Thank god you made it here. You’re reading this blog post, and for that reason alone, I have faith that you are well on your way to success. How do I know this? Because you’re looking for advice and tips to document your blog strategy. And believe it or not, you’re in the minority.
Only 37% of B2B marketers have a documented strategy, and yet 89% of B2B marketers claim to use content marketing. That’s a whole lot of people wandering around aimlessly.
How can they ever expect to go anywhere if they don’t plot out their journey?
But never mind that. You’re here. You are the chosen one. You actually want to document your strategy. Specifically your blog strategy. It’s no easy task, and it’s not something you can do in “5 minutes.”
To be perfectly frank, you won’t even be able to read this entire blog post in five minutes. But good things take time and discipline.
Over the past month, I’ve been working on a blog strategy for a client of mine. They’ve wanted a blog for many months now, but, like most things, it got shoved to the back-burner. At long last, they’re ready to commit, and that commitment is something I don’t take for granted. No blog blossoms overnight, and, sorry to say, neither will yours.
Nevertheless, I’ve documented the questions I asked and the tactics I used to help shape my client’s blog strategy, and I want to share them with you. By addressing the questions and potential answers I outline below, you’ll find yourself on a faster track than our friends in the 32%.
Because this blog is lengthy (approximately 3,200 words), I’ve broken it out into five distinct sections. Feel free to jump around to the section relevant to your needs:
Building personas, writing intimately, and inviting your readers in.
Four potential goals and how they affect your strategy (plus KPI ideas).
Three tactics for writing engaging content.
Building your team and an editorial process.
Five ways to hook readers.
1. Who Are You Writing For?
Know your audience. Advice so simple and clear, it’s become a cliche. We all know the benefits of buyer personas. The good personas help organizations understand the drivers, goals, and barriers buyers face as they travel along the path to purchase.
But if “knowing your audience” is so obvious it’s basically trite, then why, according to a 2016 survey by persona expert Tony Zambito, do 70% of B2B marketers find buyer personas confusing?
Before you begin your blog strategy, you absolutely must start by answering the fundamental question: Who is my audience? And that requires persona development.
A good persona should include, at a minimum, the following:
- The buying role (influencer, gatekeeper, buyer, etc.)
- Buying triggers or drivers
- Barriers to purchase
- Preferred communication channels
- Success factors
- Role of content
Notice that I don’t include clever names (Oliver Owner or Susie Sales), how many dogs they own, or whether they sing in the shower. Unless you can make a business case for why that trivial information is relevant, don’t include it.
Once you know your audiences, you can begin to build content that is made for your audiences.
Write to Your Audience, Not at Them
A blog is a form of communication. Instead of one-to-one, a blog is one-to-many. However, that doesn’t mean you should write like that.
Reading is always an intimate experience—even on topics like regulation changes in the financial sector. As such, your writing must be intimate. You’re not writing for the masses. You’re writing for that single reader, who happens to catch a breath between meetings, pulls out her phone, and sees your latest post in LinkedIn’s news feed.
Consider that image a second longer: A woman stands outside a conference room, her phone clutched tightly a few inches from her face. You’re writing to her. You’re communicating insights, ideas, and practical value directly to her. And you’re doing this successfully because you took the time to get to know her.
Invite Your Audience into the Blog
Once you establish this intimate communication channel between your brand and your audience, the next logical step is to invite your readers to speak back. Create the mechanisms and processes for inviting your readers into the blog.
Enable comments. I know it can be scary to allow people to post their opinions. What if they say something terrible? Most commenting tools come with approval options, but, regardless, you’re much better off opening the door than shutting it.
Respond to comments. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to see comments on a corporate blog go unanswered or unacknowledged. Someone took the time to write a message. The very least we can do is thank them for their time.
Encourage guest bloggers. As you build a blog readership, you may find some readers have thoughts or ideas they’d love to share outside of the comments. Encourage them. Invite them to guest blog. Better yet, invite them to co-author a post with you. Not only does this grow your brand equity, you also expose your editorial content to perspectives you might never have uncovered.
