5 things that make me stop reading a blog post

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I have been a blogger and a net reader for a long time. I am not always the most focused reader because I have clients, multiple email accounts, Twitter, Facebook and my work at SEJ (Search Engine Journal) that I maintain all day. When I read an article I need something that keeps my brain interested and stimulated from the beginning. As the managing editor of SEJ I have to keep up with the SEO world and also read incoming articles from our writers. So I know what holds my interest and what loses it.

With Twitter I am clicking on links to articles all day long. I will be honest and say I give very little time to a good number of posts and I am going to tell you 5 reasons why:

1) The Font is Too Small and/or Too Hard to Read

I know some people like their fancy, little fonts and their “super-clean” designs and that is fine, but if the reader has to struggle to read they will leave long before you want them to. I need to read fast and anything that stops me from doing so loses my interest quickly.

It is important to remember that not everyone is using a 20-24 inch screen. Some are using an 11-13 inch laptop and your little, fancy font might make reading a nightmare. Who reads a nightmare? Make sure whatever font you choose is easy to read for everyone on every screen size and every browser. Use A/B testing if you feel you must use a unique font and really determine which font keeps visitors the longest.

2) There Are No Headlines

I am a scanner as soon as the page loads. If there are no headlines and lots of paragraphs I am instantly irritated. I personally need headlines and graphics to break up the text. Headlines can instantly indicate that the article is worth staying for and valuable data will be given throughout. If there are no headlines I often leave. The only time I don’t is when I know that someone really important wrote it and I have to force myself to read it. Yes, I said force and you know what happens when someone does something they really don’t want to? They are not as focused as they should be and important items are missed.

3) Headlines That Are Not Supportive

Headlines need to support the subject of your article. If I click on a link about Google+ and I see headlines not about Google+ why would I stay? Sometimes writers get creative with headlines and have personal feelings in their headlines, quotes, or funny sayings. I read to get facts and information I can use. As I said before, I scan to determine if your posts will give me the data I need. If all I see is your feelings or humor I am gone. If your feelings include something about Google+ then I would get it, but only then.

If the subject of your post is about you and your feelings than headlines with feelings would make sense. If your post is about a particular subject make sure your headlines support that subject.

4) An Unfocused Article

I think it was in midde school that they taught us the basic 5-paragraph writing strategy:

Beginning paragraph – explain what you will write about.

Have 3 supporting paragraphs – Paragraph one would explain a subject or issue. Paragraph two would have a different topic, but would build on paragraph one. Paragraph three would introduce another concept but would support one and two.

Ending paragraph – summarize paragraph one through three and come up with a conclusion.

That strategy is pretty basic, but it makes sense because there is a clear direction for the reader and writer. There needs to be a sense of direction in every post, from beginning to end. A reader should not be confused on the direction or they will give up and leave. Don’t make it hard for your reader to understand where you are going with your post. Keep it focused and give them something to remember. You want the reader to come back, so you have to make them believe you have good information to give.

Another tip – read through your post and delete any words/sentences that do not directly support your focus.

5). Font to Background Contrast

There are some that think that a light gray background looks nice with text that is a slightly darker gray. Nope. If the background and font are too similar I leave. I need the text to stand out and be easy to read quickly. I don’t need to strain my eyes to read and your visitors don’t either.

Please have some contrast that will make reading easy on mobile devices, all computers and all the browsers people use.

Concluding Thoughts

I will admit that I am unique in a way, in that I am in a rush all of the time. I have a lot to do quickly and I don’t have time to waste. Others may be calmer than I and have all the time in the world to read, but I know there are many like me. Your website and/or blog has to target multiple audiences. People like me can be the most supportive audience you have, so it is important that you visually please those that decide quickly if they are going to stay or go.

 

Melissa Fach is the Managing Editor of Search Engine Journal and the owner of SEO Aware, LLC. She has been in the Internet marketing business and blogging world for the last 7 years. She is a self-proclaimed Star Wars need and geek extraordinaire. She also takes great pride in being a big cat volunteer. You can find her on Twitter – SEO Aware.

 

photo thanks to DonkeyHotey

Beyond SEO: The content marketing power of the blog

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In my opinion, your company blog is the second most valuable piece of online real estate your company has, next to the company website of course.

