Should you bother with having a blog on your website? The answer used to be a hard YES. Nowadays it’s more complicated. And even if you do have a blog the chances are it’s not being used correctly. Let’s look at what part a blog now plays in marketing your business.
There are a lot of misconceptions in this field. I’m going to take you on a short (and very rough!) history of online marketing over the last couple of decades. Depending on where you entered the scene you’ll likely have preconceptions about the importance of different elements. We’ll take this quick tour and then I’ll show you where we are now and what we should be doing.
Old school marketing
The old school way of marketing online was very much focused on SEO.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It’s shorthand for “getting to the top of Google”. Yes, there’s Yahoo, Bing and other search engines but in the English speaking world at least when we are talking “search marketing” we may as well just be talking about Google.
SEO is a process of making content for a website that would be useful for the visitors to your website. Google wants your content to be useful not out of the goodness of their hearts but because that means its users will trust Google’s recommendations.
Yahoo made the mistake of allowing for search engine rankings to be effectively purchased – without clear enough labelling that they were paid for results. This led to a loss of trust in the results they were returning and a gap in the market for Google to grow into.
SEO as a marketing speciality became the art and science of making sure Google chose our web pages to show to their users. This was a mixture of what we put on the page itself (content) and how we present it (generally the “technical” factors in SEO). A lot of early SEO was interested in the technical factors – what headings to use, keyword usage, the best length for the article, the number of links to include and so on.
Whilst this stuff is important it’s generally ephemeral. What works one day may not work the next. A lot of time and money was wasted on trying to guess what Google were thinking and getting ahead of them. At least momentarily.
However Google employs a lot of smart people. Any “tricks” that fooled Google are short term. Their engineers are just very good, very numerous and very well funded. It’s hard to compete on a purely technical level.
Instead the best advice in SEO is to produce content that people (shock horror) actually want. Google wants its users to have access to the information they are looking for. If you produce that information then Google will (eventually) make sure the right people are connected to the information. Sure you can use some technical tweaks to make the content more appealing to Google but you can’t override the quality of the content itself. Purely technical SEO is like polishing a turd. It’s still a turd when the visitor turns up to view the information.
So we know that Google likes content. We also know (they’ve told us) that they like lots of it, regularly updated. Speed of turnover and updates means that the content is fresh – at least in Google’s eyes.
Enter The Blog
Shortened from web-log, the blog became the de facto vehicle for delivering content on a consistent basis. There’s no particular reason why this should have happened. It’s primarily based on Google’s attraction to recency and regularity.
Blog writing and SEO have become synonymous over the years. Primarily because having a static website with no new content isn’t very attractive to users (and therefore to Google). They have little reason to revisit. Blogs were a neat fix for this – a portion of a website that could be easily and regularly updated.
Enter Social Media
Blogs happily chugged along as the primary way to update the world on your coming and goings for years. Even early social media like MySpace was not hugely different to blogs – it was just a network of blogs where you would see your friend’s blogs.
It was Facebook that really shook this up. Whilst it wasn’t the first social network it was the one that grew fastest. Right time, right place. And because social networks depend on network growth models (it’s right there in the name…) the biggest and fastest growing wins. The more connections in the network the more valuable the network is and the more reason to join. The big get bigger.
Social media (Facebook) changed the dynamic. Previously we would have our own home online – our webpage and its blog. Over time we’d add content, much like a bird building its nest up. Google would reward us with traffic as our content was found. It might take a while but if we continued chugging away producing quality content that people wanted there was a good chance that it would all work out.
Social media meant we could put our content out right now. In front of thousands or millions of people. In particular niches. Without all the technical setup. Without all the waiting for Google to find the content.
In the world of project management (and business in general) we talk about three factors: better, faster, cheaper – choose two. You can have two of these factors only at the cost of the third.
Suddenly social media came along and seemed to offer better, cheaper and faster.
Marketers could get directly in front of their market for much cheaper, much faster and arguably with a better experience right there on the platform.
RIP Blogs right?
This was an understandable reaction. What’s the point about owning and building up a blog and web site over time when we can get the same results faster and cheaper with social media?
SMM (Social Media Marketing) became a powerful tool in the digital marketer’s arsenal, at times completely replacing SEO.
Renting vs. Owning Debate
Depending on when you became aware of the various forms of digital marketing (which will mainly be age dependent) you’ll likely have different preconceptions about what’s best.
The general move though has been away from blogs and websites to social media. Again, understandable due to the apparent benefits.
There is one very important caveat we need to introduce here though – the difference between owning and renting your marketing platform.
When we use Facebook or any social media platform we are renting exposure.
Rental gives us advantages : leverage being the main one. We can get to 2bn people on Facebook with the right budget. Renting means flexibility, speed, low starting costs. If something isn’t working we can easily edit it or stop completely. Renting is brilliant for the short term.
