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8 Takeaways from a True Story of 800% Blog Growth

I love blogging. That’s why I’m excited to bring you the blog post version of my SMX Social Media Marketing presentation from the “Blow Me Away Blogging” panel.

“Content marketing” is definitely the hot buzz word of the year and while the idea of marketing content as the crux of your inbound marketing strategy gets a lot of lip service, I think many people aren’t able to execute on it effectively for one reason: it’s really hard!

Luckily, for people like me, content creation comes easy because I love blogging. For me, blogging is an incredible creative outlet. The very nature of a blog allows an author to tell a story, give their option, ask a question, or share knowledge without the associated hassles of any of the mediums that came before it. Before, we could only dream about writing a book or getting published in a magazine. Now, we can just hammer out 500 words on WordPress and click “publish”. It’s tremendous creative freedom. It should surprise no one that content marketing relies on content, but, as it turns out, blogging is the perfect method for creating that requisite content. That’s one of the reasons I love blogging; it makes big ideas in inbound, social media, and SEO possible.

Blogging can also serve as an excellent testing ground for new ideas. We’ve heard “content marketing” get thrown around 10 times per minute at every conference this year and it’s easy to want to pick that up and treat it like it’s the next big thing in search, but did you really take the time to ask if it was right for you?; If it was the most effective use of your marketing budget?; If you really understood what it took? Writing a blog post about a topic like that really makes you question your assumptions about that idea or tactic. You might have come away from a great conference inspired about new strategies, and blogging about what you’re now advocating is a great way to solidify your ideas and to determine if that idea is actually viable.

Finally, blogging is an amazing way to advance your professional reputation and boost your ego at the same time. Once you start blogging and start build an audience, getting engagement on your posts, getting shared, and building a reputation as an authority can be incredibly fulfilling. It’s easy in this industry to get lost in the weeds and never have anyone but your coworkers and your clients know about your success or your passion. Blogging allows you to share those things with the world.

Those are some of the reasons that I absolutely love blogging. However, not everyone feels the same way. It took me years to find the above reasons; those things that made me fall in love with the medium. When you’re trying to inspire your staff, or even yourself, to commit to blogging, you can’t just MAKE them realize how awesome it is. Days and nights of contemplation led me to identify three reasons that not everyone loves blogging.

The first reason is that blogging requires a great deal of creativity. If a blog post is going to be worth reading, you have to get creative with it. Nobody wants to read that 5,323,494th post on using the AdWords Keyword Tool for keyword research. If you’re addressing a topic that’s been discussed at length, you need to use creativity to bring a unique perspective to the table or present that topic in a new way. Alternately, you need to think of a topic that hasn’t been covered before. Either way, writing a successful blog post requires a lot of creativity, and that alone is daunting to many would-be-bloggers.

The second reason that not everyone loves blogging is that it takes passion. You must have passion for what you’re writing about or no one is going to want to read what you write. Trust me. When I began my career in search marketing five years ago, I was tasked with writing blog posts for a client…on termite inspections. Let’s be clear: I knew nothing about termite inspections and I have zero passion for pest control. I did research, consulted Wikipedia, read other better blogs on pest control and was able to put together a few blog posts on why homeowners needed to be on top of termite inspections. Those posts were terrible. Not because they weren’t well written or because they weren’t accurate, but because they lacked passion. There’s a time and a place for cut and dry information, but a blog is not it. Those posts were doomed to fail from the start. Now if you go down the other road and blog about something you’re passionate about, you can weave that passion into the post and people will want to actually spend time reading it. The trouble comes when your bloggers either can’t find what they’re passionate about or they’re asked to write about topics they don’t care about. Allow your team to find their passion and blogging will be that much easier.

The third reason is that blogging takes time. After blogging for years, I can now crank out a pretty decent blog post in 2 to 3 hours. However, if I want to write a top-notch post (one that could potentially get promoted to the main blog at SEOmoz or picked up by Forbes), I can spend 8 hours or more on it (I think I spend about 15 on that one). This may be the single greatest obstacle for would-be-bloggers who work at agencies and primarily do things other than blogging. Telling your team they need to blog without figuring out how to give them the time to do it is futile.

The creativity, passion, and time that are required to blog successfully can be daunting, but when you can overcome those impediments and make blogging work, you can blow minds at your organization. That’s what we did at SwellPath starting back in March of this year. We made the time, we harnessed our passion, and we applied our creativity and did that all consistently. Blogging had only ever been a secondary priority for us and as a result our blog traffic has been fairly static since 2008. Once we stepped up our game though, the effects began to really become apparent. After blogging passionately, creatively, and consistently for eight months, we set a record of more than 800% year-over-year growth for October. It was an incredible feat (albeit not sustainable) and it definitely blew the CEO away.

So, without further adieu, I’d like to share 8 major takeaways from our true story of 800% blog growth. I’m hoping you can take these lessons and apply them to blogging at your organization so that you can blow (blog) people away, too.

