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Where Marketers Go to Grow

December 29, 2014 // 7:30 AM

How to Create a Successful Blog Strategy: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Today, age and experience no longer necessarily determine your credibility. Instead, people care about your ideas, your generosity, and your willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes -- those are the kinds of things that can give you a voice in the conversation.

We've witnessed a blogging revolution over the past fifteen years, where individuals have become famous on the back of 500-word snippets or rants that resonate with some online audience. Many of the thought leaders of our time became well-known because of their blogs. But as more people blog, the quality of blog content is becoming more important -- and this is especially true for businesses who are blogging to get found on the internet.

It isn't enough to simply have a blog -- businesses need to spend time creating a blogging strategy that allows for high quality content creation so you can, slowly, build a reputation for thought leadership that will pay off big time in the long term.

Learn how to start a successful blog and use it to reach your customers by downloading our free ebook here.

It's the strategy part that trips up a lot of businesses. I've found that documenting your blog strategy is a great way to bridge the gap to successful execution. To help you get started, here's a nine-step process for creating a successful blog strategy for your business. Each step is marked by a question. Adapt it based on your business needs and experience. (And you can download a template to document each of the steps below here.)

How to Start a Successful Blog: Tips for Creating Your Blog Strategy

1) Purpose

Why does your blog exist?

What to document: One defining statement articulating the purpose of your blog.

Before you can dig in to the strategy of your blog, you need to clearly articulate its underlying purpose. Take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the greater purpose your company is trying to fulfill?
  • What story supports this purpose?
  • Who shares your passion for this purpose?
  • Is your team aligned with the meaning of this purpose?

If you can answer these questions with some clarity and then collate them into one defining statement, you create a powerful anchor for all future blogging (and marketing) decisions.

2) Buyer Personas

Who are your ideal customers?

What to document: A clear, detailed description of your ideal customer(s). 

Ideally, you'll tailor your blog content to people who might buy from you -- after all, your blog will become a great lead conversion tool. But who are these ideal customers? Once you can answer that question in detail, you'll be able to write blog posts that are better tailored to their interests. (Here's a helpful template for creating a buyer persona to get you started.)

Once you've arrived at detailed descriptions of your ideal customers, you'll need to research their behavior so you can adapt and tailor blog content for their biggest challenges, interests, and curiosities. But isn’t customer research expensive, you might ask? Sure, it can be -- but if you want to bootstrap it, here are a few places to start;

  • Question and answer forums like Quora, Yahoo! Answers, and Fluther.
  • Social media. I find LinkedIn Groups, Twitter Advanced Search, and Google+ Communities excellent resources.
  • Tools that tell you about other content being created in your niche and how popular it's been with your potential customers (at least according to social shares). Examples include BuzzSumo and Topsy.
  • Blog comments on other blogs your potential customers might read. What type of content are they already engaging with on other blogs?

One main goal of inbound marketing is to build trust with your audience. If you discover the information your customers seek and then become the go-to blog for providing that information, they will likely start to trust you. This trust gains momentum over time, and before you know it, that high trust relationship will bring your customers back time and time again -- and they'll probably bring their family and friends with them.

3) Competition

Which of your competitors have blogs?

What to document: A list of 5-10 of your closest competitors with blogs you could conduct a content audit on.

Do you want your customers seeking purchasing information from your competitors? This is a rhetorical question -- of course you don’t. But if your blog doesn’t provide the information your customers are looking for and your competitors’ blogs do, what choice do they have?

Try conducting a content audit of your biggest competitors. If they're ranking higher than you for crucial keywords, then write and promote better content for those keywords. If you see gaps in the content on their site, capitalize on those gaps. Try QuickSprout, Open Site Explorer (by Moz), and SEMRush Competitor Research to find valuable competitor information.

4) Keywords

Which keywords are you targeting?

What to document: A list of 5-10 keyword groups you want to rank for and their associated long-tail keywords you can include in blog content

Keywords let search engines understand what your content is all about. When one of your customers searches for a specific phrase, you want them to find your blog (or web page), not a competitor’s. But what are your potential customers searching for? You'll need to dedicate some time researching which keywords they tend to type into search engines, and then including those keywords in your blog posts.

Just remember: Google's algorithm is constantly changing and is becoming more and more intuitive -- and old tactics like keyword stuffing will hurt your ranking nowadays. Instead, marketers are better off writing copy that engages humans first, and search engines second(Click here to learn more about how to do keyword research.)

HubSpot customers have access to their built-in keyword and SEO tool. Non-HubSpot customers, I recommend trying KWFinder.com.

5) Distribution Platforms

Where will you distribute your blog content? 

What to document: A list of the platforms where you will distribute your blog content.

Rand Fishkin, SEO Expert from Moz, once quipped: "'I hit 'publish' for the first time, and everyone just showed up' – said no blogger ever."

I love this quote. Writing quality blog content is a great start toward running a successful business blog, but the hard part is getting that content discovered and turning your platform into an authority.

But creating blog content can be time consuming, especially when you aim to command authority in your niche with well-researched posts. One tactic I've found very useful is repurposing your blog content. Take a look at the content you used to write a blog post -- the ideas, research, structure, and stats -- and using that same information in a different form. You'll reach a wider audience and engage with people that may not have read your blog the first time.

