Guest post by Heart of Marketing intern Claire Freier
What would happen if you entered a marathon the day of the race with no training, no plan, no preparation?
You’d likely expire in a heap of exhaustion long before reaching the finish line.
That’s what happens with many business blogs. They launch with enthusiasm and great expectations only to fade away after a few laps, er, posts.
It’s called ‘Dead Blog Syndrome’ (DBS) and it happens for many of the same reasons the ill-prepared marathoner fails.
This episode of The Heart of Marketing is the first in a series that explains how to cure this all-too-common malady.
Are you suffering from DBS? Here are the common signs:
- You are unable to update your blog more than three times a year
- You do not have enough help with writing posts
- You are running out of ideas to blog about
Hosts Jayme Soulati and John Gregory Olson play the role of Blog EMTs (Emergency Marketing Technicians) to administer a plan that resuscitates frail business blogs and keeps them running strong.
In part I of the Blog EMT series you will get a rescue plan to treat and beat Dead Blog Syndrome once and for all. You will learn:
- Four telltale symptoms of DBS, and its cause
- How to determine if your business blog is worth saving
- How a documented plan makes your workflow super-productive
- The editorial planning method that generates an abundance of content ideas
- How to create editorial guidelines that lure enthusiastic blog contributors
- The four success factors of a thriving business blog
010: A Strategy for Beating Dead Blog Syndrome, Part I
Show notes and resources
John: Thanks for joining us today for another episode of The Heart of Marketing. I'm John Gregory Olson with my co-host, Jayme Soulati. How are you, Jayme?
Jayme: Woo-hoo! Oh, my gosh. Hi, John. I'm just trying to get all excited because it's cold and my feet have no socks.
John: Yes, I know.
Jayme: I'm down here in the basement working and it's concrete. The cold seeps right on up.
John: Oh, boy.
John: And I'm up in my loft. That's where my office is.
Jayme: Is the heat rising up there?
John: Well, on cold days like this, I still have a space heater that I like to run. But it's not like being in the basement, that's for sure.
Jayme: Yeah, I've got the heat rising up and closing the vents down here so the heat will go up. I have a home that's a tri-level. It's very difficult to heat and cool on all levels, consistently. But I am not complaining. I've got a roof over my head.
John: I agree, yep.
Jayme: What are we talking about today?
John: Well, today's topic is how to beat dead blog syndrome.
Jayme: That sounds really, really cool.
John: It sounds ominous, I'm sure. But we'll be talking about why do business blogs stall. And how do you plan for success. So we're going to be going into some of the cures for dead blog syndrome, which is getting an editorial plan in place, a calendar for your workflow, and guidelines. It's the cornerstone to your blog strategy, and that is writing a plan.
Jayme: You're such a planner, I love it.
John: I am, I know. It's an obsession with me.
Jayme: Oh, my gosh, so you probably did a business plan for your business, too. You're one of those guys.
John: No, it's in my head. Isn't that terrible?
Jayme: No, because it's in my head, too.
John: It's still evolving though. You and I were talking about that last week a little bit, about my branding and my positioning and stuff. And, folks, Jayme's going to help me with that, believe it or not.
Jayme: Well, John, I just had a brilliant idea. I don't know. What do you think? Should we do it live? Should I try to interview you about your business live on the podcast? Oh, let's consider that.
John: It would be like a live messaging session.
Jayme: Yeah. That would be like, "Woo-hoo!"
John: That would be the ultimate transparency.
Jayme: No kidding, especially for you because I would not be in the hot seat. It would be all about you. Maybe we'll think about that idea.
John: Yeah, why don't you, Jayme, talk about our special promotion?
Jayme: Well, everybody should know by now, and I hope you do, that The Heart of Marketing was always intended to launch in February and we did. And in order to have a neat little launch and kickoff, we're doing a promotion with the American Heart Association in Heart Month. Everybody wants to be healthy with their hearts and we are doing a dollar for every subscriber we get in February. One dollar will go to the American Heart Association. Woo-hoo! Sound effect, John. Oh, my gosh. You’re falling down the wayside, John.
