Leader Marketing Partnership provides integrated Marketing & PR Services from its home in Stratford-upon Avon to businesses across Warwickshire, the Midlands and beyond.
The question seems generally to be driven by three concerns. First, that blogging is somehow ‘old-fashioned’ compared with social media. Second that, as a result, it is less relevant and effective. And third, that blogging is too time-consuming or costly to be worth doing.
Well, it only takes the briefest look to confirm that the blog is as common a feature on business websites today as it has ever been.
And that is because blogging remains one of the most powerful weapons in the digital marketing arsenal for anyone who wants their business website to attract, engage, convert and retain customers.
Which is pretty much everyone, isn’t it?
While the concept of the online diary started in the early 1990s, it remained for most of the decade a niche activity for the tech savvy. It wasn’t until 1997 that the term ‘weblog’ was coined, and 1999 before it was shortened to ‘blog’.
With the arrival of the first easy-to-use software platforms (such as blogger.com, and later WordPress), blogging suddenly exploded in popularity. Everyone from heavyweight political commentators to College students started piling in. By 2005 the BBC had launched a blog for its editors; the UK newspaper The Guardian was printing a daily digest of blogs; and Fortune magazine had listed eight bloggers that business ‘could not ignore’. By 2010 there were an estimated 152 million blogs.
But even as the masses were taking to blogging in ever increasing numbers, a new format had arrived which many predicted would sound the death knell for the blog – social media.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and their endless successors certainly usurped the blog’s role as a personal journal of thoughts, events and moments. They were simpler to use, more immediate and better connected.
But the blog didn’t die; it changed.
In fact, over time the format actually prospered, this time in its new role as an antidote to social media’s ‘age of distraction’. It became increasingly apparent that blogging remained highly effective for many of the things which social media was not so good at: long-form content; detail; complex ideas; and nuanced discussion.
And the commercial power of these qualities quickly became apparent. As Wikipedia put it: “For those who see the blog as an individual’s online diary, the blog may be dead. For those who see it as a marketing channel, the blog is alive and well.”
It wasn’t always clear that it would play out like this.
Inevitably marketers were among the most enthusiastic early adopters of social media. What many now see as the shortcomings of social media were among its initial attractions to business. It was quick and easy to do. It was immediate. It was relatively easy to build audiences and to gauge their reactions to your messages. And it produced a lot of data about reach and engagement (or at least it appeared to).
A lot of social media’s attractions could be summed up in one word: Convenience. Just compare the speed and ease of Twitter with the demands of effective blogging. A tweet can take a moment, a minute at most. But a good article takes time. It needs thought, new ideas, fresh perspectives and at least a modicum of skill. Then it needs to be promoted to help people find it and there is much less feedback on people’s reactions (aside from the comments section, which is not often used on business blogs in any case).
In addition to these challenges, many business people are convinced that they have nothing interesting or important to say in a blog (although why they feel it’s still OK to say ‘nothing interesting or important’ on social media is less clear!)
All of which no doubt helps explain why, as a marketing agency, we are regularly challenged to justify the inclusion of blogs in new business website designs. Is it really necessary? Will it really be worth the effort?
To which the answer is nearly always an emphatic ‘yes’. Because in many ways it is precisely these demands and challenges which deliver the commercial power and potential of the blog.
1. The proof of the pudding
“Show, don’t tell” is one of the oldest maxims in marketing. It’s one thing to tell customers that your powder will wash their whites whiter than white, but it’s quite another to show them a brilliant white t-shirt next to the grubby sample delivered by a competitor’s product.
Most pages on a business website are typically ‘tell’ pages. Product and service pages usually focus on listing the features and emphasising their benefits. While there is usually an element of ‘show’ to support this (via photos, graphics, icons and testimonial quotes for example), it is in blog articles (and their close relatives, the case studies) that this aspect really comes into its own.
So a law firm’s Probate & Wills page might tell visitors that its team is made up of experts who understand all aspects of probate. But their blog articles will show that expertise as they deep-dive into subjects as diverse as contested wills, intestacy, digital assets and Lasting Powers of Attorney.
