Blogging is a proven marketing tool to draw audience to your business and boost your brand awareness. Almost every business in the digital sphere maintains a blog and strives to make their content facilitate the sales of their product or service. But some companies manage to do it better than others. What is their know-how, and how can it be used for making your blogging efforts convert?
In this article, we will study the experience of ten digital product companies that have attained tremendous popularity for their blogs. It’s important that we will not be focusing on specialized blogs that gain primary profits from advertisements and affiliate links. Instead, we will research the blogs that exist primarily to back up the sales of the actual products or services.
With smart use of content marketing strategies, the following 10 companies have managed to turn their blogs into popular destinations for millions of readers. Let us see which tips and tricks we can learn from their experience.
1. Turning Your Blog Into A Medium (Freshbooks)
The first insight we got from a top-10 product company blog is this one: you should not treat your blog as simply a tool for boosting the sales of your product. A good blog must attract readers who will read out of mere curiosity, for self-education, or simply for fun. Such readers are unlikely to become your actual customers. But that is ok, because you don’t need them to. Having vast and diverse audiences is a tremendous bonus for your business by itself, and it’s got a few powerful benefits, such as:
- Brand awareness booster. Since you are blogging, you need topics for your articles. At some point, you may simply run out of ideas, and find yourself repeating similar points in multiple posts. If you expand these topics beyond your immediate circle of subjects, however, you’ll have a chance to make broader audiences interested in your content. And more diverse audiences mean wider brand awareness.
- Traffic booster. Making your blog popular means more traffic for your website. Traffic is a digital asset, the legal tender of the present-day Internet. Once you have it, it’s up to you what to do with it: either keep it for website’s value accumulation, or sell it to support less popular digital domains.
- Improved search rankings. In search engines, the more popular the resource is, the more likely it is to climb up the ranking ladder, which means superior positions in the organic search results. And ensuring that you have content on various topics will make your blog a top destination for the wide variety of organic searches.
Let us see how this approach has been implemented by Freshbooks. Freshbooks is a cloud accounting platform for small business owners. Everyone knows that accounting is boring. Accounting is not for everyone. But small businesses have to do it, regardless. For a startup or a small business it often means that a dedicated specialist has to be assigned for the task.
However, Freshbooks aims to break this stereotype. With their blog, they demonstrate how accounting can be made easy and time-effective. The blog educates small business owners on the topics related to the product, such as:
- Time management;
- Fiscal reporting;
- Financial planning;
- Business growth.
Such wide range of topics makes the blog a popular destination for small business owners from all around the globe. And even if not all of them end up actually buying the company’s product, they will definitely make up for popularity, good publicity and trustworthiness of the resource.
Optimizing The Screen Space Usage (Unbounce)
What I often encounter on many blogs I visit is overwhelming blank spaces. A post of a typical blog usually consists of a header menu, an article cover, and the body text, aligned in the center of the screen. Most of the space is left completely blank, while it could be ergonomically organized and used for various purposes.
Putting the free space to work is basically what Unbounce has done. Being a website builder platform, they embodied the “blocky” style of their software’s UI into the structure of their blog. While the content stays in the central column, the edges of the screen offer a lot of interesting things to explore, like:
- Product Advertisements. Unbounce is a product company, and selling their platform remains a primary concern. A smart and nicely drawn ad with a prompting call to action integrates organically into the structure of the page. Since it’s a generic ad, and not a banner, it will never be cut by the ad blocker, and will serve its purpose flawlessly in any browser or device.
- List of categories. This is probably the most interesting example of how blog categories can be organized. While browsing the feed, every user usually has a particular subject of interest. Applying category filters to the feed is a user experience practice, which is widely used by online stores, but somehow tends to be ignored by blogs and online magazines. Unbounce is one of the few blogs that get full advantage of this technique.
