Business blogging is a content marketing tactic that should be generating leads for you. When it’s working, every time you publish a new blog post, and distribute it through social channels, you should see an immediate and pronounced spike in traffic. Direct form responses increase, new subscribers add your RSS feed to their readers and join your email list, willingly entering your sales funnel. It’s like turning on the faucet.
So why doesn’t it play out like that for most business blogs?
Email altered the sales prospecting game forever. The discretionary time business people once could spare for clever or persistent salespeople is now more than burned up each day slogging through email. Makes sense.
I often work closely with client sales teams. We recently took on a new project and I was asked to “give a short talk, to bring the sales guys up to speed with online lead generation.” The owner informed me I was penciled in for twenty minutes. I gasped… everything they needed to know about content marketing, blogging, social media, building a sales funnel, landing pages, white papers, and lead nurturing in twenty minutes? Yikes! That should only get me 6 or 7 slides into my PowerPoint.
To prepare, I asked if I could interview one of the top sales reps. I quickly discovered that his boss expected him to “blog” (whatever the hell that was) and they had been led to believe that a flood of leads would then appear in Maximizer CRM every week from the first week onward. If only it were that simple.
He lamented that increased gatekeeper resistance had made phone marketing almost a lost cause, so he was hoping I could help revitalize his career. He appeared terrified and very confused by these new methods of lead generation.
I noticed sales award plaques on the wall and trophies on the credenza. As a former sales trainer and manager I also immediately recognized that this man knew how to qualify prospects, cultivate leads and close business. He had been a legend, and now felt humiliated and washed up. Lead generation, as he knew it, was dead and he felt really lost. I came from a similar background and was happy I could help him.
I quickly read over the three blog posts he’d prepared and discovered they were the typical old school, “always be closing” sales hype. This is business blogging at its very worst. It wasn’t his fault, of course, and I now knew there was much work to be done.
Blogging is a great way to promote your business, but it cannot be “about” your business.
– Jon Morrow
This is typical. Company owners complain bitterly that people don’t know how to sell any more. But they’re expecting them to rely on lead generation tools and tactics that went out with the last millennium. Blogging and social media are treated like bulk mail, a place to blast unprepared recipients with shameless advertising. Wrong year, wrong century, totally wrong approach. The 1900s are gone, and they are never coming back.
Examine the average business website and you’ll find a few pages of self-promotional hype, a contact form, maybe a photo gallery… nothing that delivers any real “value” to potential readers at all. "Not valuable?" you ask. That's right, your visitors don't care about you or your company. They are there to solve a problem, to address a pain point in their life.
Ever wonder why a Google search may list hundreds of thousands of indexed pages for the search term, while only the enviable top 5 will get roughly 90% of the clicks? Google doesn’t consider most pages on company websites as indexable content (valuable), and only a few “get it” when it comes to providing useful content. If almost everyone’s doing it wrong, therein lies your incredible advantage.
There are four basic reasons people search the web: research, shopping, entertainment and connection.
If the searcher isn’t looking for your company, its products and/or services by name, you’re “unfindable” unless you hold high rankings for search terms associated with your product or service. When it comes to shopping searches, the standard business site loses.
People are unlikely to share your About Us, product and testimonial pages in social channels. While this content has it’s place − once people have pretty much already decided to buy from you − it’s not interesting reading or a good introduction.
Leading with that self-absorbed content would be as lame as bringing the family tree and albums on a first date. They don’t know you yet, so why should they care? And the entertainment value for most company sites will be very low.
And that brings us to research. The world is looking for answers. Sites with the most perceived expertise develop the most authority in search engines over time. Business websites may provide answers to problems, but tend to shoot themselves in the foot by turning every page into a sales pitch.
Most business websites are trying so hard to be “professional” they suck at human connection. In summary, the average business website fails to meet even one of the requirements of the four basic search types.
And that’s where blogging comes in. Effective blog writing is all about the reader. The articles offer writer(s) the opportunity to be useful instead of just pitching all the time. Interesting, informative, ridiculously valuable content is something worth sharing, and your readership will begin to promote your content for you.
When visitors find a source of valuable information that educates and improves their life, they’ll want more of it. Your blog is the perfect introduction, that can transition casual readers into email subscribers. Once they are on your mail list you have the potential to influence their buying decisions for months and years (providing you don’t screw it up by pitching the bejesus out of them in those emails).
Blogging also heightens the potential for personal connection. You have the opportunity to let your personality shine through. If you joke around with your prospects on the sales floor, don’t be a stuffy writer in your blog. Many successful business bloggers are very entertaining. Readers look forward to the next post.
The goal in business blogging is to build your authority and credibility, drive traffic to your site’s landing pages and grow your ongoing influence by increasing subscribers.
