In 2001 and 2002 I was one of the homepage editors at NYTimes.com. I led a team of editors and producers that published the day's newspaper online every evening.
Today I'm on the marketing team at HubSpot, where one of my responsibilities is this blog.
Since joining HubSpot, I've had to relearn many of the most basic things I know about writing and editing on a website. Quality content production is central to HubSpot's business , but it's a very different type of content production from the one I learned at NYTimes.com.
A lot of the small business owners and marketing executives I've spoken with since I started at HubSpot are learning similar lessons. They know that creating content is the best way to do search engine optimization -- to attract inbound links to their site and to improve their positions in organic (free) search engine results -- but they're not sure what kind of content to create. It needs to be different from traditional marketing content (advertising), but it still serves a marketing purpose, so it can't simply be traditional content like you'd find on NYTimes.com.
To help other business bloggers thread this needle, I put together this list of the five most important ways business blogging is different traditional content production:
(1) Engagement is the top priority. Engaged users are users who read your posts then react. They comment on your articles, post them on Twitter, or write about them on their own blog. These kinds of reactions are important for business bloggers because they dramatically expand a blog's reach. If you have 10 readers who read your post but don't react, you'll reach 10 people. If you have 10 readers who post your article on Twitter where they're followed by 100 people, you'll reach 1,000 people. Engagement is desirable for traditional media, but since their revenue comes from traffic, their focus is on page views and unique visitors.
(2) You need to measure and optimize every piece of content. NYTimes.com editors know what kind of traffic each of their posts get, but using that knowledge to inform editorial decisions is taboo. For a business blog, it can't be taboo. You have to measure the success of your content , then use that data to improve it. Here at HubSpot, I study inbound links, comments, conversions and visitors for every post, and use that information to write new posts that improve on each of those metrics.
(3) There needs to be balance between content that drives sales and content that attracts readers. At traditional media organizations like NYTimes.com sales and editorial are in separate groups, so most individuals don't have conflicting priorities. That's not the case for business blogs. Business blogs are marketing tools and need to drive sales. Yet in order to do that, they need to provide quality content without a sales pitch. Every business blogger needs to find the right balance on their own.
(4) Business bloggers must be flexible about style. Traditional media holds onto lots of habits about style -- in page formatting, writing and presentation. Don't spend time worrying about that on your business blog. Write your posts in the format that gets you the most engaged readers in your target audience. If that means using bullets and lists, do that. If it means long detailed prose, do that.
(5) You have to promote your own work. In traditional media, writers submit their stories and let their publication take care of distribution and promotion. That approach won't get you very far on a business blog. You have to push your own stories. Post them on your Twitter account. Post them on Facebook. Talk about them. The most successful posts on the HubSpot blog are often the ones where the author promotes it via his or her own personal network then dives into the comments.
One last thing: I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that there is one major similarity between content production at NYTimes.com and HubSpot. Both organizations are focused on goals that are much bigger than the numbers they track. NYTimes.com isn't just about page views and visitors -- it's trying to inform society. HubSpot isn't just about inbound links and conversions -- we're trying empower small businesses.
Without these broader goals, companies lose focus, and make bad decisions.