Produce regular content, they said… Blogging will get us more website traffic, they said…
And in some cases, “they” were probably right. But for many marketers blogging has been an epic waste of time that can’t be traced to meaningful conversions.
Even for those who found a niche and worked it successfully, there were ups-and-downs and lots of examples of experiments that didn’t work and content that isn’t attracting the right audience (or any audience at all).
It’s just not as simple as everyone makes it out to be.
Or is it?
Best practices form the foundation on which marketing experts can scale major initiatives and align their teams around business outcomes.
Blogging isn’t simply fire and forget. It’s a coordinated, strategic effort involving topic discovery, keyword research, storytelling, creative, copywriting, producing, and analysis; and likely several people across your team.
Best practices allow you to set standards, keep good habits, and consistently generate results with your content marketing efforts.
Combining these good habits with a solid inbound marketing strategy enables you to capture, nurture, and convert leads attracted by your content.
Content marketing effort without inbound marketing strategy is like a shark without teeth…always moving, always hunting, but unable to catch and eat anything.
In this post we’ll discuss how to combine blogging and inbound with a series of simple, effective “rules” to live by:
21 blogging best practices for 2020 and beyond
- Start with buyer personas
Who is your intended audience? How will you know if the content you’re writing is resonating with an audience that is useful to your brand? If you start by identifying your target audience, down to specific titles / functions of their roles, there’s less room for confusion or distraction once you’re actually creating content.
- Write for your buyer’s journey and plan to reuse content again and again
Plan your content so that it serves multiple purposes. The same blog post can be used to attract search traffic, nurture leads, feature in an email newsletter, and as a link-building magnet -if you know where it fits in the buyer’s journey. Extract value again and again rather than have older content get buried under newer posts.
- Target only one buyer persona and one lifecycle stage with each piece of content
It’s difficult to hold a deep, meaningful conversation with more than one audience at a time. Different types of people will approach a situation in very different ways and that makes it difficult for you, the content creator, to tailor your message for each. Pick one persona as your intended audience for the post and adjust your approach accordingly.
- Write to your persona like you’re speaking to an individual
Write conversationally, as if you’re speaking directly to a person who embodies all the characteristics of your target persona. Personifying your potential readers and visualizing a dialogue with them allows you to sense how they’ll react to your message imaginatively. This is surprisingly powerful, especially if you’ve ever had any direct interaction with these types of people previously.
- Research Google results and relevant search terms
Before you write anything, start with a quick Google search of your potential topic. Odds are very high that some amount of similar content exists online already. Are the top ten results examples of high-value content that cover the subject comprehensively? If so, dig deeper into your niche and find topics that aren’t thoroughly covered yet. Niche topics like this are called “longtail keywords / phrases” in SEO parlance. You can discover them with tools like Ubersuggest (free) or Moz, SEMRush, or Majestic SEO (paid).
- Research competitor content…and blatantly steal ideas (NOT content)
You obviously shouldn’t plagiarize or steal anyone’s content. Full stop. Reading their content, ingesting their ideas, making them your own, and improving on them is fine. Honestly there’s nothing wrong with even collating all the best information on a topic into a single comprehensive article provided you’re referencing and linking to sources. It’s better, and more effective, though, to add value in some way. Take this to the extreme to create “10x pillar pages”, as popularized by Brian Dean.
- Optimize each post to a specific search term
In my experience, the best approach is to dedicate each post to a unique multi-word phrase (or question), so that no two posts are exactly alike. Then try to incorporate that phrase (or as close as you can get) into the page title, headline, in your search snippet / meta description, and in the alt attribute of at least one image. Mention the term (or as close as you can get) several times throughout your post in a way that feels natural to readers.
- Share a combination of facts and unique opinions based on experience
Spend a decent percentage of the time dedicated to each blog post researching your topic online for relevant statistics, results of studies, etc. that can help you make your point. If you’re fortunate enough to have original data at your disposal, then make good use of it. Share your expert opinions, backed up by relevant statistics, case studies, or proprietary data.
- Write in short paragraphs of 1-2 lines or bullet-point lists plus short paragraphs
Short paragraphs of 1-2 lines are easy for people to skim. Just be realistic and accept that people are going to skim your posts. It’s fine. In fact, cater to it. People will read deeper into your articles and bounce less often if you do. The exception to this rule is bullet-point lists, which Google loves, and will often show in Featured Snippets. You can include a short paragraph under each bullet. Shorter the better…
Here’s an example of a Featured Snippet:
- Include up to 1 internal link per 3 paragraphs
There’s no reason to force this if you don’t have enough relevant content to link to in a particular post, but as a general rule, it is a good idea to use every opportunity to create internal links (up to 1 link per 3 paragraphs). Since blog posts are the foot soldiers of your SEO strategy, you need them carrying link equity (aka link juice) back to the strategic hubs of your content strategy, your pillar pages.
