Here’s What an Advanced B2B Blogging Strategy Looks Like: Part Two
March 26, 2019 | Elizabeth Rivelli
Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a two-part series that explores best practices for developing a blog strategy optimized for engagement and conversion.
In part one of this blog series, we looked at the content strategies that brands are using to stand out in a crowded business landscape and engage with their audience through unique value exchanges. We learned that, when it comes to blogging, it’s not enough to pump out content that you think will resonate with your readers. To make a lasting impact, marketers need to “identify the right topics for your audience, and cover them better than anyone else,” according to Annie Zelm of Kuno Creative.
Many of our marketing experts said they look internally when brainstorming new blog topics. In the spirit of sales and marketing alignment, we heard from Rick Whittington of Whittington Consulting, who said, “We always spend time with the sales team—that’s where the golden ideas are.” Other marketers tap into their client’s subject matter experts and involve them in their content strategy to dig deep into the issues they are seeing first hand in their industry.
In part two, we’ll look at some additional tactics for revamping your B2B blogging strategy that will boost your SEO, improve engagement, and optimize your content so it works as a lead generation engine.
Change Your Approach
“We dropped the editorial calendar paradigm of content development. B2B company blogs aren’t magazines. It is time to stop treating them that way,” says Bridges Strategies’ Jake Fisher.
“Today we treat B2B content for what it truly is: sales collateral. The purpose of the content is to attract potential clients and provide them with value and support as they make their way through their buying process.”
“We no longer plan an elaborate schedule of blog writing with a set frequency across months and continuously developed topics. Rather, we plan, develop, and write an entire campaign’s content, quickly and in one discreet project.”
“Just because we treat content development as a function of sales doesn’t mean that we write in a ‘sales-y’ fashion. It is hyper-focused on the target buyer personas and interconnected, always giving the prospect another step to take. It has specific goals, such as topics and phrases for which we want to rank and the specific challenges or problems that it addresses on behalf of the prospect based on where they are in the funnel.”
“Once the content is published, we aren’t finished. After the content begins to gain traction, we start optimizing, based on two criteria. Is the content meeting conversion goals? Is it helping the prospect along to the next step? This is a CRO function. Second, is this paradigm shift has allowed us to deliver quicker wins at a lower cost than the editorial calendar paradigm.”
Colibri has shifted their approach to blogging, but in a different manner, says Andrew McLoughlin:
“We have been adding an almost journalistic bent to some of our stories lately, and it’s been dramatically increasing our rankings and getting us more visibility. We have been keeping right on the cusp of emerging industry trends and developments, and it’s increased our social sharing as well.”
“Targeting ranking keywords is great, but it doesn’t lend itself to breaking new ground. To stay ahead, and stay relevant, we need to chart trends in keywords to predict, in advance, which phrases are likely to rank down the line. Most of the time we’re on the mark, but we always check back as the story makes the rounds and if we need to update our phrasing to keep up with shifts in the tide, we revise and re-publish.”
But the journalistic angle doesn’t work for everyone. Relentless Pursuit of Perfection went a different way and found success, according to Jason Lavis.
“The main problem in brainstorming [newsworthy and popular topics] is that the most well-known topics in your industry are highly competitive. The other issue is that by dealing with newsworthy and topical content, you’re competing against all of the top news websites in the world. Try publishing to social media and the same issues arise. This was the situation we were in during 2016.”
“For 2017, we decided not to emulate mass media behemoths. We decided to see what was working for all the websites in our space. Alexa can give you a list of websites in the same sector, ranked according to popularity (i.e., successful content). There are a few SEO software tools such as Ahrefs, SEMRush or even just Google Analytics that show you the top performing pages on each website. We were surprised to see that usually there were only a few pages getting almost all the traffic. All we needed to do was write about the same topics and keywords as the best posts on all of our competitors’ websites.”
“Not only were there topics that we would never have thought of, but we collected hundreds of content ideas. The initial research gave us a roadmap for 2017 and 2018. We publish when time permits and traffic went from 2000 to 4500 users per month in 2017, then up to 15–20,000 per month at the end of 2018.”
Is guest blogging still a viable strategy? These marketers say it is. “While guest blogging can be a great marketing tool for a website, it is important for businesses to choose guest blogging targets thoughtfully,” says ClearPivot’s Chantelle Stevenson.
