Why We Started Treating Blog Posts Like Campaigns (and You Can Too!)

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presidential-post-recap-blog-image

It’s easy to get stuck on the hamster wheel that is publishing three blog posts a week because that’s what we’ve always done.

At Unbounce, we still fall into the trap of publishing more versus publishing better, even though we know that one 10x post is always better than three mediocre posts.

However, as our team has grown, we’ve had the opportunity to step away from the hamster wheel to consider the most efficient and enjoyable way to spend our time while also providing value to our readers.

One such thing we’re experimenting with is treating specific blog posts like mini campaigns. That is, in addition to simply publishing well-written content, we’re also setting goals, implementing strategy and reporting on ROI. It’s something Joanna Wiebe touched on in her UFX talk.

On the verge of total content production burnout, Joanna and the team at Copyhackers changed the way they looked at, and thus produced, content.

They cut back their content production to just one epic post per month based on the hypothesis that if they made each post so valuable, so 10x, readers would be delighted to share their email address.

Turns out, they were right. According to Joanna,

We actually also got business growth out of it. We doubled the number of freelance copywriters on our list… and we sold out the next two Masterminds.

The blog team at Unbounce took a similar approach with this post by Aaron Orendorff.

Clinton vs. Trump presidential tear down post
In this epic post, Aaron and 18 marketing experts critique each candidate’s home page and donation funnel, offering A/B testing inspiration for campaign managers and curious marketers alike.

Before I get into the how, let me give you a quick recap of the results of the presidential post:

  • 7,536 unique page views, 4,513 new users and 99 new subscribers in first 30 days
  • 6,000+ social shares
  • Ranking first in Google for “presidential marketing campaigns” and “presidential marketing”

Not only that, but the post was trending on Inbound.org and was mentioned in this Inc. and this Huffington Post piece.

So how’d we do it?

Well, it all started with a casual Slack convo:

Slack conversation

Once we got a completed pitch from Aaron, it was clear to us that this post had potential to go, well, viral. But not if we didn’t do a little strategy to go along with it, starting with a detailed pitch…

Produce better content right from the beginning

Download Unbounces blog pitch framework, and ensure all your content is 10x content.

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If you’re not sure if your post is a good candidate for a content campaign, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it timely? Does it have newsjacking potential? Are people already talking about the topic?
  • Is it unique? Does it offer a fresh perspective on a familiar subject?
  • Does it have potential to rank in search engines? (This should require a little keyword research, but we’ll get to the how later.)
  • Are there other people invested in its success? Does it contain original quotes from industry experts? Does the author have a sizeable network?

All clear? Word. Now it’s time to strategize.

Phase I: Determine the goal of the post

Campaign posts require a lot more effort than a standard “3 Easy Ways to X” post does, so it’s important to determine a goal for the post, so that you can measure whether or not it was worth the added effort.

We’ll usually go with one of three options: leads (four-field form), subscribers (email only) or new users (traffic).

In the case of the Clinton vs. Trump post, our primary goal was new users. Because we were leveraging a trending topic, our suspicion was that the post would have great reach, but that the people reading it may be cold to Unbounce and therefore hesitant to hand over their lead info. Thus, this was a true TOFU post, focused on driving new eyes — and ideally prospects — to the blog.

As a baseline, we usually get between 500 and 800 new users on any given post. However, as I mentioned in the bullet points above, this post brought us over 4,500 new users in its first 30 days. Not too shabby, amirite?

hillary-gif
Our completely non-partisan happy dance. Image via Giphy.

Now, if you checked out the post, you may have noticed a few CTAs throughout, and even an exit overlay — all with separate goals!

While it’s not always viable or even smart to have a multiple goals, we decided on a secondary subscriber goal for two reasons: (1) the post was long (6,000 words), so we offered a PDF of the post in exchange for an email address and (2) we wanted to give new users who loved our content an opportunity to sign up for blog updates.

In total, we received 175 CTA submissions, 99 of which were brand new subscribers. If subscribers had been our primary goal, this number would have been disappointing, but since new users and, really, brand awareness was our goal, these 99 subscribers were the cherries on top.

Phase II: Keyword research and implementation

Content Marketer Helen Arceyut-Frixione took on the challenge of finding the juiciest keywords to rank for.