John, I've got to have a way to let you know I want a sound effect before I have to tell you.
John: Yeah, I know. I was going to say, "You'd think I'd have that one down by now."
Jayme: Well, please do subscribe. We are on iTunes and we're hoping to get Stitcher to come around and get us up there, too. But search for us on iTunes, and then do all the rest right there. So we would appreciate it. Thank you so much.
John: Okay, we'll jump right into our feature today, folks. The topic, again, is how to beat dead blog syndrome. And yes, dead blog syndrome is a thing. It's a real thing. Well, actually, it's my name. I should trademark that name, dead blog syndrome, Jayme, just like you've trademarked RockHot.
Jayme: Okay, I did trademark RockHot. Anybody who tries to use it, I have proof points, because I hashtagged it back in the day. Everybody knows it's mine.
John: So now, every time I use the hashtag RockHot, I put a ™ afterwards.
Jayme: Right, you're just actually aggregating it into my cache of rock-hotness, and you're in my cue. You're my thread.
John: I'm helping you build. But I came across this study on passel.net. They did a study. I came across it about a year ago. But I'm sure the numbers are still relevant today, and we will put a link in the show notes when you come to visit our blog. But they described a vast majority of business blogs as being dead blogs. And a dead blog is a blog that hasn't been updated in several months. And they have some statistics, for example, 70% of businesses are unable to update their blogs at least three times a year.
Jayme: That's craziness.
John: That's a dead blog.
Jayme: Can I go back to that comment you just made? A dead blog's only dead after two months. It's considered dead, John?
John: No, a dead blog is a blog that, basically what I just described: That 70% of businesses are unable to update their blogs three times a year.
Jayme: Got it. I thought you had said some of that piece of data there in advance of that statistic about…
John: No, but you get the idea.
John: Businesses get very excited about starting a blog. They hear about all the great benefits for generating leads and that kind of thing. And then sometime after they launch, it just lays there. They don't know what to do. In fact, there's other interesting stats from that same passel.net study, that explained what the biggest challenges are to keeping that blog alive. And that's 27% of the businesses just don't have enough time to blog. Nineteen percent of them don't have enough help with writing blog posts. That means there's probably one person that's responsible for running the blog, and they need help. They don't have enough. And of course, the other significant number there, is that 19% of them say that they run out of ideas to blog about.
John: Guess what, folks? We will be covering that topic in the next episode.
Jayme: We sure will. In fact, we're doing a series, John. We forgot to tell people. We are doing a series on blogging. The next three or four pieces on The Heart of Marketing will be about blogging and how you can overcome dead blog syndrome, and how you should freshen your content, and how you should market your blog, as well. So we're looking forward to it. And why are we qualified, John, to talk about this topic, why? Pull it out. This is your promotion. I'm helping you promote yourself. Come on, let's go buddy.
[sound bite] I'm trying to think, but nothing happens.
John: Well, Jayme, to answer your question, I'm a blogger and you're a blogger. And we have been at it for quite a while. Now, we've learned a few things along the way. We've made a few mistakes and learned from them. And this is a passion of mine. I've always loved writing and publishing, and so the blog is really the ideal outlet for me to be online. So what would be your answer, Jayme?
Jayme: Well, I like how you answered it for me. I am thinking I don't have to say much. But you know me, that's not the case. You never have me speechless. Only once in the life of this podcast, which is pretty young, have you made me speechless.
John: I know. It may never happen again.
