Why does your company have a blog? Is it to help the search engines find you? To have some content for the email newsletter?
Those things count, but they probably aren’t your number-one concern. If you’re in B2B and you’ve got a company blog, you’ve probably got it for the leads. And you always want more leads from your blog. Better leads. And then, a way to nurture them.
Fortunately, blogs can be really good at all that. Blogs actually come in as one of the best lead generation tactics going for B2B marketers. Here’s how they rank in the pantheon of B2B lead generation techniques, according to the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs “B2B Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends” report: marketers say only in-person events and webinars are more effective.
For another perspective on blogs – from the readers’ point of view – here’s which content formats B2B buyers say they use the most. The data is from the 2015 Content Preferences Survey, published by Demand Gen.
And among all content types, blog posts remain the most frequently shared pieces of content, with 40% sharing them frequently and 33% sharing them sometimes.
While blogs don’t make first place for lead generation, they are a key part of a lead generation marketing mix. And they work especially well when they’re optimized for lead gen. If you try just a few of the tactics listed below, you may find them even more effective than some of the studies (which average out performance) do.
First, have a keyword worth optimizing for. Usually that means a carefully selected long-tail key word.
Next, make things easy for yourself and install the WordPress plugin “Yoast SEO.”. It will give you a list of things to fix, optimize or complete to get your post SEO-ready. Just keep following its suggestions until the little Yoast SEO button turns green.
2. Offer calls to action to “content upgrades”
These are related content pieces made of more detailed or more actionable information than what’s included in the post. Typically they’re offered as a call to action at the close of the post, but sometimes you’ll see them sandwiched between paragraphs.
The key element of the content upgrade is to link to a gated asset, with an opt-in form for getting the visitor’s email address. This is one of the best ways to not only get leads, but to also get leads who have raised their hands for a specific kind of content. You can figure out a lot about not only their interests, but where they are in the buying cycle, simply by tracking which pieces of content they’ve asked for.
But there is a downside. You’ll need the content upgrade – the new piece of content. That means a bit more work, but it’s worth it. Some marketers have increased their blog’s opt-in rates by more than 300% with content upgrades.
Here are some ideas for possible content upgrades:
- A template (social media updates template, sales letter template, editorial calendar template)
- The video recording of a seminar
- A workbook
- A video series
- A process map
Here’s an example of a content upgrade from the CoSchedule blog. The blog post is about how to repurpose blog post content into new formats. The content upgrade is a map that guides you through which pieces of content to reformat, and which formats would work best.
3. Offer recommended reading at the close of blog posts
This is basically the free version of a content upgrade (free because there’s no email address required). It’s not nearly as good for lead generation, because you aren’t getting someone’s contact information, but it is a way to keep them on your site and engaged until they are ready to give you their information.
Here’s an example of a related reading box at the end of a blog post on the Stripe blog. Notice the content upgrade just above it. It’s okay to offer both.
You’ll see a recommended reading block at the bottom of this page, too. We find them very useful.
4. Ask for email addresses
This is a tactic you should be using all over your site, but especially on your blog. Actually, many smaller B2B companies ask for sign-ups only on their blog. They don’t have opt-in forms in the footer, or anywhere else.
Here’s an example of an opt-in form on our site. You can probably see the live box on this page, just to the right of this article.
You can also ask for email addresses with a lightbox, aka a “pop-up” or interstitial. If you find those too annoying, try using a slider opt-in box instead. The free list building app Sumo ListBuilder is a great free plugin that will let you do all the basics and more with opt-in boxes. It works on WordPress, HTML-based sites, Shopify and Squarespace sites, too.
You can also go one step higher. It’s possible to personalize which pieces of content you recommend to your site visitors. Unless you’re a really small shop on a super-short budget, personalization is better than just recommending the same content to everyone.
We practice this content personalization on our site with BrightInfo. You can probably see the BrightInfo blue overlay in the bottom of your screen right now. And every so often, a BrightInfo slider moves in to recommend related content.
Don’t forget to include an opt-in in the footer area of your blog (and your whole website). Here’s a nice one from the American Express OPEN Forum:
5. Plan your content strategically
You want to educate rather than sell on your blog, but that doesn’t mean you can’t educate in a way that supports turning visitors into leads, and leads into customers.