- Social media following links. Every blog strives to gain followers, and has links to its social media profiles. However, such links are often found either on the header menu, taking a share of its space, or in the footer where very few users would actually find them. Placing these links on the side, along with respective counters (i.e. how many followers the resource has already gained) is a much better idea, for sure. That way, if the feed looks interesting to the user, they might consider subscribing while they browse.
- Search tool. This is an obvious functionality for any blog, but what many blogs do is place it in the header menu. Moving it to the side of the screen instead looks like a rational decision. That way you free up your header menu space for more important navigational links, and at the same time let the users search for content while they are already deep into the feed.
- Top rated articles. Further in our list of blogs we will see how top rated and featured content can be showcased on the first screen of your blog’s homepage. At Unbounce, such posts are simply listed on the side, but it’s definitely a lot better than not showing them at all.
To sum up the Unbounce blog case, you must treat your screen space as an asset. If some useful information, buttons or links can be ergonomically and naturally incorporated to occupy the free space, do not hesitate to do it. However, it is important not to clutter the screen, or else your blog will turn into a browsing nightmare for any reader (like this one, for instance).
3. Making Your Feed Shine (MOZ)
Just like books, blog posts are often judged by their cover and title, regardless of the popular saying. And if you think about it, it’s totally understandable. Would you want to read a piece of content if it hasn’t caught your eye in some way? Probably not.
MOZ is a SEO toolset solution for global and local search rankings. Their blog is the best example of proper feed organization that I am currently aware of. Let us see how they make use of an array of reader-friendly elements on the above screenshot:
- Custom cover image. There is a whole science behind cover images, but the crucial point is that they have to generate additional value for the posts. Nothing does that better than custom pictures. The distinctive clipart-like style of this blog’s post covers perfectly blends into the overall color palette of the website, thus contributing to the comfortable and pleasurable reading experience.
- Author’s profile. Some blogs do not indicate authors of their posts. This is an awfully bad practice. When there is no author for the content, the reader may rightfully assume it was written by some no-name freelancer, or even worse — rewritten from another source. And no one likes to read second-rate content. Therefore, author information is essential for any respected blog. But MOZ went even further in this. They made the author’s photo visible next to every article in the feed. Moreover, clicking on the photo leads to the personal profile of the author, where their bio, contacts, and all previous posts can be found.
- Tags. Each post is published in a specific category — or several categories, of it touches upon more than one subject. Tagging is a proven sorting method that organizes your articles by similarity, target audience, and topic of interest. Seeing what the post will deal with is one more good reason to go on and read it.
- Summary. A perfect pair to the tags located right above it, the summary describes what the reader will learn from the post. Some think the title should do that, but it’s not strictly correct. The primary goal of the title is to catch the reader’s attention. That is why titles are designed to be engaging, witty and provocative. But when the title has done its job, it’s the summary that must keep the reader’s interest, and stimulate them to explore the post further.
- Social proof. Let’s be honest — do you like to open and read something that hasn’t been already liked and shared? Probably not. And that’s totally understandable. Who knows if the post is worth reading if it has no visible credibility? On the other hand, if you see how many people have already appreciated the post, you’d feel like it may be worth investigating what the fuss is about.
- Call to action button. See that “Read this post” button? Yes, yes, I know that if you click on the image or the summary, it will open the post all the same. It may seem that adding one more special button for this purpose would not be necessary. But it would. Simply showcasing your content piece does not presume any actions from the user. But a button inviting them to read is a totally different thing. It actually stimulates your reader to click and enter the post.
Making your blog feed look like a brightly decorated and neatly organized bookshelf will act as both reader attraction and reader retainer. It will create additional value for your business by simply standing out from the competitive crowd.
4. Selling your expertise (KissMetrics)
How to convince your blog readers that your company’s product or service is worth buying? KissMetrics does it by showing them that they are the real experts.
A good blog must be fun to read, no argue with that. But the best blog will also provide unique insights and pieces of knowledge that the reader is unlikely to obtain anywhere else on the web. When you sell a consumer behavior analytics software, you have to be a guru of consumer analytics, and you must be able to educate your potential clients — as well as simply interested readers — in every aspect of this science.
