Once upon a time the Internet was a relatively quiet, simple place where it wasn't very complicated to get your site found. Back then, you could just stuff a keyword phrase into your content and Google would list your site highly for that keyword.
(Watch this video to see just how mainstream the internet was in the U.S. back in 1993 ... but then come back!)
That was then
Today, however, the internet has started to grow up and is now a teeming, boisterous playground. Take the following statistics - every minute* in 2015 there were:
- 400 hours of video uploaded to Youtube [source Tubefilter]
- 150,000 messages sent on Facebook [source Jeff Bullas]
- 100,000 tweets are sent on Twitter [source Mashable]
- 1,383 blog posts written [source: Brian Dean]
*These statistics will be higher by the time you read this.
Phew! And all of this while weighing less than a strawberry!
Since these numbers are almost too ginormous (yes that is a word) to even comprehend you'd be justified for asking "With all this noise, what chance does my website have of being effective for my business?"
The truth is it's not trivial and it takes quite a bit of work on your part but there are indeed some things you can do.
One thing is certain; your blog will NOT be working to its full potential if you skip any one of the following fundamental components of a successful company blog. Yes, they are very basic but in any of life's endeavours - as history repeatedly shows - focusing on the fundamentals is an essential part of achieving greatness. Or even of achieving mediocrity.
If your company blog doesn't have the following three components then you need to ask yourself the question "Why do I even have a blog?"
Note: This article is more geared toward B2B blogs but most points are also very relevant for B2C.
#1 Fresh and Useful Content
Google has grown up and now it's all about quality. And rightly so. Keyword stuffing will get you blacklisted but professionally written, high quality content will do a lot to help you get a first page ranking. Of course, it takes more than just great content to gain first page ranking, but without excellent content you simply don't stand a chance.
The word “content” in relation to the internet is tiresomely overused but is here to stay for now. The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as:
A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
So this content is the "stuff" on your site. It's what your visitors read, watch, hear or interact with and it must be original, at least to some degree (you can be smart about reusing content).
It must also be interesting to your readers.
And – here’s the killer for most people - it must also be GREAT.
This last one puts a lot of people off – "Does it have to be great? That takes a lot of effort and I'm just not that into it."
Then get into it or hire someone who IS into it to take care of the blog while you do something else. The internet is such an open environment nowadays that if your heart is not in it your visitors will quickly notice and click off elsewhere.
Of course learning to promote your site is extremely important but without that content to promote it's like learning to play football without the ball.
There's no short cut here: you must put in the effort. You must make your content better than 99% of what is on the internet; this is simply because 99% of the stuff on the internet is rubbish.You must make your content better than the 99% rubbish on the internet. Click To Tweet
Nowadays, good content has the highest likelihood to result in a higher positions in Google.Making your content great means spending the time to become among the very BEST in your field.
–- Yoast Blog
Consequently, you need to spend the time learning how to tell people about the fact that you ARE among the very BEST in your field. It means learning how to write, how to find your voice and how to convince without overselling.
Yes, that’s a lot of things to master. But others have done it and are doing it every day, so why not you? The greatest aid to making all of this happen is to simply love what you're doing.
Why That Content Matters
There are many, many reasons why good content is so important - here are just a few.
- Attention is hard to grab
Your expert content is more likely to keep your business front of mind and that will serve you when your customers want to buy something you offer. It allows you to stay in touch with them without constantly asking them to buy from you.
- Google is smart
With constantly updated algorithms incorporating time visitors spend on your pages, bounce rates, sharing and backlinks, Google is getting increasingly better at separating the chaff from the wheat.
- Your content lives for ever
You can’t control how your content will be spread across the internet but great content can have a lasting impact on your brand. The converse is also true – your bad or misleading information will be there for everyone to see. For ever.
- It positions you in your market
By providing meaningful and valuable information that your visitors can use to solve a problem or to help them achieve something you are further establishing yourself as a go-to resource in your market.
- It increases the likelihood of getting leads/new business
According to this ITSMA survey from 2014, a new customer would rather do business with someone who “understands my unique business needs.” Your content is what convinces them of your understanding.
