Why do you read the Content Marketing Institute blog? Is it to find out what services Joe Pulizzi and his team at CMI and Junta42 have to offer? Or are you more interested in their analysis of the latest trends, research and tips on content marketing?
A “reader-centric” blog focuses on the reader – whether he or she is a customer, prospect, journalist, investor, thought leader, or casual Web browser – rather than on the company producing the blog.
Blogging is a natural and effective way to reach all of your potential audiences, but only if you’re committed to giving them what they want. People read blogs to be educated, informed or entertained. As interesting as you and your PR department may find your products, services and corporate messaging, that’s not usually the kind of material that attracts readers.
Here are a few suggestions to help make your blog less about you and more about your audience.
Find blog topics that resonate with your audience
This may seem like a no-brainer, but anyone who blogs regularly will at times struggle to find worthwhile topics to write about. Ideally, you want to find topics that connect with your audience in a way that relates to your business. It’s important to follow the news, issues, trends and research that affect your industry or niche. Such information undoubtedly affects your audience, their business, as well as your own business.
Here are a few of tools to help you find relevant and interesting blog topics:
Google Alerts: Google Alerts aren’t perfect, but they provide a daily list of recently-published articles and blog posts related to your topics of choice. Elise Redlin-Cook has some suggestions on how to find the right keywords to track.
TIP: Set your Alert type to “Everything” to get the latest results from Google’s Web, News and Blog searches.
Twitter: Even if you’re not an active tweeter, you can use Twitter to find links to content you’re interested in and ideas for blog posts. The trick is to follow the right people – competitors, customers, journalists and bloggers in your niche.
TIP: Followerwonk is a useful tool that lets you search for Twitter users based on keywords within their Twitter bios. You can qualify results based on follower counts, which helps you determine who the biggest influencers are.
Quora: There’s been a lot of buzz about this Q&A site lately. If you follow topics and questions that interest you, as well as thought leaders in your industry, you’ll come across a wealth of relevant topics to blog about. But participating on Quora can be productive too: A thoughtful answer you provide can usually be repurposed as a blog post quite naturally. Same goes for LinkedIn Answers and Formspring, which are a couple of other Q&A networks worth checking out.
TIP: Pay close attention to where you find topics to cover and give credit where credit is due. Linking to the original source of information is not just good etiquette, but it’s also an effective way to get the attention of the journalist, blogger or influencer who first reported it – which is subtle but very powerful marketing for your business.
Turn questions into content
Another useful method for focusing your blog on your audience is to think about the questions they’re likely asking. Don’t hone in on questions about your product or service (though there’s a place for that, too), but rather, think about real-world issues or problems they may have. Turn the answers to those questions into blog posts.
EXAMPLE: Let’s say you own a plumbing service. One question your customers or prospects might ask is, “How do I unclog my sink drain?” A blog post like “5 Ways To Unclog A Drain in 5 Minutes” would be very helpful to a lot of people. It’s much more interesting and useful than a post specifically about your plumbing company. It’s also an effective way to show your readers that you’re an authority, without having to say you are.
This technique has significant implications for long-tail SEO, as well. If you don’t know what long-tail SEO is, check out this post by Ian Lurie of Conversation Marketing. Lurie references data from SEOMoz that suggests that long-tail search terms account for 70% of all searches.
Going back to our plumbing example, this means that there are a ton more people searching for a combination of all the different tips, resources and specific questions they have about plumbing (aka the long tail) than are searching for an exact search term like “New York City plumber.”
TIP: Use these questions to craft your blog headlines strategically. If your headline closely matches a search query or contains the right long-tail phrase, there’s a good chance you’ll rank on page one for that query. The right long-tail search terms can attract very targeted and engaged readers to your blog.
Turn comments into content
If you receive an unusually high volume of comments on a particular post, that topic most likely resonated well with your readers and may be worth exploring further in a new blog post. You may even be able to turn particularly galvanizing comments into their own post.
EXAMPLE: Check out this post from the from The New York Times ‘You’re the Boss’ blog. As you can see, the entire post is the blogger’s response to one reader’s comment from a previous post.
This also encourages new readers to check out multiple posts. I came across the above post via Twitter, but made sure to read the initial post first so I’d have the context.
This can easily extend to social media. Any interesting tweets, Facebook status updates or Q&A responses can become inspiring blog topics.
Invite others to contribute
One surefire way to create a blog post that’s not about you is to actually let someone else create the content. A couple of ideas:
Guest posts: Invite journalists, bloggers and experts in your industry to contribute a guest post to your blog. In addition to providing you with interesting content from a fresh perspective, they may have a significant following of their own. As they share their guest post on Twitter, Facebook and more, they’ll bring new readers to your blog. As an added benefit, you could get invited to share a guest post on their blog.
Interviews: It’s very hard for experts to turn down an interview opportunity, especially if your blog has a lot of readers. But be prepared to the give them the questions ahead of time, and allow them to approve the final post before it’s published. As with guest posts, you’ll also benefit from the interviewee sharing the post with his or her followers.
Additionally, any way you can get readers to participate on your blog is beneficial. Participation from your audience is certainly an indication that you’re keeping them interested. It’s also an invaluable source of insight that can help you shape the direction of your blog. Conclude blog posts with questions to encourage commenting. Run a contest. Use social networks to ask followers what they want to read about on your blog. There’s no standard recipe for this. Be creative and know your audience.
There are few brands in the world that can get away with talking about themselves and their products online and still keep their audiences satisfied. Apple comes to mind, with the entire tech community eagerly awaiting every new product announcement. But for the rest of us, if we want to build and keep an audience, we need to be constantly adding value and enriching their experiences with information that connects with them.
These are just a handful of methods to help you create blog content that resonates with your audience. Have any other tips or suggestions? We’d love to hear from you.