By Jodi Harris published March 15, 2016

How to Beat the Battle of an Ineffective Blog

Beat-battle-blog-effectiveness

Despite how much work is involved, blogging often is thought of as one of the most basic points of entry into the content marketing game: It’s a versatile technique with a lot of creative possibilities, options, and approaches; yet it doesn’t require a lot of technical expertise or equipment to produce and maintain.

Blogging is also a powerful means of building an audience for your brand, and sustaining their interest over time – something every content effort should strive to achieve.

Chart_Effective(blogging)-01

Those are just a few of the likely reasons why 81% of B2B marketers in our 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends study say they are blogging as part of their content program, with other sectors (B2C and nonprofit) reporting similarly high usage rates. However, despite these high adoption levels, our research also found that many of those marketers are struggling to feel effective at this technique (as you can see in the chart above).

What’s holding these businesses back from beating the battle of the blog? For starters, the B2B research found that more than half (55%) of content marketers lack a clear idea of what content marketing success looks like for their organization. It may seem backward, but many businesses begin blogging before they outline the goals to which they want their efforts to contribute or before they even understand how to gauge its performance.

B2B #research: 55% of content marketers lack a clear idea of #contentmarketing success Click To Tweet

There are also plenty of less obvious obstacles your blog content needs to overcome if your efforts are going to truly benefit your business. If you aren’t feeling effective with your blog, chances are you are struggling with at least one of the following issues, and might benefit from the tips and examples below:

Problem 1: You aren’t publishing on a consistent schedule

Great blog content should be like an eagerly anticipated gift you offer to your readers – they look forward to every new delivery and are happy to visit your site to retrieve your content as soon as it is available. But what happens when they arrive and the gift they were expecting hasn’t shown up? If you can’t keep the content engines churning or fail to deliver on the expectations you set with your blog, those readers will walk away disappointed – and may think twice about returning.

Warning signs: Consistency issues typically result from one of these two underlying problems:

  • Lack of editorial infrastructure: You haven’t set a workable schedule for creating and publishing your content or established the necessary workflow that would govern your process.
  • Lack of resources: You need more writers or more creative ideas; or you are running into productivity problems that are keeping your team from being able to bring your ideas to fruition.

Potential solutions:

  • Develop an editorial calendar: Establishing a schedule of topics you will cover and the timeline for doing so can help you set realistic expectations and keep your content creation in line with your marketing goals. These editorial calendar essentials will help get you started.
  • Brainstorm ideas to fill your content calendar: Brainstorming techniques, like this super-simple sticky-note approach, can help you break out of any creative slumps that might be derailing your content production.
  • Enlist the help of your team members for content creation: Your executives, team members, and even colleagues outside of the marketing department can be motivated to help increase your content coffers. Use these tips to make content creation a benefit – not a burden – for your fellow employees.

Best practice example: Moz’s Whiteboard Friday

moz whiteboard friday

If consistency is key, The Wizard of Moz Rand Fishkin certainly knows how to unlock the doors of audience engagement. Whiteboard Friday blog posts tackle the SEO questions (both large and small) that marketers have, and do so in a creative and visually appealing way – week after week, without fail.

Problem 2: Your blog content isn’t unique or distinct

For your content to stand out among the competition, it needs to offer distinctive value – providing information your readers can’t get anywhere else, serving a segment of your audience no one else is addressing, or delivering on promises your brand is uniquely qualified to make.