“First, you want a blog that aligns with your business’s values and services. In this sense, you would not want to talk about the latest and greatest in plumbing techniques on a pet food blog. A good starting point is to consider the type of blogs both you and your prospects read in order to know which blogs you want to target.”
“Second, search for blogs which are seeking guest bloggers. In some industries, you can find lists of guest blogging opportunities with their guidelines too! When you review the guidelines, see if the blog provides a) the opportunity for you to link back to your site and b) creative license to write about things related to your business.”
“Third, consider your strategic partnerships. This could be complimentary service providers, vendors whose services you use or products you resell. At ClearPivot, these have been our most beneficial guest blogging opportunities. We have been able to blog on sites such as Unbound Growth, Creatrix and even HubSpot!”
Some companies are posting very impressive numbers as a result of their guest blogging:
“Our website has seen a 700% increase in organic traffic YOY, and sessions of users who landed on a blog page as their entry point to our website went up 906%,” says Solodev’s Shelby Rogers. “Overall blog page views were up 727% YOY at the close of 2018.”
“What changed between 2017 and 2018? We overhauled our link-building strategy. In 2018, we sought out any opportunity to contribute to an industry-related publication. We gained links from CMSWire, Content Marketing Institute, Inc., and CMS Critic. We contributed content to Smashing, which opened doors to establishing relationships with other publications. We also consistently use Help a Reporter Out (HARO) to offer insight for round-up posts and other opportunities.”
Syed Irfan Ajmal of GigWorker helped a company get to $200,000 in monthly revenue in just six months with this guest blogging strategy:
- “Find linkreators (e.g. An author, blogger, or webmaster who actively shares links to other websites.) which meet certain SEO and content marketing criteria. For example, for an autocare company these would include auto bloggers, travel bloggers, insurance company blogs, car leasing company blogs and more. If you are to do this today, your criteria should include something like below:
- Domain Authority (DA) of 25-60 (anything lower isn’t of much value; anything higher are harder to land.)
- Domain Rank (DR) of 30-65 (While DA is by MOZ, DR is the alternative to it provided by Ahrefs; some now focus on DR rather than DA or both.)
- MOZ Spam Score of under 3/17 (if you want to be too careful, go ahead and ignore sites which have a spam score of 2/17 or above.)
- Majestic Trust Flow (TF) to Majestic Citation Flow (CF) ratio of 0.5 (If you want to be really careful, go for sites which have a TF:CF of 1 or above.)
- And of course, don’t bother pitching to any sites which have low-quality content, bad design, or any otherwise bad quality, spammy, PBN profile/outlook. And don’t pitch to sites which are not in the same niche or a shoulder niche (ie a niche that is closely related to your site’s niche).
- Review their websites and find a topic which would resonate with their audience and also be relevant to your blog. (We use tools like Ahrefs, and BuzzSumo to do this.)
- Send them a highly customized pitch and offer them a select few topics.
And Abhiskek Talreja from Prolific Content Marketing adds this tip:
“Most editors have their mailbox full with query letters. Make sure you build a human-to-human connection with an editor you are pitching. It’s good to connect with them on social media and know more about them. Make sure you understand the blogging guidelines of their site before you start working on your pitch or a draft that you will share. If they know you already, and you have done your homework, there’s a huge chance of your pitch getting accepted. ”
Related to guest posting is the idea of roundup posts that include influential members of the industry. “This way,” says Jakub Kliszczak of CrazyCall, “you’ll get additional exposure and social coverage due to both organic traffic and social shares.”
Alex Weinbaum from SiO Digital also endorses roundup posts. “This is a great strategy for building short and long-term relationships with the people our target market listen to, and organically establish our client as an authoritative voice within their space. Plus, the more contributors you have, the more social engagement you will receive as influencers are motivated to share their ‘words of wisdom’ with their networks.”
“We use Twitter and LinkedIn search to find the most relevant individuals. From there, I send a short message that asks the blog’s theme such as: ‘What is your strategy for x when y is present?’ or ‘How do you overcome x due to the issue of y?’”
