Use it correctly, and a blog can be an excellent source of both traffic and links. However, while I’d never discourage you from creating the sort of content that can boost your traffic and potentially bring in links that will help you to climb further up the search engine’s rankings, on their own, traffic and/or links are not going to make a difference to your bottom line.
On that note, I’m going to take a wild guess that you’re here because you want your blog to do more than bring in traffic – you want it to drive sales, too. Well, don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to get your blog working harder for you. Stick with me while we look at 10 of them.
1. The how-to
The how-to blog post is generally (though not always) a step-by-step guide that takes readers through a particular process. The best ones are based around clear, easy-to-follow instructions, and include images or video that help to illustrate each step. They should also be easy to skim through, so readers can quickly find a particular instruction.
The how-to is an effective sales tool in part, because it’s easy to optimize. Questions which begin with “how to” are common search terms – so much so, that whole websites have been built around answering these types of queries. Write detailed, useful, optimized how-tos and you should start to reap the rewards of additional targeted traffic arriving on your site.
Of course, we know that traffic alone won’t make us money. Real results happen when we’re able to convert that traffic.
To do this you need to…
1. Choose your topics wisely: Answer questions that your target market is likely to have and likely to ask towards the middle of the sales funnel.
“How to Determine if a Link is Good or Bad” is exactly the sort of question people who would be interested in one-on-one marketing consultancy would be asking.
2. Hold back just enough information to leave your readers wanting more.
Sometimes (though not always) if you give your visitors all the answers, they won’t need you. The more complicated your industry, the less this rule applies – sometimes you can give people all the information, but they will still need your help to apply the knowledge effectively. Still, it helps to keep a small part of the puzzle unsolved, to keep your readers wanting (and needing) more.
Key takeaway: Write detailed, long-form blog posts that answer “how-to” questions and target potential customers from the middle of the sales funnel onwards.
2. The cheat sheet
Cheat sheets are similar to how-tos in that they provide your visitors with valuable information that should help them to complete a particular action or set of actions. The cheat sheet differs from the how-to in its execution: they’re more of a “quick reference” kind of guide than a step-by-step walk-through. They also lend themselves well to infographic-style images.
In contrast, the how-to is usually presented as a text-based article.
Like the how-to, cheat sheets drive sales because they bring in highly-qualified traffic. The trick is to create content that captures potential customers at the right point in the sales funnel. By all means, create cheat sheets that help existing customers get the most out of your product or service. Anything that helps your customers use you more effectively will increase customer loyalty and retention rates. However, if you want to drive new sales, you need to create cheat sheets that help assist those who are in need of something you sell – not those who already have what you sell. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
Sorry for Marketing‘s Jay Acunzo’s specialism is guiding others on their content marketing. This cheat sheet fits the bill perfectly. It’s designed to help speed up the content editing process and is aimed at marketers who want to streamline and improve their content creation.
This cheat sheet on browsers that do or don’t support HTML5 targets consumers that are ready to – but probably haven’t yet started – design a new website. These are precisely the type of visitors that a company that offers web design and hosting services would want to capture.
Key takeaway: Create cheat sheets that act as quick reference guides to consumers who could benefit from your product or service. If you can get a designer involved to up their visual appeal, even better.
3. The checklist
Checklists are an excellent sales tool because they help readers identify missing components in an important equation. Imagine a store that sells products people buy before they go on vacation – a “packing checklist” would make a great piece of content for them.
In this context, a packing list could help drive sales because it would allow the store to link to relevant products from within the list and influence purchases from consumers who had forgotten they needed to buy x, y, or z.
A checklist can help drive sales in pretty much any industry. I see my fellow marketers use them all the time.
The brilliant Heidi Cohen rang in 2015 with a seriously-comprehensive marketing checklist.
Postplanner created a checklist to help ensure that marketers are getting the most out of social media.
Moz compiled a detailed site audit checklist (if you’re ever carrying out a site audit, you need to use this – it’s awesome).
In marketing, this type of content works because it can help a potential customer realize how much help they actually need. Maybe they hadn’t considered they needed to do x and y. Maybe they don’t know how to do y and z. Either way, it illustrates to visitors how much or how little they know and encourages them to pick up the phone and make that call.
Key takeaway: Create on-topic checklists that are designed to help potential customers realize what tools or knowledge they’re missing that your company can provide for them.
4. The comparison post
Comparison posts pit your product against one of your competitor’s, as we see here in this post where HubSpot compares their CMS with WordPress’s. Is this sneaky? Maybe a little, but we see this strategy used all the time, across the board – not just online, and certainly not only in blog posts.
Ever noticed a supermarket advertising how much cheaper they are than the competition?
That’s comparison marketing in action. The supermarket is selling their products to you by highlighting how much you can save when you shop with them, instead of the competition.
You might wonder how you can legally get away with stating how much better or cheaper you are than your competition, and I wouldn’t blame you. Naming your competitors in your own advertising and marketing strikes me as something that would land you on shaky ground, too, but it’s actually okay… most of the time, at least.
