Keep on blogging and eventually, you’ll create a river of leads. They’ll flow in all day every day. You’ll rank, convert and create demand, just as long as you keep blogging.
That’s what they say. Blog enough and you’ll eventually win.
But it doesn’t seem to work that way. Some content programs achieve results much sooner, while others never get there. So what’s the difference? Why are some content strategies so successful while others are not?
That idea, blog and grow rich, fails because it misses the key connection between content and traffic. Here’s the myth: visitors click from blog posts to service pages and then become leads.
This is actually very rare for B2B service companies. When we look at the lead generation conversion rates for visitors who start their visit on a blog post, it’s abysmal. Usually just a fraction of one percent.
Why so low? Because these visitors have information-intent, not commercial-intent. It would be nice if a blog reader suddenly realized they need your business services, but it doesn’t happen a whole lot. It’s not why they’re visiting.
Blog content serves another key purpose. That content is critical because of its indirect benefits. Blogs help the service pages rank by being link-worthy. Here’s the connection:
When a blog post attracts a link, it makes every page on the site more authoritative, more likely to rank. That’s how links and authority work.
The primary goal of the B2B content strategy is this: get the service pages to rank for commercial-intent phrases. The money phrases.
Every B2B content strategist knows there are two kinds of visitors, those who just want info and those who may need your services. And the commercial-intent visitors are far more likely to convert into leads. They are pre-qualified.
Service pages are definitely not link-worthy. Ever link to someone’s service page? Probably not. A website without a blog is an online brochure, one with very low domain authority and rankings.
With a few quick segments in Google Analytics, you can see the conversion rates for the two types of visitors for this website.
It’s the visitors who land on our service pages that drive demand. We won’t be successful until we get qualified visitors to those pages. And to get those pages to rank, we need links and to get links, we need…
Here is an example of a 7-part content strategy framework for B2B lead generation built for SEO. We’ll use a fictional coffee delivery service, Speedy Bean. But these concepts apply to any B2B business and most B2C marketers as well. This is for anyone in any business focused on SEO and lead generation.
At the center of all digital marketing is the sales page. It is built to attract and convert qualified visitors, the people who need our help and our coffee. It’s optimized in both ways:
Barry Feldman once said “Your website is the mousetrap. Your content is the cheese.” So our first job is to build the best possible mousetrap (our search/conversion optimized sales pages) before we start creating cheese (content creation).
For our little coffee company, this page about our coffee delivery service.
We’d like to rank for “office coffee delivery” but before we target that phrase, let’s check the competition. For this, I’ll use Moz, but other SEO tools would work as well. I put our domain into the Moz Link Explorer…
Our Domain Authority is 16. So we should target phrases that are in that general range of difficulty. We are unlikely to rank if all of the other high ranking sites for a given phrase have more authority than we do.
Now let’s check the difficulty for the phrase “office coffee delivery.” I put the phrase into the Moz Keyword Explorer…
It looks like it’s a bit outside our range. To have a realistic chance of ranking for this phrase, we’ll need to build a content strategy designed to attract links to our site and increase our authority. That’s our plan! Keep reading and pay close attention to points 3, 6 and 7.
If the conversion rate of this page is zero percent, it doesn’t matter how much traffic we generate or how good we are at content. We’ll never generate a lead.
Conversion optimization has its own framework: answer your visitors’ top questions, address their main objections, support our messages with evidence and add clear, specific calls to action. Learn how to convert your visitors here.
Even a little uncertainty will kill conversions. This is why web design and conversion copy is so critical. Let us know if you need help with yours.
Step 1 takeaway: Our content strategy begins with a well-optimized set of services pages, optimized to rank and targeting a phrase that is (eventually) within reach. And it is optimized to convert those visitors into leads.
Next, we lay the cornerstone of our content marketing: the content mission statement. It declares three simple things:
Simple, right? It’s a fun exercise that I’ve done with dozens of clients. For our office coffee delivery service, I’ve decided that the content will target a specific audience, but cover a wide range of topics and have a light tone.
