This is a bit outside of my daily routine, but it’s something I’ve been meaning to touch on for quite some time. At UniBul we’ve been fortunate to have been able to build a blog with a strong and growing following and, more importantly, one which generates an ever-increasing number of high-quality leads for us. For let’s be honest — generating leads is the sole reason businesses keep blogs. Yes, business blogging can be fun, but it’s a lot of work and if done the wrong way, it can also be a huge waste of time and resources. So I decided to share with you what I’ve learned about business blogging over the four years I’ve been doing it at UniBul.
I now believe that there is a system which can be used to enable any business in any industry to build a well-trafficked blog within a fairly short period of time — I think measurable results can be produced in as little as six months. Now, I should warn you from the start that this is not one of those “do-it-in-your-sleep” wonders that promise to do all the work for you. No, you would still need to continually put in a huge amount of effort and time — no one can do that for you, as will become clear in a minute. But if you are willing and able to invest the necessary time and energy and follow the advice I am about to give you, I guarantee you that the results will be well worth the investment.
On Becoming an Authority
In order for a business blog to be effective, it should cover topics that are of interest for the owners and executives of the types of clients it is targeting and there is nothing of higher interest for these guys than growing their businesses. Yes, at night (and perhaps during their lunch breaks, too) they may be looking at photos of kittens, puppies and things like that, but they won’t pay for those pictures and sales is what you care about. You would want them to come to your blog to find ideas about growing their businesses, generating leads, converting leads into customers, etc. And yes, whatever it is your business is offering should be prominently featured as a great way to do one or all these things (just as our great credit card processing service is a constant theme on our own blog), but your blog should be much more than a platform for self-promotion or otherwise no one would take it seriously.
HubSpot’s blog provides a great example of how this could be done. The blog covers all kinds of marketing-related topics, with references to the company’s products rarely (although consistently) featured in the articles. Over time, HubSpot managed to make itself an authority on all things marketing and the upshot is that people now read it in their hundreds of thousands, making the blog the core of HubSpot’s enormous (and hugely successful) marketing machine.
A far better example is provided by Neil Patel’s QuickSprout blog, which is hugely successful in generating leads for Patel’s two businesses. I learned about Patel through a guest article he had written for SmartBrief, for which I am subscribed. I was immediately impressed by its substance — Patel really knew what he was talking about and, more importantly, sounded as if he knew what he was talking about. His article contained no fluff, just substance, backed up by real-life examples and personal experience in the form of work Patel had done for his clients. So I immediately subscribed to Patel’s blog and am still following it closely, even though the author’s English skills leave much to be desired. Anyway, here is what I think makes QuickSprout so effective at generating leads for Patel’s businesses and what you should incorporate into your own blog, if it is to become similarly successful:
- QuickSprout offers to its readers specialist advice on topics related to marketing, SEO and sales. Patel writes about things people can do to grow their businesses. Crucially, the author can pass off as a specialist qualified to dish out advice on these subjects, because he is one. He never tires of reminding readers of his huge successes in, among other things, increasing TechCrunch’s traffic by 30 percent in 60 days. Moreover, case studies of his successes are strategically placed underneath each post, as well as in the blog’s sidebar.
- QuickSprout’s blog posts are very detailed. Patel’s blog posts feel like guides and this is by design — QuickSprout readers are conditioned to feel as though QuickSprout teaches them how to become better at marketing and selling their products and services. Patel never tires of saying that in business nothing matters but making money — for example generating huge traffic counts for nothing if it does not lead to sales. Of course, he is right, but the important lesson is that readers are convinced that they get real value from QuickSprout which, in turn, makes them much more likely to proselytize for the blog, as well as to become customers of one of Patel’s two businesses, which is what Patel is interested in.
- QuickSprout’s blog posts are long. The length of QuickSprout’s blog posts needs to be mentioned separately from the detailed nature of their content, because, although interrelated, the two features serve different purposes. Whereas posts are detailed with the objective of gaining the readers’ trust, the length primarily serves an SEO purpose — studies have indicated that Google consistently ranks long articles — 2,000 words or so — at the top of its search results.
On Promoting Your Blog
Now let’s assume that you’ve learned how to write blog posts of interest to potential customers. Unfortunately, by itself writing high-quality articles is not enough — you have to be able to market your blog successfully and to do that you may have to spend some money. If I had no constraints, I would use these techniques, as I believe that they are most likely to produce results quickly:
- Create a good blog design. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Both HubSpot’s design and QuickSprout’s one are great and have been tested continually for years, so just copy one of them.
- Produce content on a consistent schedule. The lack of consistency in blogging negatively affects traffic. You don’t need to blog daily — although you absolutely should be doing it, if you could find topics to write about — but whatever your schedule may be, you should stick to it. Results can be achieved even with two articles per week. Whatever your schedule, however, the quality of your content should never be compromised and remain in compliance with the three requirements stated above.
- Pay for social media ads. To get results faster, you could pay for StumbleUpon ads or Facebook ads. Perform experiments to try to identify the optimal way of using these platforms. If one of them doesn’t produce results, discontinue using it. If neither produces results, you may seek help from consultants or, alternatively, stop paying for ads and move on.
- Do guest blogging. I freely admit that I’ve never been ecstatic about this option, but guest posts published on popular blogs can raise your profile and bring some traffic to your own blog, although it would take time, and many guest posts to see measurable results.
- Build a subscriber list. In the long run, subscribers become a blog’s biggest and most valuable asset, so you should start collecting emails immediately after your blog is launched. There are various techniques to do that, but I will not spend time on these here — you can Google it and quickly find plenty of good advice. Anecdotal evidence shows that subscribers are much more likely than other readers to leave comments and share blog posts on their social networks, which is precisely the type of behavior you want to encourage. Some time ago I read in The Economist that a typical visitor would first go through the comments of an article, before deciding whether or not to read it. I still struggle to make sense of that — I prefer to judge for myself whether a piece of content is worth reading — but what I struggle with is irrelevant; what matters is the huge importance that social proof has for the larger audience. And if that is true for The Economist, it is even more true for everyone else.
- Reply to all comments. At UniBul we are bad at that, but there is no question that readers feel flattered when you respond to their comments and that makes them come back.
- Do not do anything that may get you in trouble with Google. Nothing can ruin all of your hard work as quickly as a Google penalty. I guess a rule of thumb you could follow would be to not do anything that you cannot tell Google about. If you engage in questionable link building schemes or produce poor, but keyword-laden content, just for the sake of tricking Google into placing you high in its results, you will eventually be discovered and penalized. It is not worth it.
Now, this list is not meant to be comprehensive and I have purposely left some items out. For example, it goes without saying that you need to build solid presence on all major social media platforms. And of course you should be sharing your blog posts with your own social media contacts and try to get others to “like”, “plus-one” and retweet them, but that goes without saying. Moreover, getting content to go “viral” on some social media platform or other is beyond my scope of expertise.
Creating a popular blog is not an easy task, but there is a method for doing it, which can help speed up the process. However, that does not mean that there are shortcuts you could take. See, if you don’t know your subject well enough or are unable to express your knowledge clearly enough (although, with practice, you will get better over time), you will fail, with or without my advice. On the other hand, if you do know what you are talking about and are sufficiently motivated to succeed, the system I’ve outlined above will work perfectly for you.
Image credit: Flickr / Kristina B.