5 Questions to Guide Your Blog Strategy

If your business has a blog, but doesn’t have a blog strategy yet, I just decided what the next two things on your to do list should be:

1. Finish this post. 2. Create a blog strategy.

You can’t just blog blindly. Whether you’re taking the time to write content yourself or hiring a freelance blogger, blogging has a cost. No good businessperson wants to incur that cost without taking the proper steps to get something back from it. When it comes to business blogging; that means creating a blog strategy.

The Difference a Blog Strategy Makes

Based on a 2013 study, only 20% of businesses had blogs, and over a third of those never got updated. You know how that happens, right?

Someone says, “we need a blog!”

Someone else says “Ok.”

Then no one creates a blog strategy or puts in the work to keep it updated.

An abandoned blog will do nothing for you. A blog that you’re investing time and money into that’s not getting read or driving conversions won’t do much more for you than an abandoned blog will (although you’ll be spending a lot more on it).

Creating a blog strategy can help you avoid those fates.

Here’s what you need to consider to put a good one together.

1)   What are my blogging goals?

A blog can bring in new leads and customers, but that’s not going to happen right away and it’s not always easy to determine which leads first found you through the blog. So while that can be your overall goal, when it comes to creating your blog strategy and tracking your progress, it helps to have some lower-level goals that can help contribute to that, like:

Think about why you want a blog and what you want it to accomplish for you. Your blog strategy should be based around those goals.

2)   Who am I writing for?

Hint: it’s not you. You can absolutely create a blog that’s all about the things you’re most interested in – but it shouldn’t be on your business website. Your business blog has to be about what your audience cares about.

You have to think about their problems, their questions, the types of things they normally like to read and do online and in the world at large. What you blog about and how you write needs to all come back to them.

3)   What does my audience care about?

You really want to get inside their heads here (as much as you can without being creepy, anyway). If you’re a local business in a city full of people with local pride, that should come through in your business blog. If your audience is moms who care about the environment and worry about the ecological effects of every product they buy, your blog should share that concern (and provide information that helps them make informed choices).

Do some research:

  • Pull up websites you know your customers like and look at what posts and articles are the most popular.
  • Read the comments that people in your audience write on those sites.
  • Spend time in forums.
  • Have conversations with your customers and prospects directly.

Keep a running list going where you collect all the ideas you learn so you can make sure you’re blogging about the things they care about.

4)   What’s my (realistic) blogging schedule?

If you read somewhere that you have to publish a new blog post every single day, forget it. While it’s often true that regularly posting fresh content adds up to better blogging results, that’s only true if the content is good and you keep up with it. A lot of businesses don’t have the bandwidth for daily blogging.

My one-woman business publishes once a month because I know that’s the most I can expect from myself while also getting all my client work done. The ideal isn’t to produce as much content as you possibly can, it’s to produce as much good, worthwhile content as you reasonably can. Setting your sights too high in terms of quantity will mean an abandoned blog or junk content no one wants read.

Carefully consider how much time you really have, how much time your employees really have, and how much you can afford to spend on a good freelance blogger. Then create a blog strategy and editorial schedule that’s doable.

5)   How am I going to promote my blog posts?

Don’t overlook this step. It’s one of the big things that sets successful blogs apart from those that fail. People have a lot of content to choose from out there. How are they going to find yours if you don’t create a plan to get it in front of them?

Content promotion can be part of a long-term social media and influencer strategy, it can incorporate paid media to get results faster, or it can be some combination of the two. Just make sure your blog strategy includes room for promotion (both in terms of time and budget).

 

Starting a blog is easy enough, but doing blogging that’s worth it and yields results for your business is hard. Anyone who says otherwise is misleading you. If you’re going to invest in a blog, be willing to invest enough to make it worth it. My free report on building a better blog is a good place to start in visualizing your larger blog strategy. If you could use some help with the content writing, side of things, I’m happy to help.

On Content Marketing Semantics: Can’t We Just Get Along?

