When Is a Blog the Right Form of Content Marketing?

Posted by Isla_McKetta

You’ve heard the wisdom: 

“Your business should have a blog.” 

“Blogging helps your SEO.” 

“Why aren’t you blogging yet?” 

According to the experts, a blog will solve all your Internet woes. Blogging will increase your traffic, expand your audience, improve your engagement, position you as an authority, and allow you to shape the message in your space

In fact, blogging is so hyped as a panacea, you’d think that simply adding a blog to your site would also help you find the perfect spouse, cure the common cold, and even turn lead into gold. 

While I won’t deny the power of a good blog on the right site (seriously, as a writer, I’m pro-blog in general) to do all of those good things and more, you should always question anything that’s touted as the right answer for everyone (and everything). So should you blog?

When a blog is NOT necessarily the right form of content marketing

Now that you’re asking whether all that time and energy you’re putting (or planning to put) into your blog is really the right investment, let’s look at a few examples of when blogging is a bad idea (or is simply unnecessary).

1. You own your market

Johnson & Johnson. Amazon. Target. Google. These companies have already captured the hearts and minds of so many consumers that their names are nearly synonymous with their products. Here’s why blogging would only offer each of them a marginal benefit.

Traffic

Does Johnson & Johnson really care about traffic to its site when you already have Band-Aids (and all their other name brand products) in your medicine cabinet? Sure, they produce infographics, but there’s no real blog, and you were going to buy their products anyway, right?

Audience reach

Ordering anything from books to pet-waste bags online? You didn’t need a blog to discover Amazon, it’s so ingrained in your Internet history that you probably went straight there and those products will be on your doorstep in two days or less.

Engagement

Target mastered engagement when Oprah and Tyra started referring to the store as Tarzhay and shoppers only got more loyal as they added designer labels at discount prices. It didn’t matter that most of their products weren’t even available on their website, let alone that they didn’t have a blog. Their site has gotten a lot better in the past decade, but they still don’t need a blog to get customers in the door.

Authority

And Google… Sure they have a blog, but Google is such an authority for search queries that most of the consumers of their search results have no interest in, or need for, the blog.
So if you have little or no competition or your business is (and you expect it to remain) the top-of-mind brand in your market, you can skip blogging.

2. You have a better way of getting customers into the top of your funnel

A blog is only one way to attract new customers. For example, I live less than a mile from the nearest grocery store, and I can get there and back with a spare stick of butter before my oven even warms up. If the next nearest store had the most amazing blog ever, I’m still not going to go there when I’m missing an ingredient. But if they send me a coupon in the mail, I might just try them out when it’s less of an emergency.

The point is that different types of businesses require different types of tactics to get customers to notice them. 

My mom, a small-town accountant who knows all of her clients by name, doesn’t blog. She’s much more likely to get recommended by a neighbor than to be found on the Internet. If paid search brings you $50k in conversions every month and your blog contributes to $10k, it’s easy (and fair) to prioritize paid search. If you find that readers of white papers are the hottest leads for your SaaS company, offering a 50:1 ROI over blog readers, write those white papers. And if your customers are sharing your deals across email and/or social at a rate that your blog has never seen, give them more of what they want.

None of that means you’ll never have to create a blog. Instead, a blog might be something to reassess when your rate of growth slows in any of those channels, but if you’ve crunched your numbers and a blog just doesn’t pan out for now, use the tactics your customers are already responding to.

3. The most interesting things about your business are strictly confidential (or highly complicated)

Sure the CIA has a blog, but with posts like “CIA Unveils Portrait of Former Director Leon E. Panetta” and “CIA Reaches Deep to Feed Local Families” it reads more like a failed humanizing effort than anything you’d actually want to subscribe to (or worse, read). If you’re in a business where you can’t talk about what you do, a blog might not be for you. 

For example, while a CPA who handles individual tax returns might have success blogging about tips to avoid a big tax bill at year end, a big four accounting firm that specializes in corporate audits might want to think twice about that blog. Do you really have someone on hand who has something new and interesting to say about Sarbanes Oxley and has the time to write? 

The difference is engagement. So if you’re in a hush-hush or highly technical field, think about what you can reasonably write about and whether anyone is going to want (or legally be able) to publicly comment on or share what you’re writing. 

Instead, you might want to take the example of Deloitte which thinks beyond the concept of your typical blog to create all kinds of interesting evergreen content. The result is a host of interesting case studies and podcasts that could have been last updated three years ago for all it matters. This puts content on your site, but it also allows you to carefully craft and vet that content before it goes live, without building any expectation associated with an editorial calendar.

4. You think “thought leadership” means rehashing the news

There is a big difference between curating information and regurgitating it. True life confession: As much as I hate the term “thought leader,” I used it many a time in my agency days as a way to encourage clients to find the best in themselves. But the truth is, most people don’t have the time, energy, or vision to really commit to becoming a thought leader. 

A blog can be a huge opportunity to showcase your company’s mastery and understanding of your industry. But if you can’t find someone to write blog posts that expand on (or rethink) the existing knowledge base, save your ink. 

