Here’s What an Advanced B2B Blogging Strategy Looks Like: Part One
March 5, 2019 | Elizabeth Rivelli
Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a two-part series that explores best practices for developing a blog strategy optimized for engagement and conversion.
While blogging is the backbone of most content marketing strategies, simply hitting ”publish” on new posts isn’t enough to grow a sustainable acquisition strategy. A solid strategy, built on audience and search engine insights, distribution channels, conversion strategies, backlinks, etc., is ultimately what will deliver continuous and compounding business results from your content marketing efforts.
Sounds simple, sure. But like anything else worth doing, there’s important nuance that makes all the difference. To help clarify those details, we teamed up with the research team at Databox to poll close to 70 marketers on some of the more advanced tactics they’re leveraging to help boost the overall visibility and effectiveness of their content. And stay tuned for a second blog post with more of their valuable insights coming later this month!
For starters, we aimed to uncover some of the more common post-publishing habits.
While marketers are great about sharing on social media (93% say they post content to social “all the time”) and including calls to action (69% do so “all the time”), they’re not so great at asking others to share their posts on social media. Even fewer include the perspectives of others in their posts.
We received similarly interesting responses when we asked about the types of blogging activities that marketers do regularly:
Almost everyone tracks their posts’ performance weekly or more frequently, but fewer ask for guest posts or write guest posts more often than monthly. With a better general idea of how B2B marketers tackle blogging, let’s dig into their advanced tips.
Focus on Buyer Personas
“Having a detailed understanding of your audience is critical to a successful content strategy,” says Jordan Schneider of DePalma Studios. “Our team creates personas and does empathy mapping for all of our target personas. It has produced phenomenal results for us.”
“Who is your audience? What are their interests? Goals? Stresses? Motivations? Priorities? Fears? Understanding these things, and defining the target persona for a given post on your editorial calendar will increase your odds of success. When they click through from that SERP, you’ll be much more likely to capture their attention and provide them with some real value within the post.”
Dennis Sievers from Webiteers agrees: “It’s about [personas]: who are you trying to reach and what PROBLEMS do you solve for them? Start helping them [solve] their problems first instead of pushing your own services. Then place the right call to actions strategically on the right place, to help move prospects forward in their customer journey.”
Understand the Buyer Journey
“Because people move from one stage of the buying process to another, learning and gaining knowledge as they go, seeking different information as they go along, your content needs to be relevant at each stage of the buyer’s journey,” says LeadG2’s Shaye Smith.
“Developing a content map allows you to look at your full set of content assets and analyze them to see if they cover your target persona at each stage. Once you analyze your content with your content map, ensure you have content for each stage of your target persona’s buyer’s journey.”
“To create a content map, you can use something as simple as Excel. Within your Excel workbook, create a sheet for each buyer persona. Then, headline 3 columns with the stages of the buyer’s journey, such as awareness, consideration and decision. You can then use the rows under each column to list the existing content you have for each persona at each stage, and see where the gaps are where you don’t have content. You can then brainstorm new content ideas based on what you need.”
After years of blogging for growth, Pepperland’s Sean Henri has “noticed a few characteristics that distinguish articles that produce high-quality leads from those that simply grow traffic. Usually, these articles fulfill one of these important jobs:
1. Gets prospects to feel like they have to solve a problem urgently
2. Helps prospects build a business case internally to pursue a solution
3. Helps prospects overcome a major barrier to adopting a desired solution
4. Helps customers find success with the product/service once purchased or implemented
In short, it needs to help a prospect or customer overcome a major point of friction along any stage of their experience with your business or organization.”
Ryne Higgins from Peacock Alley sums it up nicely: “Write content that thoroughly covers each phase of your sales funnel. From awareness, through consideration, intent, and decision, these prospects are looking for different pieces of information in your content. Potential prospects that have no previous knowledge of your business need basic information and descriptions of your products and services. After that, prospects often will look at reviews and case studies.”
Balance Buyers and Search Engines
CIENCE is “always trying to be precise with who our target audience is and what they search for, in Google in particular,” says Eric Quanstrom. “Therefore, our first step was to research and highlight the keywords and topics people use to search when trying to eliminate their pain points.”
“Then we took those searches and built content around those requests. From an SEO perspective, we’re not after the highest search volume, but the most relevant one. The more relevant keywords our blog posts will collect, the more targeted audience we will get. Which correlates favorably with reducing our sales cycles and increasing our lead close rates.”
Balancing SEO and buyer personas can be tenuous. “Through using SEMRush,” says Chase Hubner of PHNX21creative, “we can research what keywords perform best for our client’s competitors and reverse-engineer what they’ve done. It also shows us what keywords already rank and what keywords that are just short of ranking on the first page.”
“While we utilized keyword research heavily, we also angled all of those keywords to appeal to our ideal buyers. At times, we write titles that will help us rank in search engines even if it doesn’t always bring in ideal buyers. But, more often than not, we will write blog articles that are appealing to ideal buyers (even if we are not maximizing search traffic), in order to drive conversion rates higher. In an ideal situation, we can do both.”
Dig Deep for Better Topics
Many marketers suggested making an effort to reach out and talk to your clients. “To be successful with blogging today, you need to do two things,” says Annie Zelm of Kuno Creative, “identify the right topics for your audience, and cover them better than anyone else.”
“That means regularly talking with your customers and understanding their challenges and concerns. It means researching keywords and topics thoroughly to see what others have written and where you can add value to the conversation.”
