Originally published on June 19, 2018. Updated on May 25, 2020.
Shopping has changed a lot since smartphones were invented. Remember the good old days? All you had to do was see a TV commercial or hear a recommendation from a friend and know you were about to get a great deal. Today’s customers need a little more persuasion.
According to Think With Google statistics from January 2018, 53% of shoppers say they always do research before they buy to ensure they’re making the best choice possible. What’s more, nearly 2/3 of shoppers say online video has given them ideas that inspired their purchase.
It makes sense, right? Smartphones put all the answers right at their fingertips. They don’t have to blindly trust that a product is good; they can read the reviews, compare prices, and find out what the brand’s competitors are doing. Consumers are much more empowered.
There’s no way to ignore the numbers. The whole buying process has evolved, and if you want to stay profitable, you need to be changing right along with your tech-savvy consumers. They’re looking for educational material, reviews, and testimonials.
To stay on top, you need to provide them with that information.
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Evolution of the SEO blog
Blogs have long been a powerful tool that businesses use to educate the public, in order to capture their attention, solve their problems, and gently guide them along the path to purchase. They’ve gone up and down in popularity over the years, but we say the humble blog is here to stay.
In the early days of blogging, all you had to do was write 400-odd words about your products and you’d be set. Various combinations of keywords would naturally boost your SEO, and it was an almost effortless way to start driving traffic to your website. Then other businesses caught on to the trend, and the floodgates burst open. Today, SEO is a fiercely competitive game.
Marketing strategies change all the time as technology and consumption habits evolve. The industry has moved away from traditional outbound marketing methods to new inbound marketing methods. The idea is not to force your brand messaging down the throats of the unsuspecting public, but to make yourself easy to find when they’re looking for your products and services.
Blogs are a critical part of this strategy, because the first thing anyone with a problem wants to do is find answers. Educate your prospective customers. Tell them tips and tricks, publish how-to guides, answer frequently asked questions. Try to help; don’t try to sell. Remember, today’s customer is tech-savvy, which means if they can’t find the answers on your digital assets, they’ll look elsewhere.
Give them a good experience, however, and they might stick around to learn more. They’ll browse a related blog article, or click through to your “about” page, or check out your products or services. If you strike the right note, they may even reach out and ask more questions.
Blogging has evolved a lot over the years, but it’s still an essential marketing tool.
What does modern blogging require?
Blogging is more than just blogging now, and it has been for a while. Consumers still can’t seem to get enough content and us content marketers are hard pressed to provide enough. Customers are demanding not just written blogs, but a variety of types of content.
Remember the statistic we shared about video? Two-thirds of online customers told Google that video has inspired them to purchase. A modern blogging strategy should include:
- Videos: Short-format content, ranging from 30 seconds to about three minutes, can be a great way to convey information quickly and help your prospective customer.
- Infographics: Significant amounts of content presented in a visual, easy-to-digest format.
- Podcasts: Free audio files, usually offering informative content, delivered in subscription form that can be downloaded and listened to on the move.
- eBooks: Longer format educational information, including how-to guides, can go a long way to boosting your credibility by presenting you as a thought-leader.
How does blogging actually help?
Another Think With Google article, published in June 2018, notes that modern consumer paths are becoming increasingly complicated. The average computer user will use 3.4 touchpoints before committing to a purchase, whereas a smartphone user will have an average of 2.9 touchpoints.
This means they interact with a variety of sources while researching their purchase before making a decision. The first touchpoint for the average smartphone user looks like this:
- Web search: 22%
- Store/manufacturer website: 18%
- Price comparison website: 12%
- Conversation with friends: 13%
- POS/in-store visit: 7%
- (A whole bunch of little ones fit here, including social media)
- Video streaming website: 4%.
As you can see, web search and business websites are the two key sources of potential consumers – right off the bat. This means your SEO strategy needs to be on point, and your website needs to be in tip-top shape, if you want to catch people’s attention for the right reasons.
Blogs form a key part of this strategy, because they naturally contain more keywords than webpages, so they typically rank higher in search. A consistent stream of new posts also keeps your website fresh and up-to-date, which appeals to modern consumers.
Remember, this is just the first touchpoint in the process. For smartphone users, there are still another 1.9 touchpoints to come, and you want to be sure they find you.
