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Tim Ferriss and the Inbound Marketing Mindset

 

Tim Ferriss HubSpot hangout In the new world of social media and real-time relevance, one thing is certain: powerful marketing opportunities are everywhere. All you need to do is pay attention and respond.

Earlier this year, I was sitting at my desk at HubSpot when I received a Skype message from a friend. He had been on Facebook and noticed that Tim Ferriss, NYTimes bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, was in Cambridge that day and had just invited his friends and fans in the area to hang out with him that evening.

Being a fan of the 4-Hour Workweek, my ears perked up. I wanted to meet Tim. And I also knew that HubSpot had to get involved somehow. I wasn't sure what our angle was going to be, but I knew that given our love of fun and creative things, some of which are only loosely tied to online marketing, something good would emerge.

So I started asking around and soon found myself at the desk of Mike Volpe, HubSpot's uber-CMO. He surprised and delighted me when he said, "I can put some money towards drinks for a sponsored hang-out."

How cool is that?

Company credit card in hand, it was time to connect with Ferriss to let him know that we wanted to foot the bill for his Cambridge get together. Asking around a little more, we found a HubSpotter who knew someone who was close with Ferriss, and we quickly got in touch.

Tim was excited by our offer, and graciously accepted the sponsorship. He offered to tweet and Facebook the details to his over 500,000 followers, including thanks for our footing the bill.

Party Time!

So we whipped up a free Eventbrite page with all the details, sent it to Tim, and promoted it through our social channels as well. The buzz started building.

The result? A packed house just three hours later at Kendall Square's Mead Hall (which boasts over 100 craft beers on tap... with matching steins for each brew! But that's for another post.).

Ferriss met and chatted with everyone, starting informally in small groups, and eventually transitioning to a larger Q&A type session. And everyone enjoyed a round from the bar on HubSpot.

A few dozen HubSpotters attended, some of whom credited Tim for their initial interest in entrepreneurship and online marketing. So the evening became a source of pride and internal team building as well.

And while the number of sales of the HubSpot software generated by this event is hard if not impossible to measure, I would say that the effects go far beyond our immediate financial goals. In fact, the four axioms of the inbound marketing mindset can be gleaned from what transpired that day:

The 4 Axioms of the Inbound Marketing Mindset

  1. Creativity. Effective marketing is about creativity more than it is a set of "best practices." When you are focused on delighting your target audience and its influencers, you never know what kind of opportunities will present themselves. And when you have the freedom to pursue something that gets you jazzed, even if it may not be perfectly congruent with your core value proposition, good things will happen!
  2. Be loveable. If you want to become a "love brand," you must do things (and, ultimately, create products) that are astounding. Another way to say this is that old war horse: inbound content must be remarkable content. In this case, it was mostly people's access to an internet marketing and lifehacking celebrity that made it remarkable. That and the free gourmet beers. :)
  3. Authenticity. Take every opportunity to express your true colors. HubSpot talks about transforming the way companies do marketing. And we also practice transforming the way marketing is done. Our software helps people get the job done, but the mindset itself, and the new paradigm of inbound marketing, extends far beyond any software application. We find ourselves examining our own humanness. So ask yourself: How human is your business? Are you Good Guy Greg? Does your audience feel your authentic interest in their well-being, development, and success? Do they love you?! If not, ask yourself why not, then do something about it.
  4. Care. If you do cool things at the right times for the right reasons, word will spread. If you go out of your way to do awesome things for your audience—whether that's create a valuable report, ebook, study, or webinar—or something as tangential as simply hanging out with fans, word will spread. That's because true care is hard to come by. Why? Because it's expensive. You can't outsource it or automate it. If you really care, you have to put your whole being into your relationships with your target market. And many companies are afraid to do that. Why? Because it's risky. You don't know if it's necessarily going to be a hit or even be noticed. But in today's climate of short attention spans and infinite options, it's actually riskier not to invest in the kind of care I'm speaking about. It may seem like it takes too long, or that the ROI isn't apparent, but that's just because we're talking about a new way of doing business. This is new territory, and it will take some getting used to as well as trial and error.