Blogs and other content marketing platforms are essential for long term SEO success. The saying “content is King” has been around for a long time simply because it’s true. Great content gets shared and linked to, which makes it more valuable in the eyes of the search engines, which in turn helps your site perform better in the SERPs (search engine results pages).

Each blog post can rank individually in the search engines, helping expand your overall online brand presence and giving you the opportunity to target various keywords as well as different segments of your target audience.

However, even with nearly 7 years of posts backing me up, I’m fairly confident that most visitors don’t find my company blogs by searching for “SEO blog.” There are too many high-powered industry blogs for me to compete effectively for that search term.

The same is true in most industries. Unless your company is a major player, chances are there are a few industry blogs that are always going to outperform yours. They’ll get more social shares, more RSS subscribers, more inbound links and more readers every day, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make big progress with your own company blog and help build your business online.

Become the go-to resource: Write to help your clients

I know and accept the fact that most of the content I write isn’t going to outrank some of the big names in the SEO industry, but I also know that it doesn’t matter. I’m not writing to rank well; I’m writing to help my clients.

I want to become a trusted source of information for my readers (no matter how many or how few that may be) so that if they ever are in need of SEO help they think to come to my site and blogs first. Some SEO blogs are geared towards other SEO professionals or more advanced site owners, but I focus on helping my target audience—small to mid-sized businesses, website owners and marketing professionals. Those are the people I want to connect with and build relationships with, so I create content that speaks to their unique needs.

I know that not every blog post is going to be a huge hit with every reader and go viral, but I also know that every post has that potential. You can’t force something to go viral, but as long as you are publishing great content you’ll succeed in the long run. When you focus on producing great content for the reader, as opposed to content that exists solely to help your SEO, you usually end up producing much more interesting and useful content.

Interesting and useful content gets shared, generic and boring (no matter how SEO friendly) does not.

Become savvy in your vertical: Write to fine tune your own skills

By adopting a content marketing schedule and sticking to it you actually help improve your own skills, along with providing valuable information to your target audience.

Think about it, in order to become and stay a trusted resource your readers need to know that you know what’s going on in your industry. You need to be aware of trends and how they impact your business and the business of your clients. What’s coming down the pipeline? What are people looking for more information on?

In order to give people the knowledge they need (and in a way that makes sense) you need to do your own research. Activities like reading other blogs, attending local conferences or signing up for a webinar help keep you on your toes and fuel your own content marketing strategy. The tips and tricks you learn can be spun for new posts for your own blog or company newsletter.

You don’t always need to be ahead of the curve but you should at least be keeping pace with the pack.

Content marketing is incredibly valuable for long term SEO success, but that isn’t the only reason website owners should invest in a company blog and other content marketing platforms. Writing content that speaks to your audience is going to pay off in the long run, both for SEO and your long term business success.

About the Author – Nick Stamoulis

Nick Stamoulis is the President of the Boston-based full service SEO agency, Brick Marketing.  With 13 years of experience, Nick Stamoulis shares his knowledge by writing in the Brick Marketing Blog, and publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, read by over 160,000 opt-in subscribers.

You can find Nick on Twitter [at] @brickmarketing, and contact him directly [at] [email protected]

Looking for low-cost SEO copywriting training? Learn more about the SuccessWorks SEO Copywriting Certification Program, designed for in-house marketing professionals, agencies, SEO shops and copywriters.

photo/image thanks to Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

3 Business Blogging Tips for Beginners

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Welcome back! Today’s video offers three actionable business blogging tips for beginners, as well as for those of you who may be a bit “rusty.”’

Heather thought business blogging would be a timely topic, as many business owners resolved to either start blogging or do more of it this New Year. They’ve seen the stat’s showing how blogging can increase leads, boost conversions, and drive more traffic to their site – and they want a piece of that!

And while that’s a wonderful goal, it can be a challenging one for beginners. So tune in as Heather shows you the ropes and shares bonus tips to help reduce the “frustration factor” of getting started…

 

Tip #1: Make a list of possible blog topic ideas

One of the big mistakes all online writers make – even those who are experienced bloggers – is to assume that the blog topic will come to them once they sit down to write.

Unfortunately, the blogging muse rarely strikes so spontaneously.

