We Audited 3 Years of Blogs and Learned We Knew Nothing About Content Marketing
Before I reveal to you my master plan to revamp our content marketing efforts, I need to give you some context on where we started…
I inherited our company blogs about three years ago. One was for a fifteen year old company that had been very successful at creating helpful content for non-developers learning about the Domain Name System. The second was a startup whose only traffic came from its fifteen year old big sister company.
For the new company, we were starting with a blank slate. So we wrote as much as we could and then watched the analytics to see what stuck. (Disclaimer: please don’t do this.) By the second month, I was writing three or so blogs a week and no traffic to justify it.
So we slowed down. Not just because we weren’t getting traction, but we were starting to run out of topics to write about. Desperation hit, and I hired a company to pitch me new story ideas every quarter.
The thing is, the service was an add-on offered by our press release distributor. They didn’t have any idea what our technology did or the kind of people we were marketing to.
That being said, I shouldn’t have been surprised when the ideas they pitched were all centered on holidays akin to “Take Your Pet to Work” day or “Last Day of Summer” with summaries that struggled to find relevance to our product.
Six months of made up holidays later, I found the calendar template they were using after a quick Google search for “B2B content marketing calendar”. I did not decide to renew their contract.
Since then, I made a promise to myself that I would only write a blog if it had purpose and benefit to my clients.
If that meant only one or two blogs a month, so be it. Better to create something that had impact, than to pump out a bunch of #&$% that no one would every read.
That worked for about a year, we were ranking on Google for our target keywords, our educational posts were reducing the load on our support staff, and then I hit another wall.
I tried to make up for the lack of new content by reposting older, successful blogs on social media, trying to garner more hits.
It wasn’t working. Our social media presence wasn’t growing and our existing followers barely engaged. So I decided to scrap everything, and I mean everything, and start over from scratch.
But old habits die hard. I quickly fell back into my usual process. I perused my go-to RSS reader and found myself stalking our competitors’ recent posts, caught up on industry news, got distracted by a cool slide deck… and realized I hadn’t learned anything.
Here’s the gist of what I read:
- “7 Thing You Didn’t Know Your ___ Could Do”
- “<insert cheesy pun that has to do with tech, but not what we do>”
- (my favorite) “Enterprises are Moving to the Cloud”
That last bullet I see at least once a month from a bigger corporation. In a nutshell, the piece is a 700 word corporate merry-go-round that never actually says anything important but drops one-liners like, “As the world continues to grow smaller with the proliferation of the Internet as an increasingly commoditized platform for all manner of business…” (source).
If you can get through that sentence without cringing, power to you.
My clients don’t want to read that &*$#. They are business owners, CTO’s, and technical support departments. They will only invest time in something they think will help them, like “How We Cut Our Load Times in Half with a Free Chrome Extension”.
I realized, I shouldn’t be looking at what other people are doing. Instead, I should be looking at what my users read. Their neck of the woods on the web where they go to learn and zone out during lunch breaks.
Step 1: Audit
I went to Google Analytics and pulled up the last two years of blogs by page view. I filtered out press releases, product announcements, and blogs I was embarrassed to ever publish.
Then I went on a short detour to delete those blogs and 301 them to something better. Woo sa.
I made a spreadsheet with columns for the top blogs, total page views, and then I broke down pageviews by source/medium. I color coded the source columns by social media, email marketing, and organic. I quickly started to see some trends.
Keep in mind, the company I did the audit for is a new startup that officially launched a year ago. Before that, it was in beta for about two years. Most of our user base migrated from our legacy product and new users were acquired primarily through organic search.
That being said, most of our user base is knowledgeable about the subjects we cover and are highly technical. That also meant we were also stuck with a relatively small data sample. On the bright side, I knew the numbers I was looking at were actually my target audience and the data wouldn’t be diluted by random traffic.
Step 2: Analyze
The top three blogs that did well organically did awful on social media. Actually, pretty much nothing gained traction on social media. I even combined our Facebook and Twitter hits just to make the numbers seem bigger. And that’s even with our legacy company promoting the blogs and a few bots and papers helping out every now and then.
So I went back to GA to see how many new sign-up’s we were getting from social media.
None. Not one.
That left me with two options, either go HAM with hashtags or pull back on social and only repost what worked. I went with the latter. I picked the top five performers on social and passed those on to my social media team to promote more.
I went back to my organic performers and found that three out of four were getting half of their traffic just from Google. They were informative articles that covered a single topic I had chosen after hearing confusion from our users in forums and in our support system.
Unfortunately, they did not perform as well in our email marketing campaigns which consisted of a monthly newsletters, onboarding emails, and product updates.
What did do well in the email campaigns were how-to articles that centered on optimization and “What Every ___ Should Know About ___” articles.
Are you seeing what I’m seeing?
Step 3: Match the Content to the Channel
Top of the funnel (organic) prefer informational articles that hone in on a single subject. While existing clients prefer content that can offer them immediate benefit.
This fueled my next idea which wasn’t a new blog, but instead a new campaign to push informational blogs on our company website.
I added relevant blogs to product pages aka: top of the funnel. Then, I added the top performers from my email marketing to my upselling/retention email workflows (retention side of the funnel).
Results on those later…. (still need more data)
And then there was social media. I still had no idea what worked, I just knew what didn’t. So I experimented. At this point, I had nothing to lose, which abated my fears a little bit and made me confident enough to try some new (maybe crazy) ideas.
I broke out my notebook and started writing down topics I thought our users would be interested in. And then I scratched everything out. It was all the same stuff as before. Then, I challenged myself to not write down any topics that had to do with our services or industry.
And there it was:
- Startup culture
- Explain [tech concept] like I’m five
- Remote working
People don’t want to have products shoved down their throats. If anything, that’s the opposite of what they’re looking for. They go to social media to relax, maybe discover something new and interesting, or accidently come across a solution to a problem they hadn’t been able to put into words before.
Now, our content calendar looks more like an RSS feed that someone in our industry might make. Every week we retweet articles about startup culture, industry news, advice for growing startups, and occasionally we offer some insight into our process. Like this coming week, we are going to post a blog about how we revamped our content marketing strategy ;)
Still no results to share, but stay tuned! Until then, enjoy these interesting takeaways we found during our audit…
- Article length (surprisingly) did not matter. Simplicity and directness did. If the blog is directly answering a question, make sure you summarize the answer in the first paragraph.
- The more complex and lengthy a title is, the worse it performed on social media.
- Don’t be scared to go back to basics. I didn’t think that a newbie would be likely to convert, but the analytics showed that educational articles that performed well organically actually led to leads. A lot of leads.
- Upsell with use cases and articles that make their job easier. The top performing blog overall was a guide that showed how you can use a free tool to make your job easier.