HubSpot’s Blog Team on How to Be a Better Blogger
Did you know that brands who use blogging as part of their content marketing strategy gain 67% more leads than those that don’t?
On top of lead generation, a blog can also help your site climb in search rankings. Not to mention, sharing tips and insights related to your industry makes your brand look more credible and trustworthy to prospects.
At the HubSpot Blog, which gets a whopping eight million page views per day and has seen a 25% boost in traffic year after year, we’ve experimented with and written many key strategies that can make any blog successful. We’ve learned how to harness the power of SEO and research to give our readers valuable content while also generated large amounts of organic traffic at the same time.
Even if you’re just starting a blog or not a natural-born writer, you can still use similar blogging tactics to gain your first visitors, grow website traffic, and boost brand awareness.
To walk you through producing and effective blog, I decided to compile a list of 15 tips from a handful of HubSpot Blog managers.
15 Tips for Bloggers
- Pick topics that relate to your niche.
- Zone in on industry trends.
- Brainstorm evergreen topics.
- Outline your posts.
- Err on the side of over-explaining.
- Accept content from contributors.
- Identify and leverage highly-searched keywords in titles and headers.
- Link to your own website’s posts and credible outside sources.
- Include data and original quotes from experts to earn backlinks.
- Optimize alt text and images.
- Update old posts with new insights.
- Experiment with visuals and videos.
- Cover customer stories or successes.
- Include offers for related resources or services.
- Promote your blog posts on multiple channels.
“Know your target audience, and write for them,” says Karla Cook, the HubSpot Blog’s Senior Team Manager. “Invest time in figuring out who your target audience is, what type of problems they’re experiencing, and what they’re interested in learning.”
Creating a customer persona for your target audience could help you in this process. Remember, your blog should strive to connect with folks who are likely to eventually purchase something from you.
Your persona development should determine factors like what job your ideal customer has, what goals they want to achieve, and what pain points or annoyances they deal with on a daily basis.
“Once you have a solid understanding of who you want to target, this knowledge can inform not only your topic selection, but the tone, format, and complexity level of your content,” Cook explains. “Without this foundational understanding of your audience, you’re not going to connect with the right people in the right way.”
Meg Prater, the HubSpot Blog’s Managing Editor, adds, “It’s so easy to want to cast a broad net and write about anything and everything in your industry. What sets a great content manager apart from a good one is their ability to focus the content they’re creating.”
“Identify the niche your company fills and write highly specialized content about that niche,” Prater explains. “It can be tough to stop writing about any topic that pops into your head, but the end result will be quality content that raises your voice and your profile in your industry.”
Brainstorm evergreen topics.
Evergreen topics often touch on overarching ideas that won’t become outdated or irrelevant in the near future. On our marketing blog, one example of this is, “What is Digital Marketing.” Although we’ve updated the piece to include new digital marketing strategies, the definition of digital marketing won’t change at its core.
Rather than breaking news content, which includes recent announcements, events, or information that might become outdated or unimportant months after it happens, evergreen content often includes tips, tricks, or stats that won’t require major updates or rewrites quickly after publishing. Because they hold valuable advice, these posts might also be relevant for longer than a post that discusses a news topic that could change drastically overnight.
For example, news about a petition to change an FCC sponsored content law might become out of date when the law is struck down or goes into effect. This is because readers will skip this post to read about the newer news items covering this topic. On the other hand, a post that highlights examples of sponsored content as well as current laws, such as The Ultimate Guide to Sponsored Content, is evergreen.
Why? Although sponsored content laws might occasionally change, it’s not highly likely successful and commonly used content sponsorship strategies will change drastically.
In the near future, we’ll still see sponsored social posts, blog posts, videos, and branded podcasts. And, although we might update a post like this to add new types of sponsored content, or update aged stats and figures, it’s unlikely that the bulk of the information in this post will become outdated or need to be completely rewritten.
At the HubSpot Blog, we often call our overarching evergreen topics “pillars.” This is because an overarching evergreen topic can lead you to brainstorm a number of smaller post ideas and story angles.
One example of an evergreen pillar topic the blog has identified is Instagram Marketing. Because we consider this as a major topic that our readers love, we’ve been writing blog posts related to it, including, “Instagram Stories: What They Are and How to Make One Like a Pro” and “15 Ways to Get More Followers on Instagram.”
