Writing a blog is broadly acknowledged as something that businesses should be doing, but in reality it can be a waste of time if not carefully maintained and set-up.

With this in mind, we’ve broken down the 8 simple things that you need to be doing to run an effective blog as part of your content marketing campaign.

1. Subheadings

Screenshot 2015-07-01 12.04.23

It sounds simple but subheadings matter in blogs. Not only do they offer a helpful way of getting some extra points for your keywords, but they help the reader. It’s unlikely your readers are the kind of people who are willing to read an essay online, but they will be happy to jump into a well structured article if you break things up with subheadings.

2. Bullet points and paragraphs

Bullet points and paragraphs serve a similar purpose to subheadings: they help break things up for your readership. Attention spans are much shorter when people read online than if they were to sit down with a newspaper, magazine or book, so keep this in mind and cater to them by breaking up your content into easily digestible chunks with clever paragraphs and bullet points.

3. Images

Images are an important visual aid in telling your story, employ them carefully when blogging and you will boost engagement from your audience and encourage them to share your message. Get creative if possible, don’t stick to stock photos. If you have the time and ability to take a quick shot of whatever it is you’re blogging about on your smartphone then why not do it?

4. Use language that suits your audience

If you’re writing a blog that is read by people in the professional sectors, it’s probably not a good idea to use too much slang. Equally, if you’re trying to engage people with a sports fashion brand targeted at under-25s you will most likely want to avoid too much stuffy serious language.

FotorCreated

This should already be part of your broader marketing approach, but make sure you don’t forget it when it comes to blogging and content marketing: know who you’re aiming to engage and talk to them in their language.

5. Internal Linking

Why are you blogging? Sure, one reason should be to get your message out to a wider audience and connect with readers. But is another not to increase conversions and awareness of your services or products? If so, put some intelligent linking in your posts to direct readers back to conversion pages or pages with more information about whatever it may be you’re writing about.

6. External Linking

External linking is more about good practice; it’s good manners to point back to any sources that proved useful in creating your blog.

But it also provides a useful link to your audience if they would like to research what you’re discussing and, of course, it ensures your own credibility by being upfront about where you have found your information.

7. Sharing buttons

SumoMe-Social-Sharing-Buttons

If you want to spread your message online then you better make sure it’s easy for your audience to help! The majority of people read quickly online, if you’ve managed to write a blog that has connected with one of your readers, you don’t have long to get them to spread your message so make sure it’s easy for them to share your blog post with their followers of Twitter or Facebook, or to email the article to a contact.

AddThis offers a useful set-up to feature a bar of buttons connecting pretty much all the major social networks.

8. Speak from the heart

This final point is connected to the above, essentially, we’re saying nobody likes to have the wool pulled over their eyes so don’t write a blog and try and come across as something you’re not. You will be found out and it will be embarrassing for you and your brand.

Instead, be honest, be yourself! People recognise and appreciate sincerity.

What's the perfect online length?

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Before you start reading, quickly check the time …

 

One issue we are tackling with increasing regularity – both ourselves and with clients – is how to decide how long our online content should be. It’s one of the simplest questions posed in an online content marketing strategy, but it seems to be one of the trickiest to answer.

Print journalists have had centuries to research exactly what captures readers’ attentions. Headlines, style and layout have all been studied carefully to create a successful formula, while time and experience have also helped to establish text length and image sizes as standard.

Things aren’t so simple for those writing online content. The internet is just a fraction of the age of the age of print media, but the scope and potential audience of online content are at least ten times as great. We have a growing bank of research into the best lengths and layouts for articles and online news but the ever-changing nature of the beast makes it impossible to provide a definitive answer.

What we can do is look at guidelines and case studies to determine what works in certain cases. While each piece of content is (hopefully!) unique, comparing it against existing successes in similar situations can at least provide a gauge in terms of what works where.

 

Headlines

Headlines are perhaps the easiest places to start as the overarching message is actually the same as with print: keep it short and catchy. Exactly how short will depend on the space you have to work with, but research from KISSmetrics has found that people’s tendency to scan content means that readers only really absorb the first three words and the last three words of a headline. Taking this to its logical conclusion would suggest that the perfect headline length for an online article is six words if you want to grab people’s attention and convey as much information as possible.