The law surrounding comparison marketing differs somewhat around the world. However, it generally comes down to this: as long as you’re truthful, it’s fine.
This means you have to be damn sure about any claims you make, and be sure to include a disclaimer that gives the date that the claim was found to be true, in case something changes down the road.
Key takeaway: Write comparison blog posts that explore how your product or service matches up to your competitors.’
5. The guest post from a brand advocate (think extended testimonial)
If you’re a regular here, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of guest posting and that I regularly welcome guest authors to this blog. I do this to:
- Diversify the voices on the blog
- Build relationships with the people who write for the blog
- Drive new audiences to the blog
- Alleviate some of the pressure on me to keep the blog updated, all of the time
However… there’s another way you can leverage inviting a guest author to contribute to your blog – by asking a brand advocate to write for you.
Brand advocates are those people that love your brand so much that they regularly shout about it, and are willing to go out of their way to do so.
If you can track these advocates down, you should take the opportunity to speak to them about how you might be able to work together. This could entail getting them to write, or even film, a testimonial for you. It might mean asking them to mention your brand in some of their social media posts.
Alternatively, it could mean asking them to write you a guest post.
“Walmart Moms” is an excellent example of a brand that leverages their advocates.
The Walmart Moms are a group of Walmart advocates that have been selected to speak out on behalf of the brand because of how they embody the average Walmart customer.
The “chosen” moms (who are, I assume, paid) write blog posts for Walmart that offer advice and touch on their own experiences, while also linking to Walmart products and additional articles. Take a look at Linsey Knerl’s post “Growing from baby to toddler” to see what I mean.
It’s worth bearing in mind that, as mentioned above, you may have to compensate your advocates for their time. Asking them to write a short review is one thing; asking them to craft a 500+ word blog post is quite different. This effort should be rewarded, if not with cold hard cash, then with some sort of freebie or special benefit.
Key takeaway: Invite a brand advocate to write a guest post for you in which they talk about the merits of your brand or your products or services (just be prepared to reward them for their time).
6. The case study
A case study dives deep into a particular “case” in order to demonstrate the potential and effectiveness of a certain product or service. A case study is an excellent sales tool because rather than simply saying to a customer, “Use our product and you can achieve x, y, and z,” you use real-world examples to show them exactly how your product or service is going to accomplish x, y, and z.
It’s understandable then, that they’re a popular sales tool – the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Prof’s 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report found that of all of the tactics B2B marketers use, 58% percent of those surveyed said they found case studies to be effective. This graph shows the case study as the 5th most-effective B2B marketing tactic.
Here he shows how he grew Gawker’s traffic by 5 million visitors:
Putting an alternative spin on things, in this post, Neil actually writes a case study about case studies. Its purpose is to demonstrate how case studies can be used to generate more leads and sales.
In short: Case studies work. Although publishing case studies didn’t have a huge effect on the number of leads Neil was generating, they clearly helped his leads convert: He saw his sales increase by an impressive 185%.
Key takeaway: Hone in on a particular example of how your product or service helped a customer achieve a goal by writing a case study.
7. The wake-up call
The “wake-up call” is geared toward shocking your visitors into the realization that they’re doing something wrong, or at the very least, could be doing something better. The idea is that this scares your visitors into action – that action ideally being to purchase your product or start using your service.
It’s a common strategy used by digital marketers and SEOs. There are still a lot of shady companies out there and in-house practitioners who know less than they think they do. Consequently, it’s not difficult to “shock” companies into action. You just need to help them realize that their own online efforts, or the efforts of the people they employ to improve the performance of their site, are not up to snuff.
Take this post by Kissmetrics that explores how to determine whether or not your SEO company is in fact hurting, rather than helping, you. Or this article from BlogPress, which looks at 7 things you might be getting wrong when trying to write click-worthy headlines. This post from New State Films is another great example of this strategy: It explores five things you might be getting wrong when promoting your brand through video.
The key here is to avoid getting into a slanging match, or making yourself look petty. Be the bigger company and use a “wake-up call” post to not only show how others are getting something wrong, but to demonstrate that you have the skills, knowledge, and resources to do it better.
Key takeaway: Write a blog post that details what your potential customers might be doing wrong and how their mistakes could be affecting them.
8. The unique-findings post
Make a bold statement online, and you should be prepared to back it up with evidence. Why? Because it lends credibility to your argument. As stated in Lifehacker, “Information is knowledge, and knowledge is power. If you want someone to rally to your cause, support your position, or put you in a position of authority, you need to be able to back up your position and sway others from theirs.” (See what I did there?)
However… sometimes you might have a theory or want to make a statement that can’t be proven with existing evidence. Alternatively, you might question or distrust the information that’s already available.
When that situation materializes, what’s the logical solution? To carry out your own research, of course. Especially when the information you hope to find has the potential to help drive sales.