#1 Blog Frequently and On a Schedule

By putting out blog posts often and doing so on a set schedule, you condition your readers to expect your site to have new content at regular intervals. Ideally, you want people to keep coming back to your site to read your content. When we started to take our blogging seriously, we initially set out to do just four posts per month. That’s all that it took us to achieve some sizable gains. I’d recommend posting between two times per week (which is what we aim for now) and once per day at the maximum. While I could be run out of town for saying this, I strongly feel that publishing more than one post each day dilutes the value of blogging. How much attention can one blog post get when it’s only the newest post for a few hours? And quite frankly, I have never seen a site that’s been able to produce HIGH QUALITY blog posts on a schedule that frequent. Back to the point though, blog frequently, at a pace that’s good for your organization, and condition readers to expect new posts on certain days.

When I say readers, that’s not limited to human readers either. Search engine spiders read your content as well. They will also return to your site regularly if you’re publishing content frequently and consistently. I’ve seen a fair amount of sites that have seriously difficulty getting timely content picked up in search because the interval between crawls is days. They publish content so infrequently that it’s not worth it for a search engine to allocate precious crawl time when they’ve been conditioned to not expect new content on that specific site. Don’t let that happen. Show, don’t tell, the search engines that you’re site is an active, high-quality resource for new content. Then, you win.

#2 Incentivize Your Team

It’s not enough to simply establish a content calendar and demand that your team crank out blog posts. A little incentive goes a long way. At SwellPath, we give a monetary bonus for every blog post a team member writes. Having blog posts up on the site is an incredible lead gen tool and allows us to show our clients that we’re at the forefront of search marketing. The ROI of blogging more than covers the monetary incentive.

However, incentives don’t have to be cash-only. If you’re the person at your organization that loves blogging, become the advocate for it. You’ve learned to love blogging over time, so show your team why you love it. Illustrate how blogging can turn them into an authority. Show them how blogging is good for their career. Explain to them how blogging is good for the company’s bottom line, which makes it all the more likely that they’ll benefit during their next review. As your organization’s blogging advocate, it’s your job to show your team that there are reasons to blog besides money.

#3 Let Your Audience Do the Work

I talked about how the need for creativity is one of the main impediments to blogging. Well, why not let your audience take care of that creative aspect for you (at least some of the time)? The internet is rife with people just begging for an answer to their questions. Find out where your audience is asking questions and provide an answer in a blog post. Will they want to read that? Of course they will! Is there a chance that there’s a larger audience who’s also interested in reading that blog post? You know it!

Check out places like Quora, sub-reddits on Reddit, relevant communities & forums, comments on your company’s blog posts, and even unanswered comments on your competitor’s blog posts. Questions you find there are pure gold!

#4 Find and Exploit SE Opportunity Gaps (SE OGs)

Search Engine Opportunity Gaps! This tips focuses on finding opportunities in search that no one is taking advantage of. To get started, head over to Google.com. Start typing something, like “social media for” and before you hit the Enter key, see what Google returns in the drop down. This is Google’s autosuggest feature and guess what. It’s based on actual searches. Google’s trying to anticipate what you’re looking for based on what it knows others have already been looking for. This means you if you write blog post centered on something you see here, you already know there’s an existing audience for it.

It doesn’t end there though. Click though on one of those suggestions. In this example, I liked “social media for musicians”, so I clicked through on that. So let’s take a look a the search results. The first thing I notice is that none of the results on the first page are using the exact phrase, “social media for musicians”, in their page title, meta description, URL, or even in their content. That tells us one huge thing: People are searching for that phase and, while Google knows that and wants to return a great result for it, there’s no “exact match”! If you take that intel and write that post that Google’s looking for, you can bet there’s a nice spot on the top of the first page waiting for you.

#5 Leverage Google Authorship

For the uninitiated, Google Authorship is Google’s program centered on highlighting content authors in search. In short, Google has found that its users trust content that they can tell was written by a real person. On top of that, they’re also operating on the assumption that if you’re willing to vouch for your content by tying your online identity to it, you’ll be motivated to create better content.

To help people find great content and to incentivize authors (see takeaway #2), Google pulls in an Author Rich Snippet in search that shows off the author’s face, name, and includes a link to their Google+ profile. Aside from being an awesome ego boost for the author, this stuff leads to a more attractive search result, which leads to a higher click through rate, which leads to more traffic to your site. Authorship also serves to foster trust and supports branding. In the near future, Authorship will also have a direct impact on how your content ranks in search. There’s a pretty legit blog post over at SEOmoz on the topic of AuthorRank. Check it out. Also, head here for a full tutorial on setting up Google Authorship.

#6 Optimize Your Meta

99% of bloggers know that you’re supposed to include meta data, but is everyone doing it consistently and effectively? Probably not. Moving into 2013, there are three main pieces of meta data that you should be including with every blog post that goes out the door.

