Blogging is often the cornerstone of a great inbound marketing strategy. So why are so many people so bad at it?
In this episode of The Digital Exec, we sit down with Marisa Smith, Head Brainiac of The Whole Brain Group, to discuss some of the biggest blogging faux pas people make. If you want to improve your blogging strategy, then this episode is for you.
We'll cover topics like the four biggest mistakes in blogging, what to do about them, and how to fall in love with your corporate blog again. If you want to learn how to turn your blog into a lead generation tool, then you'll want to listen!
If you're a visual person, you can watch the video of our Hangout. Or if you'd prefer the audio version, it's available here. You won't want to miss this opportunity to be entertained by two professionals while learning how to improve your corporate blog.
Michael Reynolds: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Digital Exec, a marketing and technology insights show for business leaders in the digital age. I'm Michael Reynolds, President/CEO of Spin Web, and your host today. We're online at Spin Web.net, and of course this show is online over at SpinWeb.TV.
I'm thrilled to be here today with Marisa Smith. Marisa is an inbound marketing certified expert and Head Braniac - I love that title - Head Braniac at The Whole Brain Group. Marisa, how are you today?
Marisa Smith: Great. Thank you for having me.
Michael Reynolds: Awesome. Glad you're here. What is a Head Braniac?
Marisa Smith: (Laughs) Well, it's our fun term for the CEO, I suppose. Essentially, I'm in charge of running the agency. We have 12 people here, 12 Whole Braniacs who work for the company, and we're dedicated to helping growing companies with figuring how to generate leads and sales online, all that good stuff.
Michael Reynolds: Sounds good. You're an agency like us. We do similar things. Now, where are you located?
Marisa Smith: We're in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so it is negative eight degrees, I think. Wind chill factor today.
Michael Reynolds: I have spent a time in Ann Harbor. It's a great town. I'm glad you're here. I love our topic today, because I am a blogger. I love blogging. I love to write. I love the concept teaching via your blog. I love the topic we have today, which is four common mistakes that can derail your blogging strategy.
I just love digging into this, because I see so many companies make an effort to introduce blogging into their inbound marketing strategy. Some succeed, but some have failed miserably at it, because of these mistakes among others. We might get these matters to beyond just these four, but I love these four because they're very common. They're easy to fix, which is the good news, but not everybody really understands why they're problems, and how to fix them.
We'll start with the first one here: not creating a communication strategy surrounding your blog. What is that mean to not create a communication strategy?
Marisa Smith: A lot of people just dive in and start writing about whatever comes to mind without really thinking about who their target audience is and what kind of information they really need to know about in order to make a decision to buy from them. We find that a lot that people come in, and they're using it as news post or announcements about the conference they're attending. That has a place on your website, but really blogging is supposed to be about educating your ideal customer either so that they can make a buying decision more easily, or so that you can establish that leadership and expertise in your field. A lot of people just kind of dive in without any thought about what do you want people to do next after they read your blog post, what topics should you be writing about, what is your lead generation strategy, how are you going to circulate the content after you write your blog post.
There's a lot that goes into it beyond just putting 500 words down and chopping it up on your website. You can start that way to begin a good habit, but long-term, in order to make that blog work for you, you really need to think about focusing your blogging efforts, so that you don't spend a lot. Because blogging can be very time consuming. You could spend a lot of time writing without really getting an end results.
Michael Reynolds: Wait. You're saying your blog is not a place to push your products, and services, and sale?
Marisa Smith: No.
Michael Reynolds: What? Crazy talk. I want to hover on this topic for just a moment. How much does keyword research come into play when generating blog topics? I know with us, at SpinWeb, we do a lot of keyword research, and we generate lots of variations that lead us into really interesting topics. This seem work for you as well?
Marisa Smith: Yeah, we do that as well. We are HubSpot certified, so one of the things that we use is their blog topic generator. Sometimes we have our clients use that if they're having trouble coming up with topics to blog about. Obviously using all the keyword research that we've done is part of the strategy for them is really important to go after the longer tail key words, the things that you don't have a lot of competition for, picking a topic, and then making sure that you sprinkle those keywords in the key places throughout the blog. A lot of people don't even have their blog structured in a way that takes advantage of the SEO benefits of blogging. They don't put meta descriptions, for example, into their blogs when they post them. They don't use hashtags with a keyword in them.
It's really important to make sure that you know your blog is structured in a way that will take advantage of the SEO benefits that you can get once you start doing it properly.
Michael Reynolds: Yeah. We're HubSpot partners, as well. We love the tools offered. The new blog topic generator is actually pretty interesting.