Warning signs: If you aren’t giving your audience a compelling reason to choose your content over everything else they could be spending time with, your blog will never reach its full marketing potential. Here are some sure signs your content is going to fade into the background:

  • You don’t know what makes your brand special: You need to identify the specific ways your business is different than everyone else’s before you can create content that communicates with a signature tone, voice, or style.
  • You are targeting too broad an audience: As CMI founder Joe Pulizzi often says, if your content is meant for everybody, it won’t benefit anybody.
If your #content is meant for everybody, it won’t benefit anybody says @joepulizzi Click To Tweet

Potential solutions:

  • Craft your editorial mission statement: This sets the tone for all your content creation efforts by defining your unique perspective on your industry and outlining the value proposition your blog content will offer.
  • Find a new niche: If you don’t believe you can be the leading information provider in your chosen content niche, you haven’t drilled down deeply enough to find the right angle – for your blog or any other content your business offers. Struggling to find your footing? Try following Joe’s advice for creating a content tilt.
  • Get creative with your approach: Sometimes the power of a blog isn’t rooted in what you say but rather in how you say it. Look for opportunities to take your blog readers down an unexpected path, approach topics from a unique angle, or explore special interests that your brand and its fans may have in common. Check out these 75 examples for a little inspiration on taking content in a novel direction.

Best practice example: Saddleback Leather

saddleback-leather-blog-story

It takes a tough leather company to create a blog full of tender-hearted tales. Focused around topics of interest to founder Dave Munson – like family, philanthropy, solid craftsmanship, and travels with his faithful dog Blue – the Saddleback Leather blog doesn’t just talk product. It highlights the aesthetic of adventure and the love of a life well-lived.

Problem 3: Your blog is all about you – not your audience and their needs

Warning signs: Ever meet someone at a party who goes on and on about himself, without showing any interest in the people he’s talking to? If your brand is “that guy,” your readers will eventually grow tired of not being heard and look for any excuse to leave the conversation – for good.

Potential solutions:

  • Highlight ways readers can get involved in your brand, and recognize them for their efforts: Don’t just say you are interested in your readers – prove that you value their participation and feedback by responding to their comments, creating opportunities for them to contribute their ideas, and rewarding them for helping you spread the word about your business.
  • Demonstrate your understanding of their needs by addressing common pain points and providing relief: Create content with tangible value such as tips, templates, and toolkits; answer your customers’ questions; or give your audience access to other real-world solutions that will enable them to accomplish their tasks more quickly and more effectively, with your brand at the top of their minds.

Best practice example: Clean My Space

clean my space blog

The blog for Toronto-based cleaning firm Clean My Space uses video to demonstrate time- and effort-saving tips on tidying up. It’s a perfect example of how a company can consistently answer questions that customers and prospects may have, and prove the unique value it provides to its fans and followers.

Problem 4: Your content has a short shelf life or limited reach

Content can be the gift that keeps on giving – for your brand, as well as for the consumers who love it. But for this to happen, you need to know how to squeeze as much value as you can from every piece of content you create and get it into the hands of as many interested readers as possible.

Warning signs: There are a few key reasons why your blog content might be withering on the vine instead of spreading its seeds far and wide:

  • Your aren’t producing evergreen content: Trend- or news-focused content is great for illustrating your brand’s insights; but this type of content typically comes with a built-in expiration date, cutting off your potential for long-tail engagement.
  • You aren’t making it clear you want readers to speak on your brand’s behalf: If you aren’t making it as easy as possible for readers to share your content, you are making it harder for your influence to spread.
  • You publish, then move on: Content marketing isn’t for those lazy, “set-it-and-forget-it” types of businesses. It takes hard work before, during, and after you publish to make sure your content works hard to bring you success.

Potential solutions:

  • Use content curation techniques to refresh older posts: In addition to creating content on evergreen topics that have long-lasting relevance, you can also give your aging content a new lease on life through content curation. Try updating popular posts with more contemporary advice, linking to newer sources of information, including outside perspectives on the topic, or adding fresh visuals – like infographics or videos – to liven up the discussion. Then, republish the post, making sure to acknowledge – and link to – the original.
  • Enable the sharing behaviors you seek: Featuring sharing buttons, requests for comments, and calls to action in your blog posts signal to readers that you would like them to share their brand love, while helping you channel their assistance in the specific directions you desire.
  • Promote your content: Social media and email marketing are both must-have techniques for spreading the word about the content you’ve published. But if you want to extend your blog’s life span and expand its reach beyond your circle of influence, consider supporting your posts with paid promotional techniques like native advertising, promoted posts, and search ads.