It’s easy to feel pulled in a million different directions, so what happens is the deadline you’ve set creeps closer and closer and you panic – realizing you have no idea what to write about.

Here are some starting points to help you plan your topics and avoid the blog deadline panic:

  • What questions do customers ask?
  • Can you offer any DIY (do-it-yourself) tips?
  • What are some “hot topics” in your industry?
  • Research other blogs in your space. What are they talking about?
  • Looking for local customers? Can you tie a local issue back to your business?
  • Is there a list of blog posts/sites that you love?

These are just brainstorming ideas. You don’t have to worry about creating a formal framework or outline at this point – just put your ideas down on paper.

  • Tip: Don’t copy posts from another blog. Link to it instead – and discuss why you think the blog post is a good one.

Besides the obvious copyright violation issue, copying from another blog doesn’t showcase your expertise. So if there is a blog post that you really love, link to it and tell your readers why they should check it out.

Discussing and linking to another post is a far more valuable strategy for positioning you as an expert, as opposed to randomly pulling resources from other sites and having no original content of your own.

Tip #2: Loosen up!

If you’re new to blogging and online writing, it can feel really weird to start. You may flash back to high school or college, conjuring teachers and professors and that red pen inking up your work. You may second-guess every word you write.

  • You’re not in high school English class anymore.

Relax. You’re not writing some sort of “paper” for grading. Try to write as you would talk – it will help the copy flow more easily and naturally.

  • Write with personality! A good writing style can make the most technical subjects approachable and fun to read about.

This is especially true when writing about a technical subject. Your writing doesn’t have to be dry and boring, even if the topic may seem so. Infuse it with personality and it will be far more readable and enjoyable!

Tip #3: Work with an editor

This is a really important tip for everyone, no matter how experienced they may be.

  • Typos happen.

Have an editor to check your writing for typos, grammatical errors, and to ensure that your message is coming through as you intended.

It’s so easy for all of us to get too close to our own stuff that we miss these nitty things. So if you start uploading unedited blog posts to your site, with typos, bad grammar, or rambling, unfocused copy, it just makes your company look bad. And you don’t want to do that.

Also, having an editor is one of the easiest ways you can reduce the stress of writing – just knowing you have a second set of eyes that will catch those common writing errors.

  • If your editor also knows SEO copywriting, he/she can help your post get better search rankings.

A bonus is to have an editor trained in SEO copywriting best practices. Then you have an ally who can not only edit your copy, but also optimize it for search engines to achieve better rankings and drive more traffic to your blog.

 

photo thanks to Jhayne: Foxtongue

Blogger’s Block? Time Crunch? 5 Easy Ways to Reuse Your Blog Posts

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Crunched for time? Uninspired? Suffering blogger’s block?

Or maybe you just need to take a break. Maybe even – dare you say it – a vacation?

You’re not alone.  Many bloggers struggle with the occupational hazard of being chained to creating exceptional content on a regular basis – even if their muse, time, and sanity are suffering.

So, in today’s video blog, Heather shares five easy – note, easy – ways you can reuse your hard-labored, older blog posts to produce new, fresh content!

Interested? Thought so. Tune in as Heather delineates five specific ways you can repurpose your older blog posts, so you can take some well-deserved time off and recharge your blogging mojo!

Heather was inspired by a recent post by Chris Brogan on just this topic, in which he discussed how recycling blog posts wasn’t only good for you, but also good for your readers in that they appreciate seeing older blog posts presented in a new way.

So here are five ideas to help you make that happen:

1. Group Similar Content Together in a Guide-Like Format

  • The advantage? You’ve created a fantastic resource, and the post is easy to write!

The example that Chris Brogan used was that he could include all of his blog posts on Google+ and voila – have a complete guide to Google+ : it would do very well in the blogosphere and be easy for him to pull together.  All he’d have to do is write the introduction, include the links, and he’d be good to go!

  • Create a download-ready PDF: As an aside, you can also do the same thing –but rather than putting it online as a guide, you could create a PDF for your readers to download as a way of lead generation.

So there are a lot of ways you can play with grouping content together, if you have the type of content that lends itself to a guide-like, themed format.

2. Look at Your Analytics

  • Share your top 5 or 10 most popular blog posts

When you’re just stuck, look at your analytics and consider writing a blog post around the five or ten most popular posts of the quarter or year.  You see these types of posts a lot near year’s end.