If you browse a few KissMetrics posts, you will see that they massively use charts, graphs, infographics and other data showcase tools to provide a unique source of user education. This makes KissMetrics blog a popular citation source, which acts as a tremendous search ranking booster.
The major takeaway here is to showcase your company’s expertise in your articles. Do not hesitate to publish the insights gained from the original research that your staff and colleagues are conducting. Back up your materials with convincing visuals and strong viewpoints. Such things assure the readers that they are dealing with an expert, reputable and trustworthy resource, worthy of sharing and citing.
5. Make your events a content generator (Shopify)
Your company regularly takes part in various events, and may even hold your own ones. The blog is a tremendous tool for not only driving online visitors, but attracting the real-world audiences to the conferences, lectures and exhibitions that your company participates in.
Shopify is a good example of a blog that takes the most of its company’s events. Here is how it seems to work:
- Event Announcement. When the event is scheduled, Shopify publishes a post to announce it. Such posts are brief, and only contain the basic information: what, where, and when.
- Event Preview. One week prior to the event, an invitation post appears on the blog, which describes the topic and the agenda of the event in more detail.
- Event Review. On the day following the event, a short review post is published. The course and outcomes are summarized for the ones who attended.
- Event Report. Several days after the event, the full report post is published, with photos, theses and primary takeaways. This post is aimed at the audiences that did not attend, but might be interested in joining further events of similar kind.
Of course, not every event is worth devoting so many posts to. In some cases, the preview can double for the announcement, and a quick summary with one or two photos is preferable to the full-scale report. However, such technique is an efficient way to turn your company into a real-world “partymaker” for your blog readers.
What is also terrific about this approach is that it can act as audience attractor for online events as well. Webinars, interviews, podcasts can — and should be — covered on your blog. That way you will not be holding them for immediate audiences, but spread the word to people who might want to join in in future.
6. Advertising hot & featured content (KillerStartups)
Not all articles on your blog will be equally popular, no matter how much effort you put into them. As per the famed “Pareto principle”, 80% of readers usually admire only 20% of the content. Not every blog makes the actual use of this common knowledge.
As its name suggests, KillerStartups is a blog that offers startup guidance. Their range of topics is pretty wide: from registering a new business to bookkeeping and personal finance management. But the really interesting thing about this blog is how they put their top performing and featured articles at the forefront.
When you enter the first screen of KillerStartups, you see a total of 4 post covers in the central slider. The top-4 seem to be cleverly arranged: №1 occupies the left half of the space, №2 — the right one third, and the remaining two posts are given one eighth of the slider space each.
When the reader enters the blog, they can clearly see what is currently hot and trending. That way, KillerStartups makes their top performing content gain even more visits and reads.
How can you
implement such practice for your blog? Well, here are the few easy steps:
- Identify your top performing articles with the help of Google Analytics. In the Reporting section of your Analytics panel, navigate to Behavior -> Site Content -> All Pages. Here you will see the list of all your post pages. The best performers in terms of pageviews and traffic will be at the top of the list.
- Place links to your top performing articles on the first screen of your blog’s feed. It is a good idea to accompany such links with cover images, short summaries and social proof.
- In 7–8 days, check for top performers again, and refine the list if need be.
Placing your best posts on the showcase of your blog is also a good practice for featured and sponsored content. If you wish to boost page views for the particular article, place it in the “hot” section, too. After a few days you’ll see that the article accumulates way more readers’ attention than it would have, if you’d simply put it on the general feed.
7. Getting the most from the Social Media (Buffer)
People are all into the social media today. The Facebook Q1 2016 Report suggests that an average user spends nearly 50 minutes per day liking, sharing and checking out what’s new on their feeds. And that is Facebook alone! Most companies that practice content marketing still do not fully realise what a tremendous business instrument this can be.
