We often advise our clients to create new content for their website, as a means of implementing a holistic internet marketing strategy. And this often includes the addition of a blog. A blog can be a great tool to help you develop fresh and consistent content for your website. Creating and sharing content is a major factor in your overall internet marketing success, as search engines reward sites that publish new content. A blog can also help you build a brand identity, assert your expertise in your industry, and engage with customers.
In return, we often hear from our clients, “Sounds great! But how exactly do I start a blog?” Fair question. It’s not as intimidating as it seems, and it should actually be a little bit of fun. Who knows, you may find a secret talent for writing hidden deep inside.
1. Building a Blog Strategy
Developing Target Personas
There are two simple ways you can derail the success of starting a blog:
- Delivering the right message to the wrong audience.
Delivering the wrong message to the right audience.
Luckily, both of these mistakes can be avoided by building personas that define your target audience.
Using Google Analytics, you can start with the simple demographics of your website or social media users, including their age, gender, and geography. These basics will start to build the outline of your target user but to start a blog you need to fill in that outline and give your user a personality. This will help you gain a better understanding of how your audience thinks, works, and lives. To get into the mind of your target user, ask yourself these types of questions:
- What is her job? What does that position look like in her company?
- What does his family look like? Is he single? Married? Have kids?
- Is he the final decision maker or the information gatherer?
- How and where does he gather his information?
- Who are the other influencers in her business decisions or buying habits?
- What social media sites does she use? What websites does he visit frequently?
Take the extra step of assigning a character or celebrity who embodies the target persona you’ve created. It’s not necessary, but it does help to add a face and name to your audience that everyone can relate to.
Working with a specific persona in mind makes it’s easier to develop a “voice” for the brand. You can determine if your blog posts should “talk” to readers like a friend or neighbor or if they should project a sense of authority.
Brainstorming Blog Topics
Now you need to know what you’re going to write about. And I don’t want to hear that your industry is too boring for content. Trust me, it isn’t. We’ve already covered that!
In the past, it was easy to explore Google Analytics and see all the keywords or phrases that people searched when they came to your site. This is no longer a go-to option as Google Analytics now hides this keyword information under their “(not provided)” label.
Here are a few other ideas for gathering blog topics that your audience will be interested in.
Users Will Always Have Questions – Users are telling you exactly what they want to know! Whether they come over the phone, through email, or on your social media channels, if you are repeatedly answering the same question, it should be the topic of fresh content for your blog. Start your blog by answering the top questions your customers and prospects are asking.
Keep An Eye on the Competition – It’s not a bad thing to keep tabs on the content your competitors provide. And it’s not a bad thing to create content that addresses the same topics your competition covers; with one important rule… you have to do it better! If you’re writing about a topic that’s been covered already, you need to offer something new. Whether it’s a unique perspective, a differing opinion, a current event or pop culture spin, or great supporting visuals, your content needs to include elements that stand out from the crowd.
Evergreen Never Goes Out of Style – Evergreen content is always relevant and always searchable. Evergreen content shouldn’t include any information that ties it to a certain season or holiday, mentions any current events, or could eventually be marked as outdated. What it should provide is a solid base of information that won’t change anytime soon. This content should be just as relevant for a user who finds it two years from now as it is for a user who finds it tomorrow.
Follow the Buying Funnel – Think about where your readers are in their search for information. When you create blog content you need to write for someone who is starting out in the research phase (“what does SEO stand for?”), someone with a solid knowledge who is looking for in-depth information or opinions (“how do SEO, content and social media work together?”) or someone who has expert status (“will a diverse link profile play a major role in my domain authority?”).
When you’re starting a blog, we recommend spending at least the first year building up content that addresses the basic topics and questions in your industry. From there you can get more granular and address more specific questions.
Blogging on a Consistent Schedule
It’s much easier to start a blog, and grow it, if you plan ahead. This ensures that content is being added on a consistent basis and you’re never left struggling for a topic.
Content planning should be done in 3 phases: Yearly and monthly planning sessions that lay out the bigger picture, and also weekly (or even daily) discussions, which give you the ability to react to real-time events.
- In your yearly planning session, plot out highlights for each month of the year. Is a new product launching in April? A major industry announcement predicted for June? Want to jump on the pumpkin spice craze in October?
- Monthly planning sessions are for focusing and scheduling your content for the following month. This is where you decide that Meg will write about “How Millennials are Breaking the Marketing Rules” and it will publish on November 15.
