A blog often occupies the center stage of content marketing for businesses. It is the birthplace of the seed content and builds a unique identity of your brand. It’s no surprise that building a solid blog content strategy is one of the top priorities for every content marketer. According to Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2018 report, companies that run a blog are found to convert 67% more leads than those who don’t. It also found that businesses that blog regularly see greater returns on investment.
A good blog content strategy requires you to concentrate on five major areas:
Let’s see what each of these four entails and what are the key best practices to build a foundational and effective blog content strategy for converting customers and building a brand.
A. Blog Audience & Goal Setting:
For a blog to be successful in its efforts, what is most important is to understand who it is catering to and what it is trying to achieve. So, before you start creating content, you must identify your target audience and define your goals.
1. Identify your core audience
Since you are trying to create a brand image for yourself through your blog, there has to be a certain section of people that your brand caters to. You cannot create a brand with the expectation of attracting everyone to it. It is important to first find out who would be interested in the product or services you offer. This will determine who the core audience for your blog would be.
Only when you know who you’re writing for, will you be able to create blog content that succeeds in drawing them in. So, do some research and establish a target customer base which will in turn give you your target audience. This is usually done by identifying specific buyer personas that have maximum chances of converting. All the content that you will create later will depend on the buyer personas you are targeting.
2. Define your content’s goals
Now that you have an idea of who you are writing your blog content for, it is time to clearly define what you are trying to achieve here. Of course, conversions and a strong brand image are the ultimate goals, but how does your content aim to achieve these.
Set some well-defined goals for your content. This means defining whether you are writing to create awareness about your brand, or trying to push sales or maybe to answer some relevant questions that your audience might have. These content goals will eventually decide the type of blog content you deliver.
If you are not sure of what you’re trying to achieve with your blog, just try and find out what the audience wants to read. In most cases, audiences are drawn to content that has a problem-solving attitude. Identifying your target audiences’ pain points can give you some content goals. You can decide which customer queries or problems you would like to address and what you can achieve with it.
B. Building a Blog Content Strategy:
The next step in the process is to develop a well-planned content strategy. Your content strategy will determine what kind of content you create and how your content performs in the market.
Developing a blog content strategy that delivers results will require the following considerations:
1. Set yourself apart
There are millions of blogs online. If you want your content to convert leads for you, your blog has to be different from everyone else’s. Being able to stand out of the crowd and getting noticed will require some smart planning on your part.
i. Talk more about what you have to offer
Firstly, focus mostly on what your brand has to offer. Talk about what problems you can solve for a prospective customer. You may not need to directly mention your product or service but you can write the content in a way that it directs attention to your brand.
ii. Use more relevant and engaging visuals
Create more engaging content that has more of a visual impact on the reader. Include relevant pictures and charts that are catchy and attract attention.
Above are some examples from Neil Patel’s blog that show how visual aids can make the content much easier to comprehend.
iii. Write posts about your business’ and customers’ unique experiences and issues
In today’s competitive market, customer experience plays an important role in building a reputation for a business. Customer experience has an influence on other prospective buyers as well. This is why so many sites encourage customers to put up reviews on their platforms. Even companies like Microsoft have a web page dedicated to customer stories.
This article on the Harvard Business Review by Erica also emphasizes on the importance of customer stories to illustrate a company’s purpose statement. The post on HBR gives examples of how real life experiences of customers have been instrumental in trust building for the companies.
For instance, a woman shares her story of how a driver from Lyft, a San Francisco based ride-sharing company, helped her daughter out of a hostile situation and how much it meant to the family. This story portrays how Lyft encourages building human connections.
Such customer success stories can be great at conveying your message and building a brand for your company. Prospective customers look for such authentic information and these reviews can surely influence people better.
iv. Show your expertise in your field
Lastly, there is no better way to rise over your competition than by showing what you are capable of. Show your authority on the subject you’re discussing. Conduct thorough research on whatever you plan to write and share useful and correct information. Let your knowledge and your hold on the subject be your USP.
v. Address your audience’s burning issues
You don’t want your blog to be a straightforward marketing propaganda. It should be able to lure the audience by catering to their needs first and then discreetly directing them to your site. One sure shot way of attracting your audience’s attention is by talking about their pain points.
There can be many means of finding out what issues your target audience is facing. The simplest research you could do is by searching online. Say, if your target audience is mothers of newborns, just search for “mothers of newborns” online and there will be many online forums and social media pages related to the search. You can get a lot of valuable information from such pages as people often post queries on these forums hoping to get answers from peers. You just need to find out what is affecting the majority of your target audience and write a post offering a unique solution.