3. Look for Similarities Among Your Posts

  • List the posts with the most comments, the most controversial, or even the most “under appreciated”…

You might not be looking at a guide necessarily, but you can play with ways that your posts may lend themselves to grouping, and you can have a lot of fun with it!

4. Look for Differences: Do You Have a New Perspective?

  • Include snippets from your “old” blog post and discuss your new opinion

If you work in an industry that’s moving quickly, chances are that your mind has blown a number of times!  So the perspective you shared a couple of years ago – or, in some industries, even six months ago – may have shifted somewhat.

This is a great opportunity to share with your readers your new take on a given subject from your older post.  You can include snippets from your older blog post and then indicate your change in thinking about the topic.

This would make for a more personal post, and one your readers most likely would appreciate.

5. Use Past Blog Posts to Inspire Video Content

  • Ask yourself:  “Can I take something from an older blog post and create a video around it?”

Chances are, you most certainly can! This is something a lot of folks forget to consider. It is so, so easy to think that you need to hammer out a new, exceptional and wonderful blog post every day/week/what have you, when you can repurpose content from an older post into a video post.

So instead of looking at how much you need to write, consider recycling an older blog post into a video. You can use your past blog posts to inspire video content!  You can simply take a snippet from just one point of a blog post then use that to create brand new video content.

You can still have a blog post wrapper around the video, of course. But also consider that video reaches people in a different way, and it’s yet another way for folks to find in Google.

 

photo courtesy flickr: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital

3 signs that your SEO copy is over-optimized

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Greetings!  Today’s SEO copywriting video tip addresses the three telling signs that your SEO copy may be over-optimized.  Yes, there is such a thing, and it happens when you’ve geared the copy so heavily towards the search engines that you’ve forgotten about the user experience.

Join Heather as she discusses the three telltale signs that your web content is over-optimized, and the three ways to fix the problem:

1) Too Many Keyphrases on the Page

  • Pages like the one shown are easy to spot: it is pretty obvious that the keyphrases are New York City and gift baskets.  But for the folks who are trying to read the page, and determine whether or not they want to work with this company, it’s flat-out bad copy:
  • User experience = bad. Too much emphasis on SEO: There’s nothing in the copy for the reader, and there’s nothing that speaks to benefits. Plus, the copy is so hard to wade through that anyone reading the page would be tempted to bounce out and find another site.

In trying to achieve ranking, the writer has created a user experience that is so bad that it’s actually hurting conversions.

  • The fix?  Reduce keyphrases: You have to pare down the keyphrases in the copy.  In some cases, this might mean that you have to re-write the page altogether.  But when you do that, and bring focus to what you’re doing, you’re going to see a huge jump in sales.

2) Too Many Hyperlinks on the Page

Sometimes copywriters pepper the page with hyperlinks for the perceived SEO benefits, thinking all those hyperlinked keyphrases will automatically get the page top ranking.  Others overdo it with the hyperlinks because they want to give their readers lots of choices, so they end up giving them all the choices and assume the reader will pick one.

  • Again, the user experience = bad.  Too many choices cause overwhelm.  Plus – what’s in it for the customer?

From the search engine perspective, hyperlinking users all over the place is not going to help you in your SEO ambitions – it’s not going to help you increase your rankings. From the users’ perspective, they are overwhelmed with too many choices and they find it difficult to make a decision.

  • The fix?  Focus on your conversion funnel

What you want to do in this case is to think about what’s in it for the prospect — the customer benefits – and then focus your copy around that.  On a landing page, narrow down the decisions facing the reader and hone it to a few educated choices.

In removing the “overwhelm” factor for readers, you’ll see a higher conversion rate as you help move the prospect along the conversion funnel:  you’ll achieve an increase in ROI.

3) “Fluffy” SEO Copy

  • The content is longer than it needs to be, so it loses conversion flow
  • Local pages and e-commerce product pages are typically the worst offenders

“Fluffy” SEO copy is often a result of the writer or site editor being instructed to conjure 500 words for a web page in order for it to be recognized by the search engines.  This 500-word rule has never been true – it’s a tenacious misconception.  So the writer ends up trying to say something in 500 words that may ideally need only 250 words.