Optimize for Conversions
“Traffic is great but only if it’s meaningful traffic that can be turned into leads,” says Exprance’s Nick Leffler.
Chris Lee from RankXL provides a great example: “One of the things we’ve been working on is creating very specific funnels for each category of content on our blogs. In the past, every blog post had the same call to action and opt-in incentive, and they all fed into the same email sequence.”
“Today, each category has a very specific call to action based around the topic of the blog post. This leads to higher conversion rates of visitors to email subscribers. Once they’re in, the initial onboarding email sequence of around 5–7 emails is different depending on which category you opted in from. This leads to higher engagement (open rates, click through rates). After the onboarding sequence, they all funnel into the sales sequence.”
“This is something that most blogs should do, but don’t do. Having one site-wide call to action rarely makes sense once your blog has 100+ pages. Having ultra-specific calls-to-action (CTAs) and onboarding sequences lead to higher engagement throughout the initial emails, which leads to higher conversion to sales too.”
Resolute Technology Solutions has added interactive CTAs to improve conversion rates, says Colton De Vos:
“We’ve recently started adding interactive call-to-actions to our most prominent blogs to increase engagement from website visitors. We have several blogs that are ranking in the top three results on Google and pulling in a lot of traffic but weren’t generating conversions. Then we added multiple conversion opportunities including an interactive survey that offers a specific ebook based on how they answer the questions, an in-page free-consultation form, a live chat prompt, and other related content assets in the sidebar to encourage them to spend more time on the site.”
“We’ve seen 3x the number of conversions on these blog posts since further optimizing for conversions. It’s important to get traffic to your blogs, but even more important to convert that traffic into business leads to see ROI from your business blogging initiatives.” There’s no doubt that interactive content like these CTAs will continue to grow in popularity.
Use Effective CTAs
Kenneth Burke explains how Text Request sets up their CTAs for success:
“Throughout the article we touch on specific features we have that allow them to accomplish different goals. E.g. Generate more inbound leads through our SMS Chat, here’s why it works. The call-to-action at the end is to sign up for a demo so readers can see how all these great things work in action. These blog posts bring us some organic traffic and leads, but they’re an amazing sales tool for following up with leads who come in through other channels.”
“It’s a great way to say ‘Yeah, we’ve helped tons of others like you, here’s the proof and what success you can expect.’”
“Test the placement and design of your CTAs,” says AND CO from Fiverr’s Sophie McAulay; “do in-text CTAs at the start of your article see the best results, or is the giant ‘Try the Product’ button that you have on the top right-hand side of your blog at all times?”
“Test targeted popups, banner CTAs throughout the content, and sticky widgets on your homepage. Choose one thing to drive people to on each post that’s most relevant to that article – don’t split people’s attention with a bunch of different offers.”
“Track everything with UTM codes and check what has the most impact. You might want to get rid of things that aren’t working according to the data. Maybe that popup is causing people to click out of the page rather than convert. Too many CTAs can feel intrusive and get in the way of the content, so if they aren’t working, kill them.”
Group Content Into Pillars
“One tactic we’ve consistently seen perform is the ‘Hub & Spoke’ or ‘Pillar Content’ strategy,” says Pierre de Braux of Spiralytics. “This basically involves creating highly informative long-form ‘pillar’ pages on certain topics and using relevant ‘cluster’ pages to support the main page via a network of strategically placed internal links.”
“We’ve successfully used this tactic to help a range of clients (and ourselves) significantly improve their search rankings for targeted keywords/keyphrases. Not only does it optimize your site’s authority structure for search engines, it also helps you think about your content strategy in a much more holistic way. Addressing content as ‘pillars’ and ‘clusters’ makes it much easier to identify potential gaps in your strategy and publish the right posts at the right time.”
Sarah Doyle from ContentBacon says that pillars help in a number of ways:
“In going through the exercise of creating the pillar, new topic opportunities often [emerge]. When you want to create a single page starter-pack for your visitors, it’s easy to identify gaps in your content. From a UX perspective, it provides a logical flow of related content without providing it all on one page with a wall of text.”
“To compare it to eating out, it’s somewhere in between a massive buffet of information and a tasting menu; your visitors get to pick and choose where they want to deep-dive into information related to the core theme without having to sort through blog tags (if they’re lucky) and sometimes YEARS of blog content.”
