December 27, 2018

The science of blogging

Category:   

Here's recent research about blogging, excluding local SEO. If you're a newbie, read all of it and Google terms any unfamiliar terms like "alt tag." If you're an experienced blogger, the takeaway for 2019 is: focus more on brand building and creating a good user experience than on SEO hacks.

1. Blogging facts

As of December 2018, according to InternetLiveStats, there were nearly 2 billion website and blogs. This includes 75 million WordPress sites.

So, there is a ton of clutter. It is really hard to get on page one of Google's search results, especially if you are going up against established competitors.

Blogging and the big picture

If you understand what each party in a search wants, you can do a better job of fulfilling their intent (search purpose).

What Google wants

Google wants to sell ads. To do that, it needs to have lots of users.

  • The last figures from Google, released in 2012, showed 1.7 billion people worldwide were using Google Search. According to Net Market Share<, as of 2018, Google had 73% of global market share followed by Baidu (China) with 13.28% and Bing (Microsoft) with 7.91%.

What Google users want

People use Google for four reasons:

  • They want to learn something (informative blogs, how to videos)
  • They want to be entertained (cat photos, memes, music videos)
  • They want to make a transaction (purchase or online banking)
  • They want to be seen or heard (connect socially, leave a review)

Why Google is popular

Google is the dominant search engine because it consistently provides a better user experience. This means:

  • Google serves up websites that are more relevant to what people are searching for. If I am searching for "buy bat" I am not going to get an article about flying mammals.
  • Google is easy and fast to use. It can search through 840 million possibilities 0.69 seconds.
  • Google continues to evolve. It made the leap from desktop to mobile. It is exploring voice search, visual search, and artificial intelligence (AI).

Sites that are search engines

Although 99% of the Internet is made up of non-dynamic websites, a Google search can hand you off to a site that is itself a search engine:

  • Amazon is the largest shopping search engine.
  • YouTube (owned by Google) is the largest entertainment channel.
  • Facebook is the largest social media platform.
  • TripAdvisor is the largest travel review and booking site.

What bloggers want

Pro blogs are used mainly as a search engine optimization (SEO) tactic to:

  • Help website pages rank highly in Google's search results, and
  • Attract traffic that can be monetized in some way.

If the website is an e-commerce site or a consultancy site (like this one), the goal is to attract the kind of visitors who are likely to convert into paying customers.

Otherwise, blog are monetized by running ads or affiliate links.

Personal blogs that are written for self-expression, not business reasons, are a different kettle of fish.

Google is always changing

Google is constantly refining its algorithm to deliver better results. Minor updates occur around 600 times a year. Major updates occur less frequently but have an impact on SEO and website revenues.

Google also continually changes how results are displayed based on user behavior.

For example, now teasers make it easier for mobile users to see the answer to a query without opening a webpage.

Fending off SEO hacks

SEO is good to a point, but Google does not want sites to focus on SEO hacks instead of quality content.

Nor does Google want it to be so easy to get traffic organically (through search) there is no need to buy paid ads.

So, when a Google tool becomes abused or problematic, it usually gets shut down.

PageRank, which ranks domain authority, was hidden from webmasters in 2013. The same year, Google implemented its nefarious "keyword not provided" – which hid organic traffic sources.

When it comes to whether businesses should hire an SEO consultant, Google admits they can be useful – but then writes a lot of scary stuff about how unethical SEOs can permanently damage your site.

Using AI to be more human

RankBrain, introduced by Google in 2015, used machine-learning to help Google's search algorithm deliver better results. By "better," I mean the results were more relevant to the intent of searchers.

Google is getting to be very good at semantic search, or understanding the intent behind natural language. Its desire to move beyond keywords is one of the reasons for costly investments in artificial intelligence (AI), voice search, and devices like Google Assistant.

Google is now using an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm in a third of searches. AI does a much better job of understanding and matching a searcher's intent to an author's intent. When Google gets sophisticated enough, things like links won't matter.

Google has a way to go, yes. Google's AI has an IQ of ~47, which is smarter than Siri and Bing, but lower than that of a six-year old child.

Keywords are losing ground

Why would I ignore the advice of SEO experts (like Tylor Hermanson) who advocate building content around keywords?

Because Google itself is trending away from keywords toward semantic (natural) language.