The result is that the content is not only too long, but that it really isn’t written for the readers.  Instead, it’s stuffed with fluff to meet a mythical search engine word count.

  • The fix?  Write great sales copy and weave in the SEO elements.  Not the other way around.

This requires a change in thinking.  Approaching your web page copy this way, you’ll have really good, tight, benefits-oriented copy that will not only help folks to take action, but you’ll have what you need for the search engines too.

 

5 Steps to Great Content for Readers and Search Engines

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Kristi Hines

One thing that has become evident in the post-Google Panda world is that if you want to ensure that your site doesn’t lose rankings, you will need great content!

Not simply search engine optimized content, but content that both search engines AND visitors will enjoy alike.

Everyone’s content development process is a little different.  Today I’d like to share mine with you, particularly when it comes to writing.

1.  Figure out your target keywords

Sure, most people know a few keywords that define their site.  But chances are, they are not enough keywords to generate writing topics around.  In some cases, your keywords might be general enough that you can narrow them down into more specific topics of focus.  In other cases, your keywords may be so specific that you need to broaden your horizons in order to find topics to write about.

Keyword suggest tools are the best way to go for finding keyword phrases that people search for often. When you start typing in a keyword on Google, for example, it will start suggesting related search terms:

Google isn’t the only suggest tool out there though – be sure to check out Bing, Yahoo, Ubersuggest, and YouTube for additional keyword ideas.

The best part about the latter four is Topsy and Wefollow will tell you what keywords are popular on Twitter, Delicious will tell you what is popular in articles that are frequently bookmarked, and YouTube, of course, will tell you what is popular in video content.

2. Generate some content ideas based on those keywords that people will want to read

Once you have a great list of keywords, the next step is to create headlines that will appeal to readers.  The best way to generate some great content ideas is to use proven headline formulas, such as those given in the free guide, 102 Headline Formulas by Chris Garrett of Authority Blogger, and plug those keywords into the headlines in which they fit best.

For even more ideas, don’t miss Copyblogger’s How to Write Magnetic Headlines, which is an 11 part series on writing better headlines in no time.

3. Forget the SEO and write your content

Here’s what I consider the fun part.  This is where you forget about SEO for a while and just write your content.  Instead of thinking about optimization, think about the content – articles, blog posts, magazine pieces, etc. – that you have really enjoyed reading and write your content in that manner. Make it enjoyable, valuable, and exciting for readers!

I would also suggest during this writing spree to hold off on the editing as this can slow down your writing process. Let the ideas flow from your mind to your keyboard, then take the editorial run through to check for spelling and grammatical issues.

4. After your article is written, then you can work on the search optimization.

Now that you have a great piece of content that people will love to read, you should go back through and add the optimization features that will make the content easily searchable and targeted for your keyword phrase.  This includes the title tag and meta description, header tags (H2’s and H3’s especially), and optimization of your images (including the  ALT description), and a proper file name with keywords.

5. Get out and promote it!

Last, but not least, once that awesome piece of content is written, optimized, and published online, you will need to go out and promote it.  Content is not something where you create it and your audience will just naturally flock to it (unless you’re Mashable and already have a monster audience).

You will need to promote your content through social media, your mailing list (for those especially awesome pieces), instant messenger, forums, blog comments, and any other form of getting the word out in which you can participate.  Only then will your content be a success!

I hope these steps help you balance the fine line between SEO friendly and reader friendly content development when it comes to your blog posts, articles, and page content.  What additional tips would you like to give writers who have to develop content for both worlds?

Kristi Hines is a blogging and social media enthusiast.

SEO Keyword Density: Lose This Relic and Adopt Best Practices

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Greetings to you! With today’s video post, Heather hopes to put to rest that chronic, persistent “keyword density” question: “What’s the best keyword density for my site?”

Having been around the block a time or two for nearly 14 years, Heather has encountered this question time and time again.  Her short answer: there is no such thing anymore!  Here she expounds on why this is so, giving her insight into the history behind the whole stubborn keyword density concept, and how to move beyond this antiquated mindset to relevant SEO copywriting best practices for keyword and keyphrase use:

What’s the best keyword density for your site?

From the beginning of SEO time, this question has refused to go away.  The reason that people think that keyword density is important is because they believe that it is the key to good search engine rankings.  While this was once the case, circa 1999, it is no more.