Where do your clients consume content?
Most people start their research on Google, but many are also exposed to brands for the first time on Facebook and other social media channels. According to statistics from Facebook, published in 2018, there are 2.45 billion monthly users. About 247 million of these are based in the United States and Canada. More than half of these admit to checking the platform “more than a couple of times a day.”
Blogs make great fodder for search and social. Your Google Ads can drive traffic to blog posts; your Facebook and LinkedIn ads can share information for people to read, comment about, and (hopefully) share with their friends. They key is to be consistent, and keep ’em coming.
One of the foundational parts of running a 21st-century business is interacting with your customers. It’s as vital today as having a working business phone. In order to do that successfully, and capitalize on it, you need to figure out where they’re spending time online. You can make assumptions about this based on a couple of things – for example, where do you interact with most customers now? How old are your customers? Where are they based? Are you targeting consumers or businesses?
HubSpot is a leading American software developer, specializing in marketing and sales products. It compiles a report every year telling marketers what demographics are using different social media platforms, which is incredibly helpful when it comes to targeting the right people:
- Facebook: The most popular age range of users is 18-29, at 81%. About 75% of users are based in urban areas, and 90% access the site via mobile devices. College graduates make up about 77% of adult users, and the median income is between $30K-$49K. Helpful, right?
- Instagram: About 42% of Instagram’s users are college graduates. It’s a smaller number because it appeals to a younger audience, with 72% of users aged 13-17. However, it’s very powerful, because 60% of users say they discover new products on the platform.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a primarily business-to-business platform, and it has about 165 million users in the United States. The average age of users is higher: 36% are aged 18-29, while 34% are aged 30-49. As you might expect, many of these are college graduates.
- YouTube: About 81% of American internet users aged 18-25 watch YouTube videos. It’s no surprise, then, that about 15% of all YouTube traffic comes from the United States. About 62% of YouTube users are male, who spend an average of 44% more time on the site than women.
See what we mean? Each platform attracts a different audience. You obviously already know who your target customer is, so you need to keep this in mind when you’re trying to reach them. The tone and style of your blogs will need to adjust to appeal to different demographics; so does the platform on which you share them. This really is about working smarter, not harder, in sharing your message.
It’s now called content marketing
Blogging emerged as a way to answer a need for content, boost SEO rankings and keep websites fresh. After all, it’s much easier to type out a quick blog post than re-think your website every week. As Google’s algorithm has changed, we’ve learnt to incorporate searchable keywords; as Facebook’s algorithm has changed, we’ve learnt to improve visuals and include video when we can.
However, blogging is no longer a standalone digital marketing strategy. Rather, it’s a critical part of a digital ecosystem. Modern marketing strategies might incorporate blogging as follows:
- Problem: A business wants to increase brand awareness and generate leads
- Solution Part 1: You create an editorial calendar – including how-to guides, frequently asked questions or hot topics in your industry – aiming for 2 x new blog posts every month for six months. You incorporate strategic keywords, which naturally boost your SEO.
- Solution Part 2: Blogs are shared on Google Ads, either as a search ad (which appears at the top of the Google results page for a search of like keywords) or a display ad (which appears on Google’s many other internet properties). This drives traffic to your website.
- Solution Part 3: Blogs are shared on social media, either as organic posts (which are designed to encourage community engagement) or Facebook Ads (which are designed to boost awareness). They’re tailored for your target audience. This drives traffic to your website.
- Solution Part 4: Every blog post includes a strong call-to-action with a clear next step. It might be signing up for an e-newsletter, scheduling a free consultation, asking for a free assessment, etc. It prompts the customer to engage once they’re on the page.
- Solution Part 5: Congratulations! You’ve just generated a new lead.
Remember, the whole point is to make it as easy as possible for people to find you when they need you. When content marketing, social media marketing and digital advertising work together to create an effective digital marketing strategy – well, it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
As you can see, blogging is as important in 2020 as it was in 2015. The way we do it has changed, and the digital infrastructure that supports it has changed, but the essence is unchanged. You’re here to serve your customers. Modern customers are demanding information, so you need to adapt your strategy and ensure that need is met. That’s the key to generating leads. When all the pieces come together, content marketing is a powerful tool for organizations and business alike.
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