Jayme: I consider myself a professional blogger, and at one point, someone said to me, "Aren't you just a PR person who blogs?" And I said, "Heck no. I am hired by companies to be a blog influencer and an ambassador." So anyway, we can get into that topic another day. But nonetheless, I have been blogging for five years. And I am hired by folks to write for their blogs and I, of course, have clients that I write for on their blogs. And, John, one of the things that absolutely is true of the data you've shared, is that clients that I've worked for, their blogs go dormant as soon as I leave the relationship. And they don't pick it up. They don't pick it up to do anything with it. And it's really a shame. And it was a detriment to having a dormant blog.
Let's revisit why a blog is important for our business really quick. We said these in episode, I don't remember, John. What episode was that?
John: Three or four.
Jayme: We talked about blogging, yeah we did. And why is a blog important for your business? Number one, you own the content. It's owned media. You can say whatever the heck you want, number one. Number two, John?
John: Number two is you have a platform for showing your expertise.
Jayme: Absolutely. You can be an authority.
John: You build your brand, your brand authority.
John: And you can engage with your target audience.
Jayme: Right, absolutely. So those are like three, four, and five. And number six is SEO juice. I mean, you know, I'll tell you what. Today, which is February 16, Mark Schaefer wrote an amazing blog post. If you guys don't know who Mark Schaeffer is, please go visit his blog post today. It is about SEO, Google, your blog, and your content. And it's really, really important, regarding that whole thing.
So yeah, your blog is very important to your business and your brand. And we want you to overcome dead blog syndrome. John, how are we going to do that?
John: I think the most important step to doing that, is you've got to document your blog strategy. You've got to write your plan. And the reason why, is that it helps you to get focused on your business objectives and your audience. And it helps you to categorize the topics that you can cover, the different content categories, whether it's news or tutorials, or current events in the industry, that kind of thing.
And the other great thing about having a written plan, is that it outlines your workflow for publishing, for scheduling, and for creating content. And when it gets to creating content in that second statistic that I talked about, that 19% of businesses don't have enough people to help, one of the ways that you can do that is by having a written plan. When people in your organization understand what the purpose of the blog is, how it's going to deliver on your strategies, they have a clearer picture of the value of your blog. And they're more likely to get behind it and help you out. So those are all the reasons why you've got to have a written strategy.
Jayme: I'm going to add two things to that, John. Even if you started a blog and everyone's gung-ho and all of a sudden it went dormant, it's really easy to pick back up. But before you do that, revisit your business goals as a company. Because your business goals define how you blog, how frequently, who you're blogging for, what you're going to say. All of the above contribute to achieving the business goals of the company. And blogging is your core avenue of content sharing. It enables content shares on social media. It enables the SEO and the Google notices, etc.
But the second thing I'd like to add is your target audience. And we did two episodes, I think back to back, episodes 7 and 8, I believe, John, on persona.
Jayme: And we did a mini-cast, because I was so excited about learning more about personas actually in action, hands-on experience, that I had to do a quick mini-cast with John about developing a persona. But you know, why not? Develop a persona - and you can learn more about those in our previous episodes - for your blog. Who are you writing for? And who do you want to engage on your blog? Who do you want to come to your blog? And have that on your bulletin board, or paste it to your wall, or as a clip on your computer somewhere, to remind you as you're writing. Right before you sit down to write, or hire somebody to write, remind yourself who it is you're writing for.
John: Yeah, that's a really great point, Jayme. In fact, that's something that I think is important to go into your blogging guidelines, which is another tool that I wanted to talk about to help you overcome dead blog syndrome. And that is creating your set of guidelines for what is going to be a blog post. Things like your key audience characteristics, like Jayme was just talking about.
But also in your guidelines, you want to have the specifics about writing style for individual posts. What's going to be the tone? What is going to be the structure of a blog post? Set up your guidelines for readability, and for on-page optimizations for search. These things help you to bring consistency to your voice that comes across in your blog posts.
And it also helps you to get help from other people in your organization. If you're looking to get a group of people in your stable that can write blog posts for you, if you have set guidelines, you can make it work that much easier. Because if they're hesitant about writing, it's like, "I don't know. What would I say?" Give them guidelines that they can see, like, "Okay, I can follow this. I can do this." So you're breaking down that resistance that you might be running into with getting people to help out with the blog.
