Brian Sun, Senior Manager, Content Marketing at Autopilot

Lesson 2: Grow Your Business with Blogging

Companies that blog regularly generate 126% more leads and build a community of raving fans. This is how.

Blogging helps you drive new traffic, convert that traffic into leads, and turn those leads into customers. The secret isn’t in the tactic itself. But in creating valuable content that meets your audience’s needs and earns their trust over time.

In this lesson, you’ll learn: 

Tips for a rock solid blogging strategy

Why is blogging important for your marketing?

The point of blogging is not blogging. It’s to grow your business by getting found online and establishing a brand narrative.

Key benefits of blogging include:

  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Improving search visibility and keyword rankings
  • Driving new leads to your website
  • Establishing your credibility as a domain expert
  • Educating potential customers who want to learn more (and will buy later)
  • Creating a content treasure trove that can be repurposed into nurture emails, social posts, sales engagements, employee training, newsletters, and more

Great blog posts can also fuel the growth of an email list, and are often the first touchpoint in a customer’s journey as they get to know your brand.
Contrary to more interruptive forms of marketing (like commercials and popup ads), research shows that 81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs.

Marketer Scott Stratten puts it like this:

I call it “pull and stay” marketing instead of “push and pray” marketing. “Push and pray” marketing is the old-fashioned mindset of pushing messages and praying that somebody’s going to buy from you eventually. “Pull and stay” is when you pull people toward you and stay in front on them, whether it’s via a newsletter, blog, or Twitter.

If it’s not already, blogging should be a core strategy for growing your business. Essential to a successful blog strategy is a consistent, methodical approach that you hone over time. At a basic level, start by doing keyword research, focus on optimizing page titles and post content, and commit to a regular posting cadence that resonates with humans and search engines alike.

How to come up with article ideas that get found online

Consistently coming up with post ideas is a challenge. However, there are a number of ways to listen to your customers and generate concepts. Here are a handful of strategies you can implement today.

Search key phrases in Google’s Keyword Planner. This tool gives you the volume of searches for keywords and phrases, and will help you nail down the terms you want to optimize for. Look for the right mix of volume, competition, and relevancy as you build your keyword universe.

Write content that's optimized for what people are already searching for.

The phrase “wine country” gets 6,600 searches a month, for example.

Blog posts with the target keyword “wine country” could include “The Essential Guide to Wine Country” or “Wine Country for Travelers.” Assuming they are written well with helpful and relevant content, both have a chance to rank organically on the first page of results.

Pay special attention to keywords with a low competition rating—you’ll have a better chance of showing up in the top results even if you’re still building up your domain authority.

Send a survey. Surveys are an opportunity to ask open-ended questions to get better insight into your audience’s struggles and curiosities. Here’s a list of example questions to include:

  • “What’s your biggest struggle with [insert topic here]?”
  • “What would you like to learn about [insert your expertise here]?”
  • “What are 2-3 questions you’ve typed into Google recently about [insert your topic here]?”
  • “What post on our blog has been the most helpful for you? Why?”

Make time to brainstorm ideas for posts after you hear back from readers. For the technology piece, SurveyMonkey, Typeform, and Google Forms are all free and effective tools you can use.

Ask customers for a 15-minute phone interview. Hopping on the phone with customers provides an opportunity to go deeper and uncover insights that might not surface from written communication or a survey response.

To set up a quick call, use this email script as is or modify it however you’d like:

Subject Line: 15-minute interview?

 Hi [insert name here],

 I’m [your name] and I’m on the marketing team at [company name]. I’m doing research for our blog by interviewing our customers, and trying to figure out what blog topics would be helpful for our readers.

 Could you help me out? I’d love to interview you sometime next week to learn how you’re approaching [insert topic here] and things you’re curious to learn about. It should take no longer than 15 minutes.

 I know that you’re busy running [insert their company here], so if now is not a good time that’s no problem at all. Just let me know either way.

[Insert your name here]

Document autosuggest results in Google. Open an “incognito window” in your web browser to search for keywords of topics you’d like to teach. Before you even push enter to conduct the search, Google will automatically suggest frequently searched queries. This’ll give you an idea of what topics people are already looking for, and help you choose keywords that meet existing demand.

The actual autosuggest results you’d see if you typed “how to wine” into Google

In the example above, the keyword “how to wine taste in napa” could become the title of a blog post that has potential to rank highly and drive traffic. See what phrases come up for your own keywords that you could spin into blog posts.

The underlying principle is to write content optimized for what people are already searching for. Or as Robert Collier would say, to “enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind.”

Hone your content sweet spot

Companies have a tendency to write about their new products, big sales or promotions, and other me-focused posts. Avoid this temptation to sell, sell, sell. Instead, focus on creating posts that are informative, educational, inspirational, and optimized for search.

