How to start a blog from scratch
By Tracey Wallace
Starting a blog from scratch is a very different thing than coming in to a company like, say, Klaviyo, and needing to overhaul their existing content marketing program.
Both scenarios have their pros and cons.
Starting a new blog:
- Pro: You get to start doing things right from the get go, which means that when you start getting traction, you’ll likely grow even faster from then on out.
- Con: It can take a while (like, 1-1.5 years) to start getting that traction.
Overhauling an existing content program:
- Pro: You likely already have some kind of domain authority built into the website, and by simply updating older blogs to new standards and getting a strong GTM in place, you should see a significant increase in content performance in a short period of time (6 months to 1 year).
- Con: There’s a lot of content to go through, and a lot of internal stakeholders to work across and break bad habits. This can take a long time (it’s a political game to a large extent).
I’ve done both––and the grind of the first two years with either is enough to make anyone leave content marketing as a career path entirely. Only the most insane of us stay, I’m convinced of it!
But, I often write from the perspective of the existing content program––because there is a lot more nuance there to dive into.
- The teams are bigger (both the content team and the marketing team).
- The stakes are higher (in terms of needing to prove revenue faster).
- And the internal politics are more challenging (though, honestly, early stage start-up politics are their own nasty little beast).
So, today, I thought I’d kick off this maternity leave of mine by giving some insight into how to start a blog from scratch. That’s right––from absolutely nothing (or near nothing). Let’s jump into how to even begin!
Understand the primary goal of content marketing––and help your founders understand it, too
There hasn’t been a single company I’ve been at where the founder or c-suite at some has asked the content team to produce something “viral.” That’s not really how content works, but I’ve come to understand where they are coming from. When founders or the c-suite ask for this, they are usually seeing competitors’ content in the wild, getting love and traction, and they want to see the same thing. “Viral” is this shorthand for “visible” –– and there’s a cool factor to it, too.
For the most part, I’ve found this is ego speaking. But that’s OK. We all have egos, and founders and the c-suite are typically full of especially competitive people. It’s the ego that wants to win.
So, level set on how content marketing wins.
For the most part, content marketing is a long-term organic play with lead generation built in. You want to build an organic search moat so that you own as much visibility as possible for non-brand key terms. It’s crucial you start to build this early on for your new blog––and that likely means that “viral” content isn’t in your near future.
Because in order to build that organic moat and drive high volumes of lead gen, you need to strategically go after keywords and topics that your competitors are ignoring, or on which they don’t have as strong of a point of view.
Content marketing’s goal: Build an organic search moat (non-brand keywords) and drive lead gen.
Once you do that, call it the content flywheel, then you can build virality into it.
Why then, and only then? Because once you are already driving a good bit of organic search and converting folks into leads, you have a baseline understanding for how much traffic drives what amount of leads. This is when you can add more traffic to the top, and measure how different content types––like podcasts, or videos, or influencer content––impact overall sessions and overall lead conversion rates.
Say your boss loves influencer content, and it drives a lot of top of funnel traffic–– but very few people from that segment convert––esp. compared to the other content distribution channels. Well, that’s a good indication that you either chose the wrong influencer, or that influencer content doesn’t actually work for your brand.
Remember: Sessions are good. Lead gen is great. Revenue is everything.
Content marketing subscribes to this, and prioritizes based on it.
Determining keywords based on your product offering
First things first, you want to begin to build rank for terms related to the product / offering of your business. This is because you want to drive relevant organic search traffic so that you can convert leads. This is taking the section above and beginning to put it into practice.
Now, hear me out, the blog might actually not be the best place for this. I’d argue that, for early stage start-ups, your product landing pages are a far better option.
This is for a couple of reasons:
- Product landing pages are typically built to convert better, with CTAs nearer the top. Blogs are notoriously bad at this––given they are considered an “educational” experience. But CTAs are so often missing entirely from blogs, but this isn’t so with a product page.
- Even larger brands with existing content have started to do this. Just look at BigCommerce, which has taken the content that used to drive the most traffic to the blog and turned them into more optimized content landing pages. I have no doubt these convert far better. Here is an example.