Jayme: I think, too, John, in that regard, it would be very helpful to assign an editor in chief of the blog.
John: Yes! Boy, you are just feeding right into these sub-points.
John: So why is that, Jayme?
Jayme: When I work with companies that are trying to start a blog and get it going very actively, there are so many silos around a company. It could be any sized company, really; departments, silos, divisions. And in order to get the news that's happening around a company, someone needs to be in charge.
Jayme: I don't know, John, what your thought is on this, but an editor in chief would be wonderful in a company to look at content overall. And then have assigned reporters. And they're the gatherers. They're the hunter; the hunter/gatherers. They hunt for the information that's happening in the company, and bring it back. You know, just like a newspaper functions, or a magazine. Bring it back to the table. Everybody looks at the content. You consider what's hot and what's current, what's happening in the industry, etc. And then someone is assigned to write the blog post.
John: You just hit the sweet spot with me. In working with clients and even before the blog world, I did a lot of newsletter publishing for businesses. And we established an editorial model very much like what you have just described, Jayme, where we would set up a board. We'd call it an editorial board for the publication, for the blog in this case. And you have anywhere from maybe three to five people on the board. You don't want too many people, because you get too many cooks in the kitchen.
But you want enough people to help drive the vision for the editorial content. And maybe have them represent different functions within your company. If you're a smaller company, it might be everybody. But if you're more of a mid-sized company, you would want somebody from a marketing area, from a sales area, people that are interfacing with the customers on a regular basis, and maybe even somebody from the executive level, an executive sponsor type of a role.
But they would meet regularly. And on that editorial board, there would also be an editor in chief who is the primary driver for editorial content and for assigning stories to the different writers, for keeping the voice consistent for editing and handling the revisions and that kind of a thing.
Jayme: Well, John, let's talk about one more thing, before you launch another point. Frequency is really important for a blog. Because if a blog has been dormant, has gone dead over time, what is the very first thing that you're going to want to do with your blog? It needs to be quickly ramped up with frequent content. And what's your view, John, on what is frequent and what is acceptable?
John: The ideal frequency? That's the tricky question now, isn't it? We hear various opinions on that. Some people swear you should try to post something every day. Some people say, "No, once a week," or once every couple weeks, or only when you have something really good to say. And it depends on, I think, the person answering the question will be answering it depending upon where their focus is. So if somebody is focused on driving traffic from search, they're going to be more inclined to say "more frequent, more frequent, more frequent."
If you are more of a brand person, you are probably going to say, "No, it's got to be really quality content." And there's a balance that you need to strike, basically. There's no one right answer to that question. You need a certain degree of frequency for the search engines to rank your blog, because they look for fresh content. But they also look for quality. And so writing a blog post just for the sake of publishing, is not a good strategy, especially anymore in these days. Because quality is becoming more and more of a factor in search rankings.
Jayme: Well, and one thing I have to say, is that now long-form blogging is preferred over short-form. By the way, if you're going to post anything less than 500 words, don't bother blogging. You need to have a long-form blog, which is around 800 to 1,000 words. And that's what's going to get you more traction amongst the search engines. That means quality, as well, obviously.
So you know, yes, frequency is important. In my book, though, I suggest two to three times a week. If you want to have an active blog, that gets regular traction, that gets engagement, that allows you to promote on a consistent basis, you're going to have to do two to three times a week, in my book. The clutter is so incredibly challenging out there. If you're going to post once a month, twice a month, it's going to be a long time between blog posts before you get back out there and try to earn someone's attention again. So John, that's my thought.
John: I agree with that. And I'm sure a lot of people are wondering, "Well, how can I publish that often? I'm barely able to keep things going right now." And that is where the value of these things come in, that we've been talking about. You're having a plan in writing, and having an editorial board in place that helps you to build momentum and that you can leverage the value of all of the different ideas that come from that group. And you are all pointed in the right direction because you have the strategy document that you're following.