Over a year ago, I started a discussion in a LinkedIn copywriters group* asking members what they saw as the

content marketing vs inbound fight

Hopefully no one gets this mad.
Image via Tambako the Jaguar on flickr.com

difference between the terms copywriting and content marketing. I was surprised to learn from the comments on the post that:

a) Many of the people in the group had an opposite idea of the difference in meaning for the two terms than I did. The idea that content marketing was a subset of the larger term “copywriting” was popular – although I (and presumably, most content marketers) would see copywriting, or even content writing, as one part of the larger content marketing whole.

b) People were very opinionated on the subject.

I guess that latter point shouldn’t have surprised me, but the level of defensiveness of the term people were most used to and dismissiveness of something different was significant.

Every so often, a discussion with a similar tone (very much including the aforementioned defensiveness and dismissiveness) comes up around the terms content marketing and inbound marketing. Sometimes terms like online marketing and permission marketing get thrown into the mix just to make the whole thing a bit messier.

The result inevitably includes a lot of passionate comments, strong opinions, and lengthy explanations on why varying opinions are more correct than others.

These discussions have been happening with these particular terms for at least five years (exhibit A, from 2010, but for more examples of the tone described, see exhibit B, from 2011). As far as I can tell, everyone I’ve encountered who practices content marketing also considers themselves to be practicing inbound marketing, which makes the passion and disagreement on display in these discussions more than a little confusing.

Here’s my take: I don’t have any interest in defining the differences in the terms, because for all my intents and purposes, they point toward the same sort of work and goals. Some people think term A includes term B, but is broader. Other people argue the same, but with the equation flipped. I think it doesn’t matter much either way.

As a content writer, I relate a bit more to the term content marketing(it’s also the term I came across first, which probably makes a difference), but I immediately related to the ideology behind inbound marketing once I found my way to it. We’re all just trying to create content good enough, people would pay for it (as Jay Baer so memorably put it) on the path getting more customers and establishing better relationships with them.

While it’s valuable to argue semantics up to the point that you confirm you and your audience are on the same page, beyond that it can get more destructive than useful. Both terms were made up within the past few years and both will evolve to mean something different in the years to come. In the meantime, let’s just focus on doing quality work that helps clients and customers alike.

 

*The link to that discussion is here, but I don’t think you’ll be able to access it unless signed into LinkedIn and a member of the group.

Content Marketing Challenges in 2015 (And a Few Solutions)

Since the term started kicking around a few years back, content marketing has grown in popularity every year. For those of us in the industry, that’s good news in the sense of ensuring our work is in demand. But with popularity comes increased competition, and doing content marketing well means facing new and increasingly sophisticated challenges from year to year.

Each year a few different sources release information on the top challenges marketing firms and businesses say they face when it comes to content marketing. A lot of what comes up in these surveys comes down to the five challenges listed below, each of which can be solved with the right approach.

Challenge: Being strategic in your content marketing.

One of the most obvious findings in the Content Marketing Institute’s surveys each year is that businesses with a strategy get more out of their content marketing than those just trying to figure it out as they go.

A strategy helps you connect the dots between the different channels and types of content you’re creating and make sure the work you put into content marketing actually pays off. Without one, you’re more likely to put a lot of effort into putting content out there that no one sees or engages with.

Solution: Stop everything else you’re doing and work on your strategy.

If you don’t have a content strategy yet, get on that right now. If you do, the beginning of the year is a good time to re-visit and evaluate it to see if you can make it better. If this isn’t something you know how to tackle on your own, hire someone who does. It’s too important to skip entirely.

So Many Things To Do ListChallenge: Scaling your content strategy to your resources.

This is arguably harder than creating the strategy. It’s often easier to think of a long list of things you should be doing than it is to actually, you know, do those things. A lot of content marketing is harder and more time consuming than people expect at first and if you overshoot, you’re more likely not to follow through on your plans or to be sloppy with them.

Solution: Build in some flexibility.

A content strategy isn’t a one and done deal. You may find you need to shift your expectations based on what your team can pull off or your budget can handle.

That’s ok. Better to slow down your content production and create the kind of stuff that will really shine than rush it and put out a lot of stuff no one will care about.

Challenge: Creating content that people care about.

I personally think this challenge and the next one are the two most difficult on the list. Everything I said in the introduction about competition is working against you here. How do you make your emails the ones that people open and your business blog the one that people click through to?

