Organizations sometimes struggle to justify their blogs, because they can seem far removed from revenue, particularly for highly technical blogs. But it’s also very clear when companies do not have a strong blog, and now it is just a marketing “must-have.” There are four key goals for any B2B blog: draw visitors, inform them, educate them, and convert visitors to customers.
The draw comes from compelling content, and basic SEO work; the information portion comes from being timely about updates about your company and your offering. Education comes from compelling, high-quality content about the problem and solution space. The hardest aspect is conversion. How do you go from a unique visit to some sort of conversion? This is where every blog needs a call-to-action (CTA). And due to the nature of blogs, what your CTA is really matters.
With most marketing campaigns (and considering blogs as a type of ongoing campaign) having an “ask” is very easy and obvious. Fill out this form, click this link, sign up—These are generally expected in standard marketing material. But for a blog reader who may not even know that the blog they are about to see is a commercial entity, they do not expect to be sold to when they are simply trying to get information. In addition, a bad CTA can actually lead to a negative perception of the company and its product—and depending on the timing, the content may not be given the chance to provide value.
With anything related to your blog, you should always start by asking, “Does this content meet the reader’s expectations?” Chances are that if you know in advance you are doing something that the reader does not expect, it won’t work. Part of the writer’s job is to lead a reader toward a perspective shared by the reader and the company that is complementary to the offering that your company provides.
CTAs That Convert Visits to Customers
Here are the types of CTAs you should consider for your blog, in recommended order:
- Local embedded links: Your posts should always have links, and a good portion of those links should go directly to your internal blog posts. But there is something very important here, and it is that the link you use should be relevant. It should be similar in topic to the post itself, and you should never lead someone to a registration form without making it clear in the link itself that they will, for example, “sign up for a trial now.” (This is not recommended in any case. If the user lands on a form, they will “angry bounce” right away.)
- In-text callouts: One nice trick is to embed callouts relevant to the text (but they are clearly CTAs) in the body of the post. For example, after the first few paragraphs, you can relate what they just read to the callout. For example “XYZ just added ABC feature,” where ABC feature was just suggested in the text above. That is a bonus. Done tastefully, they are unobtrusive, and the reader can skip it, but if the callout is relevant, it can drive good traffic.
- Sidebar ads: One of the most expected and accepted tools is to put your own ads on your blog. Just as you would see on any media site, you can place a tasteful ad in the sidebar. The problem with these is that most readers have developed a blindness to ads, and the click-through is low.
- Social Links: One thing you can do is invite users to join the conversation with social links. But I encourage you to be clever with your links. For example, pre-populate Tweet text or Facebook posts. Tell them why they should share a post. Make it conversation-specific, and don’t rely on run-of-the-mill social bars. They are ignored as much as ads.
- Freebees: Techies love free stuff. In a study we ran on Sweetcode.io, we found that you can’t go wrong with stickers or shirts. So using freebies as a giveaway for some actions can be useful. Be careful, however, that any action (sign up for a newsletter, agree to receive a call, etc.) to get freebies is spelled out to the visitor. Otherwise, people will get angry, and you will damage your brand.
Here are some other things you can do (at your own risk).
- Exit forms: I would be a hypocrite if I told you not to use an exit form. (Just try to exit this blog post, I dare you!) But make sure the ask in the form is relevant to the user’s experience (for example, a newsletter.) You’ll want to say something along the lines of, “If you like this post, we can let you know about more similar to it.” If you make the signup no more than an email or a name capture, they will immediately assume you want their name to be sold. So make sure it is clear it’s just to update them, and keep true to that. If you have an exit form and someone calls them or emails them in a few minutes, then you are hurting this tool for all of us.
- Retargeting: Retargeting is a fantastic way to leave the reader alone while they are on the blog, but grab them later after you already know they saw some value from your site. The trick is the logic you use for your ads. Companies can make some mistakes here. There should be a cooling off period. If the next site they visit after yours has an ad for your company, they will be irritated. Also make sure that the ad network you are using filters the retargeted sites to something relevant. If I’m on a vendor blog and that vendor sells log analysis software—and their ad shows up on a blog about LEGO, or maybe alongside a tragic news item, that company has gone from interesting to creepy, and people will notice.
- Chat bots: Don’t use them. I am of the opinion that beyond support, chatbots for marketing are just cheesy and overrated. I especially suggest you do not put them on your blog. Often the places where a chatbot should go (support pages, and maybe landing pages) are on the same CMS as the blog, and companies will blanket-enable the bot for ALL pages. You should disable the bot for your blog. The bot windows, and whatever attractive person’s avatar you put on it, are a constant reminder to the reader that they are being sold to.
- Subscribe to RSS: A lot of techies use RSS readers like FeedBurner for blogs they like. So a simple reminder to have them add your RSS link to their feed is a great CTA. What makes RSS feeds so appealing is that they let people passively receive content. The downside of RSS, however, can be that the reader never needs to visit your site, and can easily forget who you are. But at the same time, even if they don’t visit your website, RSS feeds can build a loyal readership.
Walking the fine line between imparting value and converting is a challenge. But this is why us marketers get the big bucks, right? You should always be true to readers’ expectations, but encourage them to take action when they are ready. Just getting a unique visit to your blog is a plus, because if you have good content, you have already established yourself in the reader’s mind and created some form of familiarity.
Your blog should drive users to convert to customers. The strategic use of CTAs will help architect how that happens.