Christina Perricone, a Manager on the HubSpot Blog, explains, “Evergreen topics serve as your content pillars. These pillars provide comprehensive information on a topic and help you build domain authority.”
While we identify pillars for content inspiration, we also take it one step further by creating and regularly updating long-form posts, called Pillar Pages, that give our readers comprehensive information about evergreen topics and link to a wide variety of our best blog posts on each topic. When it comes to our Instagram Marketing cluster, we created a Pillar titled, “Instagram Marketing: The Ultimate Guide.”
Although stats and facts might need slight updating from year to year, foundational topics like Instagram marketing aren’t likely to change drastically. This means the content will be relevant for a longer period than non-evergreen topics like breaking news.
Content that stays relevant for longer will also be shareable and linkable for longer. This might mean that it will also gain a higher search authority and hold a higher result page ranking for a longer amount of time.
Zone in on industry trends.
We love to tap into evergreen content, but we also mix in industry trends, such as new social media platforms or recently published research. This allows our blog to keep readers in the loop of new trends, while still covering more stable marketing topics.
“Evergreen content is a necessary backbone of any successful content strategy, but don’t ignore the trends happening in your industry — because your readers certainly aren’t,” says Cook.
She adds that “offering your take on industry trends is an opportunity to build a thought leadership presence and show your target audience that you’re a knowledgeable, active player in your space.”
As the HubSpot Blog’s Audience Growth Writer, I pitch and write about various industry trends.
Recently, I wrote a series of posts that covered the rise of TikTok, a quirky one-year old social media app that’s been highly discussed in the news for its quick-growing user base.
In another example, ahead of the 2019 Emmy Awards, I wrote a post that highlighted takeaways video marketers could gain from Emmy nominated commercials.
While TikTok and the Emmys are hot news and entertainment topics, and less evergreen because they focus on a viral trends and an event, they still keep marketers in the know of what’s new and unique in their field. Additionally, this content might become more shareable on social media or other websites because it gives insight on hot topics that other blogs might not be covering if they’re only focused on evergreen content.
Outline your posts.
Before you start writing, it can be helpful to make an outline with the basic structure and main points you plan to use in your full blog post. This can help you write a clear, well-formatted post fairly quickly.
“More experienced bloggers might dismiss this, but creating an outline can have a big impact on the clarity, organization, and flow of your final piece — particularly when you’re trying to teach a complex concept,” says Cook. “I can always tell when someone’s skipped an outline.”
If you’re new to outlining posts or still are unsure of where to start, consider formats like listicles or step-by-step guides, These can be more readable to audiences and easier to write.
Err on the side of over-explaining.
While you might be an expert in your field, someone who finds your page on a search engine results page might not be. Make sure readers with different levels of expertise can understand your language and learn from your posts. Jargon or technical terms that aren’t well-explained can cause a person to be intimidated or confused by your content — and ultimately leave your site.
As Caroline Forsey, a Staff Writer on the Marketing Blog, points out, you should write posts so that they get to the point and can be easily read by people in a fast-paced environment.
“Oftentimes, someone who’s reading your blog post is on the train heading home, walking in the hallway of their office, or otherwise busy and rushed — as a result, they’re more likely than not skimming the piece,” says Forsey.
“To help your readers have an ideal experience, try starting each new paragraph with a quick reminder of what you’re talking about, in case they’re skimming the page,” she adds. “If you’re starting a new paragraph, instead of saying ‘That helps improve your SEO,’ explain what ‘That’ is — ‘Using long-tail keywords in your headers helps improve your SEO.'”
Seek out content from contributors.
If you’re not an expert on a topic related to your industry, but think your readers would enjoy to read about it, consider working with a contributor who’s knowledgeable on the subject.
“Seeking out guest pieces from qualified experts on subjects you want to cover can help fill knowledge gaps on your own content team,” says Cook.
If that contributor is well-known in your industry or considered a thought leader, this might also make the post more shareable on social media or through backlinks.
In the post, titled “The Straightforward Guide to Twitter Analytics,” Kim gives his expert insight on how to leverage and understand data from Twitter. While HubSpot bloggers write regularly about this social media platform, we still chose to host an expert author from WordStream, a company which sells a number of online advertising, analytics, and SEO tools.