Similarly, an organic food company’s website might tell visitors that the founders are passionate about biodiversity, health and the environment. But it will be their blog articles which will demonstrate the depth of that passion.
2. Can I help you?
Google has been described as a window into the soul. The theory goes that we are at our most honest when typing questions into a search engine. There’s no embarrassment, no ‘side’, no attempt to look good. Just a direct request for the information that we want.
Putting aside the many surveillance and privacy concerns this raises, it does illustrate the second business function of the blog article – the chance to directly answer customer questions.
So again, your law firm’s Wills & Probate page will probably be full of information about you – areas of expertise, the experience of your staff, perhaps even pricing. But will it answer, in detail, questions like: “Is video witnessing legal during lockdown”; “How much will my spouse receive under intestacy rules”; “When can I contest a will”; or even “Why do I need a will?”
Or for a marketing firm’s website: “Does my website need a blog?” 😉
The truth is that an increasingly small proportion of customers are likely to call or email to ask you these questions. Instead they are likely to start their search on the internet, looking for initial information from companies they feel really understand their issues and problems.
Not only that, but aside from giving customers the reassurance that you really do have the answers they need, these kinds of articles give you huge search engine advantage. That is because with every search, Google is looking for pages which match its customers’ questions to the best and most specific answers it can.
Which leads us on to…
3. Dear Al Gorithm…
The way search engines like Google and Bing generate their search results is a complex subject which has been covered by many millions of blog articles in its own right. But for the sake of this article, we know that there are several features of blogs that search engines definitely like: substantial, relevant and linked content.
(i) Substantial: Search engines love words! A good volume of words – such as a blog article for example – allows the search algorithm to see that the page holds real substance and value for the user.
(ii) Relevant: Of course the algorithm also wants that content to be as relevant to the user as possible. While product and service pages tend to cover quite broad topics, blog articles are typically much more focused on specific details, words and phrases.
(iii) Linked: Links in and out of web pages have been an important variable in the search algorithm ever since Google revolutionised search with their Page Rank system. The concepts of cornerstone content and clusters have taken this to new heights. It means in essence that search engines are now looking beyond individual pages to identify and reward ‘clusters’ – groups of pages written on closely related themes and all linking back to a strong pillar or cornerstone page. Blog articles are an unrivalled way of developing such clusters around your key themes.
4. A business of many parts
No matter how hard you try to structure your website and guide customers to the most relevant pages, there is often a tension between what you want to say on your main website pages and some of the searches you’re trying to target and customers you’re hoping to talk to.
There’s nothing nefarious or wrong about this. It’s perfectly possible, for example, to be both a leading global player and also offer niche services to a cluster of local companies. Even the smallest businesses can have more strings to their bow than the main website pages can adequately cover.
The blog is where you get to spread your wings and bring focus, attention and keyword targeting to these many aspects of your business.
5. We’re still here!
Last but by no means least, a blog helps keep your website active and alive.
Search engines and people alike are much more likely to engage with websites which carries fresh and up-to-date information.
So while pages on products and services, company history and contact details might not change for weeks or months on end, the regular publication of news, views and updates via the blog will reassure everyone that your business is not only up and running but as vibrant, dynamic and engaging as ever!
To summarise, a blog will:
(i) Help people find your website through search engines;
(ii) Begin your engagement with prospects by answering their questions;
(iii) Convert prospects into customers by demonstrating that you have the expertise and enthusiasm to meet their needs;
(iv) Allow you to segment your market and address specific and niche concerns; and
(v) Inject your whole website with life and vibrancy.
So yes! We do strongly recommend that the vast majority of business websites include a blog.
Of course this means that you will need to invest time, energy and money into a content strategy to bring that blog to life. But that needn’t be as daunting as it sounds, and by investing in content for your blog you will be creating marketing messages and material which can energise and enhance your entire marketing strategy.
To discuss how a blog and marketing content strategy can help you achieve your business goals, contact us today. Or, to dig a little deeper into Leader, our marketing services and people, why not start by taking a look at the rest of our blog!
Following successful projects with its Water & Energy team, Leader has recently been appointed to manage campaigns for Kingspan’s Access Flooring Division and Kingspan Klargester.