That is to say: yes, the sponsored hangout was doing business. And it was also a way for us to show our appreciation for an author and entrepreneur whose approach to online marketing and business we respect. And it was also a way to be friendly and neighborly to our audience.

In other words: Inbound = Human. So cultivate it in your company. Look for the opportunities all around you. And put the four axioms of the inbound marketing mindset to use, and start transforming your marketing and your business.

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David Byrne and St. Vincent: Burning Down a New House

 
David Byrne St. Vincent Live

What happened at the Orpheum Theater in Boston Sunday night was not a rock concert. It wasn't performance art. And it also wasn't an orchestral/funk instrumental groove jam.

You can't even say that it was just a combination of any or all of those things.

Sunday's concert by David Byrne, St. Vincent (Annie Clark), and their band was an extended moment of emergence—something new was created as a result of everyone coming together at the Orpheum theater. The concert had all the elements you would expect of a great performance, but everyone present experienced something that, I would dare to say, we hadn't seen before.

To explore how this might have happened, let's start with the way the songs were created:

They were written by Byrne and Clark, two of the great musical artists of our time, sending ideas to one another over a course of three years. "Our thoughts," Clark said, "came in various forms. Sometimes they would be very skeletal—David would send me a melody and chords, and I would try to write words to it or rearrange it for horns. Sometimes I would send him arrangements that didn’t have melodies and he would write melodies over it and send it back. This is an honest–to-God collaboration; there really is no delineating what the roles were."

Regarding the artists, their originality, prodigious musical talent—and quirkiness—stood out. For instance, throughout the night, Clark did a fast-stepping dance that made it look like she was floating/shaking across the stage, all while shredding the most beautiful distortion-laden solos on her guitar. She sparkled at the mic with a mesmerizing pale radiance; and when I met her backstage, her unguardedness and authenticity made her appear almost translucent. And Byrne delivered his trademark deliberate gestures and simple dance steps, so subdued and strange that you wonder if he was communicating in alien code.

But whatever brilliance the two artists possessed on their own, combining forces in this way brought out something truly extraordinary in the music itself.

For example, I've never heard anything as simultaneously funky and searching as their opening number, "Who." The heavy syncopated baritone sax / tuba bass line overlaid with the open harmonies in Byrne and Clark's legato melody let the audience know that we were in for a wildly creative, brilliantly joyful night.

And it just kept getting better. For the entire duration of almost two hours, the full ensemble on stage (which included trumpets, French horns, trombones, a tuba, saxes, keyboards, and drums) took us on a fantastic journey. From the cosmic and ethereal "Outside of Space and Time" to the intricately choreographed "The Forest Awakes," I felt like I did when I was 8 years old in Disneyland. I mean it sincerely, I was enthralled by the new lands in pop music I discovered. I've never been so simultaneously moved by the emotional transmission of the music, the poeticism of the lyrics, and the intricacy of the compositions.

And I don't think I feel so strongly about this merely because I'm a brass player who dreamed of being a rock star. No, the magic that happened Sunday was a result of the partnership between the people who created and performed this music.

What Made the Magic?

I know that Byrne has spent his life thinking about how music works and where it's going, and that Clark is able to produce, in Byrne's words, "beautiful, luscious melodies, but with really interesting, peculiar instrumentation and arrangements."

Which leads me to believe that the reason the evening was so electrifying, and the music so delicious to the ear, the mind, and also the heart, is because both performers were pushing an edge—not only expanding their own creativity, but simultaneously inspiring each other to new greatness.

In fact, Clark had the following to say on their tour blog:

"David is always looking to the future of music, and he’s not nostalgic about anything. People tend to think of nostalgia as a sweet notion, but I think it’s a little cynical, as if what happened in the past is better than what can happen in the future. People can end up just doing these genres studies. I’m not interested in doing that and neither is David, so we kept pushing each other.”