Some people curate and compile information in order to create “top 10” type posts. That kind of content can be helpful for readers who don’t have time to source content on their own, but I wouldn’t suggest it as the core content strategy for a company’s blog. If that’s all you have time for, focus on social media instead.

5. Your site is all timely content

A blog can help you shape the message around your industry and your brand, but what if your brand is built entirely around messaging? The BBC doesn’t need a blog because any reader would expect what they’re reading to be timely content and to adhere to the BBC’s standard voice. If readers want to engage with the content by commenting on the articles, they can. 

If you can explain the value that blogs.foxnews.com adds to the Fox News site, you’ve got a keener eye for content strategy than I do. My guess, from the empty blog bubbles here, is that this is a failed (or abandoned) experiment and will soon disappear.

6. Your business is truly offline

There’s one final reason that blogging might not fit your business model, and that’s if you have chosen not to enter the digital realm. I had lunch with a high-end jeweler in India recently where he was debating whether to go online (he was worried that his designs might get stolen) or continue to do business in person the way his family had done for at least three generations. 

If you are successful at selling your products offline, especially if your product has as much variation as a gemstone, an argument can be made for staying offline entirely.

When you should be blogging

Now that we’ve looked at some times it’s okay not to have a blog, let’s take a quick, expanded look at five reasons you might want to blog as part of your content marketing strategy (just in case you thought you’d gotten off scot-free by almost fitting into one of the boxes above).

1. You want traffic to your website

Conventional wisdom goes that the more pages you build, the more chances you have to rank. Heck, the more (good) content you create on your blog, the more collateral you have to showcase on your social channels, in email, and anywhere else you want to.

2. You want to expand your audience

If the content you’re creating is truly awesome, people will share it and find it and love it. Some of those people will be potential customers who haven’t even heard of you before. Keep up the excellence and you might just keep them interested.

3. You want to connect with customers

That blog is a fantastic place to answer FAQs, play with new ideas, and show off the humanity of all those fantastic individuals you have working for you. All of those things help customers get to know you, plus they can engage with you directly via the comments. You might just find ideas for new campaigns and even new products just by creating that venue for conversation.

4. You have something to add to the discussion

Do you really have a fresh perspective on what’s going on in your industry? Help others out by sharing your interesting stories and thoughtful commentary. You’re building your authority and the authority of your company at the same time.

5. You’re ready to invest in your future

Content is a long game, so the payoffs from blogging may be farther down the road than you might hope. But if a blog is right for your company, you’re giving yourself the chance to start shaping the message about your industry and your company the day you publish your first post. Keep at it and you might find that you start attracting customers from amongst your followers.

The gist

Don’t blog just because someone told you to. A blog is a huge investment and sustaining that blog can take a lot of work. But there are a lot of good reasons to dig in and blog like you mean it. 

What’s your decision? Do you have a good reason that you’ve decided to abstain from blogging? Or have you decided that a blog is the right thing for your business? Help others carefully consider their investment in blogging by sharing your story in the comments.

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"But How Do I Know if It’s Good?" How You Can Evaluate Content Quality (and Ditch Content Anxiety)

Posted by Isla_McKetta

In a post-Hummingbird world, we all know content matters. But many SEOs are still trying to work around this update because we think we don’t have the tools to gauge content quality.  If you’ve said, “I’m not a writer,” or, “How do I know what will resonate with my audience?” And even, “Content is hard and takes time; do I
really have to?” You might be suffering from content anxiety.

Content quality anxiety can come in many forms:

  1. What is content, really? 
  2. I hired a content team or agency. How do I know if they’re any good? 
  3. How can I calculate the value of content?

Help is available.

Read on for your guide to understanding what makes good content (and improve your SEO in the process).

1. What is content, really?

First, just to make sure we’re on the same page, a quick operational definition: Content is the sum of all of the words, images, videos, and audio on your site, social pages, emails, and beyond. A good content creator is thinking about everything from the language on your newsletter subscription text to the tone in your order confirmation email or even the wording on your delivery envelopes.

2. I hired a content team or agency. How do I know if they’re any good?

In-house or agency, knowing if a content creator or team is up to snuff can be one of the most intimidating things for non-creatives. While there are a lot of tips and tricks to
creating great content, there is no secret code for recognizing great content. Use these guidelines and you’ll be golden.

Are the ideas original?

If you want your content to stand out in the crowded Internet (and who doesn’t), you’re going to need original ideas and content. Before you even decide whether you like the ideas, do a quick pass through your memory. If your content team’s first set of big ideas sounds uncannily familiar, dig deeper.

fall wedding ideas - original content

The tricky part about this is that every wedding provider in this SERP is trying to speak to a very common need that brides have: finding creative ideas for a fall wedding. But your content team or agency should be able to help your customer find that information in a new and exciting way. It’s okay to insist on originality.

Is the content appropriate for your audience?

You also don’t want your ideas to be so shockingly original that you and your audience can’t relate to them. For example, if I was to suggest an interactive game based around
Waiting for Godot for your dog food business, I’d expect you to cry bullshit unless your audience is entirely composed of literary professors and playwrights.

Do you feel like the content adds value to your site?