“Finally, from an SEO perspective, it strengthens the site interlinking and creates a static page specifically dedicated to the core theme of the blogs. This improves the overall authority of the site on the core theme and ultimately helps boost SERP visibility and CTR.”
“Promotions of pillars on social are also successful, both organically and with paid boosts. To add a cherry on the sundae, offer the blogs in a downloadable ebook format and gate it with a simple contact form. We’ve had several B2B customers create new leads and sales by promoting the pillar and corresponding ebook on LinkedIn.”
You might also consider a downloadable interactive ebook for even greater effect.
Update Old Posts
“Don’t write something new,” says Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina. “Rewrite something old. According to our annual blogger survey, bloggers who update older content are more than twice as likely to report strong results.”
“This super-effective strategy is possible only if you have a lot of content already published. The idea is to re-use existing, authoritative URLs (blogs that have been linked to, but don’t rank well) and put new, keyphrase-focused content on them. In other words, write a new-and-improved article on the same topic on an old URL.”
“If the two most important ranking factors are authority (links) and relevance (content and keywords) then this trick is the fastest way to rank for a competitive phrase.”
“Here’s a quick example. In October 2014, I wrote a very detailed article about how to setup Google Analytics (GA). It had videos and screenshots and ranked well for ‘how to set up Google Analytics.’ It had attracted 90+ links over the years, but it slowly fell out of date and the rank declined. Eventually it was somewhere in the middle of page two for the target phrase.”
“In December 2018, I rewrote the piece. I spent around 20 hours making a new, very detailed guide (2600 words with a video) with step-by-step instructions for setting up GA. It’s rich with quality and keyphrases.”
“The impact? Within days the rank jumped from #14 to #4.”
“Unfortunately, traffic is still pretty low because the CTR is low. Google outranks me for this phrase and most of the clicks go there. It’s really hard to outrank Google for Google-related keyphrases. I highly recommend this approach, but for best results, don’t try to compete with Google!”
Recover Reputation has gotten similarly positive results from updating old posts, says Mike Schiemer.
“It’s something that most bloggers and businesses should do, but don’t put in the time. Here are some areas of opportunity to optimize older posts:
- Update outdated content
- Optimize images
- Add keywords
- Add relevant internal links
- Add relevant authoritative external links
- Correct grammar mistakes
- Remove broken / dead links”
Target the Right Length
“After all our efforts of publishing quality content, building backlinks, etc. [our website] stayed stagnant in the second page of Google SERPs,” says SEO Hackers’ Sean Si. “What we did is to increase our monthly blog post’s word count by 500 words to increase the information contained in our blog post and its comprehensiveness. Now, our ranking for that specific keyword is in the middle of the first page of Google SERPs.”
But not everyone suggests going longer.
“There’s a lot of pressure from content marketers to write long-form 2,000-word articles that cover many LSI keywords,” says Foti Panagio of Growthmentor. “While I agree this is effective, it is unfortunately quite time consuming to go long on all content ideas.”
“For B2B businesses with a broad spectrum of applicable keyword targets, I find that a lean and agile methodology to content works best. Here are the steps I take:
- I usually write a short 600-word version that’s super lean and answers a specific pain point in under 45 minutes.”
- Then, I set up a cheap $1-2 per day FB campaign driving cold traffic to it. This gives me the data to know whether I hit a nerve with it.
- If it has traction or positive response, I expand the post and add meat to it, usually pushing up to 2,000 words.”
“This was a growth hack I learned at a conference three years ago that I use successfully to this day.”
If you decide to go for a longer post, says Nettly’s Thorstein Nordby, you don’t have to dedicate tons of time to it.
“Do you want to write a 3000-word blog post fast? The easiest and fastest way I have found is to first write up the structure of your post with bullet points and section titles, then record yourself talking over your bullets as if you were explaining the concept to a friend over a coffee. You would explain the topic in a way that it connects to your ideal customer’s pain and needs.”
“The thing is that you can think and talk way faster than you can write, and you usually can easily expand on your written notes when talking over it. After having recorded yourself, you can start transcribing the audio (either do it yourself or use one of the many services out there). I have found that by doing this, I can easily create a draft for a 3000-word blog post in just a few hours.”
