Watch The Recording:
In today's episode of Facebook Live, Phil and I share the process we used to grow our own traffic 5x in only two years using blogs.
The minute marks from the video can be found below:
1:23 - Why have a blog in 2017 and beyond?
3:02 - Characteristics of unsuccessful blogs
6:08 - Visibility comes before community
6:32 - Achieving visibility
9:00 - Step 1: Defining Your Target Personas
10:23 - Step 2: Find Your Niche
12:14 - Step 3: Using search rankings as a guide
16:22 - Step 4: Using your competition to define your strategy
19:24 - Step 5: How to build on successful content
27:32 - Step 6: Turning traffic into contacts
33:40 - Q&A - how to avoid duplicate content
36:30 - Q&A - Balancing lead generation pop-ups with user experience
Below is a transcript of our broadcast, covering everything from why business blogs are unsuccessful to generating contacts from your blog traffic.
It’s been edited and optimized for readability and each section is marked by the time it starts in the video, so if you’re really interested in a certain part, you can skip right to that section in the video.
Why have a blog in 2017 and beyond? [1:23]
We all want to generate more leads online. You’ve probably heard that blogging can be a really effective mechanism to generate traffic and generate leads. But the reality is that blogging can be difficult–at least effective blogging can be really difficult.
The last study I saw on this showed that there are around 200 million blogs on the web. Blogging goes back all the way to AOL days, so it’s been around a while.
But, most blogs have been abandoned, and most blogs are not effective at generating results. And that’s a real problem, so we want to know…
What can we do to create an effective blog that generates leads?
Furthermore, there’s a lot of time and effort that goes into this so you want to make sure your resources are being used well. Third, and this is the key, if you can figure it out and if you can do it right it can have a profound impact on your business.
The reason content is such a big topic and a lot of people really advocate it and say you need to be doing content marketing is because those who have achieved really effective blogging have just exploded their businesses in a really good way.
It can create a steady flow of new leads to your site, a steady flow of traffic, it can increase two, three times year-over-year. So it’s a really powerful lead generation tool if done right, if done well, but most don’t do it well. So that’s what we want to talk about today...
Characteristics of unsuccessful blogs [3:02]
The standard run-of-the-mill blog–an ineffective business blog–is one that is posted infrequently, with short posts, with really canned content that, most importantly, adds zero value to the reader.
That’s probably the number one giveaway and what represents over 80% of all business blogs...that is the formula for failure: Not posting enough, or posting low quality, short content–no one is going to engage with that. Search engines aren’t going to pick it up and you’re not going to out-rank the top blogs out there with that style of content.
There are a lot of different types of blogs: There are video blogs, written blogs, etc. I want to talk about a very specific type here because the process we’re going to talk about is a process we’ve used for ourselves, for our clients and we’ve seen a lot of success with it.
I don’t want to say this is the only way to do this but I want to set a very specific scenario and tell you how we’d attack that.
So, we’re talking about a business using a blog to generate leads and sales on their site. The blog, in this case, is going to be a written blog, so an article you post to your site and you’re posting to it frequently with written content, with graphics and images added to it. Your standard blog is what we’re referring to here.
Visibility comes before community [6:08]
When people think about social media and content, they immediately think “I want to create something for my community and something my community is really going to like”. Here’s the reality—most of you don’t really have a community yet.
A community is earned over time, you don’t have it immediately. You may have a customer base, but if you’re not engaging it or interacting with them and you haven’t nurtured it over time, you don’t really have much of a community, so visibility comes before community.
Achieving visibility [6:32]
When it comes to visibility, there are a few things you need to do in order to win that visibility. The most effective way of winning visibility when you’re writing a blog is through search—you get found through search. We want to talk about building a blog that can get found through search and then how you can get that blog to rank at the top of search engines, and start to really increase traffic then increase leads.
An interesting stat: It’s estimated that by 2020, 50% of searches will be done by voice. That’s your “Hey, Google, show me this…” or “Hey, Google, how many tablespoons are in a cup?”.
It’s those types of searches that are going to dominate, or get to 50% of all searches. That’s a very different process when it comes to search behavior than we’ve seen in the past. I think from a content perspective you need to think, “How can I create content that is ready for that type of search and answers that potential type of search?”.
There are devices coming out now like Google Home, Amazon Echo, all these things where they’re preparing us for a world where we’re talking to our devices, we’re not typing. And you talk differently than you type so we want to think in a more conversational style when it comes to the topics that we write about.
Step 1—Defining your target personas [9:00]
One of the biggest issues that we see businesses do is they’re not really writing to their customer. They’re not writing to an audience that they can monetize down the road.