But before getting into all that, for those who are unfamiliar with the “keyword density” equation:

How to calculate keyword density?

Count the number of keywords/keyphrases on a given page, then divide it by the total word count.  Voila:  keyword density.  For example, a 500-word page with 10 keywords/keyphrases =  a keyword density of 2-percent.

You can party like it’s 1999, but don’t write SEO copy that way!

Back in the (pre-Google) day, that 2-percent keyword density would have been shy of the 5.5-percent we were all striving for to get the top rankings via the (now extinct) Alta Vista search engine. It’s an understatement to say that much changed since then (i.e., Google arrived), and search engines of the day are now looking at other ranking factors and signals, such as social and links.

So there’s a whole host of other things going into the search engines’ algorithmic soup, and far more important things to focus on both for search engine relevancy and user experience.

What you want to do instead – SEO copywriting best practices:

Hope this helps clarify the whole keyword density question for you: in short, it’s no longer a viable question!

 

Should You Kill Your Blog?

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I know this will sound weird coming from the SEO content chick. But I’m going to say it anyway.

Some companies should give up on blog writing and kill their blog.

Here’s why.

SEO content marketers (myself included) agree that blogging for B2B and B2C companies is a smart SEO and customer engagement move.  Blogs are great for marketing and lead generation. Google and Bing reward strong resource sites. Sounds like a win/win – right?

Well, not always.

We’re pushing the blog, blog, blog mantra so much that we forget a rarely talked-about fact: Not every company should blog. In fact, blog writing could be taking budget and time away from things that drive more revenue. Here are five times when folks should back away slowly from their blog – and never look back.

  • The “no time, no budget” scenario. Too busy to blog? It’s easy to say “outsource it” except for one little thing – outsourcing costs money. If you can’t find a quality writer for your budget and your team doesn’t have time, put blog writing on the back burner.  It’s better to have a top-quality blog that you’re proud of than a crappy blog that doesn’t help you (and you’re ashamed to show people.)
  • The “hate to write, no budget” scenario. Some folks can’t stand to write. And it shows. If this is you – and you honestly have no other available resources – please do yourself a favor and let your blog go. Instead, focus your energies somewhere else. For instance, I know a few ex-bloggers who love sending tweets. There’s not as much pressure to write the “right” thing when you only have 140 characters to work with.
  • PR insists that the blog should always promote your product or service. Blog writing is different than sales writing. You’ll allowed to be a little more casual and a whole lot less sales-y. If PR (or someone else high up on the food chain) insists that all posts should push your product or service, it’s time to reconsider your blogging fantasies. Yes, blogs can certainly help soft-sell what you offer. Sure, you can throw in the occasional sales message. But your main blog writing goal should be to engage your readers and keep them coming back for more. Not hitting them over the head with another sales message.
  • A blog doesn’t support your conversion goals. If you’ve built a sales or lead generation-oriented microsite, a blog would actually detract from your conversion goal (getting people to buy from or contact you.) Blogs are great for folks in the “research” phase of the sales cycle. If you’re only focusing on folks who want to take action now, stick to writing conversion-oriented copy.
  • You’ve tried – you really have. But you aren’t seeing a ROI. There are scads of articles about what to do if people don’t like your blog content. By all means, see if you can “fix” your blog – an outside perspective can provide some fantastic ideas.  But if you’ve given it a solid shot and it’s still not meeting your goals (and yes, that means that you have to set marketing goals for your blog) consider saying “buh-bye” to your blog. Especially if other marketing channels are making you more money.

Are there any other times when a company should walk away from their blog? What would you add?

Blog About It! A Smart Content Marketing Strategy

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Greetings!  Today we’re picking up our discussion of content strategy, specifically, how to develop and leverage our content by writing blogs.  As you’ve surely noticed, blogging is big and is only getting bigger, and with good reason:  besides helping to build search rankings and an online brand, blogs present a fantastic content marketing venue!  And because they’re relatively simple to set up and publish, blogs lend themselves well to providing new content on a regular basis.

As covered in some detail in the previous two posts (“Are you leveraging these content strategy opportunities?” and “Content Strategy: building out your content with articles”), the smart SEO content strategy seeks to capture prospects while they are actively searching for information and resources on our product or service.  This research phase of the buying cycle is where we meet them with fresh, useful content that (hopefully) leads them back to our site.  Blogs are an excellent platform for doing just!  So let’s look at building out and leveraging our content with blogs.