You could also find out audience pain points through other channels such as live chat on your website, an online survey or from reviews on other related sites. But don’t give away everything in a blog post. For those who want to find out more, ask them to register their email or visit your website. This is great for lead generation.
Once you have created a post around a burning issue, make sure to highlight this on all your promotional tools. Talk about it in your email alerts and social posts, so that people know you have an answer to their problems.
vi. Creating content according to your customer’s buying cycle
Any prospective customer on your site doesn’t straight away go on to buy a product or service. Customers have a buying cycle that they go through before finally making a purchase. The different stages of this cycle generally follow the order – Need > Awareness > Research > Comparison > Purchase.
You can create different blog posts targeting customers at every stage of the buying cycle. For instance, for people in the first stage, that is Need, you can create blog posts on their issues and pain points. For people who are in the Awareness stage you can create blog posts to bring your product or service to their notice. For the Comparison stage, customer experience stories and case studies can be influential. For someone in the final purchase stage, a detailed information on the product or service can be useful.
2. Tone and Format – Choose an appropriate tone of voice for your brand
For a blog that is trying to create a brand image, it is important to have a tone of voice and some formats that work well. These factors work as unique identifiers for your blog. The format of your blog and your tone of voice will depend on the kind of image you are trying to create for yourself.
Some brands need a more jovial and friendly tone. This fits in well if your blog is targeting youngsters or wants to create a more casual persona for itself.
Some other businesses though, need a more formal or reassuring tone. Say if you are in the healthcare business, you need to have a comforting and reassuring tone of voice in all your content. This helps build trust among your prospective clients.
This might seem quite trivial but has a huge impact on rapport building with the audience. You must also ensure that the tone you use is consistent across all the content you create for your blog in future.
Same goes for the format of your blog. You could keep the format and your writing style simple and casual, if the issues you deal with and your audience demand so. If you are targeting a more experienced audience though, your format will have to be more structured and the content has to have more technical details included.
Let’s look at this blog page for example. The Wealth Report is a blog run by the Wall Street Journal based on culture and economy of the wealthy. Now, as this deals with finance and economy, it has a more formal and matter-of-fact kind of style of writing.
This one, on the other hand, is an entertainment blog called the Film School Rejects and as you can see, the tone of voice here is quite casual and conversational.
It is also important to ensure that the format you use for your blog is easy to skim through. Most people have short attention spans and long paragraphs of never ending sentences can make them lose interest. Keep your paragraphs short and use subheads, bullet points and numbered lists wherever you can. Images and info graphics can also help break the monotony.
The emotion manifested by your content is also very important when it comes to conversions. Positive, reassuring kind of content is better for building trust and leading a customer towards a purchase. Avoid inducing negative thoughts into a reader’s mind as they are more likely to make a purchase when in a positive state of mind.
3. Build a strategy on how to target search (SEO) and go after relevant keywords/phrases
Keywords and SEO are just as important for blog content as any other content online. For your blog to appear in the search results, you have to have an SEO strategy in place. This usually involves using relevant keywords or phrases and writing content that fits Google’s search engine guidelines.
Conduct some keyword research and find out which keywords will work best for your content. Keywords or phrases should not look out of place in your blog content, giving the feeling that they are just there for the sake of it. If you run a Google PPC campaign, you can even consider using Google’s search terms report to see what search terms people are using that are relevant to your business and find keywords around these search terms.
Apart from keywords, there are certain other things that are equally important for your blog to target search. Writing long form content has been found to be more helpful. In fact, long form content has reportedly tripled the average time a visitor spends on site for certain blogs. A study conducted by SerpIQ, in 2012, also shows that long form content performs better in SEO than shorter posts.
4. Choose relevant and interesting topics
The topics you choose for your blog are just as important as the quality of your content. The competition in the blogging world is increasing everyday and you can’t expect to sustain with tried and tested topics and themes.
Choose topics that would catch people’s attention. Make your blog’s title interesting and intriguing. It should be able to generate curiosity in a prospective follower. But make sure that the topics you choose are relevant to your brand, because at the end of the day, your blog is your marketing tool. So if you are clothing brand, there is no point writing on “10 books you must read this summer”.
Topics that answer queries, such as what, why or how, are also found to be more useful to readers. This is because most people usually search online looking for answers to their queries. If your blog can answer their questions, it is sure to get more hits. For this, your blog topic itself must be a question that your audience might be asking.