That’s an awful first step to take because it’s the first thing you do. You think, “What topics are we going to write on?” and then there’s all this manpower and hours that come in after it. So, if you’re not thinking about your target market when you first start, everything that follows that is only going to be moderately effective at best.
So, talk to the right people. We recommend going through an exercise where you think of 2-3 of your top personas. Maybe think of your regular customers–the type of people that you want to target. Start going through and saying, “Here’s who they are, here’s how much money they make, here’s their pain that relates to the kind of stuff that we sell…the pain in their lives that make them come to find a product like ours.”
Those are the questions you really want to flesh out and understand, because every piece of content you write after that is directed at those specific pain points.
Very important—start by defining your personas.
Step 2—Find your niche [10:23]
You’re going to have to find your niche. This is something that’s going to take time. A lot of ambitious business owners that want to go out and start a blogging strategy think, “Oh, we have this great idea for a blog, here’s what we’re going to write about,” and they just run off to the races and they start doing it and then six months down the road they think, “Maybe this isn’t working for us.”
What we found is that the niche—the topics you should really focus on and go deep on—may be a surprise to you. We found our niches in the blogging world by accident. Years ago, I wrote an article on marketing budgets and it ended up getting picked up by search pretty well.
Then every year we added to it with new trend data and now we’ve really just branched out from marketing budgets. We didn’t go out and identify that as a target, it was by accident. But it definitely has become a cornerstone of our blogging strategy.
Start with an idea, a concept of what you’re trying to deliver to your end user. Value is so important, we want to make sure anything we’re writing is actually providing value. Maybe it’s answering a certain question they would type into Google or say to Google.
Then, put a lot out there. The first thing you should do after putting all that content out there for a while is go back and see which pieces are resonating with your market. There are a few metrics that we want you to pay attention to start getting that feedback to figure out which area you should go deeper into. One of which is rankings...
Step 3—Using search rankings as a guide [12:14]
This is a really important one. And people may tell you, “Rankings aren’t important in 2017,” or whatever, but rankings are actually still important, especially when it comes to a blogging strategy.
The reason is–like I said at the beginning—we’re after awareness, and that is going to be generated in large part by search.
So, let’s say you put 20 blogs out there and you say for each one of these blogs, here are three or four keywords, or a string of keywords, that we want this post to rank for. So, you let Google come and index the content, and you start to run ranking checks to see how these blogs are ranking.
You may find that some stuck around 42 on Google, some go up to 30 or 36 on Google. But, then you have that one post that is, for whatever reason, number four in Google for that targeted keyword…
That’s what you want to see and identify for a couple of reasons:
First, hey, you’ve gotten awareness on a post. So you’re in striking distance of that number one ranking that you really want to go for. There are some ways to do that which we’ll get to in a second.
Second of all, if you have a post that landed on number 12 on Google and it’s not on the first page, if you don’t do anything else, that blog has pretty much gone to waste. No one’s going to see it, it’s not going to get found through search. Maybe you could recycle it later and send it to your database, but if you put in a lot of hours and a few hundred dollars to write that post and it’s on the back end of Google and no one is seeing it, that’s it for the post, right?
So, follow those rankings. If something is on second page, and within striking distance of page one on Google, reinvest back into that content so it’ll have a real shot at coming in at the top of Google.
Another measure you could use to find out what’s responding is social media. So, you can push these out to social media, you can post them on LinkedIn, etc. In the beginning, you might go and post as an article on LinkedIn, and you’ll see what gets comments, what gets likes, what gets shares and it will surprise you.
We’ve posted some stuff before that we thought people were going to love—crickets.
And we put up something that we just threw together quickly and it’s getting all these shares and likes.
That’s what you really need to keep your finger on the pulse of—what are people responding to, what do people like—once you find out what that style or topic is, that’s where you want to attack, that’s where you want to go deep because you have a group of people that are willing to amplify that content for you.
In addition, what many organizations struggle with is that if you look at rankings heavily, particularly if you look at rankings alone, it’s a very long-term strategy. You’re going to take a lot of time to build a following and earn rankings. In particular, rankings for keywords that generate a lot of traffic.
So, we’re going to talk about some other methods to try and accelerate this a bit…
Rankings are important, but really rankings by itself isn’t a complete formula and if you treat it as such it’s going to take a very long time to get traction. It’s an initial measure if you see a post that’s starting to get up there that tells you where you might want to reinvest your time.
Keep in mind: You’re going after a keyword string that’s only two or three keywords–you’re not going to get that out of the gate. But, if you can get three or four-word combinations and get it close, you can then reinvest in that piece of content, get it up to the top and then you can start going after the more generic keywords once you have some authority and some links built around that post.