- Check out how newer tools in different industries have done this. I built MarketerHire’s early landing page strategy based on what TopTal did for instance––not both companies have their landing pages ranking for incredibly relevant keywords. MarketerHire for “email marketing experts” and TopTal for “freelance developers.” Both of these landing pages have a ton of content on them to help them earn this ranking.
- Product pages don’t follow a /blog structure, which qualitatively (For real, I have no research on this) seems to convey more authority to a reader. Google basis its understanding of authority on reader clicks and engagement on a page, so the more authority a person thinks you have, the more authority Google will think you have.
- This is why sites like HotJar, for instance, have built entire content ecosystems on a domain like hotjar.com/heatmaps. This ranks #1 for “heatmaps”
So, I’d advise you to start by looking at your product pages.
What are the products you are trying to sell, and what are the keywords that drive folks to those types of pages––looking for those types of solutions?
It’s OK, and good even!, to go after short tail, higher-volume keywords here. In the MarketerHire and TopTal examples above, MarketerHire went for “email marketing” and TopTal went for “developers.”
That makes sense. You want these to be decently broad because you plan to drive an ever-increasing amount of traffic to them over time, and because they aren’t blogs, you will rarely redirect these anywhere else.
Be strategic here––and think long-term, high volume. This may mean you need to work with your product marketing team and help them come up with search-friendly names for any new products or product features.
Extend the product offering approach to the blog
Now that you know which keywords you will target on your landing pages, and hopefully have figured out how to add a good bit of content to those pages so they can rank for those terms, you want to go after longer-tail, related keywords on the blog.
For instance, MarketerHire had 10-11 product features when I was there. We determined the right keyword for each landing page, and then two to three related keywords to write blogs on for each of those product features.
So, that was 10-11 product pages with a lot of content on them, plus an additional 22-33 blogs to support those pages.
These blogs gave us interlinking power––making it clear to Google that our “email marketing” product page was related to our “email marketing tools” blog, our “email marketing skills” blog, and our “how to hire email marketers” blog.
It took us two quarters to publish everything appropriately, and then another year for all of that work to make it to page 1 of Google. That’s because MarketerHire was a new company with lower domain authority. Today, its product pages compete with UpWork.
This should be your goal for the first 6 months of your time starting a content operation from scratch at any organization.
With the foundation set, launch a proprietary report
A proprietary report related to your product offerings, and that helps provide specific data to support your company’s point of view, is incredibly helpful at all stages of content marketing––especially at the early stage.
It’s hard to get backlinks and to make content go viral. But, proprietary reports done well can speed up the process.
These do cost money though––$20,000-$50,000 per report. So, plan accordingly and make sure you have PR support, too. You’ll want to launch a report about your specific industry, and then ideally redo this report every year.
This will give your sales team data to use on calls and outreach, and it should drive backlinks to your site if you have a solid go-to-market plan built that includes social promo, paid advertising, and PR.
Since we’ve been on the MarketerHire example train, here is what we did.
We launched a “freelance marketing report” about the “freelance revolution” offering data from ~2K US businesses about how they hire freelancers, why they hire them, etc.
We didn’t have PR on this, but honestly, it didn’t get picked up much. We launched it a bit rushed in a bad window (December). But it did get a ton of social shares thanks to our social media promotion plan with influencers, and the videos we produced around the report. It also drove a ton of backlinks from freelancer sites, where they were using our data to justify why brands should use them. That’s great––that’s our target market!
We also got a ton of content downloads, which went into our nurture stream and converted folks into MQLs and leads. Win-win-win.
Now, keep in mind, the first proprietary report you do probably won’t be perfect. This is true at large organizations where nailing down the go-to-market across so many disparate teams can be a huge challenge, and at smaller orgs where it is harder to get the visibility you want, esp. from a press point of view. That’s ok!
Perfection isn’t the goal––progress is.
Finally, talk to your target market (customers!)
Don’t let case studies get away from you in this process. You should be interviewing at least one customer per week and ideally publishing 3-4 case studies per month. You can then use those case studies to create longer form feature blogs, too.
This helps fill in your calendar with more storytelling pieces outside of all the product-focused work you’re doing, get your internal team the assets they need to sell the solution, and it gets you and your team inside the head of your customers so that after ~6-8 months of producing content in this way, you’re ready to put together a different strategy that builds off of this foundation based on feedback you’ve heard from customers themselves.