Your content doesn’t just have to be good it has to be relevant to what your audience needs and wants to know.

Solution: Talk to your audience and measure results.

You’ve got to go to the source. Talk to your customers or anyone you know that falls into the profile of what your target networkingofflinecustomers look like and find out:

  • What they’re thinking about
  • What they’re worried about
  • What questions and challenges they have
  • What other blogs and media outlets they regularly check out
  • How they find the content they consume
  • How and where they read it (Are they on their phone on the go? Sitting in their office at a desktop?)
  • What kind of topics they find the most interesting and valuable
  • Anything else you can get them to tell. The more you know the better.

For introverts like me, this part can be kind of awkward. But you know who’s probably talking to your audience every day? Sales people and customer service representatives. See if you can’t get them in on it to help you out with this step.

This gives you your start, but part two of tackling this challenge is paying attention to your analytics. What content pieces are getting read the most, shared the most, and commented on the most? Which are driving people to take further action on your site or inspiring return visits? Which are bringing new, relevant traffic to the site?

Track that information, check it regularly, and use it to refine your content strategy as you go.

Challenge: Promoting your content.

You can’t just put content out there and assume people will find it. Sometimes you’ll hear people suggest that works – “if it’s good enough, they will come!” I don’t buy it.

There’s too much stuff out there competing for their attention. You’ve got to put some effort into making sure your work gets in front of the people you want to see it and that they deem it worth their time.

Solution: Make this a crucial part of your strategy.

You’ve got to start thinking about this at the strategy stage. It takes time and it takes a plan. Identify the influencers and top blogs in your industry. Make a presence on social media (not every social media platform in existence, just the ones you know your people are at). Interact with people in your target audience and influencer list and become regular about it.

Creating the right relationships is a huge part of content promotion.

You should also consider paying for content promotion on social media channels and Google. If you’re paying for your content (and you are, even if only in time), it might be worth it to make sure your content is actually being seen. Paid promotion also usually comes with some good analytics that give you a better feel for what’s working and what people are interested in.

Challenge: Finding good people who get content marketing.

While this challenge wasn’t super high on the list, it’s one that’s growing for marketers. As content needs increase, so does the challenge of finding good people to help you meet those needs.

Solution: Talk to me!

Ok, I’m half joking. I’m a pretty great content writer, but by no means skilled at the many other things needed to be good at content marketing. That said, I do try to know as many people good at those other things as possible so I can point businesses in the right direction for what they need. And if I don’t already know someone skilled at the type of work you’re looking for, I don’t mind having an excuse to find that someone so I know them for future reference.

There are some other solutions that might come in handy for this one though:

  • Referrals and networking ­– keep up with any local marketing and content groups and don’t hesitate to ask the people you meet there for recommendations.
  • LinkedIn and Google searches – seems pretty obvious, but the people who rise to the top in searches on these networks are probably pretty good at what they do (although that means they likely don’t come cheap).
  • Invest in training for your staff – help the people you already have become more skilled at content marketing. Saves you a search and improves the employee relationship at the same time since it shows you care about investing in their career.

2015 looks likely to be a good year in the evolution of content marketing. Marketers just keep getting better at figuring out what works and exploring new creative ideas. As content marketing gets more sophisticated, you have to keep up if you want it to pay off for you. A lot of that just comes down to being thoughtful about how you approach it and putting in the work.

Unpopular Opinion: Why I Don’t Have an Email List

Why I Don't Have an Email ListIf you spend any time at all doing, researching, or thinking about content marketing you hear people talk about the importance of the list. Almost of all of the best marketing blogs sing the praises of the email list as a crucial component of building a successful business.

Copyblogger says: “Every successful online marketer we’ve talked with agrees — email readers are more responsive, they have a tighter connection with you, and they buy more stuff. ”

In an ebook thoroughly devoted to the subject, Hubspot says: “The size of your email list is a demonstration of your reach and thought leadership.”

Danny Iny from Firepole Marketing says: “Sure, Twitter, Facebook and RSS can be nice, but there’s just no comparing them to the raw power that comes with invited access to your prospect’s inbox.”