Taking into consideration searcher intent, Helen worked backwards to figure out (a) what might someone learn from the post and (b) what might someone search to find a post like this. Helen explains:

Although the post talks about sales funnels, that’s not what it’s really about. And I would be surprised if Google showed me this post after searching for “sales funnel.” However, if I search presidential marketing (and its variations), landing on this post makes total sense.

Once she had “presidential marketing” and a few other new keywords in mind, she was ready to verify their relevancy.

First Helen used Google Adwords Keyword Planner to get a pulse on monthly search volume. However, because the Keyword Planner only takes into account paid search, she then moved onto MOZ, which allows her to see where the organic opportunities are. She narrowed it down to a few potential keywords, which were then reviewed by our resident SEO expert Cody Campbell.

In the end, we focused our efforts primarily on “presidential marketing campaign.” As you can see below, our efforts paid off.

presidential marketing campaigns google search
You know you’re doing something right when you’re ranking higher than Forbes.

Phase III: Loop in influencers

A key part of this post’s success can be credited to the people involved: firstly, Unbounce Official Contributor Aaron Orendorff and secondly, the 18 influential experts who contributed analyses on each step of the candidate’s online donation funnel.

As a successful freelance content strategist and producer, Aaron is no stranger to writing high-performing pieces. Several of his highest performing posts have also leveraged trending topics, like this Entrepreneur piece, titled “The Mindy Kaling Guide to Entrepreneurial Domination”.

So with the right writer (right righter? write righter?) assigned to the piece, Aaron set out on a seemingly impossible mission: to wrangle 18 professional CROs, copywriters and content producers into submitting their critique on a tight deadline. I asked Aaron how he did it:

Wrangling 18 of the best conversion-rate optimizers wasn’t easy. But a few tricks helped get their contributions.

First, I had buy in from Kyle Rush from the jump — Clinton’s Deputy CTO — so attaching his name gave the piece immediate authority.

Second, the topic itself was killer; having something original for them to write about piqued their interest.

Third, I got granular. Instead of asking for “general” teardowns on each candidate’s site, I gave each contributor a specific section of one site to critique: (1) pop-up, (2) homepage or (3) donation page. Once they agreed, I created separate Google Docs for each section and gave them direct access to write up their notes.

Despite its challenges, getting 18 influential marketers to weigh in on this post was hugely impactful, because they too were invested in the success of the piece and thus shared it on their own social networks.

Andy Crestodina tweet
Neil Patel tweet
Both Andy Crestodina and Neil Patel have sizeable Twitter followings: ~18,000 and a staggering ~214,000, respectively.

Phase IV: Create custom blog assets

At Unbounce, we use Shutterstock for the majority of our feature blog images. Actually, until quite recently we didn’t even use Shutterstock — instead we used free images from various sources (if you use free images, check out this bomb-ass resource).

However, in this case we looped in our designers to give it the ol’ blowout treatment. Not only did they produce a striking feature image, they also made an exit overlay with the same design.

Exit overlay on presidential post

Exit overlays and popups in general are a touchy subject, because they can be abrupt. So when we use them, we try to do it in a way that is both value-added and delightful. In this case, we’ve added value by giving time-constrained readers an opportunity to read the post at their leisure. As for delight, well, did you see the button copy?

exit overlay tweet

Phase V: Distribution (social and otherwise)

The final key piece in your blog post campaign is distribution. I mean, why put all that work into the post if people aren’t going to read it?

Aaron took a lot off our hands by contacting each contributor to let them know the post was live; step one, leverage influencers: check!

I also met with Community Strategist Hayley Mullin to ensure we were were covered on the social front.

Of course, #election2016, #Trump and #Clinton were trending; however, Hayley opted to use those hashtags sparingly, since most people searching them out wouldn’t be looking for a post about conversion rate optimization. Again — as in the case with keyword selection — we took searcher’s intent into consideration.

Instead, she split her efforts between presidential-esque hashtags and marketing-type hashtags, including #CRO and, well, #Marketing. I asked Hayley about her strategy:

We had to strike a balance between taking advantage of the election hype — without making a statement — and staying relevant. So I targeted broad, uncontroversial audiences in both politics and marketing to case a wide net on both sides. As tempting as it was to dive into the more fervorous political communities, it would have been a gimmicky move that wasn’t true to the nature of the post.

One last thing we did, in an effort to get as much juice as possible out of this post, was to share it with our team and ask them to share it in their networks.

Internal email Unbounce
Please excuse the overused subject line.

