Plenty of businesses understand how important content is, but they don’t know what kind of content they should offer. Blog posts that read more like ad portfolios or lecture notes miss the mark because what customers want something from your blog that they don’t get from company website or landing pages: conversation. Blog posts are your chance to let your customers hear your company’s natural speaking voice. Social media is good for that too, but a blog lets you steer the conversation in ways social media can’t match. Here’s how to keep your company blog exciting enough to attract new readers and welcome them into your brand’s conversation.
Use Keywords Naturally
Businesses don’t just have blogs for human readers; they also want to satisfy their SEO marketing needs. When both purposes come together seamlessly, that isn’t a problem, but too often, blog posts turn into keyword-stuffed blurbs that turn away your regular readers. Keywords are still vital to SEO, but they should happen naturally, not get wedged into every sentence. If you look, you’ll see phrases such as ″business content″ or ″content marketing″ in our posts, but the keywords are just part of the overall conversation, not the sole purpose of it. You wouldn’t enjoy a conversation with someone who always said the same phrases, so don’t make blog readers slog through a sea of keywords either.
You don’t have to spend much time learning about content marketing to find the phrase “content is king,” but that metaphor doesn’t tell the whole story about your content. In fact, it leaves out one of the key concepts about content. When people stay on your website to read a whole article, take action on your landing page or subscribe to your newsletter, they’re casting a vote. Content isn’t king; it’s democratically elected. With that in mind, what can you do to get your audience’s votes and win their support?
All the careful content marketing in the world won’t help if the content itself is dull. That doesn’t refer to the subject matter but to the content itself. Too often, B2B companies assume that because their products are utilitarian, the content they supply can’t be creative, colorful and clear. If anything, these subjects take a little extra thought on the part of your content creation team to make them sing. Finding a creative metaphor to link concepts to something concrete or illustrate how a practical application works can turn any subject into an engaging one. One of our most widely shared posts was about the lessons content managers can learn from wine-tasting. Not everyone’s familiar with content marketing, but tastings are familiar territory.
Do a little digging, and you’ll encounter some amazing blogs that never get the press they deserve. The blogosphere isn’t a pure meritocracy, and the most engaging bloggers aren’t always the most widely read. That goes for business-oriented and B2B blogs too, many of which are tremendously useful resources and interesting morning-coffee reads. You’ve got the great content; how do you get it out to a wider audience and build your blog’s reputation in your industry?
Blog with Authority
Where are your areas of expertise? That knowledge has tremendous value to your blog’s readers, and when you and your content creation team blog about it, you encourage visitors to share that knowledge with new readers. Get specific, too; the more details you offer, the more authority your words have. Think about how much more interested you’d be in a piece titled “5 Things You Can Do Today to Close Data Security Loopholes” than you would be in one about the importance of data security. You already know it’s important to protect your clients’ data, but only one of those blog posts gives you specific, actionable tips to accomplish your goal of improving security.
When you read a newspaper or magazine, do you read every article and ad, or do you flip to what interests you? Chances are good you’re a selective browser, not an indiscriminate grazer. That’s true of most people, including your customers, yet content marketing strategies don’t always accommodate your visitors’ desire to see what’s relevant to them instead of a big mass of content they have to sort through to find what they want.
Delivering a self-serve content experience that lets everyone who interacts with you define their own experience encourages longer on-site stays and higher satisfaction. Here’s how you can tailor your content to your audience and give your prospects the power to explore for themselves.
Giving your newsletter subscribers, email recipients and site visitors the authority to control how they communicate with you is key to their enjoyment of your content. Businesses that dictate how their email list members receive their mail have higher opt-out percentages than companies that allow preference choices. As a bonus, preference page selections can also be instrumental to your marketing department’s understanding of your customer base. Preference page use can give your customers more control over their interactions and help you learn more about them for future marketing. With those great reasons to build and use preference pages, it only makes sense to use them.
Anyone can publish a blog, and as a quick look at B2B blogs will show, just about anyone will. Poorly maintained blogs that get new posts only once or twice a year, rambling posts about the blog owner’s pet and blogs that are nothing but another ad delivery system are everywhere. Professional blogs are more than just a collection of posts; they follow a cogent strategy that fits with your overall content marketing plan.
Make It a Part of Your Site
One of the biggest mistakes businesses make with their blogs is squirreling them away somewhere far from their websites. Creating a blog that isn’t directly linked to your company website is like advertising a New York business on a billboard in Saskatchewan. No matter how amazing that billboard looks, few customers are going to make the drive. Place a prominent link to your blog on your main menu and use a URL that echoes the main site’s in some way. The design of the blog should also be consistent with your site; it’s jarring to visitors when they go from the sedate maroon and navy color scheme of a law firm’s site to a bright yellow blog. A blog that isn’t closely associated with and fully integrated into your site is doing you no favors.
You don’t have to spend more than five minutes reading about search engines and how they work to know you need original content for SEO. Google and other search engines penalize duplicate content even if you own both the rights to that content. If your content creator has inadvertently borrowed – or worse, outright taken – that content from another source without owning the rights to it, you could get a DMCA takedown notice or even face legal action. Obviously, original content is important, but what is it? First, it might be easier to look at what it isn’t.
“Original” Doesn’t Always Mean “New” (And That’s Okay)
People watch more than 6 billion hours of YouTube videos every month. That’s about 685,000 years’ worth of adorable cats, product demonstrations and movie clips. The chances that at least two of those videos will feature very similar content are extremely high. The same goes for written content, especially in hotly competitive verticals. Even the best writer isn’t able to produce a startlingly new way of thinking about five ways to trim belly fat or how to keep your shop floor clean. Even if they did, those writers would sell their new magic formulas for millions instead of putting them into a one-off blog post.