This is controversial, I know.

It is still important to signal the purpose of your content with keywords.

  • For example, keywords like "science of blogging" are better for an informative article when people are researching the topic.
  • But "hire a blogger" has the same number of words, yet clearly would better suit a landing page.

But this really isn't a matter of keywords. It is commonsense communication when writing an article for an audience.

I still check Google Keyword Planner to be sure my topic has sufficient interest (traffic). But beyond that, I just write naturally.

2. Blogging and SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a matter of giving users what they want in such a way that it also appeals to Google.

Text written mainly for Google (i.e., to do well in search engine results) is usually of low quality from a human perspective.

How bloggers can please Google

In a nutshell, Google wants bloggers to provide content that satisfies the search intent of Google users.

Google itself says it best:

These algorithms analyze hundreds of different factors to try to surface the best information the web can offer, from the freshness of the content, to the number of times your search terms appear and whether the page has a good user experience. In order to assess trustworthiness and authority on its subject matter, we look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries. If other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign the information is high quality.

For a typical query, there are thousands, even millions, of webpages with potentially relevant information. So to help rank the best pages first, we also write algorithms to evaluate how useful these webpages are.

How Google's algorithm works

There are more than 200 factors that go into the algorithm Google uses to identify quality content.

An algorithm is simply a software program, similar to a mathematical formula.

Google crawls your site using your site's links, including your navigation. In the process, it applies its algorithm to index your content and determine whether a specific article deserves to be on the first page of its search results.

Right away, we know that:

  • Google has to be able to crawl and index our site. Crawling means Google can go to all the pages/content. Indexing means that Google can include content in search results.
  • Because it is a software bot, Google does best with text, not video or audio, just like screen readers for the blind.
  • Your navigation tells Google how your pages relate to each other. Individual articles are evaluated within the context of your site as a whole.
  • Google cannot crawl a site that does not have a robots.txt file. This file tells Google how to crawl your site. It is also helpful if you add a search engine sitemap (usually an XML file), especially if your site is new and does not have many external links (backlinks).
  • Nofollow links and certain types of redirects have SEO consequences, but this is beyond this article.
  • Overall, your site (like Google itself) has to provide a good user experience on desktop and mobile. This means no bloat – your article should load in 3 seconds or less. It means having a SSL certificate for security. It also gets into things like design, typography, and readability.

Digging into the algorithm

Google's Panda algorithm update in February 2011 was intended to prevent sites with low-quality content from making it into top search results. In 2018, Google further defined what it meant by low-quality content in its updated Quality Rater Guidelines.

The Quality Rate Guidelines are a set of instructions for Google employees to help them look at search results and evaluate how well the algorithm is doing. These benchmarks are used to refine the algorithm, not to manually downgrade specific sites.

Google sums up what it means by "low quality" content:

(Even if their purpose is beneficial) low quality pages do not achieve their purpose well because they are lacking in an important dimension, such as having an unsatisfying amount of main content, or because the creator of the main content lacks expertise for the purpose of the page.”

Low quality information

Google states that low quality content has "an unsatisfying amount of information" and the information itself lacks expertise. Articles that are "demonstrably inaccurate" will be ranked lowest.

Google specifically calls out click bait, which are articles with "exaggerated or shocking" titles. This means articles with titles like "Why your blog article sucks" are no longer going to work, even if they are attention-grabbing.

"Your Money Your Life" (YMYL) pages that give advice on finances, health, safety, etc. are held to a higher standard. This means the information must be created by named creators of expertise and authority, any transactions must be secure, privacy policies must be in place, and the entire site must have a consistent purpose. Anonymous articles on YMYL sites "should be rated lowest."

Finally, the purpose of the article must be crystal clear. A page with no clear purpose will be ranked at "the lowest quality." So, your content has to ultimately line up with your site goal and every article has to be part of a larger content strategy.

Low author reputation

Content creators can no longer be anonymous. Nor can they use pseudonyms, unless they happen to be working under a long-standing alias that is well-known on the Internet.

Google also seems to be saying it will evaluate your content within the context of your broader reputation, i.e. social media profiles and general authority and fame on the Internet. This means it will only get harder for newcomers to rank well in search results.

