And why hardly anybody managed to nail it during the last couple of years.
Knowing what the new trends are, is always important – just as important as knowing what’s not working anymore.
I practice marketing from all different angles – from paid acquisition to branding. Content has always been my favorite part. It has a magical combination of creativity, providing real value and being data-driven. Throughout my 3 startups, I’ve built a blog for developers which attracted more than 200K unique visitors a month- a successful personal blog, a Facebook page with over 500K organic followers and much more.
Content ≠ Blog
Why did all companies start blogging?
Content is still the king. But in most cases, a company blog is a waste of time. There are better paradigms to produce content. Let’s start with the bottom line. Content works well but the format of a blog is limiting and not relevant anymore.
A few major trends have changed the content marketing landscape in the last couple of years:
- Google’s algorithm constantly evolves. A few years back, it was enough for good organic traffic to buy links, use the right terms on your homepage and select the right headers. But it has reached a point where in order to rank high, companies need to produce content. The rise of content marketing was mainly due to Google becoming ‘smarter’. Simple ‘cheats’ didn’t work anymore and companies had to start writing high-quality content to get organic traffic.
- Social media used to be one of the main traffic sources. About 7 years ago, 40% of the traffic to my site was from Facebook and Twitter. Today, unless you’re using paid acquisition, traffic from social media will be close to zero. It means companies had to look for reasonable alternatives.
- All companies have a blog. Giving new companies the impression that it’s mandatory to have one.
Where successful blogs get their traffic from and busting some myths about returning visitors
I love the creative side of content but I’m also a data geek. I can’t even start counting the days and nights I spent analyzing successful blogs. Here are some rules that apply to most successful blogs:
- About 80% of their traffic is organic. It means that social media and other channels hardly play a role in building a high volume blog. The same thing is applicable to returning users and blog subscribers.
- About 90% of the organic traffic is generated by less than 10% of the posts. So, each blog has some “superstar” posts which drive almost all of its traffic. It’s very common to find successful blog posts which were published around the same time and which deal with a similar topic but with huge traffic gaps. One post can generate 20,000 unique visits a month while the other can generate 20 unique visits a month. The only difference between them is their rank on Google. On my company’s blog, 3 posts generate over 50% of the traffic.
- Here’s another super interesting (and somehow disappointing) fact based on researching dozens of successful blogs – your blog’s brand doesn’t really do much. We tend to think that even if almost all visitors arrive on our blog via organic search, their journey looks something like: They fall in love with the blog, sign up for updates, get to know the company via email marketing and then, after a few months, convert. The reality: Over 90% of blog visitors who convert and sign up for the company’s service do it on their first visit to the blog. Very few will visit multiple times and only a small part of them will convert. Unless you have an outstanding company blog, it won’t contribute to your brand. In most cases, you’ll have a mediocre blog which will only hurt your brand.
There are a few “Content Gorillas” whose blog was their main growth engine: MOZ, Buffer, Kissmetrics, REI, Hubspot, First round capital, Glassdoor, Invision. Each one of them focuses on one major topic such as SEO, social media, outdoor activities, graphic design and produce tons of high-quality content around it. To outsmart them and get even a very small portion of their traffic, you’ll need to do much more other than occasionally writing nice posts. Since most of the main topics (from social media to product management) are dominated by the Gorillas, and since the Google ranks of sites with lots of similar content are very high, creating a successful blog takes years. Most companies can’t wait that long…
But what’s actually wrong with a company blog? And what are the alternatives?
The challenges I just mentioned are not specific to blogs. Any type of content you’ll write will need to compete against the Content Gorillas. But, here are a few setbacks which will be created by aligning your content strategy to a blog:
- Posts have a certain structure people expect. A post usually doesn’t exceed 3,000 words.They’re static. They tend to be updated rarely, if at all.
- There’s always a need to ‘feed’ the blog. Even at times, content is not your focus. You don’t want your blog to look like it’s not active, ‘forcing’ you to continue writing.
- It’s not timeless. Think about the last time you got to an article via Google which was a perfect fit for your search. But once you noticed it was published 5 years ago, you closed it immediately. I’m sure it happens a lot.