- Include an image every 1.5-2 pages of vertical scrolling
Include images frequently throughout your posts. Visuals like infographics, graphs, photos, etc. are great but if you don’t have anything like that, consider creating some with Canva. Otherwise, use stock photos from Pexels and Unsplash (both free) or Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, or iStockPhoto. It’s difficult to overdo images so try to include 1 image for every 1.5 – 2 screens worth of vertical scrolling space.
- Make a blog post only as long as it needs to be…but aim for 1,500+ words
Research has shown a correlation between longer content and higher rankings. Google fervently denies there is a direct connection. However, there is a logical reason that longer posts tend to perform better in search. Longer posts contain more information and Google does love information-rich content that answers multiple questions. They love list posts, Q&A’s, FAQs, and 10x content. Google loves long content. So combine similar ideas into longer form content, build out lists, and answers lots of questions.
- Write several headlines and test them on people you know
Your headline is incredibly important. In many ways it will determine how many people read a blog post and, as such, will affect the volume of leads and customers you attract. Write out several versions, approaching the subject through a different lens each time. Test your options on people who don’t have a stake in the success of your website or its content. Keep the most popular headline and save the rest to inspire the social posts you’ll eventually write to promote this content.
- Three CTAs is the perfect number for a blog post
Your first CTA should be written into the first few paragraphs of your blog post, driving them to a logical offer based on the content they’re reading. A second CTA, with the same offer, should go in your sidebar as a graphic. Finally a third CTA (either a graphic or a button), situated under the post content, should promote a bottom of the funnel offer (free demo, request contact, sign up now).
- Include social share and click-to-tweet buttons
Getting people to share your content on social is a challenge. To maximize your opportunities make it extremely easy to share your content. Social share buttons like ShareThis, AddThis, SocialSnap, and others are simple to install in WordPress (HubSpot CMS has its own native versions). Improve your social game even further by using ClickToTweet to highlight quotes from your posts for readers to tweet with the click of a button.
Here’s an example:
- Configure Facebook OpenGraph, Twitter Cards, and Schema markup
HubSpot takes care of most of this natively, so not much to do there, but if you’re on WordPress then you can install WPSSO Core (free) to optimize your blog for social sharing. Facebook OpenGraph and Twitter Cards meta tags control how your post appears in the preview embedded in a Facebook post or a Tweet. Schema markup helps Google know what to do with your content and positions you for better visibility in search.
- Write a compelling search snippet / meta description
A good search snippet should read like a book excerpt on a dust jacket, teasing the content and giving the reader a summary of its value. Usually there’s a paragraph or two in your copy that states the premise of your post succinctly (if there’s not, consider adding one). You can typically copy / paste this content from your post and tweak it to fit the ideal meta description length (this changes constantly, but I still shoot for about 150 characters).
- Write your headline for humans and your page title for SEO
It’s great if you can fit your target search term into your post title, but it is increasingly less important of a ranking factor, and any unnatural sounding language in your headline will be off-putting to your readers. Your page title, however, is rarely read and can be written however best optimizes your post for search. If your headline is “Top 10 Essential Marketing Automation Best Practices For 2020” your page title could be optimized to “Marketing Automation Best Practices In 2020 | Your Brand” and no reader will be negatively affected.
- Promote your content on every relevant network, prioritized by engagement
Promoting your content across multiple social, writing, and community platforms means distilling and repurposing your message into a variety of formats. Every digital community will have very different graphic specifications so Canva’s speedy visual editor and template library make it indispensable. It’s not always feasible to be everywhere online, so prioritize your activities to the networks where your target audience congregates. Nearly everyone is on Facebook. Not everyone is on Pinterest. You get the idea.
- Produce both timely and evergreen content
Evergreen content has been the lifeblood of organic SEO growth, historically, but that may change as Google has indicated being the first to break a story may be a future ranking factor. Either way, writing content about what’s happening in your industry right now allows you to get ahead of other content producers and makes readers want to come back more often. Produce both types of content to diversify your approach, increase your stickiness with readers, and appease Google’s evolving search algorithm.
- Write every day, or as close to it as possible
Writing is a difficult habit to create. Honestly, it can be pretty painful at first. But it does get easier quickly if you practice every day (or even every other day). It doesn’t matter if you can’t write for a long time. If you write for 20-30 minutes a day you’ll quickly become more productive when you write and more comfortable as a writer. And that will cause the words to flow more freely and to require less editing.
Producing content for a blog is time-consuming so you want significant return on your investment but it’s a competitive activity and actually driving people to consume your content is it’s own grind.
But that’s the reality. If you’re willing to invest into producing content you’re also signing up for the time it takes to design, publish, promote, analyze, and optimize the content so that your message actually impacts your audience and generates results for your brand.
Following these 21 best practices puts blogging on cruise control and streamlines your activities around a simple and futureproof plan. Focus on writing great blog posts and let the plan guide your content marketing efforts to success.
A little patience and a lot of blog posts will make all the difference…