Marisa Smith: Right. The blog tool itself, some of our clients are using Wordpress for their blogs and others are using the HubSpot CMS. The thing we love about the HubSpot is that it will highlight for you when you forgotten to put a keyword in, or I will show you how many keywords you've been putting in your post. It's got this nice little interface for reminding you that that is one of the points of what you're doing.
Michael Reynolds: Right. Thinking of the points of what you're doing that's a good segue into the next point, which I love as well, is not inviting the readers to connect.
I've seen amount of blogs that they might have some decent content, but at the end of the article there's no links in it, there's no 'call to action,' there's nothing to do. Okay, great post. I'm going to go somewhere else now, and you've missed some opportunities. Tell me a little bit about what it means to invite readers to connect with your blog.
Marisa Smith: You're right. A lot of people think when they think about how people arrive at a blog post, they're thinking, well, they're going to come to my homepage, and they're going to see the list of blog post, they're going to read a blog post, they're going to go up to the navigation. They're thinking about people coming in from the front door, but in fact so many people come into your blog because they have searched on Google for a particular, you know, the answer to a question, and they find your blog. If you don't tell them that there's other stuff on your website, they won't go and look at it.
One thing that we always encourage people to do is to make sure that there are next steps at the bottom of the blog post that tell people straight out what you want them to do next, so you know, "Read this other blog post that we wrote," or "Download this e-book that we've written," making sure that you're using that opportunity to point people in the right direction of what you want them to do next. Sometimes, again, people are really busy when they're reading your blog, so you have to tell them straight out, "Hey. If you found this interesting, please share it with a friend," and people will look at that and say, "Oh Gosh. I could click share up there."
It's kind of stating the obvious. It seems kind of silly, but we've found that when you do those things that it really does encourage engagement, if you remind people to leave a comment, as they what they think, it really does get people to engage with you a little bit more.
The second piece of that really is just thinking about blogging as a lead generation strategy. If you are subscribing to the inbound methodology, you would have a 'call to action' at the bottom of your blog poster on the side bar of your blog that would have content offers that are related to the blog post topic that you've got.
For example, our blog about common blogging mistakes to avoid, at the bottom of that we've got next steps to download our blogging checklist, which takes you to a landing page with a form. What we're doing there is we're getting people who are reading our blog to actually become contacts in our database, so we can continue to communicate with them moving forward, versus they come in, read your blog post, and close the window, and then you have no opportunity to engage with them moving forward.
Michael Reynolds: I'm such a nerd that I just gotten to a point where it just kills my soul every time I see a blog post with no 'call to action. It makes me feel, like, "Oh no!," if you're missing such opportunity.
Marisa Smith: Exactly.A lot of people don't put even sharing icons on their blog post that allow people to share those post really easily on Facebook and Twitter. It's such a simple thing, but people don't do it. Then they say, "Gosh. We spent all this time writing blog post and we only got five views." Maybe it's because nobody's telling anybody about your great content.
Michael Reynolds: Leaving these simple things out really hurt your chances of getting more visibility.
Marisa Smith: Exactly.
Michael Reynolds: It's definitely no brainer, so those are very good points. I love this next point because you talked about sounding like a robot. Now, I encounter this all the time. I encounter blogs that it's a corporation, a business that is attempting to generate traffic and awareness through a blogging strategy, but every blog post they write is just you can tell it's for SEO, you can tell it's just cranked out by some offshore content farm or something or someone with no heart or really inspiration behind it, but just kind of cranking out content. It sounds very weak, very surface, and that kills my soul, too. What is it that causes these companies to generate robotic sounding blog post, and how can we fix that?
Marisa Smith: You hit the nail on the head that a lot of times people, they take the advice about SEO too strongly, and then they end up with things that are four common blogging mistakes to avoid when blogging on your corporate blog, and they're trying to still kind of keyword stuffing, but in the wrong way. They're aiming to please the search engine versus aiming to make the blog post to actually helpful and useful to a real person.
Michael Reynolds: Right.
Marisa Smith: Really keeping in mind that who ... Again, I go back to who's your target audience, what is their paying, what information are they looking for? If your target audience is scientists, you may not want to use the word "dude" in your blog post.
Your tone and voice needs to match with your target audience. It also needs to match who you are as a company, particularly in service companies where what they're selling is their team or their expertise. We frequently find that people are trying to pun on errors maybe. Their content comes off as being stuffy or super professional, and then in person they're more casual people and they've attracted kind of the wrong folks that will be a good fit for their company. It's really a combination of making sure you're being authentic in your tone and voice, and then making sure that you're tailoring it to who you're trying to attract as well. You got to have both sides of the coin.
Michael Reynolds: I could not agree more. A lot of times this comes from a place where a lot of people don't understand. They really get inbound marketing and the content strategy, and so they say things like blogging is just basically throwing a bunch of keywords out there, and getting SEO, and it's not really valuable stuff, and they just don't get it.