- It’s static. Just a bunch of words and images. In some cases, dynamic pages or “mini-apps” can represent your content much better.
Based on the data mentioned earlier, all successful blogs rely heavily on organic traffic and have very few posts which drive most of the traffic.
Now, think of taking just this highly converting content and ‘break’ the post rules.
A few years ago, I wrote a post about cold emails that got me meetings on LinkedIn, Twitter and GitHub (don’t bother reading it, it’s really outdated). For a few years, this post was ranked very high and drove around 10,000 visitors a month. Let’s break the rules – imagine that after I saw this post performs great, I would have ‘pulled’ it out of the post structure and built a dynamic project based on it – recommendations from other professionals, a dynamic part where readers can look up cold emails references and more. It would have significantly driven more traffic and I was able to keep it fresh for much longer. Isn’t that too much work? It might sound like a lot of work but let’s have a look at the numbers. A post which didn’t succeed at all, usually results about 200 unique visitors (lifetime). An “OK” post will probably result around 5,000 unique visitors (lifetime). A “project” can result over 200,000 visitors. It means it’s ‘worth’ 1,000 posts which perform poorly or 40 “OK” posts. Do your math, it’s enough to get one project right to have its results equal to a year or two of writing a standard blog.
The main concept I believe in and which we’ll probably see more of is “pods” of content within one website. Unlike a blog where a new post is published every couple of days or weeks – content “pods” are fewer and much more dynamic. A pod can be a set of tutorials, a small free application, a directory, a video library, a dynamic list of resources or even an eBook. Most of the traffic will be organic. A content pod provides bigger value to the users. It’s always updated and therefore, can ‘fight’ the Content Gorillas.
How about an example? Let’s say that I’m running a startup that builds software for job seekers. Most companies will probably start a blog where they’ll post weekly about getting ready for job interviews, negotiating salaries or choosing the right company for you. There are t-o-n-s of similar articles. The company is likely to invest quite a lot in building the blog and won’t get much in return. Let’s try a different approach. Instead of writing a post per week, release a significant content project every couple of months. It can be a dynamic directory where people look for job interviews, it can be a game which will help you practice the negotiating of salary or an ‘evergreen’ detailed directory of videos of tips by interviewers.
You get the point now? Let me share some more great examples with you:
Adespresso is a relatively small company with a great content strategy. A few years ago, they launched a dynamic directory of Facebook ads references. Visitors can search from over 100K ads and get inspired. It ranks very high, gives a great reason to come back to the site and beats any post like “17 Great Facebook Ad Examples”.
www.java-countdown.xyz is an evolution of a small mini-site for developers which I created years ago and still generates great traffic. Every new release of a Java (the programming language) is a big thing in the developer’s world. The date always gets postponed and the release features tend to change. This is a small site which includes all the updates about the release and enables visitors to sign up for news about it. Creating it wasn’t too much of a work, it ranks high on Google, visitors enjoy it a lot and updating the content takes a few minutes.
Google Analytics FAQ – This directory reflects one of the changes I’ve made to my company’s content strategy. Posts about Google Analytics on our blog usually convert well. Instead of ‘simply’ writing a post about Google Analytics every few weeks, we’ve created a directory of articles covering highly searched questions related to Google Analytics. We started with a keyword research about questions related to GA, and looked for the ones with lots of searches but less satisfying answers on the web. Unlike writing posts, we don’t need to keep a post structure here. We created shorter and much more focused articles. By the way, placing all of them together has a sweet side effect on our SEO. We were also able to optimize the banners which lead to the main site by using contextual messages relating to Google Analytics.
So, how come Oribi still has a company blog?
The honest answer is its legacy. I started our blog without giving it a second thought, like most companies. Don’t get me wrong, it drives traffic and conversions. I’m not saying the blog doesn’t work but I do think that if we were to invest all the time dedicated for the blog in creating other content alternatives, it would have driven much more value to the company.
As for my personal blog (the one you’re reading right now), the logic here is a bit different. Unlike a company blog, its goal is not to drive conversions. It’s a place for me to share and write my thoughts. This is what blogs were built for 🙂