Low site quality

Failing to maintain your site can penalize your content. This means site owners have to:

  • Ensure sites are optimized for mobile and other evolving technology.
  • Update software and plugins to prevent security hacks.
  • Continually update articles so they provide current information.

Malicious sites, including hate sites and those with detrimental downloads, will be ranked lowest

3. Blogging and content relevance

Google relies on search queries to determine what Internet users are interested in. Relevance is how well an article or page answers a user's search query.

As long as Google can match search queries with the most relevant results, it will remain the top search engine.

If an article doesn't relate to a search query, it's not going to show up in search results. Ultimately, your content has to reflect the search interests of your desired audience.

Typically, relevance is strongly correlated to an article's keywords.

  • Keywords are words or phrases that are deliberately including in content because they are synonymous with a user's search terms.
  • Google not only looks at straight keyword matches, it also identifies synonyms, general word use, and use within content.
  • Google's reliance on keywords has spawned a morass of SEO hacks like keyword stuffing.
  • An emphasis on keywords encourages hideous writing, like "Learn how to blog from an experienced freelance blogger for hire."

How Google evaluates relevance

Properly targeted keywords alone aren't enough to establish content relevance. Google looks at other factors on your page, like:

  • Text content and non-text elements, like video, audio, images, and interactive tools such as calculators
  • Content length and formatting
  • Meta elements, like the title, meta description, and image alt tags
  • Page optimization for loading speed and mobile friendliness

Further, Google evaluates your content against other web pages and historical web searches. Some factors they look at include:

  • Whether your article is more or less comprehensive than similar articles
  • Whether your article ticks all the boxes that searchers on your topic want to know
  • Whether your article is the appropriate reading level for your audience
  • Whether your information is reliable and truthful (which goes beyond whether your content is popular and linked to a lot)

Engagement signals relevance

A really important metric is the length of time people spend on your page. This suggests the level of user engagement, which is directly correlated to the relevance of your content.

Also related to length of time on the page, or "dwell time," is the bounce rate.

The bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave a page without going deeper. It may mean people got what they wanted, like a phone number to call you for a consult, or bookmarked the page to read later.

But a high bounce rate usually indicates people did not like your site, for whatever reason. Or it means your tracking tags are implemented incorrectly.

If a visitor clicks on an outbound link in your content, it can register as a bounce unless your developer has set up events.

What is a good bounce rate?

In general, a good bounce rate is somewhere between 30%-45%.

This will vary with the type of site, the type of visitor, the type of page, and whether your site is being viewed on desktop or mobile.

  • Landing pages can have a bounce rate above 70%
  • Content websites have a bounce rate of 40%-60%
  • Lead generation sites have a bounce rate of 30%-50%
  • Retail sites have a bounce rate of 20%-40%
  • Service sites (such as banks) have a bounce rate of 10%-30%
  • Users on mobile device and referred by Facebook and Twitter tend to bounce 16%-20% more than users on desktop who use search

Average bounce rates also vary by industry.

  • Food and beverage sites bounce rates are 65%
  • News sites are around 58%
  • Hobby and leisure sites are around 54%
  • Internet and tech sites are around 53%
  • Business sites are around 51%
  • Online communities are around 46%
  • Real estate sites are around 44%

Videos increase engagement

Most visitors leave a webpage in 15 seconds. Zowie.

Videos are one way to boost user time on page (engagement). They also appear in search results.

Some people, like Rand Fishkin, have been using video for years as a SEO tactic. He includes a text transcript of his videos for Google (for keywords and indexing) and for people like myself who prefer the written word.

Neil Patel has been using prerecorded "webinars." These audio presentations draw about 1000 people per session because Neil is well known as an SEO expert. While most people will watch no more than 4 minutes of video in one sitting, his users stick for 60 minutes. This signals tremendous engagement to Google and is more valuable than keywords. Neil does not include a transcript so you have to watch for the full hour, not scan text quickly.

Video has other advantages

According to a reading software firm, the average adult reads 200 words per minute with a comprehension rate of 60%.

A 3,000-word article requires 15 minutes of reading time, but works out to 20 minutes or more of video.

Researchers have found video comprehension is significantly higher than reading.

Video also allows content creators to forge a stronger emotional bond with their audiences.

