Content Marketing, Blogging and Content Creation

Lifting the Fog of the Blog: 8 Strategic Questions Before You Write 1 Word

There are more than 150 million blogs, according to Technorati’s “State of the Blogosphere” report. Given competition of that magnitude, why should people spend time reading yours?

As a frequent blog consultant, I find the success impediment isn’t really the effort required, but rather a planning deficit. Most blogs fail not due to quality, but due to randomness.

Whether your blog is brand new or you want to take your experienced blog to the next level, the key is to not leave whether or not success happens to the vagaries of chance. That was the theme of my recent Webinar at Blogging Success Summit 2011.

“Once We Have a Blog, We’ll Be Able to _______”
What is this blog going to do for you, or for your business? Are you trying to boost awareness? Are you trying to sell something, utilizing the blog as the top of your purchase funnel? Are you trying to build community and kinship around your company?

All of these are valid reasons for having a blog, but they are significantly different in terms of how your blog is designed, written, measured, and judged. Pick an objective, and focus upon it with intensity.

“People Read Our Blog Because It Helps Them _____”
How is your blog enriching the lives of your readers? Is it directing them to resources? Answering questions? Provoking debate?

And who are your readers anyway? What are their likes, desires, fears, and expectations? What other blogs do they read? The more you know about your audience, the better you can serve it.

“After Reading, We Want Blog Visitors to _______, or _________”
What’s your call-to-action? Depending upon how the blog fits your strategic business objectives, you may prefer your readers to download longer form content (like an e-book), or subscribe to your blog, or leave a comment, or tweet your post.

Decide what behaviors you’re ultimately trying to entice, and design and write with those action objectives in mind.

“_______, _________, and _________ Will Let People Know We Have a Blog”
Certainly, you should optimize your blog for search, as Google is truly your most important reader. But beyond that, how will people know about your blog? Create a blog marketing plan and revise it when necessary.

Make sure you do the basics like promoting your blog on your website’s home page (don’t play navigation scavenger hunt with your blog), and promote your best blog posts in your email newsletter.

“We Will Create _______ Posts Per Month, With ______ in Charge of Editorial, and _________ in Charge of Analytics.”
It takes a village to raise a blog. You need content creators, naturally. But you also need (if you have multiple authors) a strong editor who can achieve consistency in tonality and layout while managing the editorial calendar. Optimally, you should also have a person dedicated to blog success metrics, using data analysis to tweak and improve your efforts.

In terms of content creation, more is more. Five posts per week is better than four, which is better than three. And if you can’t blog at least weekly, you need to seriously consider if you’re able to devote requisite energy to this endeavor.

“This Blog is About ________. Sample Headlines Include _________ ….”

There are four secrets to being a good blog writer:

1. Read a lot of other blogs
2. Always have a list of potential topics at-hand. For new blogs, I recommend writing 50 sample headlines before you write one post. This will help you better understand what your blog and editorial voice are REALLY all about.
3. Don’t overwrite. This post notwithstanding, shorter is better, and spending a bunch of extra time to create the “perfect” blog post is almost never worth it.
4. Be a great headline writer. It’s all a potential reader has to go on to decide whether to click and read (usually).

“This Blog Will Create Content That Will Also Feed ______, _________, and _______”
Blogging is just one part of the content marketing ecosystem. If you’re not taking your ideas and atomizing them, cross-pollinating your thinking like a digital dandelion across the Web, you’re working way, way too hard.

Your blog posts can become e-books, Slideshare presentations, podcasts, free downloadable worksheets, email newsletter content, Facebook status updates, and dozens of other potential bits of content flotsam.

“We Will Measure the Success of The Blog by Tracking _______, ________, and ______”
The success metrics you use are based on the core business objectives you selected for your blog at the outset. If you’re blogging for awareness, traffic is important (especially new visitors). If you’re blogging for sales, the success of your blog in getting people over to your “main” website, or downloading your price list becomes a key consideration. And if you’re blogging for kinship and community, comments and sharing are critical barometers.

Far too often corporate marketers ask me how then can increase the number of comments on their blog. The problem isn’t too few comments, but rather thinking that for a blog devoted to sales (or awareness), that comments is a valid success metric.

If you can work with your company to answer these 8 questions, I absolutely guarantee you will improve the chances of your blog being a smash hit.

What other questions should I have recommended in this presentation? Thanks for your help thinking it through.

Related
  • http://blog.socialmediahq.com Nick Robinson

    Great Post Jay. I really enjoyed your presentation at BSS11. Keep up the quality content!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gja-Doorman/100000963199203 Gja Doorman

    Not only are you helping people navigate through the tough task of planning (Blogging, right, I just have to sit down and like write, right?) You are also saving us all from reading directionless, pointless blogs. Content generation with value, thanks Jay!

  • http://www.twitter.com/c_pappas Christina Pappas

    I love this list Jay – thanks! As far as metrics go, how are people reporting back to the company on these? Is the information transarent and openly available? Weekly? Monthly? What do you report on and how do you build momentum to create a tribe of internal supporters? Mark Schaefer wrote a blog this week about our blog that I think is a perfect compliment to yours because it talks about how we used the anwers to these questions (or you can see in some cases, we didnt ask them at all) -> http://www.businessesgrow.com/2011/03/06/six-ideas-to-get-your-blog-out-of-the-fog/

    Personally, I love blogging and starting out I just wanted to start typing and publishing. I would caution other bloggers and those aspiring to be to really try out creating a list of headlines to get an idea of a common theme and stick to it. You can always throw in some humor and personal experiences but tie back to the original theme discussed.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Hi there. Yes I read and tweeted Mark’s post. Good stuff.