But Buffer is surely not one of such companies. Being a sharing app by itself, it incorporates the powers of various social networks to distribute its blog posts all around the web.
The practice may look simple enough — all you have to do is place a few social share links around. But it actually matters where these links are, in what manner they appear to the user, which buttons are at the top, and which are at the bottom of the list.
First of all, Buffer puts the sharing links in the beginning of each post. Some people share things without reading, simply if they like the cover and title. Next to this initial set of sharing buttons, there is social proof, which further stimulates users to perform the social action.
While you scroll the post down, a sharing “panel” appears on the left edge of the screen. This panel accompanies the user as they read, and comes in handy when the user is unable to finish the article, but they’ve liked it so far, and feel they’d like to share its message or insight.
And finally, there is one more line of social share buttons at the end of each article. This is the most obvious spot to place them, as the appreciating reader is expected to take the action after they have finished reading the post.
The takeaway from Buffer blog experience is to let your content appear on everyone’s social media feeds. Try playing with buttons placement to see how you can assist your readers in their attempt to share your articles.
8. Promoting your product between the lines (HubSpot)
If you ever read HubSpot, you must have seen how they advertise their product on the blog. Or, you may have not seen it, because these advertisements do not actually look like typical ads.
In the beginning of this article, we emphasized that the blog must facilitate the promotion and sales of your company’s product. But one thing to just mention your product somewhere in the text, and another one — to have a good-looking image with a clickable call to action.
The problem is that Internet users do not like to click on the ads. A great lot of users will never even see the clickable ads because of the very popular ad blocking browser add-ons.
HubSpot managed to solve this problem by making their product ads an integral part of their blog. When you scroll down the feed, you are presented with a series of stylish and unobtrusive product promo banners, placed between the post updates. These banners look like they absolutely belong there, and prompt the curious readers to explore the company’s product right when they are enjoying the blog.
Today, aggressive marketing is rarely justified in online promotion. However, putting your product identity between the lines of your content will ensure that it is served gently to the users that seek it.
9. Engaging readers with cleverly chosen visuals (Yalantis)
Earlier in this article we have explained why cover images are important. But simply having an image isn’t quite what it takes to engage the reader’s curiosity and attention.
Many blogs visualize their posts rather bluntly. For example, if the post is titled “Conversion Techniques And Practices”, the image often shows a person who is happily looking into their laptop. While the reason for picking such photo is a straightforward one, this image is not likely to stimulate a lot of clicks.
With present-day Internet users, you have to explore the second-level sense. Metaphors and allegories help a great deal here. Take a look at one of the cover images used by Yalantis. On the first thought, it is rather hard to apprehend what is in common between the image and the post title. However, when you realize that the elephant is your product, and the dogs are the competitors, you’ll surely appreciate the way the connection is presented to you.
Metaphoric and allegorical visuals help drive the reader’s attention as the reader figures out the second meaning. Being a popular web resource with more than 3,000 articles, Yalantis surely proves that this approach is worthy of adoption.
10. The neverending story (Cisco)
And here is the icing on the cake of our Top-10 content marketers’ experience — “More posts for the post god!” Cisco is a good example of a blog that offers as much content as the user can read. A typical blog is paginated, and has by-page navigation. Such navigation seems logical and convenient, but oftentimes turning the page is too hard for the user.
On the other hand, if you have new portions of content auto-loading after the old ones are dealt with, then the scrolling becomes infinite for the user, and there truly can be no way to stop for them.
This is what the Cisco blog does. It auto-loads the next blog page as the reader scrolls down the feed. A good practice to implement if you have a rich history of published content. This way you not only retain users on your blog for longer, but also make old posts work to their full potential.
As peerlessly defined by Forbes, Content Marketing is a technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content, with the objective of driving profitable customer action. By thoroughly studying the practices of ten most read product company blogs, I hope you’ll polish your blog outline — and content strategy — in order to attract and acquire the broadest of audiences, and turn your blog into a respected digital medium in its own right.