In a few weeks this business blog will be 9 years old. That’s 3,145 posts overall, of which I have written 2,537 myself.
If someone would have suggested to me 9 years ago that I should write 1.2 million words as a key component of my agency’s online marketing strategy, I would have dismissed them as crazy. And yet here we are.
I know a lot of companies have dabbled in blogging with mixed results and many are considering either starting a blog or scaling their blogging efforts. There are reasonable questions about how a business blog will add value to the bottom line. How will a corporate blog contribute to leads and sales? What is the ROI of blogging for each quater, month, week, day, hour and dollar invested? Those are great questions.
Maybe I should have asked myself those questions 9 years ago. But I didn’t.
What I did do was make a commitment to using a blog as a publishing platform to communicate directly with all the people I wanted to reach: prospects, customers, journalists, other bloggers, talented marketers to join the TopRank team, marketing partners, conferences and events to speak at and of course our own staff.
As our agency has grown, other TopRank team members have joined in the fun contributing their expertise and developing their blogging skills. Those additional voices help paint a better picture of our agency than I could ever do on my own. Team contributions are essential for a successful business blog.
The result? The ROI? We get new inquiries for consulting projects daily without any advertising or salespeople. Journalists and bloggers contact us to discuss stories weekly along with conference speaking opportunities. We get regular inquiries about working for our digital marketing agency and inquiries about partnering with other PR, Advertising and Interactive Marketing firms. Those objectives, without getting into the financials – trust me, they’re good, are more than the vast majority of agencies see with blogging efforts.
Monetize your marketing. On top of industry credibility, visibility, awareness, influence and measurable conversions, we also get daily requests for advertising. That means we’re not just realizing ROI in the form of attracting new business, but we’re able to monetize our marketing content through blog advertising.
Still feeling crazy. If someone had suggested to me 9 years ago that not only would I not need to advertise and not employ any salespeople, but that people would pay to run ads on our marketing content, I would have dismissed them as crazy too. And yet again, here we are.
Measuring the return on investment of a business blog is no different than any other online marketing effort. It starts with setting goals. As you can see, the business value from blogging extends beyond lead generation and sales, although those are certainly the first order of the day for most companies. Blogging is a communications channel that can work in concert with other communications to add value, reduce or deflect cost, increase efficiency and effectiveness. Blogging can play an essential role, in PR, lead generation, community building, customer support, collaboration and many other valuable business functions.
Imagine what blogging can do for you. Because blogging is so dynamic and works best as a component of an overall content marketing strategy, it’s important to develop a hypothesis about what you expect will happen form a successful blogging effort. What does success look like? How will you know you’ve met ROI expectations with blogging? Who are your audiences and how can publishing information on a blogging platform can pull them closer to where you want them to be? Answering those questions will be key in setting specific goals.
After goals, the mechanics will follow. With goals, timeframe and a blogging strategy in place, the monitoring of KPIs and measurement of blogging performance can be established. If goals are customer acquisition, then it makes sense to map the steps a prospect might take during the sales cycle from awareness to purchase and determine what’s measurable about that journey. If the goals are to attract media attention, then research industry editorial calendars and schedule content and media outreach accordingly. If the goals are related to customer support, then track topics of customer inquiries and create content to answer those most frequently asked questions.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) can range from rankings to traffic to social shares and referrals from the media and other blogs or websites. Tracking the quantity and rate over time of KPIs should serve as an indicator that your blogging efforts are moving in the right direction to achieve business outcomes like micro conversions (RSS subscribers, email newsletter signups, demo sign ups, white paper downloads, etc) as well as referrals from the blog to pages designed to sell on the company site. Any leads generated there can be attributed to the source of the referral. Of course any contacts or inquiries made directly on the blog count as well.
Measurement beyond the blog itself. Blogging promoted through social networks means tracking network size and rate of growth as well as engagement. A blog post can travel far through RSS, tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn shares, links from other blogs and of course the potential effect of Google+ shares. Visibility on social networks may not create leads directly, but the touchpoint through social when added to search visibility, email marketing, ads and media coverage all add up to building trust in prospects about your brand. That trust shortens sales cycles, increases order size, improves retention and many other trackable business outcomes.
Blogs are a critical part of a content marketing strategy. Blogs can serve as a hub with social networks and media as key channels of distribution in a hub and spoke content marketing approach. Following an editorial calendar that supports audience and business goals, content published on the corporate blog and promoted through social channels will create awareness, interest and invite readers to hunger for more. When companies deliver on the promise of useful, relevant and interesting content, readers can’t wait to see what will be published next. They’ll move beyond readers and often become advocates.
There are many lessons to be learned about blogging for business and luckily, we’ve figured out about as many as you can. But we continue to learn something new every day by tracking blog performance both short and long term. There are so many new things I would like to do with this blog as we raise the bar and do an even better job of providing what our community is interested in and at the same time, accomplishing our business goals. In 2013 there will be some exciting changes as we bring on more writing, creative and social / SEO resources.
What does success look like to you with blogging? How do you measure success for your business blogging efforts?