Why? Because Kim and WordStream are both known for expertise related to analytics, SEO, and social media strategy. And, while a blogger can do hours of research on a topic and write a helpful post with a number of great tips, Kim can note Twitter analytics insights and strategies that he has gained and leveraged first-hand throughout his career.
If you can’t get a full blog post from a contributor, you can also consider reaching out to experts for quotes that will add a touch of expert insight to your pieces.
When we consulted Forsey, who coordinates and edits a number of thought leadership posts for the blog each month, she explained the importance of working with experts.
“I’ve found including original quotes from experts helps you reach a new audience whenever that expert shares your post on their own social channels. Best of all, it helps the user experience. For instance, if I’m writing a post about social media consultants, I’d much rather interview and use quotes from someone in the field, rather than relying on my own second-hand knowledge,” she says.
Identify and leverage highly-searched keywords and phrases in titles and headers.
When people want to learn more about a topic, they go to Google, Bing, or another search engine and type a phrase or a question. Leveraging keywords or phrases in your blog post’s subheads, body text, and image alt text can help to optimize your piece so search engine crawlers can find it and rank it more easily.
Once you have a list of topics you think might be interesting to your audience, research phrases or keywords related to them using a tool like SEMRush. If you find that a phrase has a high MSV (monthly search volume), you should work that phrase or keyword into titles or subheaders of your post.
Want to learn more about this? Here, you can find a detailed guide on how to do keyword research for your blog posts.
Link to your own website’s posts and credible sources.
“Interlinking your own content is an important strategy from both an SEO and content discoverability perspective,” says Cook.
From an SEO perspective, any link to your page is like a vote. The more votes you get, the higher your search ranking and authority will be. Linking to your own content can count as a vote for yourself. So, this is a no-brainer. To learn more about how this process works algorithmically, you can check out this helpful post.
Include data and original quotes from experts to earn backlinks.
A backlink, or inbound link, is earned when another site links to your blog post. And as mentioned above, these links are like algorithmic votes. If more pages link to you, search engines will identify you as a source with good authority. Because search engines want to show people the most credible, original content first, these backlinks will help you move up in search rankings.
Aside from SEO, quotes, thought leadership, and original research will also improve the reader’s experience.
Optimize alt text and images.
You might not realize it, but even your images can be holding your search engine ranking back. While search engines like Google analyze the alternative text of your photos to ensure that they have consistent keywords in them, they also look at how fast these photos actually load.
If a photo loads slowly, it creates a poor user experience. If users bounce from your page quickly because photos aren’t loading, search engine crawlers will catch this and move you down on search result rankings.
To avoid this, we like to compress our images as much as possible before they lose quality. If you’re not a Photoshop expert, don’t worry. You can do this quite simply with websites like Squoosh.app.
Update old posts with new insights.
Part of my role involves the historical optimization of old blog posts. This strategy involves working with the SEO team to identify old blog posts that may have out of date research, tips, or keywords and updating them to include new insights. Not only does this prevent a reader from finding and quickly exiting old posts, but new data can also help to revive an old blog post’s search ranking.
When you update old posts, you also have a chance to identify great SEO opportunities that you missed the first time around. For example, if a phrase or keyword has a high search volume, but it wasn’t included in headlines or subheaders of the first post, you can tweak the text to include the wording.
Photo and Video Content
Experiment with infographics and videos.
“You don’t need to have a full-time team of multi-media content creators to experiment with different formats,” says Cook. “Use free tools like Canva or Venngage to create visuals and play around with different post structures — just remember to experiment with a purpose, not just for the sake of it.”
When determining if you should create a video or infographic, you should ask yourself what this content could accomplish that text can’t.
For example, if a piece of trend research has a lot of facts and figures associated with it, you might want to consider an infographic that shows the stats in an eye-catching way. In another scenario, if you land an interview with someone who’s outgoing, very interesting, or visually recognizable to people in your industry, this could be a great opportunity to record a video interview rather than posting a text-based Q&A.
Perricone explained that videos and graphics can also provide organic traffic opportunities.
