By Daniel Gripton
In the first twelve months of managing the Venn Digital blog, I’ve adjusted thousands of sentences and reasoned with an outspoken commenter or two. I’ve scheduled, edited and published more than 60 posts on many subjects. I’ve also seen blog readership grow from 4 percent of our total site traffic to 18 percent.
That’s an eight times increase in year-over-year blog visits. The only promotion behind this was sharing on our social pages and sending a few emails to editors. I didn’t expect this surge of interest; to be honest, I would have been happy to double the visitors. That’s not to say this has all been a fluke; I’ve applied and picked up several key behaviors along the way.
I've identified the success of our blog down to a mix of consistency and variation, as well as making it easy for people to read and contribute. If you want to learn how to increase blog traffic, you will need to learn to analyze your site.
Get buy in, starting with yourself
Weeks before I began to work on the blog, we launched our new website. I don’t want to start throwing accusations around, but nobody considered the full potential of the blog. There had been previous attempts at running it and some recent, decent posts, but it was definitely an afterthought. Why should people outside the company read a blog that was seen internally as an add-on?
I believe the key to bringing and maintaining stability to a blog is empowering someone with editorial authority and giving them ownership. Having a designated editor will ensure the company blog doesn’t drift or go unnoticed. This could be a full-time gig or an afternoon’s work, but in my case everything from scheduling to editing flows through me.
The first challenge many small businesses face when starting a blog is getting their busy people to contribute. I can confirm that attempting to force people into writing doesn’t go well. Blog authors need to be enthused and actually want to write. They need to believe they’re doing something worthwhile.
The first weeks were tough, but with each little win it definitely got easier. A retweet from net magazine got the attention of the design team. A new record for daily site traffic set a target for everybody to knock down. Links from ahrefs and Search Engine Roundtable have since had the SEO gang salivating. All of this helped to achieve a shift in attitude. I actually get volunteers to write for the site now.
Your blog should be instantly recognizable. Just as your tone of voice should differentiate you from the crowd, your posts should stand out, too. Think about your appearance and styling. If your readers like the way your articles are presented as well as what they contain, they’re going to come back to you. You should also consider the timing of your posts; if visitors know you consistently post on a particular day, you can become a part of their reading habits.
How you present yourself is your choice, but it will depend on the goals of your posts. Here’s two examples:
• Do you want to be digestible enough to feed the content desires of people on the move? Then break up your posts with subheadings, lists and simple charts.
• What if you want to really examine a subject and provide analytical minds with a detailed study? Go long-form and include visual examples.
Whatever you do, be consistent. The styling of your text, alignments and headings will not only act as an extension of your branding, but also provide returning visitors with a warm feeling of familiarity.
Similarly, when and how often you publish is also your decision. If you’re looking to reassess your blog and make a better go of it, establish a realistic starting point. This could be one really good post a month or three a week, depending on your resources. At Venn, we aim for one new post every Wednesday as a minimum, but we add to this if we’re doing something newsworthy, have a reactional piece up our sleeve or experience a sudden spurt of creativity.
If you are looking to have several contributors to your blog, the publication process also needs to be clear. At Venn, I speak to anybody who’ll listen, identify who wants to contribute, set them a deadline and invite them send a draft to me. I then ensure their submission offers something to our audience. If it doesn’t, I make some tweaks and go back to them with alterations and suggestions. This approach means all our authors are writing about subjects that are consistent with their expertise and personality. I just help them to make their point and dot their i’s.
For tips on creating a content strategy for your business, check out this e-book, A Small Business Guide to Content Marketing.
While variation does not necessarily mix in the same social circles as consistency, you should definitely make friends with it. Variation shimmers. Variation suggests that you try that cocktail or catch that plane because it’d be fun. It may not always be right for you, but variation keeps things interesting.
It’s important to know and cover your specialist areas, but be conscious about the variety of your blog audience. It’ll include passive browsers, complete strangers and potential customers. Your comprehensive guide on a specialist field could make you more of an industry authority. That post about your Christmas party could show the character that wins people over. Don’t be afraid to mix in company updates with actionable insights.
Most people already have their favorite publications. Unless you’re the best at something or have a unique angle, first-time visitors won’t regularly come back to you. As part of a digital agency, I encourage our team to submit commentaries, guides and industry and internal news to me. Our staff, our services and our audience are diverse, so this has to cross over into the topics we cover. From development and SEO to design and copywriting, we have a range of expertise at our disposal and not giving these aspects a voice would be criminal.
I believe that an effective blog should present your collective and individual personalities and that even the strictest tone of voice guidelines should be loosened accordingly. I let our authors speak how they want, about what they want (within reason). By harnessing the people in your company and providing a platform for them to express themselves, your blog can become a real asset. So show an interest in your colleagues’ work and run through ideas while you’re both waiting for the microwave. Some of our most successful posts have been formed while emptying the dishwasher.
Identifying and quantifying results
As with all marketing, ROI and measurement are important. Knowing that your methods are working is also something that should be communicated and celebrated.
Information from Google Analytics, SEMrush and other tools was vital to reinforcing belief in how we were doing things. The eight-fold increase in visits to our blog is the obvious highlight, but other data is equally encouraging. 68 percent of our blog’s visitors in the last year were new to our site, and our most-viewed post over this period got ten times the number of unique visitors that the previous year’s most popular post did.
As our blog audience has increased, we’ve also noted a correlation in our keyword visibility. On our core keywords alone we have seen a 66 percent increase in search engine visibility, without adding any new significant pages to our site since the relaunch. Direct visits to our site are also up and continue to rise, another signifier of our brand’s development. I wouldn’t dare credit this to the blog alone, but it has been a major factor in our online growth.
The cumulative effect of this has also made a difference offline. Again, I stress this isn’t down to the blog exclusively, but inbound inquiries have risen to such a level that we no longer need to actively attract new business. Our blog has led to a traceable enquiry and is often discussed in discovery meetings with new potential clients. It’s enhanced our perception, as we practice what we preach, and become something of a selling point. If your blog has stagnated or is about to be launched, the first step you should take is to give somebody responsibility. The content itself will naturally vary depending on your industry, but from my experience, if you get internal buy-in, you’ve done the hard part. From that point, it is regular, purposeful publishing and quality control that make the difference between a blog that merely functions and one that attracts and wows its readers.
Daniel Gripton is a copywriter and blog manager at Venn Digital, a digital marketing agency in the United Kingdom. If not writing or editing articles, landing pages and straplines, he’s either researching for his next brief or fast asleep. He can be found on Twitter @gript0n, where he discusses writing, shares new music and gets far too involved with Liverpool FC.