Of course, they both played a handful of their respective hits during the evening. And, of course, everyone loved those numbers. But the energy was decidedly different. More known. Fun, but known, so not as exciting.

The original numbers, on the other hand, felt like something was literally being born in front of us all. I found myself thinking, "This is the next big thing." Who knows, it may already be.

So go buy the album, and if the Love This Giant tour is coming your way, and you love music, go check it out. You will be very glad you did.

One last thing. Given that this is a business marketing blog, I want to tie in my review to marketing and business for a moment. So here it is: whenever the sum is greater than the parts, you've got a winner. Go out of your way to create synergies and partnerships that get you excited; you might find everyone going somewhere they've never been before.

And do your damndest to work with people who are interested in where we're going and what's next. Nothing is more exciting than being with people who are turned on about the future. And when you have the opportunity to work together, take it. Great things will happen.

Steve Haase David ByrneP.S. Here's proof that I did make it backstage. Much thanks to my college buddy, John Altieri, for hooking me up. He was was rocking the sousaphone like a boss!












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8 Ways Meditation Makes You a Better Inbound Marketer

 

Meditation and businessI meditate for an hour every morning before work. It’s my favorite part of the day: the stillness, the focus, and the relaxation are like sitting at the bottom of the ocean. Nothing could possibly be wrong, because nothing has happened, and nothing is happening.

People have been meditating for thousands of years, and have gained tremendous insight and inner rewards as a result. But I would like to explore some contemporary side benefits of meditation—especially as it relates to the practice of inbound marketing.

Again, the practical applications of meditation are not the main reason to do the practice. They are simply happy side benefits of this perennial spiritual endeavor. I definitely encourage you, if you’re interested in meditation, to study it in a context where it is more than a self-development exercise. I’ve found that that’s the only way that the practice really makes sense.

What I Mean by “Meditation”

Before diving in to the benefits for marketers, first a word about the kind of meditation I do. It’s a very simple approach, where you simply sit still, relax, and pay attention. The point is to have no relationship to the content of consciousness. Another way to think about it is to focus on the space between your thoughts. You eventually discover that the space between your thoughts is always there, even when you’re thinking!

So now, how meditation makes you a better inbound marketer:

  1. Enhanced creativity. Meditation provides mental space for new ideas and new connections in your mind. By spending time in the space between your thoughts, you may find more novel thoughts, images, and concepts emerging from nowhere.
  2. Greater adaptability to change. Similarly, by making room within yourself from “how things have been,” you become more adaptable to “how things are.” This is so important for marketers as the world around us changes so quickly. The most adaptable among us may also prove to be the most successful.
  3. Increased awareness. By developing your ability to pay attention through meditation, you will respond more rapidly and intuitively to whatever situation is at hand. 
  4. Combined with relaxation. Meditation creates a unique combination of awareness and relaxation. And this is important not just because it feels good, but also being relaxed will help you deal with the stresses of the business world. As a big bonus, your chilled out state of mind might help you create content that is more entertaining, humorous, or edgy than usual. 
  5. Focus. We all know the somewhat crazy feeling that goes hand in hand with working online. When you have 20 different tasks to accomplish between 12 different programs and websites, it’s easy to let your entire day rush by without having achieved the most important tasks you set out to accomplish. Being grounded in meditation can help you to steer clear of the time sucking landmines that litter the online workspace. 
  6. Depth. When your marketing is infused with meaning and purpose, and is serious without being heavy, you’ve struck gold. Think about the Levi’s Go Forth campaign, or Nike’s Voices spot . They strike a powerful chord with their target audience, and authentically inspire people (I know they inspire me). Meditation helps you connect with your own depth better than anything else.
  7. Being connected. If there is one secret to inbound marketing, it is to authentically connect with your audience. You need to provide material to help spark their conversation, not interrupt it. Meditation makes it easier to see the natural connections we share with each other, and therefore makes it easier to create content that reflects this.
  8. Let go. If a campaign or initiative misses the mark, let it go. Don’t take it personally, or fight the facts. Instead, because you’ve been practicing letting go on the cushion, you’ll more easily be able to see your work with fresh eyes and either make crucial adjustments, or even, well, let it go.

