Why your company blog is useless and what to do about it
From inbound links and social signals to brand awareness and even sales, there are many benefits to business blogging – provided of course it’s done well.
Like any other marketing tactic, it’s easy to assume all you need to do is churn out blog posts and these benefits will magically appear. But posting for the sake of some mysterious SEO benefit is a waste of time. This approach kills your chances of achieving links and shares and costs you sales by spoiling how your audience perceives your brand.
What you can do
Getting the content right is only step one. You also have to place that content on a blog that looks the part. As well as outlining some simple elements we advise our clients to add, we spoke to the men behind two of the most successful marketing blogs on the planet about their must-have blog features and why they’re so important.
“Some think you just start a blog and publish couple of press releases and you “go viral”, explained Marko Saric of howtomakemyblog.com. “They get surprised and disappointed when this doesn’t happen. A lot of time and effort is needed to succeed.”
These sentiments were echoed by Rand Fishkin, famous for his insightful posts over at Moz: “A company blog is an incredible opportunity to create content that speaks to a wide range of audiences and earns fans, amplification, and positive feedback loops that are nearly impossible without one.
“The funny thing is, most company blogs don’t do a great job of taking advantage of these opportunities and there’s a few consistent reasons I’ve seen why.”
Both Marko and Rand were kind enough to be very specific in how they advise companies looking to increase the return from their blogging efforts. We’ve taken their insights to help pull together a comprehensive approach to ensure your amazing company blog content doesn’t go to waste.
Step one: nail your blogging strategy
Who are you trying to reach? What do you want them to do? Every post should be part of a bigger effort to say the right things to the right group – to attract people who will ultimately become your customers by making their life easier.
As Rand explains, this involves empathy on your part towards your audience and what they’re going through:
“The content you create on your blog has to serve people. It must be interesting, unique, useful, and engaging such that it is worthy of your audience’s attention.”
The question to ask here is “How can I make this person’s life easier?” Think about the content you can produce to ease your audience’s pain points. An example of this is The Odd Mattress Company’s blog, which lets people know how they can get a better night’s sleep.
Anyone who’s serious about quality sleep is likely to be interested in a new mattress at some point, so the brand have looked at as many ways as possible to help these people without resorting to the hard sell or writing boring content about mattress springs or bed heads.
Once you decide which business goal your blog strategy is aimed at, you should know the type of content to produce. The Odd Mattress Company wanted to introduce themselves to a new audience who would then go on to buy mattresses, but this doesn’t always have to be the case, as Rand explains:
“Often, the audience for your content may be a different group than your customers – one that contains influencers, bloggers, journalists, and other kinds of amplifiers, who will then help you reach your customers.” Bloggers and influencers may never buy your products, but links and shares from these people will increase your search rankings, making you immediately more visible to those looking for your product in organic search.
Step two: pimp your post template
Make it pretty, make it helpful. Blogs without certain key features have far less chance of attracting links and shares.
Help the reader get in touch
According to Marko, some of the most important features of a blog are an about page and a contact form:
“You want to explain to a potential customer who you are and why you and your products are worthy their time. And you want to be available for them to contact you.”
As obvious as it sounds, too many company blogs don’t tick these boxes. How many posts have you read that just end without a call-to-action, or even worse ask you to contact the company without showing you how to do just that?
A good about page tells you exactly who you’re dealing with and why that company is trustworthy. A contact form just makes it easy to take the first step into the sales funnel. As a brand trying to sell a product, why would you ever make that difficult?
Of course, it’s not all about sales. In fact as Rand explained in a recent Whiteboard Friday, it’s almost never the case that people consume your content and then magically feel the need to buy your stuff. So what else can your blog do for you?
Dan Shure recently posted on the Moz blog about how company blogging was broken and advised that blogging for comments could fix it.
Dan is spot on – shares are great but as more and more people share content without even reading it, comments become the best measure of true engagement, a sign that the reader has really digested your message enough to leave feedback and answer questions.
Disqus is a community-driven system with a control panel that shows replies to your comments across all sites with Disqus installed. Facebook comments is another great solution, as outlined in this excellent post by Raven Tools.
Provide social proof
A great way to increase your social following is to position social widgets next to your content. The idea is that, suitably impressed, your reader can click a button to follow you on Twitter or like your Facebook page and follow your story on their favourite social networks.
The above shows The Odd Mattress Company’s Facebook fans, positioned to the right of every post. This not only allows people to follow the company on Facebook, but increases trust in the brand by showing real people following their page.
Get visual with featured images
Even in 2014, so many posts don’t have images. If you’re writing a company blog, you’re a marketer and marketers should know about the importance of visual content.
On social media, posts with images get tons more engagement, which only reaffirm this idea. Include a featured image at the top of your post and have it pull into your blog archive page.
Pamela Vaughan’s post perfectly describes how to find the perfect image for your next post.
Get personal with an author profile
I’ve always loved how Moz do this, but it surprises me how few company blogs take the opportunity to show the personalities behind their brand with a name and a photo:
The author profile box also shows the date, which is an important feature as it lets readers who may have discovered the content through search know how up-to-date the advice is (nothing worse than reading outdated information).
Finally the category link helps people find related content that they may be interested in, ‘cross-selling’ your other posts.
Step three: amplify your content
So you’re ready to send your content out to the world – but as we know, ‘build it and they will come’ doesn’t apply to content marketing.
According to Rand, hitting the publish button can’t be the last step in the process: “Content succeeds on the basis of having a group of people who care about it help it reach a wider net – your amplification and outreach efforts tie directly to whether your content can reach the people it needs to in order to have a shot at success.”
So yes, have a strategy for content promotion, but above all make sure your blog is contributing to this strategy and enabling people to share your content once they’ve read it!
Mark up your content for social
One influential reader can share your content to thousands of followers, so take every opportunity to maximise click-through from links on social media by using HTML markup to make your links more attracting when posted on Twitter and Facebook.
Twitter Cards have been proven to increase click-through rate from Twitter thanks to the way they transform the appearance of a link to a piece of content with the relevant markup.
— Amit Verma (@AmitV_Tweets) July 21, 2014
Which would you click? Facebook offer a similar feature with Open Graph markup. Again, the proven CTR improvement is the main driver behind using this feature. Additionally, it allows you to optimise your content for social media, where you’re trying to appeal to a completely different audience with a different message than in search. Think of Open Graph and Twitter Cards as meta data for social media.
More essential features:
Nailed your target audience and content strategy? Got your blog looking pretty? Found the channels and the techniques to send your content viral? Brilliant. Don’t miss these simple final touches:
- Breadcrumbs – ideal for navigating blogs with multiple subcategories. Always help the inquisitive reader find more related content
- Related posts – another way to satisfy readers who want more
- Subscribe via email form – don’t wait for readers to find your content, deliver it direct to their inbox
- Image credits section at end of post – don’t fall foul of copyright law. Credit images in a specific section after each post to keep it tidy and let the content flow.
- Avoid dirty pop-up forms – they’re annoying, they’re generally associated with spam sites and as a result they affect trust in your site.
- Avoid using the same navigation as your main site – reduce the ‘salesy’ feel with a simple ’back to store’ link
Over to you
What do you make of Rand and Marko’s advice? Is there anything you’d add to our list of features? Let us know what’s worked for your blog in the comments section below.