Want to see what I mean?
Here’s a post in which Marie Haynes, author of “Unnatural Links: The Complete Guide to Recovery” uses first-hand data to demonstrate why removing thin content can help site owners recover from a Panda penalty.
This is the ideal topic for capturing visitors that have been hit by a Google penalty, and consequently, may be interested in purchasing her book.
In this excellent piece from Moz search scientist Russ Jones, we see Russ perform his own research to figure out what makes content from the little guys (i.e. sites that don’t have a huge domain authority) rank.
This sort of content has the potential to drive visitors to Moz’s Content tool, but it’s also a pretty neat plug for the content services offered by the post’s guest contributors – Mark Traphagen of Stone Temple Consulting and Garrett French of Citation Labs.
Key takeaway: Perform your own research and use it as evidence to help drive home why potential customers could benefit from your product or service.
9. The expert roundup post
An expert roundup is a post based around quotes from industry experts.
Sometimes a roundup post is formed almost entirely of quotes from experts, with nothing more than a short intro from the actual author. Take a look at this post on Small Business Ideas Blog to see what I mean.
Sometimes the expert’s quotes will provide the framework for the article, with the author adding their own commentary and filling in the blanks. I wrote a post back in July that should show how this works.
Bloggers love them because, with a bit of luck and/or the right connections, they’re really easy to create, they can be super-valuable to readers, and they make the author look good.
Most importantly however, they provide the opportunity to tap into new, big, and engaged audiences. How? Most of the time, the experts who have contributed to the post will share it. This can potentially cause a domino effect whereby the post goes viral.
I recently spoke to Adam Connell of Blogging Wizard and the topic of conversation quickly turned to roundup posts. Turns out he’s a big fan. He said he’s done “a few expert roundups over the years, always got a decent amount of shares from it and traffic has been huge.” Then… he published this. Within a few days, it had been shared about 2000 times and had about 5000 views. Not f*in bad.
He told me he did this by:
- Tweeting the influencers mentioned
- Mentioning the influencers in a Google Plus post
- Sending individual emails to each influencer to let them know the post was live and to thank them for taking part
But he didn’t stop there. In Adam’s words, “I then got in touch with Niall at TweakYourBiz.com about repurposing it as an infographic and publishing on TYB, so it would be a unique infographic for them.”
The resulting infographic (which you can see here) has had more than 32,000 visitors and been shared more than 2000 times.
Of course, we know by now that while traffic and shares are pretty damn awesome things to get, they’re not sales. But they do provide the chance to make more sales.
So how do you get them?
Choosing the right topic is key. It should be heavily aligned with what you do and should encourage visitors to want to take action. If you offer pay-per-click management services, you probably wouldn’t want to ask experts to comment on growth hacking. But if you can get them to talk about the biggest mistakes they’ve seen companies make with their PPC campaigns, you might be onto something.
Key takeaway: Ask experts to contribute to a roundup post with their answer to a question that is intrinsically linked to why someone might use your product or service.
10. The reverse psychology post
When we use reverse psychology on somebody, we are getting them to do what we want by asking them to do the opposite. It doesn’t work on everybody all of the time, but when it does work, it’s because the person fears their control is being taken away from them. In other words: They don’t like being told what to do.
It’s particularly effective on children and teenagers. Ever tried telling a child not to play with a certain toy? Chances are, they grabbed it the moment your back was turned. Even more concerning, research has shown that warning labels on violent TV programs actually encourage young viewers to tune in.
But this doesn’t mean adults are immune to the effects of reverse psychology. In an experiment led by psychologist Daniel Wegner, participants were told not to think about a white bear. Over the next 5 minutes participants were asked to think aloud, saying everything that came to mind. If they thought, or spoke, about a white bear, they had to ring a bell. Participants were ringing that bell every minute. More interestingly, when the 5 minutes were over, those who had been told not to think about a white bear were thinking about a white bear twice as often as those who had been told to think about it. You can read a little more about this experiment over on Business Insider.
This research should mean it comes as no surprise that reverse psychology is a tactic commonly used in advertising and marketing.
Do you remember Little Caesars “Do Not Call” ad? It explicitly told customers not to call, and was accompanied by a clear instruction for visitors not to enter their address on their website.
How about Patagonia, who ran a full page ad in The New York Times instructing people not to buy a jacket?
Or Oakwood School’s celebrity-packed donation drive, which asked people not to give?
I think you get the point! But while we’re on the subject, whatever you do, do not share this post. (Cheers iMediaConnection for rounding up the above examples).
Key takeaway: Write a blog post that’s based around telling your visitors to do the exact opposite of what you want them to do. The trick is to be clear it’s tongue-in-cheek. You’ll tempt your visitors into doing exactly what you want them to do, without inadvertently making them think poorly of you or your product or service.
That’s it for today. Do you know of any other types of blog posts that drive sales? Or have you tried any of these out and are able to fill us in on the results you saw? Comments are below… you know what to do!