By now, pretty much everyone in marketing should understand the value of blogging for business benefit. For those of you who are still unclear, here are the most commonly cited reasons:
- Reinforce your brand message and establish thought leadership in your field
- Provide a range of keywords and topics to help your domain rank in search
- Engage your target audience and build a community
- Generate content items for sharing on social media to start conversations
- Ultimately, generate interest and leads for your product or service
Do those benefits seem far fetched? None of them are. We have built our own business here at Return On Now based on content and inbound marketing, and blogging is a key pillar in that strategy. We take it very seriously, so I’m sharing some of my own personal mantras about how to write blog posts for business benefit.
How to Write Blog Posts That Provide Real Value
There are a number of items to align if you want this to work. Let’s look at them separately.
Stick To Your Niche
One of the most important factors for ranking content these days is how tightly you focus on your niche. This is even more important when you consider what it takes to engage an audience – the message has to resonate with them not only on one post, but on all of them.
For SEO, the most important piece of this is to provide signals to the search engines about where your website fits. The overall theme matters…a lot.
There is a good amount of leeway here – you can focus really tightly on the niche or more widely on a broader audience in the same area. For example, Return On Now can focus on inbound marketing only, or on marketing and business management more broadly. Sometimes we stretch out to those areas, but most of our posts focus on content marketing, SEO, SEM, and closely related topics. Because that’s what our target niche is, and we mostly stick to it.
Pick a Compelling Topic
Within each niche, of course, there can be a range of very specific topics. If you want to rank and engage readers, the topics you pick need to be compelling. Let’s look at some basic things you can do to increase the odds that your blog post topics will be compelling.
Target Good Keywords
Keywords matter for both areas, SEO and engagement. First, you want to do at least a cursory review of the search volumes and difficulty (i.e. competitiveness) for potential keywords within your niche.
For our own blog, I know the main topics we want to cover over time. When the time comes to write a new post, I break out a keyword research tool and review the stats. Sometimes, I’ll change the topic slightly or reword the headline to ensure a good volume but less than competitive keyword is represented within the content and page title.
Of course, you want to ensure a couple of things – that the keyword is relevant to your target audience, and that the keyword doesn’t overlap a different and unrelated niche. For example, if you were targeting portfolio management, what niche does that fit? It could be individual stock and mutual fund investing, but it could also be a method of making tradeoffs between investment portfolios and projects across an enterprise. This is why you need to also do a qualitative review after analyzing the volume and competition data, because all SERPs are unique.
Hit On Hot Trends
Blog readers tend to stick to niches they like, but they are also inspired by trending topics. Sometimes, you may even be able to make a stretch from your niche to an unrelated, trending topic area as an analogy. A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine analyzed why the Kardashians were smart at marketing and PR, at a time when the family was a super hot trending topic. That was a brilliant way to jump on an unrelated trend and make it relevant to her website’s marketing-centric niche.
Earlier this year, I published a post on Content Curation that grew legs of its own. The funny thing is that I was stretched for time and typed that post out in very short order, yet it performed better than posts I’ve spent days working on! Why did it do so well? Because curation was a trending topic that people were talking about and looking to learn more about at the time. Perhaps I should rush through more of my posts, huh?
When picking your topic, what is it about the post that will be worthy of attention, shares, and links? The topic and how you name a post will play a huge role in whether or not it gets noticed.
I’m not saying to take an Upworthy-esque link-bait approach. That worked for a few months last year, but most of us tired of it pretty quickly.
Tell enough to intrigue potential readers, but not enough to give them the punchline. If the topic is compelling enough, you will find it easy to craft an attention-getting headline with the target keyword included.
Although opinion pieces can do quite well, I’ve found that educational content not only ranks and engages, but also lasts. In other words, it is evergreen.
Now try to mix in educational content without an expiration date with a trending topic, and you’ve got a potential winner with staying power. Make your audience smarter, and they are more likely to share and/or link to it.
Write for The Web
Have you noticed how you consume content differently online than you do in print publications or books? You are not alone. Everyone takes a different approach to content online.