- People are more discerning than ever before.
If they see you giving great free advice they will be more likely to like and trust you.
Content for your Customer
If you don’t know your craft, you’re sunk. If you don’t do your research -- trust me -- your gig will end in humiliating failure.
-- Robert Bruce, Copyblogger
Customers want to know only one thing - “What's in it for me? Why should I care about your company instead of anyone else?”
If you have no idea about the types of things to write about: just ask your customers. What questions or problems do you hear from them over and over again? A lot of the time it’s as simple as just answering one of those questions.
Finally, realise that producing content is a form of marketing. Read Seth Godin or David Ogilvy or Chet Holmes. Tell your STORY and have fun with it!
#2 A way to collect email addresses
Although more and more people are reachable directly via tools like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, G+, etc. email is still among the best performing marketing tool.
Social Media vs. Email
Consider these social media statistics:
- According to Statista there are more than 1.6 billion social network users worldwide
- Facebook has 1.49 billion active accounts
- Instagram has around 400 million active monthly users
- WhatsApp has 900 million monthly users
Now for some email statistics:
- There are approximately 4 billion email accounts in the world (sure, many of these lie dormant )
- 122 billion emails are sent every hour
- There is a predicted 6% growth rate in the number of email accounts over the next few years
- Email is a necessary requirement when signing up to ANY of the above social networks
- Email has been the backbone of person-to-person communication practically since the beginning of computer networks
Email is Important. Still.
Despite years of predictions that email is doomed (from 2009), doomed (from 2014) and completely doomed (from 2015) the above facts are ample evidence to suggest email is not going anywhere soon. Certainly email is far from perfect and is responsible for creating a huge part of the “noise” component that causes so many problems in an already information-saturated workplace.
Nevertheless, there is no denying the numbers and the usage … email is here to stay.
So, when successful internet businesses and marketers are asked the question "What one thing would you do differently if you had to do it all again?" almost all of them give the same response.
I would collect E-mail addresses from Day 1.
Why? Well, if you think my advice might be questionable, listen to what these 8 online marketing giants have to say about email lists:
1. Neil Patel, founder of Kissmetrics and Crazy Egg
Out of all the channels I tested as a marketer, email continually outperforms most of them. Just look at ecommerce sites like Amazon, one way they get you to continually buy more products from them is by emailing you offers on a regular basis.
2. Corey Dilley, Marketing Manager at Unbounce
Unbounce’s email list is the biggest asset we have for driving new acquisitions.
Why? Email marketing consistently generates 80-90% of our landing page traffic when we launch a new campaign, piece of content or product feature. Email allows us to engage our audience in a creative, personalized way that blog posts or tweets can’t.
3. Joe Pulizzi, Founder of Content Marketing Institute
If I have one regret as a business owner, it’s not focusing on building our email list earlier in the process
4. Noah Kagan, Founder of SumoMe
AppSumo.com is a 7 figure business and 90%+ of our revenue comes from emails
Every person I’ve talked to who has an email list now, always says “I wish I would have started sooner”.
5. Francisco Rosales, Founder of SocialMouths [EDIT 2017: Socialmouths seems to be no more]
The lifespan of your message will be decided by your recipient ..., not by Facebook or Twitter
6. Nathalie Lussier, Digital Strategist at Ambition Ally
Building an email list is crucial because it’s the best way to build a relationship with potential customers in an intimate way.
7. Pat Flynn, Smart Passive Income
One of the biggest mistakes I made as a blogger and business owner was not starting an email list right from the start.
8. Derek Halpern, Socialtriggers
I still wanna hit my head against the wall for not building my email list sooner.
So there you have it - these people have massive email lists and make a very comfortable living primarily from those email lists.
It's good enough for them.
When to do it
Someone once said
The best time to plant an oak was 50 years ago. The second best time is now.
If it’s not clear what the experts above had to say about this then let me iterate: Start NOW.
How to do it
So, how should you collect email addresses? In it’s simplest form it involves presenting a form to the visitor in which they enter their email address. This address is then added to your email list.