So if you were wondering: No, we are not above just asking people to share something. Because sometimes a little nudge is what we all need.

Takeaways, tips and learnings

So, that’s it, folks. That’s how we approach our blog post mini-campaigns. If you’d like to give it a go yourself (and I highly suggest you do!) here’s the advice I can offer:

  1. Be in “the know.” Keep an eye out and and ear to the ground for trending topics you can put your own unique spin on.
  2. Establish a goal for your post. Is it leads? Is it traffic? Whatever the case, figure that out early so you can measure whether post was a success or not.
  3. Think about searcher’s intent — and do it in both the keyword research and distribution phase. You want people to find your post, but you want the people who find the post to also stay on it, maybe even share it, because it’s relevant to them.
  4. Involve influencers. Okay, so getting 18 well-known experts in your field might not be doable every time, but asking a few notable peeps for original quotes can go a long way. This gives them buy-in to share when the post is live, and you’re doing them a solid by boosting their professional clout.
  5. Consider custom images. Stock photos have gotten so much better over the years, but they don’t always cut the mustard when you’re championing a piece with viral potential. If you have access to a designer — or have some design chops of your own — consider creating a memorable custom image that you’d like to see in your own social media feeds.

Have any of your own tips for making your content work harder for you? I’d love to hear them, so drop me a line in the comments.



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That Time Unbounce Stopped Posting for 2 Weeks… And Scored 700 New Leads

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In my kitchen I have a poster that reads, “SLOW DOWN.”

publishing-hiatus-slow-down

It’s a simple reminder, but one that I need constantly. Walk more slowly. Stop and appreciate the simple things. Take a break and call your mom.

We live in an era of high-speed internet and keyboard shortcuts and push(y) notifications and instant gratification. Even our food is expected to be fast — slap a patty on the bun and get the customer their order as quickly as possible.

Sometimes, content creation can feel a little like that: pump out piece after piece. Slap on a lead gen form. Run the reports. Rinse and repeat until you grow old and gray.

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Of course, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with being a productive content producer! 💪

But it’s problematic if you get so caught up in the daily grind that you never take a step back and look critically at your day-to-day work and processes.

Which is why the Unbounce content team decided to halt publishing for two weeks: so we could slow down, do our research and find opportunities for experimentation and optimization.

The optimization work we did in this two-week period gave us a welcomed break from feeling like we were on a hamster wheel at a content farm. But it also brought us measurable results that exceeded our expectations (and that of our bosses):

  • 274% more conversions from our 17 highest traffic posts
  • More engagement from our readers
  • A better understanding of our audience and what they’d like to see next so we can keep creating relevant, high-converting content
giphy-3
Mmmmm, results.

We achieved all that by slowing down, taking a step back and finding small areas for improvement and experimentation.

But if we weren’t producing fresh content, what in the heck were we doing (and how can you do it too)?

I’ll tell you right now… if you promise to call your mom later.

Phase I: Optimize high traffic posts (especially for lead gen)

If you do any digging around in Google Analytics, you may notice that the same 5-10 posts consistently bring you the most traffic month after month. Most often, these are posts on high-interest topics that you’re ranking for in search engines.

For us, some of these posts dated as far back as 2012. And while the content was still relevant and actionable, there was always something to optimize — especially in regards to lead generation.

We created a spreadsheet with our 20 highest-traffic posts for the past month. It looked a little something like this:

blog-optimization-experiment-spreadsheet-650
Click for larger image.

The blog team (comprised of Helen, Amy and I) took a close look at each post and determined whether it was evergreen and if it still met our editorial standards:

  • Are there any broken links?
  • Is content still up to date?
  • Are all graphics and images still in line with brand guidelines?

Making sure that you can still stand behind older content is key — but for us, the focus of our optimization lay in the calls to action…

Optimize for lead generation

Some of our high-traffic posts linked to outdated assets or had lead gen forms all the way at the bottom, buried under 3,000 words.