Shoot for 95% teaching and 5% selling to position yourself as the industry authority. Doing so will cater your content to early-stage leads who haven’t bought from you yet. The way to win their trust and nudge them along the customer journey is to speak to their needs and interests in a non-salesy, helpful way.

Your team’s hard-earned and on-the-job learnings represent a gold mine of valuable insights for potential blog readers. Your blog is an opportunity for your company to teach these things from your place of expertise and experience.

To nail down topics and particular posts to write, you have to find your content “sweet spot”— the overlap of your team’s expertise and your audience’s interests.

Hone your content sweet spot

To find your own sweet spot, make a short list of topics your audience wants to learn from you, the topics already being searched for online, and topics you can teach your audience.

If you get stuck, pull from these high-level categories: 

  • Best practices: Share your insights from doing what you do. What’s normal to you could be mind-blowing to others.
  • Tips and tactics: Get into the nuts and bolts of teaching your customers what they want to learn from you. Step-by-step content is proven to draw people in.
  • Industry trends and commentary: Put a stake in the ground about your thoughts on an issue. Articulate your perspective with confidence and share your view of the world.
  • Thought leadership: Bring innovative ideas and leadership into your area of expertise. What’s the next big thing in your space? What have you learned that no one’s shared publicly yet?

Let’s look at an imaginary example of WineTime, a five-year-old ecommerce wine business figuring out what to blog about.

wine-time-logoTheir audience’s search queries: 

  • “What is the best wine to get my dad for his 50th birthday party?”
  • “What kind of wine will impress my girlfriend?”
  • “What wine tastes the best with filet mignon?”
  • “I just like wine and want to learn more about it”
  • “What’s it like working at a winery?”

WineTime’s expertise: 

  • Wine flavors
  • Processes for shipping wine internationally
  • Food and wine pairings
  • How to run an ecommerce business
  • The best wines for every occasion

Example blog posts: 

  • The Secret Lives of Sommeliers
  • 8 Irresistible Wine Pairings with Filet Mignon
  • How to Choose the Best Wine for Your Lady
  • An Inside Glimpse Into the Inner Workings of a Winery
  • 5 Questions to Ask When Buying Wine for a Friend
  • Do You Know These 10 Timeless Wine Facts?
  • 15 Must Read Wine Books

Once you’ve found your sweet spot (or multiple sweet spots), hone in on those topics by writing several posts that demonstrate your expertise from various angles. Link these articles to each other, credible external sites, and popular pages on the same topic. Doing so will be a signal to Google that you’re an authority on that subject matter, and will improve your search rankings in return.

Strategies to brainstorm compelling headlines

The headline is the single most important line of your blog post. You could have the most scannable, helpful, compelling body content but it won’t matter if no one clicks through because the headline is boring. In fact, 6 out of 10 people will share a post based on a headline alone.

Try these five strategies to create a title that pulls readers in, with real-life examples compliments of BuzzSumo research:

  1. Ask a provocative question. Aim for a question your readers are already asking in their mind or that makes them wonder. Real-life example: “What is Disruptive Innovation?” (26.6K shares)
  2. Pique a reader’s curiosity. The goal here is to help readers feel like they can learn something new by reading this post. Real-life example: “My Single Best SEO Tip for Improved Web Traffic” (9.2K shares)
  3. Use “How to.” The phrase “how to” is a proven trigger phase to people click. Entire websites like eHow are built around teaching people how to do X, Y, and Z. Real-life example: “How To Go Viral: Lessons From the Most Shared Content of 2015” (3.9K shares)
  4. Start your post with a number. Numbered posts convey digestible content readers can easily scan. Real-life example: “3 Unusual Hacks to Dramatically Up Your LinkedIn Game” (17.7K shares)
  5. Mention your audience. The goal with this strategy is for your readers to say “Hey that’s me.” Real-life example: “A Foodie’s Guide to Eating Around Chicago” (10K shares)

Avoid a spammy, clickbait vibe like “You’ll Never Drink Coffee Again After Reading This.” You don’t want to trick people into clicking. Rather, your goal is to entice them with value and intrigue.

Your headline is the single most important line of a blog post.

Not only are headlines catchy and help the user experience, they are valuable from an SEO standpoint. Your headline serves as your page title tag, a key onsite SEO element that tells search engines what your post is all about. It’s important to use search-friendly, long-tail keywords in your title because they appear in browsers, search engine results pages, as well as external websites as link anchor text. Moz has a great overview of title tags which includes best practices for optimization that take little effort, yet have high SEO impact.

Your headline can make or break the success of a blog post. By implementing one of the above strategies, you’ll have a better chance of drawing people in to read more.

