Let’s look at how you can turn your blog into an actual marketing channel that brings you results, drives traffic, engagement and conversion, and elevates you to “thought leader” (or pretty damn close).
Start with the 3 Ws
1. Why are you doing it?
Most people have no idea why they want to blog other than “they should”. As the saying goes, if you don’t know which direction you’re heading then no wind is the right wind.
Is your goal to become a thought leader over the long term or generate client leads in the shorter term? Figure it out at the beginning as it guides everything else you do moving forward.
2. Who are you helping?
At the end of the day, every post you write should be providing value to someone. The more focused you are on one group, the more likely your blog will get readers. Too many agencies don’t have a clearly defined target, so they write about general topics on design, coding, marketing, and business. Rest assured, better blogs exist in all these categories.
You need to find out specifically who you are talking to because you’ll get far more engagement from trying to please one niche group than trying to write content for everyone. Here’s a great in-depth guide on building a blog audience.
3. What are you saying that’s unique?
I think this is one of the biggest problems holding back agencies from blogging. They don’t think they have anything to offer that’s different from better blogs out there. Alex Turnbull from Groove had this problem early on with his blog - all of his posts were generic and could be found on any other competing blog. He had to dig deep to find his identity, and boy, did it pay off.
Your posts don’t have to be revolutionary, all they need to be is honest, transparent, and helpful.
Create a content strategy
Agencies often recommend a content strategy for their clients but don’t have one themselves. Once you know why you’re blogging (i.e. generate business leads), who you’re targeting and what your unique proposition is, don’t leave the writing to chance - really take the time to plan it out. It will make your life easier and ensure your blog doesn’t become a circa 1850 ghost town.
Create a topic list
The hard part of blogging is figuring out what to write about. It’s often easier to sit down and bang out 20-50 ideas in one sitting (it may help to get drunk first) than to just come up with one idea a week. The topic list doesn’t have to be fully formed, just random ideas or phrases that you think will fit your strategy. You’ll refine the headlines and content later, just brainstorm for now and then put it into your calendar so you know on a month-to-month basis what topics you’re covering.
One tip I’ve learned is to mine your competition for ideas. Go through the last 6 months of their blog posts and take note of how many comments and social shares each post got. Put them into a spreadsheet and sort the more popular posts to the top. Of course you’re not going to steal their content, but this will give you a good idea of which topics resonate most with your audience and then you can give it your own unique angle.
Think about search keywords
Search traffic will be one of your biggest sources of traffic. Make sure that when coming up with your topic list you write down a keyword or two that you want to target in the post. That will help guide what you put into your headline and page title.
Is this blog a one-man/woman show?
Blogs written by primarily one person tend to get more engagement. Readers form an emotional bond with authors of good blogs (think Seth Godin). They want to comment because they feel like it’s having a conversation with someone they respect.
Blogs that contain multiple authors tend to not get as much engagement, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work - you can produce more abundance and variety of content doing it that way. There is no right or wrong, but figure it out early on and stick to it. Viget does a great job of segmenting their blogs into multiple areas of expertise and having their whole team write for it.
Create an editorial calendar and stick to it
Decide how frequently you’ll post (at least once per week), choose a day and time and try to follow it closely. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different days and times, but it should be a controlled test instead of just posting when you’ve finally gotten round to it.
Spend half of your effort on the headline
There’s a reason sites like Upworthy have grown more traffic than much larger and more established websites like the New York Times. Their headlines are “click bait”, using emotional psychology to force you to click on it.
You may find those headlines annoying but they do work. The point isn’t that you should copy Upworthy, the point is that 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, but only 2 out of 10 people will read the rest of your post.
A good practice is to write your original headline idea 10 times but in a different way each time. Your first and second ideas are usually the weakest.
- Try the headline with different formats, like “How To”, “10 Ways”, “Why…” or a question.
- Try one version with a personal pronoun addressing the reader and another click-baity version using an emotionally impactful word like crippling, brutal, life changing, groundbreaking, etc.
- Make sure whatever search keyword you’re targeting is used in the title, even if it’s a synonym (which Google now recognizes).
Whatever you do, don’t treat the headline the way an old-school advertising copywriter does, using short 3 word headlines with a clever, subtle play-on-words. Those headlines don’t work. Save the clever stuff for when they’re actually reading the article - the headline needs to clearly communicate what the article is about and hook them into clicking.
Combine research with storytelling
It’s tempting to simply blog when you feel the need to rant about something. I’ve ranted before on my old blog and if done well it does get people commenting and sharing. But you can’t keep that up forever and you don’t want to be known as an angry, one-trick pony.
So how do you stand out?
Even if you’re blogging about a topic that’s been done to death, you can make it more unique simply by combining research with storytelling.
People want facts
The reason research works in blog posts is because people want quantifiable information. Everyone has an opinion but if you can back up an argument or tip with tangible metrics that prove it works, people will take it more seriously and assign it more value.
For example, one blog headline test performed by Groove ran an A/B test on their headline. They were identical except one had a stat in the headline, the other didn’t. The one with the stat got 40% more clicks.
Try to make a practice of backing up your blog posts with real data. It’s easy to do. Instead of just writing a blanket statement based on your assumption, Google search it and see if there’s a real number you can attach to the statement, or a quote from a more established writer that backs up your statement. Include the facts and link back to the original source.
People also want story
Storytelling is incredibly important to human beings across all cultures. Our brains are wired to respond to story as a means of learning, which is why songs, books, films, and plays are so universally loved.
Your blog will bore people to death if they don’t often include some type of personal anecdote or story. It’s one thing to say why you feel a certain way or express your opinion. It’s another thing to actually write about an event that shaped your opinion. Be authentic and transparent. People will respond more positively to honesty about your failures than your exaggerated successes.
Convert your blog into subscribers
An email subscriber list is one of your most powerful marketing tools. People who sign up to get notified of posts obviously find enough value in what you’re writing that they don’t want to miss out on a single post. Your subscribers are more likely to share and comment on your articles and eventually reach out to discuss their next project they want to hire you for -- which is the ultimate goal of a lead gen blog.
A lot of agency blogs forget about this and don’t make strong calls to action for people to sign up, simply burying a small newsletter form somewhere in the footer or sidebar of their site. Here you can be a bit more aggressive than you think - people are used to seeing popup windows or big calls to action at the end of a post. They may not like it, but if the content is good they’ll live with it and it’s proven to work.
With the Proposify blog, I’m trying to apply lessons learned from great blogs like Groove and Quicksprout on what works and what doesn’t. I’m still learning myself, but the more I do it “right”, the more business results I see from it. It makes me think back to when I ran an agency and my blog was reactive instead of proactive.
I hope these blogging tips help you if you decide to create your own agency blog. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.