Blog posts are NOT sales pages or a place for company announcements… well at least the majority of them shouldn’t be. The average searcher doesn’t know or care about your company (yet), its products or services, its culture… they’re only there if there’s an immediate personal benefit.
Good posts aren’t a regurgitated version of the same tired crap dozens of other writers have already flogged to death. Epic blog content worth reading and sharing, linking to and indexing, is flat out better than anything your competition has out there.
Sales managers are gradually coming to the realization that blogging and social media are the new way to generate leads, but they insist on having their sales team populate posts with company and product marketing propaganda. Old habits die hard and they find it difficult to believe that interrupting people’s lives with their message, and “always be closing”, don’t work in blog and social media content.
On a blustery winter evening in November 2015, I came across two approaches to marketing an automobile battery with high cold cranking amps.
I subscribe to quite a few blog feeds in the Feedly app on my iPad. One of the blogs I follow provides useful automotive, household and other tips. It’s valuable information and I often share their posts with my own readers.
One of the posts showed an eerie photo of a woman stranded in her car at night, face lit by the dim light of her flashlight. The windows were iced up and she looked cold and frightened. The title also caught my eye because it promised "8 simple things" I could do to keep myself from being stranded this winter.
I’m what friends and family would call “a car guy,” but I felt I could do with a quick refresher. The article was extremely useful for people in areas where temperatures dip below freezing. It fully delivered on the promised 8 simple tips and provided a few bonus recommendations as well, like keeping an automotive cell phone charger in the glove box, and spare jacket, snow shovel and flares in the trunk.
The article was all about me, the reader. Having my battery checked, and replacing it with one with a high cold cranking amps (CCA) rating if needed, was only one of the twelve helpful tips.
At the bottom of the post there was a field that enabled me to subscribe to email updates or the RSS blog feed. There were a few links to related posts on other websites, and two internal links: one to a page on selecting snow tires and the other to a page on choosing the best winter battery. The calls to action were subtle and unoffensive. I clicked the link to the battery page and noted the make and model. I also noticed that this helpful blog was provided courtesy of a major auto parts retailer. I never suspected.
They had landed me months ago as a subscriber to their feed. And now I shared the valuable post with my readers. I was concerned about their safety during the cold winter months and believed they would value the heads up. And I was considering dashing off a quick email to my daughters and sister. I didn’t want them to be that frightened, shivering woman stranded beside the road on a dark night.
The numbers marketers use vary somewhat, but it takes somewhere between 3 and 7 minimal exposures to a product or service before a buyer considers taking any action. For me, this was the second exposure to this brand of battery. If my battery conked out in the next month or two, I would be more inclined to purchase theirs than any other. Why? Because they took the time to be helpful, rather than just trying to sell me something.
Curious, I located them in Facebook, Twitter and at that time, Google+. The posts included the same photo and title as the blog post. And they had been liked, retweeted and +1’d many times.
Before leaving, I downloaded their free ebook: “6 Things You Can Do to Significantly Increase the Life of Your Car”, joining their mailing list and giving them permission to gently influence my future buying decisions through helpful emails.
A few days later I was annoyed to find a spam email in my email inbox advertising car batteries from another provider. Somehow they’d written the email very carefully and it passed through my anti-spam software. Bastards! I flagged it as spam and deleted the message with disdain. Seconds later, this blog post idea began to form in my mind, so I retrieved it from the trash folder.
The message was essentially an email brochure. At the top was a heavily Photoshopped image of a car battery, with deep blue background, shrouded in a halo of lightning… straight from the battery manufacturer’s website. The copywriter had written both features and benefits, so it wasn’t half bad marketing copy. (Too bad it wasn’t on a “sales” page on their website.)
But here’s the thing… I don’t need a car battery today. I did not request this information. These inconsiderate assholes interrupted my busy day to shove a spam ad in my face. Did they influence my future purchasing decision? Hell yeah, but in a very negative way. The last battery I would ever buy would now be from these guys.
I was curious, so I checked out the company’s blog. Guess what I found as the last post? Same damn ad. I checked their social media channels; same ad again. Amazing! Why would anyone who did not have a dead battery waste their time reading a bullet point “brochure” blog post?
No surprise, there were no comments on the blog posts and not a single like, retweet or +1. Do you think anyone subscribes to their blog? Can you imagine anyone deliberately adding to the useless marketing spam in their inbox? Battery ads in your inbox... till you die.
The consistent oversell in blogging and social media is the primary reason most efforts fail. David Ogilvy’s mantra, back in the 50’s and 60’s, “We sell, or else,” translates into very ineffective blogging and social media in 2015. Times have changed.