What are some ways meditation has helped you in business? Any other practices you do that provide a boost to your day? Let us know in the comments.

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The Obama Campaign Guide to Segmenting Your Contacts

 

Segmenting leadsI have a confession to make: I'm a procrastinator. I'll often allow myself to rest on good intentions and not actually take action on something that I know I should be doing.

Case in point: donating to Obama's campaign. When election season started heating up, I knew that I wanted to donate. And as the emails flooded in asking me to do so, I just kept hitting delete. 

They cajoled me, frightened me, inspired me. And yet, I did nothing.

What finally got me to pull out my debit card?

Segmentation.

That's right. With the first email I received that was targeted to my specific group, i.e. people who donated in 2008 but hadn't donated in 2012, I ponied up. I even did so on my mobile phone in a Starbucks in downtown Boston, I was so motivated.

The subject line was "2008 supporters: !!"

How's that for segmentation?

The personalized lines in the email were, "Since you stepped up and donated in 2008, we're counting on you to come through again for President Obama this year. So here's a challenge:"

Like I said, it worked. I'm curious to see how well the email did as a whole, but I would imagine that, as is so often the case for well-segmented emails, it outperformed their standard sends.

So what's the lesson here? And how did they do what they did?

The first lesson is that segmentation works to increase response. Every time. Think about it, when you receive an email that is clearly just for you, you respond (most of the time :). So our job as marketers is to send that kind of email.

We have to care enough about the people we're emailing to address them by what makes one person different from another. Just like you would with a friend.

How to Segment

The first step is to think about the differences in your database, and which differences matter to your initiative. In the case above with Obama's campaign, the segment was 2008 donors who had not contributed yet in 2012. But the possibilities are limited only by your time and imagination as a marketer. The more information you gather through your customer lifecycle, the more targeted and effective your marketing will be.

For instance, relevant differences for segmentation could be:

  • Location
  • Gender
  • Job title or role
  • How did they find out about you (referral source)
  • What topic or product are they most interested in
  • Are they a current customer or even a repeat customer
  • If they haven't purchased or donated yet, how much interest have they expressed in your product
  • Are they actively engaged with your current marketing (clicking emails, responding on social networks, visiting your website, etc)

Once you've decided on the important differences for your business, create lists of people based on each attribute. You can do this with spreadsheets or, ideally, with your marketing software. 

Once you have your lists, create your content with a member of each segment in mind. When you write to solve a problem for one specific person, your marketing will be far more powerful and effective. 

Finally, decide on an appropriate schedule and timing for delivering your targeted content. One of the reasons the Obama email worked so well is that they sent it just hours before the president was about to deliver his speech at the Democratic National Convention. So it was on people's minds to begin with.

Any other examples of powerful segmentation come to mind? Who is doing a great job of this? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

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How to Save the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (and classical music)

 

Save the symphony orchestraOn August 31, the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra were locked out. No pay. No benefits. No schedule.

The cause: a $5 million dollar budget shortfall that wasn’t resolved in time. On the surface, what happened was the musicians and the management couldn’t agree on how to make up the shortfall. But it points to a deeper challenge with orchestral music in our times: How to make the symphony orchestra a viable entity, both financially and culturally.

It’s time for creative thinking. Let’s put on our marketing hats and create ways to grow revenue and attendance for these pinnacles of artistic expression.

Relevance = Attendance

When you think of classical music, do you think about life and death? Being hopelessly in love? The creation of the universe itself?

If not, that’s because you haven’t heard the right stuff. And you haven’t heard it in the right way.