There are many things you can do to get better results from your blog. Here are a few:

  • Take key quotes and takeaways from your blog post and schedule them across your social media networks, including links to the blog post. Even better, put these quotes into images using a platform like Canva and post them on social media.
  • Split up the blog post as a string of emails to your community, with links back to the blog post.
  • Create a SlideShare using content, stats, and so on from your post.
  • Create an infographic. This isn't as hard as it sounds, and all you really need is PowerPoint. (Learn how to create an infographic in an hour or less here, free templates included.)

(Read this blog post for even more ideas.)

6) Promotion

How will you promote your blog content? 

What to document: A list of potential influencers in your niche, as well as all the other promotional tactics you will use to get your blog content discovered.

When it comes to blog strategy, "promotion" simply means getting your content out there so people discover it, read it, and (hopefully) share it with others. There are lots of inbound marketing tactics for promoting your blog posts, but for the purpose of this post, I’d like to focus on influencer marketing.

Using an inbound approach to promoting your blog content requires a lot of deliberate effort up front. You need to identify key influencers in your industry -- people your customers perceive as credible and trustworthy. These influencers command authority in their field and provide access to authoritative sources.

First, create a list of influential people in your niche. Then, you can start placing deposits -- for example, if they have a blog, read it, comment on it, and share it. If they have an email list, sign up for it and respond to (some of) their emails with thanks, and encourage others to join up. If they have a book, read it, review it, and generously promote it to your network. In the words of Adam Franklin, “Lead with generosity."

It's important to remain in regular contact with your list of influencers. I schedule time into my calendar to place further deposits with certain people. Typically, this looks like a brief email message or a social share, but sometimes it might play out as something more meaningful. If you work hard on placing deposits you expand your network to a group of people that command great authority with your ideal customers.

Now you can leverage the combined power of an extended network next time you publish a blog post. Influencer marketing is just one component of my blog promotion strategy, but I believe it's the most important.

7) Headcount

Who will run your blog?

What to document: Exactly who is accountable for each role within your blog strategy.

You need to decide exactly who will execute on your strategy. As you can see from this blog post, there are lots of moving parts -- and if you don’t create ownership around each of those components, your chances of success decrease. Here are some examples of the roles you need to effectively implement a blog strategy. (Depending on the size of your marketing team and the skills available, you may find one person holds responsibility for multiple roles.)

  • Keyword research
  • Facts, stats and examples research
  • Copywriting
  • Editing
  • Strategy and editorial calendar governance
  • Creative
  • Promotion
  • Repurposing

(Learn more about how to structure a marketing team of any size here.)

8) Rhythm

How many blog posts can you commit to scheduling?

What to document: An editorial calendar and the number of blog posts you can commit to scheduling per week.

The beauty of creating a blogging rhythm and publishing that in an editorial calendar is that it’s not about frequency, it’s about creating accountability. It makes sure that every blog is optimized for keywords, CTAs and is developed and scheduled on time. This gives you a consistent stream of blog content that your readers can get in sync with.

Your editorial calendar should be designed to align with the rest of your blog strategy. I like to incorporate the specific promotional tactics, goals and resources required for each individual blog post.

HubSpot customers benefit from an editorial calendar built right into the COS; for non-HubSpot customers, here's an easy-to-use template for creating an editorial calendar on Excel, or instructions for creating an editorial calendar using Google Calendar.

9) Metrics

Which metrics matter to you?

What to document: The goals you aim to achieve from blogging and the metrics that contribute to those goals. (I recommend setting goals over a 60-day period. This gives you long enough to see whether your strategy is working, and allows you to then adapt and change your goals based on the results you experience.)

Traffic, likes, plus ones, re-tweets, follows, backlinks, subscribers… What do all of these metrics mean? How do any of them contribute to your bottom line?

Metrics are helpful, but they're pointless if you can’t track them back to a meaningful outcome. Perhaps the most important element of an effective blog strategy is accurately defining the goals you want to achieve. Here are three helpful questions you can ask yourself while defining a goal or outcome:

  • Does this goal help us achieve our purpose, or is there something more relevant we can aspire to?
  • Is this goal aligned with the initiatives of other parts of our business?
  • Which metrics track the progress towards this goal? Are these metrics complementary or counterintuitive?

Answering these questions will help you set meaningful goals, and consequently, understand the metrics that will help achieve them. There is no exact science to measuring the effectiveness of your blog strategy, but this process creates a direct line of sight from your activity to a desired outcome. Once you understand exactly how many of a specific metric -- say, a social share -- contributes to a specific outcome -- say, a sale -- then your strategy becomes more targeted. (Learn more about which blogging metrics to measure here.)

Growing an influential blog in your niche is a surefire way to nurture your potential customers. By creating regular content that solves the challenges of your readers and fulfills their biggest curiosities, you'll start to build a vault of trust and advocacy, which will inevitably contribute to the overall success of your business. Start with your purpose -- the big why -- and slowly unpack the individual levers that will contribute to your blog marketing performance.

Want an easy-to-use template of this nine-step process? Here's a 60-day blog strategy canvas to get you started.

learn how to start a successful blog

  how to create a successful blog

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