If your SEO (search engine optimization consultant) is telling you that converting manufacturers’ marketing materials into posts and white papers is getting it done, because it presents keywords to the search engines, the strategy is very shortsighted. Google notices when you have a high bounce rate, and nobody is reading your useless spammy posts or sharing your content. They don’t reward content that’s all about you, and what you sell, with top rankings.
Always ask yourself, “Is this post incredibly valuable to my readers? Will their life be better in some way after they’ve read it? Is it so good they’ll feel compelled to immediately share it?” Or is it just about you, trying to sell someone your shit?
The successful content in our real life example opened with a powerful title and captivating image, and then delivered even more value to me than promised. The content was highly shareable and they prompted me to subscribe to their list in exchange for a ebook I felt I simply must have. The ebook again over-delivered, and I now find myself waiting eagerly for the next extremely helpful edition of their newsletter updates. Superb content, outstanding marketing!
The crash and burn example, on the other hand, was typical old school interruption marketing. They seized every opportunity to sell, sell, sell. (Always be closing. Their sales manager must have been so proud.) Their approach was extremely inconsiderate of my valuable time and I couldn’t click away fast enough. Needless to say, I did not share their brochure-style post with my readers and I certainly wasn’t stupid enough to subscribe to their list, so I could get more of their marketing hype in my inbox each week. Epic fail!
A small business has a new brochure printed. They’ve laboured over every word, image and placement, and finally it’s perfect, ready to go to press. The next afternoon the cartons arrive from the printer. How exciting! The heavy glossy cover stock is elegant, and they’re as impressive as visualized. A flood of leads and perhaps even a Clio seem a foregone conclusion. It’s late in the day, so they sign for the packages, then ask the delivery driver to place the boxes in the supply cupboard.
Three months later, those cartons are still on the shelves in boxes. How much value have they been to the company’s marketing? “Absolutely none,” you say. And why is that? “Duh! Because they were never distributed.” Aside from a few pulled to show to colleagues, family and friends, they never saw the light of day.
That’s exactly how your new blog post works for you without distribution and one hell of a lot of promotion… it’s totally invisible.
Without promotion, something terrible happens… nothing.
– P T Barnum
• Make your content epic, so people need to share it. So what is “epic” content? My favourite definition is, it’s the best damn page on the internet for the topic and targeted keyword phrase. Nobody comes even close.
But it’s more than epic content. Every piece you post needs to count. It’s not a task to check off your to do list. (If that’s what blogging has become, you should hire a passionate blogger that can fall in love with your brand and mission.) It’s storytelling in a way that touches and compels your readers, igniting a desire to share it with someone they know immediately.
Sharing is a transference of feelings. That’s never going to happen if your reader comes away feeling nothing. The email ad that rattled off the specs of a battery left me cold, but the previous blog post example, that described the woman stranded beside the road, captured my emotions.
In a pillar article you’re writing 3,500+ words of actionable content that resonates with the reader persona you’ve defined. This goes well beyond fluff or even useful information. They feel you understand them, their needs, their desires and passions — you’re like them — and they believe you know how to help them solve their problem and get more out of their lives. Dare I say, there’s love evident in the post, there’s a connection, and they believe you care enough that they could actually contact you with a question.
• Make your content ridiculously easy to share. If your blog doesn’t already have them, you want to install social media buttons that are always right by the post.
• Share the love in order to receive it. As you research information for your blog post, take note of the influential blogs in your niche. If you begin linking to their content, and crediting the writer’s as authorities, you can expecting them to return the favour in time.
Comment on other blog posts in your niche. Adding value to another blog, by providing quality comments, is a one of the best ways to have readers on other blogs discover yours.
• Email your subscriber list for instant traffic. Building your list is arguably the most important reason to have a business website. (I’ll be covering this more in the next post.) People may not check their Facebook wall within minutes of your release a blog post notification, but they will come across it in their inbox, if they have subscribed.
• Share each post in the major social networks, with care. There is a time and place for shortcuts. I admit that I use Buffer and Hootsuite to publish time-release posts of curated content from other blogs. But when I promote my own content, I believe it’s worth a few minutes of my personal time to get it right.
I do not understand bloggers who will research and labor over a post for hours or days, carefully choose the perfect image, proof it again several times and finally click “Publish”, to put it online. And after it’s live, they’ll edit it a dozen more times… only to bang out an automated post to several social media channels. Talk about dropping the ball only inches from the goal posts.
You may have noticed that each of the major social sites has it’s own posting criteria. A one-size-fits-all post will not be ideal for both Twitter and Facebook for example. You only have 140 characters on Twitter, so tags are usually formed out of words within the post.
• Syndicate to other blogs to grab some of their audience. You want to begin compiling a list of other blogs in your niche that may accept syndicated content and will re-publish your posts. This allows you to tap into their audience.