Marisa Smith: Right.
Michael Reynolds: To me, when I write a blog post, I'm not even thinking about SEO, I'm not thinking about the sales and marketing part of it. I have to get in the mindset of teaching a concept that I want my audience to get because I want to help them. If you make that your primary focus when you're writing a blog post, it's going to be great. Because it's just as if you're sitting across the table from a client, and they've asked you a question, and you are giving them consulting.
Marisa Smith: Exactly.
Michael Reynolds: That's really what a blog post should be in my opinion. Would you agree?
Marisa Smith: I would totally agree with you. Yep. I think the other piece of I that I was thinking about in terms of the robot piece is that, sometimes in companies they've got more than one person trying to blog. They're trying to figure out what the tone of voice should be, and so instead of letting different people's personalities come out, they dell it down to the lowest common denominator, and then nobody's got any personality, whatsoever.
Like you said, thinking about yourself as a teacher, and using words that a normal person would understand, making sure it's readable to eighth grade level or below, not using a lot of jargon. All of those things are really important when you're thinking about, "What if I were trying to explain this to my fifth grader," for example. Thinking about the fact that your audience may know absolutely nothing about what you're trying to teach them, and you have to maybe go back to the fundamentals in some cases. I think that's really important to think about what mindset is the person going to be and who's reading the post, so that you can explain the right information.
Michael Reynolds: Yeah. This actually brings us to the point of being bored with your blog.nYou also mentioned here when you wrote about this. What causes people to be bored with your blog, and how do they overcome this?
Marisa Smith: I think especially for people who've been blogging for a couple of years. You start to feel ... At the beginning there's so much that you could educate people about. You can basically do a big brainstorming exercise and think about whether they frequently ask questions that we get, whether you wish people knew about us. You have a standard set of brainstorming questions that we use with our customers to get them to think about potential blog posts. Once you've hit all those topics, you can start to get tired of hearing yourself talk. At that point we frequently will recommend get a guest blogger that come in, or maybe get somebody else on your team to ... You could interview them. If they're not a good writer, start mixing it up with the podcast, or something like, just to mix up the topics that you’re writing about, and maybe that it's time to do another brainstorming exercise.
Maybe you've run all of those topics that you came up about a year ago, but maybe there’s new stuff that you should be talking about. A lot of times, we recommend this that people bring their sales team in at that point, because it’s frequently kind of the marketing team is working on their own silo, and the sales team's working over on the other side. You can get people on the same room and ask the sales team, "What is it that you find yourself explaining over, and over, and over again? What do you wish people would ask you about our company, or about our industry, or about our products and services? What are the common misconceptions that you run into that we could clear up with a few blog post? That can help get some fresh ideas into the funnel, and make it so that you're not a stale, I guess.
Michael Reynolds: Obviously, we're missed if I didn’t mention that somebody, these people say, "I don't want to spend all my time blogging. Can I outsource it?" Yes. You and I both have companies that we can do this for them as well. That is an option. I just want to mention that. For those who are blogging internally themselves, these are really good points to pay attention to, and really be aware of.
Is there anything else that you've seen in corporate blogging strategies that just, like I said, kills your soul, just make you, you know, crinkle up your nose and say, "Oh. Stop it. Fix this thing." If there's one thing that you’re going to fix, what's that going to be?
Marisa Smith: I mentioned that at the very beginning of where people think of their blog as just a mouthpiece for announcement and news. Again, I think there’s a place to sprinkle that in here and there, but if all people see on your blog is, "Hey. We’re going to be at this conference," and "Hey. We just won this award," and, "Hey. This is the exciting stuff going on in our company."
Michael Reynolds: Yeah. Nobody cares.
Marisa Smith: Nobody cares. Nobody’s coming back to your website going, "Gosh. I wonder what’s new at XYZ company." What they're looking for is, "I need to understand why I should buy this widget," or, "How do I choose between widget A and widget B." They’re looking to be educated. I do think why some of that stuff happens is because when people first started doing internet marketing, there was a different philosophy about how to use the internet to promote your company.
Now, with this inbound methodology of education, and attracting like-minded people, and all that, you really have to be more comfortable with sharing more information and not worried about the transparency that you’re putting out there by sharing this information. I do think that people sometimes, they get a little too protective, I guess, of their own information, and so you know you get to a blog, and it’s just kind of scans the surface. If they're not just talking about their news and announcements, they've got kind of fluff, I guess I would say, on the blog. A little bit of information, but not enough that you could actually do anything useful with it.
Michael Reynolds: Yeah. There's no meat to it.