2. What Does Success Look Like?
So let’s say you build this blog, and you start writing and publishing posts regularly. What then? What does success look like for your brand? We all know blogs are important. Every marketing consultant says so. Heck, even I (ghost)wrote a post for Boston Interactive’s site on the subject.
But having a blog for the sake of a blog won’t cut it. What do you want the blog to achieve? How will you measure success? These questions must be answered (for the most part) up front, as they will dictate practically everything about your blog.
From the user experience (UX) and wireframes to the design and even whether to include comments or not—knowing your goals ahead of time matters.
So, I ask again, what does success look like for your blog strategy?
Maybe for your blog strategy, success is brand awareness. A blog is an owned property for you to drive that stake in the ground and publicize who you are and why you matter. You may have a powerhouse of experts chomping at the bit to showcase their thought leadership to the world.
In that case, your KPIs (key performance indicators) may include:
- Site traffic (new visitors, specifically)
- Email subscribers, open rates, click-through rates, etc.
- Social media followers
- Comments and other forms of engagement on the blog
- Mentions and inbound links from external publications
- Conversion rate (attributing the blog in some fashion)
With that goal and these KPIs in mind, you’ll head into the content strategy and UX process with clear objectives. These KPIs will influence what the navigation looks like, how your blog’s subscription process works, how you display social shares, and so forth.
But maybe you want your blog strategy to do more than build brand awareness.
Your blog is now your inbound marketing machine. Similar to brand awareness, your goal is to cast a wide net, but to generate quality leads, you’ll want to place limitations on how far you cast. This means writing on niche topics you know your audience is looking for (because you have your persona research to validate that).
For lead generation, the KPIs are bit more straightforward:
- New leads (duh, right?)
- Lead quality
- Cost per lead
- New site visitors
- SEO rankings
A lead generation site looks a little different from a brand awareness site. You’ll want more promotional calls to action to drive people to a conversion form. Maybe you offer high-value content in the form of ebooks, webinars, tools, etc. For its part, your blog content now becomes a hook for drawing in new visitors to your lead capture landing pages, and you’ll want to vary your content mix to catch as many potential leads as possible.
The B2B sales cycle is a much longer, more complex process than ever before. More research is involved, more influencers and stakeholders are entering the fray, and buyers are depending more on industry experts and leaders to help make decisions. With this in mind, your blog can play a huge role in nurturing prospects down the buyer’s journey.
For lead nurturing, your KPIs may include:
- Lead quality score
- Lead to opportunity conversion rates
- Returning site visitors
- Social media followers
- Cost of customer acquisition
With the blog playing an instrumental role in your lead nurturing strategy, your content should align closely to the buyer’s journey—for all personas. You may look to segment your blog by persona or by product/solution. Better still, you may want to integrate personalization tools to truly connect with prospects, especially as you build and refine their profile data.
You may also consider building up your pool of in-house industry experts. As prospects move further down the journey, they’re looking for a company who has the best talent and experience. They’ll expect that expertise to exude from every blog post you write, so your content strategy must set up a process for building up and promoting your talent.
Customer Loyalty & Advocacy
Customer service is crucial for B2B businesses that wish to stay relevant and stay in business. High customer satisfaction leads to stronger sentiment and retention. But it’s not just about retention. Nearly 20% of new business comes from current customers. Here’s to the advocates!
Customer loyalty and advocacy are important elements for any organization, but they’re not synonymous. To have one is not to have another. Loyalty is how you stay in business, but advocacy is how you grow a business.
Loyalty is how you stay in business, but advocacy is how you grow a business.
For customer loyalty and advocacy, your KPIs may include:
- Net promoter score (NPS)
- Email subscription metrics (click-through rate, open rate, etc.)
- Social sharing and mentions
- Customer referrals
- Customer retention repeat (how is your blog upselling/cross-selling?)