Google wants originality

If the Internet sinks into a sea of sameness, Google won't be able to serve up meaningful results. So unique (original) content is critically important.

Google explicitly tries to filter out duplicate articles from search results. You can't syndicate the same article in several places on the web and expect to do well. Nor can you (heaven forbid) plagiarize someone else's content.

But you can quote an article (that's what quote marks are for) and use content from other sources, like YouTube, as long as you add some sort of unique value.

Originality is having unique value

Rand Fishkin, who left Moz to found SparkToro, covers the subject of original content really well in one of his wonderful Whiteboard Fridays. He sums up the meaning of unique value as follows:

What I mean when I say 'unique value' and what the search engines would like you to do and are building algorithms around is providing value that no other sources, no other sites on the web are specifically providing. That could mean that you take a look at the visitor's intent, the searcher's intent or your customer's intent and you say, 'Hey, I'm going to answer each of these things that this person is trying to achieve.'


How to have unique value

It's no longer enough to have good content. You have to have the very best content out there. This requires that you:

  • Know your audience and what they are interested in (use a keyword tool and do your own Google searches).
  • Know what content gets the most shares (use BuzzSumo).
  • Know your competition and the level of quality they offer.
  • Provide the most thorough and detailed information with the most current, authoritative sources (including your own research).
  • Use interesting visuals, including originals charts and infographics.
  • Use an engaging, personable writing style.

Is this article original?

I Googled "The Science of Blogging," and got only five results. All of them, except the top-ranking article, are based more on personal opinion than objective evidence. The top article, written in 2014, outperforms fresher content published in 2018. This tells me that, while there are thousands of articles on how to blog. there is room for a brawnier article on this particular topic.

4. Blogging and content length

Orbit Media's survey of 1000 bloggers provides some insights into content length and search engine results.

First and foremost, 42% of bloggers who produce really long articles (2000 words or more) report "strong results." Yet, only 18% of bloggers write long content. Why? Well, longer pieces take 6 or more hours to write. The average blog post (about 1000 words) takes 3.5 hours to produce. Given the pressure to publish frequently and quickly, pro bloggers are far more likely to write shorter pieces with around 1000 words.

Length signal depth

Copy length is a simple signal that the article could be in-depth. Combine that with the bounce rate plus time on the page, and you get a pretty good idea of whether an article is truly informative and relevant to its audience.

Want proof that longer content does better in Google?

Glad you asked.

SERPIQ ran a 2018 study on the top 10 results in search queries. Articles with 2,350-2,450+ words placed in the top 4 results. Articles with around 2000 words ranked in 10th position. And articles with fewer than 2000 words did not appear in the top 10 results.

Two years earlier, in 2016, it was enough to write 1,890 words to get on page one according to a Backlinko study of one million search results

Clearly, the trend is toward longer, not shorter, content.

Why length matters

Google users are not goldfish, meaning the facts contradict oft-cited statistics stating the average Internet user has a lower attention span than your favorite aquarium pet. People are perfectly happy to consume long-form information as long as it is truly useful to them.

Long-form content has an advantage over shorter content because it is more likely to tell the whole story. Brian Dean noticed, and by inference so has Google, that:

People hate searching around for bits of information. Putting it all in one place saves them time and energy.

But Brian Dean's real point was that long, comprehensive articles are more shareable and get more natural backlinks – and both are huge SEO boosters.

5. Blogging and authority

Google uses the concept of domain (site) authority to determine which sites are most valuable and should rank highest in its results. Many many factors go into authority, including backlinks and sharing.

Google's idea of authority is broader than the page ranking metric called "Page Authority," which was developed by SEO software company Moz.

Authority and PageRank

A number of years ago, a metric called "PageRank" was extremely important. It was based almost entirely on the number of backlinks ti a page.

Now PageRank (number of backlinks) is not the only measure of quality; it is simply one factor.

How to get authority

There are two ways to get authority: sharing and backlinks. Backlinks are links to your content from external sites. If those sites are of good quality, it suggests your site has credibility and deserve to be at the top of search results.. Likewise, links from spammy or low-quality sites will hurt your site.

Social shares not only provide backlinks, they signal that your content is worth noticing. Comments are also form of social signaling that your site is interesting and relevant to users.

