How to make your corporate blog less ugggghhhhh

Chances are, no one reads your corporate blog. You can confirm this using analytics.

If you confirm that no one is reading, we’re here to help with this awesome guide on how to make a blog people will want to read.

This isn’t a “10 top tips” quickie blog post because you’re simply not going to learn enough from a post like that. Consider this a free consulting session. Creating good content that people want to read is not an easy checklist anyone can accomplish (particularly not if you’re only willing to invest five minutes here and there to learning how!). –> If you don’t have more than five minutes right now to read this post, save it and read it later, or pay someone else to read it for you. Pay me to read it for you. Just kidding. That would be extraneous. 

Alright, let’s get started.

First, do you have a clear, quick answer to why you would start a blog in the first place?

If the only reason you can think of is “for search engine optimization results,” there’s a good chance that you’re wasting money. The only way your efforts could be profitable is if:

  1. you have hired someone to do highly skilled research on keywords and key phrases for which your target demographic are already searching to find companies just like yours,
  2. the blog content then immediately answers the keyword search need, so the reader doesn’t bounce off your page,
  3. then the content directs the reader to how and why to buy from you.

If your blog does not have a sophisticated but easy-to-explain content strategy, just stop. You’d probably get a higher ROI buying office holiday decorations that cheer your employees, because happy employees perform better.

If you’re not sure that your content strategy is able to get your blog qualified blog readers, then either you do not have a content strategy or the people you’ve hired to make your content strategy do not understand content strategy well enough that they’ve been able to explain it to you. It should be super easy to understand and should sound something like:

“We used at least two industry standard tools to find out that your target market are using these keyword phrases to find companies like yours. [Shows you keyword phrases.] We think that they’re searching this because they want [problem] solved. So, we’re going to write a blog post using these same keyword phrases. It’s going to be about [subject] and it’s going to immediately engage them by [short list of strategies, one of which might be intriguing or funny blog title]. Then it’s going to point to their problem. Then, we’re going to explicitly explain what they should do next. We’re going to track results using [tool of analysis].”

Unless your website already has an awesome Alexa ranking, you’re going to want to monitor the results of this SEO effort for 4-6 months before you can really know how worthwhile this was.

Yeah, it’s a big job. It’s expensive. It’s a lot of work. But if you have major competitors and a lot of online buyers, it’s a necessary expense.

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The best way to feel better about this effort and expense is to integrate other motivations into your blogging strategy.

Other good reasons to write a blog: 

  • You want to establish your credibility in your field. Maybe you’re newish at what you’re doing and you plan to say to sales prospects, “If you want to get an idea of who we are, what we do, and how much we know about how to do it right, see our company blog. We’ve written some posts that should be of direct interest to you. I can send you links to the ones I think you’ll most be able to use.” When informing the public is your WHY, you’ll write your content with a clear goal and client in mind, which will increase the likelihood that your content will be good.
  • You want to help someone with something. Helping others with their problems leads to reciprocity, where they feel compelled to return the favour, even if they didn’t ask for it in the first place. The key is to do a really good job.
  • You want to stop wasting time repeating the same things over and over. You find yourself repeating some things often and you want to write them somewhere, creating a resource library you can link to.

Secondly, the title should be long-ish, specific, attention-grabbing, and NOT CLICKBAITY. 

Years ago, bloggers in-the-know were writing posts with titles like “5 ways to [not suck at that thing you’re doing]” and “10 top ways to [be ridiculously successful in ways that sound too good to be true]”. Putting a number first in the title (even though this is improper according to every academic writing style guide) resulted in better click-throughs. HubSpot has written a blog post that includes this tip, and several others, all of which make me skeptical for two reasons:

1. They’re only using their own click-through results on the post to prove that these are good strategies. They’re not doing A/B testing on different titles for the same post. Maybe if “7 ways your website sucks” was instead, “How to make a website that even your grandma knows is ballin'”, this would get better click-through results. They don’t know, because they didn’t test it. Maybe they should have 50,000 clicks on their post, and not 19,000. We have zero context from them on how meaningful these click rates are. I know that when I hear “how to,” I’m expecting something more comprehensive and useful than seven quick tips.

2. HubSpot is seen as a major expert already and their content is just recycled by tons of smaller entrepreneurs trying to do what they do. There are approximately a bazillion-yawntrillion people on Twitter who are “ninjas” and “experts” and “mavens” who can “explode” your business by getting you vague “results” and too many of them don’t really create original content. They are looking for good links to retweet. If they are at least halfway decent, they will click on HubSpot’s links to read the content before they retweet it, and this could be accounting for a not-insignificant number of HubSpot’s stats. How much of HubSpot’s click rates are boosted by mediocre dudes with no clients and no experience just looking to share content they wouldn’t know how to create on their own?

I have no proof for what I’m about to say—just the anecdotal experience of a few, namely myself:

These vague, formulaic, exaggerated, number-first “tips” and “tricks” and “hacks” blog titles need to die by a swift plague. 

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I have been a voracious consumer of internet content and a blogger since 2007. These sorts of blog titles used to get my click-through years ago. They sounded juicy, to-the-point, and promised results. Who doesn’t love that?