• Guest post on other blogs. This is another brilliant way to build your authority in your niche, and also an awesome way to tap into the audience of other influential blogs.
• Re-purpose your content. As you build your content inventory, you can re-post some of your better pieces periodically, and it’s unlikely your readers will remember. You’re leveraging your existing content assets.
This is a good time to make your content better. Do you have additional information you could add to make the post more up-to-date or relevant? Can the title be made stronger? Is there a better image you could use to illustrate the post’s topic?
Hard core bloggers/promoters will have a much longer list, but these 8 steps should help you get more traffic to your posts almost immediately. As you begin implementing these promotional techniques you should begin seeing a very noticeable spike in traffic within a few hours of each post.
If your website has been designed to capitalize on your blog traffic, you should pick up some direct leads as a result of your traffic, but the real value in business blogging is in your list. You have the opportunity to provide more helpful information to your audience every week or two by email, gently influencing their purchasing decisions for months and even years to come.
It’s not about how much traffic you get. It’s about how much traffic you keep. Statistically, only 0.5% of your visitors will ever return. But, if you can get them on your email list, you can increase that to 50%. You can gain in 2 months, the consistent traffic it would take 17 years to build, just by getting visitors to opt-in.
– Jon Morrow
• Set up your list. There are quite a few list building services out there, and I’ve worked with several in my client work. But hands down, I would recommend AWeber. If you haven’t set up your list yet, do it today (or get your content marketing agency on it). Seriously, waiting until you get around to it just means things will stay the same.
• Give them an irresistible reason to subscribe. You’ll see a lot of websites ask for subscriptions with: “Sign up for our newsletter.” Lame!! Nobody wants another newsletter clogging their inbox.
Create a beautiful ebook that targets one of your audience personas. In the example in the second post in this series, I subscribed to an automotive retailer’s list in order to receive “6 Things You Can Do to Significantly Increase the Life of Your Car.” I was a regular reader of their blog and they created a content piece I wanted to have.
You will need a landing page. The landing page should sell your reader on the ebook. The ebook should be visually appealing (stunning) and an image of it will appear on the landing page.
One or two paragraphs, and perhaps a few bullet points, should summarize why your target reader absolutely needs this ebook to lead a meaningful life. 🙂 Seriously though, they must have it. The form, located to the left or right of the copy, subscribes them to your list, by the CASL-approved double opt-in process.
The thank you email they receive after they click the verification link provides a link to download your ebook. This is all handled by AWeber.
It’s vital that the ebook impresses the socks off your new subscriber. If you’re not a great copywriter or graphic artist, hire someone that can create a first rate freemium product in PDF format. Important: If they don’t like the first ebook, they won’t want the next one.
Yippee! You have another subscriber. DO NOT call your new member as soon as they sign up. It's like proposing marriage on the first date. They have just entered the sales funnel. Have some patience.
• Make sure your email tips don’t disappoint. That’s right, you will be providing more helpful information by email. The last thing you want to do is spam them right back off your list with offers and obnoxious marketing. The unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email you send out only requires a single click. (You get to include an offer on every tenth email… that’s it.)
So what should you put into your posts? If you’re blogging regularly, create tantalizing intros to your latest posts, complete with photos. In addition to distribution and promotion by social media, your list notifies readers of your latest posts.
Many services, like Feedburner and Jetpack, will notify readers of new posts automatically. But if you take the time to create the HTML emails yourself (or have your content marketing people handle it) there’s an added benefit. You get to promote the next free ebook.
Each link to a “must have” ebook takes them to another landing page. And each landing page asks one or two more questions. You’re qualifying your prospect, and the answers are added into the CRM.
• Follow up and nurture your new lead. Once your subscriber has been on the list for a while, you should have some credibility with them. They trust and value your advice.
If your follow-up offers of free ebooks are targeted, your subscribers will have downloaded several, providing you with additional information about themselves in the landing page forms. (If you are targeting several audience personas, you may want to set up and manage a list for each one.)
After a few ebook downloads, it’s appropriate to send a personal email to your prospect. Keep it light and friendly. Thank them for subscribing to your content, and offer to answer any questions they may have. That’s it… no selling.
You have some basic information about your lead in the CRM. Consider friending them on Facebook. You’ll get to know more about their interests as their friend, and can send them content you think may be of special interest from time to time.
You want to become their trusted friend and adviser. Be careful not to come across as creepy.
We’ve covered quite a lot of ground, and you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Most blogging and social media efforts fail because the amount of time and commitment involved
Cole Wiebe helps brands and professionals grow their influence and value online; so they can “out content”™ their competition. Cole is a content strategist, content writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach. He is also a UX (user experience) web designer and developer of over 20 years.