A few years ago, content marketing was pretty simple. Just start a blog. As long as you had content, you were good to go. No worries.
Did the content suck? Maybe. But who cared? It was content, and it was working. You were getting traffic. You were ranking for keywords. You were doing OK. The blog just had to do its thing.
My, how times have changed.
That blog that used to work – not to mention all those incoming links from sites like ArticlesBase.com – isn’t working anymore. In fact, if you’re not so lucky, you actually got hit with an algorithmic penalty for all those incoming links.
Who thought that your noble content marketing efforts would give you such grief?
Thankfully, smart marketers have figured out much of what users are looking for, and how to satisfy the demand. We know that:
- Content marketing requires more than just 200-word pages cobbled together with article spinners.
- Visual content is important.
- Too much content can be a bad thing.
Basically, we’re getting better at content marketing. But as optimistic as this evolution is, we still need to make progress. Specifically, we need to revisit the idea of a blog. And not just any blog, but the B2B blog.
Why B2B? Because B2B blogs are notoriously difficult. They often run aground within weeks of launching. The articles are generally written in a boring way. Most of the time, they simply don’t work.
What I’m proposing is a new way to develop a top-tier B2B blog. A few preliminary remarks are in order.
- This is not a technical article. I won’t be showing you how to register your domain, set up a WordPress blog, and add content.
- This is not about SEO. You have a handle on the SEO basics.
- This is for B2B industries. If you’re selling sneakers to teenage urbanites, good for you. Here, however, this advice is business-to-business sales only.
- This is about the big ideas of the blog, not the nitty-gritty details. Addressing a topic of this size is like trying to hug a blue whale. It’s a bit slippery and large. In tackling the blue whale of B2B blogs, I’m going after a particular angle. My angle? The major pillars of the B2B blog. Skim the main headings below and you’ll get the idea.
Finally, I’m going to make a promise. I promise that if you follow this method, you will be able to create an enormously successful B2B blog.
Ready to go?
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Resources you’ll need
Here are the things you’ll need to make this happen.
- Money – Allocate a sufficient budget to the point where your blog is bringing in at least as much money as it costs. Ideally, this will take six months or less.
- People – Good people. I’ll explain more below, but at a minimum, you need an outstanding writer. You may also need an editor with managerial skills.
- Chops – This isn’t easy, but it is effective. Prepare to buckle down and give it all you’ve got. You’ll be rewarded for your pains.
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Create a detailed buyer persona
Big idea: An amazing blog starts with dedicated readers. Determine the exact group you’re targeting and deliver.An amazing #blog starts w/ dedicated readers. Determine who they are & deliver via @neilpatel Click To Tweet
It’s necessary to start with something conventional and basic – your target audience. Call it what you will – a persona, an avatar, an ideal customer, the target audience, whatever.
I could easily spiral into the minutiae and get totally sidetracked. I’m resisting. Let me make a few salient points.
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Narrow your persona – the narrower the better
No, you will not run out of topics. In fact, you will have more topics than you know what to do with. Go narrow and you’re almost guaranteed to win.
Create a traditional persona
The best method I’ve discovered is the standard marketing persona. Research your audience and create a persona.
Create a content segmentation grid
It sounds a bit abstruse, but the idea is simple. Develop a grid that identifies your various persona segments, along with the lead topic and opportunities that will help them to become qualified prospects. Sound confusing?
Take a look at this grid to see how it works.
Not only does this grid help to zero in on your select audience, but it also gives you a closer look at what types of content you’ll need to produce. That brings us to the next topic.
Develop a comprehensive list of article topics
Big idea: Create a huge list of advanced article topics. If you’ve done your job right in detailing your narrowed target persona, you should be able to generate a list of hundreds of topics that will meet the audience member exactly where he or she is.
Researching article topics isn’t about keyword research anymore.
Although keyword research may still factor into your preliminary efforts, you need to go way beyond that technique. Here are some specific tips on generating this list of article topics.
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Go beyond the ordinary
Don’t create content merely to repeat all the stuff that’s already on the internet. It’s possible we’re in the era of content shock as it is. Go beyond what’s expected in terms of the breadth, depth, and scope of topics.
Focus on user intent
We’re beyond the age of keywords. Today, you need to understand the intent of the user when they search for topics.
What is “user intent”? User intent is understanding the why behind a customer’s what.User intent is understanding the why behind a customer’s what says @neilpatel #contentmarketing Click To Tweet
The customer is looking for something. What is it? That’s your topic.
The customer is looking because of something. Why is it? That’s your solution.
A topic alone is not good enough for a great piece of content. A topic must have a solution – meeting the user’s intent.
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One great form of content is the question. Ask the questions that your users are most interested in getting answers to.
Create comprehensive guides
One of the most effective content types that I’ve produced is the comprehensive guide. It isn’t your standard article. Comprehensive guides are book-length resources that treat a subject as exhaustively as possible.
People love detail. When you can dive deep into the tiniest facets of a subject, you’ll capture your audience.
Write step by step
Step-by-step guides are always a winner. Many times, users want someone to walk them through a process in a logical and coherent way. Step-by-step guides are the perfect solution.
If you come away from your topic-generation session with 100-plus topics, you’ve only just begun. How much narrower can you get those topics? How much more detail can you add?