There are many ways to generate blog topics that stand apart from others and can drive traffic to your website. You could use topic suggestion tools, Google Alerts or even social media platforms to get ideas for trending topics.
5. Create a budget for your blog
Before you start any business process, you need to have a budget prepared. The same goes for blogging as well. In blogging, though, budget does not necessarily refer only to monetary investment. It also includes the time you will spend on the job.
Blogging while is a relatively cheaper marketing effort, but can be quite time intensive. Content creation can take a ton of time and so does promotion. So managing the time budget (besides the money investment) is important as well.
The blogging budget would include things like content creation, promotion on other channels, website hosting, plugins and other support, and advertising, such as Instagram/Facebook boosts (in case you intend to spend on that too).
So plan well, create an itemized budget for both money and time, and follow through for success with your blogging strategy.
6. Use CTAs smartly to lure in your customers and audience
Using a call-to-action appropriately can be the toughest part of creating a blog that helps with conversion. You can neither be too pushy nor too relaxed with your CTAs. But then again, if you want conversions, you need to tell people what to do next.
There are many ways of placing your CTAs within your content. Some sites ask users to register for a 30 day free trial or a free download as a first step. Others use questions as CTAs. The obvious answer to these questions would be “yes” for anyone who’s looking for a solution. For instance, a banner asking “Do you want to double your sales in just 2 months?” with answers as “Yes, I’m in” or “Maybe later”.
Other CTAs are based on user experiences. For instance, a side banner that says “I have lost 10 pounds in just two weeks with this diet plan. Click here to find out more”.
Your CTAs should tell people what they are going to gain from your product or service. But at the same time, these CTAs should not be too intrusive, although visible. You can also use A/B testing to see how different CTAs perform on your blog and choose from what works best.
C. Maintaining and Updating the Blog
This is surprisingly the toughest part. Maintaining and running a blog can be a time and effort intensive process. It is for this reason many businesses and bloggers start with a bang but fade away without a whimper.
To avoid this from happening you must have a strategy for maintaining and updating your blog on a regular basis.
1. Gather the team and assign responsibilities
When you start serious blogging, it would become impossible to create content and manage your blog alone. You will need a team (dedicated or extended) to take off some of the burden from your shoulders.
This team could comprise of writers, editors, graphic designers, IT support people and auditors for a large company. For a smaller business however, a single person could take on many of these roles or you can have freelancers or consultants helping you out. What is important is to figure out who all you need and gather a responsible set of people around you (even if it means hiring an agency or using a freelancer platform for some of the work).
Every team should have a content manager who is responsible for overall management of the blog. It could be you if you have the bandwidth or someone else if you don’t. The responsible person must keep track of all the activities and ensure that the blog is updated and promoted regularly.
Finding good writers for your blog is going to be very important too. Writers can be hired as full time employees or as freelancers, as per your requirement and budget. Apart from writers, you may also need creative specialists from time to time to help with info graphics, web design or video production for your blog, if these come within your budget.
2. Create and implement a blog content calendar
Maintaining a blog content calendar is very important to keep your blog on track and avoid last minute chaos. A content calendar is used to plan, schedule and promote your content to ensure timely posting and to keep track of your blog content.
A blog editorial calendar can help you keep an eye on deadlines, and gives your entire team visibility on what they are working on.
You can use your blog content calendar to decide how frequently you should post content on a particular channel, which topics/themes you will be working on next and what promotion needs to be done for every post published. A content calendar can also be used to schedule and time your blog and social posts. It can also be used for planning other content marketing activities besides blogging.
3. Update and optimize your old blog posts for more traffic
Old blog posts are often forgotten once written and initially promoted. However, many of them can be traffic drivers for you even after much time has passed since they were published. It’s a good idea to periodically review your old blog posts traffic and identify posts that can be optimized for SEO and greater engagement. You should also review posts which drive you a lot of traffic already and see that they are up to date on content and context.
After identifying the blog posts which can do with a content and SEO boost, update these old blog posts for greater visibility and impact. This post discusses a simple 9 step method to identify and update your old blog posts to maximize traffic and engagement:
D. Blog Promotion:
Building a solid blog content strategy and creating good quality content is undoubtedly important, but without proper promotion, even the best blogs fail to attract readers. Here are the key things that you need to look into to have a solid blog promotion plan.
