10 lessons learned from a year of blogging

10 lessons learned from a year of blogging

Blog growth is frustratingly slow for many people. Here’s a look back one year after coming on to the blog at Yotpo, about what worked, what didn’t – and what we learned in the process.

You’ve heard it once and you’ll hear it again: blogging is a marathon, not a sprint. And for marketing teams in quickly growing companies, blogging can seem frustratingly slow.

But the age-old adage stays true: blogging takes time and patience. For the impatient among us, that’s the last thing we want to hear. We want quick results, instant insights, and the type of stellar results other bloggers brag about.

Trust me – we tried to hack the system. Our meetings about the blog went a little like this:

A slideshare! That’s the answer. No, no, an infographic, that will do it!  Hacky listicles are the way to go!  Let’s just guest post for big blogs and watch the traffic pour in! 

And, my personal favorite: Let’s just make a viral post!

Well, we did all of these things, and I’m here to tell you that the truth is, there really are no magic tricks. There are tons of posts online with insane stories of blog growth…

blogging lessons

But these are outliers. This is not the norm.

The majority of blogs are doomed to slow – but steady! – growth.

Take a look at our Google Analytics traffic growth over the past year. From January to June, not a lot of action. But then, almost right on the six-month mark, our traffic spiked. And from there it continued to grow.

blogging lessons

The growth has been slow, but in the past year, we’ve seen:

  • 44.62 percent increase in organic traffic
  • 95.6 percent increase in users
  • 7.19 percent increase in pages per session

blog growth

After a year of blogging, here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned:

1) It takes a year to know what your blog is about.

We initially built the blog strategy based on what we thought our customers wanted: tips for how to increase eCommerce traffic, engagement, and conversions.

We created eBooks and pillars and groups of posts around this plan, but we quickly realized that this plan was not only way too broad, but a difficult strategy to execute.

Over the past year, we’ve figured out which posts resonate best with our readers, based on successes as well as mistakes. Through this journey, we learned what worked and what didn’t, which guided us towards a more focused strategy.

Ending the year in 2015, for the first time this year, I can say that I clearly understand what our blog is about.

So what is the Yotpo blog all about?

Marketing, eCommerce, and reviews, and it’s packed with data-driven guides, important industry trends, expert tips, and success stories from online store owners.

2) Planning is underrated.

Make a plan. Make a million plans. You’ll want to use these as reference when planning your content strategy as well as to look back on to see how your strategy has changed over time.

You need to be able to defend every post you write, and so you therefore need to see how it fits into the overall picture.

When designing our content strategy plan, I used Hubspot‘s strategy for organizing content as a guide. Take a look at how Hubspot explains the type of posts they publish:

hubspot content strategy

For our blog, we have divided the posts into medium, topic, and purpose.

  • Medium means the format of the post – is it a data insight, trends & tips article, updates from Yotpo, or a success story?
  • Topic breaks these posts down according to the core issue they tackle. Our main topics are marketing, eCommerce, and reviews. But within these topics, there are plenty of other topics, like traffic, engagement, and UGC strategy.
  • The purpose follows the Hubspot model. What’s our intention with the post? Is it a TOFU post designed to drive traffic? A promo post for a Slideshare or infographic? Or is it a deep tactical post derived from Yotpo data.

For planning, I use Coschedule to map out our content calendar, good ‘ol sticky notes (on the computer) for weekly to-do’s and reminders, and Google docs to brainstorm topics and create quarterly plans.

When you create plans, I suggest dividing them according to content strategy and KPIs. In other words, your strategy for what posts to write should be different than your strategy for optimizing for conversion or growing referral traffic.

What we have found works best is to let quarterly goals (grow traffic, increase conversions, etc.) help guide our content strategy, but not dictate it. So for example, in Q4, we had mostly top-of-funnel posts designed to grow traffic rather than focusing on data-heavy posts closely related to our product that we hoped would lead to conversions.

3) You can’t do it all. So don’t try.

As blog manager, I want to create the best blog possible. But between optimizing CTAs, A/B testing, design, post layout, and managing requests for guest blog posts and looking over freelancers, writing often got pushed to the bottom of the list.

The quality of our posts suffered, and it was clear I wasn’t paying enough attention to content strategy and creation. In Q4, my manager and I made a resolution that all I was going to worry about was writing great posts to increase traffic.

As hard as it was for me to turn my mind off from worrying about conversion, it allowed me to take time to get our content back on track.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be a multi-tasker or that I’m not also focused on conversion. You should definitely be responsible for the blog from start to finish. But you need to understand that time is limited and prioritize what matters rather than trying to do it all.