Some of the best lead-generating B2B blogs specifically plan and schedule content for different phases of the buying cycle, and also for different buyer personas.
Note that for the later phases of the buying cycle, you may want to write blog posts that summarize and link to case studies and whitepapers.
For more insights into how to craft content for each stage of the buyers journey, from awareness to expanding the customer relationship, see our ebook, “10 Ways to Nurture the Buyer’s Journey: Why Understanding the Buyer’s Journey in Important”.
Planning content for different audiences and different buying phases is particularly difficult. According to The CMO Council and NetLine’s just-published survey, 48% of CMOs say that content not developed for target audiences is derailing their lead flow process. It’s tied with budget limitations for causing the most problems.
If you’re not sure what people want to know in those early phases of the buying cycles, talk to your customer service department or to your sales team. Both those departments have a trove of knowledge about what your existing customers and current prospects want to learn about.
Customer service reps and sales people know:
- What questions customers and prospects usually have
- What types of problems they’re looking to solve
- What they’re worried about
- What they hope your product or service will ultimately give them (like more free time, or fewer customer complaints)
6. Make your posts more engaging to read
Too many B2B blogs are less than reader-friendly. This hurts lead gen simply because it means your blog is not very readable. If you want people to read and engage with your content – and maybe even ask for more – you’ve got to make the experience as pleasant as possible for them.
Unfortunately, that means you need to make your content scannable. Far, far more people will scan your posts than read them. And even if they do read them, they need to feel like reading won’t give them a headache.
Here are a few ways to make your blog posts more readable:
- Use subheaders
- Use bullet points
- Write short paragraphs. No more than five lines long, and it’s OK to use one-sentence paragraphs.
- Use an attractive header image, then another image in the blog post about every 300-400 words or so.
- Consider embedding a video, animated gif or a SlideShare.
- Write at a 7th-grade level or less. Use the free Hemingway app to show you which grade level your post comes in at.
7. Publish more often
I know, I know: You have no time. You can barely keep up with publishing every other week, or even every month.
There’s a bit of contention on how often is best to post. Many major bloggers and marketing experts, like Derek Halpern, Brian Dean, and others got their blogs off the ground with only a post a month. That’s impressive, but honestly, it’s rare. Most blogs need new content at least every other week to see traction. Some consider the weekly post the standard. Check what your competitors do. In many industries it’s mandatory to post daily (or more) if you want to keep up with the competition.
If you’re worn out by all the content creation, it’s okay to add some curated content. Aim for about 10-20% of your posts to be curated. This saves time and resources from creating the content, and it also positions you as an authority in your field. If you republish a curated piece whole, use a rel=canonical link in the metadata so Google doesn’t see it as duplicate content. The rel=canonical will show Google where the post’s home turf is, and that site will get any SEO juice. You can also curate by summarizing someone else’s post and adding plenty of your own commentary – but now you’re back to spending time writing. If you do curate this way, you get to keep the rel=canonical as your site’s URL. Be sure to link back to the original post and give them obvious credit.
8. Convert your posts into other formats
You’ve done the hard work of creating the content – the research, the writing, the images. Why not get some more mileage out of your labors? There’s absolutely no reason blog posts can’t be reformatted into other things. Like…
- Social media updates
- A rewritten guest post
As an example, the Act-On eBook “6 Tips for More Effective Hashtags” was created by compiling and polishing a series of blog posts.
Every reformatting you do exposes your blog post (now turned into something else) to another audience. It’s also a great way to promote your content. Speaking of which…
9. Promote your blog posts
“If you build it, they will come” may work for invisible baseball teams on rural farms, but it definitely doesn’t work for blog posts.
Some marketing experts recommend investing 4-5 hours of promotion for every hour spent creating a post. If that seems impossible, aim for a 50/50 split. That’s the formula most successful bloggers force themselves to stick to, even if they’d really rather just go write another post.
Not sure how to promote your posts? See our own post, “26 Ways to Promote Your Blog Post.“
For this post we’ve been focused on the blog as a lead generation tool. If you want to optimize your entire website for lead generation, see our ebook, “Turn Your Website Into A Lead Generation Machine.”