Sharing signals authority

Google knows how much and where your content is shared and uses that information to help determine your article's value.

Sadly, the majority of new content doesn't get shared at all. Most readers simply do not consider hitting those juicy share buttons.

But – here's the good news – long new content is most likely to get shared.

In fact, Buffer found super-long articles with 3,000-10,000 words get about twice as many shares as articles with 1,000 words or less.

Backlinks also signal authority

Backlinks (links from another site) have been the backbone of search since Google was invented in 1998.

In 2014, Matt Cutts, Google's head of spam search at the time, said that backlinks will lose their importance over time. But, he conceded, it would be some years before Google could come up with a better shortcut for evaluating a page's authority.

Authority is a form of respect. When sites link to you, they are signaling they trust your site and view it as having expertise.

Backlinks per se are not enough.

Google is looking for high quality backlinks from sites that (a) retain editorial control, and (b) are themselves quality sites.

This means that automatic backlinks from blog comments and directory submissions are no longer helpful.

How to get high quality backlinks

If you are an average Joe (i.e., non-influencer) you can't just publish fantastic content and hope the Internet sits up and takes notice.

Most content writers have to implement some sort of linking strategy. In the post-Penguin algorithm world, there are three fundamental ways to get high quality backlinks::

  1. Create awesome content and then manually request backlinks from relevant high-authority websites. Part of this strategy might be to begin by including an outgoing link to the authority site and then contacting the site owner to say how much of a fan you are.
  2. Provide content (such as guest blogs) to high-authority sites that includes a link back to your site.
  3. Create links yourself in the course of promoting your content on social media and sites such as SlideShare to get referral traffic.

In reality, these steps have been overplayed and it is d*mn hard to get them to work. That's why most successful bloggers and online marketers use personal networking to expand their influence. Yes, some of this occurs in online forums.

It requires that you emerge out of your dark cave and attend industry conferences, WordCamps, and face-to-face gatherings.

Good backlinks take time

Quality backlinks are always "natural backlinks."

In Google's eyes, natural backlinks are quality backlinks built up over time.

So, it would be more "natural" in Google's algorithm for your article to accumulate one backlink a week over a period of months than to accumulate the same number of backlinks in one day.

Bad backlinks backfire

You can try to spoof Google with SEO tricks but the odds of winning against 88,110 full-time geniuses are pretty slim in the long run.

If you violate the intent behind Google's Webmaster rules – for example, you spin (repurpose) a guest post for dozens of mediocre sites so you can backlinks from them – your strategy is likely to result in a Google penalty.

If your site has been penalized, you will get a notice from Google or you will see your traffic nosedive in your Google Analytics account.

6. Blogging and frequency

Bloggers must publish lots of quality content to appear in search results

  • There is more content to be indexed and show up on Google.
  • The odds of getting read and shared increase.

How often is enough?

Lifewire suggests:

  • Post 3-5 times per day for fastest growth (killer, right?)
  • Post daily for steady growth
  • Post 2-3 times a week for slow growth
  • Post less than 2-3 times a week for maintenance

Send links to subscribers

Don't send your blog posts by email to subscribers. Send your subscribers to your blog post.

  • It helps your overall SEO because it shows Google you have return visitors.
  • Returns visits signal that people like your site.

6. Blogging and subject matter

Most people leave a webpage within 15 seconds so you have to rope users into your content quickly.

In other words, your content has to be interesting to your audience.

How to have more interesting content

Remember earlier in this article, when I stated why people use Google? Well, those are your cues for how to have more interesting content. Choosing the right subject matter and approach can help make your articles more relevant.

  • Instructional content is useful because it solves a problem or helps your audience develop a practical skill. Cheat sheets, infographics and downloadable ebooks are variations on instructional content.
  • News content is useful because people like to stay current; use news-jacking to add your opinion to a current news item.
  • Personal spotlights are interviews or bios; they are interesting because people are curious about people (that's what celebrity status is all about).
  • People enjoy being entertained, so they look for memes, music videos, quizzes, and humorous content. Brands can stand out by having a humorous, even snarky, voice.
  • Multi-media is engaging, so interesting content usually includes a mix of written words, images, and video.
  • Lists are such a mainstay of the web, they cross every subject. You can have humorous lists, informative lists, and gossipy lists. Readers love them because lists promise answers without fluff.