Figure out how to best use your coworkers’ skills to help you reach your goals. It may take me two hours to figure out how to improve conversions on a certain landing page, but a 15-minute meeting with our UX designer works even better.

You’re not an island. Do what you can – and ask for help when you can’t.

4) It’s not easy to find good freelancers.

We tried, oh we tried. We searched on sites like eLance, but we struggled to find a fabulous writer who also had a deep understanding of content marketing and our industry.

In the end, we did find quite a few good freelancers. Our best success was finding people through our personal and professional networks, and by taking advantage of a promo on inbound.org to post an internship position for free.

Inbound.org ended up being our best for leads on qualified candidates, mainly because people on inbound.org are already in the industry and have a basic understanding of what content marketing blogging is.

Another big tip is to not blow your budget by asking every candidate to write a sample. A great way to level the playing field is to ask freelancers for title samples first. You’ll be able to really easily weed out those who “get” what your blog is about and those who may be great writers, but don’t think like marketers.

We looked everywhere, but the truth is, there’s nothing as valuable as having an in-house writer who knows the industry, the company goals, and the blog strategy.

In the end though, it’s very difficult to find a freelancer who can produce the same quality content as an in-house writer – and sometimes financially, it’s smarter to just hire someone in house.

5) Have your eye everywhere. 

Great writers read. In the fast-paced world of content marketing, it can be difficult for marketers to stop and take some time to read for pleasure each day.

I give myself about an hour each day to just read posts that interest me online. They don’t necessarily need to be related to marketing, or eCommerce, or really anything. But they’re huge sources of inspiration.

My two favorite newsletters are Next Draft and MediaRedef, which curate the best posts from around the web. Even on my busiest days, I take some time to scan through these newsletters and check out a few longform articles. I may not have time to finish the whole read, but I save them for later, and just that little bit of reading for pleasure gets the creative juices in my head flowing.

6) Don’t obsess over the analytics.

The first six months of managing the blog at Yotpo, I constantly refreshed Google Analytics, waiting to see the same type of insane results I read about in so many other posts. Checking month to month, or week to week, is pretty fruitless. You’ll drive yourself insane checking. What’s most important is to see trends.

I look back at the data when creating quarterly goals (as you can see below), but content strategy is equal parts data and instinct.

blog marketing lessons

If I based all my strategy off these numbers, I doubt it would be very effective. A few months isn’t enough to really see trends in a blog.

You should, of course, be checking stats regularly, but don’t necessarily go all up in arms and change your entire plan because of one post that did really well. The best strategy decisions are made after taking more time to absorb long-term changes.

7) Use your users and subscribers!

One of our most successful initiatives has been including blog posts in our product newsletters.

As you can see, our biggest spikes in traffic happened when product newsletters were sent out.

Here’s a look at total traffic:

blogging marketing lessons

And here’s a look at traffic from our product newsletters:

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 4.00.09 PM

 

Focus on building up your email subscriber list and marketing to users.

8) Quality is so, so much more important than quantity.

And quality takes time.

We experimented with different amount of blog posts per week, varying between two to five. The more we posted, the worse the posts got. I just didn’t have the same amount of time to put into each post.

There is just so much content on the web that people don’t want to read the same old stuff anymore. Content marketers who want to stand out need to have really unique ideas and original ways to add value.

9) SEO is a b*tch.

I know it’s important to write posts that will be found, but SEO is one tough nut to crack. It’s always important to optimize posts, and this is one habit I definitely encourage, but actually figuring out which keywords to optimize for is another story.

Even with the help of an SEO consultant, it’s been difficult finding relevant and achievable SEO keywords to target. Plus, even when we do identify the right keywords, they don’t always fit nicely into a post.

I’ve learned that keywords are best for informing the content creation process, not defining it. We use keywords as a general guideline, but often the posts that do best for us weren’t created with SEO in mind.

Most of our top posts for organic traffic weren’t created for SEO purposes at all – it just so happens that they started ranking well.

10) Don’t get discouraged.

Cliche, but true. I like to see results and measure successes. With blogging, it’s not always that easy. Believe in yourself and your goals enough that you can keep going even when certain KPIs start to drop.

True blog growth only happens by consistently producing valuable, amazing, and unique content.

There’s no hacks that will replace that. When we looked at the blogs we loved and knew were successful (like Buffer, Groove, and Shopify) one thing was clear — they just wrote awesome content.

No doubt it was informed by keywords and good research (the CoSchedule bloghas a spooky habit of knowing exactly what we are discussing this week) and built by outreach to influencers and supported by a few amazing “viral-y” posts, but ultimately these blogs just consistently produce well-written, well-researched and useful posts.

So that’s the secret: Just keep swimming.

This post originally appeared on Yotpo

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