Why We Blog
During the pitching and sales process, good digital marketing agencies make a great deal of the need for good quality content on sites. One of the most accessible ways to do this is to use the “blog” format.
I know it’s not 1999 – the word is in quotes for a reason: some businesses are frightened and confused by the meaning of the word blog. Let’s take a step back to clear things up.
The word “blog” translates in some people’s inner thesauri as a whimsical stream of consciousness on some arcane nerdy subject or the salivating outpourings of celeb fanatics. In such a mind it contrasts with proper writing – journalism, white papers, columns, literature. So they just ignore them.
And those that do blog often abuse the opportunity by making them so salesy as to be unreadable. If you’re selling or simply promoting yourself online, there’s a time and a place for the big sell – it’s in your advertising and on your product pages.
Here are three truths about blogging for commercial purposes, which seem to be being forgotten in the rush for sales.
1. The Blog is a Means, Not an End
So let’s get the first point straight. The word “blog” does not predict the nature of the content. Its original coinage weblog has fallen into disuse but its meaning has not – a chronological log on the web.
In its modern manifestation, it’s easier than ever to create a website full of content because we have content management systems such as WordPress to help us. This gives immense power to businesses because anyone with a username and password can post on their behalf – not just web developers. When you think about the well of expertise every business can draw on, that’s a lot of opportunities for quality, original, first-hand content.
2. Blogs are Not Lightweight
A legacy of blogs’ early days is that many business owners can’t see past the idea that blogs are frivolous, self-indulgent diaries that aren’t to be taken seriously. They can be that, but they aren’t necessarily. Most quality news and business organisations have blogs.
If you want to remain outside the blogosphere, that’s your choice – but don’t let it be because you’re ignorant of the modern meaning of the word “blog”. It’s analogous with news, media and literature in the digital age, and it just happens to be online. It’s simply a multimedia outlet, and in the right hands it’s a magnet for web traffic and links.
3. ALL Online Content Helps with Marketing
But the most important – and apparently controversial – point is why we blog.
There’s an instinct among some business owners that there’s no point having a website unless every single byte of uploaded material is leading directly to a “buy now” button or some other call to action. That includes blog posts.
One of the problems we have with clients is that they often question the point of (or reject outright) blog updates that don’t transparently promote their products and services. Perhaps some of the blame lies with our own sales and account management team for not explaining the reasons we encourage blogging. But since it’s an issue that is raised whenever we speak with other agencies, there’s probably a wider misunderstanding in the business world.
If a blog post is engaging, interesting, informative, challenging, amusing, controversial, life-changing, diverting, or any combination of the above, you’re increasing the likelihood that it’ll be successful. And as it’s hosted on the company’s website, it doesn’t need to be promotional because it’s branded up and there will probably already be links to the products and services on the menu.
That’s why we encourage blog posts that give opinions, assistance and information on areas in which the business has expertise. It’s useful to people.
What’s important is that good blog posts are more likely to be shared, liked, +1ed, bookmarked, followed and linked to if they have those attractive qualities. Sales don’t have to happen this minute – they can happen after a trust in your brand, your values and your expertise has infused into potential customers’ minds.
Placing blatant cross-links to your product range rarely even delivers an advantage. Straight away it alienates readers and makes them feel like they’ve been tricked into visiting your site. It’s like being hit on by your marriage guidance counsellor.
Sure, there are times when blog posts can profitably link to your product pages, and a sprinkling of internal links are fine when the context is clear. But that’s not the same as saying that every blog post has to.
Let Blogs be Blogs!
Internet users are a savvy bunch. If they are looking for a widget they’ll know exactly how to find one – they’ll search for it and be glad to arrive at a sales page quickly. It’s our job as SEO practitioners to guide people to your widgets through search.
But the wider digital marketing campaign is a subtler approach to the same end. It’s ploughing the field for our SEOs to plant seeds in.
It’s a plan that works if it’s used with discipline and if you don’t take your readership for granted. Never assume your readers will take the time to read what’s essentially a lengthy ad, because they won’t. And they probably won’t come back. Give them something they value and you might win a customer for life.
“The grandfather of content marketing was probably Michelin when they produced their first travel guides over 100 years ago. Why did they do it? Many reasons but primarily to help motorists. The first copies were given away for free at book stores, local garages and places where early motorists were.
This had the benefit of introducing these pioneers to the Michelin brand in a positive sense. When they later saw Michelin adverts in papers or needed to purchase tyres, the fact that they recognised Michelin was only going to be positive.
Perceptions are crafty things. We perceive that The Guardian newspaper is more trustworthy than the tabloid press based on its editorial style and content. On some level, people exposed to Michelin’s guide had the perception that Michelin were helpful, honest and trustworthy. The utility of the guide meant that it was exposed in places where their “potential customers” were – places where advertising had no place. Garages could give away the guide. Car dealers.
In Permission Marketing by Seth Godin, he talks about the process of earning trust and the benefits for companies from growing that perception. An example he uses is that a doctor can prescribe us anything and we’ll follow their instructions because the level of trust we have for them is so great. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that blog posts can create that level of trust but your content can be used to get into places where advertising has no place. In SEO parlance that means “linky linkety links”. Journalists, bloggers and site owners want something that is interesting or useful and they’re not stupid. Linking to self promotional pieces damages their credibility, the same way that someone recommending bad restaurants isn’t going to be trusted for future dining options.
I bought a used car 2 years ago and before I did, I used http://visual.ly/car-people-how-buy-used-car (an infographic produced by The Car People). Admittedly I didn’t end up buying a car from them but I have a positive perception of The Car People based on this. I know they want me to make informed decisions, they’re not going to try and trick me. Get the price right and I’ll buy my next car from you. Bit of a tangent there.
James Flacks, Senior Consultant