Your subject must be searchable

If you are a startup selling something brand new, you can't use search terms to attract traffic simply because no one is looking for your solution.

Uber didn't use online marketing when it launched in 2009. It relied on a combination of early adopter advocacy, referral marketing, customer loyalty programs, and buzz-worthy stunts to get its brand on the road.

When Lyft started three years later, the concept of ride-sharing had already become embedded in the market. Lyft could draw on a new lexicon to use in its digital advertising.

Niche topics are easier

Narrowly focused blogs (niche sites) win traffic more quickly and easily than more generalized sites. You stand an excellent chance of gaining fast traction as long as:

  • There is sufficient consumer interest in your topic, and....
  • There is low competition from other sites.

Harsh Agrawal wrote a step-by-step post about how to create a micro-niche blog site with just 29 articles that earned 2 million views. The key, aside from perfect content optimization, was to find a niche (subject) with strong audience potential that no one else had exploited. His traffic was entirely organic, meaning it came from search words, not social media or extensive link building. Even though the Panda update has made the tactic less profitable, it is still possible.

Wow, right?

General topics have broader audiences

Overall, broad authority sites do better in Google than niche sites. There are two reasons why:

  • By their very nature, niche sites are likely to have lower traffic than broader authority sites.
  • Further, an authority site is already a teacher's pet; Google has come to the conclusion it is trustworthy and valuable, and is likely to reward its pages with top spots in search results.

7. Blogging and user experience

User experience is not really separate from SEO because a bad user experience will produce a high bounce rate. A high bounce rate will negatively impact your SEO.

In fact, modern SEO experts believe that user experience is the ultimate factor used by Google to determine search engine page results (SERPs).

User sastisfaction is the ultimate decider of what site gets to rank number one not which site has the most links or which site is the most spam free or any combination of those kinds of metrics.

Search Engine Land

User experience is a matter of having good content, high readability, and good design.

Format for readability

Aside from following typographical rules, format your articles so they can be easily scanned. That means breaking up copy into headlines, subheads, and bulleted lists.

Many blog writers begin long articles with a table of contents that links to each section in the article. Readers can skip to the section that interests them.

Chris Brogan advocates beginning your article with a summary of what you will say, then drilling down to the details.

Use images

There are many reasons to use images in your blog articles:

  • Images attract attention and engage readers.
  • Illustrate and explain content.
  • Images make information more memorable.
  • Images like infographics are immensely shareable.
  • Images wind up in Google image search.
  • Images inserted to the left or right of content makes the line length shorter and hence easier to read.

How many images are enough?

At the very least, you should use a featured image.

Beyond that, there are no hard and fast rules about the number of images you should include. Some bloggers suggest using one image per 150 to 300 words to break up the content.

Many pro bloggers use custom-designed images. The average stock photo is not going to help your brand.

Always add images the right way:

  • Images should be sized before you upload them.
  • You will want to compress your images to no more than 100kb, even big hero images.
  • Do SEO housekeeping, like giving your JPG file a descriptive name and adding an alt tag.
  • When creating sliders with text overlays, make sure the type is legible on mobile devices.

Use legible typography

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen discovered small or difficult to read fonts are one of the biggest complaints about website.

Follow these rules when it comes to your blog's typography:

  • The font size should be at least 16 px (on a monitor, this is equivalent to 12 points in print).
  • Use dark type on a light background.
  • Use 1.5 to 1.6 line height spacing.
  • Line length should be no more than 75 characters including space; the optimal length is 50-60 characters including spaces, or 10-12 words.
  • Serif fonts are considered more legible in print, but there is no hard-core agreement as to whether serif or non-serif fonts are best online

Design with a purpose

Blog owners often do their own website development and design.

Design should always be done to satisfy the needs of users, not the tastes of website owners. According to Blue Corona, site design has a big impact on how long people stay on your site and whether they trust your brand.

The number one mistake is putting too much on a page; clean design is more engaging.

Load quickly

Page load has been a factor in desktop search results for some time. People are frustrated by slow sites and tend to bounce off them.

This is especially true of mobile devices; 40% of mobile users leave if a page takes more than 2 seconds to load. Google introduced an algorithm change in 2018 that negatively impacts slow mobile pages.