Hire the best content writer possible
Big idea: Don’t skimp on quality. You’ll only have great content by having a great content writer. Find someone whose exclusive task is to develop content.
Content marketing is a massive industry. Ironically, however, it’s harder than ever to find a good content writer. Why? Because more than ever, businesses need deep content, not surface-level pablum. Hiring the best content writer possible may be your toughest nut to crack from this whole list.
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Find a writer with specific experience
A Craigslist ad might not cut it. When searching for a writer, you need someone who is both a masterful writer and an experienced veteran.
What do I mean by this? To produce excellent content, the writer should possess experience in your niche. Whatever your industry, your writer should have relevant experience.
It is possible that you will not find someone who matches your qualifications exactly. If this is the case, you can skip to the next major section – solicit excellent contributors.
However, if you do find a great writer, you’ll still need someone experienced in both content and your industry to oversee the process.
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Pay top dollar
Be prepared to give your writer a solid compensation package. If you hire them full time, a six-figure salary would not be too high. Does this surprise you? According to industry standard aggregators like SimplyHired, average salaries for content creators are $29,000.
These “content creators,” however, are not the experienced specialists you’re looking for. You need someone with master skills and deep experience.
Some companies such as Buffer, with their transparent salary formula, see the value in generously compensating content creators. Look no further than Buffer’s outstanding B2B blog to see the way that this strategy has served them.
I know content creators who are earning $250,000 annually simply by producing outstanding content.
You may not be able to pay a writer that much, but you should be as generous as possible. One of the reasons why it’s hard to think of shelling out a six-figure salary is because of the low-earning connotation associated with a “writer” or “content creator.”
If you adjust your perspective and view this individual as a key member or leader of your marketing team, it becomes easier to understand and justify the higher compensation level.
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Allow your hire to be devoted to the job of content and nothing else
If you want your hire to be worth it, give free reign. Resist the temptation to throw all marketing responsibilities in their lap. Let the hire focus on content.
Give your content writer all the resources he or she needs
Content writers should have access to designers, developers, and whatever other resources would be useful. They may request subscriptions to services like Moz or BuzzSumo to produce the best content. Ensure that they have the tools.
Turn your content writer into a rock star
The best B2B content comes from people who are free to be individuals – people with a reputation, a following, and a fan base. Give your content writer the room to expand personally as he or she promotes your brand.
Solicit excellent contributors
Big idea: In this phase of the B2B blog, you expand output and (ideally) improve the quality of your blog. It requires bringing in industry-recognized contributors.
This is where many B2B blogs fall short. They want to keep everything in-house, proprietary, and exclusive. So what do they do? They exhaust themselves trying to produce all their content on their own. Instead of becoming an industry force, they continue in oblivion.
Imagine the power of a B2B blog that could attract the most brilliant minds in the industry. Imagine if the output of this blog was unparalleled – producing dozens of high-quality articles every week. This is B2B blogging at its finest.
Here’s the tactical overview.
You might need to hire a manager or editor
I would avoid tasking your content creator with this job. She’s doing an outstanding job producing content, and you don’t want to slow her down.
You might need to hire someone else to do this job. Ideally, you should hire someone who possesses experience in the field and has excellent managerial skills. (Think delegation.)
Their job will be to find the best writers, organize the editorial calendar, and maintain a high output of excellent content.
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Start with one-on-one outreach
Have your editor find the best writers and industry professionals, and invite them to contribute to the blog. An easy way to do this is to use BuzzSumo’s influencer tool. A 2-second search will reveal the power players. Invite these people to participate in your content efforts.
As long as you’re not a direct competitor, the offer could be attractive. Even if you are a competitor, the offer could be attractive.
Motivate and/or monetize
In an ideal world, you attract the best content creators who provide you with content for free. In a realistic world, however, you may need to provide some motivation. Here are some methods.
- Motivate with compensation – Pay for each article.
- Motivate with flattery – Tell them how much you respect their work and industry leadership, and ask for them to grace your readers with more of their excellent content.
- Motivate with featuring – OK, fine. Let them have a backlink.
After you’ve raised your reputation to the right standard, you can invite others to be a part. Soliciting contributors through an online form is an easy way to start.
Be exclusive. If you truly want top quality, you’ll have to turn away at least 80% of the people who apply. Building in some exclusivity to your online form is advised.
Let’s take a look at some blogs that are doing this successfully. The blog you’re reading is a great starting point. CMI is exclusive, but they attract some high-quality contributors.
For example, Mike Murray, while operating his own business, is a regular contributor at CMI.
HubSpot is a great B2B business. They have built their marketing approach around content. How? By inviting power-player writers like Jayson DeMers, who runs an SEO agency.
Gregory Ciotti works for HelpScout, but he also contributes to several high-profile blogs such as Buffer, which uses writers like Greg to enhance its content library as it implements its B2B content marketing strategy.
TopTal has an outstanding B2B blog aimed at developers and those who hire developers. Its approach is to use the developers who are part of the TopTal candidate community to provide content.
The contributor Bojan Kverh creates stellar content and is an excellent developer in his own right.
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At this point, your B2B blog should be on a rocket trajectory of its own. It will take work to edit, maintain, and manage its output, but the cost and effort you expend early will create enormous value.
What are your suggestions for creating an outstanding B2B blog?
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute