There aren’t many universals in the world of content marketing.
The folksy voice that converts well for a farmland aggregator may fall flat for a crypto exchange. Publishing blog posts once a week might work great for a SaaS firm but tank a DTC brand.
And don’t even get me started on CTAs.
There are few things that I can guarantee will help improve your blog’s performance no matter what industry you’re in.
Before I get to what those things are, a quick note: A couple years ago, I wouldn’t have bothered writing this post because I figured every content marketer out there knew all about these things. And they probably do.
But the thing is, a lot of people who run blogs at startups aren’t content marketers or have had to learn content marketing on the fly. If you’re in that group, this post is for you. (So is this one.)
Now let’s get into the tips.
1: Put Your Blog in a Blog Folder
What do I even mean by “put your blog in a blog folder”? Great question.
On your website, the landing page for your blog should be something like “https://www.yourdomain.com/blog.” Simple enough – and most startups do this.
But. Your individual blog posts should also live in that /blog folder, which means their URLs should be something like “https://www.yourdomain.com/blog/title-of-the-post.”
All too often, we come across websites that have the beautiful blog landing page but publish their individual posts off the root domain (e.g., “https://www.yourdomain.com/title-of-the-post”) or with auto-formatted dates (e.g., https://www.yourdomain.com/2021/06/25/title-of-the-post”).
These are bad for a few reasons:
- Blog posts directly off the root domain hurt your ability to optimize for search, aka your SEO. When every blog post is one level below the root domain, you’re signaling to search engines that every blog post is as important as those other pages that are one level below the root domain (usually product pages, About Us, Contact Us, etc.).
- Blog posts with those date folders send the opposite signal: they’re several folders removed from the root domain, signaling that they’re not very important. (Read more details about why blog URL structure matters.)
- Both structures make measurement and reporting a real headache. In measurement tools like Google Analytics, you can check the performance of pages within a folder easily. So if your blog is set up right, you can, with very little effort, monitor its health – traffic, conversions, the works. Without the folder – or with lots of date folders – this task is time-consuming and frustrating. It would be like if you put dirty clothes back into your drawers when you were finished and to do laundry you had to go into every drawer and know which ones were dirty and pull them out and then do the wash. Save yourself the headache! Get a hamper (or blog folder)!
“But Brenna,” you’re probably thinking. “You at Propllr have your blog in a subdomain (blog.propllr.com) rather than a folder (propllr.com/blog). Does this not make you a hypocrite?”
Not really. Here’s why: a subdomain achieves the same thing as a folder does for measurement purposes.
And honestly, both subdomains and subfolders have valid and valuable uses (HubSpot has a great explanation). What’s more, if it’s easier for you to maintain a blog in a subdomain than in a subfolder, that’s probably the better choice.
Final thoughts: creating a dedicated folder (or subdomain) for your blog is really easy to do if you’re just starting that blog.
If you have an established blog, updating the structure is a pain in the neck. But if content marketing is part of your growth plan for the long haul, it’s worth the investment.
2: Add a Call to Action (CTA) on Every Post
If someone’s on your blog, reading your content, that is a BIG DEAL.
It means your content is connecting with someone. It means someone found it. And it means you now have a chance to build the kind of relationship with them that could benefit you both! (Translation: they could buy what you’re selling and their life could get better.)
The thing is, it’s pretty hard to build that relationship if you don’t make an effort to stay in touch with them after they’ve shown interest in what you do by reading your blog.
And yet, I see a whole lot of business blogs that don’t include any kind of call to action (CTA).
Luckily, this is a really easy fix: add a CTA.
There are many ways to do this:
- Add a static form to your blog page template that appears on every page.
- Add a pop-up that appears when someone scrolls or when they’re about to leave or when they’ve been on the page for a certain amount of time (CMSes like HubSpot make this super-easy to do).
- If you don’t have the techspertise (did I just invent a word?) to update your template and your CMS doesn’t allow for easy form creation, simply build CTA language and links into every piece you publish.