The Good has taken this idea and created “a feedback loop that allows us to survey and interview our best clients,” says David Hoos. “We’ve learned more about the topics, channels, and communities that mean the most to them. That has allowed us to focus our keywords, channel promotion, and community promotion in a way that will draw more qualified leads that resemble our top clients.”
Tabitha Young of 30 Degrees North gives some examples of the questions you might ask of your customers: “For example, if you’re an office furniture installation company and most of your contracts are initiated by a commercial designer, then do your research or ask questions to figure out what they are reading. Is it the top 2019 design trends? The benefits of ergonomic furniture?”
“If you run a doggy daycare, what are pet owners worried about? Start a conversation when they come in, ask them questions, or write down the questions they ask you. What are some common themes that you’re hearing? Are people worried about their dog food? Do they want to know where the local dog-friendly hiking trails are?”
“I guarantee,” says Young, “by talking with your customers and some online research, you can get enough blog ideas to last a good while.”
Source Ideas Internally
It’s not just your customers that have great ideas for content, says Rick Whittington of Whittington Consulting. “We always spend time with the sales team—that’s where the golden ideas are.”
“For one client, we attended their national sales meeting and spent a day asking what questions their field reps were getting from prospects. Because everyone was in the room together, one answer played off another, and we left with over 250 ideas for content. As you might imagine, the ideas were not only appropriate for a blog, but for sales material that we could create for reps in the sales process.”
“Once we had the ideas on paper, we ran some keyword research and came up with a long list of blog post titles, and we’ve been working our way down the list for a couple years now. We interview the sales reps and other subject matter experts for their unique viewpoints, and this is effective because what a prospect reads on their blog will be consistent with what a sales rep is going to say to them.”
“Plus, since the sales rep had input in the article, there’s a sense of pride and willingness to share with prospects.”
Weidert Group goes beyond the sales team, says Meg Hoppe. “Early in our client engagements, we identify our client’s subject matter experts (SMEs) and involve them in both our short- and long-term content strategy and in contributing to appropriate posts. Beyond the SMEs, though, we typically include the company’s sales team, service reps, operations person, R&D and HR.”
“These people have unique insights, perspectives and ideas because they understand prospects/customers’ pain points in ways others do not. Making them all part of the content we develop and promote also makes them champions of their marketing content and more engaged in its success.”
Dennis Seymour from SeriousMD recommends another internal source of blog ideas: support tickets and business inquiries. Seymour also recommends looking for comments on competitors’ blog posts and industry YouTube videos.
“Chances are, questions are asked but never answered. Those are gold. People are already searching for answers and you just need to give them the answer, then convert them to a lead, your nurture sequence or straight to a sale.”
Use Insights to Stand Out
“My advice for advanced businesses who want to blog is to brainstorm unique content, not content repurposed from other sources on the internet,” says LyntonWeb’s Jennifer Lux.
“Businesses should be contrarian in their approach to industry topics in order to get their audience more engaged and thinking about business problems differently. Instead of blending in, be willing to stand out with your thought leadership, industry predictions, and solutions to business problems in your blog content.”
“Interviews with your leadership team are key to this type of positioning and crafting the type of content that will be widely shared and respected.”
You can also stand out with better content than your competitors, says Ben Johnston of Sagefrog. “One of the most successful ways we have been able to increase business using B2B blogs for our clients is by finding weak SERP results for long tail keywords related to our client, and constructing content to knock that weak content out of its position.”
“This doesn’t work for every keyword that your client will want to target, but it does occur regularly in niche B2B markets. There will often be a competitor whose site isn’t up to snuff and can be booted out with a superior piece of content added to your [client’s] site targeting the associated query.”
Tell Great Stories
“When a supply chain group began working with us late in 2017, we knew we had to find its stories and tell them to breathe life into the division’s new blog,” says Dr. Thomas Brown from BabelQuest.
“The logistics space isn’t renowned for remarkable blogging. Publicly, supply chain operations are often invisible, its imagery dry and distinctly corporate. But stories exist everywhere if you know how to find them.”
“In storytelling, we recognised an exciting opportunity to turn these preconceptions on their head, cut through decades of industry formality, and speak to the challenges and aspirations of our readers in a way that none of our clients’ competitors were doing.”
“Far from sitting at odds with logistics, we published stories that engaged buyers wherever they were in their two-year-plus buying lifecycle and nurture them into multi-million-pound deals.”
Here’s how Brown recommends approaching the storytelling process: “To find the right stories, begin by breaking down your brand into its constituent parts. What’s the unique value proposition at the core of your business, and what are the messages that support it?”
He continues, “You’ve identified the important elements, the characteristics, that make up your brand’s unique identity. Next, you need to weave these like plot threads through your blog content. Whether you’re writing editorial, more practical how-to articles, or press releases, you can use your values to tell an extended story that progresses with each read.”
Brown also believes that, “To deliver this extended meaning across a series of articles and successfully use it to build stronger, more trusting relationships with your prospects and customers, you need to make sure the content is being read. The nuances of social and email distribution are already well-covered by a million other articles online, so let’s look instead and the rest of your business. Could sales be using your articles to better educate or persuade new prospects? Your reps can be recommending relevant reads one on one or integrate your editorial into their nurture sequences, quite literally putting the right articles in front of the right people, just at the right time. Don’t forget the customer service team, who could be using your stories to delight existing customers by sharing a case study that features them or helping them get additional value from your product or service.”
Want even more tips from top B2B marketers? Stay tuned for the second article in this series coming later this month!