Joe Pulizzi, the very man who coined the term “content marketing” says: “There’s no Holy Grail to content marketing, but if there was one, it would be the email subscriber.”

If you google the term “the money’s in the list” you get page after page of articles from expert marketers insisting on the importance of building an email list.

As a content marketing copywriter, I know all the “rules” – the widely regarded best practices we’re all supposed to be following. Yet you’ve almost certainly noticed by now that there’s no email sign-up box in the sidebar. This is one of the golden rules of content marketing and yet I don’t personally follow it.

So….Why?

I don’t believe any of those quotes I cited up above are wrong. Those are some of the best minds in the biz and I’d be quick to share similar advice with many clients.

The reason I don’t follow this advice myself isn’t because I think it’s bad advice, it’s because it’s just not right for my business.

We’re All Different

Every business has distinct goals and priorities when it comes to content marketing. And every business must make choices when it comes time to decide where to spend time and money.

Like every other marketer and business owner in the world I have a loooooong mental list of different techniques and tactics I’d love to try for my business if only there were endless hours in each day. Like everyone else, I know I can’t accomplish them all and have to prioritize.

How I Prioritize

I’m just one person and my goals for the future of my business don’t include growing it beyond one person. That puts some serious limitations on the time I can spend on marketing, so I have to stick with the most efficient tactics for my purposes. These include (but aren’t necessarily limited to):

  • Networking. Both locally, at conferences, and online.
  • Guest posting to raise my online profile and demonstrate my abilities to a new audience.
  • Participating in social media with the goal of making new connections there.
  • Writing posts (like this one!) on my own blog to share my knowledge with readers and demonstrate my abilities to anyone who visits my site.

It’s a short list but, combined with my responsibilities to clients, it sure keeps me busy.

At the end of the day, all content marketing tactics come back around to the goal of making connections. The way you do it matters less than the results. For me, the activities I listed above work for what I want and need (and can accomplish) in my business.

The best strategy for your business will necessarily be different.

9 Expert Content Strategists on How to Be a Better Content Writer

Be a Better Content Writer

Content writers know the importance of trying to get inside readers’ heads to tap into what matters to them most, but that penchant for empathy doesn’t always extend to those other people we’re doing our writing for. We can’t read the minds of the people who are hiring us, but the simple solution to that is a willingness to ask.

With content marketing one of the fastest growing and most lucrative industries for professional writers to work in today, many of us are increasingly likely to find ourselves answering to people with the newly familiar title of “content strategist.” In the interest of tapping into what’s going on the heads of these content strategists (without trying to read minds), I’ve asked a few of them just what they value most in a content writer.

Here’s what they had to say:

9 Expert Opinions on What Makes a Great Content Writer

1) “I appreciate writers who have a clear understanding of their skills, strengths, and things they’re not as good at.

I love when writers ask smart questions upfront and ‘group’ their questions when they have to ask during the project. It’s so much easier to field than one email after another.

The most organized writers anticipate an editor or content strategist’s needs. They proactively research organic search terms, they craft concise pitches and cite expected sources, and they reach out on a regular basis (once a quarter is ideal) to see what they can help with.”

Kirsten Longnecker
Content Strategist, BancVue

2) “I most appreciate content writing that reminds me of my academic roots in creative writing and analysis. I am looking for a voice that pops off the page — an intellectual heft, an analytical rigor, and the kind of word choices that will stick with me long after I’ve left work for the day. It’s all possible in the content world, but only when writers, editors, and content developers lead the way.”

Leah Levy
Content Strategist and Copywriter, Just Start Storytelling

3) “Adaptation.  This is really broad and can apply to many different situations. Whether it’s taking feedback and adapting content accordingly, seeing a blog post fall flat and adapting the headline/tone/format the next time around, or taking something that’s complex and technical and adapting it for a more general audience — the ability to mold and shape content is absolutely necessary.

Curiosity. Ask questions! When I work with content writers who ask a lot of questions, the end product is usually a better, more performant piece of content. Writers should be asking “who is the target audience?,” “at what point in the buying cycle will someone be exposed to this piece of content?,” “how much should I assume they know about this topic?,” “how will the target audience benefit from reading this piece of content?,” “what is the intended call to action after reading this?”