A blog/webpage on the other hand is more akin to owning. We build that platform with our words and content over time. It’s an asset that we own. In fact we can even rent it out (running adverts on our site). It takes more time to build for sure but importantly we control the asset. Ownership is fantastic for the long term.
We find this dilemma in life. Should we rent or own? With property the answer is generally you want to own. With cars it will depend – do you want to switch it often? If so then renting may be best for you. What about movies/DVDs? We used to buy and own films. Now we rent them via Netflix or a similar streaming service as subscriptions are merely temporary rented access to a shared asset.
The main issue with renting is loss of control. I wanted to watch The Descent the other day on Netflix. I’d been seeing it’s poster on the front page for the last couple of months and had a mental note to at some point get around to watching it. The moment I decided to watch it, I found it was no longer available – it had been taken off the week before.
Not a massive issue in this case but let’s loop back to the world of digital marketing.
Let’s say that you’ve built a beauty brand on Instagram and have 200,000 followers. You’ve been making a living recommending certain lines of cosmetics and are very happy with your business. One day you wake up and Instagram has changed the rules on paid promotions and all your past content has been removed or banned.
Or you stream games on Youtube. Some (many!) involves guns and violence. Suddenly the political winds change and video games are being blamed for shootings. Youtube reacts and demonetised your videos.
Or you run real estate advertising on Facebook. You’ve done well over the last few years and have hired a team of people to work for you. Facebook decides to restrict how you can market real estate based on anti-discrimination laws and suddenly your advertising doesn’t work. Leads collapse, revenue collapses, you need to lay off those staff members.
In all the examples you are at the whims of forces larger than your business. Sometimes larger than the social networks themselves. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal a lot of Facebook features were thrown out with the bathwater. Legitimate marketers took a hit in the aftermath due to a knee jerk political overreaction. Yes, restrictions were required but the way they were enacted had the potential to destroy a lot of bystander businesses.
We cannot predict what events will cause sweeping changes on the social networks. There’s no point trying to guess. Instead we can just build in buffers and hedges against whatever does happen.
The gut reaction is to jump to another platform like Snapchat. This is shortsighted – it’s still just renting space on a platform. One more refined solution has been to separate income from the content. For Youtubers and influencers this has been to set up on Patreon to get paid directly from fans rather than rely on Youtube to keep cutting cheques. This is better but still relies on Patreon not raising its % of their income over time.
Instead the best defence is to make sure we have our own home online. The best structure for this is still a website with a blog. If we think of the internet as open land then setting up our own website is the equivalent of building a house or maybe a ranch. Previously we were hunting and gathering. Maybe at most pitching tents if we intended on staying a little longer on a social network site. Now we are digging wells and building a brick house. Settling in.
Does this mean going back to the olden days? Not at all. We’re going to use the traditional and the new. Classic and modern.
Social media is still the best way to get exposure. So we’ll use it for this. Blogs and websites are the best place to give our communities a permanent place to stay. Therefore we’ll use them as such.
We’ll use social media to generate an Audience and then send them to our site/blog as they become part of our Tribe.
Here at B Street we’ve developed a model we called BATON. Business, Audience, Tribe, Offer, Network. For Audience we use social media and for Tribe we’ll move into a more permanent home. We use each tool where it is most effective.
Two tiered content production
The easiest way to do this is to produce content that is adaptable for both social media and our blog/website. Celebrate laziness! Create once, publish multiple times.
This blog that you are reading for example. It started as a set of notes. I wrote the notes as the skeleton of a blog article and as a video for social media. The structure is basically the same.
The notes are written up into a blog article first and then I record a related video. That allows me to flesh out the arguments by writing so I can more easily talk about the issue afterwards.
Equally I might do it the other way. It depends on my mood to be quite honest. Some days I record the video and use the thought process during the recording to flesh out what I’m going to write. Whatever works for you is the best method.
From here the two assets (written and video) can be further converted.
- The video can be cut into clips for different channels.
- The video can be transcribed to create even more text for the web page (great for SEO)
- The video can be embedded above the blog article itself.
- The text can be edited and rewritten into a longer guide or an ebook (combined with others)
- And so on
The main thing is to use one piece of content in as many ways as possible.
All social media assets point back to the written blog assets.
This is how we get people from our rented social channels back to our owned blog channel.
This is using each tool for its best suited purpose and glueing them together with content. This is how you balance out the long and short term, the slow and fast, stable and flexible.
- SEO is getting to the top of Google
- Blogs became the de facto way to do this
- Social media came along and seemed superior in all ways
- We are only renting social media channels; we own our blog
- Use social media to build an audience; bring them back to your Tribe website
- Content is the glue linking social and blogs – use it wisely by repurposing your content