“We’ve found that visual content gets more backlinks, ranks higher in search engines, and drives more traffic,” she says. “Use charts, graphs, and images to supplement your copy.”
At the HubSpot Blog, we’ve experimented with placing infographics and videos into our blog pieces. These visuals add another layer to the reader’s experience, beyond the text. They also can be helpful for audiences who don’t have time to read a full post but want to watch a video.
As Cook mentioned above, it doesn’t have to costly or time consuming to experiment with this type of content. For graphics, there are a number of affordable, easy-to-use software and design templates that can help you.
When it comes to video, creating this content could be as simple as filming yourself explaining a topic, or interviewing a customer on camera. While you’ll still want to consider lighting and the quality of your content, you don’t need to hire an expensive film crew to film it. If you want to zest things up after recording, you can use free or affordable video editing tools to make quick clean edits and add interesting effects like transitions.
Alternatively, you can also consider embedding and sourcing videos that were already made. For example, if you’re writing a post about hot products that people in your industry might enjoy, you could embed demos created by other companies that you find on YouTube or Vimeo. Here’s an example of a blog post where we did something similar.
Cover customer stories or successes.
If leads or sales are your primary goal, a blog might be a great place to host a few customer success stories. For example, if you’re managing a blog for a gym, you could interview a customer who’s lost weight or achieved an athletic accomplishment after developing a fitness routine with the help of your company’s personal trainers.
When your audience reads this post, they might think it’s valuable to them because they’re learning about a successful fitness routine. They will also trust your gym more because the routine was created with help from your staff.
Or, if you work for a software company, you could write a post about how a customer achieved a business milestone after using your app or computer program. This gives you an opportunity to show off both customer success and a strategy that can be improved upon with the help of your product.
Include offers for related resources, products, or services.
If you write a blog post that relates to your product or service, offering readers a free resource or discount that might encourage them to convert to a lead. For example, on a small scale, if your company sells food products, you could write recipe-styled blog posts that include one or two of your ingredients. Then at the bottom of the post, you could offer them a coupon or free sample if they subscribe to your e-newsletter.
If your company sells a high-priced service that requires more lead nurturing, consider using the writing a blog post that lists helpful industry tips. Then, at the bottom, include a CTA offering them a free resource, like an ebook on a similar topic. Once they click on the CTA, they could be sent to a landing page where they can get the ebook in exchange for basic contact information. This blog-based inbound marketing strategy might help to attract, engage, and delight a prospect so that they become interested in purchasing your product.
Promote your blog posts on multiple channels.
Search engines can be incredibly competitive, and algorithmic changes that can affect how your content is rank. So, even with a great SEO strategy, you should still promote your blog on other platforms including social media channels and in marketing emails.
Yes, creating a promotion strategy might seem like another daunting extra step. But it doesn’t have to be challenging. To get started, think back to when you created your blog’s reader persona. Which platforms would they use most often? And, which types of social posts do they engage with? These answers will help you determine which platforms you should focus on when sharing blog content.
The HubSpot Blog works closely with HubSpot’s social team to determine and post content on platforms that our target audience will be on. For example, when we have content related to social media trends or tips, we promote it on Instagram Stories or Twitter. In another scenario, if we have content that dives deeper into strategy, we might share it on LinkedIn, where many professionals in the marketing field go to gain insight from others in similar roles.
Time to Write Your First Blog
The list above was fairly comprehensive, but here are a few key themes to keep in mind as you begin writing.
- Write for your reader: What evergreen topics and trends would your target audience like to learn about? Brainstorm a list of ideas based on what they want to learn and what advice will truly give them value.
- Aim for a smooth user experience: Outlined posts with easy to understand formats will be easiest for a reader to skim through, digest, and understand. So, be sure to keep your thoughts clear and to the point.
- Zest up your posts with videos, visuals, original research, or expert quotes: A listicle can be easy to read. But if you’re just repeating old information, it might not provide tons of value to your reader. Think of elements that can make your post stand out or feel valuable to a reader.
- Consider your distribution plan: Draft posts with SEO or social shareability in mind. Then come up with a strategy to promote posts once they’re published. This will help them get seen by search engine users, those who subscribe to your email list, and social media users.
Originally published Oct 10, 2019 7:00:00 AM, updated October 10 2019