      Definitely openly available on the metrics, company-wide. Weekly blog metrics are too frequent in my opinion, as you’ll get a lot of anecdotal whip sawing due to one hot post. You’ll probably want to look at metrics weekly or daily as the blog editor, but for the rest of the company I’d go monthly.

  • http://trafficcoleman.com/blog/official-black-seo-guy/ Black Seo Guy

    I say you should look at other blogs and see what there doing..and do your style around that..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • http://www.brandboost.co.uk Danny Blair

    Tone of voice is also important. Getting the ‘active voice’ working effectively is difficult for lots of people, especially the inexperienced writer and those moving from the more traditional PR arena where the ‘passive voice’ has ruled supreme.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Excellent point Danny. I’d love to see a guest post that compares and contrast those two voices. Interested in putting it together to possibly run here at C&C?

      • Danny Blair

        Love to.

  • http://www.jacobsmedia.com/blog Fred Jacobs

    Jay, great job on this. Two additional questions come to mind: 1) Who is going to read my blog? (You might end up with an audience you didn’t play on reaching, but it helps to have a sense of target reader when you set it up and when you write.) And 2) How am I going to spread the word about my blog? What other tools or communication avenues will I use to make readers aware of it?
    Thanks again, always great stuff.

  • http://twitter.com/LeoWid Leon Widrich

    Hi Jay, very interesting to hear you suggest that 5 is better than 4 and so on. I am not sure if I understood this correctly, but is this predicated upon the fact that you have more than one people writing and being involved with the blog? My feeling is that, when starting out as a blogger, writing 5 times a week might lead to quite low quality, if you are on your own and have to look after all the 7 other things you mentioned.
    Anyways, it’s just my view and would be interested to hear whether you think it differs whether your team is smaller or bigger. As a single blogger starting out, I feel 2-3 times really helps to balance out consistency and quality in a good way.
    What do you think about that? Hope you can let me know.

    I feel this is a great read and have just bookmarked the slideshow. Let me Buffer this post Jay :).

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      If quality can remain constant (a big “if” of course), then more is always better. Each post draws readers, both human and search bots. I publish 3 a week, and always have. It’s the most that I have time for and still be able to keep quality high. Lately, with the book tour ongoing until June, I’ve been writing 2 per week, and running one guest post.

      You have to find the right volume for yourself. That said, however, from a pure traffic standpoint frequency matters.

      • http://twitter.com/LeoWid Leon Widrich

        Ok, yeah, I totally agree. If one finds a way to get the quality up, the more the better for sure. 3 seems like a very healthy figure to me.

        Thanks for your reply, Jay. I will be back soon :).

  • Anonymous

    Jay,
    Great comments and recommendations regarding blogging. You mentioned that consistency is key and that having a thorough editor to make sure that the posts flow smoothly is essential. We are working on starting a blog and have a team of 12 bloggers. We are excited about the participation, but do you have any advice to maintain consistency amongst these 12 bloggers and their inevitably different writing styles?

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      I don’t mind different writing styles so much as I do inconsistency in how you do subheads, photos, links, etc.

      What you probably should do is get a sample of 1-2 posts per author. Then, have your editor carefully review each post and see where inconsistencies in tonality and formatting exist. Then convene a workshop with all authors to try to smooth out those differences a bit.

  • http://www.synecticsmedia.com Rosh – Synectics Media

    A blogging calendar is always handy. Understanding why someone reads your blog is important and be consistent – how often you post. These are my top three.

    I like your question. Once We Have a Blog, We’ll Be Able to _______”

    Thanks for the insight.

    Rosh

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      You’re most welcome. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.uncorporateblogging.com Tia Peterson

    I attended the summit but missed that presentation; I have a lot to go back and look at. That said, WOW this is handy. :) Really, this is incredibly valuable, so thanks for putting it together in fill-in-the-blank format like that.

    I think the readers question – who are my readers? – should not be an after-thought. And for many companies, they should actually (in my opinion) already know who their consumers are, and they need to use that information to create a reader profile. So they should be asking, what do my consumers want to read?

    Otherwise… companies end up with a heck of a lot of readers and no consumers because they missed the boat on that one.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Tia. I’m glad you liked it.

  • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

    Seriously good stuff!! I especially like: “After Reading, We Want Blog Visitors to _______, or _________” I think these sentence goes too often ignored. And such a simple thing to answer! So many clients of mine ignore their goals because they’ll just take it as it comes. But this is the biggest mistake. It’s sooo much easier to highlight those goals first as it really gives your site and content a sense of direction.

  • http://twitter.com/nuttynupur nuttynupur

    Very useful. Even though I have a personal blog, I can still use your ideas to get more visitors. Thanks !

  • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

    Jay: GREAT, thorough lists of questions to work through here! My recommendation… Print this up, grab a pen and paper and work through the answers!

    It can be really revealing to go through this as an exercise and well, it’s just plain ol’ good planning.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Ricardo!

  • http://twitter.com/jsphwesley Joseph Wesley Putnam

    This is rock-solid. Thanks, Jay!

  • http://twitter.com/jsphwesley Joseph Wesley Putnam

    This is rock-solid. Thanks, Jay!

  • Charlie Seymour Jr

    Great list, Jay. We always teach people what I coined as the “Universe Model of Social Media Marketing” and show the energy flow of the Internet and connecting with people through it. Blogs are indeed a part of that energy – a powerful part – but you must know your reason for having it before commencing.

    We also encourage people to remember that blogs aren’t just made up with words: video and audio can play an important role in magnifying your message and building relationships with people.

    Charlie Seymour Jr
    http://CreateYourOwnLegendNow.com

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  • Rob Yoegel

    Great post, Jay. Really good stuff that everyone should follow.

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