Listen to the opening of Mahler’s fifth symphony, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. These are pieces that express emotions that we usually only equate with the most intense experiences in life, or, in a more mediated way, with films that portray those experiences.

The fact is that great classical music, when performed with heart and passion, connects us to our most tender emotions of love, longing, courage, resilience, and so much more.

So the challenge is not one of content, it is one of communication. How do we reach audiences in today’s digitized world? When everyone has a screen in front of them for most of their waking day, how do we connect to their deeper humanity and turn them on to this noble and exciting art form?

This is where things get interesting for marketers (btw, if you care about this, and you have a creative idea for how to influence people about it, you are a marketer :).

Brainstorm time: I’m thinking about videos. And as cool as the flash mob YouTube videos of the Copenhagen symphony are (how did he sneak those tympani drums into the train station, anyways?!), we need to take it further. We need to create memes. We need internet stars. We need cats (okay, maybe not the cats).

How can the musicians of the orchestra see themselves as online content creators? What if they share behind the scenes moments in the practice room, speaking about what they love about the pieces they are going to perform that season. Maybe sharing how they practice the trickiest passages. I’m thinking of a Just Do It campaign, but for daunting musical licks.

Just Shred It.

Shared amongst youngsters who are learning an instrument, and adults who can relate to the passion and dedication of these musicians, some kind of candid content campaign could help connect audiences with the musicians who usually sit so far away, and don’t say anything during the concert!

What kind of grass-roots participation could spring up for a contest to create the best pop arrangement of a classical theme or melody? Or to create a compelling classical version of a popular tune? Artists like Bjork, Radiohead, and Sigur Ros are already blurring these lines. And having some kind of publicity or reward from a prominent arts organization could inspire people around the world to join the cause.

Paying the Bills

With arts organizations relying on donors for more than half their income, increasing attendance won’t necessarily cover the costs for an orchestra. So we need to get creative about financing as well. Let’s not focus on ticket sales right now, because some kind of sponsorship will likely be needed, as it has been for large artistic endeavors for much of recent history.

Again, let’s brainstorm ways that orchestras can get creative with their finances. Brand marketing comes to mind. With companies such as Coca Cola, Home Depot, UPS, and Delta all being headquartered in Atlanta, there simply has to be a way for them to work together for mutual benefit.

What are the values that the symphony shares with these companies? Again, just some thoughts:

Coca Cola = Experience the good things in life; Treat yourself to something refreshing.

Home Depot = Work on the things you love and you’ll be rewarded; It takes more than a house to make a home.

UPS = Go the extra mile.

Delta = Experience the world; The symphony brings the world to you, we bring you to the world.

The possibilities for sponsored content are literally endless. For it to work, the content would have to be authentic to both organizations involved. No one on either side can feel like they’re making a sacrifice, selling out, or acting out of charity or desperation, otherwise the audience will feel it too and the efforts will fail.

But if there are ways to tap into the “brand DNA” of both organizations, then the orchestra could help the marketing of the companies, and the companies could underwrite the sustained future of the orchestra. Win-wins that make economic sense will be a critical component of any creative solutions moving forward.

What are some other ways to disrupt the classical music world, and stabilize the future of our orchestras?

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How to Succeed at Linkbuilding Without Really Trying

 

Link buildingOne common goal among the customers I consult with at HubSpot is to increase their search engine rank for strategic words and phrases. So I paid special attention to (and live-tweeted the heck out of) the keynote session with Rand Fishkin, founder and CEO of SEOmoz, at this year’s Inbound conference. Among the many helpful SEO takeaways in his talk, one stood out in particular, and serves as the topic of today’s blog post. It’s this:

Relationship Building > Link Building

I love this idea, not only because it’s an expression of HubSpot’s mantra, “Make marketing people love,” but also because it is so simple and, if taken seriously, incredibly effective. So how is relationship building better than link building? And what are we actually talking about?