And it gives you a workflow. And that's the other thing that comes out of having an editorial board and an editor in chief role, is that they put together a calendar for all of the ideas that come from the editorial board. And the editorial board reaches out to the rest of the organization to get ideas from people that they bring to the board. And then, they sift through all of the ideas that they have. They make sure that it's on brand and it's within the parameters of their strategy. And all of these ideas start to filter through, and then you get them onto a calendar. And you can establish a workflow with the calendar. And it's very simple.
I mean, I worked with a client recently where we just used Google Drive for the whole blog, maintaining the whole blog workflow. And they have a calendar on Google Drive, and you can literally just put a few notes in. You can put who you're assigning the story to, what the themes are, the main points in the content, and the due date.
So the editor in chief can manage that workflow and be on top of developing several blog post stories, simultaneously. So you can put planning 30 to 60 days out. This is going to help you keep the ideas coming, keeping the blog posts produced. And the other thing, too, Jayme, is that just because it's in the calendar, doesn't mean that's a drop-dead date. Some stories, if you're producing evergreen content, the content that is not time sensitive - we were able to do this with our system - if somebody ran into a snag in getting information and they weren't able to meet their deadline, well, you can move things around. You've got this other one here. You can move it into that slot. You can still keep publishing. And it gives you flexibility. But it also gives you a sense of purpose.
Jayme: I want to do a shout-out for PR here, John. Because a lot of the things you're saying are more within the public relations department, or even marketing, too. But when we were, back in the day, looking at how to pitch stories and media relations in the agency world in Chicago, where I was born, we looked at Ed Cals, editorial calendars that magazines put out with topics they would cover. Blogging is much like that. And if you are in an industry vertical, if you're a B to B company - which John and I both have B to B skills and expertise - if you're in a B to B world, you do want to know what your industry publications are covering, and at what time.
So that means that your editorial calendar for your blog could be very similar in scope to what a magazine may publish. You know, it's not going to be to that extent, or in that context. However, if you want to get some traction with SEO, then you might want to cover some of the topics that your industry vertical magazines are covering, too.
John: Yeah, and it also helps you keep on top of what's coming. It's a topical thing. And we'll probably dig into this a little more in our next episode, when we talk about content development. In terms of managing your workflow, you can look at the blog topics that you are developing in two general ways. One is what I call your anchor content. And that is content that is evergreen. It's not time sensitive. Okay? It's not tied to an event or a current trend or something that you need to get on top of. But it’s topics that are "how-to" tutorial-type of informational things, those kinds of things.
And then the other kind of topic is what I call adaptive, because you need to adapt it into your calendar at a certain time. Because it may be time-sensitive to an event that's going on. Or you're trying to tie into a news story that's hot right now, and so you need to manage to that timing with your calendar.
Jayme: That makes sense. So did we cover all of why a blog becomes dead? We already know why. And these are some of the reasons, tips on how you can overcome the fear of getting back in.
John: Right, there is an answer. There's a solution. There's a cure, we'll say.
Jayme: And I want to also suggest that when you hire out, let's say you want to hire a writer to be your topic subject-matter expert for a blog that you have and you want to bring it out of dormancy. Be very aware of the folks that you are hiring. Vet them, so that you know they're professionals, professional writers who can write to your tone and your objectives. Because there are dime-a-dozen writers, just like website developers out there, who will take your money and run. And they won't do a good job. So spend the extra cash to pay for the expertise you need, and trust that your blog is in good hands. If you're farming it out, if you're going to try to do it internally and add it to someone's plate, then please do make sure that someone is meeting deadlines internally. Because the worst thing ever is for you to go through this effort and fail because someone's not managing the process, or demanding that content is being written.
