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It always stings when your heros let you down. And my content marketing heros (maybe yours, too) have been lying to us for years. And I’ve been holding in my rant for just as long. But I just can’t do it anymore. The lie?
I’ve always thought that was BS because it just makes sense that chasing traffic that will never convert is a waste of time and resources. But it wasn’t until I started writing this post that I realized just how pervasive that lie has become. Take a look at this. When I Googled “why focusing on blog traffic is a mistake,” I got this:
Even when I searched for “why focusing on traffic is a mistake,” the search results were all about increasing traffic. Yikes! You’d expect that from sites like Neil Patel and Backlinko, because that’s their business model. But even authoritative sites like CMI and Copyblogger (my biggest hero) sometimes act as if it doesn’t matter what happens after people read your blog post.
It almost seems as if today’s content marketing experts have never moved on from the days when blogging was primarily about making money from ad revenue. In that context, concentrating your efforts on traffic makes complete sense. You focus on clickbait headlines, trending topics, popular keywords, whether the number of searches for those keywords is increasing or decreasing, etc.
The problem arises when that same advice is aimed at businesses that make money from selling their own products or services instead of from selling ad space. A post about a spaceship landing in my backyard might get me a spike in traffic, but it’s not going to do me a bit of good unless the aliens are looking for a content strategist. And that’s where the big lie comes in:
If you’re writing for a business blog, the only visitors that matter are the ones that have the potential to convert. A general interest post that hit the sweet spot and went viral could actually have a negative impact by clogging up your server. So let me just come out and say it: If you’re writing for a business blog, a very large chunk of the expert advice and “best practices” available online aren’t meant for you, even if they’re presented as universal truths. That’s because business blogging is different.
The real truths about business blogging
Traffic doesn’t mean squat if the visitors are unlikely to ever need your product or service.
Those aliens I mentioned earlier? They could share my post until it went universally viral, and the only thing I’d get out of it would be bragging rights. (And perhaps an unpleasant visit from some Men in Black). I’m not saying traffic is bad. The more eyeballs that see your content, the better the chances that at least one pair of eyeballs belongs to somebody who needs what you’re selling. Just don’t let the “traffic is everything” mantra convince you that you’re winning when the bottom line shows otherwise.
Business blogs are about sales.
Yes, they should be interesting. They should reflect your brand’s style and voice. They shouldn’t put readers to sleep. They should educate and enlighten readers at every step in the sales funnel, from those who don’t even know they have a problem to those who not only know they have a problem but are pretty sure they want you to solve it. The job of a business blog is to be there to answer their questions wherever they are in their customer journey. Remember, it’s all about conversions. Maybe not right away, but someday. So know who your prospective customers are, and write for them, not the magic SEO fairy. That witch tends to deliver little more than a lot of first-time visitors and high bounce rates.
SEO still matters, just not quite the way you’ve been led to believe.
Your content and metadata should still contain the keywords that best describe your business and what you’re offering. What you don’t need to worry about is whether a particular keyword is trending up or down. If you offer onsite windshield replacement, the fact that fewer people are searching for “onsite windshield replacement” this month than last month is irrelevant. The only thing that’s relevant is that single individual who’s searching for somebody who can replace a cracked windshield onsite.
Two crucial questions for content marketing
” What do you want people to think, do, or feel after they read this?”
For me, this question is way more important than what content marketing experts are saying about the latest Google update. It gives the content I’m writing a purpose. In this case, I want people to know that supposed content marketing “best practices” aren’t for everybody. I want them to understand that many are aimed at sites that need to drive traffic for ad revenue, and that’s a whole ‘nother thing than selling products or services.
I also want people to think, “Wow, I really need to hire Patti as my content strategist.” Sure, that’s a secondary goal, but it wasn’t the motivation for this post. My motivation for writing this post was that, if I didn’t, my head would explode from the frustration of experts giving advice without segmenting their audience. And I want to know that I’m not the only content writer who’s been holding a rant at bay for the last few years.
“What questions would people ask that would bring them here?”
This is SEO by reverse engineering, but it’s in line with Google’s move toward highlighting user intent in their search algorithms. Such tweaks are always intended to push the internet in the direction Google wants it to go (wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of power?), and thanks to advances in AI and machine learning, Google can now put a user’s search terms in context, figure out what they really want, and serve up relevant results even if they don’t match any of the search terms.
What does that mean for your business? For your metadata, use terms that describe who you are and what you do. For me, that includes “content strategist,” even though that’s not the topic of this post. When it comes to the content itself, I’d ask myself which search terms might lead someone to this page. A few examples:
- Is it really all about traffic?
- Are SEO tips different for business blogs than for personal blogs?
- Why do all of the experts seem to be saying the same thing when none of it fits my business’s goals for our blog?
- What do I want from my business blog?
At that point I could go back and insert those questions — or some variation of them, since Google is so smart now — into the copy of my blog, increasing the chance that the people who reach this page will value the advice I’m giving here, because they, too, have permanent keyboard impressions on their foreheads after realizing that even the greatest minds in content marketing don’t seem to get that business blogs are different.
An aside for writers…
Know your audience. When you’re applying for a job, whether it’s a freelance gig or a permanent position, think about the goals of the blog you want to write for. Somebody who sells industrial pumps for manufacturing plants isn’t going to give a crap how many social media followers you have, no matter how impressive that number may be — because, unless they’re all in a position to buy industrial pumps, they offer no value. Build your pitch around the business needs of the organization you want to work with and your understanding of how the blog is connected to the organization’s strategic goals. It certainly doesn’t hurt to include your other successes, just make sure you build your pitch on what’s most valuable to the business.
What did I miss? What other ways are business bloggers being underserved by general content marketing and blogging resources?