What most content creators do instead is take a slightly different angle on a specific topic, giving a new perspective on an established theme and leaving room for future variations on it. Take that shop floor example; a blogger might write one week about how to remove minor oil stains from concrete and cover soaking up liquids efficiently the next. From Google’s perspective – and just as important, from your audience’s – these highly specific articles are useful and original even if someone else has previously written something on the general subject of keeping your shop floor in good shape.
Having an on-site blog is vital for SEO, customer engagement and establishing authority, but too many businesses use it as an ad delivery system or a dumping ground for ideas that didn’t quite grow into feature articles. That isn’t why your blog exists, and if you’re spending more time talking about “we” than about “you” in your blog, you could be losing your visitors’ interest. On the flip side, some topics instantly attract more attention, more traffic and more social media sharing. Fill your blog with more of these posts and fewer ads, and you’ll see engagement metrics rise.
How-to articles give readers evergreen content – that is, information that stays relevant over time – in a format they can immediately use. A great how-to article also demonstrates your own knowledge of the topic, and knowledge builds authority. Once you and your content creation team have pinpointed areas you know your visitors would like to explore in greater depth, coming up with a few related how-to articles is just the beginning. Those ideas can also become video demonstrations or form the foundation for a new white paper. One caveat: Don’t invest too heavily in how-tos that have already been covered extensively by content mills and crowd-sourced answer sites. Make your how-to content specific and focused, not shallow and broad. Sites such as eHow succeed on volume rather than depth, and no company site can match their output; instead, compete on quality, not quantity.
The opposite of a how-to list, an article that focuses on mistakes or problems the readers might be making can also have a powerful draw. Any reader who has a particular problem will read on to find the solution, while those who don’t know they have a problem will check out the post to see if they do. We all want to be a little closer to perfection, and finding out about the mistakes we’re making gives us a chance to improve. The concept of “new and improved” is powerful in advertising, and it’s equally potent in content; by giving your readers new ways to improve, you’re bound to hold their interest.
Proper English grammar, syntax and spellings are the same whether the text appears in a book, on a website or as part of a social media blast. It doesn’t mean print and online content are the same, though. If you’ve been transcribing your tri-fold brochures verbatim to your website or repurposing blog posts as hand-outs at conferences and trade shows, you could be losing much of your audience. Writing that’s out of place is like wearing board shorts in the boardroom or a tie to the beach – it just isn’t comfortable.
Print Readers and Online Skimmers
When people read online, study after study has shown they skim or scan whole paragraphs instead of reading every word. They might read the first few lines of a paragraph to get the gist of it and skip the latter half; others don’t even make it to the end of the article, instead reading the salient information at the top and leaving the rest. A few only read the title before making judgments about what’s written, as this NPR post for April Fool’s Day showed.
Researchers tracking eye movements have found that people read books and print magazines in a column that looks much like a newspaper column or a page of print. The map of eye movements is the same width at the top as at the bottom. Online content is a different story. When mapped, online readers’ eye movements followed a capital “F” shape, taking in a few full lines at the top of a page, reading much of the subsequent few paragraphs and tapering off dramatically at the end. If you want readers to see something in online text, put it in that F-shaped zone. Otherwise, they may miss it entirely.
It’s one of the most common questions content creators hear from their B2B clients: “We love our work, but how do we make what we do sound exciting?” Selling hand tools or hospital gowns doesn’t have the same surface glamor as next-gen consumer electronics or haute couture, but that doesn’t mean writing and talking about it must be dull. Having an affinity for the subject, showing your visitors more about the people behind your products and taking novel looks at familiar topics can prove satirist. Magazine editor H.L. Mencken agreed and stated: “There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.”
Turning Facts into Narratives
People love a story, and if you can frame information as a narrative, they’ll follow the tale you and your content creator tell. Let’s say a company makes latex and neoprene gloves. These aren’t fashion choices; they’re what doctors, cooks, clean-room techs and a host of other professionals have to wear at work. An article about manufacturing those gloves could be a little dry, but if you reframe that with a narrative flow that follows one particular pair of gloves from raw materials and blending to molding and QC, you communicate the same information in a livelier way. The television show “How It’s Made” is a shining example of how successful even the most mundane processes can be when they become a story with a beginning, middle and end.
When writing business content, many companies instruct their writers to avoid any negative words. Everything must be re-framed as a positive, they believe, as if the word “no” and its cousins, such as “can’t” and “not” and “never,” will taint the rest of the content like used motor oil in a bucket of paint. You’ve read here before about magic words and how they affect your content, but does that magic have a dark side? Can reading the word “won’t” subconsciously associate your content with negative emotions? Is there bad juju connected to “no?”
The Difference Between Negativity and “No”
Sales and marketing executives have an understandable aversion to denying their customers’ requests. No one likes to say no to someone who’s about to give your business money. The word “no” by itself, though, can sometimes be a positive in buyers’ minds. Think of phrases such as “no money down” or “no special equipment needed,” and you’ll see how powerful this short word can be in the right contexts. These statements describe positive benefits even though they contain a negative word. While your content creation team could recast these phrases in positive terms, the results sound wordy or awkward – and awkwardness is a content killer.
Negative statements, on the other hand, are something your content team should avoid, at least on persuasive copy. While some negatives are unavoidable on FAQs or in warranty information, the content your customers see first should have a positive spin. Assume visitors are there because they want to buy with positive phrasing instead of implying they’re there only because they couldn’t find what they wanted elsewhere. Tell people what you can do for them, not what others can’t accomplish.