Blogs:  Pros, Cons, and Community

Blog Pros:

  • Blogs are highly malleable, allowing you to write about any subject you choose in as many words as you choose.  You’re not beholden to a word count – whether less than 100 or over 1,000 words, the only “rule” that applies is what works best for your target audience.
  • If you have an inflexible site template that doesn’t lend itself to adding new content, such as an e-commerce site, a blog gives you a forum to do so.  Similarly, if you’re dealing with a site that feels a bit “uptight” or you find yourself bored with its “corporate” tone, a blog allows you to unleash your personality and express your bad self!
  • Blogs allow you a rapport with your readers, and real-time feedback via comments: good, bad, and spammy.  Your community of loyal readers can help you with your business; their comments can guide you in making product or service decisions, and provide insight into what your target market is interested in.  As for spam, it can be deleted.  And negative comments can also enlighten you: even if it stings, it’s better to receive such comments directly than have them circulating beyond your radar.  You can at least deal with them when they’re right in front of you.

Blog Cons:

  • Blogs require consistency and commitment.  And they are work, make no mistake.  Writing a blog can feel especially burdensome when you’re crazy-busy, but it’s critical you stick to your editorial calendar and publish your blog regularly.  It doesn’t have to be daily, but then again, if you’re only posting once a week, you need to be sure that it is substantive:  it has to count!
  • Blogs require monitoring and attention.  You need to be responsive to your readers’ comments; it’s bad practice to publish then forget it.  It’s a certain blog-killer when your readers find their thoughtful, well-considered comments ignored.

Voice and Community:

  • If you plan to delegate your blog-writing to another, you need to provide a very clear outline of your editorial guidelines:  what’s okay, what is not, and what specifically is expected of them.  Not to advocate smothering their creativity, just underscoring the importance of being reasonably clear and ensuring consistency with your “voice.”
  • Whether it’s you or your delegated blog-writer, networking with other bloggers within your “circle” is an integral part of effective blogging.  Blogging is about community, and while simply blogging for the sake of it is okay, sharing your input with others via guest blogs, commentary on other blogs, linking out, and mentions will encourage others to help you with the same: linking out to your content, mentioning your work, promoting your offerings, etc.  You have to earn your blogger love!

How to Structure a Blog Post

Structuring a blog post is much like structuring an article.  You can check out Twitter and Google Insights to see what folks are discussing, as well as what they want to know.  As with articles, you’ll want to use the same keyphrase and linking strategy:  use your main keyphrase in your headline, and whenever it is possible and makes sense, hyperlink the keyphrases.  Smart blogging will also link seamlessly to your site’s product or service pages – again, when it makes sense to do so.

There, the similarities end.  There are several ways blogs differ from articles, notably:

  • Unlike the monologue of an article, a blog post encourages discussion and seeks to build a rapport with a community of readers.  It provides an ideal venue for soliciting feedback, running interviews, and offering your (informed) opinion.
  • Blog writing is personal, real-time, and spontaneous.  And a great way to measure your blog-writing success is by the number of people commenting on your posts.  Ideally, you want to get folks discussing and sharing your post with others in their network.  It follows that if you’re looking at having to run every word by the corporate legal department or are otherwise stymied, a blog is not going to work for you.
  • As opposed to articles, it’s perfectly okay to write short, snappy blog posts interspersed with longer, in-depth ones.  (This actually can be a highly effective strategy, as evidenced by Seth Godin’s success with this style).  Another perk of this kind of flexibility is that you can give yourself a break every once in a while!  It’s not easy to conjure 500 words about such-and-such topic every day; grinding them out regardless of your muse invites a slow and painful burnout.  Here’s where the editorial calendar comes in to save your sanity:  setting it up around your schedule, going easy on the blog posts on your busiest days, is a great strategy.

Well, folks, that’s a wrap for today.  Thanks for visiting, and please feel free to leave a comment :-) Next week, we’ll discuss the art of writing news releases in our ongoing series on savvy content marketing strategy.  See you then!

What You can Learn From Starbucks Coffee’s Blogging Boo-Boos

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Oh Starbucks. Why are you walking away from the conversation?