Step 4—Using your competition to define your strategy [16:22]
Another nice little tactic that we found when deciding what to invest in a blog and how much to invest in a blog is going out and identifying your competition, meaning others who are competing for rank for that topic.
I don’t mean your local competition...I mean, if you’re trying to rank for a very specific industry or manufacturing term, and you’re saying, “Here’s how to do this in this industry,” and you do that search and you see that there are two or three other authors who have written about that topic, you want to go and figure out what they are doing and how you can do it better.
Ultimately, what Google wants to do is show the best possible search result at the top of its search ranking. If you see that everyone else has written a post that is 750 words in length and they only talk about one element of that topic, you can say, “Hey, we can write more detail about that, we have a video that explains a component of that, we did a survey of our industry and that’s related to it,” and you start to pour all that in and before you know it you’ve created a much better post on that particular topic
That’s the first step in wanting to achieve those rankings because if everyone else is writing 750 words and then you write a subpar 400 word post on the same thing, how are you going to convince Google that your content is better than the other guy who has been around a lot longer?
The objective in combining various sources of information—an internal video, survey data and other information that you have—is not only to get better than your competition but to show Google that you are the authoritative source on that particular topic. If you are the authoritative source on that topic then Google will reward you with a high ranking.
Step 5—How to build on successful content [19:24]
So, you’ve identified your target market, who your target customers are, what they care most about, the pain that they have that’s associated with buying from you. You are creating topics that relate to their pain, that answer questions they may have, that they may go to the web and say, “How to do this, or what to say when I hire this type of company, or what’s the difference between this and this when buying this type of product.”
Now, let’s say you’ve put out 20 posts on the topic, you’ve followed it in the rankings to see which posts are coming in close. And now you find out you have three posts that landed on the first page, five that are on the second page and the rest that are on the third page or lower.
What happens next?
It’s a matter of considering the performance so far and doing one of a couple things:
Figuring out what else can you leverage for those top performing posts. Do you have other articles from the past that didn’t do well? Maybe it makes sense to take an underperforming article and combine it with a top performer to make it more powerful and more authoritative.
You can combine several of your top performing articles if they’re all on a somewhat related topic and package that into an e-book or a whitepaper, or something else to capture some of that traffic.
Here’s an interesting metric that’s worth knowing—post length correlates to post rankings. What I mean by that is, posts that are longer 1000 words–1250...1500 word posts–generally rank better than those in the 400, 500, 600-word category.
Go back to how Google wants to deliver this: They want to deliver relevant content to their user and in a lot of cases if you’re more thorough and you’ve written about the topic at greater length, that’s going to look more interesting to Google.
So, post length correlates to rankings.
To go and write 20 blogs at 1500 words takes a lot of time, effort and money. That’s why we say maybe if you come out of the gate with 750 words, put that on the blog and then if you see that a few of those get to position 10 or 12–while there are a couple other related posts that are back on page three, four, and five–take those posts, copy the content, and throw it into that post that’s close to ranking on the first page. Delete the old posts and now you have this new mega-post. Now you’ve put a lot more ammunition behind that one particular blog.
You can also invest in other types of media that are on that blog. We’ve seen some data that shows that the time someone stays on a page after clicking from Google can correlate to higher rankings.
There’s data that supports it’s true—if someone clicks on the top search result in Google and comes back two seconds later and then clicks on the next listing in Google and stays on that for 30 seconds, Google may infer that the second post was higher value, and more relevant, because that person stayed on the post longer.
How can you increase time on page for a blog?
You can add a video to the blog. If someone clicks “play,” you’re buying yourself more time for that page. We’ve added surveys to posts before that say “How do you feel about this?” and give them five options. Then they click to vote on it and see what everyone else says. That will buy you another 5 seconds. You can also structure the post in a way that encourages them to continue scrolling down the page. By that I mean you can use a lot of bulleted lists, you can create new paragraphs very often.
If you write everything as a massive solid paragraph you can’t really skim that. But if you break it up into lines and really lengthen it vertically, someone keeps scrolling because it’s easy to skim it and continue reading it.
So, they play the video, they respond to the survey...the next thing you know you’ve bought 20 minutes on a page—that’s going to look good.
Putting other resources into the post is probably the easiest way to drive the engagement that Google is looking for. So, if you have other related articles or other related resources at your disposal, link to those in your articles. Drive your users from the article they landed on to other resources on your site.
It’s not bad to drive them to other resources off your site either if that meets your objectives. Google’s looking for hubs and sources of authoritative content, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to link users elsewhere, either on your site or off your site—so don’t be afraid of that.