Here is the content marketing mission of Speedy Bean’s content (blog, emails, social posts, etc.):
Where office managers find fun tips for the workplace to build happier more productive teams.
You can see how it follows a basic template: audience + topics + benefit. You can find more examples and ideas for content mission statements here.
Documenting this mission is such an obvious first step for any content strategy that everyone does it right? Nope!
According to the B2B Content Marketing Survey, only 39% of B2B content programs have a documented content strategy. Those that do are twice as likely to report success in their content marketing.
It’s no surprise that a documented mission correlates with success. Once you’ve documented your mission, you’ve basically written your calls to action for your content.
Step 2 takeaway: Our content strategy framework begins with a documented content marketing mission.
Next, we need to beat every content program in our industry by being more relevant, useful and original. That sounds hard, but there’s a trick: conduct and publish original research.
Original research is an all-powerful format for content for one simple reason. It makes your website the primary source of new data. It’s the most link-worthy content you could possibly create.
Just a few paragraphs below, I linked to a piece of original research. Why? Because it supports this article. And mentioning the research without citing it with a link would have been improper.
Credible content is supported with research. And when you’re the brand that creates the research, you’re helping others make their case when they cover the topic. They reward you for the favor with a link.
Here’s my idea for original research for our office coffee delivery company:
What are the office perks offered by the top workplaces in the world?
To conduct this study, I’ll need to find a list of top workplaces. That’s very easy. Next, I’ll need to reach out to office managers and HR folks at each of these companies and do a quick phone interview. That’ll take some time.
Original research is hard work. In my experience, it often takes 10x effort. But the results are generally 100x that of a typical article.
If you have access to an SEO tool, enter any domain and see which of their pages has been linked to the most. If they’ve ever published research, you’ll likely see it at the top of the report.
If you’ve ever published research, look at the links report in Google Search Console. You’ll likely see that the original research is there at the top of the report.
So if original research is such a powerful format for content for building authority, it should be a popular strategy, right? Nope!
According to our annual blogger survey, 41% of bloggers have published original research in the last 12 months (our friends at Mantis Research asked companies, not bloggers, and found a higher percentage).
Step 3 takeaway: Our content strategy is anchored with high-value original research.
The best source for content ideas is the audience themselves. When you talk to prospects and customers, you learn their cares, hopes and worries. You find out what questions they have. It’s the job of your content to answer their questions.
Two amazing things happen when you write content that answers their specific questions.
This is why the best content marketers work closely with sales teams. They ride shotgun to meetings. They jump into sales calls. They listen for questions and answers, then publish accordingly.
So I listened in on some sales calls at our hypothetical coffee delivery company and discovered that some prospects don’t appreciate the life-changing benefits of whole bean coffee, ground fresh each morning.
Now I know exactly what to publish and share with the sales team. They can pass it along to current and future prospects forever after. After all, the prospects in our sales funnel are our most important audience!
Step 4 takeaway: Our content strategy includes topics and articles that are commonly asked by our prospects.
Every successful content strategy I’ve seen has a foundation of well-written articles (text). Every successful content strategy also uses visual formats regularly (images and video).
The majority of blog posts now include multiple images and nearly one in five bloggers regularly create video (source). We need to go beyond text and create more visual versions of our most important content.
Assuming our article about the amazing benefits of whole bean coffee was successful, it’s a candidate for repurposing as a visual. Here’s what it might look like as an infographic.
Step 5 takeaway: Our content strategy includes consistent use of visual formats, including infographics and video.
Everything is better with friends. Bloggers who collaborate with influencers get better results.
Collaborating with influencers is good for your content strategy in so many ways. Here are five quick ones:
And it doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. In fact, “organic influencer marketing” (which is really just collaborative content marketing) is free and can save you time. Here are five quick ways to do it:
Collaborating with content creators is powerful, partly because it supports our long term goal of building our authority (and getting that sales page to rank). The idea is partly to make our brand and our content more visible to people who create content. Because people who make content make links.