Best practice example: The Buffer Blog

buffer social curation experiment

In late 2015, Buffer decided to eschew creating new blog posts for one month in favor of repurposing and refreshing content from its archives. Though some of its efforts were more successful than others, the experiment provided some invaluable insights on how to increase the payoff of every blog post.

Problem 5: You aren’t using your blog to build subscribers

Let’s face it: For your blog to be effective, it needs to help you achieve your business goals, not just boost your brand’s ego and pad your writers’ personal portfolios. Increasing subscriptions is a solid, measurable step in that direction given that the awareness and interest the blog generates now can be nurtured into long-term brand engagement and loyalty over time.

Warning signs: Why aren’t your blog readers signing up for more? Perhaps your content is getting caught up in one of these likely traps:

  • You aren’t directing readers down the path you want them to follow: It took your hard work to bring guests to your door – why would you just let them wander around aimlessly once they’ve arrived?
  • You aren’t making a compelling case for subscription: Sometimes readers need a little convincing to help them decide that your content is worth raising their hand for.
  • Your offerings are all-or-nothing: While a one-size-fits-all subscription might satisfy some enthusiastic brand fans, it could be a big turn-off to casual readers, or those who are already inundated with unread emails in their inboxes.

Potential solutions:

  • Include a call to action that directs site visitors to take the next step: Be clear as to what you want them to do and highlight the benefits they’ll receive in return. But remember, your ask doesn’t need to follow the same format every time. Consider these alternatives to the traditional text-based end-of-post callout.
  • Offer an incentive to sweeten the deal: Give subscribers access to exclusive content, insider discounts, or other members-only benefits in exchange for their permission to connect with them more directly. You’ll be surprised at how much more willing readers may be to share their personal info when they feel they are getting something tangible in return.
  • Enable subscribers to customize the communications they receive: Just because a reader doesn’t want to hear from you every day, doesn’t mean she might not appreciate the opportunity to receive a monthly message, or hear about specific types of offers. By making your terms of engagement flexible and giving readers the power of choice, you’ll make the experience more comfortable, satisfying, and mutually beneficial.

Best practice example: Copyblogger

copyblogger-member-offers

In Joe’s most recent post on subscription goals, he mentions how Copyblogger Media founder Brian Clark leveraged a strong and loyal base of more than 200,000 targeted email subscribers to transform his humble blog into one of the fastest SaaS companies on the planet. Today, Copyblogger continues to grow that fan base by offering exclusive content resources to members who sign up via email.

Conclusion

Blogging may have low barriers to entry, but that doesn’t mean it’s an effortless path to content marketing effectiveness. Fortunately, a few small blogging hacks and helpers like the ones above can make a big difference in your brand’s potential for attracting, impacting, and activating your audience more successfully.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is the Director of Editorial Content & Curation at Content Marketing Institute. As an experienced content management consultant, Jodi focuses on helping businesses analyze their content needs and resources; build infrastructure and operations; and create and distribute relevant, engaging brand messages across multiple media channels and platforms. Jodi has developed and managed print and digital content projects for marketing, entertainment, automotive, health care, and biotech publishers, as well as for entertainment industry and media brands. Follow Jodi on Twitter at @Joderama.

Other posts by Jodi Harris

  • https://www.vertical-leap.uk/ Lee Wilson

    Really enjoyed reading this article.

    For many businesses commitment towards investing into a blog over the longer term can become a genuine barrier to blog content marketing success.

    Lots of the practical tips mentioned are very useful and will help people invest more effectively in their blog by providing enough evidence that it can work and actively contribute towards total website success.

    Nice post!