Shiny objects can be great for attracting new visitors to your site. Make sure that big new idea attracts the kind of attention you want.

Google birthday reaction

Big content is an investment. And while it’s great to take some risks, your content team should be able to convince you what value that content adds and make a case for how it might be received.

Does your content tell a story?

This one isn’t strictly a necessity, but do not underestimate how far a good story can go to making your content memorable. This can take the form of an anecdote that illustrates the point, or the whole page can be a story in itself. 

warrior ipa product description

In the case of Warrior IPA from Left Hand Brewing, the beer becomes a character. And while it would have been hard to fit a full beginning, middle, and end in one paragraph, hints of this warrior’s story pair perfectly with the illustration on the label. This product description is so good that the beer nerd info is purely a bonus.

Does it raise the hairs on the back of your neck?

Probably the best test of content ever: pay attention to how you feel when you first experience the content. Trust your gut. If you’re engaged and can’t get enough, it’s good content.
In
this example from the Distilled blog, Harriet Cummings reaches deep into the soul of someone who wants to be a better public speaker and pulls all the right strings to cement that engagement.

content that grabs reader's attention

You don’t have to know why a piece of content blows your mind (that’s the content team’s job), just pay attention to how it makes you feel.

Is it Internet-friendly?

Reading content online is a lot harder on the eyes than reading on paper. Breaking up the text with headings, bullet points, images, and shorter paragraphs helps keep your customers on your page.

internet-friendly content

As for non-text content, make sure your images, video, and audio all load well and as quickly as possible.

Does the writer use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation?

We’ve all seen examples of a gorgeous, well-planned infographic that’s perfect except for just a few typos. You may not be one of those sticklers who judges the work of others based on proper grammar, but you can bet that someone in your audience is using grammar, spelling, and punctuation as a measure of the quality of your content. 

typo in interactive

This is my final impression of one of the most gorgeous interactives I ever saw online. Sad face.

Do you immediately want to share the content?

One of your goals involves social shares, right? Or at least you wouldn’t be sad if you got a bunch of them. If you’re excited to share whatever you’re reading, others will be too. If you find it dull, well…

3. How can I determine the value of content?

How do you prove the value of something that’s everywhere, anyway? There are lots of possible answers. As an SEO, you probably understand most of these measures already, but here’s how to tweak them to evaluate content. You’ll likely want to use overall traffic plus a combination of the things below depending on what type of content you’re focusing on.

Attribution modeling

While content is everywhere on your site, the things most of us think of as content (blog posts, landing page text, and yes, even infographics) are rarely the last touch before a conversion. Attribution modeling helps you assign a portion of the value of a conversion to all the pieces of content that a visitor sees before converting.

For example, if they read a blog post, click through on an email, and read an FAQ, you can give each of those touches partial credit. Read more about
attribution models.

A/B testing

A/B and multivariate testing are great ways to measure the value of some forgotten areas of content like the text in form fields and pop-ups. These tests can also tell you when you don’t actually need content in those areas. Don’t forget that less can be more.

Social shares

Engagement matters and social shares are definitely one way to measure engagement. Of course social shares are probably a better measure of blog posts and product descriptions than of the copy you use in the checkout process.

Links

In a perfect world, great content earns links. Don’t assume your content is valueless if you aren’t earning links, but do celebrate when it does. Use Open Site Explorer to find and keep track of links.

Comments

Yes, it does seem like fewer people are commenting on blogs these days. But, as with links, this just means the comments you do get, usually a signal that a reader is deeply engaged, are all the more valuable. Dan Shure explains this in depth in
The Broken Art of Company Blogging (and the Ignored Metric that Could Save Us All).

One Metric

Our blog editor, Trevor Klein, has developed and refined a personalized metric for Moz called the
One Metric. This system combines a variety of the signals above and then weights them to give a quick overview of what’s succeeding and what’s failing. We’ve already been using that information to inform decisions about future content efforts.

Caveat

The success of content cannot always be measured in numbers, and if you invest only in projects that have a predictable rate of return, you’re missing opportunities. Rand calls this
serendipitous marketing. Just make sure as you’re considering the value of your content that you leave room for Serendipity.

Is this SEO?

Yes. Remember how I mentioned the Hummingbird algorithm up above? I know that this is the algorithm update most of us would like to forget, because we think it’s so much easier to spot spammy links than quality content. But it’s really a lot simpler than that. Google is looking for content that answers users’ queries. And according to Marie Haynes, “Google’s goal with all of these algorithm changes (Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird) is to encourage webmasters to publish content that is the best of its kind.”

So if you’re an SEO (or anyone else) with content anxiety, let it go. You have the tools to tell when content is good and to select a team that knows what makes it great. Go ahead and let that team try to sell you on an idea. You can trust yourself to make the final call on whether or not it’s actually worthwhile.

And if you’re part of a content team that’s trying to make the case for your big ideas, please join me on September 9 for “The Storytelling of Content Strategy.” This Mozinar will cover one method of creating more engaging (and persuasive) strategy docs.

Do you ever experience content anxiety? What are your measures of content quality? Has a particular experience with content made you either gun shy or wildly enthusiastic about content? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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