Breaking things down further, the traditional advice when it came to writing headlines for SEO was always to keep to the limit of 70 characters. This is due to how Google displayed headlines on its SERPs, with anything longer than this likely to be cut off by the search engine’s layout.

However, the search engine has delivered a series of updates, layout alterations and font changes over the years and this advice no longer strictly applies. A fresh debate is underway to determine exactly what the perfect headline length for Google is. Efforts here are seen as particularly important due to the relevance of headlines in terms of SEO because the search engines give a lot of weight to keywords in headlines.

In reality, tight constraints in headline length can be hard to achieve, particularly if the article is tackling a very technical or sensitive topic. With this in mind, the best guidance when it comes to headlines is simply: make every word count.

 

Articles

While headlines might pop up in a huge variety of contexts online, they are generally being read with similar intentions: either by an individual looking to gauge whether or not the article is of interest or by a search engine determining the relevance of the content to a key search term.

Things aren’t quite so straightforward when it comes to looking at articles themselves due to the variation in the way people read different pieces of work. A quick news article needs to be long enough to give some insight into a situation, but short enough to be read in its entirety before the audience gets bored and clicks away. Meanwhile a blog post or in-depth article needs to have something more to offer and will generally be read by someone with a bit more time on their hands who has already decided that they want to know more about the topic the article is addressing.

According to research from Medium, the ideal in-depth blog post is one that takes about seven minutes to read. After this point, readers get distracted and might drift off before they’ve reached the crucial parts of an article. Reading time is different for everyone and the layout of an article – if it includes a lot of images for example – will clearly have an effect, but Medium’s formula equated seven minutes of reading time to around 1,600 words of content.

That said, if the content is worth the time and effort, people will stick around for longer than the seven minute cut-off, so bear in mind that this is just another guideline. Further consideration needs to be put in place for the type of audience being written for and the kind of information they are looking for.

A medical professional, for example, would be willing to spend a fair amount of time on a pharmaceutical hub carefully considering the details of a much longer article about the uses of a new drug than, say, a consumer just looking for a broader news update would. That’s not to say the pharmaceutical hub should not run short articles (i.e. news items); it’s just that there will very likely be a demand for at least some longer articles that can adequately convey the right depth of information.

This variety in not only topic, but also length and style of articles is worth thinking about when drawing up a content strategy. It’s often more interesting for readers to receive a range of different types and lengths of content, something that is also picked up by search engines who tend to reward a more natural mix of content.

 

Social Media

It is quite likely that the debate regarding the relevance of social media will rage until the end of time. But whichever side of the fence you fall on, the fact remains that social media matters now. Sharing content with targeted followers boosts audiences and offers a simple way of engaging with clientele through a means that’s more personal than most marketing techniques.

The ways in which people and companies use social media differs to such an extent that it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly how long a post should be on each network. But research has started to suggest that there may be some guidelines marketers can follow to increase their chances of engaging audiences and customers.

With tweets limited to 140 characters, at first glance it doesn’t seem plausible that there could be an ‘ideal tweet length’ within such a tight constraint on Twitter. But the network’s own best practice guidelines reference a study conducted by Buddy Media which found that tweets shorter than 100 characters have a 17 per cent higher engagement rate. These findings were backed up by another study by Track Social which claimed that the “perfect tweet length” is around 100 characters.

Surprisingly, given the opportunity for much longer posts, the ideal Facebook post is actually shorter than the ideal Twitter update. A study from Jeff Bulllas found that posts of around 40 characters had the best engagement rate in his study, while Facebook’s best practices advise users to go for posts with 80 characters or less as these receive 66 per cent higher engagement levels.

Newcomer to the social media arena Google+ lies somewhere in the middle, and it appears that issues with this network are more to do with layout than actual length. Google recently changed the way in which its site displays posts so that users only see the first three lines of the original post before the ‘read more’ link cuts off the rest of the post, although it is possible to opt to expand it. This has meant that headlines are particularly important if you are sharing content on Google+.

With this in mind, the ideal headline for encouraging engagement and shares is one of 60 characters or less, any longer and the layout of the post will will start to look messier. However, research has shown that while engagement levels tend to trail off with longer posts on Twitter and Facebook, this isn’t necessarily the case on Google+ where longer posts can still attract a lot of readers. Headlines are really key with Google+, other than that users are free to explore using different lengths of post without risking too much impact on their levels of engagement.

 

There are some cases where the length of online content is crucial; for example if you’re automatically sending headlines into social media accounts, or you want to increase your chances of being approved and listed in Google News (FYI aim for a minimum of 300 words and you’ll need to be posting daily news articles).

But within reason, online content does not need to have the same restrictions as printed content. If it’s worth reading, watching or sharing, it will be read, watched and shared so while word limits offer a great guideline when building your content marketing strategy, there is no definitive answer.

 

Stop clock watching. Did we hit the seven minute target?

 

Look at the pace that the term ‘content marketing’ has moved into the vernacular of marketers, as measured by Google search volume. Although content marketing has been bandied about as a term for several years, its recent hike in popularity is not actually much of a surprise.

Google Trends Content Marketing

Google’s algorithm changes having been coming thick and fast over the last 12 months, and content-poor websites have been taking a real beating.

September 2012 saw the rollout of the latest Google Panda and Penguin updates, together with a sharp turning of the dial to tone down the influence of ‘direct-match’ domain names.  Google is working hard to shut out purveyors of thin content and rewarding owners of sites with useful, relevant and unique content.

You need to take action if:

  •  your website has less than 100 pages; or
  •  your website has a high number of pages populated with ‘thin content’ i.e. a paragraph or two at most of original content wrapped in a common template; or
  • there is very little content being added on a regular basis;
  • you want to improve the level of engagement you have with your audience

First – what do you want?

Before you take any action, take a moment to quantify your objectives. Have a think and discuss with colleagues what you really want to achieve with your marketing. And be specific, not just general business objectives like ‘increase sales’ or ‘increase market share’. For instance, ‘I want to increase the number of  visitors coming to our website from social media channels by 200% over the next 12 months’. Or, ‘in our next financial year, I want to reduce my pay-per-click spend by 40% and build total internet sales without increasing my online marketing budget’.

Action

Firstly, flesh out any thin pages you have with meatier content, whether that involves extending your product descriptions or providing more background information.

If you don’t have a company blog or a news section, get one or both started now and contribute to it every day.  If you are languishing in Google’s rankings for your prime keywords, you should see a steady rise begin in around a month or two. If you’re already up there, you’ll consolidate your position and begin to see second-tier key terms rise up the rankings.

Remember that some of your competitors will also be adding content and improving their web presence, so the pressure is on you to stay ahead of the pack, and boost your authority within your industry.

Here are the three broad strategies you need to follow to keep at the forefront:

Add more engaging, relevant and informative content
Add different types of content
Propagate your content

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Add more content

According to inbound marketing company Hubspot, businesses that add at least 20 articles a month to their website get five times more traffic than those businesses that write at most once a week.

businesses that blog get more visitor traffic

By including regular blog posts and industry news, you broadcast your industry knowledge and authority. It also demonstrates your thought leadership and, importantly, informs and educates your readers at the same time as giving them a platform to engage with you.

Gone are the days when we produce content specifically for the search engines. By that I mean liberally peppering every article with one or more top tier keywords (and never failing to include a keyword in the title).  Search engines have gotten smarter – they know when they are being shown a private dance and can detect keyword stuffing from several miles away.

This is not saying that we should lose focus on utilising keywords that specifically drive conversions.  These keywords, important in the buying process journey, need to be discovered and let out in a judicious manner.  In the course of writing truly relevant and informative articles, first and second tier keywords will naturally appear and help drive your site forwards in search and build up long-tail collateral.

Try to avoid creating content that is wholly company-centric. Too many marketers assume that their audience is going to be hooked on a stream of content centred around the company and its brands.  This approach simply doesn’t produce the level of interest needed to build a genuine rapport.

Of course it is easy for people to talk about their own company and its products or services. Conversely, it’s relatively difficult for marketers to come up with original content outside these areas, while still of particular interest to the audience. According to the Content Marketing Institute, around 41 percent of marketers say their leading content marketing problem is actually producing engaging content.

Your overall business objectives might be to increase enquiries, increase sales and profits. You also want to tell the brand story, build brand awareness, increase brand market share and establish thought leadership.