As an every-day SBUX addict, I was researching their latest loyalty program – the Starbucks Gold Card (which, apparently, is black – not gold. Um…?)

For $25, I would get 10% off most purchases, free wi-fi for two hours, access to exclusive sales and what they call “member recognition” (strike one: I have to pay $25 on top of my daily coffee purchases to be “recognized?”).

So, like a good social media chick, I went to the Starbucks Blog where they posted a “sneak peek” of the Gold card (note: this blog post is gone and wasn’t even redirected to a custom 404 page. Bad Starbucks!). Although the tone and feel is a little too…corporate…for my taste, the original blog post did a good job outlining the benefits.

But then the problems began…

Comments started rolling in. People were (understandably) confused.

Did they need to combine their new Gold card with their regular Rewards card to get maximum discounts?

Why does someone need to pay to get a discount?

What kind of cool insider “member recognition” benefits will they recognize?

And why did the official Starbucks blog post specifically say, “so don’t be surprised if your barista isn’t up-to-speed yet!” (Great…so that means I have to pay for a discount AND educate my barista?)

So, let’s examine where Starbucks went wrong.

  1. There were 128 comments about the initial post. Starbucks responded twice. That’s it – even while there was a whirl of controversy going on. If you read through the comments, you’ll notice one customer who was incredibly excited about receiving a Gold Card get more and more discouraged with the Starbucks customer service process.  At no time did anyone step in and address his concerns. I would venture to say that the process basically turned a would-be evangelist into a cynical detractor.
  2. The official Starbucks response made it seem like a very elite group of people received a free card – and the rest of the registered Starbucks card users didn’t count.  Saying “Those that received the Gold card early were among our most dedicated and consistent registered card users,” is a slap in the face to people who (according to comments) spend thousands of dollars every year with Starbucks.  Heck, even I was miffed that I didn’t get a free offer – I’m in a Starbucks every day, sometimes twice a day.  It would have been much easier (and less offensive) to say that people were “randomly chosen.” People won’t argue with random…but they will feel cheated if they don’t feel “special” enough.
  3. They should have had a chart (or some kind of visual) showing the potential savings.  The big objection Starbucks needs to overcome is “I don’t want to shell out $25 for a loyalty card.” For many people (me included) that is a big enough stop sign to halt the consideration process in its tracks. If people are in coffee-buying mode, they probably aren’t in number-crunching mode…especially for early-morning Starbucks visitors who need that first cup to wake up. It would have been more effective to show in dollars and cents how the card would pay for itself in less than three months.
  4. Saying that I, as a Gold Card member, would have to “educate my barista” is just wrong, wrong, wrong.  From a corporate communications standpoint, you’re basically saying that either (1) Starbucks can’t get their act together to train their baristas properly or (2) their baristas are too slow to “get it (which is not the case – I heart my Starbucks baristas!) Either way, way to make the corporation look bad.  If I’m paying $25 for a loyalty card, I shouldn’t have to tell my barista how to give me my discount. I’m typically hitting my store at 6am sharp – that’s not exactly the time that I’m eagle-eyed and in the mood to fight for an additional 10% off.

Unfortunately, this isn’t new behavior for the coffee giant. Lisa Wehr discussed how Starbucks didn’t update their 2007 holiday podcasts, calling it a clear sign that “Starbucks was falling out of touch with their customers.”

I congratulate Starbucks with trying new forms of marketing to connect with customers. They have a loyal following (me among them,) great brand recognition and their partners are awesome.

However, just as Starbucks would never let a barista walk away in the middle of a conversation with a customer, they should frequently check their blog posts and keep the conversation (or “connection” in Starbucks-speak) flowing – NOT walk away from a post just ’cause it’s posted.

Additionally, Starbucks should carefully consider their blog post wording – as experienced copywriters know, how you say what you say is exceptionally important. An innocuous phrase like “our most dedicated and consistent..customers” can actually alienate people if used the wrong way

Part of Starbucks new mission statement specifically focuses on “our customers” and “our neighborhoods.”  Now, it’s time to redefine “customers” and “neighborhoods” to encompass online communities and provide the same level of communication you’d find in any retail store. THAT would keep with the customer-service oriented Starbucks corporate culture…and it would help their online customers feel heard.