What’s worse — we found that some of these posts were dead ends, with no clear “next step” for readers.

giphy

Updating your high-traffic posts for lead generation is when things really get interesting. Ask yourself:

  • Are there recently created conversion carrots (ebook/worksheets/webinar recordings) that are more relevant to article topic? Especially for really old posts, we had a ton of new assets to choose from.
  • Can you create a new high-value, hyper-relevant conversion carrot with minimal effort? In one case, we created an email subject line worksheet that we thought would be valuable to readers.
  • Is your lead gen form placed contextually within the article, rather than all the way at the bottom? It should come as no surprise that we’ve run heat map tests that reveal most people don’t make it to the bottom of the page. Test incorporating forms contextually into the post — we generally place inline forms no lower than 1/3 of the way through the post.
  • Does the conversion carrot require more “selling” or is its value communicated inherently in the article? If it’s a simple asset that has been explained by the post, test an inline form like the one below. If you’re giving away something that requires a bit of explanation (like a breakdown of ebook chapters), test linking to a landing page.

Ready to optimize your high-traffic posts for lead gen?

Heres a blog post optimization checklist to help you get started leave no lead… unled?

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All that work seems to have paid off so far.

In total, we optimized 17 posts. In a one-month period before the experiment, organic traffic to these posts brought us a total of 248 conversions (form completions).

One month post-optimization, those same 17 posts brought us 928 conversions — a 274% increase.

Bonus tip: Once you’ve done the legwork of optimizing that monster 5,000 word post from 2012 that search engines love so much, why not share it with new blog subscribers by bumping it to the top of your RSS? During our two-week optimization period, we flagged some of our favorite “oldie but goodie”s to be republished. Then we republished them!

Phase II: Get to know your leads

Okay, phase two sounds less sexy than phase one, which promised you’d “get more leads.”

But it’ll pay off in the long run.

Because the end goal of any business usually isn’t to “generate leads.” It’s to make money.

And if you want to generate more of the right type of leads who are more likely to fall in love with you and your solution and eventually become customers, then you need to get to know who you’re talking to.

Because a billion blog subscribers are useless to you if none of them are dealing with a problem your product solves.


A billion blog subscribers are useless if none of them want your product.
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We dedicated about half our time during the two-week experiment to learning more about our dear readers to better understand their pains and goals so we could serve them up more of what they want.

Ask your readers what they want

Generating leads gives you quantitative feedback about whether your content is desirable, but sometimes all you need to do to determine what readers want is to… just ask.

tumblr_ni8f4hfaxy1ty2kceo1_500
This powerful question can teach you about the person you are dating (for better or for worse) and is equally as effective in a business context.

During our hiatus, we did two things to better get to know our prospects.

1. Survey says…

2-week-hiatus-post

In our blog post giving readers a heads up that we were going to cool it for two weeks to optimize some stuff, we sent readers to a Typeform survey.

You can take the survey and steal the questions we used here.

2. Encourage engagement on blog welcome emails

We also wanted to be able to engage with readers in a more personal way — potentially even start a discussion — to show that there are living, breathing humans behind our blog.

Plus, we knew we could do better than our old welcome email:

blog-experiment-old-welcome-email

We updated this welcome email to sound more like it was coming from a human rather than a business. Most importantly, though, we prompted new subscribers to reply to the email with a marketing problem that is currently baffling them:

blog-experiment-new-blog-email

Before this email, I rarely received replies to the welcome email. I honestly can’t think of a single reply.

As I’m writing this post, the new welcome series has been live for a week, and I’ve received a handful of really thoughtful replies to this email. I anticipate many, many more.

It allows me to get to know our readers in a super personal way, while over-delivering in value by offering advice when I can. Bonus? If I get the same question again and again, I can answer it with a blog post. 🙂

Would we do it all again?

Our blog publishing hiatus allowed us to meet business goals in a way that will keep on giving — by organically bringing in more leads every month.

It allowed us to take the time to treat our readers like humans and really listen to what they want more of (so we can continue to #dobetter on the blog).

But the hiatus had unintended results too — we had more time and perspective to discuss the structure of the blog team and who should own what (the subject of its own post, perhaps?).

It allowed us to meet our personal goals of feeling excited about our work by stepping back and experimenting with new things.

Maybe you’ve heard us say this (about 51 times) before…

always-be-testing-unbounce-blog-search

I think we’d be fools not to do it again!



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This major content marketing benefit is worth the wait

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One of content marketing’s biggest perks takes a while to materialize. Columnist Kerry Jones explains why SEO improvements are worth waiting for.

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.



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BlueJeans Network offers first many-to-many video conferencing at scale for Facebook Live

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Brands can use the new high-res service, supporting up to 100 simultaneous video feeds, for fan events, Q&A sessions or product launches.

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.



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