Provide content your audience wants

What I am saying is: focus on the customer and the information that he or she needs and is interested in. In the diagram above, anything outside the red circle is a no-go area.

There is nothing wrong in zooming in on your audience’s interests as they relate to your organisation. And without a brand in the picture, content is just a distant cry in the wilderness.  But if you restrict yourself to providing content that must, in a direct manner, relate to the brand and/or the business, you will struggle to grow your audience.

Just try moving your brand and business out of the story and see how much further the content will travel.  I guarantee you’ll want to do it more.
The interesting thing is that when you really do have something interesting to say to your audience about your brand or company, they’ll be much more attentive and responsive.

Add different types of content

So that’s a hint about where to start in terms of broadening the scope of the subject matter.  Adding more types of content is another way to broaden your reach, improve engagement ratios and boost SEO efforts.

Content types used in online marketing
The content type above is a visualisation, which in this case shows a selection of  content forms available. The positioning of content types here (based on our internal data) gives a general idea of the production ease and relative effectiveness of each.

In reality the effectiveness of a content form really depends how suited it is to your information.  Your choices are also going to shaped by resources that are available. Writing a book or even a white paper, whilst generally very effective, is going to some time and therefore is expensive.  At the other end of the spectrum you have social media updates and blog comments which are quick and cheap to create and, on their own,  have limited effectiveness.

There are some under-utilised types of content, like comics or cartoons, which can get good shares in social media,  stick around for a while and are good at picking up inbound links. Slideshare presentations are great at condensing longer Powerpoint presentations or displaying a set of slides in a visually appealing manner.

In terms of value for money, quality blogs and original news feed are a very powerful way to inform and engage with your audience, especially when used in conjunction with newsletters and social media. The ‘Freshness Update’ was coined to explain the way that Google rewards websites that are continually adding more content. A Google search guru even said that search results were like cookies that come out of the oven – ‘best when fresh’.

Infographics are in vogue of course, and are fantastic for allowing people to digest and make sense of larger amounts of data in a fun way. Different types of information are often best conveyed by using particular content forms.  So couple creativeness in broadening your topics with a bigger toolbox of content forms to really build your audience.

Propagate your content 

Once you have produced your content, is it just going to be plonked on the website, waiting to be discovered? Or will it be actively promoted and marketed?

Internal promotion
Before discussing ways to get your content linked to from third party sites, check to make sure the page upon which the content sits is well formatted, optimised for search and is featured around the site itself, including the home page.

Adding internal links from keywords or phrases in your regular content to relevant sections will help consolidate those sections and form good site architecture. Don’t be afraid of linking out to third party websites. In the old days, this would constitute ‘leaking of link juice’, but most SEO experts now agree that linking out helps rather than hinders online marketing efforts.

Make sure you have social sharing links prominently displayed above or below the content. Maybe both.  Check that there is an RSS feed set up so people can subscribe to your regular content through their browsers and in their personal news aggregators.

External promotion
Here’s what agency and brand marketers are doing to promote their content externally, according to Outbrain.

content distribution strategies

It’s likely that the better online marketers are utilising the majority of these.
No surprise to see that nearly everyone is using social media. If the content is deemed good enough by the audience, it will travel a long way.

Take a Facebook post we put up recently for a client, a sustainable forestry investment company.  It was just 50 words with an image about the world’s first ‘vertical forest’ – trees growing on every balcony of an apartment building in Milan, Italy.  But it’s interesting, relevant content for this audience, garnering many comments and hundreds of shares. There’s no mention of the brand anywhere, no calls to action.

Other times we will link to a news story or a blog post on the client’s website, where there is a chance of conversion.    Three quarters of online adults at least sometimes visit a corporate web site after learning of a news story through social media channels.  And seven out of ten will use corporate websites or online newsrooms as a source for sharing and posting information.  Social media is a very powerful platform to showcase your expertise using compelling content.

In your holistic approach, you will be co-ordinating your social media, PPC, SEO,  public relations and other online marketing activity so you’re not duplicating efforts and you are achieving a level of synergy.

Follow the bones of this content marketing über strategy, and you’ll leave your competitors straggling on the first lap.

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If you’d like to talk to me about how to achieve your online marketing objectives through cost-effective content strategies, drop me a line now! (Mention this blog post, How to build a killer content marketing strategy, and it will be directed to me).