Propllr’s static blog CTA
Propllr’s pop-up blog CTA
So what kinds of action should you be calling blog readers to do?
Invite them to sign up for your newsletter or (if you don’t have a newsletter) receive “occasional updates.” This lets you build a list of interested contacts you can communicate with when you have company news to share (or if you decide to launch a newsletter at some point).
Or maybe you have a great resource they could download. Suggest they take a look.
Or maybe you’re more active on social than your blog – ask them to follow you.
In other words, the CTA should depend on what you do and where you’re active – but you should have some kind of CTA that lets you stay in front of your readers.
3: Make a Stylesheet
A stylesheet (or style guide) is a rulebook for your blog. It can be as simple as “We follow Chicago Manual of Style editing conventions” or as detailed as you want.
The value of a stylesheet is that it keeps your blog consistent.
Some of the (anonymized) client style guides we have on file
If you decide to have an SME at your startup contribute to your blog or outsource some work to a freelancer or hire a full-time person who takes over blogging, you can hand off the stylesheet to them and know that the back-end change won’t disrupt the rhythm you’ve built on the front end.
A stylesheet also saves you time.
With rules in hand, you don’t have to debate every time you publish a post whether to spell out numbers or use numerals; you don’t have to choose between referring to sources by their first name or last. You don’t have to agonize over whether an Oxford comma is necessary (tip: it is).
You just follow the rules you established at the beginning.
As an editor, I love stylesheets. I love that Rolling Stone magazine uses collective verbs to refer to bands, as if it were a British publication (that’s how you get “Vampire Weekend were there”)! I love that the New Yorker uses a diaeresis over the second of a double vowel when there are two distinct sounds (hello, coöperation)!
And it drives me up the wall when I see what I consider editorial chaos in something I read.
Most of your readers, of course, won’t notice. At least, they won’t explicitly notice. But they may find your blog more confusing than it should be.
For example, if you don’t have a rule in place for how to format sub-headers (bold? Bold + larger font size? Underline? H2?), readers may not recognize when you’re starting a new section, which may keep them from understanding the argument you spent all that time laying out.
And that will keep them from seeing the value your products or services can offer and therefore from buying them.
4: Set Up Google Analytics
Google Analytics is free to use and easy to set up – it only requires that you add a small snippet of code to your website.
But it’s an incredibly powerful tool for measuring how your site performs.
If you don’t already have Google Analytics set up on your site, I recommend doing it today. Even if you have no plans to look at it and no time to look at it now, it’s worth doing. Why? Because the sooner you do it, the more data you’ll eventually have to track.
So if you know you won’t have time to engage in serious measurement until your next round of funding lets you hire another team member, and that’s not likely to happen until next year – set up Google Analytics today anyway.
When that person finally joins your team, they’ll have a whole year’s worth of site data to look at and learn from, which means you’ll be able to start adjusting and improving sooner.
5: Check for Readability Basics: Font, Size, and Color
If you’re ever really mad at me and want to show me what for, send me a juicy-sounding article that’s published on a website with a white background and light-gray text.
Argh! I can’t see it! You got me!
But seriously. Take a look at your blog. Is it readable on a really basic level? Is the font big enough for us olds to see it without enlarging our screens? Is there enough contrast that my eyes won’t hurt after skimming a page or two? Are hyperlinks a distinct color so people can tell when you’re linking to something?
If not, I recommend prioritizing an update. (Note: We did just that! Stay tuned for our new look in the coming weeks!)
And I’m not the only one: the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Accessibility Initiative emphasizes the importance of making your website easily readable (and otherwise accessible to all web users).
In addition to being a good business practice generally (if people can’t use your website, they probably can’t buy from you), accessibility best practices can also make for a more SEO-friendly site.
Give Your Blog its Best Chance at Success
Maintaining a blog is a lot of work. And it can have a huge impact on your business. Think of these tips as the simple machines for getting that work done and making that impact. Without them, you’ll do a lot more work for a much smaller result. With them, the effort you put in will be amplified. Questions? Hit me up!