Why Care

First, let’s discuss why it’s so important to receive inbound links to your website in the first place. In order to deliver better results, search engine algorithms have evolved over the years to give more importance to things you cannot do on your own website. And this is a good thing, because it prevents people from gaming the system through things like keyword stuffing and meta-tag optimization.

What this means is that as of today, a mere 25% of your SEO comes from work you do on your own site, and 75% comes from off-site factors. Of these off-site factors, links from other sites, or inbound links, are primary contributors to your site’s rank for certain keywords. So that’s why we’re focusing on inbound links.

And of these inbound links, not all of them are created equal. If you’re a software company and you receive a link from Wired.com, that means a lot more than receiving a link from BestSoftwareReviews.com. That’s because Wired.com has greater domain authority, since more sites are linking to it and it’s been around for a long time (in internet years). So links from authority sites are what we want to see. They should be one of your big goals with SEO.

5 Ways to Build Relationships That Build Links

Here are five ways that you can start with relationships and end up with better SEO, plus a nice collection of links that build themselves.

  1. Guest blog. Do it to help a blogger out. Not just for the link. Do it because you know their audience and have something to say that can help them. It's really easy to get started: simply send an email or a tweet to someone whose blog you've been following and offer to write a piece for them. Chances are they'll accept, and you'll be on your way to new links and new relationships.
  2. Write for the people in your audience, not the computers. In other words, cover a range of topics that overlap with the interests of people in your market, and not just your keyword phrases. This will give you not only a larger pool of topics to work with, but also a larger pool of sites that could send you inbound links.
  3. Make friends with people on Twitter… and IRL. Seriously, you never know which of your friends will go on to write an article for some huge website and will use you as a source, sending you a monster link because you were buddies in college. True story. And as for Twitter, links from social networks do help your search engine ranking (not to mention drive traffic). So tweet it up!
  4. Accept links from whoever’s giving them. You may never get any love from that one big site that’s linking to your top competitor but not you. And that’s okay. If you receive a link from, let’s say, Salesforce.com instead of Wired.com, you’ll still have plenty of reason to pop open the SEO champagne at the end of the day. When you're through with the bubbly, take a moment to send an email thanking them for the link love.
  5. Feature others. Conduct interviews with the people that your industry respects most, as well as the up and comers. Whether it’s via email, video, or audio, people love to hear from those with clout. Plus the interviewee may link to you, too, which is nice when it happens, but shouldn't be expected.

What are some other ways you’ve found that relationship building has helped your SEO? Let us know in the comments below.

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Improve Your Business Blog: 12 Ways to Learn From Your Competitor

 

improve your business blogIs your blog the top in your industry? Do people come to your site first for news, trends, and advice related to their business, or do they go to a competitor’s blog instead?

Well, if your business blog is not the first choice for your industry (yet), fear not! Below are 12 ways you can use your competition’s blog improve your own. Who knows, you may even overtake them before long!

Tip: Create a database for the ideas you’ll be gathering during your research. I recommend a spreadsheet with three columns: Topics, Sites, and Tweaks.

  1. Social media stats. Savvy marketers will have social sharing buttons on their blog so that readers can easily spread the content across their favorite networks. A helpful feature of those buttons is that their counters tell you how many people shared the accompanying articles. Which articles on your competitor’s blog have the highest numbers? Those are likely the topics that their (and your) readers resonate most with. Open your spreadsheet and note the topics that received the highest number of shares. Later, you can turn that knowledge into action by writing a new post on your blog for each topic.
     
  2. Frequency. How often is your competition publishing new posts? This can give you a sense of what works well for them. If they’ve been posting several times a week for months, you can be sure that that frequency is generating more leads than if they were posting less often. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be making that kind of effort, would they? Note their posting frequency in your "tweaks" column and, if possible, increase yours to match.
     
  3. Comments. Are there any posts that have a significantly larger number of comments than others? Try and figure out why that is. Is the topic controversial or polarizing? Is the post about breaking news in your industry? Comments mean that the audience is engaged, so you should consider writing about the topics with the most comments for your own blog. Record the topics with the most comments, including a note about why you think they were popular. Use this as inspiration for your new posts.
     