Of course it sounds simple but, as usual, there are right ways and wrong ways to do this. The main thing is to provide a very useful incentive for your readers to give them your email address. Their email address is something personal to them so you need something to trade. Think along the lines of giveaways like “Complete Guide to …” or “10 Steps to …” or “How I did it” -type of eBook or email series.
Going into detail here is beyond the scope of this article but there are many resources online that teach you how to do all of this, such as this brief guide on WPBeginner or Pat Flynn’s complete guide, old but still relevant.
#3 A way to Measure, Test and Measure again
The famous quote
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
is a terrible example to begin this section because a) it's a Deming misquote and b) it's wrong - he actually said the exact opposite! But I thought I’d add it here to clear that up.
But measuring your blog activity really does matter. The answers to the questions Who? Where? What? and Why? provide you with incredibly useful insights into your business.
You need to know your customers. You need to know WHO they are and WHERE they are coming from.
You need to know WHAT they are doing on your site, WHAT they aren't doing on your site and WHY they are doing it or not.
So you need to have the ability to measure what’s going on on your site. And just as importantly you need to be constantly testing the effectiveness of your site.
Analytics software helps you collect and analyse such things on your website as traffic volumes, where visitors arrive on your site, where they leave and to track search engine keywords. In fact you can go so far as to track user activity and learn how you can construct funnels to lead them to becoming a customer. This is all very powerful business intelligence to possess.
Sadly but not surprisingly, a vast majority of website owners make decisions based on faith, past experiences or on so-called best practices rather than basing their decisions on the facts presented by this readily-available data.
If you regularly consult your analytics data you likely know the answers to the following questions:
- How many people visit my blog?
- Where do they live?
- What content do they like?
- What websites send me traffic?
But do you drill deeper to get the answers to these questions?
- How many visitors have I converted into leads or customers?
- At what point in my funnel are visitors leaving?
- How far do visitors read on my landing page?
- What marketing tactics are working best?
- What path through my website did my converting visitors follow?
- Should I target the mobile market?
Don’t you think these are answers worth knowing? Analytics can give them to you.
The best-known analytics software is surely Google Analytics, but there are many other big players such as KISSmetrics, Moz, and Adobe Analytics. Sites like Crazy Egg and Clicktale even let you see graphically what visitors are doing on your site. Head over to their sites to see what they offer. For most people, though, Google Analytics provides more than enough data with which to get started.
First, A Warning
Google Analytics (or any other provider) will give you a sea of information about your site. Many people wade right in and get quickly out of their depth. They tread water for a while or start drowning, quickly do an about turn and head back to shore. Don’t let that happen to you – learn to swim these waters.
Before you get lost in your data there are a few things you need to be clear on. Yes, as usual, some planning is important.
You don’t have to get very formal here but a quick and regular run through this list is invaluable to keep you on track.
- Identify Objectives
Answer this deceptively simple question: Why does our blog exist? A variation could be: What are the three most important priorities for our blog? These tend to be high-level, such as “Sell more site memberships”.
- Specify Goals
Goals drill down from the objectives above to something more specific. e.g. “Modernise our membership landing page”.
- Distinguish Key Performance Indicators
These will be the metrics from your analytics software that help you understand how well you are on track to reach your goals as defined in the last step. An example KPI for an e-commerce site is conversion rate. Doing a good job at steps 1 and 2 above will help clarify these.
- Set Targets
This is what you use against your KPIs to measure success or failure. In the beginning you’ll likely have no idea what these targets should be but set them anyway. As time goes on you’ll discover which targets are realistic and which ones are completely reaching for the moon. Pick the moon shots.
Decide the groups of visitors it makes sense to work more on and in which areas. E.g. you might find that one segment will respond better to daily deals and another segment would grow through a more aggressive targeted Social Media campaign.
The above steps come from an article by Google's digital marketing evangelist Avinash Kaushik and are admittedly NOT easy. They'll mean a lot of tough questions, honesty and will take time to refine. But few people approach analytics data like this and trust me, they are the ones a step ahead.
Boom! With a wink and a nod you are ready, finally, to crack open your Web analytics tool and do something of business value with it. – Avinash Kaushik
Once done, there will be no more decisions based on faith. You will be ready to really use the data and that in turn will mean sensible business decisions that will create happy customers. And increase your bottom line.