- Churn rate
If you believe in customer loyalty and advocacy for your brand, I recommend a separate and secluded blog for customers only. You can publish content around onboarding, frequently asked questions, updates and announcements, etc. Even customer spotlights that chronicle how certain customers tackled unique challenges using your products and solutions do well here. A customer-only blog gives you an opportunity to communicate directly and personally to your customers, letting them know that you value their business and support.
3. What Will You Write About?
I’ve purposefully set this question to follow audience and goals because you can’t possibly know what you’ll write about until you know who you’re writing for and why you’re writing in the first place.
At an absolute minimum, your content should either align to the buyer’s journey or customer’s journey. That means doing the research up front (and continually) to understand what needs, challenges, and barriers a prospect or customer has at different phases of the journey. Once you identify those, you can start to build content around those touchpoints.
But that still begs the question: What do I write that gets people’s attention?
This is a tough question, and even the best B2B marketers struggle to find an answer. According to the Content Institute, 60% of marketers believe creating engaging content is their number one challenge.
While I don’t intend to solve the problem in this post, I do have a few ideas for helping you get closer to finding the solution for yourself as you build your blog strategy.
Provide Practical Value
People love reading and learning about things that add practical value to their life or others’. According to NYT Insight Group, 94% of users assess the usefulness of content before deciding to share content with someone else.
What’s more, practical value reflects positively on your brand. Readers will see you as a brand that actually knows what it’s talking about. Whether you have tips for being more efficient at work or saving money using “these 7 tricks,” offering your readers practical value that directly aligns with your brand promise and mission will keep them coming back.
Make Them Feel It
This will likely sound cliche, but I’ll write it anyway: People don’t buy from businesses; people buy from people. At the heart of that transaction lies the emotional bonds between people. Whether that bond is positive (trust, respect, loyalty) or negative (fear, disgust, animosity), it’s plain to see emotions underscore our relationships with brands.
Rather than harping on features or facts, we need to focus on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action. – Dr. Jonah Berger
In Dr. Jonah Berger’s bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he studied 7,000 New York Times articles, ranking their emotional value against their propensity to be read and shared.
According to his research, “high arousal” articles consistently made NYT’s top-shared content list. High-arousal emotions include:
- Amusement (humor)
Notice the last two: anger and anxiety. Even negative emotions engross readers, as long as those emotions arouse a need to take action.
Be a Storyteller
We all know the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. The Tortoise, ever patient and persistent, never gives up, despite the cocky Hare’s provocation that the Tortoise will never match the speed of the Hare. And yet…well, you know how it ends.
But more importantly, you know the moral of the story: “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Let me ask you this: Would you know that moral as well had you never heard the story of the Tortoise and the Hare? Very unlikely. In fact, I imagine you’ve heard simple morals like “slow and steady” all your life, but without the association of a strong story, most of those morals haven’t stuck.
That’s why storytelling is so important. Everyone loves a good story. We love the rise and fall of action; we love strong and empathetic characters going after something they want and (maybe) getting it in the end. It stands to reason, then, that we would love stories even from businesses.
How can you find the story to convey your point? Is it a personal story? One you, as the blog writer, experienced yourself? Share those stories. Capture your readers’ attention and ensure they walk away with a moral of their own.
4. Who Will Write and Contribute?
Let’s turn our attention to the more tactical issues of a blog strategy. Namely, who’s going to write this stuff?
So often, I have clients who are excited to get a blog up. They know the importance, they know how their business will benefit, and they have all the tools in place to get started. But then the blog flounders when they realize they have no one to write.
Yes, a blog needs bloggers. Go figure, right? But levity aside, this is a crucial challenge for businesses. More than half of B2B marketers (57%) claim creating content consistently is in their top 5 content marketing challenges for 2016.