“When you have the transcription done, you can now start doing the edits. Obviously, you won’t have a perfect post at this stage, this will come when doing the edits. My recommendation is doing each edit in ‘waves.’ First, do the formatting to make the post readable. Then focus on the copywriting, then inserting the call-to-action, then the SEO and so on. By doing it this way, you’ll have a long format post in much less time.”
Go Beyond the Blog Post
Many of the marketers who responded to our survey gave us recommendations that stretch beyond just writing.
Advanced Search Ranking Tactics
For example, Clutch pursues “capturing featured snippets,” says Riley Panko. “This involves formatting content in specific ways that are most likely to rank highly not only in Google’s general results, but also appear in the coveted ‘position zero.’”
“Blogging for featured snippets involves keeping paragraphs short, optimizing keywords for potential featured snippet opportunities, writing in an FAQ style, and other strategic steps. It takes work, but the reward of capturing a valuable featured snippet can be huge.”
Emma Knightly from Digital Marketing Institute gives this advice:
“A very underrated way to boost blog rankings is to filter search queries by ‘Impressions’ in Search Console, so you can see which queries are getting high impressions but low click through rate, and see how you may be able to optimise accordingly.”
“By taking a look at your SERP competitors for key terms, the number of backlinks on top ranking posts, the depth of their content on the topic, the meta titles and descriptions etc. you get a really clear picture of what you need to do to improve your content in order to move up the ranks.”
“For many of our top ranking blogs, all it takes is a few minor tweaks like adding more engaging images, or building on the topic in more depth to see vast improvements. Using this system, we managed to take one of our top lead driving blogs from position 3 to position one for a high search volume term (outranking Hubspot and Bigcommerce).”
Get the Most Out of Social Shares
“One of the most important things I do—which I don’t think enough people try,” says Alex Swallow of The Influence Expert, “is to send some of my blogging content to new LinkedIn connections that I make. This includes both people who ask to connect to me and people who I invite to connect.”
“A lot of people to whom I send content seem very pleased to get something which is useful for them and non-salesy, which starts the relationship off on the right foot.”
“So in practice: generally, once we are linked, I send them an introductory message which includes my latest piece of content- often an article I have published directly on LinkedIn and then also a link to my website. I explain that on my website there is a free book on influence for them to download, to pique their interest.”
“I am trying to give them value, upfront, for free. I believe that doing this with new LinkedIn connections helps me in three main ways:
- It helps establish that I am an expert in my field and that I have resources that may be useful for them
- It starts off a new online relationship in a positive way- especially as many people either connect on LinkedIn and then never contact each other- or they straightaway try to sell their new contact something without establishing their credentials first.
- It gets my newest article in front of a wide audience. This means that more people see it/interact with it.”
Accelity uses an even more integrated approach, says Cass Polzin. “Our videos, social posts, Quora posts, and emails all tie back to the blog content we create, which funnels readers to our gated offers.”
Find What Works for You
When we asked top b2b bloggers for tips, we received lots of other strategy tips, too. Here’s a few:
- “Obsess over efficiency,” says Chris Hornyak from The Content Factory. Make sure your website is as fast as possible.
- Erin Burke from Denamico recommends “collaborations with other companies” to take advantage of cross-promotion and distribution.
- Dig into Google analytics to double down on your best-performing topics, says Blogging Brute’s Mike Allton.
- Kristen Craft from Tettra recommends creating a content directory and capturing email addresses with content offers.
- Write “alternative to x” posts, suggests Edward Dennis of Core dna.
- “Consider interactive content like calculators to offer a great resource to your visitors,” suggested Rick Kranz from Overgo Studio.
One story that stood out came from Digital 22’s Paul Mortimer:
“We’ve recently submitted the work we’ve done for a couple of clients for HubSpot Impact Awards. In particular, one was a B2B print company. In short, we overcame the hurdle of getting digital readers of our blog bought into using physical print for their own marketing. We used the accompanying workflows to the blog to offer them printed versions of the eBook they’d downloaded. This helped move prospects along their Buyer’s Journey but also show off our client’s high-quality product. All via automation.”
The best blogging tactics for your company will be unique to your situation and your market. Find what works best for you and run with it.