 434% more indexed pages and 97% more indexed links. Increase Customer Engagement with Your Brand -Blogging is a way to connect with visitors to your website by offering them information that has value to them, and using that content to strike up a dialog. Try posing questions in your posts or enable and encourage comments. If you are attentive to your readers’ comments (read and reply), you create affinity through a relationship of sorts. Not to mention gain better understanding of what they want and need.
Industry Leadership – You don’t have to be the head of a multi-national conglomerate to be an expert. Trust and credibility come from communicating relevant and valuable content (i.e., ideas and information). This is one place where small businesses can gain a competitive advantage over their larger competitors.
Extend Your Reach – Every blog post is an opportunity for sharing via email, social media, or [the holy grail]: Word of Mouth. Blog posts can be linked to, tweeted, emailed or discussed face-to-face by your followers and you.
What does this mean in dollars and cents?
Quiz: More readers mean more traffic, more traffic means more leads, and more leads mean more ____?____.
If you said “Sales!” you’re absolutely correct. In fact, Hubspot has reported that marketers who prioritize blogging in their content strategy and marketing mix are 13 times more likely to enjoy a positive return on investment than their non-blogging colleagues.
Your ROI will vary somewhat depending on your goals and your line of business, but here are a few stats to support the business case for blogging.
If your business is still on the fence about blogging, let’s hope this has given you a starting point for planning and launching your company’s blog. There’s no doubt that the bottom line potential for a well-managed blog is real and quantifiable. But, take careful note, the most important words in that sentence are “well-managed blog.”
Your efforts and investment will live or die on how well you plan and execute your blogging tactics. Over the next few posts, this series will tackle what “well-managed” means in terms of real actions. So, stay tuned for more, and don’t be bashful about sharing your questions and experiences.