Marisa Smith: There’s no meat to it, exactly. Sometimes it feels like a book report. Like they've gone out and done research on other people’s websites, and they’re just coming back and reporting bullet points of what they found versus actually showing their expertise, and showing that they understand the pain of the person who’s sitting on the other side of the monitor.
Michael Reynolds: You're not giving away all your corporate secrets. You can be copied when it's just marketing process or whatever content you’re putting out there. You can copy that, but you can’t copy innovation. You can’t copy what makes the company innovative,You can’t copy their culture.
I wish more organizations would let go of their fear and understand that, and really commit to either doing it themselves or allowing us for them to unlock all that knowledge they have, and share it. Because that’s really what generates leads and customers, because that brings them closer to your organization, while the other guys are, they’re keeping their stuff a secret, and you can’t get to know them.
Marisa Smith: People sometimes get really worried, too, about being too perfect, too. So on the other side of the coin, some people who are just skimming the surface and not really giving you any meat. The other side of the coin, you've got people who are writing pages, and pages of content, but it takes them three months to get one blog post written because everybody in the company has an opinion. It's got to be fact checked.
They maybe have four blog posts done, because it's been this gargantuan effort. It’s how to find that happy medium where you can churn out contents that's high quality enough that you may showcase your expertise, but without it turning into the seminal work on you know ... You're not going for a Nobel prize here.
Michael Reynolds: Exactly.
Marisa Smith: That happy medium I think is the toughest thing for people who don't do this all the time.
Michael Reynolds: Right. I agree completely.
Michael Reynolds: Well, this has been a real pleasure. Like I said, blogging is a source of great interest and inspiration to me. I think it's the keystone of many inbound marketing strategies. I'm glad we have a chance to talk today. I know that you and I are in similar businesses. We're both digital agencies. We both do similar things, so I guess we're competitors, but that's okay. Because there's plenty of room for both of us to help our clients, and actually we're going to be in the conference together coming up with all of other competitors as well.
Marisa Smith: That's right.
Michael Reynolds: I certainly don't mind hearing more about what you do in your company, who you help, who your target markets are. Tell me a little bit more about Whole Brain Group.
Marisa Smith: Our company has been around for 12 years now. We actually started off as a custom software development company way back in the day it was my spin out, out of the University of Michigan when I first got started. I did a lot of database programming, web programming, and what not. My passion for doing things efficiency and using electronic tools to help businesses work more efficiently and grow. Got translated into developing a couple of products, which then I got interested in Marketing. It evolved over the years.
Just in the last four or five years we've really shifted our focus into web marketing and website design. We do a lot of Wordpress development, inbound marketing support. We do some application design a little bit still, but primarily we work with growing companies who are kind of in that we're at second stage where they've set ambitious revenue goals, and they're trying to figure out, okay, I want to double my revenue in the next three years. How do I do that? How do I get the leads and sales that I need to take it to the next level?
A lot of times we find along with just the normal inbound marketing strategy that people really struggle with the sales process, too. They don't have a CRM. They've got the owner who's been doing the all the sales. There's no process. Nothing's documented. Everything is in his or her head. We really like to work with businesses like that who are trying to figure out the business process that goes underneath the achievement of those goals. We use a process called "traction" with our customers that helps them identify what their priorities are, and set goals, and get traction basically.
Michael Reynolds: Was that based on the book "Traction?"
Marisa Smith: Yes, it is.
Michael Reynolds: Very good.
Marisa Smith: Yeah. We use that book in our own company, and then we've actually translated that same system into our work with our marketing and sales customers as well. We use the exact same methodology, and it really is helpful to have a structure around our work with them, because otherwise you've got this bright shinny object syndrome that you were mentioning before we got started.
Michael Reynolds: (Laughs) Right.
Marisa Smith: By using a system like that you can say, "Look. We know you have this vision of where you want your company to be, but you can't have it by Friday, so let's prioritize everything that you want to get done. Let's work backwards, and pick three or four things that we're going to focus on every quarter. Check them off. Move on to the next set of things. When you get to the end of the year, and suddenly you've got a beautiful new website, and 55 blog posts, and a downloadable resource center, and all of this great stuff that you couldn't have dreamed of getting accomplished at the beginning of the year."
Michael Reynolds: A real pleasure speaking with you, Marisa. Thank you so much.
Marisa Smith: Thank you.
Michael Reynolds: Okay. This has been a lot of good information on blogging. I know they'll help our readers to have great ... Readers ... (Laughs) ... Help our listeners, and watchers, viewers a great deal. Whether you're viewing or listening in your podcast as you workout or drive, I know it's been very helpful. Marisa, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.
Marisa Smith: Thank you.
Michael Reynolds: Thanks everyone for joining us. Have a great day.
Tune in next time for our next installment of The Digital Exec, your source for becoming an expert in the latest and greatest technology.