Do “best practices” for blogging even exist?
Tell me if you’ve found yourself in this situation before.
You have a question, so you turn to Google (as 87% of people do) and click on the first few results. The first result tells you one thing, the second tells you a totally contradictory thing, and the third result doesn’t seem to answer your question at all.
What are we supposed to believe?
Google has said before that it isn’t a truth engine, which becomes all the more apparent when we ask it subjective questions.
I recently encountered this problem when someone reached out to me on LinkedIn with the following message:
I have quite a few of my clients asking me best practices for blogging. How many times per week? What kind of content? Where to post their blogs? Where to link? I'm finding quite a bit of content surrounding most of these questions and it is really freaking contradicting. What are your thoughts? What have you experienced?
Clients and colleagues have asked me this question before, and much to their chagrin, I have to answer with the dreaded “it depends.”
I would love to be able to give people concrete answers, but unfortunately, Google’s match.com profile only tells me they like long walks on the beach, not “3 blogs per week, stick with listicles, and only on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.”
So are there really no SEO best practices for blogging? Not exactly. At least, not in the way that most people think of best practices.
I’ll explain what I mean.
Audience dictates direction
Have you ever watched one of those talent competition shows? Things like American Idol, America’s Got Talent, the The X Factor, and a thousand others.
Even if you’re not a fan, you know the premise.
Contestant has a talent (or thinks they do)
Contestant performs their talent
Judges evaluate contestant’s talent
Every show, there will be some contestant that elicits a mixed reaction from the judge’s panel.
“I hated it.”
“I thought it was quite good.”
“It was fine, but it needed more oomph.”
The judges all saw the same exact performance, and yet they had different reactions to it.
What is happening here?
If you’re thinking “well, obviously” then you understand the principle of audience dictating direction.
When we ask, “What type of blog format should I publish?” we’re missing the point. The question we should be asking is, “What type of blog formats does my audience want?”
When it comes to blogging best practices, there is no “should” and “shouldn’t” outside of what your audience wants (with the obvious exception being that it should be findable/indexable by search engines).
A goal-based approach to content creation
In his “Digital Marketing and Measurement Model,” Avanish Kaushik says:
Before undertaking any digital initiative, you must identify the business objectives. Why does your website exist? Forget for a moment you’re creating a blog post or a white paper… why you are doing what you are doing, and how does this initiative get you closer to that goal? If it doesn’t, don’t spend time on it. [My paraphrase]
Essentially, if a blog post doesn’t help you achieve a business goal, it’s a waste of time. Ouch to everyone who has blogged for blogging’s sake (myself included).
It may be a tough pill to swallow, but he’s right. We can’t start with blogging. We need to start with goals and work our way out to blogging and other digital initiatives.
Take this example bakery website. You can clearly see how its three main goals have three distinct audiences, and both the goal and audience dictate what asset they create.
Before you create any piece of content, ask yourself these two questions:
Will this assist or accomplish one of my website goals?
Is this something my identified audience will find valuable?
If the answer isn’t “yes” to both, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
A quantitative approach to content creation
You should also take a quantitative approach to content planning. A recent survey of 1,000+ bloggers by Orbit Media Studios found that nearly 20% of bloggers don’t use analytics to measure the effectiveness of their efforts. That means many of us are asking “how should I blog?” while ignoring the data that’s right in front of us!
Every writer can improve the effectiveness of their content by using analytics data. If you’re unsure how to do this, here are a few ideas to get you started:
Using the Source/Medium report with “Landing Page” as the secondary dimension, see which pages were visited the most.
Example insights you might glean from this: “List-style content performed the best on Facebook while newsworthy content performed the best on LinkedIn.”
Using the Site Content report and the “comparison” visualization, see which types of content performed higher-than-average (your own site’s average) on criteria such as average time on page. You can view these reports by segment to see which content performed higher/lower than average on various channels. For example, your long-form informational content might perform best in organic search.
For more information on using performance data to improve your blogging, I highly recommend checking out these case studies from Moz and Hubspot. They both offer great insight into what it looks like to evaluate the performance of your own blog and use that data to adjust and improve.
A funnel-based approach to content creation
Are you speaking to your audience at each stage of their purchase journey?
You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date. In the same way, you can’t expect someone to purchase your product or sign up for your service if they don’t know you.
People research before they buy, and while the purchase journey is going to look different depending on the product or service, it’s important to remember that there is one.
When creating content for your website, ask yourself the following questions:
What questions are people asking about the topics related to my solution? Do I have content that answers those questions?
When my potential customers are evaluating their options, do I have content that would help them make an informed decision?
When it comes time to buy, do I have comprehensive product/service content that gives my audience everything they need to make a purchase?
Chances are, you have gaps in here somewhere. Queue up those topical gaps for content creation.
An intent-based approach to content creation
Once you have a better understanding of what topics you should be addressing, it’s important to remember that not all keywords are created equal.
Google wants to rank high-quality, comprehensive content. But what does that look like?
Truthfully, there’s no one way about it. “Comprehensiveness” is a subjective factor that changes with the unique intent of each query.
It’s why you don’t need a 2,000-word product page
It’s why images work well on a fashion website, but poorly on a pest control website
It’s why content freshness is critical for a developing news story, and mostly irrelevant on a “history of Thanksgiving” page
Think logically about the query you’re going after. Put yourself in the shoes of someone searching that word or phrase, and ask yourself, “What would I want to see?”
If you’re still stumped, look to the SERPs! What Google is currently ranking for that keyword will reveal a lot about how you should structure your page.
7 *actual* best practices for blogging and content creation
Best practices for blogging and digital content creation are heavily dependent on a website’s unique goals, audience, and performance data. However, there are seven things I believe are true for blogging in any situation.
7 best practices for blogging:
Never spend time on content that can’t be tied to a website/business goal.
Using keyword research, create content around questions your audience is asking.
Create content that addresses every stage of your customer’s journey.
Quality is always more important than quantity.
There’s no magic word count for content. Content length should vary depending on the intent of the page topic.
Use analytics data to uncover which types of content are performing best with your unique audience and emphasize those formats.
Certain types of content perform better on different platforms.
Don’t let “best practices” be your crutch! Your job is way more fun than formulaic repetition.
The moment we realize there’s no “playbook” for this stuff is the moment of freedom. Stop stressing and go learn about your audience!
Once you do, creating content for them will be easy.