  1. Page Title: Yep, it’s meta data. You want your blog posts to generate traffic (which impacts the ROI of blogging, of course), so think of your page title as the headline of your blog “ad”. You want it to be catchy and compelling. Make sure that when a users reads it, it’s going to seem like it’s worth clicking on. If you’re focusing on a keyword for SEO, make sure it includes that keyword, too. Remember that the page title gets pulled into organic search, Facebook, Google+, and (occasionally) Twitter. It’s also more than likely that your title will be the anchor text that most people use when referencing your post. Limit the title to 70 characters for best results.
  2. Meta Description: Think of this as your “ad text”. The meta description field should provide a concise summary of your post and provide a reason to click. While search engines don’t use this element to determine ranking, it will still commonly appear in search results. The description also gets pulled into Facebook and Google+ when people share it. Limit the meta description to 155 characters for best results.
  3. OG:image: This is a new one! The OG:image relates to Facebook’s OpenGraph and specifies the image that represent the entity that is your blog post. Why is this important? When your blog post gets share on Facebook and Google+, a rich snippet gets generated, which pulls in an image. In some cases, the image you want to represent your post gets pulled in as the default, but in many cases the logo for your site, a CTA, or even a random Twitter avatar gets pulled in instead. Make sure you put your best foot forward by specifying the image you want!

#7 Include FASS Buttons

Fast Action Social Sharing buttons allow readers to quickly recommend your blog post with as few impediments as possible. If they’re logged in, they can Like, +1, or Tweet your post without ever leaving the page. FASS buttons should not be confused with social icons that link out to a Facebook Fan page, a Google+ brand page, or a Twitter profile. That’s a completely different end result. To learn more about FASS buttons, check out this video I recorded at 3am in my laundry room.

#8 Recognize the Power of the Plus

This piggybacks on the last point, but the power of +1s on your content cannot be overstated. A +1 is a very clear social recommendation in the eyes of Google. Accordingly, they’ll actually give more weight to page that have +1s in personal search results. For example, if you’re logged in and people you are connected to have +1ed a blog post, that blog post is going to rank higher in your personal results because Google has good reason to believe you’ll like it, too. For many of the sites we work with at SwellPath, we see between 20 and 30% of ALL search traffic is logged into a Google account. Don’t brush this off just because you don’t like Google+. Also, check out this post if you need more convincing.

We’re also seeing correlation between +1s and rankings in logged-out search. We published a post a while back about “leveraging Pinterest“. A day after publication, it was ranking on the third page of search results; a lot of people are talking about leveraging Pinterest, so there was a fair amount of competition. However, one the post reached nearly 20 +1s, it jumped up to the first page of results. We decided to take a look at the posts ranking there behind ours on the first page. The were all just as well optimized from a content and meta data perspective. Looking at link data, ours had 0 backlinks while the one ranking immediately behind it had nearly 500, the next had nearly 100. The differentiator was +1s. Ours had them; the others didn’t. Now all the data isn’t in on the impact of +1s in logged-out search, but it makes perfect sense for Google to factor those signals in, if not now, then soon. Be ahead of the game and learn to love the +1.

The End

So those are the 8 takeaways from our journey to an 800% year-over-year gain in traffic. I hope that you can apply some, or all, of them to how you do blogging. If you want to check out my slide deck from this talk at SMX Social, you can click through the slides below or head over to the full thing at SlideShare. Thanks for reading and happy blogging!

Mike Arnesen

Mike Arnesen - Director of Analytics & Optimization

A diehard SEO and web analytics geek, Mike is the Director of Analytics & Optimization at SwellPath. He is also a board member at SEMpdx. Mike's fascination for search experience optimization, structured data and semantic markup, and web technology knows no bounds. Beyond geeking out with SEO and analytics, Mike is also a prolific blogger, speaker (MozCon, SemTechBiz, SEMpdx, SMX, State of Search Conference, etc.), and company culture advocate. When not in the office, Mike is spending time with his wife, enjoying the outdoors, or keeping up with inbound marketing news via mobile; most of the time, it's all three simultaneously.

Watch Mike talk about his role and life at SwellPath

25 Responses to “8 Takeaways from a True Story of 800% Blog Growth”

  1. AdvDressmaking

    Wow, this is an intense post–I see why it takes you a good amount of time to write blog posts! I will definitely come back to this one again. I love the SEOG concept and will have to do some pretend Googling to see what kinds of phrases people are searching for relating to my blog…

    And yeah, blogging is great, like the old Blogger slogan, right? “Push-button publishing,” I think? It is SO cool that we all can be share information and create this community on the Web!

    Reply
  2. bloghandsseo

    I couldn’t agree more but I’m kind of bias seeing as this is what I do for a living. It’s great to see you highlighting the importance of Google+. I feel it’s a very underrated social network. It may not have the audience of facebook but the people who are on there are active.

    Reply
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    [...] these tips to accomplish blogging that that will Blow your Readers [...]

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