We aren’t actively trying to get these journalists, bloggers and editors to link to you. But we also aren’t naive. We’re hoping that future collaborations lead to links to your content on your site.
All good things (including search rankings) are built on relationships.
So everyone is collaborating with influencers, right? Nope! Only 18% of B2B brands have ongoing influencer marketing campaigns.
Source: Traackr, Altimeter Group
|“When an influencer contributes to an article, show them in their best light. Highlight some of the person’s achievements and link to their website. This will do more than give your article increased credibility; you are also helping that individual build their personal brand.” – Kristen McCabe, Content marketing expert and Senior Content Specialist at G2 Crowd|
Step 6 takeaway: Our content strategy includes ongoing collaboration with influencers.
This tactic directly leads to links and authority. Publishing original research and building relationships with content creators might lead to links, but when you write for someone’s website, you’re almost certainly going to create a link back to your site, in the author bio if not in the article itself.
Especially for younger content programs, earlier in the process of building an audience, guest blogging and digital PR are so important.
Imagine two bloggers. They each write eight articles. Blogger A publishes those articles on their own site. Blogger B pitches four of those articles to other websites. Blogger B also invites four contributors to write for her blog.
Look at the difference. Blogger B has more links (great for search) and more friends (great for social).
So if guest blogging is so effective, everyone does it, right? Nope! Our latest research shows that only 60% of bloggers ever write and pitch guest posts.
Step 7 takeaway: Our content strategy is PR focused and involves pitching and publishing guest posts.
Let’s step back and see how each all this content fits together. This chart shows how all of the content connects. Below we’ll list a quick description of each piece.
This goes beyond a typical content marketing plan, beyond just blogging. It’s a content marketing framework built specifically to build authority and leads, possible for any B2B brand…
Most content strategies do the usual (blogs, newsletters, an occasional ebook) while others use less common tactics (research, influencer collaboration, and video).
And a very small percentage of content strategies (about 1%) combine these tactics to build powerful platforms for high rankings, huge traffic and loads of conversions.
Let’s do the math. As we’ve seen…
Multiple those percentages and you get 1%. That is, roughly 1 in every 100 content strategies combine all of these tactics. Certainly, it’s rare.
“Keep on blogging and eventually, you’ll create a river of leads.” We started by saying that this isn’t true. But this is about content strategy, not just blogging.
We have a mission-driven, research anchored, influencer powered, PR-focused content strategy framework.
And with this framework, I am 100% confident of success. I have no doubts whatsoever. But how long will it take?
Assuming that each quarter, we publish a hub of content as shown above. This becomes our content calendar. And each round leads to just 5-10 links, within nine months we should have a high enough domain authority for our sales page to rank for “office coffee delivery.”
Within a year, we’ll have a river of qualified leads flowing in through our contact form.
Gonna try to improve our content strategy according to this. Thanks!
Having a solid foundation when it comes to your content can make things so much easier. Proper framework and plan of action needs to be drafted before the content is even created.
Andy, you are a recent discovery for me but I am so glad I’ve found you. 🙂 (I’ve since quoted you twice on my blog, signed up to your email list, and bought your book… If that tells you anything about how your writing has resonated with me.)
I loved this piece. I am a content marketer myself, so it’s not that the information is completely new so much as that you’ve presented it so aptly and so clearly, and added some very insightful commentary.
I particularly liked the way you explain the way in which blog content helps sales page conversions… Not because people click from post to page and buy, but because of the boost in authority from earned links. This would have been a great piece to have handy when I was serving a particular client who could not be convinced of the value of blog content that did not directly tout their services.
Wow great work Andy!
A helpful review to sell your services highlighting benefits that will be valued by your target audience.
A good review of needed content for online success.