- Hold weekly or daily check-ins with your team about what’s trending in your industry. Want to touch on Google’s announcement that they’re changing their PPC bidding system or provide your opinion on Starbucks seasonal cup design? Now’s the time to add these topics into the mix.
The more often you add new content to your site, the more often the search engines will return to crawl it. Keep yourself accountable for blogging by creating a monthly calendar. Can you commit to publishing a new blog post one time per week? It’s OK if you can’t. Publishing every other week or even once a month can begin to build some momentum. Just a tip… space out your content. Search engines see it as “unnatural” if you publish a blog every Monday or the 15th of every month.
2. Elements of a Successful Blog Post
Keyword Research and Focus Keywords
Every piece of content you create, whether a blog post, a web page, or a video, needs to be keyword driven. Through the extensive keyword research completed by your SEO team, you can gain insights into the phrases and questions, appropriate to your business, that users are entering in online searches. It’s these keywords that can take a generic content topic (Domain Authority) and give it real focus (improve my site’s Domain Authority).
Assign each blog a focus keyword that will help Google find the meaning of your content and index it accordingly. In addition to a focus keyword, also include two or three secondary keywords. For example, if your focus keyword is “content marketing checklist,” also incorporate phrases like “content checklist” or “checklist for content marketing.” But, you should never add keywords for the sake of adding keywords. Top priority should always be that the content reads naturally and fluidly for your audience.
Optimize your blogs by including the assigned focus keyword in these key areas:
- Body of your content
- Meta data (SEO title, meta description)
An eternal debate in Internet Marketing Land is how long your content actually needs to be. There are those that argue that short, matter-of-fact content is what users are looking for. While others argue that long-format content is what makes Google happiest. Instead of choosing an arbitrary word count, think about the goals you set in your content strategy. An article from The Write Practice, explains that content of different lengths can fulfill different goals. Shorter content can be great for encouraging user comments and sparking conversation, while longer content often gets more social shares and external links. It’s the longest content (I’m talking 2,000+ words), however, that often ranks the highest in Google search results.
No matter how long your blog posts are, it’s important that they are formatted for easy consumption. Web users have notoriously short attention spans, so the best way to present your content is to make it easy to skim. Format your content for effective user consumption by:
- Using H1, H2, H3 formatting to organize your main and supporting ideas
- Breaking long segments of copy into bullet points
- Including graphics to help illustrate complicated points
Speaking of Visuals
The stats on including visuals in your content are staggering.
- 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual.
- 40% of people will respond better to visual information than plain text.
- Posts generate 94% percent more views if you add compelling visual elements.
In today’s fast-paced, “swipe-addicted” society, great web content can easily get pushed to the side in favor of an article that provides attractive images to accompany it. But, be sure that the images you choose help to convey your message. You don’t want users to visit your blog only to realize that your content is not nearly as exciting as your photographs. Additionally, you should strive for a good ratio between content and images. Too many images can deliver the wrong balance and can be off-putting to your audience.
If you’re design challenged (raising my hand!) and don’t have a design team at your disposal, I suggest these free tools for visual content marketing that will have you create blog headers, featured images, or infographics and incorporating top-notch photography like a true artist!
- Death to Stock
- A Color Story
Attention Grabbing Headlines
The headline is often the hardest part of writing a blog. This one, small line of copy has to do a lot of heavy lifting and is almost always the difference in whether someone clicks on your page or not. 80% of people will read your headline, only 20% of people will read any further. This is probably why it’s recommended that you spend about half your time creating content on the headline.
For SEO purposes, your headline should be less than 500 pixels wide, to avoid being cut off in the Google SERPs, and should include your focus keyword toward the beginning, if possible. For the purposes of attracting readers’ attention consider the following types of headlines:
- a numbered list
- a question
- a how-to statement
- humor and wit
- reference to a current event or trending topic
When creating content, you should include links to both internal and external pages. Internal linking leads users to additional blog posts, product pages, or videos where they can get more information on a particular topic. This results in users visiting multiple pages on your site and spending more time on site. Internal linking is also best used for leading users through their own buying funnel: from an initial interest, to information gathering, to decision making.
External links, which are links to pages on sites other than your own, play a much different role. By linking to other high-authority sites relevant to your industry, you are building your authority. External linking can also be used as a modern-day version of “list your references.” If there is a survey, research paper, or online article that you pulled facts from or quoted the author of, link to the page to acknowledge the original source.
Here’s something else you want to think about when incorporating links into your content, the anchor text. Anchor text is the word or phrase you attach your link to. In the past, it was commonplace to use “click here” or “read more” as anchor text. But now we know that anchor text should be keyword focused and descriptive, so the readers know what to expect when they click to a new page.