Some more resources to get the most out of Google Analytics
Good starting points
Now that you understand your data and know where you can improve, you can go ahead and make whatever changes you feel you need on your site. Of course when you do this you need to test, not guess.
There are many ways to increase revenue from your website. You can increase traffic. There are whole industries built around this topic so I won’t even go into it here. You can increase revenue per customer by up-selling and cross-selling.
But an oft-overlooked method is to optimise conversions of the traffic you already have. This means getting more of the people who already visit your site to “convert” i.e. to sign up to an email list, to buy something, to download something.
In general, conversion rates on websites range from about 1-3% so it should be clear that an awful lot of the current traffic to your site is just wasted opportunity and that your conversion rate can be increased significantly.
A/B testing is a very accurate method of doing this.
The A/B testing process is as follows:
- You create two different versions of the element you want to test e.g. a page, a sign-form on your blog
- Some visitors to the website are served the original version, A, while other visitors are served the second version, B
- After a certain period of collecting information about the two variations the results can be compared to see which version performed best.
A/B testing can be used to improve on any element of your website from a sign-up form to an entire website design. Most commonly A/B testing is a process that is continuously being run on different versions of different elements of a site rather than a one-off procedure. Indeed the most effective bloggers are continuously tweaking and tuning various elements of their site.
A/B testing often – but not always – leads to dramatically improved performance of the website elements tested. Consider the following example from Kissmetrics. This company, SafeSoft Solutions, wanted to improve conversions on their landing page signup form and tested the following two versions of the form:
Generally accepted best practices indicate that showing pricing directly on a form is bad practice. Surprisingly the results of this test showed that showing the price increased conversions by a whopping 100%.
This wouldn’t work for all sites and all products but the example does indicate that it’s wise to question everything, especially those generally-held convictions that people hold as “best practices”.
Even small test such as changing the wording on a button can have a dramatic effect on your conversion rate.
A/B test failures
A common (mis)perception from people running A/B testing is that when an A/B test “fails” it has been a waste of time.
Not so, and this has more to do with their definition of failure than anything else. A/B testing is about finding which version of the tested element works best for your website or blog.
As usual it pays to clearly define the objectives of the test and usually a test is run to ask the question “Which version of this element works better, A or B?” Just because the newer version does not outperform the original does not indicate a failure per se; it shows that making those changes to the element will not improve conversion rates and that the original version is the better fit. And it does so conclusively.
As reportedly said by Thomas Edison said when it was remarked that he must be disappointed with his 9,000 failures trying to design a new storage battery:
Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.
Conversely, an apparently “successful” A/B test does not always mean that the newly tested version is better.
The company DIRECTV tested an element that enticed their visitor to view a movie trailer and this lead to an almost 5% higher level of subscriptions of their pay-per-view offering, as expected. Success, one would think.
What was NOT expected, however, was the accompanying decrease in sales of premium channel packages by a huge 25%! This would have decreased their revenue more than the increases in pay-per-view so needless to say this test was not the “success” assumed at first glance.
What does this tell us? That once again (I may have mentioned it before) you need to be very clear on what the objectives of your testing are in relation to your overall business objectives.
Conclusion - Connecting the Strands
So, are you doing these three things?
- Do you have great content?
- Are you collecting email addresses?
- Are you continuously testing your site?
Promise yourself that you’ll take action on something in this article and set a date. Here’s a simple way to begin:
- Write a blog post on something you really know and love talking about and post it to all your Social Media channels
- IF you haven’t already, sign up to MailChimp or similar for free, fill in your details and get the code for your opt-in form. Put that in your sidebar.
- If you already have plenty of traffic, sign up for a free Optimizely account, learn how to use it and get testing.
I promise you it’s not that difficult once you put in the work and you’ll suddenly see the benefits of taking your website seriously.
Have you already tried these and got results? Or have you implemented any of them and seen absolutely no benefit? Join the conversation in the comments below.
Resources used for this article
Neil Patel's Blog http://www.quicksprout.com/?s=content
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