  4. Helpful content. Are your competitor’s posts mostly about their company, or are they writing about topics that would be of service to a broader industry audience, and not just interested prospects? If their focus is too self-centered, you will have a large opening that you can fill by writing about broader topics, and quickly gain mind share in your market. Consider any areas of industry knowledge and news that your competitors are overlooking, and write each idea in the Topics section of your spreadsheet. 
     
  5. Driving traffic. How is your competitor driving traffic to their blog? Visit their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles to see where they may be active in social media. Are their blog titles using industry keywords? If so, that is likely contributing to their traffic from the search engines as well. Do they have a way to subscribe to the blog, either by email or RSS, so that the company can stay in front of readers when a new post is published? Are they guest blogging on other sites that you’ve discovered in your research? All of these are effective means of increasing traffic and engagement with their blog. Write down the ways you’ve discovered that your competitors are driving traffic that you’re not using yet in the “Tweaks” column of your spreadsheet. Add those channels to your regular promotional activities.
     
  6. Generating leads. How is your competitor turning visitors into leads? Do they have calls to action on their blog posts? If so, what kind of offers are they promoting most heavily—informational offers (also called top of the funnel offers), or are they sending people to offers further down the funnel, such as a product trial or free consultation? Do the calls to action stand out from the rest of the page and make you want to click on them? Converting readers to customers is the best way to achieve ROI from blogging, and will also increase your number of loyal readers. Under the Tweaks section of your spreadsheet, record your ideas for generating more leads using offers and CTA buttons.
     
  7. Sharable copy. Is their copy strong? Does it contain compelling headlines that will get shared on social media and forwarded around via email? Is it punchy and clear? All of these help your business blog connect with readers, and keep it locked in as an industry leader. If you can do this better than your competitors, you can pull ahead. Note any favorite headlines or particularly powerful phrases you discover. Don’t use them verbatim in your blog, but riffing on variations is fair game!
     
  8. Interesting images. Are they using images on their posts? Are those images appealing and descriptive? What services or websites are your competitors using to source their best images, or are they using in-house photography? What are some images that capture your industry most effectively? In the "Sites" section, Record the photo sources of the images you like the most, and start developing your own stockpile of graphic awesomeness. The best way to do this is to create a dedicated folder on your computer (or in the cloud) where you store photos for upcoming posts.
     
  9. Social media approach. Is your competitor posting to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or others? How often and what times of day are they posting? Are they getting much engagement on the social networks, and which ones provide the most connection? Are they promoting their posts multiple times, or just sharing them one time only? Ramp up your social media efforts on the networks that you see are most effective for your competitors. That may also mean posting more frequently, starting an industry group online, scheduling your posts in advance, and more.
     
  10. Personality. What’s the “voice” they’re using on their blog? Is it appropriate to your industry? How does their voice draw you in to the content, or push you away from it? Adjust the voice of your blog based on what struck you (good or bad) from your research, e.g. make it warmer, spunkier, more formal, etc.
     
  11. Types of content. Are your competitors posting thought leadership pieces? How-to and product related posts? Charts and infographics, case studies, commentary on current industry news, or just plain entertaining posts? See which type of content garners the most attention in terms of social sharing and comments. Create content for your own blog using the most effective formats above.
     
  12. Guest posts. If the leading blog in your industry is brand-agnostic, in that it doesn’t represent any particular company, see if you can contribute a guest blog post. Not only is this a good way to increase visits to your blog, due to people clicking over to your site after reading your guest post, but the inbound link from a highly respected site will increase the SEO value for your own site. Note the sites that feature guest posts, then reach out and offer to write a guest post for them.

Implement the improvements above one at a time, and before too long, you may just find yourself with the highest ranked source of information and lead generation in your industry.

Any other ways you've found to improve your business blog by studying a competitor's? Let us know in the comments.

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