1. Find out the channels your customers and audience are on, and promote your blog posts there
There are numerous channels for promoting your blog. You need to find out on which of these channels your target audience spends most time on. The most popular channels for blog promotion are the social media platforms. According to Orbit Media Research, nearly 97% of the survey bloggers used social media to drive traffic to their sites.
But it seems the strongest results are obtained from paid promotions. 43% bloggers said in the research that they have received positive results from paid promotions compared to other methods. So paid promotion on social media sites could be something you can consider if you have the budget.
Email marketing, search engines and influencers are some other popular channels for driving traffic to a blog.
2. Build a blog subscribers’ email list and send them regular updates on latest posts
According to the same Orbit Media survey, 66% of bloggers believed that email marketing helped them drive significant traffic to their blogs and 34% even say that they have got strong results from it. Email marketing can be used to target both your existing followers and new ones.
Bloggers who do not post new content too frequently can send out an email every time a post is published. For blogs which have new posts published quite frequently, an email with links to all new posts and short descriptions of each can be sent. This will also help new followers find older posts which they may have missed.
Email alerts are something that your followers can voluntarily sign up for. So, it is best not to send unsolicited email notifications to a large number of people who haven’t opted in, as that may be considered spam and will have an adverse impact.
You could still use email campaigns to attract prospective followers or people who could help with promotions by creating customized emails. These people could include someone whose website is mentioned in your content, an influential content curator, an amplifier in your niche or someone who you have mentioned in the post but not linked. These emails would be unsolicited of course, but there is a chance they could take an interest in sharing your post. So, the risk is worth taking.
3. Paid campaigns
Paid promotion campaigns are found to give the best results. Paid advertising platforms usually allow you to promote your content among highly specific audience. 84% of marketers, according to a study, used paid Facebook ads to promote their content.
Paid promotions give you better visibility compared to organic social media marketing, but can be an expensive way to promote your blog.
4. Outreach to potential partners, interested parties and influencers
Another very relevant way of promoting your blog is by sharing it with people who have similar interests or have written on similar topics before. Such people would be interested in your content, more so if there are some contradictory opinions or facts.
You can also reach out to people you would like to partner with for some future posts and share your existing blog posts for them to read.
One marketing trend that seems to be working well for most people is influencer marketing. You could mention influencers in your post and let them know about it and share the post on email. Influencers may be a little difficult to connect with but if they do see personal gain from sharing your post, there is a chance that they would.
5. Repurpose in various formats and publish.
Content repurposing refers to converting your existing blog posts into other formats such as e-books, infographics, podcasts or videos. This repurposed content can be published on other sites too. This helps you reach a much wider audience.
It also serves as a way to attract more followers who prefer other forms of content. Not everyone is a patient reader, so info graphics, videos or podcasts could help you reach more people.
E. Success Measurement:
Now that we have set up the blog content strategy and begun executing it, it is time for some analysis to find our return on efforts. To know if your blog content strategy is working, you have to decide on certain critical metrics to measure its performance.
1. Competitive benchmarking
One of the best ways to judge your performance is by comparing your blog to the competitor blogs. This would include making note of how many views you receive, how many shares you get or where your blog appears on search engine results pages. Google Analytics Benchmarking tool is useful in this regard. The Benchmarking report generated by Google Analytics allows you to compare your data with other sites in the industry.
You can also benchmark your own blog, by gathering the statistics of its performance that is usually shared by the hosting site (or you can do the same with Google Analytics). You can measure the number of visitors to individual blog articles. This is is the simplest but most important metric to consider. You can also track how many inbound links your blog post attracts.
Apart from this, the number of social media shares your blog posts get and the number of subscribers you are able to attract are clear indicators of the quality of your blog.
2. Leads and conversions
The ultimate aim of a business blog is to get conversions. This means that if your blog is not able to generate any leads, it is not performing as intended. Looking at the leads that your blog has been able to generate for your business is extremely important. Sometimes, even a post with lesser number of views may generate more leads than one that has more views. It is also important to keep track of how many of these leads have converted and at what rate as compared to other marketing channels.
Google Analytics allows you to track conversions by setting up certain conversion goals and goal descriptions. For example, the thank you page at the end of a purchase can be taken as a confirmation of a conversion and a value may be assigned to it, say $1. The final report will show you how many people have actually gone on to complete a purchase, from the number of dollars accrued during a given period.
A powerful blog content strategy does demand a lot of planning and is time consuming. But once your content strategy is in place, a blog can be the cheapest marketing channel to build a brand for your business today.