There are some tried and true tips to use when writing for the web. You have to catch and keep short attention spans, while there is a mountain of alternative content to distract the reader. What are the ways to do this?
- Use short sentences with minimal clauses and other complex structures
- Employ standard vocabulary, avoiding words that more than half the population might need a thesaurus to understand
- Keep your paragraphs short, no more than 3-5 lines if at all possible (online readers HATE long drawn out paragraphs)
- Break up your content with sub heads, and sub-sub heads when needed
- Take advantage of easily scannable lists, bullet points, and similar formatting (like this list of suggestions)
- Use an active voice and a personal tone
For a deeper dive into what works online, check out http://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/writing-for-the-web.html
Include Images or Video
Great blog post content almost always includes either imagery or video. In fact, recent research from Conductor revealed that content including video is much more likely to rank well.
Both images and video can also help with engagement in various ways. First, images help to expand on the words on the page. An image can accomplish in a small piece of web page real estate what words might take a whole post or PDF to equal.
As for video, it impacts one of the most used engagement metrics greatly – time on page. But even with SERP snippets removed for nearly all sites, Google strongly favors pages with video content because of the better user experience.
Some readers are more logical, some more visual, and others learn in other ways. If you add images and video, you can appeal to readers who like written out words, visual learning, or even audio learning. And guess what…that will help you engage a larger share of your target audience.
Know How You Will Promote It
You’ve likely heard it before – half of your success with any piece of content is in how you promote it. There are a range of ways to do this, and some of them will cost you money. But it doesn’t have to. Start out with the free or low cost tactics below to get the word out. If you have budget to invest, you can go for a more premium email marketing solution or content syndication strategy as explained below.
The first thing we typically do after publishing a blog post is to bookmark it on the major social bookmarking services. It’s easy and quick to do, and is a great way to seed the content out on the market without spamming anyone. And sometimes, as can be the case with StumbleUpon, you just might get an inflow of traffic after seeding it.
Of course, you will next want to publish to your social media likes, friends and followers. This can be as simple as tweeting a link to the post, and publishing to your Facebook page to start out. We also like to share whatever image each post includes on Pinterest and +1/share to Google+. If you are short on time and want to focus on the best sites, Google+ helps the content get indexed faster. and Twitter is a great and easy place to add to it.
Content Curation Sites
In addition to standard social media sites, another great place to share your content is on content curation sites. These can be niche-focused, or simply a place where content can be stratified by interest area or niche.
My personal favorites are Scoop.it, Inbound.org, and GrowthHackers.com. Of course, that’s because we work with companies on marketing, entrepreneurship, and content. Those are great places for these topics. You will need to determine what the best content curation options are for your own niche and industry.
The most receptive audience aside from your social networks will be your internal opt-in email list. There are big name bloggers who build a readership with email marketing as the primary traffic driving tactic.
You can use email marketing in various ways. Some bloggers like to have a notification go out each time a post goes live. That’s great if your audience is opted in to such a service.
Others will use email marketing only at certain times. Some send a monthly newsletter with links to the past month’s work (this is how we do it). Others may only notify the list when the best of the best posts go live, or when a guest post goes live on a site where they might not see it.
One long standing mantra holds true – your email list is an invaluable resource. Use it to help promote your work, and hopefully engagement, shares, and backlinks will come afterward.
Content Syndication Networks
Some great services have been available the past few years, where you can pay to have your content promoted on other websites across the internet: Content Syndication Networks.
You’ve almost certainly been exposed to these networks if you read blog posts and articles online at all. Content that is syndicated in this manner typically shows up in a list of posts (sometimes with images, sometimes without), labeled as something like “Related Posts” or “Similar Articles Around the Web.”
Pricing is beyond the scope of this post, but check out some of the leaders for yourself if you want to get into the content syndication game:
So there you have it – my basics for how to write blog posts that will rank well on search engines and also engage your readers. Of course, there are volumes of detail beneath all of these areas, but hopefully this was enough to get you started. Now go forth and blog your way to the top!
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