We talk to clients who never want to put any links to anyone else’s site on their own and that’s not necessarily the best approach, especially if you’re trying to create content that ranks well and in order to earn the rankings we know that you need the onsite engagement. In some cases, people have found that there might be a correlation between linking to high authority sources and your own ranking.
So, you’ve gotten a post now ranking towards the top of Google, you’re starting to get the traffic, but there are no leads coming in, what’s the deal...
The real question is—how would you get a lead?
So, a user lands on an article, what’s there to capture a lead? Usually the answer to that question is nothing. The expectation for many organizations is they’re going to go to the contact page or about us page and go somewhere else on our site if they’re interested.
It doesn’t really happen like that, not nearly as often as everyone wants.
What else can you do?
You install things on the page, within the article that are going to capture a lead.
There are a couple things that can happen when a very qualified, relevant person lands on a blog where you’re educating them on a topic of interest to them. In some cases, you will get lucky and they’ll say “I’m looking for B2B sales closing strategies”, they land on your blog, you are a sales training company and they think “Oh, this is a sales training company, I need that,” and they go to your contact page and fill out a form. That kind of stuff does happen, but it doesn’t happen most of the time. So, you need to get little more strategic here.
Step 6—Turning traffic into contacts [27:32]
Offers and anything you put on the page should be an extension of your most successful content. So, once you’ve monitored the content that is starting to get real traffic and real rankings you want to create something that you can give that person or offer them that is an extension of what they’re already reading.
The idea is they come in, they see your post, they read it, they like what they’re seeing and they want more of it or something that will relate to this, because if they’re reading this topic maybe here’s a tool that they can use that relates to this as well.
The best example we have of this that we’ve done for ourselves is our budget calculator. We didn’t come out and say we want a budget calculator. Instead, we knew that our budgeting blog post was a successful post for us, so we thought, “What can we do to bring this to the next level?”
We realized that we have all this data, let’s package this data into a calculator that you can download and start to figure out these numbers for yourself. The interest on the calculator has been through the roof for us. We’ve gotten hundreds of downloads in just a week or so. At this point I’d say we’ve gotten at least 400 downloads on it, but that’s because we have a very successful blog post on marketing budgets and we have a calculator that connects to that piece of content.
If we put an offer up there on how to define target personas and we put it on your budgeting blog post, you’re probably not going to see a lot come from that because you didn’t come to read about target personas, you came to learn about budgeting. Whatever offer you put up there should be a natural extension of the post.
Two or three methods come to mind for adding offers…you can embed the content directly within your article. If you use WordPress to publish content, right there in your editor you can embed an image or a form to drive users into that conversion point.
You can also use some sort of overlay, popup or slide out which you will see on our own site. That has been the single most effective tactic, not just on our own site, but on our client’s sites. Anything that’s not embedded on the page, it’s not in the sidebar, it’s not in the content itself.
In a way, although it’s not a negative thing, it’s kind of disruptive to the reader, but it gets their attention and they say, “I want that.” We try not to be annoying with it, but the fact that those types of call-outs are so visible, it leads to their effectiveness. Everything else that is on the page kind of blends in.
We haven’t found anything that is that effective as popups, slide-outs and hovers. We use an affordable tool that costs about $300 per year and it’s called OptinMonster and it works with virtually any platform. You can sign up and in the next hour have some sort of call-to-action on your site that will start driving some leads for you.
Another way to think of it is you want a call-to-action that breaks the fourth wall. In theater or a movie, it’s where the actor speaks to you, they break the plane in the front of the stage. That’s what we have found to be the most effective call-out. Take-overs, that take over the whole page...exit-intent popups, when you go to move off the page it pops up...something that slides out along the bottom once they’ve scrolled halfway down, or slides down from the top or the bottom...anything that breaks the normal plane of the page, we’ve seen to be successful.
You want to be careful with popups that come right on the page within a few seconds of visiting the site that takeover—be careful—Google has explicitly said they are going to start penalizing for that, or at least it could affect your rank, starting in 2017, because they are admittedly kind of annoying.
We’ve had success with that for downloads. Interestingly, we moved an initial popup that appeared right when someone came to the page, to an exit-intent, so they only see it when they exit out of page, and we saw almost no change in downloading conversion rate. So, you don’t have to be so aggressive that you get in front of them as soon as they get on the page, but exit-intent, slide-out—something that breaks the fourth wall we’ve found to be the most effective.
This is the formula we found most effective for driving significant traffic to your site over a short period while also trying to capture leads that you can then work as part of your sales process.
Watch the video recording for Q&A
To wrap up our Facebook Live broadcast, we offered a Q&A session. To see the Q&A, including answers to questions like, “How can I avoid duplicate content?” and “How can I balance lead generation popups with user experience?”, click here to see the Facebook video recording.