From blogging basics to readership and content marketing SEO, Versio2 explains why article writing is one of the ‘leanest’ ways to attract new leads.

What does the word blogging mean to you? Do you think of online diaries, musings written up as posts, as “web logging” once was? Or are you thinking of something every business – be it B2C or B2B – should consider as a communication channel? Business blogging has come a long way since its early days, and is a term that has become part of the content marketer’s standard vernacular.

The Basics: Business Blogging What & Why

Web logging still exists as it always has, especially on sites such as Blogger, Tumblr (technically microblogging) and WordPress, where you can find an estimated 200 million blogs (Blogging.com) on anything from cats in hats to citizen journalism of varying quality, all read at least monthly by around 55% of internet users (eMarketer).

The medium has certainly matured, with many traditional publishers now blurring the once-distinct line between blogs and news outlets. Most major news outlets also run blogs, alongside their online news pages, the difference being format, tone and perspective. 

As Versio2 Managing Director Stephan Burckhardt writes in Lean Marketing – A Guide for Executives:

“It is widely known that news sources provide content, but the public has become suspicious of its neutrality and reliability. Thus news providers are shifting from traditional journalism to info-tainment and a reliance on corporate PR instead of primary sources. In comes blogging.”

According to a HubSpot 2013 report, 25% of blogs run by EMEA businesses were developed in the past seven to ten months. This tells us that an increasing number of businesses now run a corporate blog as way to inform readers, make announcements, share links to other relevant content and influence Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) through the use of keywords.

As Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at Marketing Profs, puts it so well:

“A blog is a great way to connect more deeply with your existing or would-be customers, build a community around your business, give a human personality and ‘voice’ to an organisation, evolve your business and relationships in sometimes unexpected or surprising ways, and yes, drive sales.”

Many companies only take their blogs as far as informing readers, without thinking about how a blog can actually work for them. Within the context of inbound, content and lean marketing, this is a missed opportunity – blogging is a means to not only inform and build an engaged readership, but also generate leads and drive sales.

Blogging for sales does work. Last year, 39% of European companies surveyed by HubSpot said they’d acquired customers through blogging. 49% said they’d acquired sales through social media channels, which are often fuelled by syndicated links to blog articles. It’s also a more cost-effective marketing technique – 25% of European marketers report below average cost per leads from blogging.

How Does Blogging Generate Leads?

The power of blogging can be seen as two-fold, and differs whether you’re catering for consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B):

1. Readership

This is the traditional goal of blogging as a publishing medium, that is, to establish a readership or a community of avid content digesters. This is something we see a lot of in B2B blogging and the emergence of “thought leaders” and industry influencers.

For example, Google’s Head of Web Spam and all-round SEO guru Matt Cutts runs his own, presumably Google-approved, blog, which many SEO professionals and online marketers keep an eye on. Readership in this space tends to consist of professionals wishing to stay up-to-date on relevant industry news, or the latest trends and thoughts from people they respect. As these blogs tend to be very niche, thought leaders can emerge out of relatively small, yet influential companies.

In the realm of B2C, consumer influencers tend to exist within larger organisations, in the content spaces where consumers would naturally be anyway. For example, the review sections of online newspapers and magazines, from which personalities have since emerged, such as The Guardian and its expansive selection of blogs – Ask Jack regularly answers technology questions, while Jonathon Jones could probably improve an art gallery’s attendance just by mentioning its exhibitions. 

The success of these blogs relies on the fact that there’s already an existing flow of readers to the standard Guardian.com pages, who can then be directed toward blogs where writers have the freedom to let a bit of personality shine through, and in doing so, build their own personal brand for the Guardian’s benefit. 

You don’t have to be an internationally-respected newspaper to influence consumers, but you do have to think in terms of personal branding if you want to build a loyal following.

The advent of YouTube has meant many enthusiasts have built a name for themselves by posting video product reviews, a form of video blogging, or vlogging. How many times have you watched a video when considering a new smartphone? Technology manufacturers in particular, or rather their PRs, have taken notice of this. 

Marques Brownlee – just one man in his bedroom – garnered 1.4 million hits on YouTube for his iPhone 5s review, has a channel with more than 1 million subscribers (that’s more than the circulation of most European national newspapers, including Germany’s Die Zeit and France’sLe Monde combined) and most likely has a wardrobe full of free sample products.

2. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

This is really where blogging comes into its own as part of the inbound marketing machine. Through blogging we can create fresh content with regularity, rich in the keywords and phrases that we want to get found for on Google, Bing and other search engines.

It’s becoming harder to artificially influence Google through keyword research and manipulation, as Google strives to create a more natural, more human ranking algorithm that serves the user’s purpose, not those of companies trying to get found. 

However, as we found in 2013, blogging and content marketing is the most effective form of SEO in light of recent search engine developments, ticking all of Google’s boxes.

By producing natural, valuable and socially proven content (shared on social media), that has no hint of spam whatsoever, we find ourselves in good favour with search engines, Google especially.

We still need readership for SEO social proof, but we can achieve this by nurturing our social communities and counting on them to share the content links we syndicate. But if we produce often, and produce well, if all goes well we should over time start to see an improvement in our search rankings.

Better search engine visibility means larger volumes of organic traffic, as new users find us through search terms alone.

Putting it All Together for Maximum Lead Generation

How does this all fit together to get more leads and drive sales? It’s all about directing users down our sales funnels, and thinking of blogs in terms of the larger inbound picture. 

A business blog with a direct readership can easily influence sales through recommendations and onwards links. In YouTube reviews, the video descriptions often contain links to manufacturer or retailer pages.

In terms of inbound and actual lead capturing, we would strive to direct users from blogs towards our landing pages, where we offer up something in exchange for their details. This is commonly a piece of advanced or premium content, expanding on a related topic. This very blog post is a prime example of this. 

On that note, let’s give the final word to Stephan:

“Once traffic is coming to the website, it needs to be qualified and converted to so-called leads, which are named visitors. This conversion from visitor to lead is usually in exchange for a valuable piece of information, such as a subscription, white paper, how-to video or similar download. The ultimate goal of online marketing is to grow sales − yes, marketing in the service of sales, not as some nice-to-have activity that stands on its own, only costs money and is disconnected from the rest of the business process.”

For a few more words from Stephan, Lean Marketing – A Guide for Executives is available as a free ebook. Download it for a lean perspective on internet marketing, including blogging but also email marketing, social media, customer behaviour, analytics and ROI.

Written by
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Julien Renaud

Founding Partner - Julien molds client visions into well-defined digital solutions by applying the inbound marketing methodology. He started an online branding agency in 2005 working with several real estate companies and launching a large digital campaign for the City of New York.
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