How fast is fast enough?

2 seconds is the threshold for e-commerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second.

Maile Ohye, Google

Use an engaging style

Style always matters. This means:

  • Don't fill articles with fluff just to reach a word count; it's annoying.
  • Unless you write for a scientific or highly educated audience, keep your style simple. Stick to an 8th grade reading level and keep sentences short – 35 or fewer words.
  • Use an active voice and keep adjectives, acronyms, and buzzwords at a minimum.
  • Tell a story instead of presenting product features and benefits.
  • Format text so it is easy to scan, especially on mobile devices. Use headlines, subheads, and bulleted/numbered lists.

Use social media to test headlines

This is a clever idea that comes from Buffer. Test how well topics and headlines resonate with your audience by using social media.

Your headline has to be short and amazing or no one will click on it and read your post. In fact, according to Copyblogger, only 20% of people who read a headline go deeper and read the article.

P.S. Headlines with powerful verbs and adverbs do better than those with lots of adjectives and nouns.

You need great headlines not just for blog articles but also for emails, press releases, marcomm materials, etc.

8. Blogging and brand building

Your website or blog is part of your brand; it is a brand asset. Your brand is your business personality. Being a brand can help you avoid being dependent on Google search because people will look for you by name; this traffic is direct search, not organic, and alway ranks first.

In fact, the top 100 Google search terms are mainly brand names.

How to build a brand

Being different from other brands can help you stand out, create an online reputation, and develop a following that exists beyond your SEO efforts.

SEO guru Neil Patel advocates being bold when creating an online brand and suggests that marketers do the following:

  • Build a better mousetrap by offering unprecedented freebies with real value in exchange for lead information or purchases.
  • Be an early adopter of new channels (like video, infographics, animated infographics, podcasts, etc.) before they become popular.
  • Be controversial or newsworthy.

He is no stranger to using controversy as a marketing strategy and has positioned himself as someone who will go to any lengths to test an idea. For example, he published numerous "lifestyle marketing" articles that showcased his purchases of a $1.7 million condo in Vegas and over-the-top watches. His articles assert that, while he "is not a materialistic guy," these purchases allowed him to win more high-profile business. (I think the campaign was insincere and simply turned luxuries into tax write-offs.)

Personal brands like Seth Godin are thought leaders. Seth Godin can safely ignore SEO because his tribe follows him religiously. He has been publishing pithy blog posts every day for years. He emails back anyone who contacts him (I know; like an ass, I did this in 2010 just to test him).

Seth Godin also publishes traditional print books, which is a proven technique to establish thought leadership.

Create a community

Building a brand these days is about creating a community. Even companies are trending toward having a personal face (think Elon Musk); if they don't have a charismatic leader of their own, they hire influencers.

Fast Company wrote an article about this trend, stating the best companies are cashing in on their ability to create "belonging." There is a vacuum of loneliness, with people being socially connected online yet isolated in reality. Brands, including small businesses, are cashing in by creating connections between their customers.

The best bloggers can't be personally connected to their followers in real life, but they attempt to be accessible, transparent, and personable. A point of view and a distinctive persona are requirements for this.

Email builds relationships

The majority of pro bloggers (Neil Patel, Jeff Bullas, Kristi Hines, and many others) use email to nurture their community.

At some point, they each want to monetize their blog by selling services or lessons. But this doesn't happen during the first or even second visit to a site. Instead, the community has to be nurtured using old-fashioned drip campaigns.

The digital world is saturated and so is email. Sharon Hurley Hall wrote a very good article for Optinmonster with the full picture. Here are some top notes:

  • More than 281 billion emails were sent every day in 2018.
  • Email is not just an old fogy tool; 78% of teens use it
  • 95% of business people use email, making it smart for B2B.

The bottom line: Forget sending boring newsletters and tired offers; emails today must be brilliant.

Be yourself

The Internet is full of copycat bloggers following the same advice. T'o gain a tribe, you need to be different.

Often, the best way to do that is to be completely yourself. There are always haters and trolls. Grow a thick skin.

Don't be afraid to swim upstream. You may fail, but failure is just success that has gotten rained on. Be persistent and find your voice; eventually, you should make it.

Did I leave something out? Let me know in the comments and I'll get back to you quickly.

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