How to write a great blog post

Okay, so you’ve chosen a topic readers love and learned how to write a compelling headline, now it’s time to get down to the business of writing your post. Follow these best practices to write posts that soar.

  • Write to your ideal reader. Your ideal reader is an imaginary person who represents your target audience. If you are writing about marketing, keep Emily the Email Marketer in the forefront of your mind. Or if you are writing for vegans, speak to Bob Who Shops at Whole Foods and Wears Patagonia. It’s like when you a write an email to a close friend, you know exactly what and how to write because you are writing to them as an individual.
  • Structure for skimmers. Use bullet point lists, short paragraphs, images, and clear headlines to make your post easily digestible and scannable.
  • Make your post search engine friendly. Place your target keyword in the headline and 1-2 times in your body content where it makes logical sense and is helpful for your readers. Also include your keyword in the URL, meta description, and title using a plugin like Yoast SEO for WordPress.
  • Proofread before going live. Run your post by a second set of eyes to catch grammar mistakes, find places to expand content, and hear general feedback about the direction of your post.

Most of all, aim for quality posts that include helpful and relevant content for the specific needs of your target audience. Quality beats quantity in blogging.

How to approach blogging as a team

Blogging, at its best, is a team effort. If the responsibility for ideating, creating, editing, and promoting every post falls into the hands of one individual, then quality will suffer.

A single blog editor can drive the editorial process, but your team’s collective knowledge will provide the most value to your readers.

Here are practical ways your team can chip in: 

  • Ask your teammates to blog regularly. If four of your teammates wrote once a month, that’s a post a week taken off your plate with a different perspective featured on your blog.
  • Interview subject matter experts who are too busy to write. You can write the post on their behalf and ask them to review it before it goes live. There’s no such thing as talker’s block, after all.
  • Hire outside writers. Don’t have the luxury of adding more to your plate or don’t have a marketing person with writing chops on your team? Consider hiring a writer through your existing network or use a service like Scripted to create posts for your company. Both are temporary solutions until you’re able to increase headcount and bring on an in-house content marketer to own your blogging efforts.
  • Win guest bloggers. Reach out to like-minded bloggers in your industry, and ask them to share their insights with your community. Better yet, arrange a guest blogging relationship where you regularly swap posts. It’s an easy way to get in front of each other’s audiences and build domain authority for your website.

Blogging doesn’t have to be solo. Approaching the work as a team is the best path forward.

Choose a results or schedule-based writing system

Your schedule is already packed—hustling to hit your company’s quarterly lead goal, helping out with this month’s newsletter, and writing copy for that new landing page. With so much to do, blogging requires a plan to get it done.

Here are two models to choose from: 

  1. A results-oriented plan says, “I’m going to publish three blog posts a week, whatever it takes.” This works well for people who hate scheduling and love working on the fly.
  2. A schedule-based plan says, “I’m going to block out these chunks of time to write and see what I can get done.”

Example blogging schedule

The work of researching, drafting, editing, publishing, and promoting is spread out over four hours and four days. Multiply this by the number of posts you’re shooting for each week.

If you have the resources, consider bringing on a full-time editor who can meet a weekly post quota or dedicate a significant portion of their time to blogging.

Commit to a minimum number of high-quality posts a week

There is a lot of noise on the internet. In fact, a MarketingProfs study found that the output of content per brand has increased by 78%. But all of this extra content doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good content.

The way to cut through the information overload is to write insanely valuable, high-quality posts. And the more, the better. Benchmark research finds that companies who publish 16+ blog posts per month get almost 3.5X more traffic compared to companies who publish between 0-4 posts.

Pumping out that much content takes a large amount of resources.

So if you’re new to blogging, start with two posts a week. Turn up the dial to 16+ per month as soon as you can for exponential indexed search traffic, but never forsake quality. As Copyblogger says, “Writing one epic post per week is a better long-term strategy than writing mediocre content every day.”

Companies who publish 16+ blog posts per month get almost 3.5x more traffic.

In terms of length, Medium’s research suggests that the optimum word count is 1,600 words to maximize audience engagement while Orbit Media concludes that a 1,500 word count is the best length for ranking in search engines. Hover around those two as a baseline, but throw in varied lengths to see what drives the most engagement for your specific audience.

Further resources

Your blog is the perfect space to share what you care about, build a community of raving fans, and generate a steady stream of new leads. With the above strategies, you now have everything you need to sit down and get to writing.

If you’re interested in going deeper with your blogging efforts, we recommend the following resources:

Next Lesson

Lesson 3: Convert with Gated Content

Gated content incentivizes lead generation. Using them strategically is your path to bonus conversions. Gated content is any piece of high-value content, like an ebook or video, given in exchange ...

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