Build Your Team
When you invest in your business’s blog strategy, you’re investing in more than just a web design. You need to find and hire the content writer(s) who can dedicate enough time and resources to doing the job well. I would not recommend trying to foist writing tasks onto existing employees, unless you know for a fact they actually want to contribute and have the bandwidth to do so.
If hiring someone full time is not possible at this time, then I recommend hiring a freelancer. Yes, I may know a few freelance copywriters (I’m talking about me). Depending on the expertise needed, you can find a freelance writer for reasonable rates. Check out Contently’s network for starters.
Create the Editorial Process
Even with the right team in place, your blog will require a well-planned and maintained editorial process and calendar. Have you thought through your content governance plan? Who’s responsible for writing and editing new content? Don’t forget maintaining content as well—old content needs love too!
Assign your “informer.” The informer is responsible for distributing your content to both the public and internal stakeholders.
Get yourself an editorial calendar—pronto. With all these cooks bound to end up in your kitchen, you’re going to need a way to organize, prioritize, and assign content. Plenty of templates are available online, but if you need something with a little more heft and technology behind it, try interactive tools by NewsCred, Contently, or Kapost.
5. How Will You Attract Readers?
Oh right. Readers. Can’t forget about them. One of the worst feelings in the world is to go through all the work of setting up a stellar blog, and then when you head over to your Google Analytics, you hear crickets. A proper distribution plan is critical to your blog strategy’s success.
Search Engine Optimization
One the biggest benefits of a blog is the boost to your search engine optimization (SEO). You’ll write and publish many content pieces, all of which can and should be optimized for keywords your audience is using during their buying research.
The best advice I can give you is this: Write on a keyword to death. What I mean by that is you should find a keyword that you love (high monthly search volume, low competition), and write as many blog articles as you can on the keyword. Your first, second, or third blog might not rank #1, but the more you vary up that keyword and find new ways to provide value on that keyword, the more chances you’re giving yourself to rise to the top.
Social media is the default mode for most marketers when it comes to deciding on how to promote a blog. However, you must do more than simply tweet the article once, twice, or even three times. While continuously promoting your content is smart (in my opinion, if a post is evergreen, you should never stop promoting it), you should also consider how you promote it:
- Vary up the title of your post (try a dozen to start with)
- Use popular hashtags and find relevant niche ones
- Try different content types (infographics, animated GIFs, quotes, etc.)
- Tag relevant people
- Post in social media groups/threads
For email distribution, make sure you’ve set up a consistent email newsletter. Allow subscribers to customize their preferences (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) as well as customize their content preferences (categories, authors, types, etc.)
Find niche networks to cross-promote your content. This part takes research and time, but the results are incredible. One thing I like to do is ask my clients’ current customers (usually during the persona research) what they read and where. I log that information and hold onto it for future use. If current customers read certain magazines or blogs, I can safely assume potential prospects are also reading there.
Start making connections with writers on those networks. Comment on relevant blog articles, reach out on social media, etc. You may find an opportunity to cross-promote through guest blogging on their network or on yours.
Especially at the early stages of your blog, paid promotions may very well be your best bet for gaining a readership. I’ve had great success with LinkedIn’s Sponsored Content for several of my clients, but I’d also recommend finding key blogs or magazines and working with their advertising department on creating sponsored stories or native advertising.
When your blog first launches, you should try to test a little bit of everything. Those small wins will lead to big success down the road.
Don’t Be the 37%: Document Your Blog Strategy
In this post, we’ve talked about the importance of knowing your audience, developing a clear goal and KPIs, creating engaging content, building a strong team and editorial process, and attracting readers. Obviously, much more can be said on all of these topics plus a number of others we didn’t even get to.
Regardless, you are one step further to creating an effective blog strategy, but you must document your ideas, your process, and your strategy. Avoid the trap of the 37%. There’s no reason you can’t have a successful blog.
Edited on 10/23/16: Now that the new B2b Content Marketing report for 2017 came out in September, I’ve gone back and adjusted the stats originally pulled from the 2016 report. -Rhen