Your Blog as a Pillar of Inbound Marketing

ERA Blog Visits Chart

One of the most effective ways to drive your inbound marketing strategy is to develop a content-rich, industry-focused association blog. At the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA), our blog is a pillar and driver of our content strategy. However, after re-launching the blog in August 2014 on the Hubspot inbound marketing platform, we stumbled our way through the initial months.

We had no editorial strategy and no organizational structure. Traffic was slow at first (in September 2014 we had just 740 visits) and it wasn’t until we auto-subscribed ERA members in October that we started to gain traction. Since then we’ve grown 550% but it didn’t come without challenges.

ERA Blog Visits Chart

If I were to start from scratch, here are the five steps I would take.

Step 1: Develop a Content Mission Statement

One of the great things about Hubspot is that they provide an amazing array of content to help you succeed – especially around content mission statements. The goal is to keep it short, define the target audience, define what will be delivered, and what the outcome is for the audience.

With this in mind we created the following mission statement:

“Welcome to the Electronic Retailing Association, the place where direct response marketers can find useful information, insights, and resources for growing their business.”

This sentence guides our content strategy at all times. We focus on marketers (as opposed to our supplier audience) and develop informational content that will help them grow their businesses. Our content is full of best practices and “How To’s” with a little association promotion mixed in.

Step 2: Create an Editorial Strategy

Developing a blog without an editorial strategy is like traveling to a new destination without a map (or Siri for that matter!). At ERA, our initial goal was to create two blog posts per week. That seemed do-able. Within a few months, as traffic started to grow and positive feedback started to come in, we realized that we were lacking strategy and focus.

With a little push from our CEO we developed an editorial strategy. The editorial strategy highlights broad thematic areas that our content supports. It provides clarity and keeps the conversation moving in a specific direction.

We worked with our Content Committee and key thought leaders to develop five thematic areas:

  1. Big Data – Attribution, dashboards and data analytics
  2. Omnichannel Marketing – Blending traditional and digital channels to maximize ROI
  3. Storytelling – How to leverage the best of direct response storytelling in the digital world
  4. Technology – Rethinking your tech ecosystem for omnichannel success
  5. Business Compliance – How to keep your nose clean

At a high level, these thematic areas keep our content and our contributors focused.

Step 3: Develop an Editorial Calendar and Weekly Meeting

It became clear early on that we needed more organizational structure to the blog. So we developed a 30-day editorial calendar (including blog topics, authors, keywords, and dates) that we review in a weekly editorial meeting.

We also analyze traffic growth and blogging best practices such as search engine optimization (SEO). This includes reviewing each blog post for on-page SEO, blog title keyword optimization, and overall keyword tracking and research. Lastly, we discuss possible partnerships and new contributors to help drive future growth. In just a few months we have upped our game and blog growth has continued.

Step 4: Build a Pool of Contributors

The more contributors you have for your blog the more content you’ll be able to cover. When you think about it, associations are primed to quickly develop deep pools of contributors. Start with your member thought leaders (speakers from your conferences, for example) and ask them to contribute on a specific topic. Then you can ask them to consider contributing on a monthly basis.

Another tactic is to identify prospective members and non-member thought leaders to contribute. It’s a great way to bring prospects into the fold. Before you know it you’ll have a strong lineup of bloggers supporting your content efforts. At ERA, we have roughly 50 authors and we’re now publishing 5-10 blog posts per week.

Step 5: Re-purpose Content

Blog content that is organized and follows an editorial strategy is relatively easy to re-purpose. For example, one contributor wrote five monthly posts on web optimization that we are now turning into an ebook. We’ll use the ebook to educate existing members and to attract prospective members.

In addition, blog posts that generate strong traffic are indicators of hot topics and can be used as webinars or conference education sessions. In reverse, we’ve asked highly-rated conference speakers to contribute to the blog.

Success Breeds Success

The overall success of the ERA blog has led to more interest from member contributors and marketing experts outside the industry. A focused blog with organizational structure and editorial guidance can become a key pillar of an effective inbound marketing strategy for your association.

To learn more about inbound marketing check out my recent post The Biggest Problem with Association Marketing and How You Can Fix It.

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