  • http://www.MoneyNomad.com Rob @ MoneyNomad

    Exceptional post! I’ve worked with many clients who just want a blog post – with no strategy. That’s definitely not going to work out well in the long-run. Great article and I’m going to have to go look at Buffer’s repurpose post now.

  • http://www.wingreenmarketing.com/ Don Montgomery

    Very very thorough and helpful.

    I am curious however. If Problem 1 is “You aren’t publishing on a consistent schedule” and the barrier is that companies “can’t keep the content engines churning,” wouldn’t the single most logical solution to the problem be to just outsource it? Most companies routinely outsource parts of marketing (PR, advertising). Just like legal, payroll, security, and cleaning services are also routinely outsourced because they’re not core functions of companies’ businesses. So if you’re not a content marketing agency, why on earth would you spend the company’s scarce resources on staffing up content creation, editing, and publishing, especially when you’ll never be able to scale it and keep it on a consistent schedule? Contracting it out delivers higher quality, more content, at lower cost — and it’s always on time. Just curious why it wasn’t even mentioned as a tactic. [Disclaimer: Yes, I’m with a content marketing agency.]

    • http://www.vinishgarg.com/ Vinish Garg

      Interesting comment on outsourcing content marketing. To me, if an organization cannot afford in-house team and process (hiring, marketing, measuring), they may not be able to afford to a reasonably good CM agency too. If they want to invest in an ROI based content marketing strategy, not many low-cost agencies (since you used the word lower cost) may do justice to those goals. I would rather think that an organization should outsource only when they can afford good-quality CM agencies, so that they do not end up going back-and-forth to explain personas, goals, and results.

    • Jodi Harris

      Hi Don,

      Outsourcing is certainly a viable option; and many times it may be the right option, particularly if you are looking to build a large-scale content marketing program and have the budget for a quality agency (as Vinish smartly points out in his comment).

      But not every business needs to produce a high-volume of content, or publish every day (or every week… or every month) in order to achieve success with content marketing. When well planned and well-aligned with your business strategy, even small, sustainable content efforts can make a big impact on your bottom line.

      But this can’t happen if marketers are feeling so frustrated or overwhelmed by the content production process itself that they lose sight of its value proposition — which is to open up the lines of reciprocal communication between a business and its audience.

      So my intention with this post was to provide practical tools and ideas that might ease the stress for those marketers who do choose to go the DIY route — I think it is important for marketers to feel capable and knowledgeable about what’s involved in the day to day management of a content marketing program, even if they, ultimately, decide that they want to bring in an outside expert to do the heavy lifting.

  • http://www.magnetichq.com/ Daniel Marcus

    Thanks for this – the timing of this article is incredibly relevant for us – I’m moving away from a self managed content marketing strategy to hiring in a team and it’s great to have some reference and benchmark points to work off.

    Much appreciated

  • http://targetingo.com Iulian @Targetingo

    You lost me from point 1. Publishing more and more content is not a solution. You simply can’t produce quality in a short period of time. And you discouraged businesses with low marketing funds because they cannot pay 2-3 times a week for a good article.

    So, point 1 should be quality over quantity.

  • http://www.saddlebackleather.com/ Saddleback Leather Co.

    What an honor – thanks so much for talking about us, Jodi. Really enjoyed reading through this!

    • Jodi Harris

      Any company whose brand story is so obviously inspired by the love of a good dog is aces in my book!

  • Hannah Tecott

    Great article! This is particularly relevant since it comes at a time where uncertainty and frustrations surrounding the value of blogs are at an all-time high for many marketers: With LinkedIn and Medium offering free publishing tools and the opportunity to reach different audiences, it’s tempting to give up your blog entirely. The reality is that you can have the best of both worlds by leveraging the power of re-publishing. What more marketers need to tap into is the value that re-publishing content from your blog to other platforms like LinkedIn and Medium can bring. This is a huge opportunity to boost SEO, amplify reach and generate 3x more website traffic.