Call to Action
It’s important to end each blog with a call-to-action that provides clear direction for what you want your users to do next. Your call to action can be very simple, for example, a request that they contact you if they have more questions on the topic. Or, you could take this opportunity to engage them in conversation by posing a question at the end of your article. You can also provide options for further reading on a specific product or service to propel them through the decision-making funnel. Are you using your blog to support lead generation? You can direct users to an online form where they can contact you for further conversation.
Make sure you draw attention to your call to action. Whether you bold it, call it out with color, or use another formatting style, make sure it’s not overlooked by your readers.
3. Social Sharing
The very best way to deliver an informative, entertaining, and enlightening blog post to the widest audience possible is to share it socially. Drive more traffic to your new blog by sharing posts on your social media platforms.
From there you can distribute your content further by sharing it on sites like StumbleUpon, LinkedIn groups, Google+ communities, Reddit, and social bookmarking sites.
4. Encouraging Blog Engagement
Now, I’ll admit sometimes it may feel like you’re reaching an empty void when you post new content to your site, especially when you’re starting a blog. No comments, no social interaction, very few page views. When there is no reader engagement, it’s hard to focus the resources and time to continue creating content.
Here are several things you should be mindful of when you’re trying to build engagement with your content, whether it be a blog, newsletter, podcast or video series.
Be Consistent – Time and resources never seem to stretch far enough, but a consistent stream of new content is the best way to build a reader base. Enlist a small team of people who can create content for your site. This will keep the voice and perspective fresh and the reader engaged, with less burn-out.
Speak to Your Audience – “Everyone” is not your audience. This Expert Voices piece uses the example of sneakers. Everyone wears them, but depending on the brand, the audience changes and you would want to speak to each one in a different way. In addition, you (or your boss or your CEO) are not necessarily your audience either. Simply because something doesn’t speak to you (or your boss or your CEO), doesn’t mean it won’t speak to and spark engagement with your audience.
Don’t Sell or Promote – You want to share information about your products and services with your audience and that’s understandable. However, blog posts are not the place to sell. Instead, focus on becoming a valuable source of useful information. Instead of “Why Buy MyBrand’s Thing-a-ma-bob!”, try “5 Uses for Thing-a-ma-bobs You Never Considered!”
What’s Trending – Don’t be afraid to steer off your content calendar to address a trending topic in your industry or in life in general. “What the Stranger Things Trailer Taught Me About Producing Thing-a-ma-bobs” can surely capture readers’ attention and create an online conversation.
Commenting – Engagement can’t happen if you’re not open to it. Don’t make it overly difficult to leave a comment on your blog. You can ask for a name, email, and website, but don’t include a dozen fields to be populated. Remember, this isn’t lead generation, it’s content marketing. Additionally, engagement should be a two-way street, so make it a real conversation. Take some time to respond to those readers who leave comments on your site. A simple “thanks!” or “we think so too!” can go a long way.
5. Measuring the Success of your Blog
How do you know if starting a blog has made an impact? Here are several questions to ask once you’ve published a few month’s worth of blog posts.
What blogs are users landing on?
When I say “landing on,” I mean the blog is the page a user entered your website on, whether from a search engine, social media platform, or a link on another website. The more blogs you publish, the most opportunities you create for a user to “land” on your site. By measuring which blogs bring in the most traffic, you can develop a firm understanding of what topics, keywords, or types of blogs are resonating with your audience.
Am I getting new eyes on my blog?
Blog analytics can also identify how many new users are coming to your blog. It’s great to see a loyal audience return to your website again and again, but your blog can also capture new users. If you see that your blogs are bringing in a high percentage of new visitors, it’s been successful in building brand awareness.
Are people absorbing my content?
This can help to give you an idea of how deep visitors are going into your website.
Pages per visit and average time on site are blog metrics that track the visitors who click around your site. They measure how many pages a visitor clicks on, as well as the amount of time he or she stays on your website.
Measuring bounce rate is helpful too. Bounce rate depends on two clicks. The first click is how a visitor arrives on a page, and the second click is how the visitor leaves that page. A bounce occurs when both of these clicks happen on one page of your site. It shows that a visitor didn’t make any further clicks to explore more of your site. Bounce rate can help identify blogs that aren’t resonating well with your audience.
Is my audience engaging with my content?
Going a step beyond sharing content is actually talking about the content or spending a notable amount of time with it. This can be measured by the number of comments people are leaving on your blog or social media channels.