Editorial Content Manager, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience
August 5th, 2019
If you’re all set to begin creating content for inbound marketing, you might easily fall into a pattern of mistakes. Without the right coaching, you could begin writing content that’s overly self-congratulatory, fluffy, or glib. Too often, companies produce content that is well-intentioned but does not drive traffic or sales. Content marketing, when done wrong, is like any other poorly-executed business venture — it costs money and time.
IMPACT’s own Kevin Phillips, a veteran content marketing consultant, has seen many companies commit the same few errors. I sat down with Kevin to talk about blogging best practices, the 80/20 rule, and why the fact that your company sponsored a little league team does not make for a good blog topic.
John Becker: When I reached out to you last week about an interview, you immediately brought up the topic of blogging best practices and creating content that matters. So, to begin with, why is this on your mind and who needs to hear this message?
Kevin Phillips: It's something I think most clients come to us with when they start consulting with me is they usually fall in one of two camps. There are people who are just now getting ready to start blogging for their business and want to get off on the right foot, and they're a perfect fit for this.
The other type is the people that have been doing it for a while, they've been writing their own blog, but haven't gotten much traction. They're not ranking for any keywords, not getting any traffic, not getting any lead conversion, and they're definitely not able to attribute any revenue to their blogging. So they think this must be a waste of time, and then they give up. Unfortunately, they were probably just doing it wrong.
JB: So what's the common mistake that so many people are making?
KP: They're writing about the wrong topics. They get told that they need to start a blog, but not really what they should be writing about. So they default to what they know best, themselves. They make the content more like an advertisement of their business rather than things that are actually relevant and helpful to people they want to do business with.
It's self-promotional and it's really not helpful or relevant to the audience they're trying to connect with.
JB: Isn't blogging a kind of advertisement in a way?
KP: Yes, in a way. It's one way to get people to your website organically, without paying for it. But people aren't going to Google questions about your business unless they're already deciding whether or not they want to buy from you. Then they might do some of that research looking at who you are.
But in the beginning, when they're researching about whether they need these products or services, they're asking questions about problems that they're experiencing and things to help to make a better purchase.
If you're only blogging things like, hey, Bill just got promoted to VP of sales, or we sponsored a little league team, or we just received this prestigious award for business excellence, nobody online is searching for that. It's not helping you out at all.
They don't care about what's going on in your company. They want to know how you can help them solve the problems they have.
JB: What seems tricky about blogging is that you have to be able to show your expertise without sounding like you're bragging about your expertise. Is that a difficulty that people have?
KP: Yes. There's a way to do it that we call the 80/20 rule. You should be 80% educational, 20% promotional. Some people make the mistake of being overly promotional. Visitors land on your article, start to read, and then think this is just a promotional article for this business. They think, “I don't know if they really have my best interest at heart. Seems like they're really just trying to steer me towards doing business with them.”
On the flip side, if you are completely educational, with no promotional element, people will read your article and think, “great, now I need to go find a company that can help me with this.” They leave, and they might end up on a competitor's website.
You want to have that balance, and you’ve got to do it in a low-key way. The two best places to talk about yourself and be promotional is in the intro, just a little bit so people understand who you are, what you do and why you're writing this piece. Then, in the outro, when someone has read your content, and they understand their problem and the potential solutions then they're like, “well now what? What’s my next step?”
Imagine if a visitor sees that you can actually help them by offering other content or a webinar. That way, you introduce them to the idea that you can help. If you're too promotional, though, people are going to bail. Consumers want to be helped more than anything.
JB: We've talked about the difference between being educational and being self-promotional, but there’s also a difference between being substantive and being fluffy. Are there topics that aren’t self-promotional, but they just don't contribute at all?
KP: Yes. The content should be helpful for someone making a purchase decision. You have to ask yourself when you're writing an article, does it help someone while they're researching a problem?
You want to know if it addresses a question that you hear all the time from prospects. If prospects are asking your salespeople these questions, then those are questions that are important to the sales process.
I worked at a sleep clinic for a long time and the topics that led to the most leads and sales were questions around “what is sleep apnea? How is it diagnosed, how is it treated?” Things that were really about the disorder, getting diagnosed, and the possible treatments.
I did write some fluffy content, too. It was still around sleep, but an article about the best foods for sleep might be helpful, but it’s not usually going to get people to make a purchase.
JB: To wrap up, are there a few blogging best practices that no one’s doing and everybody should?
KP: One, write detailed answers. The question should be fully answered. You don't want someone to read a really short article and then think “that kind of answered my question, but I think I'm actually going to go back to Google and see what other people had to say.”
Sometimes people leave things out of their articles because, to them, it might be common knowledge and they wouldn't think to normally put that in there, but you really have to come from the perspective of the ignorant consumer. The person who doesn't really know much and you really got to tell them everything.
It might not all always have to be in one post, but there should always be links to other content you might have that can take them a step deeper on some related questions.
You also want to avoid jargon and industry terms. That was something I saw in the sleep medicine world when I was starting to write my content. Much of the high-ranking content read like doctors writing for other doctors. They weren't really writing for patients.
When the average patient is a middle-aged guy that's probably a truck driver or something, he's not going to understand what an “apnea-hypopnea index” is or what “cessation of breathing” means. Just remember to write at the audience’s level.
Finally, structure is really important. People should be able to land on your content and in three to five seconds of scrolling, they should be able to know if this content worth their time. A lot of that is by using headers, bullet points, bolded text. Things should jump out at me to make me feel confident that this is the piece of content that's going to answer my question.