Hannah Simon
Content Strategist, Fastly

4) “One quality I find indispensable in a writer is curiosity. The best writers are incurably enthusiastic and want to learn as much as possible about the subject of their writing. I’d rather read a curious neophyte writing about a technical topic than a complacent expert! Curious writers unearth interesting facts and make insightful connections. And their energy is infectious.”

Melanie Seibert
Content Strategist, Razorfish

5) “Coming from the magazine world and into content development, the most important things for me are the age-old elements. Know your audience and know the voice of the site. Certainly, great writing is great writing but if that writing fails to take into account the brand persona and audience, then you’ve just lost an opportunity to connect and convert.”

Lara Zuehlke
Account Supervisor, Pierpont Communications

6) “The quality we most appreciate in the content writers we work with is their willingness to learn. We want to develop long-term relationships with the writers who develop content for our clients which means we play a very collaborative role in creation. Being willing to learn all there is to know about the client and their business, accept feedback, and then of course apply what has been learned to future content is a huge benefit to everyone in the relationship.”

Mack Fogelson
CEO, Mack Web

7) “For me it’s a little bit of a two-pronged approach and trying to find a balance between them.

I used to value writers who excelled at audience engagement – creativity and passion and being able to really get inside the mind of the persona – even if their process was chaotic.

But as we move to a more structured approach to content, I’m really finding that I value content writers that can also organize their thoughts clearly, deliver outlines in advance of drafts, who know how to research and footnote material. It’s no longer just about engagement – the structure and process are critical as well.

Jenny Magic
Principal/VP of Content Strategy, Sitegoals

8) “When I hire writers – I do so because I want to bring their view of the world to an issue that I or my client is trying to communicate.   Alignment and agreement is important – but so is (in many cases) disagreement and (in almost all cases) a unique perspective.

So many times writers want to ‘write what they think the client wants’ instead of bringing their unique talents and point of view to the table.  Certainly there’s a place for writing in a different voice (e.g. ghost writing) and trying to match tone and perspective. But, most of the time what I appreciate and value about a content writer is that they have the ability to tell a story in a unique and differentiated way.”

Robert Rose
Chief Strategist, Content Marketing Institute

9) “Given the space I work in: the ability to clearly communicate fresh ideas.

I’m all for pretty prose, but in content marketing it’s all about educating customers; this places priority on clarity over articulacy, and demands an ability to argue unique perspectives. In other words, I mostly value a writer’s ability to think clearly and then put those thoughts to page over their ability to ‘write well.’ Perhaps they are one and the same, though. :)”

Gregory Ciotti
Content Strategist, Help Scout

Edit: Bonus Tip!

One strategist got back to me after the post went up, but I didn’t want to deprive anyone of her great advice.

“I need people who are super curious and constantly educating themselves about all the different areas of content strategy, particularly UX and metadata basics. Great writing only goes so far! :)”

Kristina Halvorson
Content Strategist, Brain Traffic

One thing that quickly becomes clear through these answers is that not every content strategist has the same priorities when it comes to finding a great content writer, which goes to show that much of being good at your work is finding the employer or client that’s a great fit for you.

There are a few key themes we see emerge though:

  • Curiosity – A good writer has got to be a great researcher and that’s a skill that usually comes from having a driving curiosity to learn new things. The best writers like that process of digging up new information on a topic and becoming a mini-expert in every little thing their readers want to know about.
  • Creativity – Good writing is not formulaic, it brings something unique to the table to help keep the reader interested. While that curiosity-driven research takes care of the background work, creativity is what makes for greater skill in the writing process itself. Choosing the best possible words, finding the right voice, bringing some humor into a piece ­– these are some of the kinds of creative skills that really set content writers apart.

So there you have it, the things content strategists care about the most when it comes to the work you do for them aren’t those nitty gritty values like meeting deadlines or crafting the right headlines (although I’m sure they’d all be quick to say those matter too). It’s more about the most basic personality traits that drove many of us to become writers in the first place: the desire to continually learn new things and stretch our creativity muscle.