A super helpful article with some immediately actionable insights. Thank you for the inspiration!
As the CMO for a Marketing company, you are the SME, and for the B2B strategy you outline, you are clearly an expert for the content in all its formats to build up links and authority in a marketing industry network. What if you are on a small marketing team in say a pharmaceutical or hi tech company? Any thoughts on how to implement this strategy when you need to rely on other SMEs for the persistence and diligence needed to make it succeed?
It shouldn’t matter if the SMEs are in-house or outside experts, one person or lots of contributors. The visitor is looking for insights, the editor of the 3rd party publication is looking for quality, the search engine is looking for authority.
The one area that you might want to adapt is in the media pitch. It’s very helpful to have a designated expert with a good reputation. I’d look for candidates on my team and build up their rep with some strong bylines, polish their social profiles and then pitch editors on their behalf. If they have big job titles, all the better.
But even without a so-called “thought leader” publications will take your pitches if the topic and quality are strong enough. Original research is news and that’s just what they’re looking for.
But what about making the Service page your Pillar page instead? I know…you don’t want a 2000 word Service page….but consider this….(because I am)…Say your Service page has 300 words…what about making sections/tabs on this page that are expandable with 1700 more words of relevant sub-sets of that topic/service. They contain short chapters 100-150 words each of your Pillar page. Then, you have ALL the content ON that URL, not a separate Pillar page pointing TO the Pillar page. Would that work?
Do whatever you can do to get that service page rank for the commercial-intent keyphrases. If length and detail help, great! But relevance (content, keywords) alone isn’t enough. You’ll still need authority (links) and the service page isn’t going to attract them.
Regardless of the structure of the service page and regardless of which page is the “pillar” just be sure that your strategy has a comprehensive plan to rank, which probably means some kind of PR + original research + influencers.
Hope this is helpful. Happy rankings, Chad!
This can work Chad, word to the wise tho, test your conversions often and regularly.
As Andy points out beautifully in this article, all the traffic in the world doesn’t matter if it doesn’t convert. From testing this personally, just be cautious not to combine the content marketing of two segments of customers at different phases together.
All I mean by that is be sure your page doesn’t try to combine your “informational-stage leads” and your “transactional-stage leads” as a detriment to each other. The benefit of separated “pillar pages” is focusing on satisfying the customer at THAT specific stage, and helping them move to the next stage in the sales funnel.
Like I said this can work but if implemented incorrectly you can also kill conversions for both segments and lose potential customers.
Hope that made sense and helps 🙂
Thanks for compiling your presentation into an exceptional post, Andy. I think this is a huge paradigm shift for companies. It’s much more of a campaign approach. If you have finite resources, the one thing that could be sacrificed is regular, ongoing posts on the blog.
I know I’ve always worried that if I don’t continue to publish consistently, my traffic will fall off. If you are establishing new inbound links, that shouldn’t really be the case, correct?
So maybe instead of publishing twelve pieces of content per year on your blog, you’re going to be publishing four pieces to the blog and 8 other pieces in the forms you’ve described (guest posts, infographics, etc.) In the end, you’ll gain more exposure, more backlinks, and better rank, correct?
That might be a tough one for folks to get their heads around — but it’s essential for this strategy.
Hi Andy, thank you for this as I found it very interesting. The trouble I have is the one you highlighted at the end in a way: it’s complex to put it all together and keep the strategy consistent over a period of time. I’m thinking of printing this out, sticking on my office wall and going back to it to see if I’m doing it (I’m not a full time marketer..). Anyhow thanks!! Br Joshua.
Thanks, Joshua. I think you pinpointed the biggest challenge: persistence. But your comment makes me wonder about the period of time. Even if you have very limited time (I’m not a full-time marketer either) it should be possible to get results even if you slow things down. Doing this even once a year would be far better than occasionally putting out medium quality blog posts.
Less, but more focused time will beat more unfocussed efforts any day!
What are your thoughts?