John: And I would like to mention, too, that I have some resources that I will include in my show notes on my blog, that are some things that I have written about. Because I've written a lot about this area of blogging. And I have some calendar and strategic planning resources that you can take a look at to help you along the way.
I'll share this on the show notes as well, as long as Jayme brought it up. But I also have a pretty in-depth look at blog post writing for readability. And this is not really within the scope of what we're talking about in our show today, but we'll probably get into it more next time. But that is that blog writing is different than most other kinds of writing. And there are things that you need to look for. If you're going to pay somebody to come in and write a blog post for you, there are certain things that they ought to be able to deliver that is unique to a blog post. And if they don't know that, you'd better look for somebody who does. And this post that I'm going to share with you, will have a lot of helpful tips on what it is to look for in a good blog post.
Jayme: That's excellent. So John: The Heart of the Matter?
John: The Heart of the Matter. I actually have a couple of things here that I think are the most important takeaways for today. And that is if you are serious about having a successful business blog, there are a couple of things that you just have to zero in on.
Most important, I think is that you have to be fully persuaded that a blog is important to your marketing strategy. If you have any doubts at all, you're going to bail out at the first sign of difficulty, and the blog will just die. So you have to be willing to take a long view that this is important to your business, in that you're going to invest the time and that the results don't come immediately. If you're looking for immediate results, immediate leads, sales leads, you're not going to get that from a blog. It's just not a realistic expectation. You have to have that patience.
And the other thing, is that I started out with you've got to write your plan. You’ve got to document it. Companies that fail with their content marketing, fail with their blog, almost without exception do not have a written plan.
Jayme: That's excellent. I would add to, or echo what John said. A blog is a journey. And I have to say it. A blog evolves with your own growth and maturity, and your company's growth and maturity. And the blog will grow right alongside you and be that evolutionary tool to showcase to your audiences and your customers.
John: Yep, I agree.
Jayme: Do not lose your momentum. Do not lose your excitement about what a blog can do and be for your brand. It is so, so, so important for your brand. And I'm a testament to that. Because one of my goals as a blogger was to be a thought leader in my industry. And I accomplished that goal rather quickly. And then I foundered. I kept writing about topics. I'm one of these people who loves to learn a little bit about a lot. That's why I'm a good agency person. So I'm reporting on whatever struck my fancy.
But then I got into someone who said, "Jayme, you're a message mapping person. Let's rebrand you. And now, make your blog about message mapping." Well, that's fine and dandy, but I got bored with that. So I've got to re-energize my blog, as well, and find ways that I feel everybody wants to learn more about message mapping in a clever way.
John: You know what you should do, Jayme? You should start a podcast. That'll mix it up.
Jayme: Oh, my gosh, you're so right. And that's funny, John, because you know what? That was the next evolution for me. Because I needed to be energized about my own efforts with content marketing, and a podcast was the next best thing in our continuum. So anyway, those are the things. If you guys want any expertise, tips, just have a chat about your blog, let us know. Send us a question and we'll be very happy to address the question on our podcast coming up. Yeah, blogging is important. Don't ever not do a blog because you're afraid.
John: No, if you need help getting started, well, you know what? You can contact Jayme and me. We'll help you get on the path.
John: Because it's definitely worthwhile. It's a great adventure. It's great for your business in so many ways, which we've talked about already. And it's just so worthwhile. I don't have anything more to add today, Jayme. Do you have any last words?
Jayme: No, we'll be covering this topic. Because it's the basis forevermore, because we love blogging. It's near and dear to our hearts, and The Heart of Marketing.
John: Jayme, why don't you take us home?
Jayme: Everybody, go be rock hot and go seize the day. Cheers.
John: Yeah, until next time. Remember: go for the heart, you won't go wrong.
Man 3: Thanks for listening to The Heart of Marketing, with Jayme Soulati and John Gregory Olson. Don't miss our next program. Subscribe to The Heart of Marketing Podcast today.