Then everyone started using this formula, including people with crap content. And because I’m at least an averagely intelligent person, my brain eventually picked up on the pattern long ago that these titles usually mean recycled, vague, crap content. I stopped clicking. I recently noticed that my brain has learned to entirely ignore content with titles like this, and I read a minimum of five articles a day, every day. So does my business and life partner Lynne, so does our son. We’re a family of voracious readers with a morning newspaper, afternoon newspaper, evening newspaper, and right-before-bedtime newspaper that is the internet. We’re not reading these formulaic blog posts.

Which causes me to wonder who is?

If educated, intelligent people—people who, according to Freakonomics‘ economics are the ones making the most money—are not reading these posts, then the people with money aren’t listening, and therefore are not buying.

Two years ago, my friend Tracy vented on Facebook about these blog titles and I replied that bloggers use these titles because they’ve been proven to work. But I now think that they only work with a less sophisticated or web-savvy audience. You’ve seen the articles with links at the bottom assuring you that, “You won’t believe where these child stars are now!” Then the first photo attached to the post that attracts your interest turns out to be either the last in a series of twenty slides you have to click through with three ads popping up each slide, or the person and photo they showed as the example of interest wasn’t even included! You only need to click on this garbage once to learn your lesson, if you’re a quick study.

So, what kind of content do smart people read?

I try to surround myself with people smarter/more educated/more successful than me because that’s my “life hack”. If the people I’m friends with are smart, they naturally curate for me content that can teach me, content that is vetted and not bogus. Having friends who are university professors and who actively use Facebook is the laziest way to learn and it’s awesome. The most common Facebook account followed by my friends is The New York Times, and their articles get the most shares by my friends. They read journalism, they read Medium, and these blogs or articles don’t use gimmicky titles. The articles are often long, with titles that tell you in advance what the content is about, and yet people who are busy making bank are reading these long articles. Interesting, right?

Also, if you look at the most successful “10-best-tips-and-tricks” content creators, their content is often fairly lengthy. Long copy sells because it’s read by people who are committed. You want committed buyers. One quality lead is better than ten users with short attention spans.

So, my gut instinct is telling me that if you want to target people who have money to spend, you want to target educated people who like to read, and you want to create quality content with original-sounding titles that honestly reflect the quality of your content. If I don’t want to click on it and my friends don’t want to click on it, I don’t think the title strategy is working anymore.

You want to be ahead of the trends, not implementing something that people were doing eight years ago.

Thirdly, write good content for the sake of accomplishing a clear “why”, and not for the sake of writing it.

It’s so crucial to repeatedly ask, after every sentence, “Why would anyone care about this?” Put yourself in the shoes of a total stranger who is not as concerned with your profit and your ideas as you are. You are just noise to them. So you have to be amazing at empathy, figuring out what they care about and speak only to it.

Fourthly, once you’ve written the content, edit it like a psychopath. William Faulkner said that you need to “kill your darlings”—the bits of writing that you think are so poetic or witty, or the anecdotes or accomplishments you want to share. You have to be willing to cut them mercilessly, asking “Why is this necessary? What is my point? Why does anyone need to know this?” Imagine that your writing is someone else’s. If, at the end of your editing, their hypothetical feelings are a bit bruised, you’ve done a good job. (It takes a while for writers to readily welcome edits to their work. Until then, it’s pretty painful, universally. So, if editing your own writing isn’t painful, you’re probably not being ruthless enough.)

kill-your-darlings

When I’m editing client work, every word is put on the stand and cross-examined:

  1. So what?
  2. But, specifically, what do you mean? What are tangible examples?
  3. Why are you using three words to say one? Why are you saying “utilize” instead of “use”?
  4. Why are we repeating the same word so often when Thesaurus.com is a thing? Let’s use it.
  5. So what?
  6. But, really, SO WHAT?

“So what” is so useful. Whatever the response is, that’s usually what the writing should have said in the first place.

(Don’t worry, I find nicer ways to ask these questions when dealing with clients.)

Lastly, you’re allowed to be a human person in your corporate blog. Your corporation is allowed to sound like a human person. Didn’t Mitt Romney clear that up for us? Corporations are people too?

A blog is not a white paper, it’s not your home page, it’s not a press release. You can make it formal if you want, but remember that it started as a personal journal space and it’s been popularized by oversharing mommy bloggers. It’s okay to be a little more “company barbeque” on your blog: you don’t want to get sloshed, you don’t want to do an Elaine Benes dance all over the page, but you don’t show up wearing a suit, either.

A blog is a fantastic place to talk about mistakes that have been made and what the company’s learned and how they’ll correct them. It’s a great place to talk about internal accomplishments. Do you have favourite tools that your company uses that you can pass along in a blog post? Be generous.

Sharing valuable content less often just might be better than garbage content several times a week.

If you need help creating content, or editing it, Risk Creative can help.

Natasha Clark, Partner at Risk Creative. Republication is welcome only with attribution and a direct link to http://www.riskcreative.com. Thank you in advance for good behaviour. 🙂

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